Southern Methodist University, situated on a 163-acre campus in suburban University Park (an incorporated residential district surrounded by Dallas), remains independent of state support and nonsectarian in its teaching, although it is related to the Methodist Church. The school was the project of the Texas Educational Commission, made up of representatives of the five annual conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Texas. These conferences in 1911 accepted for the church the ownership and control of the institution. In order that it might begin on a broader foundation, especially in regard to its theological and graduate schools, the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1914 made the university the connectional institution for all Methodist conferences west of the Mississippi. In 1939, with the unification of the Methodist Church, the ownership of the university was vested in the South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the Methodist Church, comprising the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. Since September 22, 1915, when the school opened with an enrollment of 706 in two buildings on a bare hillside, the institution has grown to have a plant made up of seventy-three permanent buildings on a well-planned campus and an enrollment of 9,000. Assets totaled $527 million, which included a $352 million endowment in 1992.
The university is divided into the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, the Meadows School of the Arts, the Edwin L. Cox School of Business, the School of Engineering, the Dedman School of Law, the Perkins School of Theology, the Center of Teacher Education, and the Division of Education and Lifelong Learning. SMU offers eighty different undergraduate majors and confers a number of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.
The university had a staff of 195 in 1948. In the fall of 1974 the enrollment was 10,079, and the faculty numbered over 700. A large percentage of the student body was from out of state. Buildings constructed after World War II followed the original modern Georgian style. The Owens Fine Arts Center, a complex consisting of ten major facilities for the teaching and presentation of the arts, included art museums, performing arts theaters, and an auditorium. Total assets of the university were more than $109,900,000 in 1969, including a $24,911,273 endowment fund and a physical plant valued at well over $50 million. The seven university libraries contained 1,046,714 cataloged books and pamphlets in 1969; their holdings were increasing at the rate of 70,000 volumes per year. The Southern Methodist University Press, formerly the University Press of Dallas, was established in 1937 as the university's publishing division. A member of the Association of American Presses since 1945, the press maintained more than 100 books on its current in-print list on a broad range of topics, with emphasis on the Southwest region and Americana. The press issued two magazines: the Southwest Review and the Journal of the Graduate Research Center, the latter incorporating and continuing Field and Laboratory, established in 1932.
In 1973 the university opened a 420-acre educational center at Fort Burgwin, New Mexico, near Taos. Courses in anthropology, archeology, biology, the fine arts, and the performing arts, among others, are offered at Fort Burgwin through the SMU-in-Taos Program.
In 2001 the university's endowment was valued at $911 million. Enrollment in the fall of 2000 was 10,064, of which 5,662 were undergraduates, and the faculty numbered 528. Management of the university is the responsibility of the board of trustees. Combined, the libraries at SMU house more than two million volumes. Southern Methodist University has been served by nine presidents and two acting presidents: Robert S. Hyer, 1911–20; Hiram A. Boaz, 1920–22; James Kilgore, acting president, 1922–23; Charles C. Selecman, 1923–38; E. B. Hawk, acting president, 1938–39; Umphrey Lee, 1939–54; Willis M. Tate, 1954–72; Paul Hardin, 1972–74; James H. Zumberge, 1975–80; L. Donald Shields, 1981–86; and A. Kenneth Pye, 1987-.