The University of Houston–University Park is the central campus and research-oriented component of the University of Houston System. It offers undergraduate, graduate, and professional education as well as basic and applied research for area corporations and government on projects relating to the Gulf Coast and public-service programs. The university began in 1926 with Houston school superintendent Edison E. Oberholtzer's plans for a local institution of higher education. The campus grew out of Houston Junior College, which was first housed at San Jacinto High School and was authorized to operate as a junior college on March 7, 1927, with 230 students and twenty-five faculty members. In 1938 a gift from Julius Settegast and Ben Taub of 108 acres of land three miles southwest of the central city, a citywide campaign for building funds, and a donation from Hugh Roy Cullen and his wife combined to establish the campus and its first building, named in memory of the Cullens' son, Roy Gustav. The new campus opened in 1939, and in 1942 the university was divided into six colleges and a graduate school. During World War II the campus became a training site for servicemen, producing 500 civilian pilots. The board of education of the Houston Independent School District governed the university until it became a private institution and obtained a separate board of regents in 1945. A sixty-member board of governors, including the regents and other prominent Houstonians, held its first meeting in 1957.
The M. D. Anderson Library, named for a founder of Anderson, Clayton and Company, and the Ezekiel W. Cullen Administration Building were completed in 1950, at which time the school had 14,129 students and 352 full-time and 273 part-time faculty. By 1951 the physical plant consisted of twelve permanent buildings on 260 acres. The university established KUHT, the nation's first educational television station, in 1953, and operated an FM radio station on campus. During the 1950s the M. D. Anderson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Cullen Foundation provided endowments and other funding, but in 1959 the board of governors sought state financial assistance and admission to the state system of higher education, which was granted in 1961, to become effective in September 1963. The university was guided thereafter by a nine-member board of regents, appointed by the governor.
In 1960 the university chartered a foundation to develop a Texas environmental research center on 1,603 acres at the site of the former Camp Wallace near La Marque in Galveston County. Several research projects were begun for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1962, and by 1964 research contracts in progress reached the million-dollar level annually. The university initiated a bilingual education program, an Afro-American Studies program (1969), and a Mexican-American Studies program (1972). In 1999 the university was divided into thirteen colleges, offered 278 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs, enrolled 32,651 students, and had a faculty of 1,598. The M. D. Anderson Library and other university libraries collectively held 2 million volumes, 3.8 million microform units, and 15,000 subscriptions. Other facilities included the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Gallery, the Texas Center for Superconductivity, the Energy Laboratory, the Institute for Cardiovascular Studies, the Division of Continuing Education and Extension, and Arte Público Press, the largest publisher of Hispanic literature in the United States. The president of the university was Arthur K. Smith.