On June 5, 1969, the University of Texas at San Antonio was established as a coeducational institution of higher learning in Bexar County. The Texas legislature mandated that it be a university of the first class and offer degrees as are granted at leading American universities. In 1970 the University of Texas System Board of Regents appointed the first president, Arleigh B. Templeton (1970–72), and accepted a land donation of 600 acres for the university site in northwest San Antonio. The university's master academic and organization plan was approved in 1971. It consisted of twenty-seven undergraduate and fifteen graduate degree plans in five multidisciplinary colleges. The first deans were Richard Adams, College of Humanities and Social Sciences; Dora Grossenbacher, students; William C. Lindley, Division of Continuing Education; E. D. Hodo, College of Business; Jacinto Quirarte, College of Fine and Applied Arts; Bernard P. Sagik, College of Sciences and Mathematics; Joseph Michel, College of Multicultural Studies; and Tomás Rivera, associate dean of the College of Multicultural Studies.
The initial development of the university occurred in two phases. The first phase, approved in 1972, was the construction of seven academic, administrative, indoor athletic, and service facilities, which were completed between 1973 and 1976. The university began admitting graduate students in June 1973 and held classes at the Koger Center, a temporary off-campus location, where the administrative offices were located. In 1975 the programs moved to the newly completed campus, and in 1976 the first freshman class was admitted. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited the graduate program in 1974 and the undergraduate program in 1977. The second phase of development, construction of an academic building, arts annex and laboratories, and outdoor athletic facilities, was completed between 1978 and 1981. In 1982 the academic program was restructured into four colleges, and an engineering division was added. A university center and a privately built, university-managed residence hall were planned in 1982 and completed in 1986.
In 1985 the university established a master's degree in biotechnology. The university has an endowed professorship in life sciences and an endowed faculty chair in management of building development. An engineering complex (Phase I) was approved in 1988 and scheduled for completion in 1991. UT San Antonio was a founding member of the Southwest Research Consortium, based in San Antonio, through which members of San Antonio's university research community collaborate with other major facilities in the area. The consortium includes UT San Antonio, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and the Southwest Research Institute. The university's economic development centers, which received more than $1.2 million in federal grants in 1988, provided services to San Antonio and South Texas businesses and communities through cooperative public-private sector arrangements. In 1986 UT San Antonio was chosen by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities as a national model for this type of university-private sector cooperation. UTSA cooperates with the University of Texas at Austin to offer a doctorate in education and with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to offer three allied health bachelor of science degree programs. Primary experience is offered students in archeology, and an example of their work is the discovery of a Mayan tomb in Río Azul, Guatemala, in 1984. The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures was linked administratively with UT San Antonio in 1986.
UT San Antonio, in accord with its mandate, has developed into a comprehensive public metropolitan university. In 1989 the university offered forty undergraduate and twenty graduate degree programs. The music, allied health sciences, fine arts, engineering, and business programs were nationally accredited. Student enrollment was at 13,134; the average annual growth rate for the school was between 4 and 5 percent. More than 1,800 people were employed, including 533 faculty. The university had a budget of $50.2 million; private endowments totalled $4.6 million, and research expenditures totalled $3.5 million. UT San Antonio began receiving funds from Permanent University Fund bond proceeds in 1985. In 1989 its physical plant, including the 600-acre campus on Loop 1604, was valued at more than $123 million. It had more than twenty-two permanent buildings. The library, named in honor of San Antonio regent John R. Peace in 1974, housed 475,000 volumes. Included in its $9.6 million collection were scholarly and historically valuable materials on San Antonio, Texana, Western Americana, Spanish colonial history, and architecture. In 1992–93 UTSA had 648 faculty and 16,767 students in the regular term and 8,591 students in summer sessions. By the fall of 2000 enrollment at UTSA was 18,830, of whom 16,487 were undergraduates, and the faculty numbered 947. The university then offered eighty-eight bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees, with six more doctoral degree programs in the planning stages. In 1993 UTSA was among a number of South Texas state universities that would benefit from increased funding as a part of the South Texas Initiative passed by the state legislature. In 1997 the school opened a Downtown Campus at Durango Boulevard and Frio Street. By 2001 the two-building campus offered eighteen on-site degree programs to some 3,100 students; with the completion of the Durango Building, scheduled for the fall of 2001, the campus anticipated serving some 8,000 students. The UTSA libraries, including facilities downtown and at the Institute of Texan Cultures, held 520,000 volumes. Ricardo Romo became the fifth president of UTSA in 1999.