Independence Day: ISUE Becomes USI

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant at the University Archives and Special Collections.

2020 marked the 55th anniversary of the founding of the University of Southern Indiana (USI). Most students at USI may not know that USI was originally a satellite campus for Indiana State University (ISU), know from 1965 to 1985 as Indiana State University-Evansville, or ISUE. If it was not for ISU, there would not be a USI. ISU was instrumental in the creation of USI along with Ball State University (when it was first created in 1918).

Donna Mesker at "Free the Eagle" independence petition.

Donna Mesker at “Free the Eagle” independence petition. Source: UASC, UP 08339.

In the 1960’s, numerous businesses were closing and leaving Evansville, leaving many out of work. USI, then known as ISUE, started out as an idea by local community leaders and members. They wanted another public university in Evansville (the other option was the private institution, Evansville College, known as the University of Evansville, today). Once ISU was on board and supported the idea, ISUE became a reality! Classes started at ISUE in the fall of 1965 at the old Centennial School on the west side of Evansville. By 1970, ISUE was moving to the far-west side of Evansville at its current location. USI had a long road ahead before it could be known as USI.

It would take nine more years for ISUE’s independence to a legitimate topic of discussion. In 1984, legislators who supported the independence movement and two more big-named supporters were recognized: the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and then-Indiana Governor, Robert D. Orr (who was from Evansville). A legislative bill was proposed for ISUE independence and was passed in the Indiana Senate for further review in 1985, after a 12-year long battle. ISUE was finally going to become an independent university (Harper, 1984, pg. 1).

Governor Robert Orr signing independence bill in 1985.

Governor Robert Orr signing independence bill, 1985. Source: UASC, UP 19625.

After a long-awaited journey for independence, the Indiana Education Committee voted on Senate Bill #207. The committee passed the bill, 7 to 3. ISUE would finally be granted independence. The ISUE campus and Evansville community held an unprecedented celebration. On April 16, 1985, ISUE become USI: Governor Orr signed the independence bill in the Physical Activities Center (PAC) in front of 1,500 people (Harper, 1985). After the bill signing, Archie the Eagle had a ball and chain on his ankle: in front of a large crowd, the ball and chain was symbolically cut, symbolizing his newly gained “independence”.

Independence bill signing creating USI in 1985.

Independence bill signing creating USI, 1985. Source: UASC, UP 21610.

During the 50th anniversary of USI, the university released footage from the signing of the bill for USI’s independence and unchaining of Archie the Eagle. The clips are available below from YouTube on USI’s official page at

Happy independence day, USI! Fight on, Screaming Eagles!

Part 1: Mid-America Singers at Independence Day

Part 2: Signing of the Bill

Part 3: Unchaining the Eagle

References Consulted

Ball State University. (2020). History, landmarks, and traditions.

Embrey, M. (1985, January 31). Independence issues leaps first hurdle. The Shield.

Harper, S. (1984, November 15). Election proved to be a plus for independence. The Shield.

Harper, S. (1985, April 25). Gov. Orr signs independence bill. The Shield.

Indiana State University. (2020). History and traditions.

Phillips, E. D. & Dorsey, M. A. (1975, November 7). Board of Trustees call for more cooperation; ‘working partnership’ replaces independence. The Shield. pgs. 1, 3.

University of Southern Indiana. (2020). History.

This entry was posted in Evansville, Indiana, Local history, USI. Bookmark the permalink.

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