History & Heritage


Early Years

Founded in 1942 by global education pioneer Dr. Peter Sammartino (1904-1992), Fairleigh Dickinson University opened its doors with an innovative and ambitious goal: to provide a place where students of all ages, from every corner of the globe, could receive an education "of and for the world." Starting out with an entering class of just 153 students, the University soon was providing educational opportunities for thousands of returning World War II veterans, recent immigrants, and visiting international students, as well as offering thousands of working class students from New York and New Jersey with their first glimpse of the wider world.


FDU and Becton Dickinson, Inc.

The college took its name from its early benefactor, Colonel Fairleigh S. Dickinson (1864-1948), co-founder of Becton Dickinson, Inc., the Fortune 500 medical technology company. Dickinson and his business partner, Maxwell Becton, helped infuse the new institution with an entrepreneurial spirit to match its founder's global vision. Becton College of Arts and Sciences, on the University's Florham campus, takes its name from Maxwell Becton, co-founder of Becton Dickinson, Inc., while the Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health, on the University's Metropolitan Campus, is named for Henry P. Becton, Maxwell Becton's son and an emeritus member of the FDU Board of Trustees. Two buildings on the Metropolitan Campus are named after Edward T.T. Williams, Becton Dickinson executive and first chairman of the FDU Board of Trustees.

Dr. Peter Sammartino

Dr. Sammartino was a founding faculty member of a progressive, experimental approach to global education at Teachers College of Columbia University. Known as the New College, the curriculum emphasized foreign study, diversity of experience, pragmatism, and the revitalization of the post-Depression educational system. In addition to founding Fairleigh Dickinson University, Dr. Sammartino also founded the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP) and wrote 30 books. He retired in 1967 as chancellor and president emeritus and served as honorary chancellor until his death in 1992. The Peter Sammartino School of Education and the Peter Sammartino Scholarship Fund continue to honor Fairleigh Dickinson University's founder today.


International Association of University Presidents (IAUP)

FDU has historic ties to the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), and these were reaffirmed when Dr. Michael Adams assumed the presidency of IAUP in 2011. The first president of IAUP was Dr. Peter Sammartino, the founding president of FDU. Its first conference was held at FDU's Wroxton College in 1964. IAUP is an association of university chief executives from institutions around the world. Its primary purpose is to strengthen the international mission and quality of education of these institutions in an increasingly interdependent world, and to promote global awareness and competence as well as peace and international understanding through education.


FDU and the United Nations

Early in Fairleigh Dickinson's history, founder Peter Sammartino built a close relationship with the United Nations, regularly bringing ambassadors to campus to lecture and to teach. FDU students personally escorted and drove U.N. dignitaries to campus. U.N. Ambassador Nasrollah Fatemi, from Iran, was FDU's first Dean of Graduate Studies, while Dr. Walter D. Head, who served as a consultant to the American delegation at the founding UN conference, became the first Provost of FDU's Metropolitan Campus FDU and the United Nationsin 1954. Also, over the years, FDU has given honorary doctorates to 13 U.N. officials, including Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. President J. Michael Adams renewed this partnership and helped establish the U.N. Pathways Lecture Series in 2002. Since then, FDU has welcomed more than 70 ambassadors to campus. The University also runs a videoconference series broadcast from U.N. headquarters to FDU and other universities. (U.N. events can be viewed online at the University's Global Issues Gateway site, www.gig.org.)

FDU and the G.I. Bill

When the U.S. Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (more commonly known as the G.I. Bill) no one could have anticipated the impact that it would have either on the lives of American servicemen and their families or on some American universities, among them Fairleigh Dickinson. As FDU founder Peter Sammartino wrote in his book, I Dreamed a College, "When the war ended we began to get a trickle of returning veterans but we never envisaged the waves that finally came in." The influx of veterans, many who had lost four or five years of their lives due to World War II, and many who already had families to support, forced the university to rethink its approach to higher education. Instead of being merely a liberal arts college, Fairleigh Dickinson would become equally committed to preparing students for "dynamic citizenship" through the liberal arts and professional preparation for a career. As part of its outreach to veterans, Fairleigh Dickinson also offered free courses to spouses, advice on home purchases, vocational guidance, and fee waivers for students whose G.I. Bill payments were delayed by the Veterans Administration.