At 90, Oklahoma Memorial Union Is Still the Heart of Campus

To enter the doors of the University of Oklahoma’s Oklahoma Memorial Union is to walk into a perfect blend of the past, present and future. An endless bustle of students, faculty, vendors and visitors are uniquely and successfully juxtaposed against the backdrop of a 1920s-era, Gothic-inspired building that helped set the tone for future campus architecture. OU’s heritage is celebrated throughout its halls through antique photos, mission-style furniture, and artwork, plus hardwood floors and arched ceilings.

In addition to its elegant appearance, Oklahoma Memorial Union—which turns 90 on Nov. 22—it is one of very few student unions in the nation that are open 24/7.

The Union is home to an extremely broad range of services and activities, said the building’s assistant director, Matthew Nash. In its nine decades as the university’s “living room,” the official mission has remained the same: “to support the academic growth of students by enriching the university community through programs and services, building an inclusive community and providing a clean, safe and welcoming facility for diverse campus life experiences to occur.”

Nash said that roughly 12,000 people come through the union’s doors each day. “In the Big 12 conference, that’s a pretty high figure,” he said. “We’re not one of the larger buildings, but we have much greater attendance.”

High on the list for most of these visitors are the building’s eight eateries, which include a 24-hour diner, a Starbucks, a small marketplace and a food court. Also available are dozens of meeting spaces and event venues, plus a movie theater, computer lab, copy shop, credit union, dry cleaners, post office and spaces for students to study or socialize. The building is home to various student organization and staff administrative offices and hosts between 300 to 400 events per year.

Oklahoma Memorial Union was built at the same time as OU’s original Memorial Stadium—in fact, the adjacent structures were part of a $1 million “two-fer” construction package in the early 1920s. Located at 900 Asp Ave., it features more than 25,000 square feet of meeting and event space, ranging from small rooms and lounges to outdoor venues and a 6,500-square-foot ballroom. All spaces are available for rent to the general public as well as students.

The facility last underwent a major expansion and renovation in the early 1990s. “We had a real revitalization when President David Boren came on board,” Nash said. “We used to be office-heavy, and we re-emphasized our original focus on creating more gathering spaces and activities. He is the one who started bringing a lot of things back.”

Operationally, the Union staff ultimately report to the university’s vice president for public affairs. The events schedule, Nash said, falls under the jurisdiction of the Union Programming Board, or UPB. Membership on the board is also open to students, who can be involved at multiple levels that reflect their specific interests. Known as UPB Ambassadors, these students work with groups across campus whose members are interested in holding events at the union.

“Some students join simply to assist with specific events; others like to have more input,” Nash said. “We like to say we offer ‘involvement with options.’ It’s just another way we fulfill our mission to engage the students, encourage leadership and enrich lives.”

Questions about the facility, catering, renting event space and the Union lost and found can be directed to the Administrative Office at 325.2113, by email at upb.edu or in person at its offices, in the union’s suite 428. General information about Oklahoma Memorial Union also is available on its website, ou.edu/union.