There are two types of education. … One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.
– John Adams
Volume 73 | Issue 5
September 2005

Union Spotlight: Norman A. Whitten University Center at University of Miami


University of Miami’s Norman A. Whitten Student Union opened in 1965. U of Miami personnel first proposed the original facility to meet the demands of an increasing student population that had outgrown a small student activities center. Norman Whitten, who worked in student activities during the 1950s, was instrumental in the original building process. Along with serving as the first union director, Whitten created U of Miami’s mascot, Sebastian the Ibis. He painted a mural of the scrappy-looking bird with the sailor’s hat on an old dining room wall. Students loved it and adopted the image as the mascot. Whitten died after only serving for a year as union director. Students lobbied for the union to be named the “Norman A. Whitten Student Union” and won. In 1985, U of Miami rededicated the original union the “Norman A. Whitten University Center.”

Unique features

Imagine seeing alligators or crocodiles on campus! The U of Miami University Center is located on the shores of Lake Osceola, which feeds into the larger Miami-Dade water system through canals. Usually students and administrators can enjoy gazing at ducks, turtles, pelicans, and large fish, but every so often crocodiles and alligators make an appearance. In fact, U of Miami alligators and crocodiles seem to appreciate sunning themselves on the rock that rests next to the University Center outdoor pool. Every time a croc or gator uses the water system to find its way onto university property, wildlife specialists retrieve the reptiles and relocate them to the Everglades. Last year, The Miami Herald featured a photo of those wildlife specialists hauling a 7-foot crocodile past University Center sunbathers and swimmers on the pool deck. “And no one got up to leave … just another day in Miami,” said University Center Director Daniel Westbrook.

Open all year, the University Center Swimming Pool keeps U of Miami students cool in the Florida sun. The outdoor Olympic-sized pool also features a 16-foot dive tower for the more daring swimmers. With the University Center’s central location, students, staff, and guests can view the pool and tower from most of the campus. Plans are set to reconstruct the current Student Activities Center and renovate the UC, but the pool will remain (with new lockers and a larger sundeck).

The Florida heat also makes the University Center Patio a popular spot. It has been home to many major campus concerts and fairs. After the upcoming renovations, the patio will include a terrace and a water-level performance stage. This stage will create a link between the newly renovated University Center and the newly constructed Student Activities Center.

Students’ role

U of Miami’s University Center and Student Life trusts student employees and volunteers to keep everything running smoothly with limited nonstudent assistance. Throughout the building and grounds, students can be found serving as managers, information desk attendants, lifeguards, and office staff. Every campus program also relies on students for event planning and management; students serve on program boards such as Homecoming, Hurricane Productions (lectures and concerts), Cinematic Arts Committee, and Rathskeller Advisory Board (campus entertainment).


In addition to the usual concerts, fairs, and movies that many campuses offer, the University of Miami also was host to the first 2004 U.S. Presidential Debate. The University Center planned a special “Debate Watch” party for the event. Staff set up big-screen televisions on the patio and in the rathskeller plaza specifically for politically charged students to monitor the preliminaries, debate, and the aftermath analysis. Crowds came to watch, eat food, score free giveaways, and listen to live concert music. MSNBC and CNN even broadcast several of their signature shows live from the outdoor patio.

University of Miami
Four-year, urban, private, commuter, Hispanic-serving

Norman A. Whitten University Center
Daniel L. Westbrook
Union Size: 175,000 sq. ft.
Number of Floors: 2
Built: 1965
Operating Budget:
$1.37 million
70 (part-time)
7 (full-time)