Julius Wayne Reitz was born on New Years Eve 1908 in Olathe, Kansas. The Reitz family later moved to Canon City, Colorado, where he graduated from high school in 1926. In 1930, after being editor of the university’s yearbook, freshmen class president, student body president, and winner of the Rocky Mountain Oratory Award, Reitz received his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University. He then took up work as an extension economist, first at Colorado State, and then with the University of Illinois, where in 1935 he attained his master’s. That year, after accepting an assistant professorship in agricultural economics at the University of Florida, Reitz married Frances Huston Millikan. After advancing to the rank of full professor, Reitz returned to his formal studies at the University of Wisconsin where he earned his doctorate in 1941.
Reitz left academic life in 1944 for a short stint as economic consultant for the United Growers and Shippers Association. Four years later, he became Chief of the Citrus Fruits Section in the USDA. In 1949, Reitz returned to the University of Florida after being appointed Provost for Agriculture by President J. Hillis Miller. During his tenure as Provost he was appointed to the administrative boards of the Escuela Agrícola Panamericana in Tegucigalpa and the Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias Agrícolas de la OEA in Turrialba, Costa Rica.
Miller’s sudden death in November 1953 started a lengthy search for a successor. Philip G. Davidson, President of the University of Louisville, was named the new executive. Davidson, however, withdrew his name when Acting Governor Charley Johns refused to sign his payroll warrant. A new search was initiated and, on March 22, 1955, Reitz became the first UF faculty member to be named president and the University’s fifth president overall.
During Reitz’s term, more than 300 campus buildings were erected at an approximate cost of $50 million. The buildings created and expanded during his term included a new health center, a nuclear training reactor, an educational television station, and a married-student housing facility. Along with the new buildings, Reitz tightened admission standards and placed greater emphasis on academic achievement in matters ranging from the awarding of financial aid to the development of advanced placement procedures. Reitz expanded the graduate school through new programs and centers (especially the Latin American Language and Area Center) and created the Division of Sponsored Research to increase funding opportunities for research. His wife, a gracious hostess to countless dignitaries and students, also took an active role in advancing the university’s music program. All of this expansion came alongside a doubling of the student population, from 9,000 to 18,000.
The Reitz years were not without controversy. Strict behavior guidelines, dress codes, and a Faculty Disciplinary Committee to enforce these rules all received Reitz’s strong endorsement. In the early 1960s, the Florida Legislative Investigating Committee accused twenty-two university employees and a number of students of homosexual conduct. All were summarily discharged or expelled. The denial of tenure to Marshall Jones, a psychiatrist active in radical causes, led to censure by the American Association of University Professors. Relatively speaking, though, the campus did not witness significant turmoil. The first state university to integrate, racial integration was achieved at Florida with less turmoil than most Southern colleges. The first African-American student was enrolled in the College of Law in September 1958. Reitz’s close relationship to the student body was instrumental in curbing attempts to resist the court order to integrate.
Reitz, however, had more trouble with state governors. He opposed LeRoy Collins’ 1957 attempt to create a chancellor system, and he had to fight off attempts by other governors to assume control of the university’s day-to-day operations. A 1965 showdown with Haydon Burns over budgetary matters almost ended in Reitz’s resignation. After a year of relative calm, Reitz announced his resignation in January, 1967 citing “presidential fatigue” as the reason. He stayed on until Stephen O’Connell was sworn in as the university’s next president.
After his presidency, Reitz served as director of graduate programs in the U.S. Office of Education, before returning to his international activities. In addition to his Latin American work, Reitz had been named to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Board of Agricultural Consultants and, in 1964, he accepted an appointment to the Public Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations. These responsibilities carried him to several nations as a teacher and advisor. His most extensive overseas assignment was to Mahidol University in Bangkok where he served as a consultant to the University Rector.
After his retirement, Reitz became an important fundraiser for local charities as well as the University of Florida. He continued to work for the University of Florida Foundation’s development office until his death on Christmas Eve 1993.