A Brief History of the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice

Organizing a Department

The earliest evidence of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska can be traced to the Omaha campus and T. Earl Sullenger.  Professor Sullenger founded the Department of Sociology at UNO and taught courses on crime and deviance from 1923 to 1958. Professor Sullenger also contributed a chapter on crime in Omaha to Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay’s classic study Juvenile Delinquency in Urban Areas.

Sociology continued to offer criminology courses into the 1960s.  In the fall of 1962, the College of Adult Education (with assistance from the Sociology Department) began offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Security.  The Department of Law Enforcement and Correction was formed under the direction of Gaylon Kuchel, and eight students (including one woman) became the first graduates of the program in 1966.  The program quickly grew.  It received funding from the Nebraska State Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice in 1971 to develop a degree program on the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska.  Beginning in the fall of 1972, several full-time faculty were assigned to the Lincoln campus and students were offered the opportunity to complete their Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Corrections from the University of Nebraska at Omaha entirely on the Lincoln campus.

Building a Graduate Program

In 1972, the Department of Law Enforcement and Correction became the Department of Criminal Justice and moved to the School of Public Affairs, which became the College of Public Affairs in 1973.  In 1976, both a Master of Science degree and a Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice were approved by the Board of Regents.  

During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, the department continued to grow in enrollment and faculty on both the Omaha and Lincoln campuses.  The department also became recognized as a national leader in criminological education and research.  In 1993, the Board of Regents approved a doctoral degree in Criminal Justice, the first free standing Ph.D. program to be offered by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the 13th such program nationally.  

Expanding to a School

In 2006, the Department of Criminal Justice broadened its mission and scope by becoming the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.  At that time, the School boasted a top ten national rank according to U.S. News and World Report, was home to a large, well-respected, and productive faculty spread across the Omaha and Lincoln campuses.  It housed the Juvenile Justice Institute, which was created in 2002, to efficiently meet research needs of the Nebraska juvenile justice system.  In 2009, the School established the Consortium for Crime and Justice Research in response to a need for more comprehensive research on regional and national crime and justice issues.  In 2014, the Nebraska Center for Justice Research was established (replacing the Consortium) due to an increasing scope of work and increased interdisciplinary collaborations and community partnerships.

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice remains a nationally recognized leader in criminological research and education.  Faculty within the school are actively involved in research activities that impact the field of Criminology and Criminal Justice.  Over the years, the faculty have included several fellows and past presidents of the American Society of Criminology or the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. The School also currently serves over 800 undergraduate students between the Omaha and Lincoln campuses of the University of Nebraska, and over 100 masters’ students and 30 doctoral students.