by Larry R. Faulkner, President Emeritus
University of Texas at Austin
There are, in our lives, places and people, institutions and experiences, that loom very large, that impress us indelibly and become part of our identity. The most powerful foster a distinct culture into which we are drawn, sometimes repeatedly, through decades. Even after long disengagement, the relationship can resume with unexpected familiarity and feeling. Such has been my experience with the University of Texas, and I know it also to have been the experience of countless others.
"Do not think you can escape them," one sings in "The Eyes of Texas." For me, these words have come to be the anthem's most prophetic. I rarely speak them now without wondering over them, at least fleetingly.
My personal journey with "The University" now spans five decades. I was a graduate student in the '60s, a faculty member in the '80s, president in the '90s and into the '00s, and now I enjoy "senior status." But in those years, I was away more than I was in Austin. I came and went, and came and went, and came, not ever to leave fully again.
For me, the University has always been powerful, energetic, and irresistibly lively—a place of dreams, ambition, spirit, and imagination. Though only a part of Texas, it seems to make all of Texas still bigger and more significant. The University is an institution, a distinct culture, that keeps moving on, ever subsuming and incorporating, transforming and enabling.
Human in origin and manifestation, it is, to be sure, imperfect and even occasionally irrational. It can disappoint, and it can fail to live up to its own ideals and standards. Yet it abides, broadly valued for its deep relevance to the lives and futures of individual people and to their society. Of course, every great institution manifests both remarkable powers and clear shortcomings. Despite the weaknesses, a signal feat in human history has been the evolution of working examples that can inspire and deliver on their promises for centuries. There is satisfying evidence that the University of Texas has risen to hold a place among those of our time.
What is at the core of an institution like that? How did it come together? How does it cohere? How does it keep growing and adapting through changing times and people? My sense is that the answers to such questions cannot be found by analysis. The essence of the University of Texas seems to be one of those fascinations that just dissipate if one looks too closely. One cannot capture it by detailing its parts. But one can illuminate aspects of it by using essays and stories—about people who passed through, who became a part of the culture, and of whom the culture, in turn, became a part—about bits of history that underlie the culture.
Such is the concept that led to this book, The Texas Book Two, and its predecessor, The Texas Book. In this volume, David Dettmer has assembled a fascinating anthology of profiles, historical pieces, and reminiscences. Each can be read alone, and the collection can be read in any order. Apart, the pieces can be seen as individual threads of the University's fabric. Taken together, they provide a loose reweave, depicting more of what the institution has been over the years and what it has come to be.
The concept of the first Texas Book grew largely from the imagination of Susan Clagett, an associate vice president of the University. Over the past twenty years, Ms. Clagett has been the principal figure in charge of major events, including commencement, which she redesigned dramatically in the 1990s, with remarkable and lasting success. She later established wonderful additional occasions, such as Explore UT, the yearly University-wide open house; Gone to Texas, the annual welcome for new students; and UT Remembers, a ceremony honoring members of the community who died in the preceding year. A common theme through all her work is what I sometimes call "symbolic communication." She and her team are masters of the varied and powerful symbols—sites, images, music, verse and prose, allusions to people, places, and events—evoking and expressing the heritage and attributes of the University of Texas and its community. Drawing upon these elements, Ms. Clagett and her colleagues seem consistently to imbue their big and small events with just the right significance and tone.
The first Texas Book was conceived in the same vein, except that the collected elements were to be essays and stories. Taken separately and together, they would generate an experience of the University and would help the reader see into the core of the place and the basis for its influence.
Susan Clagett raised the idea with me early in my presidency, probably in 1999. I encouraged her to pursue it and drew her attention to The Harvard Book, which had been assembled decades earlier by William Bentinck-Smith toward a similar end for a different community. Ms. Clagett pushed ahead. She was supported by Teresa Sullivan, then vice president and the dean of graduate studies, who helped to involve both Don Carleton, the director of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and Joanna Hitchcock, the director of the University of Texas Press. They, in turn, recruited Richard A. Holland into the challenge of editing the book, which appeared in 2006. David Dettmer, the editor of this present volume, played a strong supporting role in that effort.
The success of the first volume and the availability of a great range of additional material encouraged further effort. David Dettmer interested Joanna Hitchcock in The Texas Book Two and agreed to edit it. This product, like the university that inspires it, is fascinating.
Savor these chapters, essay by essay, and all together. They will draw you toward the core of the great institution and, most likely, will connect you to your own past and future as they do.
By David Dettmer
"A University of the first class."
Almost everyone who is associated in one way or another with the institution known as the University of Texas—or, since 1967, the University of Texas at Austin—is familiar with this constitutional call to excellence. The phrase reverberates throughout the essays in this book. In many ways, the University of Texas is undoubtedly "of the first class." In every corner of this sprawling enterprise, one can find examples of teaching, research, preservation, and artistic creation that are among the world's best.
The University's enormous, ever-densifying urban campus includes not only the nearly 850 acres the University occupies in Austin proper, but outposts hundreds of miles from Austin as well, in every direction on the compass—from the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis in West Texas, to the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham near the Red River, to the Winedale Historical Complex near Round Top in Fayette County, to the Marine Science Institute at Port Aransas on the Gulf Coast. For a Texan interested in progress (no, that's not an oxymoron), there could be few pleasures greater than uncovering the intellectual treasures that one can find by exploring these "Forty Acres" and all they contain.
The Texas Book Two: More Profiles, History, and Reminiscences of the University chronicles much of the excellence that the University of Texas has produced since it opened its doors in 1883. It also faces squarely some of the shortcomings of this "University of the first class." This book picks up where its predecessor, The Texas Book: Profiles, History, and Reminiscences of the University, edited by Richard A. Holland and published by the University of Texas Press in 2006, leaves off. Like its predecessor, this volume is a collection of essays divided into three categories—profiles, history, and reminiscences. Each essay is told by a different author in that author's unique voice and from that author's point of view. This book is not a comprehensive history of the University, nor does it claim that the following nineteen essays are necessarily about the nineteen most important people or events in the University's history. I have carefully selected the topics to give you, the reader, a cross section of UT's relatively short existence, a cut that exposes a meaningful variety of facts, personalities, and flavors that are particular to UT. The essays can be read in the order they appear (they are arranged chronologically within each section), or each can be read individually, independent of any of the other essays. My hope is that, at its best, this book lends some anthropological insight into the values and behavior of the University of Texas and the people who have made it what it is.
In his foreword to this volume, UT-Austin president emeritus Larry R. Faulkner explains how the idea for producing a book of this nature was conceived. He connects the idea for a book of essays about the history and culture of UT to a larger effort, begun during the administration of president Robert M. Berdahl (1993–1997), to connect UT-Austin more closely to the public through the use of "symbolic communication." By communicating to the public a better understanding of the essential role higher education plays in society, the enhanced use of "symbolic communication" has enabled the administrations of Berdahl and his successors—Peter Flawn, Larry Faulkner, and Bill Powers—to demonstrate to the public more effectively the power of the University to enhance and even transform the lives of those who support it. Certainly, the University enhances lives by creating and preserving knowledge. By putting much of that knowledge into practical use, it also makes the lives of Texans better by acting as an enormous economic engine that is essential to the long-term health of the state's economy. Certainly there is truth to Faulkner's assessment in his foreword that "evoking and expressing the heritage and attributes of the University of Texas and its community" gives readers of The Texas Book a better understanding of the core mission of the University and their relationship to it—but as Faulkner himself demonstrates, the issue of the University's potential and the public's perception of it reaches much deeper than that truth.
In his first "Address on the State of the University," on October 6, 1998, Faulkner told the assembly that "through its history, this university has moved forward in cycles. At times, the hard work of this community, the fortunes of our state, and the leadership of those who love Texas have come together to foster periods of great advancement."
These first two volumes of The Texas Book contain the stories of many of those forward movements—and at its best, the University of Texas moving forward is an awesome sight to behold. When Texans marshal their creativity, skill, ambition, and courage, the result is special—it is world class, and typically it is unmistakably Texan. However, if there have been periods of great advancement in UT's history, then implicit in Faulkner's statement is the understanding that there have also been periods when the University has not fostered great advancement. Anyone who has been associated with the University for a length of time understands well the institution's ability, on occasion, to thwart its own progress—and some of those stories are told in the pages of these volumes of The Texas Book as well. Perhaps this ability to be so great at times and so foolish at other times is a necessary consequence of the unique history and culture of the state. Perhaps it is a by-product of a willingness to risk; of a stubborn independence; of a strange, contradictory impulse to be both cosmopolitan and insular—to take pride in being both worldly and provincial. Perhaps it is a by-product of the violence and brutal practicality that lies at the heart of the formation and development of the state.
One episode in UT-Austin's history stands out as a particularly revealing instance of the vexing ability the University has to approach greatness while simultaneously working to thwart its arrival. Several of the essays in both volumes of The Texas Book include a discussion of this episode—namely, the firing of UT president Homer Rainey by the UT Board of Regents in 1944, a topic that certainly merits its own essay, or full-length book, for that matter.
By all appearances, Homer Rainey was the perfect candidate to lead the University of Texas. He was a native Texan who came from humble roots. He was an ordained Baptist minister, a World War I veteran, and a standout athlete—a four-sport star at Austin College in Sherman and briefly a pitcher in the Texas League. He had impeccable academic credentials and wrote extensively about educational issues, and he had already served as the president of Franklin College in Indiana and of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania when the UT regents brought him back to Texas in 1939. The regents fired him nevertheless.
Among President Rainey's failings, in the eyes of the regents, were his refusal to fire several tenured professors whom the regents had instructed him to fire; his refusal to order the English Department to drop from its reading list John Dos Passos's respected U.S.A. trilogy, which contains frank descriptions of American life and criticism of big business (the third novel in the trilogy is titled The Big Money); his willingness to listen to rational considerations for moving the Medical Branch in Galveston to Austin; the regents' perception that he had withheld from them knowledge of the presence of homosexuals on campus, which could also, in their view, be masking an unwillingness to report on socialistic or communistic inroads being made on campus by outsiders; and their perception that perhaps he was leaning the wrong way, in their view, on the question of racial integration.
A year after the firing—as American atomic bombs were falling on Japan, three months after the surrender of Nazi Germany—Bernard De Voto attempted to sort out in the pages of Harper's Magazine the decision the UT regents had made:
A group of unscrupulous but very clear-minded men, then, have destroyed the University of Texas as an educational institution—destroyed it, at least, for so long as they or anyone who represents their point of view may remain in control. Mr. Frank Dobie does not scruple to call them native fascists. He is using the word carefully: they have faithfully repeated the Nazi attack on the central mechanism of democracy. The service of the regents is to entrenched wealth, privilege, powerful corporations; they are agents of ruthless industry and finance. But clearly they could neither have won nor maintained their victory if they had not succeeded in getting the support of many Texans who want no truck with fascism and are not enlisted on the side of privilege.
Many thousands of profoundly troubled Texans honestly believe that the regents have been defending their state from outside domination, that they have struck a triumphant blow for individual freedom, that they have saved Texas from terrible evils—that in a way the Republic of Texas has been renewed. To an outsider it is clear that instead they are regressive and anachronistic, that they have only reared a wall against modern government, modern thinking, modern literature—in short against the modern world. But there lingers in Texas the ghostly memory of an unindustrialized society. Of a frontier where lack of economic and political safeguards actually worked against the hardening of class lines. Of pioneer simplicities when frugality and enterprise and minding your own business were enough in themselves to make life excellent. To that golden nostalgia the wall against the modern world seems a defense against all that has proved grievous in the experience of our generation and a promise that Sam Houston will come again.
The University of Texas is inextricably the university of Texas. That is what makes it so fascinating, and so vexing.
In his 1998 State of the University address, President Faulkner raised the following question and followed it with the larger goal he held for the University, of which he hoped his administration would put the University in pursuit:
So is it now true that The University is "good enough?" One hears this question out loud at times. More often it hangs as an unspoken implication in conversations about public policy in Texas. The answer is "yes" or "perhaps" only if one is also willing to admit that Texas, as a state and as a society, is already "good enough." It is a rare Texan who will admit that. I spoke earlier about the role that Texas can play, in the nation and in the world, in the decades to come. To achieve that kind of future, Texas needs to strengthen its educational assets in several ways, but it surely needs to continue to build excellence here in Austin. We have a state culture that demands the best. We have ambition and resolve. Let us exploit these strengths and strive to excel. Let us make this place more than a university of the first class. Let's take it to the head of the class!
When I say that, I'm not just talking about rankings. At UT, we are strong enough to look beyond rankings, toward the real needs of our society, and toward the real opportunities for leadership in the future. We need to answer for ourselves the question, "What makes a great university great?" In my view, it is not possible for a university to achieve greatness without a faculty of superb quality, but even with such a faculty, a university may fail its promise because it engages poorly with the society it was created to serve. My goal for The University of Texas at Austin is that we do the best complete job of serving the real needs of the people of Texas and the nation. Greatness is to be found in what a university does, not in what it is.
From this goal arose the need to connect the University more closely with the citizens of Texas. Efforts such as enhancement of the "symbolic communication" that events such as Spring Commencement have always provided—as well as the development of new events such as Explore UT (a university-wide open house for the general public, especially K-12 students from across the state), UT Remembers (a memorial service for members of the UT community who passed away during the preceding year), and Gone to Texas (an event in August to welcome students to campus)—were intended to be steps in pursuit of this goal. Though these volumes of The Texas Book, unlike those events, are not an official production of the University's administration, they serve a similar purpose, in their own modest way. One of the strengths of this project—one that the books' editors have made a concerted effort to maintain—is an objectivity that a comprehensive, chronological, officially sanctioned institutional history told through a single, authoritative voice perhaps could not achieve.
It is a well-known fact that no comprehensive history of the University of Texas exists. Many notable figures have attempted to start or have been requisitioned to undertake such a work, but none has been able to complete the task. These include several University presidents—notably Walter M. W. Splawn, H. Y. Benedict, and Harry Ransom—as well as academics and professional historians. For whatever reason, the topic of the University of Texas seems to resist being explained by a lone voice or from a solitary point of view. The hope is that the inductive approach that these volumes of The Texas Book offer reveals a path into the University's history that has not been previously explored.
Bernard De Voto's analysis of the causes and consequences of the Rainey affair, quoted above, provides the viewpoint of someone who observed the University of Texas from the outside and who expressed that point of view in the pages of a national magazine published in New York City—a magazine known for its liberal stance on most issues, no less. However, views of the University of Texas similar to De Voto's have been voiced close to home as well. For example, in his book The Forty-Acre Follies (1983), the late Joe B. Frantz includes a chapter titled "Pursuit and Persecution," which traces the history of the "Big Bear Fight" between the University and Governor James "Pa" Ferguson in 1917 (see Patrick Cox's essay "'Farmer Jim' and 'The Chief'" in this volume for a discussion of that episode), as well as the history of the Rainey affair. Frantz was a UT alumnus and longtime faculty member in UT's Department of History; he was also one of the many historians involved in one or more of the abortive attempts to produce an institutional history. He begins this chapter with the following observations:
The University of Texas has the worst reputation of any academic institution in the United States for being ridden, even overwhelmed, by politics—and it is deserved. I've spent nearly half a century trying to figure out why we have that reputation. I haven't come to a satisfactory conclusion yet.
The state of Texas has its share of ignoramuses, but so does every other state in the Union. Texas has its political divisions, but they are no more violent than those in Massachusetts or California. Texas governors and legislators too often pander to anti-intellectual forces within the state, but I have lived all over the United States and find other legislators and public officials as inflammatory and malignant as ours. Texas has its religious zealots who think that free inquiry is a renunciation of all that is Christian, but I have found equally well buckled Bible Belts in Iowa and Illinois.
Why do Texas people invariably turn on the university?
Perhaps as you, the reader, explore the various topics discussed in the essays in this volume of The Texas Book and listen to the voices describing them, you can begin to form your own answer to Dr. Frantz's question. Perhaps you will also develop an appreciation—or increase the appreciation you already have—for the magnificent successes that the University has achieved in its nearly 130-year history and for the seemingly unlimited potential it has, at times, to achieve even more.
Considering the development of public universities in other states in the Union, Texas got a late start. There are clear reasons for Texas's delinquency. Before ratification of the Texas Constitution of 1876, the leaders of the Republic of Texas and the State of Texas formally acknowledged the importance of founding a flagship public university, but had little ability to make that happen, other than by setting aside income-producing land and other resources to finance such an endeavor. (Even so, those resources were plundered by the legislature on more than one occasion for other, more immediate and practical needs.) By the 1870s, the Northeast and the Old South were home to colleges and universities with traditions several generations old already, and states from New England to the Pacific Coast had established public institutions of higher learning. Some of those state institutions, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Missouri, were founded decades before the start of the Civil War and were already thriving. Furthermore, the federal government had passed the Morrill Act in 1862—a remarkable piece of legislation, enacted under the most improbable circumstances—and in the years immediately after the end of the Civil War, vibrant land-grant colleges were sprouting up across the Midwest and in the new states in the Far West. But not in Texas.
In 1866, Texas accepted the terms of the Morrill Act, which included a five-year deadline for establishing a university. In 1871, with the state reeling from the traumas of Reconstruction, the five-year deadline approaching, and the receipt of scrip for 180,000 acres of federal land in peril, the state legislature hurriedly founded an agricultural and mechanical college, to be incorporated later in the yet-to-be-founded main university. Another five years passed before this A&M college finally opened, on the outskirts of Bryan, Texas, the same year Texas ratified yet again a new state constitution, which included the following language:
The Legislature shall, as soon as practicable, establish, organize and provide for the maintenance, support and direction of a university of the first class, to be located by a vote of the people of this State, and styled, "The University of Texas," for the promotion of literature, and the arts and sciences, including an agricultural and mechanical department.
—Constitution of the State of Texas, 1876, Article VII, Section 10
It would take five more years for the state to found the University of Texas (with the lingering question whether the agricultural and mechanical college already established near Bryan was a department of the University of Texas or a separate institution). In 1881, the state assembled a board of regents, and the statewide vote resulted in Austin being selected as the site of the new university. (In a convoluted, politicized balloting process, Tyler received the second-most votes.) Two years later, UT opened its doors to students, albeit in the temporary Capitol at 11th and Congress because the west wing of the proposed Main Building—the only portion of the building the state could afford to build at that time—was not yet ready. Making matters worse, the missteps and excesses of the Reconstruction effort in Texas wrought terrible political turmoil among Texans and within their state and local governments, effectively destroying what little public primary and secondary education existed in most of the rural regions of Texas—which, of course, constituted the vast majority of the state.
Such was the environment from which most of the students who matriculated during the first decades of the University's existence emerged.
In this volume of The Texas Book, Nolan Porterfield's profile of John Lomax describes much of this early history of the University, because Lomax—better known today as the ballad hunter who "discovered" Huddie William "Leadbelly" Ledbetter in a Louisiana prison—played such an important role in the early development of the University's administration and its alumni association. A small army of midlevel administrators in the sprawling operations of today's University can trace the genealogy of their positions back to one person, the indefatigable—and frustrated—Lomax.
H. Y. Benedict, a contemporary of Lomax who grew up on the fading Texas frontier about one hundred miles northwest of Meridian, Lomax's home town, and who attended the same small college in Weatherford, Texas, as Lomax before coming to Austin for a proper university education, was the first graduate of the University to become its president. In my profile of Benedict, I outline his remarkable success as the longest-serving president in UT's history and identify the roots of that success in his unique upbringing.
Another nineteen-century man—one whose influence on the early University would affect Benedict, a trained astronomer, significantly—was banker William J. McDonald of Paris, Texas, who provided in his will the funds to create the McDonald Observatory. Frank Bash, a former director of the observatory, gives an updated history of how the McDonald gift has blossomed into a research facility that is still competitive in world-class astronomical research—and is also a leader in public outreach.
Patrick Cox examines the University's success in defending itself against James "Pa" Ferguson, the Texas governor who attempted to suffocate the University by cutting off its appropriation when UT's leaders refused to do his bidding—in particular, his demand that the University fire tenured professors and key staff members (including John Lomax) who for whatever reason had raised the governor's hackles. Cox focuses on the role that "the Chief," UT history professor Eugene C. Barker, played in that historic episode, which culminated in the impeachment of "Farmer Jim."
Don E. Carleton's profile of J. R. Parten, who served as a regent of the University from 1935 to 1941, reveals some of the deep complexities that regents and UT administrators face in finding workable common ground among the various competing interests that attempt to impose their will on the University. These interests include the state legislature, big business, the University faculty and staff, and the voters and taxpayers of the state. Carleton reveals how the University benefited from the intellectual growth Major Parten experienced during his six years on the Board of Regents, the last two as chairman.
One of the important functions of any major research university is to serve as an incubator for new ideas and new artistic and scientific endeavors. One such endeavor is the renowned Shakespeare at Winedale program, founded by James Ayres, a UT English professor. Alice Gordon's reminiscence of her experience in the early years of the program gives insight in the power of art as it has been explored since the early 1970s by "regular" students in the bucolic setting of a former farmstead in Fayette County, first settled on the outskirts of Stephen F. Austin's original colony in the days of the Republic of Texas. Her memories reveal how the program provides its participants—and the audiences of the plays that the students stage and perform—a unique freedom to learn and to grow.
Likewise, Michael Toland's history of Austin City Limits explains how one of America's most respected television programs was born and came of age on the Forty Acres. ACL has not only given television audiences the chance to hear some of the greatest artists in American music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and preserved it for subsequent generations, but also showcased for the nation the cultural vibe that has always made Austin unique.
Perhaps the highest goal of art—and of a good university education—is the opportunity for self-discovery. Self-discovery and tolerance (a self-discovery that the Board of Regents of 1944 would have found intolerable) is the theme of Vance Muse's reminiscence of his days as a UT student in the early 1970s. Muse thoughtfully describes his experience as a young man in the process of discovering his homosexuality. The sixties, as a cultural and political era, really didn't come to an end until the early seventies, and in describing his own personal transformation of identity, Muse captures much of the spirit of the campus in the waning days of that tumultuous period in American history. The places and attitudes he describes will no doubt be fondly remembered by many of this book's readers.
It is virtually impossible to examine the history of the University of Texas—or almost any university in the United States, for that matter—without examining the role that race and segregation played in that history. In his essay on John W. Hargis, the first African American to enroll in UT as an undergraduate student, Richard McCaslin fills in more of the story begun by Michael Gillette, who, in the first Texas Book, describes the successful efforts to desegregate the University that culminated in 1950 with the enrollment of Heman Sweatt in the UT Law School. McCaslin's profile reveals the humanity and courage of Hargis's effort to matriculate at UT, as well as the deep complexities that the inevitable need to desegregate the University presented its leaders.
At the same time that Hargis matriculated at UT, on his own, in the summer of 1955, the University was preparing to enroll in the fall 1956 semester its "inaugural" group of African American undergraduates. One of the members of that group was Barbara Smith from Center Point, Texas, an East Texas hamlet founded by African Americans. She received her degree from UT in 1959, and as Barbara Conrad, earned her status one of the world's foremost mezzo-sopranos. Her powerful reminiscence reveals her journey from the tiny East Texas communities of her childhood to the great opera houses of Europe and the Americas.
The University's greatness—its ability to be "of the first class"—depends on its willingness and ability to outgrow its provinciality—to embrace the diversity on which the world rests—whether it is a diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, or creed. The University's greatness also depends on its willingness and ability to recognize the best talent from around the globe and attract it to Austin. Peter LaSalle, a UT English professor, gives an account of an indisputable moment of greatness in the University's history—the year that the great Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges spent on the Forty Acres as a visiting professor. LaSalle uses this instance of greatness to explore the question whether UT today truly is a university of the first class. Likewise, in his essay on the many uses of Gregory Gymnasium over the years, Dick Holland recalls some of the world-class artists and performers who visited the gym during this same era, including the poet T. S. Eliot, the jazz legend Louis Armstrong, and the conductor Arturo Toscanini.
The built environment, including Gregory Gym, plays an important role in shaping the lives and intellectual development of students and scholars on the UT campus. Two UT architecture professors, Richard Cleary and Larry Speck, continue the story begun by Speck in the first Texas Book in his essay on the "heroic decades" of campus architecture—namely, the period during which the buildings designed by Cass Gilbert, Herbert Greene, and Paul Cret were built. In this volume, Cleary and Speck examine the post-Cret decades, providing description and analysis of the buildings of the late 1950s through the 1990s—buildings that, to risk overgeneralization, always evoke strong and mixed reactions.
Among the buildings built during that era is the Academic Center and Undergraduate Library (known today as the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center), the brainchild of UT president and future UT System chancellor Harry Ransom. Richard Oram, the associate director of today's Harry Ransom Center, outlines the history of "Harry's Place," as it was popularly known in Ransom's day. Oram describes the building's original purpose, follows the ever-changing uses of the building, and describes the recent removal of the last vestiges of the AC's original purpose, in Ransom's conception, as a unique avenue of access to books and great works of art for the University's undergraduate population.
In addition to pointing out some of the great entertainers and literary figures who have performed in Gregory Gym over the years, Dick Holland also describes how the daily business of the University—registration, varsity basketball and volleyball games, recreational sports, and "Fite Nite"—has played out over the years in Gregory, which he calls "the most important building on campus." Another important building on campus centered on physical education—one that, like the Academic Center, has undergone notorious changes—is Anna Hiss Gymnasium. Brad Buchholz's profile of Anna Hiss shows the important contributions this pioneering and quietly remarkable woman, the sister of the accused spy Alger Hiss, made to the early development of women's athletics at the University.
In stark contrast to the work of Anna Hiss—whose work in physical education for women existed in a much earlier era and reflected both her high standards for her students and her distaste for intercollegiate competition—stands the reminiscence of Cat Osterman, a UT softball great who, in my opinion, stands in the rarefied company of Earl Campbell and Clyde Littlefield as, arguably, one of the most, if not the most, dominant and important athletes in the history of UT athletics. Title IX changed women's collegiate athletics immeasurably, and one cannot help noting the differences in perception of the role of women's athletics between Anna Hiss, who died the year Title IX was passed, 1972, and Cat Osterman, who was born in 1983 and has never known a world in which men's and women's athletics were not expected to be on more or less equal footing.
The hallmark of a university of the first class is excellence in teaching. This volume contains accounts of many great teachers and the effects that great teaching has had on the students who benefited from it—including James Ayres and his Shakespeare at Winedale program, Edra Gustafson and the many other voice and music teachers who influenced Barbara Smith Conrad's development, and Borges's time as a visiting professor in Austin. The profile of Harvey Penick in this volume, written by his pupil Ben Crenshaw, a three-time medalist at the NCAA Division I golf championship and two-time winner of the Masters, one of professional golf's four major tournaments, is a loving tribute to a man who was a great teacher and whose subject happened to be the game of golf.
Finally, Sam Hurt's reminiscence about Hank the Hallucination—a cartoon hallucination of the comic-strip character Eyebeam—and Hank's victory in the race for student body president in 1982, as well as Wayne Butler's thoughtful memories of his years living in Married Student Housing on the Brackenridge Tract, give glimpses into the uniquely glorious and challenging experience of being a student at a major American university. Butler's reminiscence, as well as Crenshaw's profile of Harvey Penick, also touch on the current debate over the fate of the Lions Municipal Golf Course and the use of the Brackenridge Tract in the decades to come—a seminal moment for the University as it ponders its future and the values that will guide its journey into that future.
In the late 1930s, J. Frank Dobie published a small pamphlet titled A Corner Forever Texas. Dobie was a member of the faculty in the University's Department of English and a writer of works that captured the spirit and flavor of the old West, which, by the 1930s, was rapidly disappearing under the inexorable progress of twentieth-century modernity. In his day, Dobie was considered by many to be Texas's greatest living writer. The subject of A Corner Forever Texas is ostensibly the state of the Texas Collection—the collection of books, manuscripts, maps, and artwork belonging to the University's libraries that pertained specifically to Texas. The new Main Building and Tower, whose original purpose was to serve solely as the University's library, had opened just a few years earlier, and the Texas Collection was housed in the ornate rooms of the Latin American Collection in the new Main Building—in the words of Dobie, "as a kind of subsidiary of the Latin-American collection, chiefly books on Mexico," in a room that was "characterless in so far as expressing anything of Texas."
Dobie despised the new Main Building and Tower because he thought them not to be Texan, or respectful of the Texas environment. In his pamphlet, he decries them as being merely imitative of European architecture and landscaping. He was not opposed to the work of the architect, Paul Cret—in fact, he praises Cret's Home Economics Building (today named Mary E. Gearing Hall) as being thoroughly Texan: "No building on the campus is more at home with itself and with its environment than the Home Economics Building." Dobie begins his pamphlet with the following assertions:
Ever since the University of Texas was established, there has been much talk about making it "a university of the first class." A good deal of the talk has been made by people who seem to think that if the University could get as many books in its library as Harvard has, as high a salary for its professors as Yale pays, as large a percentage of Ph.D.'s in its faculty as Johns Hopkins catalogues, as much laboratory equipment as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology possesses, etc., all the "first class" requirements would be satisfied.
A really great University is something more than a successful ape. It has a character and an individuality peculiar to itself. In great universities like Oxford and the Sorbonne, this character is an expression of the civilization that the university both represents and influences. An outstanding characteristic of a truly great university is that it belongs to its environment, as cypresses belong to the clear streams of Central Texas, as cottonwoods belong to the water courses of the West, as live oaks belong to limestone soil and post oaks to sandy soil.
Physically and culturally, the University of Texas is, despite its name, still perhaps more in Texas than of Texas.
Dobie's proposed solution for the Texas Collection, in particular, was to construct a building to house it that would be unmistakably Texan in character—a building that would be "a corner forever Texas." Of course, Dobie's description of what such a home for the Texas Collection would look like—western motifs, images of life on the range, references to the heroes of the Republic of Texas and the pioneers of the Texas frontier, primarily men, no doubt, of ancestry and outlook similar to Dobie's—reflects his particular conception of what it means to be Texan.
So as the University moves forward, and as hopeful students and anxious parents find it increasingly difficult to gain admission to Texas's flagship university, the question "What does it mean to be 'of the first class'?" is inevitably joined by the question "What does it mean to be 'of Texas'?" As the state's population continues to increase, as the prestige and desirability of the University continues to grow in the minds not just of Texans but of intelligent and ambitious people around the globe as well—and as the University's administration maintains static enrollment levels of around 50,000 students or fewer on UT's urban, "landlocked," ever-densifying campus—a smaller and smaller proportion of graduates from Texas high schools will be able to attend the University of Texas at Austin.
Today the Texas Collection is housed in Sid Richardson Hall, a building whose design and intent could not be any further from the nineteenth-century western motifs of cattle and ranching that Frank Dobie envisioned for it. What does it mean for the University of Texas to be of Texas? What does that look like? Dobie's roundup? A homogeneous suburb of Houston or Dallas? Something else entirely? Can the University of Texas be of the world without being merely imitative of the world?
Perhaps the essays in this volume can lend some insight as we form our own answers to such questions.