UT commemorates 128 years of progress

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“University Avenue, whose cool parkades tempt Ed and Co-ed from Library and porch swing on moonlit evenings.” —An excerpt from the Cactus Yearbook, 1920.

Photo Credit: Cactus Yearbook | Daily Texan Staff

The University of Texas is celebrating its birthday today, 128 years after the original opening in Old Main, where the Tower and Main Building now stand.

When the University first opened to eight professors and a class of 221 students, campus construction was incomplete and classes were held in the temporary Capitol building, which has since burned down, said Texas Exes historian Jim Nicar. Officials separated the House and Senate chambers into classrooms with plywood dividers, he said.

The opening ceremony of the University was held in the unfinished west wing of the Old Main, where the Tower stands today, he said.

“The University’s first chair of faulty spoke last. His name was Mallett,” Nicar said. “He made a really neat quote at the end of the ceremony about it really being the students who are the University, that the faculty were looking to the students and how important it is that you hear phrases like, ‘I’m going to the University, enrolled in the University or coming to the University,’ not realizing that you are the University.”

UT consisted of the College of Academia and the School of Law, Nicar said. Programs in the College of Academia included English, ancient languages, physics, psychology, chemistry and other typical academic programs, he said. A student could enroll in the School of Law without having to first get a bachelor’s degree and was able to graduate and pass the bar exam in two years, he said.

“People made fun of them when they came to Austin,” Nicar said. “They’d never really experienced a university before, and these strange professors showed up and all sorts of things. It was a town of 11,000 people, and the roads were not yet paved.”

Upon opening, the University simply required students to pay $15 in dues each semester until it was raised to $25 in the 1920s and doubled to $50 in the 1950s.

In comparison, tuition ranged from $4,493 to $5,163 for undergraduates with Texas residency in the fall of 2010, according to a report released each year by the Office of Information Management and Analysis.

Whether or not to allow women entry into the University was a controversial issue at the time, Nicar said. The decision on whether or not to allow women to stay in dorms was also an issue that remained undecided until the speaker of the House of Representatives had to cast the deciding vote.

In the end, women were allowed into UT to end a debate on whether or not to have a University president, Nicar said. The governor at the time would have been out of office by the time UT opened, and the founders did not want him to become the president because they feared he would abuse the politics of the position. He said UT founders decided to grant women entry into the University instead of installing a president to please community members who were fighting for both issues.

“That’s a big deal,” he said. “That’s pretty progressive for UT. At places like Princeton, it was all male until 1968. It was actually a compromise when creating the University in 1881. There were people who were against having women, who thought it should just be guys. It was a big compromise.”

UT currently has more women undergraduates than men, with 53 percent of undergraduates being female.

“The University makes efforts to encourage women to enter programs that are typically viewed as male-oriented, such as engineering,” said Robert Meckel, director of public affairs for the Office of the President. “The University has changed in more ways than you can count, including its food, its programs offered, its student life and its atmosphere.”

Printed on September 15, 2011 as: UT celebrates 128 years of progressive development