Celebrating 100 Years: The University of Texas at Austin Department of Government – The Early Years and the Rise of the Texas Mafia
The origins of the Department of Government lay in what originally was named the School of Political Science. As stated in the school’s 1904-1905 announcements, work in the School of Political Science was designed to afford students an opportunity for the systematic study of industrial, governmental, and social institutions. Courses were grouped under three general heads: Economics; Government, Jurisprudence, and Public Law; and Social Science. Courses were closed to freshmen and sophomores, unless of high rank. The school recommended selecting courses within certain groups: Law; Commerce; Journalism; Administration; and Diplomatic and Consular Service. The coursework outlined in each group was intended to require two-to-three years of work, and in connection with the prescribed courses, the school recommended taking certain others in history and modern languages. Dual credit was given in collaboration with the Law School for certain courses covering law topics. In groups IV and V, Administration, and Diplomatic and Consular Service, the school stated one of its purposes being to train students to take the U.S. Civil Service examination. The common course to all groups was Outlines of Economics. In 1910, at the request of University President Sidney Mezes, the Board of Regents broke up the School of Political Science, and today’s Department of Government was born.
Department of Government Chairmen*, 1910-
|Potts, Charles S.: 1910-14
James, Herman G.: 1914-18
Haines, Charles G.: 1918-22
James, Herman G.: 1922-25
Patterson, Caleb P.: 1925-29
Stewart, Frank M.: 1929-32
Patterson, Caleb P.: 1932-34
Weeks, O. Douglas: 1934-47
|Redford, Emmette S.: 1947-50
Weeks, O. Douglas: 1950-57
Macdonald, H. Malcolm: 1957-66
Livingston, William S.: 1966-69
Wagner, R. Harrison: 1969-71
Macdonald, H. Malcolm: 1971-75
Schmitt, Karl: 1975-80
Cnudde, Charles F.: 1980-87
|Dietz, Henry: 1987-88
Fishkin, James: 1988-92
Tulis, Jeffrey: 1992-93
Fishkin, James: 1993-2001
Higley, John: 2001-06
Freeman, Gary P.: 2006-
In 1909, Lindley Miller Keasbey headed the School of Political Science, and joining him were economists Alvin S. Johnson and Edmund Thornton Miller, as well as Charles Shirley Potts, who had recently received a Bachelor of Law degree from the School of Law. Within 10 years, none of these men would have any direct relation to the Department of Government. Miller spent his career at the University (but in Economics, not Government), while the other men would soon leave the University. Following the breakup of the School of Political Science, Keasbey became chairman of the School of Institutional History, but was forced to resign from the University in 1917 when he refused to come before the Board of Regents and defend his opposition to World War I. Johnson was on his way to The University of Chicago, Stanford, and Cornell, before settling finally in New York, where he helped found the New School. Potts would soon join the Law School faculty, became Assistant Dean of the Law School, helped found the Texas Law Review, and in 1927 became dean of the law school at Southern Methodist University, a position he held for 20 years.
The motivation behind breaking up the School of Political Science and creating separate schools for Government and Economics remains somewhat inconclusive, but there is good reason to assert politics was behind the decision. William James Battle, acting president of the University from 1914-1916, told the Austin Town and Gown Club, in 1952, that it was Keasbey’s ‘socialistic’ views that were responsible for creating the Department of Government. That is, Sidney Mezes, University President from 1908-1914, was friends with Keasbey; Mezes did not want Keasbey out altogether, but too much criticism surrounded a potential socialist heading political science at the University, so Mezes broke the school up and sent Keasbey to the hinterland. This was not the official line. Rather, Mezes maintained that the individual subjects were so important that the time had come for each to stand on their own. This is not altogether an implausible explanation, as Mezes’ concern was with what it would take to recruit the best faculty to the University. No matter, Nov. 24, 1909 he went before the Board of Regents and, with the goal of improving instruction in citizenship and thereby advancing the interests of the state and its people, asked that the School of Political Science be divided into its component parts.
Whatever the motivation behind the organizational restructuring, Keasbey was not happy with the change, and Mezes more or less did it behind Keasbey’s back, so Keasbey was always finding out after the fact. Only on Jan. 17, 1910 did Mezes alert Keasbey about the Board of Regents approving in principle to subdividing the School of Political Science, with Mezes noting to Keasbey that he assumed Keasbey had been notified. Regardless, Keasbey, Johnson, Miller, and Potts gathered in Mezes’ office Jan. 21, 1910 to discuss the matter, and, in response, drafted the “Report of the School of Political Science Upon The Proposed Subdivision of The Field at Present Covered by the School.” Of prime importance to the faculty was what names the new schools should take, and they adamantly opposed the name Government.
They objected to Government in the first place, they wrote, because it was properly applicable, in a scientific sense, to only a small part of the field, namely, legislative, executive, and judicial organization and administration, and not properly applicable to the field of public law, nor to that of political principles, which were fields of greater scientific and practical importance than that of governmental organization. It was also not applicable, they wrote, to party organization and party activities, which they viewed as a most fruitful field of scientific investigation. Furthermore, the term government was commonly employed as synonymous with ‘civil government’, a high school discipline of no scientific standing, and therefore deserving no place in a university. Finally, they argued that the term would tend to arouse criticism in the state, because in a democratic state, governmental affairs are regarded by everyone as part of their intimate concern, such that an immense burden of responsibility is thrown upon the man who professes to teach ‘government’, and so any public utterance of such a man which may bear upon political questions would give rise to bitter criticism, injurious alike to the professor and to the University. But, this was an evil that could not be avoided through an attitude of aloofness from current questions, because a man who professes to teach government should have opinions about current political questions, and the courage to express them. The faculty therefore recommended that what Mezes wanted to call Government should instead go by Public Law and Administration.
The faculty’s pleading fell on deaf ears, and, May 7, 1910, Mezes wrote to Keasbey informing him that the Board of Regents approved the division of the School of Political Science into three schools: Economics, under Miller, and Johnson’s successor; Government, under Potts; and Institutional History, under Keasbey. The initial funding for the School of Government is revealed in Mezes’ letter of June 15, 1910, in which he noted that for Fiscal Year 1910-11 the Regents appropriated $2,000 for the salary of Adjunct Professor C.S. Potts, $120 for a student assistant, as well as $150 in general appropriations, and Potts was appointed chairman.
Potts soon became director of the Legislative Reference Division of the Texas Library and Historical Commission, State Library, which today is the state’s Legislative Reference Library. Potts was interested in making a real contribution to the state’s legislative needs, although his interest in contributing to the public policy community eventually landed him in the middle of controversy with Gov. James Ferguson. The incident arose because of a report issued by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene criticizing state asylums. The committee’s medical director was Thomas W. Salmon. In 1914 and 1915, Salmon sought Potts’ assistance in obtaining data and other logistical necessities for the study to be conducted. Salmon’s report, released in 1916, issued a scathing criticism of the state’s institutions, which he said were badly muddled by politics. Gov. Ferguson was less than pleased. Potts denied any responsibility, but that did little to endear him to the governor. Fortunately for Potts, Ferguson’s days were numbered, as he would soon be impeached and tossed from the governor’s office. But Potts did not escape controversy altogether. While it is true that Potts left Texas to complete a degree at Harvard and then accept a position at Washington University in St. Louis, according to his Law School colleagues, he was forced out of the University by the Board of Regents, asked to take a leave of absence and not return.
In any event, Potts had a long tenure in Central Texas, which began with him, while still an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, being principal, in 1900-01, of Austin High School. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in 1902, and from then until 1907 taught Economics and History at Texas A&M College. He became Tutor in Political Science, Instructor in Political Science, Adjunct Professor of Law, Associate Professor of Government, and, finally, Associate Professor and Professor of Law. Upon reaching this final stage of his career at Texas, he taught American Government – national, state, and local – European Government, Bailments and Carriers, Public Utilities, Taxation, Administrative Law, Criminal Law and Procedure, and Constitutional Law.
Potts’ M.A. thesis, “The Independent Treasury Versus the Bank Depository System: A Study in State Finance,” was published in November 1902 in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and the State Bankers’ Association circulated 600 copies across Texas, resulting in the establishment of the Bank Depository System for handling state and local funds. The following year, in May 1903, he published again in the Annals – the article was “The Convict Labor System of Texas,” in which he argued that “we build tremendous institutions for the reformation of the criminal, and then we proceed to do everything, except reform the criminal.” In 1906 he published, in The University Record, “The Drift Toward The World State,” which was based on an address delivered in June 1906 to the University of Texas Alumni Association; in 1910 he published, “Crime and the Treatment of the Criminal,” an 86-page bulletin used for a time as a textbook in the School of Civics and Philanthropy in New York City; in 1912, he coauthored, with Eugene Barker and Charles Ramsdell, A School History of Texas, which was used in Texas public schools. At least in his early days at the School of Law, Potts was loved by his students – in 1960, after Potts had just turned 88, his friend, Walter Long, presented to him a well-bound copy of Roberts’ Elements of Texas Pleading signed by 45 former students from 1914-17.
Government remained for two years a one-man show, although Potts quickly began appealing to Mezes to set apart an appropriation for the School of Government sufficiently large to secure a good man for work in the school. Potts recommended to Mezes that a first class man, of practical experience, would attract students to his classes, and render a valuable service to the University and the state. Potts believed opportunities for work in the school to be extensive, that the work was of prime importance to the University, and to the state, that with one of the strongest law schools in the country, the young lawyers should be thoroughly grounded in the principles of government before graduating, and that the University would have many men and women who would graduate and become civics teachers or community leaders, and should therefore receive adequate instruction in the fundamentals of government and good citizenship. He believed that so long as the University provided the resources needed to hire men and purchase equipment, enrollment would increase and the school would develop accordingly.
As predicted by Potts, the School of Government grew. The number of students registered in advanced courses went from zero in 1910 to 125 for the year March 1, 1914 to Feb. 28, 1915. During that same period, the number of students registered in introductory courses was 199, the total number of students registered in the school was 324, and the number of graduate students doing major or minor work in government was seven. In 1915, Frank Mann Stewart received the first bachelor’s degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin, and he taught at Texas into the early 1930s. Frank Stewart finished his career at UCLA, but not before leaving his mark on Texas. At Frank’s 1961 retirement dinner, Emmette Redford, who himself studied under Stewart, commented that Frank had the privilege at Texas of teaching some of the men who became outstanding scholars in their profession and who became leaders in public life in Texas. This in part was circumstance – for example, all pre-law students had to take either state government and administration or municipal government and administration, and Frank taught both. But it was also due to how Stewart taught, which, according to Redford, indoctrinated students in the value of facts, thoroughness, and objectivity. On the lighter side, rumor had it that during prohibition, Frank and his wife, Roberta, made their own home brew.
Potts was chairman until 1914, during which time he saw the department firmly established and oversaw the hiring of the two faculty members who would shape the department in the decade to come: Herman Gerlach James was hired in 1912, and he was soon joined by Charles Grove Haines. Herman James made immense contributions to the school’s development, before leaving the University in 1925, proceeding to head the department of political science and be dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska, and then become president first of the University of South Dakota and then Ohio University. James established, in 1913, the Bureau for Municipal Research, an outfit that went through several mutations through the years before ultimately being merged into the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
James succeeded Potts as chairman in 1914. James and Haines took turns as chairmen between 1914 and 1925, and, along with their student, Frank Stewart, steered the School of Government through World War I, and laid the groundwork for its emergence in the 1920s. Several important events occurred in the year 1919-20. First, Caleb Perry Patterson joined the school. Following James and Haines, Patterson would be the next big engine in the school’s development. He would also be the first career man. James and Haines would both leave the University in 1925. Haines went to California and helped establish the political science department at the University of California, Los Angeles (he was joined in 1933 by Stewart, as well as Malbone Graham, another Government alumnus who joined the UCLA political science department). James, as mentioned, went on to become president of two universities. Patterson, on the other hand, remained in Austin until his death in 1971.
Patterson was an outspoken constitutional scholar who supported the League of Nations, deeply opposed the New Deal and Roosevelt’s court packing, argued forcefully against presidential claims to inherent powers, and fought bitterly with University President Theophilus Painter over salary issues; indeed, Painter and Patterson were neighbors, and their rivalry was taken out on the frogs in Painter’s pond, which Patterson would shoot, embroiling them both in the great frog wars. Patterson’s salary gripes began early, and Haines and University President Robert Vinson were prepared to let Patterson go in 1921 over salary negotiations. Haines was on a recruiting mission in New York, at Columbia University. Vinson received word from Patterson of an offer from the University of Iowa, and Patterson was demanding a raise if Vinson wanted him to stay. Vinson contacted Haines, and the two agreed they should let Patterson go rather than meet his salary requirements. Neither was especially enthusiastic about Patterson, and Haines wanted to use all available resources to recruit the best man he could, and was willing to lose Patterson in the process if he had to, as he judged two men at Columbia to be superior to Patterson. In the event, Haines failed to recruit either, and Patterson agreed to stay on lesser terms than originally demanded, and soon emerged as the department’s dominant figure for a time. Caleb Patterson has also been targeted as culpable in getting the Texas Legislature to pass the mandated Government requirement for college students, though Patterson himself deferred responsibility to the American Legion.
There were two other noteworthy events that year. The Government faculty established the Southwestern Political Science Association, and the journal that was created with it remains today an important outlet for up-and-coming Texas political scientists. Finally, the Government faculty established the political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha. With Patterson taking up the cause of promoting the new society, chapters formed at Kansas and Oklahoma, and they were followed by a Pi Sigma chapter at UCLA. Today, there are nearly 700 chapters nationwide.
The 1920s were a brilliant decade for political science at Texas. Among others, John Alton Burdine, Robert Taylor Cole, Vladimir Orlando Key, Jr., Roscoe Coleman Martin, James Lucian McCamy, Emmette Shelburn Redford, Irvin Stewart, and Benjamin Fletcher Wright joined the alumni ranks. V.O. Key is one of the most famous political scientists to have lived. Key, Cole, and Redford were each presidents of the American Political Science Association. Cole helped develop the political science department at Duke University and was provost of Duke throughout the 1960s. Burdine, Cole, Redford, and Campbell Bryce Beard, another Texas alumnus, lived together Fall semester 1929 as graduate students at Harvard. Wright obtained his Ph.D. in 1925, and began and ended his career at Texas, but started teaching at Harvard in 1926, where he spent most of his career and chaired the Department of Government there for a time in the 1940s. Charles Timm was also part of the Texas-Harvard crowd, and he returned to a full career at Texas, and in 1936 became the first chairman of the board at University Federal Credit Union.
Irvin Stewart joined the Department of State, held several prestigious positions in the federal government, and became president of West Virginia University. James McCamy chaired the political science department at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1949-52. Roscoe Martin helped develop political science in the southern United States, was fifth president of the Southern Political Science Association, helped found the Journal of Politics, served one year as president of the American Society for Public Administration, was a boost to V.O. Key’s career – providing the initial funding that bankrolled Key’s landmark study on southern politics – and chaired the political science department at Syracuse University for the first half of the 1950s. Burdine rose through the administrative ranks at the University, becoming Vice President of the University, before resigning the post after the Regents fired President Homer Rainey, but he later settled in as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and had the department’s former home – Burdine Hall – named after him. Redford became the longest serving faculty member at the University, became the first faculty member of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and in many minds has had the greatest impact on the political science discipline of any faculty member in the department’s history.
So great was the reach of the department of the 1920s through the discipline that its representatives earned themselves a nickname: The Texas Mafia.
Research conducted at the Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin. The author would like to thank Margaret Schlankey and her entire staff at the Briscoe Center for their assistance. Research on C.S. Potts conducted at the Tarlton Law Library, Jamail Center for Legal Research, Rare Books and Special Collections, The University of Texas at Austin. Contact the author with any questions about sources. The author would also like to recognize the only other known attempt at a history of the department, dated Oct. 19, 1990, and written by Gregory S. Davidson: “The Study of Politics and Government at the University of Texas: The First Fifty Years, 1883-1933."