The University of Texas at Austin
  • The truth behind the university’s myths

    By Jim Nicar
    Jim Nicar
    Published: Sept. 19, 2007

    Myth: The Battle Oaks were saved by Dr. Battle, who sat under the trees with a shotgun and defied the Board of Regents
    Not a chance. In fact, using a shotgun at all would be very much out of character for the rather quiet and bookish Dr. Battle.

    While Battle was chairman of the Faculty Building Committee in the early 1920s, plans emerged to place a new biological laboratories building at the northwest corner of the campus, which would have meant the destruction of university’s oldest live oaks. Students and faculty raised concerns with Battle, and a group of professors even signed a petition. Battle agreed the trees should be saved, took the matter up with the Board of Regents and convinced them to move the building farther east. The oaks were later named for their champion.

    As with the owl face in the Tower, this myth has a likely source. Among those who wrote to Dr. Battle was Judge Robert Batts, a distinguished jurist, UT law professor and later chairman of the Board of Regents (Batts Hall on the South mall is named for him.) When the biological labs building was being designed, Batts had been hired as general counsel for the Gulf Petroleum Company and had temporarily left Austin for Pittsburgh, Pa. Batts’ letter was direct. He told Battle that he would “come down to Austin with a shotgun” if that’s what was needed to save the oaks.

    Myth: When seen from above, the Perry-Castaneda Library was designed to appear in the shape of Texas
    The Perry-Castaneda Library was opened 30 years ago – August 29, 1977 – as the main library for the university. If you look at a campus map the right way and use your imagination, it’s possible to think of the outline of the library as similar to the shape of Texas. But this wasn’t intentional. Officially, it’s called a “rhomboid shape” and it complements the similarly designed McCombs School of Business building across the street, which was completed the same year.

    Myth: The PCL has a $1 million front door
    I overheard this last fall on a tour given to moms and dads during Parents Weekend. “That door cost a million dollars,” declared a rather cynical tour guide to an astonished group of parents. “There’s your tax dollars at work.”

    For the record, the door was installed in 1991 with a price tag of $90,000. It was intended to reduce energy costs. The library welcomes more than one million visitors a year. With so much foot traffic, the building’s original automatic sliding doors were letting out too much cooled (or heated) air. The doors have paid for themselves through lower electric bills several times over.

    Myth: Burdine Hall looks like a punch-out computer card because it was intended to house the Department of Computer Sciences
    Certainly, the window pattern on Burdine is unusual, and this kind of thing is ripe for a campus myth. But it’s not true. Burdine Hall was opened in May 1970 for the departments of Government and Sociology. It’s named for John Alton Burdine, a longtime government professor who also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (which has since separated into several colleges and schools).

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