The University of Texas at Austin has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Yet if you were to ask 50 of them for their views of what the university is and what it does, you would, of course, receive 50 different answers.
Would it be possible for anyone to wrap his or her mind around the full magnitude of today’s university? From your own point of view, what is The University of Texas at Austin? What does it do? What is its importance? What is its history, and how has that history set the course for its future?
No comprehensive history of The University of Texas or its flagship campus in Austin has ever been written, though several historians and university administrators have attempted to produce one. The history of the university is therefore available only inductively, discovered by uncovering and describing its parts and the people and events that have brought them into being.
It is in that spirit that a book recently published by the University of Texas Press — “The Texas Book Two: More Profiles, History, and Reminiscences of the University” — attempts to unlock the history and culture that defines today’s institution. Through a collection of essays gathering the distinctive voices of 22 authors who write, from their own perspectives, about a chosen aspect of the university, this volume illuminates the lives of people who have influenced the university, outlines uniquely important historical moments and provides first-person accounts of how the university has shaped their lives.
Here are a few facts contained in the essays in “The Texas Book Two” to test your familiarity:
- Did you know that the building now named the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center was once filled with books, archival materials and specially designed rooms of literary artifacts? Or that it was an innovative library experiment by Harry Ransom, designed to give undergraduates direct access to books and works of great art in an era when typically only graduate students could enter the University Libraries’ books stacks, which were located in the Tower?
- Did you know that in 1978 students at The University of Texas at Austin passed a referendum that led to the abolition of their student government? Or that when President Peter Flawn reinstated the Students’ Association four years later, in 1982, the leading vote-getter in the election for student body president was Hank, the hallucination of Eyebeam, both of them popular characters in Sam Hurt’s daily cartoon strip Eyebeam in The Daily Texan?
- Did you know that Homer Price Rainey, for whom the former Music Building on the South Mall was renamed in 1996, was fired from his position as president of the University of Texas main campus by the University of Texas Board of Regents in 1944?
- Did you know that in addition to varsity basketball and volleyball games, the dreaded lines of pre-electronic registration, and a vibrant intramural sports program, Gregory Gymnasium has in past years been the site of concerts by Louis Armstrong, the Count Basie Orchestra and the Modern Jazz Quartet, as well as a poetry reading by T. S. Eliot? Or that from 1930 to 1951 one of the most popular events in Austin was Fite Nite, an evening of student boxing matches contested in front of thousands of cheering fans in Gregory Gym?
- Did you know that in the early 1930s Anna Hiss purposefully designed the dimensions of the facilities in the Women’s Gymnasium to deviate slightly from the standards for intercollegiate competition because of her belief that intercollegiate competition tainted the pure essence of sport and excluded too many students from participation?
- Did you know that the first modernist building built on campus was the Business Administration and Economics Building (today named the McCombs School of Business building)? Or that at the time it was built, in 1962, it was the tallest building on campus other than the Tower?
- Did you know that the first African American to play in a varsity football game in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was Carl Talmadge “Duke” Washington, a halfback for Washington State College, on Oct. 2, 1954? Or that despite efforts by concerned University of Texas administrators to cancel the contract with Washington State to play the game when they discovered that the Cougars had an African-American player on their roster, the loudest ovation of the day from the partisan Longhorn crowd was when Washington scored on a spectacular 73-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of the 40-14 Longhorn rout?
- Did you know that in the 1930s President H. Y. Benedict had to respond to public outrage over the behavior and exorbitant salary of Jack Chevigny, the head coach of the Longhorn football team? Or that the coach’s salary was $5,000 per year?
- Did you know that H. Y. Benedict is the longest-serving president in the university’s history, as well as the first alumnus to serve as its president? Or that he enrolled in the university in 1889 as a 19-year-old with less than two years of formal education, earning his B.A. with honors in civil engineering in 1892 and his M.A. in civil engineering 1893, then earning his Ph.D. in mathematical astronomy from Harvard University in 1898?
- Did you know that on June 2, 1917, Texas Gov. James Ferguson vetoed the university’s state appropriation, later declaring “I do not care a damn what becomes of the university. The bats and owls can roost in it for all I care.”?
“The Texas Book Two” is edited by David Dettmer and was published by the University of Texas Press in March 2012. It is a companion volume to “The Texas Book: Profiles, History, and Reminiscences of the University,” which was edited by Richard A. Holland and published by the University of Texas Press in 2006.
Both books appear in the Press’ Focus on American History Series, sponsored by the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Tables of contents for and excerpts from “The Texas Book” and “The Texas Book Two” are available on the University of Texas Press website.