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Student proposals fail to persuade University officials to reopen Tower

Despite movements to reopen the Tower, the Whitman shootings of 1966 and a total of seven suicides and two other deaths still color UT administrators’ decision to keep the Tower closed.

Graves Landrum, assistant to former UT Chancellor Harry Ransom, said in 1966, "The observation deck will be closed indefinitely, and I don’t know how long that will be."

It was reopened in 1968, but suicides in the 1970s caused the UT System Board of Regents to officially close the deck again in 1975.

Now, 30 years later after UT student and gunman Charles Whitman killed 14 people on a shooting spree in 1966, the deck is still closed.

Recent attempts by student groups to get the observation deck reopened failed.

The Student’s Association presented a proposal in 1992 to convert the 27th floor of the Tower into a coffee shop as part of a plan to reopen the observation deck.

The University Council said in 1992 it would consider the coffee shop idea but it would not reopen the observation deck.

"As a symbol of the University of Texas and a landmark of the state of Texas, the Tower should be accessible to everyone. It’s time to move on, no to forget the past, but to restore pride and unity for the future," said John Garrison, a sponsor of the 1992 proposal.

But 73 UT staff and faculty members who worked in the main building opposed the idea because of the high traffic that would pass through the building.

Despite the petition, the final decision was left to the UT President William Cunningham. Before Cunningham could decide, the University Council voted 37-14 against the coffee shop and reopening of the Tower observation deck.

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A more recent student organization called Students for an Open Tower was formed earlier this year with hopes of gaining student access to the observation dec. The group gathered about 3,200 signatures on a petition for the proposal in spring 1996.

"Making the Tower safe is not a problem," said Spencer Prou, president of the group and Daily Texan associate editor.

Prou said his group’s proposal called for safety barriers of plexiglass or metal to be placed on the observation deck, metal detectors to be installed and a guard positioned to prevent suicides.

"It would be something we could pay for out of the Student Government budget," Prou said. "We also think we can get donations to fund the proposal."

"Last spring we collected 3,200 signatures of students and have known for a long time that this is an issue that has a widespread support among students and faculty.

"Right now, future plans are to work with Architecture students to design an aesthetically appealing structure that would prevent student suicides." Prou said.

Prou said his group also supports another proposal that would allow only graduating seniors to visit the Tower.

"However, we don’t think it is going to work because ether is still a chance, even in small groups with increased security, that students may jump. That is why we favor building a structure because that would eliminate any chance of student suicide," he said.

The authors of the proposal that would allow graduating seniors to visit the observation deck are UT alumni Robert Bleker and Paul Massingill and UT Plan II senior David Henderson. They submitted it to Jim Vick, vice president for student affairs, last spring.

The proposal said students would go in groups of six and pay $4 for a 20-minute visit on weekends from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The money would go to pay security officers to monitor the tours.

Bleker, Massingill, and Henderson said under the proposal, potential suicide attempts are addressed because student s would only visit the deck in groups of six.

Gus Baron and Richard Klein, the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center’s director and associate director, respectively, said because of the individualistic nature of suicide, this would greatly reduce the possibility of someone attempting to jump.

As part of the proposal, the tour groups would be restricted to one side of the Tower, and a security officer would remain at the end of each corridor so that students would be in full view.

Bleker, Massingill and Henderson are also concerned that UT officials may make an argument that the Tower would still not be accessible to the mobility-impaired.

The Tower’s two elevators stop at the 27th floor, forcing visitors to climb up two flights of stairs before reaching the observation deck.

The proposal says mobility-impaired visitors would have to look out of the window on the 27th floor.

Henderson said, "When I was considering colleges, the trees and other sights on campus spoke to me more than anything else. … The beauty of the Tower is moving. Since I am nearing the time for my graduation, I think it will be a nice tradition if graduating seniors can visit the observation deck."

But Vick said the proposal has been reviewed by the UT administration and is currently inactive.

Henderson said there are definitely understandable security concerns that would hinder approval of the proposal.

"I am sure the administration has more pressing issues, say, for instance, Hopwood," he added.

Vick said there has been on and off discussions about the reopening of the Tower but security concerns still stand.

"I do not anticipate a plan to reopen it," Vick said.

Daily Texan. August 1, 1996.
Article by: Shanna Gauthier

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3 May 1999
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