Historical Sketch

The idea of a university for Texas is as old as the state itself. The Declaration of Texas Independence includes in its indictment of the government of Mexico the charge that it “has failed to establish any public system of education, although possessed of almost boundless resources (the public domain), and although it is an axiom in political science that, unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty or the capacity of self-government.” In accordance with the doctrine thus proclaimed, the first Constitution of the Republic declares it to be the duty of Congress “to provide, as soon as circumstances will permit... a general system of education.”

Attempts to establish a University of Texas were made by the Congress of the Republic and then by the state legislature in 1837, 1839, 1858, and 1866, but the times were unpropitious and the idea failed to become a reality. The Constitution of 1876 again called for the organization and maintenance of “a university of the first class to be located by a vote of the people of this state, and styled ‘The University of Texas,’ for the promotion of literature, and the arts and sciences, including an agricultural and mechanical department.” This constitution also established an endowment of one million acres of land in west Texas, which was increased in 1883 to two million acres. In 1881, the legislature again called for the organization and location of the University and for the appointment of a Board of Regents to be entrusted with its establishment and government. Among the provisions of the act were the limitation of the matriculation fee to $30, the admission of men and women on equal terms without charge for tuition, and the injunction that no religious qualifications should be required for admission to any office or privilege connected with the University and that no sectarian instruction should be given therein. 

By popular election in September 1881, the Main University was located at Austin and the Medical Branch, at Galveston. The academic and law departments were organized, and on September 15, 1883, the University was formally opened in the incomplete west wing of the old Main Building.

As the University grew, work in other fields was added to that offered by the academic and law departments. The College of Engineering was added in 1894; in 1906, the School of Education; in 1909, the Division of Extension; in 1910, the Graduate School; in 1922, the School of Business Administration; in 1924, the College of Physical Activities; in 1938, the College of Fine Arts; in 1948, the Graduate School of Library Science; in 1950, the Graduate School of Social Work; in 1951, the School of Architecture; in 1965, the School of Communication; in 1970, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs; in 1976, the School of Nursing; and in 2016, the Dell Medical School. The current organization of the University is described in Organization of the University's Academic Units.

Until 1895, the chair of the faculty was the chief executive officer of the University. Professor J. W. Mallet was chair for the opening year, 1883–1884; then Professor Leslie Waggener until the summer of 1894; then Professor Thomas S. Miller for 1894–1895. In 1895, the office of president was created, and has been filled as follows:

Leslie Waggener, MA, LLD (ad interim)

1895–1896

George Tayloe Winston, MA, LLD

1896–1899

William Lambdin Prather, BL, LLD

1899–1905

David Franklin Houston, MA, LLD

1905–1908

Sidney Edward Mezes, PhD, LLD

1908–1914

William James Battle, PhD, DCL, LLD (ad interim)

1914–1916

Robert Ernest Vinson, DD, LLD

1916–1923

William Seneca Sutton, MA, LLD (ad interim)

1923–1924

Walter Marshall William Splawn, PhD, LLD

1924–1927

Harry Yandell Benedict, PhD, LLD

1927–1937

John William Calhoun, MA, LLD (ad interim)

1937–1939

Homer Price Rainey, PhD, LLD

1939–1944

Theophilus Shickel Painter, PhD, DSc, LLD, MNAS (Acting President)

1944–1946

Theophilus Shickel Painter, PhD, DSc, LLD, MNAS

1946–1952

James Clay Dolley, PhD (Acting President)

1952

Logan Wilson, PhD, LLD

1953–1960

Harry Huntt Ransom, PhD, LittD, LLD, LHD

1960–1961

Harry Huntt Ransom, PhD, LittD, LLD, LHD (Acting President)

1961

Joseph Royall Smiley, PhD

1961–19631

Norman Hackerman, PhD

1967–1970

Bryce Jordan, PhD (ad interim)

1970–1971

Stephen H. Spurr, MF, PhD, DSc

1971–1974

Lorene Lane Rogers, PhD, DSc, FAIC (ad interim)

1974–1975

Lorene Lane Rogers, PhD, DSc, FAIC

1975–1979

Peter Tyrrell Flawn, PhD

1979–1985

William H. Cunningham, PhD

1985–1992

William S. Livingston, PhD (Acting President)

1992–1993

Robert M. Berdahl, PhD

1993–1997

Peter Tyrrell Flawn, PhD (ad interim)

1997–1998

Larry R. Faulkner, PhD

1998–2006

William Powers Jr., JD

2006–2015

Gregory L. Fenves, PhD

2015–

    1.  From 1963 until 1967 there was no office of president.