Of Deans and Turkeys

Twas the week of Thanksgiving, and all through the campus, the turkeys were hiding, or wearing dark glasses.

Turkey Day is fast approaching! The campus will soon be vacant, as most UT students leave Austin to enjoy a few days with their families before making one last push through the remaining weeks in the semester, and then on to final exams.

hildebrand_lgJust over a century ago, some enterprising students decided to help themselves to Thanksgiving dinner at the expense of the faculty. In 1912, Charles Francis and a few of his fellow law students were unable to make the trip home for the holidays. Short on cash, they hatched a scheme to “borrow” a turkey that belonged Judge Ira Hildebrand (photo at right), then Dean of the Law School. “Plans and arrangements were perfected and on the night before Thanksgiving, we invaded the coop of Judge Hildebrand and selected one of his best gobblers for a main course.”

As they left, one of the turkey rustlers left a watch fob near the coop that was popular with senior engineering students. It was hoped that “our beloved dean would ascribe the loss of his turkey to marauding engineers.”

The Thanksgiving feast was held in a secluded section of the East Woods, then northeast of the UT campus. Today, it’s the site of Townes Hall, home of the UT Law School.

Above: A brass watch fob popular with UT engineering students. “The Old Man” refers to engineering dean Thomas Taylor, and the large check mark – dubbed a “ram’s horn” by students – was Taylor’s trademark check for a perfect grade on a paper or exam.

Friday morning, as classes resumed, Judge Hildebrand opened his lecture on corporate law with a loud denunciation of the presumed engineers who had absconded with his prize gobbler. He praised the law students, whose ethics and high moral standards would never sanction such an offense. But the canny judge added that it might not be amiss for the poor Dean of Law to be avenged for the loss of his turkey.

The students took the hint, and were more than eager to please. A few weeks later, another banquet was planned in the East Woods “as a preliminary to the Christmas holidays.” This time, the main course was supplied by the coop of Thomas Taylor, the Dean of Engineering. But instead of a watch fob, the group left a page torn from a law school textbook on equity, with a sentence underlined in red ink:

Equity looks on that as done which ought to be done.

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