Five Things every UT Freshman should Know

In just a few weeks, the freshman class of 2021 will arrive in Austin and become a part of the University of Texas. Before the fall semester begins and schedules get busy, here are five things every UT freshman ought to know.

1. Know Your Forty Acres

Above: The UT campus at 21st Street and Guadalupe in 1899.

The city of Austin was founded in 1839 as the capital of the Republic of Texas. Surveyors laid out a series of city blocks between Waller and Shoal Creeks, set aside land at the top of a hill for a “Capitol Square,” named east-west streets for Texas trees, and north-south roads for Texas rivers.

A year later, in 1840, additional land was surveyed to the north, and a square, forty-acre plot was informally labeled “College Hill,” (photo at left) bounded today by 21st and 24th Streets, Speedway to the east, and Guadalupe on the west. At the time, there were no firm plans to establish a university, and the people of Austin made no claims to the land. They built their homes and businesses around College Hill, and used the area as a favorite spot for weekend picnics. There is, in fact, no legal deed to the plot.

The Texas Legislature created the University in 1881 and Austin, by way of a controversial state-wide vote, won the main campus. Having waited decades, College Hill was at last put to use when UT was formally opened on September 15, 1883. Though the University grounds have expanded ten-fold, the campus is still known as the Forty Acres.

Above right: The Victorian-Gothic old Main Building, UT’s first campus structure, where the Tower stands today. (Explore the early UT campus here.)

2. Know Your Colors

It was a gloomy Tuesday morning, April 21, 1885, when UT’s first baseball team, along with most of the student body, arrived at the downtown Austin train station at Third Street and Congress Avenue. The group had chartered passenger cars bound for Georgetown, thirty miles north, where UT was to play its first-ever intercollegiate baseball game against Southwestern University. Just as the train was ready to depart, Miss Gussie Brown from (of all places) Orange, Texas, urgently announced the need for some ribbon to identify everyone as from the University of Texas.

Today, college fans show support for their teams by donning t-shirts, jackets, and caps. But in the 1880s, colored ribbons were worn on lapels. An enterprising male student often sported longer ribbons so he’d have extra to share with a pretty girl who had none.

Gussie’s two friends – Venable Proctor and Clarence Miller – always eager to impress the ladies, jumped off the train and sprinted north along Congress Avenue to the nearest general store. They asked the shopkeeper for three bolts of two colors of ribbon. “Which colors?” the merchant inquired. “Anything,” the students replied. After all, the train was leaving the station, and there was no time to be particular.

The shopkeeper gave them the colors he had the most in stock: white ribbon, which was popular for weddings and parties and was always in demand, and bright orange ribbon, because few bought the color, and the store had plenty to spare.

Right: The Austin railroad station at Third Street and Congress Avenue.

Loaded with supplies, Proctor and Miller ran back and boarded the moving train as it left for Georgetown. Along the way, the ribbon was divided and distributed to everyone except for a law student named Yancey Lewis, “who had evolved a barbaric scheme of individual adornment by utilizing the remnants.”

Unfortunately, it rained in the afternoon, the pitcher’s curve ball curved not, and Texas outfielders ran weary miles in a lost cause as they fell to an experienced Southwestern squad 21–6. The colors, though, had made their debut. There would be challengers, including gold and white, royal blue, and (most popular) orange and maroon, but a 1900 vote by students, faculty, and alumni settled the matter for orange and white.

Read the full story here: Orange and White

3. Know Your Mascot

University of Texas athletic teams have been known as the “Longhorns” since 1904, but in the mid-1910s, a growing number of UT alumni wanted to see if a live longhorn mascot might be able to attend football games. In the fall of 1916, Texas law grad Stephen Pinckney, working for the U.S. Attorney General’s office, discovered what he thought would be the perfect candidate in West Texas. With $1.00 donations from 125 alumni, Pinckney arranged to purchase the steer and have it transported to Austin in time for the Thanksgiving Day football game between the University and Texas A&M.

The longhorn made its debut at halftime and was presented to the students (photo above left), then taken to a South Austin stockyard for safe keeping and a formal portrait. He was named “Bevo,” thought to be derived from the word “beeve,” the plural for beef, and a slang term for a cow or steer. (Think of the name as “Beef-o.”)

The University community, though, wasn’t entirely sure what to do with their new addition. The gift had been made, but without any formal plans for feeding, caring, or transporting the steer. Besides, UT students already claimed to have a live mascot in Pig Bellmont, (right) a dog owned by Athletic Director Theo Bellmont. Pig lived on the Forty Acres, had a daily routine of greeting students in classrooms and in the library, and went to home and away football, baseball, and basketball games.

Texas had won the football game 21-7, and some students pushed to have the steer branded with the score. Others thought it was cruel. As the campus community debated, a group of Aggie pranksters visited Austin in the wee hours of Sunday, February 12, 1917, broke in to the South Austin stockyard and branded the steer “13-0,” the score of the 1915 football bout A&M had won in College Station the year before.

Above: Bevo was branded “13-0” in February 1917. 

A few days later, amid rumors that the Aggies planned to kidnap the animal outright, Bevo was safely transported to the Tom Iglehart ranch west of Austin. Six weeks later, the United States entered World War I, and the University transformed itself to support the war effort. Out of sight and off campus, the branded steer was all but forgotten until the end of the war in November 1918.

Since Bevo’s food and care cost the University sixty cents a day, and as the steer wasn’t believed to be tame enough to remain in the football stadium, it was fattened up and became the barbecued main course for the January 1920 football banquet. A delegation from A&M was invited to attend, “and the branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period… duly celebrated.”

For the full story and more photos, see Bevo.

4. Know Your Hand Sign

Above: Harley Clark (right) and the 1955 UT cheerleaders.

Harley Clark was a head cheerleader in search of an idea. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the Texas Longhorn football team was getting ready to host sixth-ranked TCU in an important contest at Memorial Stadium. A torchlight parade across the Forty Acres and football rally in Gregory Gym had been scheduled for Friday night, November 11th, but Harley was looking for something to make it extra special and rouse a little more of the University of Texas spirit.

A few days before the rally, Harley was in the Texas Union (photo at right) when he saw fellow classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who suggested that a hand sign with the index and little fingers extended looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. (“Gigging” is a term used to hunt small game – including frogs – with a muti-pronged spear.) With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?

Harley liked the idea, and decided to introduce it at the Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out, and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised. (In this case, a tradition has two founders. HK Pitts was in charge of “research and development,” and Harley Clark took on “marketing and sales.”)

Above: A tradition is born. The moment in Gregory Gym when the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign was first introduced to UT students. Click on an image for a larger view.

Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Arno Nowotny, the Dean of Students. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture. At the football game, the student section practiced what they’d learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs.

The full story is here: Hook ’em Horns

5. Know Your Tower

The Main Building, with its 307-foot Tower, is the definitive landmark of the University. For eighty years, it’s quietly watched over the campus bustle, breaking its silence every quarter hour to remind everyone of the passing of the day. Bathed in warm orange lights to announce honors and victories, crowned in fireworks at the climax of spring commencement ceremonies, it’s been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. Architect Paul Cret intended it to be the “image carried in our memory when we think of the place,” though author and UT English instructor J. Frank Dobie, incensed that a state so rich in land would build something better suited to New York City, branded it a “toothpick in a pie.”

Opened in 1937, the Main Building was created to house the University’s central library. Along the east and west sides of the building, a pair of spacious reading rooms, labeled the “Hall of Texas” and the “Hall of Noble Words,” were connected to a great central reference room. Made with liberal use of oak and marble, the room was decorated with the six seals of Texas. (A life sciences library is still housed in the Main Building, and a visit to see these great halls is highly recommended. The Hall of Noble Words is a popular study place for students.)

Above: The ceiling of the Hall of Noble Words. 

Rising twenty-seven floors above the reading rooms, the Tower contained the library’s book stacks. Made of Indiana limestone, it was financed through a grant from the Progress Works Administration, a New Deal program created during the Great Depression. As a closed-stack library, its patrons searched an immense card catalog to identify their selections, and then requested books at the front desk. Orders were forwarded upstairs to one of the Tower librarians, who sometimes wore roller skates to better navigate the rows of bookshelves. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a special elevator to be checked out.

As both enrollment and the library’s holdings grew, the waiting time for a book extended to more than half an hour. The need for an open-stack library led to the construction of the Undergraduate Library and Academic Center in 1963 (now the Flawn Academic Center), and the Perry-Castaneda Library in 1977.

Symbolically, architect Paul Cret intended the Tower to be the University’s iconic building, and sought to give it an “appropriate architectural treatment for a depository of human knowledge.” The ornamentation on the building was meant to convey its purpose as a library as well as to the mission and aspirations of the University. Names of literary giants – Plato, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, among them –  were carved in limestone under the tall windows along the east and west sides. Displayed in gold leaf on the north side of the Tower were letters (or cartouches) from five dialects that contributed to the development of English language: Egyptian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The biblical quote inscribed above the south entrance, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” was selected by the Faculty Building Committee as suitable for those who came to use the library. “The injunction to seek truth as a means to freedom is as splendid a call to youth as we can make,” explained committee chair William Battle. (See: The Inscription.)

Placed alongside the literary images were familiar Classical symbols. The lamp of learning, the face of Athena as the goddess of wisdom, and rows of scallop shells – associated with Venus as the goddess of truth and beauty – were all added to the south façade, carved in place by Italian stone masons. Learning, wisdom, truth, and beauty: values long associated with the purpose of higher education.

The most colorful decorations were hung along the east and west sides of the building, just below the broad eaves, where artful representations of a dozen university seals (above right) were meant to convey a history of higher education, as well as proclaim UT’s own aspirations to be a “University of the first class.”

At night, the Tower takes on a different symbolic meaning when it glows orange to announce an athletic victory or an academic achievement. In the case of a national championship, a number “1” is displayed in the windows – a favorite sight for every Longhorn fan.

Above: An orange Tower with a “1” on all four sides for a national championship.

For more reading and photos: How to Build a Tower, The Main Building Seals, and UT Tower Lighting Configurations

Also see: Advice for UT Freshmen

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1952: A Handbook for Greenhorns

Browse the 1952 Freshman Orientation Guide

~~~~~~~~~~

April has arrived, and the University’s Office of New Student Services is busy finalizing plans for this summer’s orientation program for incoming freshmen and transfer students. Each of the six, three-day sessions will be packed with information about life on the UT campus, Longhorn traditions, academic advising, registration for classes, and plenty of advice for new students. (My own advice for freshmen is here.)

Recently, I acquired a copy of the 1952 freshman orientation booklet: A Handbook for Greenhorns. Authored and illustrated by a student committee, its pages provide an interesting glimpse of campus life more than six decades ago. Below are just a few excerpts, including registration in the un-air conditioned Gregory Gym, 8:30 p.m. curfews for freshmen women, a free “charm school” in the Texas Union, and a new “no smoking” rule in classrooms.

  • From Student to Student . . .

“You’re a University student now. But you’re not a University of Texas student. You haven’t got that knot inside that makes you a Longhorn. You don’t know what it is now, but you will.

“Maybe it’ll come to you when you’re strolling across the campus under a star-laden sky; or maybe in the evening when you short-cut across the southwest corner and hear the crickets; or maybe at a football game; or maybe it’ll just grow on you.”

“Try to keep two things in mind.

“First, be aware. Aware of the way you feel the minute you feel that way – -of the kicks at the game, the laughs at a student comedy, the inner passion inspired by a symphony, the warmth of a friendship, the simple pleasures of living a college life.

“Other thing is, cash in while you can. The best you can hope for at any college is to continue learning – – not to conclude your learning, but to continue it. If you cash in now – –  cash in on the knowledge that’s here for you – – then later on, you’ll have the knack of knowledge and go right on getting it; and maybe, still later, wisdom.”

  • First Daze at U.T.

“Yes, with your first look around the Forty Acres, everything seems big – – if not a little confusing.

“Everybody has a tough time getting through first registration.  . . . The simplest way to get out of a jam is the best way. Just walk up to somebody and ask them what to do, where you should go, or whom you should see. Folks are naturally friendly at the University, like everywhere else in Texas. Collar somebody and start talkin’.”

  • Gotta Place to Live? . . . Where You Hang Your Hat

“All undergraduates will live in University approved residences unless special permission is granted to live elsewhere.

“You women will have certain housing rules which must be followed –

“First-term freshman women may have 3 nights out a week after 8:30. Any evening spent out after 8:30, even though you were studying in the library or attending a club meeting, is counted as a night out. Your residences will be closed at 11 o’clock every night except Saturday when 12:45 is the deadline.

“You men should be familiar with these rules, too, because it will be part of your responsibility to get your date in on time.”

Above: Mezes, Batts, and Benedict Halls – along the east side of the South Mall – were constructed as a single project and opened in 1952.

  • Hard Cash . . .

“In order to give you an idea of the probable expense of going to the University, let us assume that you are a Texas resident, taking one lab course. You live in a rooming house, and eat your meals at the Commons [the Texas Union]:

“You must remember that this is a minimum, and does not include money for clothes, dating, cigarettes, cokes, and other ‘necessary’ expenses.”

  • What Students Do

“It is important to be a member of some groups, meet new people, and go to their social function – – but, take it from an old hand, choose your clubs carefully and only join those in which you have time to participate actively and which interest you most. There are more than 250 clubs of every description on campus.”

 

  • Student Sports

For men –

“The boys puff out their manly chests when they say the University is generally recognized as having one of the best all-round intramural programs for men in the entire country. The latest addition is lights for the Intramural Field. And to brag some more: These are the only ones of their type in this section of the country. Spectators who shout loudly and clap obnoxiously are welcome at all games.”

And for women –

“Besides regular gym classes, any girl with the required health grade can try out and perhaps become a member of a UTSA (University of Texas Sports Association) club.

“What’s your choice? There’s Bow and Arrow (archery), Canter Club (riding), Orchesis (modern dance), Poona (badminton), Racket Club (tennis), Strike and Spare (bowling), Tee Club (golf), Touche (fencing), Tumbling, and Turtle Club (swimming). UTSA is under guidance of Miss Anna Hiss, Director of Women’s Physical Training.”

  • Students’ Association

“The Students’ Association elects representatives for its student government both in the fall and in the spring. Assemblymen are elected in the fall, whereas the most colorful election is the one in the spring, when the president and other student body executive and judicial officers are decided. Colorful campaigning, with signs, stunts, and serenading add to the spirit of elections.”

Above: For several weeks each semester, the all-grass West Mall was filled with enormous – and creative – campaign signs for student government. Click on an image for a larger view.

  • ‘tenshun!

“The University of Texas is one of the few colleges in the country which has ROTC units of all three branches of our Armed Services: Army, Navy and Marine Corps, and Air Force.

“The objective of the ROTC programs is to develop the attributes of character, personality, and leadership which are indispensable to every college graduate, whether he remains a civilian upon graduation, or makes a career of the service.”

 

Left: The cartoon scene in this section of the freshman handbook wasn’t entirely fictional. From World War II until the 1957 completion of the ROTC Building on the East Mall (later named Russell Steindam Hall and now replaced by the Liberal Arts Building), the Naval ROTC was headquartered in the Littlefield Home, with a pair of anti-aircraft guns placed on each side of the front entrance. And in full view of the Tower.

 

 

  • Student Life Centers . . .

“You will find a ‘home away from home’ here at the center of student activities. Just a few of the conveniences offered a Lost and Found department, free dance classes, ping pong, chess, card playing, checking service, and television. In addition Pep rally dances, Friday Frolics, Talent Nights, and weekly movies are given free throughout the school year. Your Union offers bridge lessons, pop lectures, student-faculty discussions called Coffeorums, and frequent appearances of nationally known speakers.

“Students plan all activities through the work of ten committees. The Charm Committee offers a co-ed charm school and style show each semester. The Free Dance Committee handles the dances. The Talent Committee keeps a file of campus talent and provides programs for various groups.

“Besides offering numerous activities, you can find popular magazines, soft drinks, candy, cigarettes, and newspapers from all over the state. You paid your dollar Union fee this semester for the use of all of these facilities.”

Above: Opened in 1933, the Texas Union was the original campus center of student activities. Much of the first floor housed the “Commons,” a large University-wide cafeteria.

  • Traffic Regulations

“Since the 40 acres small parking on the campus is limited to those holding permits. These parking privileges are restricted are restricted to the faculty, staff and disabled students. Parking after 4:30 Friday, after 1:30 Saturday, all day Sunday is open to anyone who can find a place to park.”

 

  • There is a Place to Walk . . .

“This last year, many feet of side walk were put down so that you would be able to walk from place to place without getting your feet muddy (or ruining the grass). These walks were planned so that you will be able to get from one place to another without crossing any shrubs, flowerbeds or the like. In many cases they were laid over paths that students had worn through finding the shortest distance between two points. So as you establish your paths from building to building, conform to the walks and help keep our campus beautiful. “

  • And a Place to Smoke!

“You may be one of those students who feel uncomfortable without a smoke in your hand. If so, start curbin’ that desire as a rule was passed this last year prohibiting smoking (or beverage drinking) in the class rooms and other specified areas. So look before you smoke!”

  • Longhorn Yells and Songs

Above: As lights weren’t installed at the football stadium until 1956, home games were usually held at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. From the right seat, a Longhorn fan watched the game framed between two Austin landmarks: The UT Tower and the Texas Capitol.

Along with “The Eyes of Texas” and “Texas Fight,” UT students in 1952 had several favorite college yells. A pair of them – the Tex Fight Chant and Color Yell – were later incorporated into the Texas Fight song.

How to Impersonate the UT President

UT Campus.1905 - Copy

Above: The University of Texas campus in the 1900s. The Victorian-Gothic old Main Building stood where the present Main Building and Tower are today. B. Hall, the men’s dorm, is seen on the far right. Click on an image for a larger view.

It’s that time of year! Over the next few days, the latest herd of greenhorns – the freshman class of 2019 – will stampede their way on to the Forty Acres. To help new students with the transition to college life, the University will sponsor the Longhorn Welcome. It’s two weeks of campus-wide events, from moving in to the residence halls to a grand convocation the night before classes begin, intended to help every newcomer feel at home.

Unfortunately, such a friendly hand was not always extended to the freshmen. A little over a century ago, The Daily Texan newspaper printed a stern list of freshmen rules by the upperclassmen, which was followed soon after by a law student who posed as the University president.

In  September 1908, when the University was beginning its 25th academic year, Tom Ball, 28, an older-than-average senior law student, moved back in to his old room in Brackenridge Hall, better known as “B.Hall,” the first men’s dorm. It was a gift from San Antonio Regent George Brackenridge, intended to be a no frills residence for the “poor boys” of the state who could otherwise not afford to come to Austin and attend the University.

Tom Ball.Sidney Mezes

Above: Senior law student Tom Ball (left) and UT president Sidney Mezes.

Also on campus was a new UT president. Dr. Sidney Mezes had been on the faculty since 1894, first as a philosophy professor, then as a dean, and finally appointed president by the Board of Regents. A tall, thin, often serious gentleman, Mezes sported a full Van Dyke beard and spectacles.

By coincidence,Tom Ball had grown a Van Dyke beard over the summer, and if he donned a pair of glasses, he looked so much like the University president, even Dr. Mezes took notice. So did some mischievous B. Hallers, who convinced Ball into helping them properly “welcome” the freshman class of 1908.

1909 Cactus.Freshmen.1.

Above: A few members of the 1908 freshman class who met “President” Ball.

When the day arrived to register for fall classes, Ball put on his spectacles, procured a table and two chairs, and sat down near the south entrance to the old Main Building. Here, “President” Ball kindly registered unsuspecting freshmen with bogus papers, sold them elevator tickets to Old Main for 25 cents apiece (which did not yet have an elevator), and sent them all over campus for further initiations. Ball was merciless with the male greenhorns, who were ordered to find Mrs. Carothers, the head matron of the Woman’s Building, to be fitted for gym suits. Others were directed to sorority houses believing they’d been assigned a room there. (In 1908, either deed was considered scandalous!) The ones who suffered most, though, were the unfortunates ordered to B. Hall for a medical examination.

B Hall Color Postcard 2

Above: A 1908 postcard of Brackenridge Hall, better known as “B. Hall.” The first dorm for men, it stood near the intersection of the East Mall and Inner Campus Drive.

A freshman would appear in the hall with a slip of paper, signed by the “president,” which entitled the bearer to a required health exam. He was politely escorted to an upstairs room where the usual dorm furniture had been removed and replaced with a desk and semi-circle of chairs, and told to wait there for the “doctor.” As news spread of a victim in the hall, the audience filtered into the room one-by-one, each with their own slip of paper and asking for the doctor. They were directed to sit down and wait their turn. When the chairs were full, the fun began.

The doctor entered dressed in a white jacket (likely borrowed from a chemistry class) and accompanied by an assistant. “All right, who is first?” he demanded in his best professional voice. As the one who had waited the longest, the freshman raised his hand.

First came an endless list of personal questions: name, age, date of birth, weight of birth, sleeping, and bathing habits were all duly recorded, along with the names of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents if possible.

B Hall Residents

Above: Residents of B. Hall posed as a doctor, an assistant, and patients to help “President” Ball welcome freshmen to the Forty Acres.

Measurements were taken, from the distance between the eyes to the length of each finger. A sizeable lock of hair was cut to test for “dandruff bugs.” Next, the freshman was asked to stand with his feet spread apart as far as possible, so that the angle each leg made with the floor could be measured with a protractor. The sine, cosine and tangent of the all important angles were then computed on a slide rule and faithfully recorded.

The finale was the water test. The poor frosh stood in the middle of the room while his waist was measured. He was given a glass of water to drink, and  then his waist was measured again. Comparing the two numbers, the doctor announced the “ratio of the expansion of the diaphragm to the cubic displacement of water”. Always, the results were so astounding the test had to be repeated – and repeated again. This went on until the well ran dry or the victim ran over.

Advice for UT Freshmen

The next class of greenhorns – the Class of 2022 – are preparing to become part of the University of Texas. Since I’m asked about this on occasion, below is some friendly advice for UT freshmen. I hope some of it is helpful.

The Texas Box

Imagine your upcoming college experience as something packed into a great, mysterious box – wrapped in burnt orange paper, of course – ready to be opened and explored. Surprises, adventures, challenges, and good times are waiting inside. The wrapping peels off easy enough, but before you open the box, you notice a couple of phrases stenciled on the side. They’re found on lots of packages, offer both caution and counsel, and neatly summarize much of the well-meaning advice given to college freshmen:

Batteries.Assembly

A college education isn’t something that happens to you; it’s something that you make happen. Once the school year begins, no one will check on you each morning to be sure you’re on time for class, or ask if you’ve finished your homework. You’ll need to find ways to energize and motivate yourself. In other words, batteries aren’t included.  And while the courses you’ll take to complete a degree were designed by your professors, how much you learn from them – in fact, what you take away from your entire college experience – is entirely up to you. Think of the University of Texas as a large community loaded with world-class resources: professors, counselors, tutors, fellow students, libraries, laboratories, residence halls, student organizations, athletic facilities, museums, and theaters, all at your disposal to help build and shape your college education. But this won’t happen by itself; some assembly required.

This isn’t Temporary

Dr John MalletWhen UT first opened its doors on September 15, 1883, chemistry professor John Mallet (photo at left) told the students, “You frequently hear the phrase used, coming to the university, not remembering that you are the university.”  The same holds true today. For now, you’re an entering freshman and it’s common to say that you’re “coming to,” or “enrolling in” UT. But on the first day of the fall semester, when you’ve entered a classroom, found a seat, and the professor begins your first ever college class, at that point you will, in part, be the University of Texas.

Welcome to the community! Though you may only be on campus for a few years, the experiences you have and the friends you make will forever be with you. This isn’t temporary. You will always be a part of the University, and it a part of you.

Be a Sponge

Classes, homework, and library books! Concerts, plays, and intramural sports! Research papers and lab reports! Weekend parties, Longhorn Runs, late night road trips to someplace fun! Football rallies and spring break tans! Study groups and final exams!

The UT campus could not be a dull place if it tried. Gathered here are more than 50,000 students from all parts of the globe, taught by a distinguished faculty whose research is literally creating the future, and assisted by a team of administrators, librarians, custodians, architects, curators, counselors, landscapers, chefs, and many, many others who make sure that everything is running smoothly. There are more than a thousand student organizations, visits by famous authors, entrepreneurs, and world leaders, musical performances by accomplished virtuosos, Broadway shows in the Bass Concert Hall, and exciting athletic events year round. You didn’t come to Austin to hide in your room. Get out there, be a sponge, and soak it up!

There’ll never be enough time to experience everything. Seek out the student activities that interest you, visit the campus museums, attend concerts and special lectures, volunteer for a public service project, and purposely meet others who are different, whose culture or world views are unlike yours. You may never again live amid such extraordinary diversity, and to explore it is an important part of your college education.

With that said –

Your Mileage May Vary

MLK Statue.East MallWhat and how much you do will be different from others. If you’re like most freshmen, you’re about to experience two important milestones: leaving home and living on your own for the first time, and adjusting to college life with new people and in new surroundings. Don’t think that you have to “keep up” with others around you, and don’t feel pressured to take part in activities that don’t interest you, just to feel included. Certainly, you’ll want to try new things and expand your horizons, but this is your college experience, so make it your own. Take the time to find the pace that suits you. Keep in mind that sometimes less is more.

Go to Class

It sounds too easy, but this simple habit is, by far, the best way to succeed at UT. No, seriously. No . . . seriously. Just go to class.

On the first day of the semester, take a look around you. All of the other students enrolled in your class will be there. But after a week or two, especially for larger classes, you’ll notice that attendance has dropped off. That is, until the day of the first exam, when there’ll suddenly be a crowd of unfamiliar faces. A stranger might even be sitting in your usual seat! Who are all these people? Many are students who think they can cut class, just show up for the tests, and do well. My sincere advice is not to be one of them.

There are plenty of excuses for not going to class. Some seem legit, most are not: there’s a paper due and you want to spend more time on it, or you’d rather study for a big test you have later the same day. True, there’ll be times during the semester when one class needs more attention than the others, but make sure that you’re still attending all of them. If you miss one, it’ll take longer to catch up than if you were there. Besides, more professors are finding ways to reward those who come to lectures. Some let students know what’s best to study when preparing for tests. Others announce in advance there’ll be extra credit questions on exams, but the questions will be on topics only discussed in class. There may be days when you’re not all that motivated (remember, batteries not included), but if you go to class, you’ll find it’s easier to keep up with everything.

Main Building Inscription

Professors are your Friends

Stop. Raise your right hand and repeat: “I promise to meet all of my professors within the first two weeks of every semester.”

This is standard college advice, but many students never follow it. Some didn’t talk much with their high school teachers and have continued the habit. Others are a little intimidated. After all, professors are big-time experts in their fields and have other things to do. Would they want to bother with questions from a freshman? The answer is a definite “yes.”

All professors have office hours, designated times during the week when they’ll be in their offices to talk with students. But too often, usually for the reasons mentioned above, only a few appear at the door. “My office hours are a ghost town,” grumbles the lonely prof. Remember, a professor has made a career of research and teaching in a particular academic field, and has a genuine passion for their subject. A curious student, or one who just needs some help with homework and makes the effort to stop by, is welcome.

Introduce yourself to each of your professors within the first two weeks of the semester. Don’t have any questions about the class yet? No worries. Instead, find out more about your instructor. Where did they go to college? Why did they decide to be a professor, and how did they choose their field? What kind of research are they doing? You can also simply ask, “What’s the best way to study for your class?” Once you’ve broken the ice, conferring with your professor during the rest of the semester is easy.

Don’t forget, along with helping you with classes, professors can also be mentors, assist with student research opportunities, or be references for grad school or your first job after graduation.

Study like a Tortoise

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Do you remember Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare? A smart-alecky hare teases a tortoise about his slow, deliberate plodding until the irritated tortoise finally challenges the hare to a race.

At the start, the overconfident hare easily jumps into the lead. Certain that he has the race won, he stops to rest under a tree. When he accidentally falls asleep, the tortoise pulls ahead, and despite a last minute sprint by the hare, the tortoise crosses the finish line first. The moral of the story: slow and steady wins the race.

On the first day of class, each of your professors will distribute a syllabus that includes a description of the course, what textbooks you’ll need, how grades will be determined, the professor’s office hours, and a list of dates for exams, due dates for research papers, or other projects.

This may take a little effort, but create a calendar, either on your computer or something to hang on a wall, and fill in all the tests and other important due dates. You’re looking for a “big picture” view of the semester. You might discover that you have two tests and a paper due in the same week (Ugh!!), but at least you know about it early and can plan ahead.

For each exam, mark the date two weeks before it as the day to start studying. No, this doesn’t mean endlessly poring over your textbook for hours every night. Just start with a half hour or hour every day. Review a week’s worth of lecture notes (Don’t just look them over, learn them.), say, or reread a chapter in the book. Is it a math class? Review one section in the text and work a few problems. A history course? Write out short descriptions of a few people or ideas that are likely to be on the test. As the exam nears, when other students are just getting started and will have to stay up late to catch up, you’ll discover that you already know most of the material. More important, you’ve allowed time for the ideas to “sink in” and truly understand them.

Academic sprinting – trying to cram lots of information into your brain at the last minute – usually results in extra stress and promptly forgetting all that you learned five minutes after the test ended, which means you’ll have to relearn it before the final exam. There’s an old saying: By the yard, life is hard. By the inch, it’s a cinch! Study like a tortoise, slow, steady, and in small pieces, and you’ll be much better off in the academic race.

College is Hard

To have been admitted to the University of Texas, you must have done well in high school. Earning good grades – perhaps straight A’s – may have been relatively easy. But graduating from a university with all A’s is more difficult and less common. College is intense and challenging, and it’s designed to be that way.

It’s not unusual for a freshman who excelled in high school to struggle in at least one course. It happens. The first test is returned with a grade of “C,” or worse. A poor mark can be unsettling. It can shake self-confidence. “This never happened before,” some students think to themselves, and are embarrassed to tell anyone, including their family. A few resolve to study twice as long for the next test, only to wind up with the same result. They begin to doubt themselves, never realizing that it’s not the time spent studying, but how they study that needs to be remedied.

A few weeks into the semester, if you feel lost in a course, can’t finish the homework, not sure how take lecture notes, or just didn’t do well on a test, don’t panic. What you’ll discover is that, in the long term, you actually learn more from setbacks, from surmounting obstacles, than from breezing through with successes. What’s important is to figure out what went wrong and work to make it right. A lecturer in the business school is quick to tell his students, “Don’t let failure define you. Let it refine you.”

If you find yourself struggling, don’t keep it to yourself, and don’t wait. Use the many resources on campus to assist you. (Some assembly required!) Talk to your professor, classmates, and academic advisor. The Sanger Learning Center offers programs on study strategies and one-on-one tutoring, while the University Writing Center can assist with any and all writing assignments. Check with the UT Counseling Center for help with stress or test anxiety.

Remember, everyone, and I do mean everyone, is overwhelmed by college at some point. Struggling to learn is a time-honored part of the experience. But don’t hold off until the end of the semester. If you need help, seek it early.

Autumn on the Forty Acres

College Knowledge

  • Try to make friends as soon as you arrive on campus. Even if you think you’re shy, just remember that starting college is something new for all of your freshmen classmates, and everyone will be a little anxious.
  • Participate in the 360 Connections and join a Freshman Interest Group – a FIG – where about 20 students attend many of the same classes and meet once a week. You’ll see familiar faces right away.
  • Textbooks are expensive. While the local bookstores are convenient, check online retailers (Amazon, Textbook.com, etc) and shop around. Keep in mind that a few classes – Calculus I and II (M 408C and M 408D), for example – use the same textbook. It might be less expensive to buy a used copy than rent the same book for two semesters.
  • When you’re ready to register for courses, keep a map handy to see where your classes will meet. While 10 to 15 minutes are allowed for changing classes (depending on the day), you don’t want to have to sprint across the campus just to be on time.
  • Each building has a three-letter abbreviation, which is part of the campus lingo. Robert Lee Moore Hall (physics, math, and astronomy) is known simply as “RLM.” Lots of freshmen confuse the W.C. Hogg Building (WCH) for Welch Hall (WEL), which are next to each other.
  • If you’re living on or near campus, you probably won’t need a car for your freshman year. Most of your time will be spent on campus anyway, and a car will just be an extra hassle. Besides, the University has an extensive shuttle bus system, and students ride for free on city buses. But if you need a vehicle, keep in mind –
  • There are never enough parking spaces for students. Or for faculty and staff. A campus parking permit is better known as a “hunting license.” It’s easier with a garage pass, but pricey.
  • Bicycles are a great way to get to and from campus, but are not as easy to ride during class changes. Remember, there’ll be tens of thousands of students and professors changing classes with you. Don’t forget to register and secure your bike. A U-lock with a flat key is best, though the UT Police Department recommends double locking your bike.
  • Sit in the front half of the classroom. You want see what’s being written on the chalkboard or projected on a screen. If it’s a science class, the prof might have a physics or chemistry demo. Some claim sitting up front scores points with the professor. Maybe. But if you just show up, take part, and visit during office hours, they’ll get to know you. It’s more important simply to sit where you have a good view.Battle Hall Reading Room
  • Where to study? Your dorm room usually has too many distractions. Try a study lounge or a library. The Perry-Castaneda Library – the PCL – is popular, in part because you’re allowed to bring food with you. (Yes, students have pizza delivered to the PCL!) Another good place, especially for group study, is the first floor of the Flawn Academic Center, or the FAC. The most collegiate looking is the Architecture Library on the second floor of Battle Hall (photo at right). It was originally UT’s first library building, opened in 1911. No food allowed, but great atmosphere.
  • Bring an umbrella! It does rain in Austin occasionally, and you’d be surprised how many students forget. They trudge across campus in a downpour without any cover and show up to class drenched and dripping. It’s not pretty.
  • Do your laundry on a weekday and avoid the weekend rush. (And don’t forget, hot water for whites, cold for colors!)

Break Out of the Burnt Orange Bubble

Burnt Orange BubbleFrom classes to residence halls to student groups to football games, you’ll wind up spending much of your time on campus. But don’t forget to break out of the campus bubble now and then and explore the city of Austin. Visit the Texas Capitol, swim in Barton Springs, climb the steps to Mount Bonnell for an amazing view, or dress up for the giant Halloween party on Sixth Street. The Austin City Limits Music Fest and the South by Southwest Conference make international headlines for a reason. Be like the locals and go kayaking, paddle boarding, or sailing on area lakes, or running and biking on the trails. Or just enjoy some of the live music that’s everywhere: along Sixth Street, in cafes around town, and in some grocery stores. (Yep. In Austin, bands perform in grocery stores.) There’s something going on just about every weekend.

Better yet, just go away. If at all possible, participate in a study abroad program sponsored by UT’s International Office, if only for a summer. There are major-specific options where courses taken will count toward your degree, shorter summer programs led by UT faculty, and scholarships available to help with costs. If you haven’t traveled outside of the United States, to immerse yourself in a different culture, with its own language, food, and customs, where you are the visitor, is a great adventure and a guaranteed life-changing experience.

Eiffel Tower.Paris

UT Phone Home

You’ll be busy, but remember to call, text, email, Facebook, Tumblr, Skype, Snapchat, shout, or just wave in the general direction of home occasionally. Your family wants to hear from you.

Stop and Think

You’ve probably heard the adage: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. There’s a higher ed version: You can lead a student to college, but you can’t make him think!

In the 1950s, former UT president Harry Ransom described the campus as a “field of ideas,” and believed the pursuit of those ideas to be “one of the major undertakings of a university freshman. It is a highly personal undertaking, as unpredictable in its opportunities as it is in its rewards.”

Student life is hectic, but in between the barrage of classes, homework, and student activities, find some time to stop, think, and take stock. What are you learning this semester, and how does it fit into a overall view? How do your various courses – literature, science, business, history, engineering, culture – connect together? (They do.) “A student may choose his courses, pore over his texts, listen to his teachers, exchange opinions with his contemporaries,” wrote President Ransom, “but still miss the main chance for developing ideas significant to him. If he is to complete the pursuit of ideas, he will get off by himself, shut up, and think. Too much higher education today neglects that lowly exercise.”

Why are You Here?

UT Tower FireworksWhy go to college? Easy. By far, the most popular answer is “to get a job.” And it’s true. A college degree opens doors to more higher earning opportunities. At least one study claims a college graduate earns, on average, $1 million more over a lifetime than someone without a degree. But while you’re thinking about a career, keep in mind that there’s more going on here.

If you go looking for the purposes of a college education, you generally find three distinct goals. The first is practical: to be more employable. Be aware, though, that some of what you’ll learn will eventually become outdated. A broader education that gives you the ability to grow and adapt to new things is best.

Your parents are a good example. They would likely have been your age in the 1980s or early 1990s. As they set out into the world – whether or not they went to college – they encountered new inventions such as email, the internet, e-commerce, smart phones, and social media, all of which radically altered the world and the workplace, and created jobs that no one had yet imagined. After you graduate, the world will continue to change in surprising ways. While you’ll have a major field of study, remember that a UT education shouldn’t limit you to a single profession. Let it prepare you to grow into professions not yet invented.

Commencement,Main BuildingA second reason for going to college has been boldly displayed on the University’s Seal for over a century. The Latin motto Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis comes from an 1838 speech by Mirabeau Lamar, a president of the Republic of Texas. He declared that a “cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” Lamar echoed the thoughts of John Adams in the 1700s, “Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.”

After graduation, you will be more than your chosen profession. You’ll also be a voter, a juror, perhaps a leader in your community. To know and understand the issues of the day, to be able to articulate opinions and make educated choices, to be a participating citizen, all of this is crucial to the future.

The third aim of college is more vague and difficult to measure, but your time on campus will allow you experiences that might otherwise be unavailable. Whether it’s gaining an international perspective through travel, a refined appreciation for music, art, film, or architecture, a deeper understanding of classical literature, or a better grasp at the importance and wonder of the latest scientific discoveries. College isn’t just about learning to make a living; it’s also about learning what makes life worth living.

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Orange BoxDon’t forget! There’s a great, mysterious box waiting with your name on it. Inside are surprises, adventures, challenges, and good times. Soon it will be time to open it. Before you do, pack some extra batteries. You’ll want all of the energy you can get!

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A reminder: The UT History Corner is not an official publication of the University of Texas. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author.

Some photos used here were taken by Marsha Miller. Thanks to Chris Lanier, Adrienne MacKenzie, Lisa Lockhart and Clint Tuttle for input, and to Dr. Sacha Kopp for inspiration.

Rules for Freshmen . . . in 1908!

A steamy summer has arrived in Austin, and with it comes another orientation season on the UT campus. Starting in June and continuing into mid-July, seven, three-day sessions will attempt to acquaint new students with the inner workings of the University. It’s a daunting task, but UT now provides a wealth of programs to help Greenhorns adapt to life on the Forty Acres. The Gone to Texas convocation held on the night before classes begin in the fall, Freshman Interest Groups (FIGs), Freshman Seminar classes, the Freshman Leadership Organization (FLO), Camp Texas, and more, are intended to support and help new students integrate into the University community.

But such was not always the case. The freshman class of 1908 would have perused the Texan student newspaper and discovered a less-than-cheerful set of guidelines penned by some of the upperclassmen. Published in the October 3rd edition, near the start of the fall quarter, were a dozen rules for the male freshmen. (Click on the photo to see a larger version.)

All are silly, and the word “freshmen” is always printed with a small “f”: “freshmen are warned not to wear gym suits to chapel,” or, “freshmen are hereby granted leave to appear in our opera houses in the ‘peanut’ [peanut gallery = back seats] ONLY.”

Most of the guidelines are self-explanatory, but a few might need some explanation.

Rule five: “freshmen shall uncover their knots immediately on entering the buildings, or on encountering any UPPER CLASSMEN.” A knot, in this case, is a head. Freshmen were asked to doff their hats as they went inside, or whenever they met a “higher ranking” upperclassman.

Rule seven: “freshmen are hereby positively forbidden perip. and corridor courses,” refers to the Peripatos, or “Perip” for short, the sidewalk that encircled the Forty Acres. It was a popular activity to stroll the Perip with a date, or follow the Varsity Band on one of its promenade concerts, with stops along the way for dancing and sing-alongs. And the corridors of the old Main Building were the places to meet friends between classes. In short, the rule stated that freshmen shouldn’t be seen at the popular hangouts around campus.

Rule eight: “freshmen shall report dilligently to Dr. Henry Reeves for mental ablutions.” Neither a Ph.D. nor a medical doctor, Henry Reeves was hired on as a custodian for the gymnasium in 1897, and for more than two decades became a popular and valuable assistant to the football team as a self-taught physical trainier. “Doc” Henry patched up injured UT athletes at home and on the road, and was quick to lend a sympathetic ear and offer encouragement and advice to everyone.

After reading the other rules, some freshmen might have been anxious to make an appointment with the friendlier “Dr. Reeves.”

Image from the October 13, 1908 issue of the Texan student newspaper.