Jim Nicar

What started out as a single, dirt path students would walk across on their way to class has transformed into the pulse of the University for students to table and to protest.

The West Mall, located west of the UT Tower, is known for it’s tree lined walkways that stretch to the Texas Union, where many student organizations rent tables to distribute flyers and information.

Former UT historian Jim Nicar said in the 1930s the University, which had about 11,000 students, had horse-drawn trolleys to transport students to class and drop them off in front of Guadalupe. This path from Guadalupe up to the west wing of the Main Building became known as the “West Walk.” Nicar runs a blog called “The UT History Corner” including history about the university.

“If they had built the east wing of the Main Building first, the Drag may have wound up on Speedway,” Nicar said. “Stores started popping up around the trolley stop which became an active part of campus. In fact, it’s almost like a second main entrance to campus.”

In 1933, a French architect named Paul Kret designed the campus master plan of the University. Kret is the architect of the Tower, the Union, Goldsmith Hall and designed the way the West Mall should be laid out.

Nicar said Kret designed the two square towers of Goldsmith Hall and the Union to frame the west entrance of UT because of its heavy student traffic.

In the 1950s and 1960s the West Mall became an important place for student elections, football rallies and a center of social life on campus, Nicar said. Protests didn’t really start until the ‘60s with the Vietnam War. In 1970, planters were put in the middle of the sidewalks by former UT System Regent Frank Erwin to discourage large gatherings of students.

Now, the West Mall allows student organizations to promote their initiatives. 

While some universities may have designated locations for free speech, UT allows free speech across campus, said Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant dean of students.

The rally space in front of the steps facing the West Mall is also equipped with plugs where amplified sound may be used from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Many students consider the rally space the University’s free speech zone. 

“The entire campus is a free speech zone, but what people get confused about is amplified sound.” Mercatoris said. “In their minds they replace amplified sound zone with a free speech zone.”

Mercatoris said UT has 1,148 student organizations this year, who all have the right to bring guest speakers and rent tables on the West Mall.

“Whatever the topic is, we’re advocating for that free speech and assisting them to have an event where speech can flourish,” Mercatoris said.

Economics senior Jocelyn Matyas tables for Colleges Against Cancer to advertise to the University and give out information to students.

“[West Mall] is a high traffic area where people expect student organizations to advertise and engage with the community,” Matyas said. “It’s a great way to spread information around campus.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The names of oilmen and CEOs are making their way onto campus buildings as UT becomes more likely to honor big-dollar donors instead of long-time professors and influential University presidents.

While UT currently has more buildings named in honor of faculty members, examining the history behind more than 80 buildings on campus reveals that in the past 13 years, the University has more frequently named buildings after individuals who have donated large sums of money to the campus. The practice of naming buildings after donors has become more common as state allocations to UT decreased drastically in the last two decades making the University more dependent on philanthropy. 

Seven of the 12 buildings named since 2000 were named in honor of donors rather than University presidents or faculty members. Almost all of the buildings named in honor of donors were built in the second half of the University’s 130-year history. 

This includes the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex — the latest building on campus to be named for donors. The Gates-Dell Complex replaced Taylor Hall, which was named after Thomas U. Taylor, who was UT’s first engineering dean and fought against a University president who wanted to dismantle the engineering department. 

It’s a practice that’s become more common nationally, as the cost of higher education has increased, according to UT historian Jim Nicar.

“They’re looking for money in anyway they can, and so now there’s a bigger emphasis on finding donors and using the buildings as naming opportunities,” Nicar said about the destruction of Taylor Hall. “You don’t want to neglect the donors because they’re supporting the schools — it’s their donation that’s making it happen. But you also don’t want to forget the faculty — the people who actively made it happen as well.” 

There are 88 named buildings on campus — 22 of which were named after donors.

Orange — A building named after a UT president, faculty member or regent. Green — A building named after a donor. Yellow — A building that is unnamed. The University might name the building in the future, however. Purple — The UT Tower and Main Building. Light Blue — A building named after someone who is neither a former UT president, faculty member of regent or a donor.

Using building names as a gift-giving incentive is a common practice for the University and other non-profit institutions, according to Brian Willey, an assistant director of the University Development Office who handles the naming of buildings.

“Many donors like to have their names attached to projects that they are passionate about, and institutions are happy to recognize these high-level gifts with namings,” Willey said.

Willey said the process of naming a building typically begins in the offices of the college deans, who are responsible for fundraising.

John Halton, an associate dean of engineering, said the Cockrell School of Engineering is using naming opportunities as a fundraising mechanism because more than $100 million of the building’s construction cost is expected to come from philanthropic efforts.

The Cockrell School of Engineering provides potential donors with an online listing of 70 naming opportunities corresponding with price tags for the still-to-be-built $330 million Engineering Education and Research Center. The name for the new building is paired with a $60-million donation.

“We did make the decision to try and encourage gifts,” Halton said. “If you don’t recognize people through naming, it’s kind of tough. I would think it would be difficult to ask someone to make a gift and not recognize that gift somehow.”

While the University uses building names as a gift incentive for philanthropists, some donors throughout UT’s history have chosen to remain anonymous. 

It was not until this past February that after years of urging and encouragement from UT, prominent donors Peter and Edith O’Donnell decided to shred their anonymity and allow the University to name the Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building after their family, which has given more than $135 million since 1983.

In 1890, the Board of Regents urged a reluctant George W. Brackenridge, UT’s first big donor, to allow the University to name its first dorm, B. Hall, after him when he paid for its construction, hoping it might attract another donor, Nicar said. 

Some unnamed buildings are a result of unsuccessful naming campaigns. 

The recently completed, $90-million College of Liberal Arts building went unnamed after the college could not find a donor willing to give a donation of at least $25 million. The building became one of 21 other unnamed academic buildings on campus,

In lieu of donations, the University often names buildings in honor of renowned faculty members or presidents. UT has named 23 buildings that previously went unnamed, including Anna Hiss Gymnasium and Mezes Hall, years — sometimes decades — after they were built.

Other Universities made the shift to naming more buildings after donors long before UT did, according to Tim Burton of DigIn Research, a company that specializes in helping nonprofits fundraise and setting asking-prices for building names.

Burton said as money gets tight, nonprofit institutions become more conscious of the potential to raise money by naming their facilities in honor of donors.

“These buildings are all places, spaces and things,” Burton said. “They’re too precious as assets to just allow them to be named in honor of somebody who was a great faculty member. Money is really tight, where is it going to come from?”

Other universities, such as the University of Florida, a former client of Burton and a large public institution similar to UT, have named a higher percentage of their buildings in honor of donors.

UT might catch up though, as it is on the verge of beginning a new construction phase that could largely be funded by donors. In addition to the engineering building, the University is also set to construct as many as 10 new buildings in the next decade as part of the Dell Medical School, which was named in honor of the Dell Foundation after it donated $50 million.

Nicar said UT is not necessarily turning its back on its history as it names more buildings after donors and less after historical faculty members.

“There are other ways that we are remembering our history,” Nicar said.

Recently, the University has taken to naming areas within buildings. Last year, UT dedicated the ground floor atrium in the Student Activity Center to Margaret Berry, a prominent UT alumna, lecturer and historian. UT also named a room in the Engineering Teaching Center II after Thomas Taylor, UT’s first engineering dean whose previous building was replaced by the Gates-Dell Complex.

Although, Nicar said he would like to see Taylor’s name return to campus on another building.

“Engineering would not be here if it weren’t for Thomas Taylor, several times over,” Nicar said. “They shouldn’t forget Taylor.”


Jim Nicar, former Texas Exes director of history and traditions, was fired Monday after 20 years of service as a part of a strategic planning process the organization is undertaking.

The Texas Exes dismissed Nicar and two other employees Monday as part of the organization’s efforts to increase advocacy, student development, alumni relations and strategic partnering with UT. Leslie Cedar, Texas Exes executive director, said Nicar was involuntarily terminated because the organization is repurposing some staff positions to better deliver Texas Exes’ priorities in new and innovative ways.

Cedar said the organization began its reorganizing efforts after she joined the Texas Exes as executive director in 2011. She said the group has since evaluated its core purpose and decided Texas Exes will lead the charge to help UT be a first class, leading research and teaching public university in the country.

“The new strategy is more updated and focuses on making alumni very active in becoming a formidable force [at UT],” Cedar said.

Cedar said since July 2011, four people including Nicar have been involuntarily dismissed and five roles within the organization have been eliminated. Texas Exes now has a total of 49 employees. In addition to serving as director of history and traditions, Nicar also served as the Texas Exes liaison and advisor to the Spirit and Traditions Council, an umbrella group for many different spirit groups on campus. She said the organization wishes Nicar the best.

Admissions counselor Lisa Lockhart said she heard about Nicar’s firing via email from a student who is a member of a club Nicar mentored. Lockhart said Nicar has spent several decades serving UT working, researching, writing articles and giving presentations on UT history and traditions. She said students who worked for her were always thrilled when Nicar taught them something new about UT’s history. Lockhart said discharging an individual with Nicar’s longevity, knowledge and integrity is outrageous and damaging. She said she spoke to Nicar after he had been fired about what he would do next.

“We spoke of his future plans,” she said. “[Whether] to return to school or finish working on a book about UT’s history and traditions. I do not know what reason was given to him but he did mention poor morale and high turnover at Texas Exes.”

With regard to rumors of canceling and disbanding Texas Exes programs, Lockhart said to follow the money.

“Are new, middle management positions being created?” she said. “Did these jobs exist before? Are programs being sacrificed to provide salaries?”

Cedar said 11 new positions have been added and eight people have been promoted since July 2011 in efforts to align resources and talents and deliver on strategic priorities.

Matt Portillo, Spirit and Traditions Council co-chair, said his organization was shocked when they learned of Nicar’s termination. Portillo said he found out from Nicar himself and confirmed the news with an email from Tim Taliaferro, Texas Exes vice president of communications and digital strategy. Portillo said Taliaferro told him to direct any questions and concerns about the Spirit and Traditions Council to him from now on. He said Taliaferro also told him Texas Exes is currently assessing the council’s future within the organization and the council should hold no meetings or activities without a Texas Exes staff member present. Portillo said he was told the council could not meet until after they met with Texas Exes leadership in a meeting after spring break due to legal and liability considerations.

Portillo said he thinks the Texas Exes’ restructuring and Nicar’s firing is due to a budget shortfall within the organization. He said the council may be rolled into the Texas Exes Student Chapter organization. Portillo said the council is open to change, but he is concerned that Texas Exes has not involved the group in any discussions about the proposed changes.

“There’s been some miscommunication and I think everybody is in a somewhat turbulent state,” Portillo said. “But what’s important right now is for students and the Texas Exes leadership to come together and work towards solutions that will benefit everyone.”

Although the Spirit and Traditions Council receives approximately $6,000 in funding from the Texas Exes, Portillo said it is a registered student organization and he believes it is free to act according to the will of its student membership.

Cedar said despite rumors Texas Exes was cutting programs and clubs, no such entities have been eliminated.

“We will continue on with all of our traditions,” Cedar said. “We have the opportunity to build on top of these. How do we continue on? That’s the task we were charged with when I came in.”

Additional reporting by Nick Hadjigeorge.

Printed on Friday, March 9, 2012 as: Texas Exes' restructuring results in loss of jobs

Sophomore Jannah Dies, left, and junior Alysse Fisher slice and plate pieces of cake in honor of the tower’s 75th anniversary of its comencement. Texas Exes hosted events throughout the day, including free cake and stickers, a tour of the tower and a display of the original architectural drawings.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

For the first time since its construction 75 years ago, the UT Tower shone bright orange Monday night in honor of itself.

UT community members celebrated the Tower’s birthday Monday to honor the 75th anniversary of its original commencement ceremony. The Tower is an iconic UT landmark and, at 27 stories, by far the tallest building on campus. Events to commemorate the occasion included an architectural exhibit, a historical tour of the Tower and the distribution of 800 pieces of birthday cake in the West Mall area.

Texas Exes, UT’s official alumni group, funded the event. Matt Portillo, music and rhetoric and writing senior and the co-chair of the Texas Exes Spirit and Tradition Council, said the event was a great way to celebrate something that everyone at UT has experience with.

“Everybody loves the Tower,” he said. “It’s fun when we have the opportunity to celebrate something we all like.”

Jim Nicar, director of the Texas UT Heritage Society, the historical association for the University, said the Tower has a long history of serving the campus and the greater community.

“It was originally built, in part, from $1.5 million in governmental funding approved through the Works Progress Administration, an organization created under the New Deal,” he said. “The building of the Tower put many to work during a time of national difficulty and led to the creation of a large new library at UT.”

Today the Tower serves as home to various core administrative offices, libraries, classrooms and the bells that sound across campus quarter hourly. It is a landmark for visitors to UT and the Austin area. It is also used to commemorate the victories and triumphs of the University community, from national athletic championships to graduation ceremonies, said Tower building manager, Twiggy Aguilera.

The original architect for the Tower, Paul Cret, intended the Tower to represent what the University stands for, Nicar said.

“He purposely put the Tower on top of the hill and made it much higher than any other building on campus,” he said. “Cret wanted the Tower to be what people thought of when they thought about UT”.

Spanish junior Andrew Conger said the Tower serves the University on two useful levels.

“Not only is it something that makes it really easy to navigate campus, but it symbolizes UT,” he said. “It’s just a shining beacon of awesomeness.”

The original vision of the Tower coming to represent the University has come to fruition, said advertising senior Erica Flores.

“When you think of UT, you think of the Tower,” she said. “It is a symbol of campus tradition, unity and everything that makes UT great.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Tower burns orange after 75th birthday

Jim Nicar, Texas Exes director of campus relations, leads the 500th midnight prowl tour Friday evening.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

From stories about the University’s first dormitory to the birth of “The Eyes of Texas,” the campus has a rich history the UT community explored over the weekend.

Students, staff and UT Alumni “prowled” around campus Friday night for the 500th Moonlight Prowl tour, exploring different parts of the original Forty Acres and the history and stories behind several locations on campus.

One tour stop discussed old Brackenridge Hall, commonly known as B-Hall, which was an inexpensive men’s dormitory in the 1890s that housed students who came to Austin with as little as a single change of clothes.

“B-Hall students were the classic stories of poor boys to doctors and lawyers,” said Jim Nicar, tour guide and Texas Exes’ director of campus relations. “We even had two U.S. Senators come out of B-Hall.”

A tour stop revealed the use of “sit-ins” on Guadalupe Street during the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, where protesters sat in a location until they were evicted or arrested.

Friday marked the 50th anniversary of this protest strategy at UT which began at the Varsity Theater on Guadalupe in 1961, Nicar said.

“African-Americans who attended only the UT Law School couldn’t do anything on the Drag without being segregated,” Nicar said. “The sit-ins swept the nation, and after six months, the Varsity Theater agreed to integrate and the rest of the Drag followed.”

Nov. 2 marked the 50th anniversary of the nation’s largest “panty raid” in 1961, where more than 3,000 male students made their way to several women’s dormitories and sorority houses and demanded their underclothes.

“The movement was protesting against entry restrictions to campus dorms of the opposite gender,” Nicar said.

The last stop of the tour discussed the timeline of the University’s football and baseball programs and how students went from building the first football stands to an entire football stadium.

“Students wanted some stands for the last football game of the season, and in less than two weeks with less than $600, they built stands that seated around 3,500 people,” Nicar said.

One student was surprised and interested in the several stories Nicar shared about the University’s early student generations.

“The activities of the students were so focused on the campus, whereas nowadays, it seems like everyone does their own thing,” said history senior James Sutton. “Everyone was so connected.”

The 500th Prowl was significant to one staff member who wanted to know more about the campus’ interesting history.

“I was interested in his little tidbits and behind-the scenes information that you don’t know about,” said Cynthia Aranda, administrative associate in the School of Law. “When I saw it was going to be the 500th Prowl, I thought it would be a good time to go to be a part of history.”

Printed on November 7, 2011: Moonlight Prowl conducts 500ths UT tour

“University Avenue, whose cool parkades tempt Ed and Co-ed from Library and porch swing on moonlit evenings.” —An excerpt from the Cactus Yearbook, 1920.

Photo Credit: Cactus Yearbook | Daily Texan Staff

The University of Texas is celebrating its birthday today, 128 years after the original opening in Old Main, where the Tower and Main Building now stand.

When the University first opened to eight professors and a class of 221 students, campus construction was incomplete and classes were held in the temporary Capitol building, which has since burned down, said Texas Exes historian Jim Nicar. Officials separated the House and Senate chambers into classrooms with plywood dividers, he said.

The opening ceremony of the University was held in the unfinished west wing of the Old Main, where the Tower stands today, he said.

“The University’s first chair of faulty spoke last. His name was Mallett,” Nicar said. “He made a really neat quote at the end of the ceremony about it really being the students who are the University, that the faculty were looking to the students and how important it is that you hear phrases like, ‘I’m going to the University, enrolled in the University or coming to the University,’ not realizing that you are the University.”

UT consisted of the College of Academia and the School of Law, Nicar said. Programs in the College of Academia included English, ancient languages, physics, psychology, chemistry and other typical academic programs, he said. A student could enroll in the School of Law without having to first get a bachelor’s degree and was able to graduate and pass the bar exam in two years, he said.

“People made fun of them when they came to Austin,” Nicar said. “They’d never really experienced a university before, and these strange professors showed up and all sorts of things. It was a town of 11,000 people, and the roads were not yet paved.”

Upon opening, the University simply required students to pay $15 in dues each semester until it was raised to $25 in the 1920s and doubled to $50 in the 1950s.

In comparison, tuition ranged from $4,493 to $5,163 for undergraduates with Texas residency in the fall of 2010, according to a report released each year by the Office of Information Management and Analysis.

Whether or not to allow women entry into the University was a controversial issue at the time, Nicar said. The decision on whether or not to allow women to stay in dorms was also an issue that remained undecided until the speaker of the House of Representatives had to cast the deciding vote.

In the end, women were allowed into UT to end a debate on whether or not to have a University president, Nicar said. The governor at the time would have been out of office by the time UT opened, and the founders did not want him to become the president because they feared he would abuse the politics of the position. He said UT founders decided to grant women entry into the University instead of installing a president to please community members who were fighting for both issues.

“That’s a big deal,” he said. “That’s pretty progressive for UT. At places like Princeton, it was all male until 1968. It was actually a compromise when creating the University in 1881. There were people who were against having women, who thought it should just be guys. It was a big compromise.”

UT currently has more women undergraduates than men, with 53 percent of undergraduates being female.

“The University makes efforts to encourage women to enter programs that are typically viewed as male-oriented, such as engineering,” said Robert Meckel, director of public affairs for the Office of the President. “The University has changed in more ways than you can count, including its food, its programs offered, its student life and its atmosphere.”

Printed on September 15, 2011 as: UT celebrates 128 years of progressive development

Freshman Chris Akin raises the Hook ‘Em Horns while he and others sing the Eyes of Texas during Wednesday’s Big Yell event in the SAC. The Big Yell is hosted by the Texas Exes to teach UT songs, history and traditions to new students.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

From the first UT yell to the school’s choice of burnt orange, the Big Yell on Wednesday offered insight into school traditions and separated fact from UT myth.

Each fall the Texas Exes Spirit and Traditions Council hosts the Big Yell to highlight historical origins of UT’s school spirit traditions. This year, the program took place in the Student Activities Center ballroom and included door prizes, a brief history of the early years and traditions of UT and lessons in all of the UT yells that have existed since the University’s first football team was established in 1893.

The event included a musical performance by the Texas Spirits, who sang a song to the tune of “Summer Nights” from Grease about UT traditions and the football season. Advertising junior Erica Flores and five other officers of the Spirit and Traditions Council opened the event.

“I hope everyone is as excited for this year and Big Yell as we are,” Flores said.
The Texas Lassos, the Texas Hellraisers, the Orange Jackets and other campus spirit organizations came together Wednesday night to teach students about their school and some old-school cheers to pull out this football season.

The first UT yell, written in 1892, reads “Hullabaloo! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! Hullabaloo! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! Hoo-ray! ‘Varsity! ‘Varsity! U.T.A!”

The University was referred to as ‘varsity in the yell because in the late 19th century when the university opened, it was commonplace to shorten University to “‘varsity”, said event host Jim Nicar, director of campus relations for the Texas Exes.

Texas A&M University was referred to as “the college” when that yell was still in use, Nicar said.

The school’s burnt orange and white colors were first determined when two football players desperate for school spirit ribbons took what the manager of a general store had the most trouble selling, Nicar said. He said they went through changes, including a burnt orange and maroon phase but eventually returned to burnt orange and white.

UT’s first live Longhorn mascot was served for dinner before a football game in the early 1920s, and Bevo was named by a magazine, not because of a practical joke by the Aggies, Nicar said.

“In reality, the very first football game that was ever on the campus was the fall of 1883, the very first semester UT was open,” he said. “There wasn’t anybody to play because it was 1883, so we challenged a local private high school, and we lost. We don’t talk about that game very much.“

Math and economics sophomore Roger Hung attended Big Yell last year and said the program provided insight into traditions. His favorite part was learning what myths weren’t true, how the yells changed over the years and all about UT traditions, he said.

“I came [to school] here last year and school spirit wasn’t that big,” he said. “This year, it’s before the year starts, and I can already tell school spirit is going to be so big. I came here to support the school spirit.”

Printed on August 25, 2011 as: Big Yell salutes school spirit