In this 7th installment of my series of articles about great American universities, I’d like to talk about the University of Texas at Austin, the public institution previewed briefly in my colleague Jessica’s recent guest post about her hometown of Austin.
Like the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, the University of Texas at Austin is the flagship of a larger State-wide university system. The overall University of Texas System contains 9 universities, 6 stand-alone medical and research institutions, and more than 190,000 students.
Established in 1883, the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”) has a rich tradition of academic excellence, vibrant student life, and athletic achievement. It is considered one of the original “Public Ivies” for the overall quality of the education provided, and its alumni are fiercely passionate about the school, sometimes appearing almost cult-like to outsiders.
The main campus is located at the heart of the city, only 400 meters (a quarter mile) from the Texas State Capitol Building, on approximately 425 acres (180 hectares) of beautifully manicured lawns and gardens. Including a nearby research campus and other properties, UT covers 1,500 acres (600 hectares).
The 150 university buildings contain 19 million square feet (1.8 million sq.m.) of educational space. There are 17 libraries (with more than 9 million volumes) and 7 museums (with extensive collections including the first photograph ever taken and one of only 21 complete original Gutenberg Bibles left on Earth).
The architecture is an organic blend of Southwestern, Beaux Arts, and modern styles, most often in sandy or red-brick colors. At the heart of campus is the iconic Beaux Arts Main Building with its 30-story Tower. Illuminated in white light but switched to deep orange to celebrate UT victories, the Tower contains a large carillon played periodically during the day by student carillonneurs.
The UT student population totals approximately 51,000 undergraduate, graduate, and law students, making it the 5th largest university campus in the U.S.
Approximately 5% of the undergraduates and just over 22% of the graduate students come from overseas, representing more than 120 countries.
Classes are taught by 2,700 full-time professors, 88% of whom hold terminal degrees in their fields. The student-faculty ratio is 17-1, with an impressive 5% of all classes having fewer than 10 students.
The faculty includes more than 60 members of the National Academy plus numerous Nobel, Pulitzer, and Turing prize winners, including Dr. Robert Metcalfe (founder of 3Com and inventor of Ethernet) and Dr. John Goodenough (pioneer of the lithium ion battery).
UT comprises 17 colleges and schools plus 7 multidisciplinary honors programs. In total, those academic units offer more than 170 different undergraduate degrees, 154 different masters degrees, and 86 different doctoral degrees. In addition, UT offers extensive interdisciplinary and dual-degree opportunities that allow you great flexibility to craft a custom program to suit your particular needs and interests.
UT is considered to be one of the best public universities in the country, thus the “Public Ivy” appellation (intended to signal the academic excellence associated with top private schools but at lower public school cost). UT consistently places high on global best-university lists, and Times Higher Education recently ranked UT as the 25th best tertiary education institution on Earth.
UT’s reputation for excellence becomes even more pronounced when one drills down into individual fields of study. U.S. News & World Report has ranked 43 of UT’s graduate programs in the top ten nationally, with 51 additional programs making the top 25. Numerous undergraduate programs similarly place near the top of the national rankings.
I can’t talk about all of those quality programs, so I’ll just note a few highlights to whet your appetite. Four of UT’s degree programs, including those in Accounting and Petroleum Engineering, have been ranked as the best (#1) in the United States. The College of Education has been ranked #2, the College of Pharmacy has been ranked #4, and the Law School has been ranked #14.
Noted professional journal Design Intelligence ranked the School of Architecture’s overall undergraduate program as #2 in the United States last year. The School’s undergraduate interior design specialty was ranked #6, and its graduate programs were ranked in the top ten.
U.S. News & World Report ranked the Cockrell School of Engineering’s undergraduate degree programs as #10 in the U.S., and its graduate degree programs as #8 in the nation. An impressive 9 of UT’s specialized engineering degrees ranked in the top 15 nationally. Perhaps as important, the School is known for its generous graduate student fellowships, totalling more than $3 million just last year.
General rankings are generally instructive, but I tend to be drawn to more specific measures, in part because they are sometimes as “practical” as they are impressive.
For example, USA Today ranked UT’s McCombs School of Business as #1 in the country in terms of producing new CEOs for Fortune 1000 companies.
In 2005, Bloomberg noted that McCombs has produced more CEOs for S&P 500 companies than any other public school.
UT is also a science powerhouse with world-leading research programs in fields such as biofuels, battery and solar cell technology, biomedical engineering, supercomputing, nanoelectronics, and geological carbon dioxide storage, among others.
As I noted earlier, UT’s alumni, known as the Texas Exes, are fiercely loyal to their alma mater. Among the large battalion of notable Texas Exes are Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee, computer mogul Michael Dell, iconic anchorman Walter Cronkite, many corporate CEOs, two First Ladies of the United States, and numerous political leaders.
Entertainment and sports figures who attended UT include Janis Joplin, Jayne Mansfield, F. Murray Abraham, Tommy Tune, Robert Rodriguez, Matthew McConaughey, Renée Zellweger, Farrah Fawcett, Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, Michelle Shocked, Mary Lou Retton, Roger Clemens, Tom Kite, and legendary professional football coach Tom Landry.
As you would expect, tradition runs deep at UT. The University’s official motto of long standing is Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, loosely translating to “Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy.” Also widely used today is the motto “What Starts Here Changes the World.”
The official University colors are burnt orange and white. Since 1906 the official mascot has been the Longhorn, the iconic breed of Texas cattle with intimidating tip-to-tip horn spans of 6 feet (2 meters). Nicknamed Bevo, the UT Longhorn resides at the University and comes to the stadium for football games.
Derived from the shape of Bevo’s rack, the “Hook ‘em Horns” is the unique hand-sign of UT students and alumni, and one of the most recognizable university symbols in America. (Distinctive hand-signals are commonly used by university students in the U.S. to show their loyalty and spirit at sporting events and social engagements.) Also famous are UT’s inspiring fight song (Texas Fight) and alma mater (The Eyes of Texas).
UT is an athletics powerhouse. Longhorns have won 130 Olympic medals (including 73 gold), more than many sovereign nations. In 2002, Sports Illustrated named the school “America’s Best Sports College.” The Longhorns compete across all sports (mostly in the Big 12 Conference of the NCAA’s Division 1) and have captured a total of 47 national championships, including 4 national football championships.
UT has several rivalries, including with the Sooners of Oklahoma. The fiercest, longest running rivalry, though, was with cross-State enemy Texas A&M. The Longhorns and the Aggies battled each other in all sports, and their annual football showdown on Thanksgiving Day led to one of the most beloved Longhorn traditions, the Hex Rally. After a two-decade string of losses to Texas A&M in the early 1900s, a local Austin fortune teller named Madam Agusta Hipple instructed UT students to light red candles at midnight for a week before the big game to break the jinx and put a hex on A&M. It worked, with UT beating A&M (then ranked 2nd in the nation), 23-0.
In 2012, Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the South Eastern Conference, effectively ending all non-conference games. The issue has become heated, and there is legislation currently in discussion in the Texas House of Representatives that, if passed, would require the two teams play a non-conference game at least once per year. The schism hasn’t cancelled the Hex Rally, though, only altered the target. Now the rally is held to jinx Texas’ Thanksgiving Day opponent no matter who it may be. A jinx for one opponent should work on any other.
As with other American schools, UT has a great number and diversity of extracurricular clubs, organizations, and activities in which students can participate. Among the most famous are The Daily Texan student newspaper (which counts 10 Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni and has earned more awards than any other student publication in the country) and Texas 4,000 for Cancer (which organizes the longest annual charity bicycle ride in the world).
UT has an extremely active Greek life, with more than 5,200 students in 60 on-campus fraternity and sorority chapters. In addition to the usual social events, the houses engage in major philanthropic projects on campus and in the Austin community. The Greeks also organize the Hex Rally, the Torchlight Parade, homecoming, and a variety of other events at the center of University life.
In wrapping up for today, I would note that the University’s offerings are not limited to campus. UT maintains, partners with, or is affiliated with a variety of specialized research centers in the Austin area and elsewhere in Texas that enhance the academic experience of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty alike.
For example, the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas is equipped with state-of-the-art imaging equipment and the 5th largest telescope in the world, and operates the first lunar laser ranging station. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a legacy of the former First Lady, provides facilities and opportunities for research on indigenous species and ecological preservation.
And of course, just outside UT’s gates are the dynamism, diversity, and excitement of Austin … political and commercial capital … live music mecca … culinary nirvana … friendly, familiar, multicultural, quirky city with a hometown feel. And just beyond Austin lie the pastoral beauty and recreational excitement of Texas Hill Country. You would have to work mighty hard to be bored at UT.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know what I mean. So rather than repeat myself, I’ll simply refer you back to my colleague Jessica’s guest post of a few weeks ago which chronicled in detail the delights and opportunities to be found in Austin and its environs. For even more information, you should check out the city’s visitors’ website.
For more details about the University of Texas at Austin, specific fields of study, and how to apply, check out the school’s main website or the page with separate links to the University’s individual schools and colleges. And of course, feel free to email the Embassy’s Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, at DumasAG@state.gov if you would like more information or have specific questions.
Next up in the series will be a guest post about the University of Kentucky, written by a Wildcat alumnus whom I met at one of my speaking engagements in Los Angeles last week. As always, let me know if you have suggestions for future university features or other education topics thereafter.