Progress marks 20 years

Richardson Daily News
Jan. 14, 1989
By Stefanie Asin

Twenty years ago today the University of Texas at Dallas was only a House Bill in the Texas Legislature. Since that date in 1969, the university has grown from a three program, one-building campus to a seven program, multibuilding campus.

From a student enrollment of 45 graduate students, UTD has graduated to a current total student population of 7,500 students. Today marks an anniversary representing the beginning of the university's struggle to obtain affiliation with the University of Texas university system.

In its metamorphosis, UTD has become a reputable institution of higher learning in north Texas, said Robert Rutford, UTD president.

"We are in early adulthood," he said. "The maturing process is continuing, but we are also continuing to learn."

The learning began in 1959 with the educational commitment of Erik Jonsson, Eugene McDermott and Cecil Green. At that time, those three men had established what is now Texas Instruments. With the emphasis of high tech reaching the Dallas community, the three founders responded by creating the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest on Feb. 14, 1961.

The three founders, all millionaires, purchased 1,200 acres of land in and near Richardson for what is now UTD. According to newspaper articles written at the time, more than 950 individuals and industries donated almost $7.4 million to help support the graduate program. The founders wanted more. They wanted the research center to be a full-fledged university under the University of Texas system. The House Bill was introduced Jan. 14, 1969, and passed May 30 of the same year.

The proposal met much controversy because of the threat that another university might pose on already established institutions. Sen. Don Kennard of Fort Worth steadily fought the affiliation. Legislators finally decided 104-30 to establish the university. The decision came only after a compromise was reached to establish the institution as a junior, senior and graduate level school.

Rutford said the past 20 years have proven that the area is big enough for several higher education institutions.

"Competition never hurt anybody. It makes everybody better," he said.

With the unanticipated growth of North Dallas area in the '70s, the university did indeed meet the proposed needs of its community, he said.

Jerry Robinson, UTD director of personnel, was in that position 20 years ago—and he remembers the excitement and apprehension on campus.

"We were not real sure what the future would hold as we were leaving our private research status and becoming a state university," Robinson said.

He said he has great respect for the foresightedness of the university's founders.

As the director of personnel, Robinson said he was given the honor of the registering the first UTD student in 1970. Then, the university only enrolled graduate students. It was not until 1975 that undergraduates were accepted.

Prior to the first registration, Robinson remembers the preparation. After choosing a registration style, UTD chose a registration system similar to the University of Texas at El Paso. For weeks, Robinson helped scratch out the El Paso and replace it with Dallas on the punch cards. About 45 students enrolled in 1970. In 1975, with the addition of undergraduates, enrollment reached 3,333.

Faculty counts began at about 40 in 1970, compared to 290 now.

Robinson said the university was established to meet the needs of a growing high-tech community, but it also continues to meet the needs of the returning student. It is the returning student that makes UTD unique, he said.

"Now you attend our commencement, and you see a lot of gray hair across the stage," he said.

In the future, Robinson sees the possibility of UTD becoming a full, four-year university. Rutford agreed that it is a possibility on the agenda. John Hoffman, head of the physics department, sees it differently. He was at UTD during its inception, and distributed the school's first degree. He said the nature of the school probably will not allow it to turn into a four-year school.

"The better students don't seem to go to a community college, then to UTD," he said.

"We are basically a night school. We don't have the physical facilities to expand that much."

When UTD was being born, Hoffman was preoccupied with his involvement in the Apollo space program. UTD physicists were chosen to help with lunar research. Immediately, the university began to attract expert faculty members. He remembers the addition of Polykarp Kusch, a Nobel Prize winner, to the UTD staff in 1972.

In the past 20 years, UTD has established a reputation as a high-tech oriented school. Through the years, however, UTD's management program has garnered the most students.

The school must broaden its scope to be a leader in high tech, Rutford said. The next 10 years should bring increased enrollment, academic improvement and enhancement, he said.

"I tend to be optimistic about the 10 year future of the university."