Frank Erwin

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's Note: Briscoe is a member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group which has been critical of many of Regent Wallace Hall’s actions. 

Adopted in 1876, the Texas Constitution calls for the Legislature to sustain a “university of the first class.” As the UT System’s flagship school, the University maintains a close relationship with lawmakers. It should come as no surprise, then, that conflicts sometimes arise between UT and politicians. The possible impeachment of Regent Wallace Hall is the most recent episode in a long line of historic tensions between the University and state government. Recently, a state transparency committee voted 7-1 that grounds exist to impeach Hall, namely his possible violation of student privacy records, ill treatment of University officials, constant records requests and siding against UT’s interests in a fundraising dispute.


Gov. James E. "Pa" Ferguson, a Democrat, feuded with the University during his time in office. A polarizing figure, Ferguson lobbied regents to fire administrators and faculty members he deemed political enemies. When regents refused, Ferguson vetoed appropriation funds for the University in retaliation. Responding to this event and other inappropriate acts, the Legislature impeached and removed Ferguson from office in 1917.


In the early 1940s, regents appointed by arch-conservative Democratic governors W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel and Coke Stevenson, respectively, fired several UT faculty members who vocally supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. UT President Homer Rainey protested these actions and other attempts by regents to overstep their boundaries, such as censoring student reading lists. The Board of Regents fired Rainey in 1944, prompting protests from both the UT community and prominent academic organizations such as the American Association of University Professors, which publically rebuked and blacklisted UT for the regents’ actions. The Rainey episode marked the most serious battle between politicians and the University, and severely damaged the school’s reputation in academic circles.


As the University finally recovered from the regents’ handiwork and built itself into a world-class institution, it faced challenges during the late '60s and early '70s, namely from the domineering presence of board Chairman Frank Erwin. A lawyer and leading member of the Texas Democratic Party, Erwin battled both professors and students in his attempt to exert his will on campus. Erwin’s 1970 firing of John Silber, the popular dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, damaged morale and caused several prominent faculty members to leave the University. Erwin also used heavy-handed tactics to battle the emerging counterculture and prevent protests against the Vietnam War from rocking the UT campus. Notably, he attempted to cut funding for The Daily Texan, which frequently criticized his leadership.


The University suffered negative publicity, both locally and nationally, from each of these experiences, and the controversies divided the UT community. Today, Hall’s actions and the ensuing impeachment investigation are causing similar developments. The conflict stems from Gov. Rick Perry’s 2008 endorsement of the seven "breakthrough solutions" for higher education espoused by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. Perry has encouraged his regent appointees for the UT System as well as for other state university systems to support these reforms. Critics argue that the “breakthrough solutions” undermine faculty research and will cause universities to become over-populated diploma mills concerned with graduating large numbers of students at the expense of quality education.


University President William Powers Jr. has resisted these contentious measures.  Meanwhile, Hall has launched exhaustive investigations into various aspects of Powers’ administration, not hiding the fact that he wishes to see the UT president replaced. Hall’s near-obsessive requests for documents paired with attempts to micromanage the University have damaged morale among administrators, faculty, students and alumni.


Unfortunately, the current controversy recalls past instances of politicians attempting to interfere with the University’s governance and has again brought a negative light to the campus. Hall may become the first University regent removed from office in state history. Furthermore, Hall’s actions have diverted attention away from the University's recent accomplishments, such as a record-breaking fundraising campaign and the establishment of the Dell Medical School. The Ferguson impeachment, Rainey firing and Erwin saga remind us that universities function best when lawmakers allow faculty-centered governance and promote academic freedom. Politicians come and politicians go. Regents, administrators, faculty, students and alumni should all strive to promote a “university of the first class” that will remain long after the present controversy joins these past experiences as unhappy anecdotes in UT’s history.

Briscoe is a history graduate student.

Former managing editor and long time Daily Texan mentor, Robert Hilburn, far left, died Saturday, May 17 in Wichita Falls.

Photo Credit: Friends of The Daily Texan | Daily Texan Staff

Robert Edwin Hilburn, who worked as an editorial manager at The Daily Texan from 1966 through 1985, died on May 17.

Bob was born in Wichita Falls on Nov. 10, 1923, and received a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 1943. After graduating, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was the youngest Marine correspondent in World War II. He worked as a White House correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the mid-1960s and then moved to Austin with his family to escape the hectic lifestyle of Washington, D.C.

Mary Jeanette Hilburn, Bob’s wife, said her husband’s background in the Marine Corps helped shape his life.

“To his dying day, he was very, very proud of being a Marine,” Mary Jeanette said. “The discipline and everything that he learned through that — it really guided him. … He was a real perfectionist in everything that he did, but he was a gentle soul.”

Sidney Hilburn, Bob’s daughter, remembers the many quirks her father had. Hilburn drove a British sports car, which had been restored to perfection except for the broken gas gauge.

“He would always, before driving it, take his bamboo stick out and stick it down into the gas tank to see how much gas was in there,” Sidney said. “He was a character.”

Bob began working at the Texan in September 1966.

“He could wake up in the morning, go swim at Barton Springs, do some yard work during the day, and then at five report to work [at the Texan],” Sidney said. “It was much more relaxed and calm [than Washington], and I think he really needed that at that point in his career.”

When Hilburn began working at the Texan, Frank Erwin had just become chairman of the Board of Regents. After the Texan reported that the University had broken Texas’ public information law, Erwin and other regents were angry with the students who ran the publication. The regents tried to censor the Texan and decrease funding.

Mary Jeanette said this controversy made Bob’s job difficult because, although he often agreed with the students, he had to balance their views with the administrators’ opposing views.

“The professors and different people [were] saying, ‘You know, we have to control The Daily Texan and not let this go and that go,’” Mary Jeanette said. “He kind of had to walk a middle line there with the situation. It was hard, but he handled it, I thought, beautifully.”

John Economidy, a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio who was editor-in-chief of the Texan when Hilburn became editorial manager, said he learned more about journalism from Bob than he did from his four years of journalism school.

“Just a total consummate professional,” Economidy said. “A gentleman to the core."

A memorial service will be held on June 14 at 10 a.m. at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin.


Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This article about DeLoss Dodds orginally ran in the Aug. 22, 1981 issue of The Daily Texan. 

The naming of Kansas State’s DeLoss Dodds as the University’s men’s athletic director ended months of speculation as to who would replace Bill Ellington, who had told the UT Athletics Council in May that he planned to retire. 

Dodds’ appointment Aug. 14 was a surprise to many because the University named someone from outside the “Longhorn family.” 

After Ellington announced a Sept. 1 retirement date, the majority of speculation centered around assistant athletic director T. Jones, who was considered next in line for the job. 

But as the summer progressed, no word had emerged from the Athletics Council concerning Ellington’s replacement.  

In the end, the council narrowed the field to three candidates: Dodds, Jones and Phil George, the athletic director at Angelo State and a former University basketball player. 

With all the politics surrounding the University and some of its past athletic appointments, such as Fred Akers’ appointment as head football coach in 1977, it is little wonder that suspicions were aroused after the surprise announcement of Dodds. 

The disappearance of giants such as former Gov. Allan Shivers, former UT Regent Frank Erwin and former University head football coach Darrell Royal from the spotlight apparently left the decision up to the Athletics Council committee appointed by President Flawn. 

“There was no outside pressure,” council chairman Tom Morgan said. “Of course, we received a lot of letters of recommendation, but that’s normal for an important position like this. I don’t hesitate to say that there was zero outside interference,” he said. 

When long-time Royal assistant Mike Campbell was passed over in favor of Akers for the head coaching position in 1977, some insiders said the council was influenced by Erwin to name an outsider. With Dodds’ appointment, speculation grew that the council was influenced to pick him. 

“There’s no relationship at all,” Morgan said. “It’s just that what people expected didn’t happen, so it looks like controversy.” 

Many people said when Jones was selected by Ellington to be his assistant in 1980, it would be just a matter of time until he was promoted to athletic director. 

But last Friday, Jones denied speculation that he had been promised the job. 

“I had no agreement with Coach Ellington,” Jones said. “The only thing he did tell me when I was hired was that when he retired I would be considered as a candidate, and that’s all I can ask for.” 

Despite reports that Jones was not a top contender for the opening, Morgan and other council members insisted he was. 

“I don’t know where they got that T. didn’t have any support,” said council member Wally Scott Jr. “But that’s just not true. T. was considered right until the last, and I certainly hope he stays with the University because he is an excellent man to have.” 

While Morgan thought it was foolish to think anyone could be promised such an important job, he also said, “It is foolish to say that as the person second in line, Jones was not a candidate for the job.” 

Morgan said Jones was considered a prime candidate but that Dodds’ superior athletic background gave him the edge. 

Morgan added that the council felt no internal pressure to select someone from within the University.

“We did some research,” Morgan said, “and we found no precedent to support that line of thinking. For example, only one football coach got his degree at UT, and only one AD got his from UT. In fact, two of the most successful athletic directors Texas ever had — Dana Bible and Darrell Royal — came from outside the conference. It’s natural to think we should hire someone here, but the evidence doesn’t support it.” 

With all the speculation of the behind-the-scenes activities involved in the selection of the University’s men’s athletic director, the most overlooked fact may be Dodds’ qualifications. 

Dodds, who received recommendations from many highly respected football authorities — including Dallas Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt, Southwest Conference commissioner Cliff Speegle, Big Eight commissioner Carl James and CFA executive director Charles Neinas — has made a national reputation for himself with his work at Kansas State. 

John Silber died Thursday morning of kidney failure at the age of 86. He worked at the University from 1957 to 1970 before Frank Erwin fired him because he opposed Erwin’s plan to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences.

Silber started as a professor in 1957, became the chair of the philosophy department in 1962 and then served as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences beginning in 1967. Silber became the president of Boston University after Frank Erwin fired him. There, BU professor James Post said Silber was committed to improving the quality of education BU offered. Silber served as BU’s president from 1971 to 1996 and as chancellor from 1996 to 2003.

“He was a transformative leader,” Post said. “Some of the teaching I do is around leadership in institutions, and we use the phrase a lot this day about being a transformative leader. John Silber was a transformative leader before there was a term for it.”

At BU, Post said Silber recruited top-notch faculty members to improve the quality of education. Silber was given the job to fix what, Post said, was at the time a “broken institution.” He replaced the heads of many departments, which made him a source of controversy again. In his first few years at BU, faculty members tried to get Silber fired, but he remained at BU until 2003. On Thursday, BU dedicated the top of its website’s home page to Silber.

At UT, Erwin fired Silber because he opposed Erwin’s plan to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences by dividing it into four parts.

According to The Daily Texan archives, Erwin said to Silber July 24, 1970: “John, you are very intelligent, articulate and hardworking. Because of these qualities, you make some people in higher education nervous. That is why you must be resigned or removed.”

Silber refused to resign and was fired. The Texan went on to draft a petition in support of Silber, but he was never reinstated.

Post said he met Silber upon being hired as a new faculty member in the ‘70s, and his impressions of Silber changed over time.

“At the beginning, I didn’t have any direct contact with him, so I only observed him at a distance. He seemed very brash and very autocratic,” Post said. “Over time I got to understand he was a very dedicated educator and very determined to improve the quality of the university and the quality of education in general.”

Post said Silber came to terms with his firing from UT easily and long ago.

“He thought his firing was the price of being direct and being forthright,” Post said. “He did say at one time he could have been more politically correct, but that was not his nature and it would not have served the institution very well.”

Post said even at BU, Silber was outspoken and not afraid to be an agent of change.

Douglas Sears, BU’s vice president and chief of staff for the president, said in a press statement that he respected Silber’s work ethic and sense of humor.

Silber retired in 2003 from his position as BU chancellor but continued to live on campus and remained a part of the university.

Silber is survived by his daughters, Rachel Devlin, Martha Hathaway, Judith Ballan, Alexandra Silber, Ruth Belmonte and Caroline Lavender; his son, Charles Hiett; his brother, Paul Silber; 26 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Former BU president dies, leaving history of controversy