Regional University, 1960-

By on March 6, 2012

[Note: This post continues the series on the “Layers of UTEP History“]

In 1960, a new administration set out to harness the overlapping local, state, and national impulses that had produced a mining school, stretched it into a city college, and pulled it into a regional college. President Joseph M. Ray would lead Texas Western College from 1960 to 1968 on the path, as he later described it, toward “becoming a university.” Celebration of the school’s golden jubilee (50 years) in 1963 produced the institution’s first strategic plan from the Mission ’73 Committee and followed three years after the formation of a faculty council. In 1967, the school was renamed The University of Texas at El Paso.

The regional university achieved success on three very specific goals. First, the University grew immensely. As the baby boom generation came of age, student enrollment rose from 5,000 in 1962 to 10,000 in 1968 to 15,000 in 1977. Campus facilities expanded in fits and starts, with the rapid acquisition of private homes, the construction of new annexes, and the conversion of dorms into office and classroom spaces. Permanent structures arose in the form of a field house (Memorial Gym), liberal arts building, and physical science building in the 1960s; education, fine arts, engineering, nursing, and special events (Haskins Center) facilities in the 1970s; and a business administration building and library in the early 1980s. Students gradually shifted from campus housing residents to commuters.

Second, the Ray administration made the deliberate decision to use athletics to achieve national recognition—a strategy that produced almost immediate results. The construction of a new Sun Bowl stadium (1963) financed by a county bond issue was followed by a television contract with CBS in 1968 and an expansion in 1982. Men’s teams won national championships in basketball (1966), cross country (1969 and through the 1980s), and indoor and outdoor track and field (throughout the 1970s and 1980s).

Finally, the administration conscientiously focused on and invested in the El Paso border region. The institution created a Bureau of Business and Economic Research (1963), an Inter-American Science Program (1968), a Chicano Studies program (1970), and a Center for Inter-American and Border Studies (1973). The last mining engineering degree was awarded the same year that Coach Don Haskins’ African-American starters won the national basketball championship. UTEP was named by the National Institutes of Health as one of 38 charter institutions for the Minority Schools Biomedical Support Program (1972).

As a result of the administration’s new priorities, student demographics gradually shifted to reflect the predominantly Hispanic population of the El Paso region, triggering a slow wave of social change across campus. Student activities with Confederate themes silently disappeared and fraternities and sororities began to accept Hispanic members. Chicano students called for greater representation in the faculty, relevant courses, and appropriate student services—a movement that culminated in December 1971 when they staged a public protest that included burning one administrator in effigy and trapping the University’s president in his office. The Regents responded by sending a new president, Arleigh B. Templeton, to restore order. He allowed the Chicano Studies program to grow, appointed the first Hispanic dean, and used his political ties in Austin to secure funds to expand the Sun Bowl stadium. The University became the nation’s top producer of Hispanic engineers in 1984, and the following year exactly 50 percent of students were Hispanic.

 

Timeline

1961: First Peace Corps class trained on campus
1962: Enrollment 5,000, Mission ’73 Committee
1963: Sun Bowl stadium, Bureau of Business and Economic Research
1966: Basketball championship, last mining engineering degree, first African American faculty member
1967: Renamed University of Texas at El Paso, School of Arts and Sciences divided into schools of business, education, science, and liberal arts
1968: Enrollment 10,000, Inter-American Science Program
1969: Cross country championship, first African American president of Student Government Association
1970: Chicano Studies Program
1971: First National Teacher Corps, first (two) African American cheerleaders, MEChA and La Mesa Directiva protest
1972: Raza Unida Party convention in El Paso, last Flowsheet, Minority Schools Biomedical Support Program
1973: Center for Inter-American and Border Studies
1974: First doctoral program, academic “schools” re-designated “colleges,” Norma Hernandez becomes dean of College of Education (first academic dean to be either UTEP grad, female, or Hispanic), cartoon mascot Paydirt Pete named by contest
1975: Track and field indoor/outdoor championship, Project BETO (Bilingual Education Training Opportunities)
1976: UT nursing baccalaureate (est. 1970) becomes UTEP School of Nursing
1977: Enrollment 15,000, Inter-American Science and Humanities Program
1979: First doctoral degree awarded
1980: First costumed mascot “Sweet Pete,” Heritage Commission
1981: Women’s Studies Program, Honors Program
1982: Sun Bowl addition, first female president of Student Government Association, Business Administration Building
1983: Dinner Theater
1984: University Library, top producer of Hispanic engineers, Women’s Center
1985: 50 percent  of students are Hispanic

Keith A. Erekson served as the Executive Director of UTEP's Centennial Celebration from December 2011 through May 2014. Learn more at keitherekson.com.