The Paso del Norte Community

By on May 7, 2012

The transformation of a mining school into a research university occurred in collaboration with the community of the Paso del Norte region. Over the past century the University has enjoyed local support, generally avoiding both the town-and-gown rivalry that emerges in some small communities and the disconnect that arises in large urban environments.

Business and civic leaders in the region opened their pocketbooks to support the school. After the state legislature authorized a mining school in El Paso, the Chamber of Commerce came through with the $50,000 needed to make the proposal a reality. When a fire at the original location rendered the facilities unusable in 1916, five El Paso residents came forward to donate additional land for a fresh start in a new location. Over the next twenty-five years, ASARCO donated 150 acres of land and since then hundreds of individuals and businesses have contributed to the University’s programs, scholarships, construction projects, and fundraising campaigns ranging from the Excellence Fund of the 1960s to the Legacy Campaign of the 1990s to the Centennial Campaign of the twenty-first century.

The El Paso community also came through on many occasions when a lack of funding or an excess of bureaucracy in Austin threatened the school’s existence. A friends group and woman’s auxiliary were organized in the 1920s to raise money and promote the school. During the Great Depression, El Paso High School loaned biology equipment, chairs, desks, and blackboards. On at least two occasions local citizens put up money to pay faculty salaries so that classes could resume in the fall. In the 1960s, a handful of businessmen negotiated property acquisitions on behalf of the University, sometimes closing delicate deals with their own funds when formal processes moved too slowly.

This is not to say that the community and University have not experienced friction. Mining prospectors worried that student assaying services would provide unfair competition. Residents objected to the large “M” on the Franklin Mountains (it was moved in 1967) and accused faculty members of being communists. Some alumni of the regional college era struggled to accept the demographic changes that began during the 1960s. Eyebrows raised in tandem with the Golddiggers’ hemlines. Students complained of poor campus food and customer service; some publicly criticized professors who taught in Spanish or heavily-accented English.

In many ways, however, the community and University are deeply entwined. Citizen committees in the 1960s provided strategic planning advice for development, athletics, engineering, and land acquisition. In recent years this process has been extended to long-term planning for the University and for various colleges and departments. The community’s signature Sun Bowl game and attending activities occur in the Sun Bowl Stadium through the long-term collaboration of the Sun Bowl Association, city and county governments and voters, the University, the Board of Regents, CBS, corporate sponsors, local businesses, and fans from throughout the region. Students become alumni who find jobs in the region and raise children who choose to become students at the University. The University of Texas at El Paso simply could not exist without the community at the pass.

 

Timeline

1598: Don Juan de Oñate arrives in the valley
1659: Spaniards establish El Paso del Norte (present day Ciudad Juárez)
1848: Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo
1881: Southern Pacific Railroad connects El Paso to the coasts
1887: Custom smelter built (later named ASARCO)
1914: El Paso Chamber of Commerce commits $50,000 for mining school
1924: Woman’s Auxiliary founded
1957: Raymond Telles elected First Hispanic mayor of El Paso
1960: Development Program organized
1963: Mission ’73 Committee produces ten-year plan for the TWC, Alumni Fund instituted
1964: Excellence Fund established for special expenditures
1968: Development efforts reorganized into UTEP Foundation
1989: 2001 Commission to set goals for the new century
1994: North American Free Trade Agreement implemented
1997: Legacy Campaign seeks $50 million by 2001 ($66 million raised)
2004: Centennial Commission sets vision for 2014
2010: 2014 Commission, Centennial Campaign seeks $200 million by 2014

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