UT & Homer Rainey

This week’s story is dedicated to John Cotton, Austin College Class of 1984.

After years in Boston, MA, your humble author returned home to Texas in 2000. Home to family, friends, climate, and the hopeful start of a new career in information technology (IT). While the private sector was initially appealing, my path would lead in a different direction. I was hired by the University of Texas System Administration, where my career continues 16 years and counting.

And it started with an interview.

John Cotton was a Director of Information Services at UT System. I walked into his office on a fall day in 2000. Our interview went something like this:

“So, where did you go to school?”
“A small liberal arts school. Austin College in Sherman, TX.”
“You’re hired.”

OK, not really. But we were both AC grads. And we both hit it off. And I was hired. John became my boss, and would remain my boss until 2015.

UT System is tasked with the administration of UT Austin, UT MD Anderson, and 13 other academic and medical campuses that comprise the University of Texas family. Relations between the UT System Board of Regents (BOR) and member campuses are sometimes strained. Relations between member institutions themselves are often a challenge. Priorities and cultures can be hard to reconcile.

But much like a well functioning family, there can be advantages when collaboration and partnership work seamlessly. I’ve had the privilege of working side-by-side with John and many others (even a few Aggies 🙂 ) as we’ve worked to meet the ever growing technical needs of an increasingly complex University of Texas System Administration.

And all the while, we’ve shared AC stories. Differences as a student in early 80s vs. the early 90s. His social groups vs. mine. Those we knew in common, and those we did not. Baker stories. Dean stories. Luckett stories. Stories of men who were students during John’s time, baseball coaches during my time, and are now AC athletic directors. Hi Coach Norman!

And THE GAME. You know which one. December 12, 1981. John was there! 🙂 I was not. 🙁. How cold it was. The SRO crowd. The kick. Which goal post. Did it really hit the cross bar? And the post game celebrations.

John retired in 2015; I and two others have worked to take over his large responsibilities in his absence. He is still around the office in a special capacity from time to time, and for that we are grateful.

But mainly I’m grateful to have started a career under the leadership of a Roo who I consider to be the absolute best of mentors. I’m lucky to have called him boss, and fortunate to continue to call him a friend.

This Roo story will be posted in comments below, and is dedicated to former UT System IT Director & AC Roo John Cotton.

Chapter 1: Brave New World
Chapter 2: Full Circle
Chapter 3: The Tempest
Chapter 4: All’s Well That Ends Well

Go Roos!

Chapter 1: Brave New World

Eliasville, TX is awfully small. The population of this northern Texas town in Young county rarely exceeded more than a few hundred people in its heydey. Today, its residents number around 60. Back in the day, those in Eliasville would frequently have to venture to larger towns like Throckmorton, TX for business or pleasure. Throckmorton is 30 miles away, and is also the home town of AC alum Aimee Liles Hale. Look Aimee, I did it! An Austin College / Throckmorton story! Hope you are well.

The Rainey family came to Eliasville at the turn of the century, and young son Homer displayed considerable promise both in the classroom and on the athletic field. By age 17, the only question remaining was which institution of higher learning would be a part of his future. The answer? Austin College. Rainey enrolled in the fall of 1915 and was an ever present fixture in campus life. Homer Price Rainey was a true Renaissance man.

His list of academic and leadership accomplishments at AC is lengthy. Scholarship medals. Literary awards. Spelling championships. Debate team. Yearbook Editor. Class President. These activities alone would have been enough to qualify for a successful undergraduate experience. But like the Greeks, Rainey was focused on body as much as mind. He was a member of the Roo football team. He was the school’s top tennis player. Rainey was a basketball star.

And he played baseball.

Baseball was his strength. Rainey was captain of the AC Roos baseball team, and was the team’s best pitcher. The 1916 AC Chromascope called Rainey and a fellow Roo “two of the best pitchers in the state”. That year, Roo baseball bested SMU, Trinity, and Southwestern, among others. That same season, a trip to Austin to face the Longhorns was scheduled. Rainey would get the start.

The Roos regularly traveled to Clark Field to take on the Horns in baseball. In fact, Austin College had BEATEN the Horns in 1911, 1912, and 1913. There was no reason to assume that Rainey couldn’t lead the Crimson and Gold to a win in 1916. The team traveled by train to Austin, spent the night in the Driskill hotel, and made their way to campus the next morning. Clark field was located just east of the Old Main building, and just north of what is now Gregory Gym. Was newly appointed UT President Robert Vinson at Clark Field that day to watch the Roos battle the Horns? He might have been. Vinson was an Austin College graduate who probably would have felt divided loyalties.

Hopes were high, but it was not to be. Rainey pitched well, giving up only 5 hits and recording 6 strike outs. But Horns hurler Sellars Thomas that day was having the game of his life. His complete game shutout included 15 strike outs. Thomas took a no-hitter into the 9th inning, only to see it broken up by AC with two outs. UT added 3 insurance runs in the 8th inning to take the Roos 5-0. See recap and box score of the April 29, 1916 game in the Houston Post.

On the train ride back to Sherman, Rainey was probably pondering what might have been. He might have also been marveling at how far he had come, from tiny Eliasville to star AC pitcher against the mighty Horns in the state capital of Austin. Little did he know that he would be back, in a role that far exceeded his status on the mound that day.

Star pitcher Homer Rainey in the 1917 AC Chromascope.


Unidentified University of Texas baseball game at Clark Field in 1916…

Chapter 2: Full Circle

Rainey was a star for 4 years in Sherman. In addition to his baseball success, Rainey led the Roos on the football field against the likes of TCU, Rice, Baylor, SMU and Texas A&M. His academic accolades continued to accumulate all the while. And when graduation loomed in 1919, Austin College SIMPLY could not let him go. Homer Rainey was hired as a faculty member AND athletic coach. From 1920 to 1922, Rainey was an Austin College Professor of Education and assisted Coach Freeland in winning the 1920 T.I.A.A. football championship. He also coached the Roo baseball team. And during the summer hiatus? Rainey was a minor league ballplayer in the Texas League.

But rising scholars can only be kept for long. Rainey would leave Sherman in 1922 to earn a Masters and Ph.D. in Education at the University of Chicago and begin a career in higher education administration. The faculty at the University of Oregon hired Rainey in 1924, where he served for 3 years.

He achieved national fame in 1927 when he was hired as the President of Franklin College in Indiana. His hire at age 31 made Rainey the youngest college President in the country. The more prominent Bucknell University in Pennsylvania tapped Rainey for its Presidency in 1931. His tenure there has been described as innovative and revolutionary. Both during and after his Bucknell tenure, Rainey achieved recognition for a series of essays on American youth and higher education, most of which were published in a respected book in 1937.

Rainey’s stock in higher education was on a rapid rise nationwide. One institution of higher learning was watching closely, and in1939 that institution made the call. The University of Texas in Austin hired Homer P. Rainey, Austin College Class of 1919, to be its next President. Rainey was headed home. See article from the December 1938 Lubbock Morning Avalanche.

Homer Rainey was president of the University of Texas at Austin from 1939 to 1944. Among his accomplishments was his role in the creation of the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and its inclusion within the ever growing University of Texas System. That System would eventually grow to the 15 academic and medical institutions represented today.

But amidst the success, storm clouds were gathering.

Mr. Everything Homer P. Rainey in the 1919 AC Chromascope..

Lindbergh lands in France, Rainey becomes youngest University President in the country…

Chapter 3: The Tempest

Tension and disagreement is a common feature among college faculty & administrators and the appointed governing boards that oversee them. The priorities and values of academia often conflict with the political goals of governing Boards of Regents (BOR). Thus it has ever been. The point of this story is not to determine right vs. wrong. You the reader can decide based upon your politics and values.

Texas politics during the WWII years was dominated by the legacy of FDR and New Deal economics. Today, the economic interventionism of the 1930s is considered a respectable if debatable part of the American political spectrum. This was not the case in the early 1940s.

The political and economic revolutions of 1932 and 1934 in Washington had proliferated to college campuses throughout the country a decade later, and those in power with more Lochner era sympathies were not amused.

Coke Stevenson was one. Stevenson was elected governor of Texas in 1940, and would serve for 6 years. Texas politics at this time was dominated by the Democratic party; the Republican party existed in name only. Stevenson was a member of the anti-FDR Democrats, and was an activist determined to scale back their influence. His appointments to the UT BOR thoughout the 1940s reflected this activism.

The UT Board began to make increasing demands of Rainey. In particular, board members were concerned with the New Deal sympathies of the Department of Economics at U.T. Their concerns would eventually lead to demands that specific professors be fired for their support of and teaching of New Deal policies emanating from Washington.

From the beginning until the end, Rainey refused to budge. He was a faculty’s administrator, and consistently defended his professors in the name of academic freedom. The professors in question were accomplished, honest, and highly respected. The disputes rested solely on political persuasion, and academic freedom from Rainey’s perspective was an absolute requirement for a healthy university culture. More than that, academic freedom in higher education according to the AC Roo turned President was a non-negotiable requirement for a healthy democracy.

The tension finally came to a head in 1944. That year, Rainey decided to take his private criticisms of the BOR public. In reaction, he was fired by the U.T. Board of Regents on November 1, 1944. Thousands from the UT student body and alumni marched to the Capitol in protest. 3 members of the BOR also resigned in the aftermath. And Governor Stevenson’s activism thereafter was somewhat tempered.

Normalcy would slowly return for all………..including Rainey.

Texas Exes protest the firing of Rainey in 1944…

Chapter 4: All’s Well That Ends Well

As is often the case in these political battles in academia, the losers seemed to outnumber the winners. Rainey himself reacted to his firing by running for governor as a reformist candidate. Stevenson’s handpicked successor, Beauford Jester, would defeat Rainey in the 1946 Democratic primary and win the governor’s mansion. Jester would later have U.T.’s largest dormitory named in his honor. Stevenson eventually ran for the U.S. Senate in 1948, where a controversial loss to LBJ by 87 votes would earn Johnson the nickname “Landslide Lyndon”.

Homer Rainey moved on. In 1947, he became President of Stephens College in Missouri. Years later, he joined the faculty at the University of Colorado in Boulder. While in Colorado, he wrote “The Tower & The Dome”, a retrospective on his years at UT and the pitched battles with the UT Board of Regents.

Homer Rainey was inducted into the Austin College Athletic Hall of Honor in 1966. The Homer P. Rainey award was established soon thereafter to be awarded annually to a member of the faculty or staff for outstanding service to AC. Past recipients include former professors of mine (Shelton Williams, Kenneth Street, & Jerry Lincecum), former AC coaches (Bob Mason, Sig Lawson & Ralph McCord), and other AC royalty who need little introduction. Also a Homer Rainey award recipient? Mr. Jay Evans, a man to whom many of my AC friends remain close and who is responsible for the decisions of many of us to attend AC.

John Cotton and I are big Horns fans. And yes, fans of UT Dallas. And UTEP. UTSA (Go Roadrunners!). UT Rio Grande Valley. UT Southwestern. UT MD Anderson. UT MB Galveston. And all the others. We love our UT family. But we are first and foremost Roos. After all, Austin College was already an august elder statesman of 34 years when UT Austin was even created in 1883. Pffft, these kids.

The University of Texas has honored AC graduate Homer Rainey by naming a campus building after him. Which building you ask, is named after Rainey? Why, just take a look at the photo posted at the start of this story. To the right of the Austin College baseball cap is the well known University of Texas Tower & Littlefield fountain. To the left of the baseball cap? Homer P. Rainey Hall…. …..watching over all who grace the fountain & mall. Rainey Hall lies just a few blocks from the old Clark Field, where Rainey did his duty in attempting to earn a Roo victory over Varsity 100 years ago.

Yes, the eyes of Texas are upon you. And apparently those eyes belong to a Roo. Homer P. Rainey, Class of 1919. Scholar, athlete, renaissance man, Texan, & AC Kangaroo.

And finally, a big and belated thank you to John Cotton for his years of Roo-like mentorship at the University of Texas System. And to UT: on behalf of Homer, John, & me…….you. are. welcome. 🙂 Hook ’em! And Go Roos!


Past recipients of the Homer P. Rainey award at Austin College: