The University Becomes Politicized: The
War with Jim Ferguson, 1915-1918
LEWIS L. GOULD*
A S THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS BEGINS ITS SECOND CENTURY, ANY CON-
tinuing appraisal of its academic reputation must take into ac-
count the persistent public judgment that it is an intensely politicized
institution of higher learning. The sense that this university is more
political than other comparable state universities may stem in part
from the American fascination with the lurid and sensational aspects
of Texan culture generally. But it also rests on a substantial record of
tangible historical events-the Homer P. Rainey controversy of the
1940s, the court battles over desegregation in the same decade, the tur-
bulent career of John R. Silber in the late 196os, and other eruptions,
large and small, in the past ten years.' The roots of University involve-
ment in the political life of the state antedate these events of the last
half-century. They reach back to the decisive shaping experience of
the University's past, the struggle with Governor James E. Ferguson
for control of higher education in Texas between 1914 and 1917.
The so-called "war" that Ferguson waged with the University has
been examined in a number of historical contexts. As the central fig-
ure in state politics between 191o and 1940, Ferguson has been scru-
tinized as an alleged precursor of Lyndon B. Johnson's liberalism, as a
Dixie demagogue in the classic tradition, and as an expression of the
wet and dry battles over liquor that shaped electoral and policy behav-
* Lewis L. Gould is professor of history and chairman of the department at the Uni-
versity of Texas at Austin. This essay draws upon research for, and materials from, Pro-
gressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin, 1973).
IThe best recent treatment of the Homer Rainey affair in its political context is
George N. Green, The Establishment in Texas Politics: The Primitive Years, 1938-1957
(Westport, Conn., 1979), 83-90, 94-1oo, but a full-scale treatment of the episode is needed.
Ronnie Dugger, Our Invaded Universities: Form, Reform and New Starts: A Nonfiction
Play for Five Stages (New York, 1974) is an extended account of the roots of the 197o dis-
pute over John Silber that is strongly favorable to its central protagonist. For an exam-
ple of recent controversy, see William K. Stevens, "Texas Issue: Who Runs University
Classrooms?" New York Times, June 9, 1981.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed July 13, 2014.