One of UT’s quirkiest campus icons celebrates its 105th birthday this week. Meet Alec, the Cockrell School of Engineering’s patron saint.
On the evening of March 31, 1908, a band of rowdy UT sophomore men decided to stir up some trouble. Their original plan was to release dogs with tin cans tied to their tails in the engineering building. When a search for dogs proved fruitless, the students—all engineering majors—retired to a nearby beer garden called Jacoby’s.
After a beer or two, the men spotted a 5-foot wooden statue of a portly, pantsless bearded man. Accounts of what happened next differ: some students said they distracted the beer garden’s owner before stealing the statue, while others maintained that they were granted permission to borrow it. A year later, students named it Alexander Frederick Claire, or Alec, and appointed it the engineering school’s patron saint.
This week, the Cockrell School’s annual giving program—which since 1974 has been called Friends of Alec—hosted Alec’s 105th birthday party in the Engineering Teaching Center. About 1,000 students and professors dropped by to eat chocolate cake and snap photos with the Alec mascot (played by senior mechanical engineering major Doug Parker, who has proudly worn burnt-orange tights and a velvet tunic for dozens of Alec appearances in the past three years).
“It’s all in the spirit of fun,” says Marcela Defaria, Friends of Alec director. “We’ve had root beer keggers for Alec’s birthday in the past. He boosts morale.”
In addition to lifting spirits, Alec is also a powerful fundraising tool for UT Engineering. According to Defaria, the Cockrell School is the only UT unit with its own annual giving call center, and Friends of Alec brings in an impressive $1.5 million in alumni donations each year.
Alec’s journey from drunken caper to philanthropist has been a winding one. The statue has been stolen by UT law students at least three times. In 1913, it surfaced on a farm in Pflugerville. In 1918, it went to war: its right leg was chopped up and sent as a sign of solidarity to Texas engineers serving in World War I.
By 1987, the original statue had been reduced to a torso and was displayed at the law library—until three masked engineering students stole it back. The law students retaliated by taking the engineers to court, where judge Harley Clark, BA ’57, MA ’60, LLB ’62, Life Member, co-inventor of the Hook ’em Horns sign, awarded Alec back to the engineers. He’s stayed with them ever since.
“Alec is a nice way for students and alumni to connect,” says Friends of Alec student worker Johnny Nguyen. “And I like that it started with a prank.”
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Photos from top: T. U. Taylor, left, UT’s first Dean of Engineering, with Alec and students, circa 1908-1910; Yashar Pirasteh dressed as Alec in 2011; and T.U. Taylor with Alec (undated photo).
All photos courtesy Marcela Defaria, Cockrell School of Engineering.
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