A University of the First Class: Prudence Mackintosh

On the occasion of the Alcalde’s 100th anniversary, we asked Longhorns what “a University of the first class” means to them.

A University of the First Class

Prudence Mackintosh

BA ’66, Life Member
Author, essayist, contributing editor to Texas Monthly, and lecturer in the College of Liberal Arts

When I came here as a freshman in 1962, UT’S admissions office required two things: a high school diploma and proof of smallpox immunization. Still, I thought this was a classy place to be. The enormous student body (then only about 20,000) so intimidated a friend from an even smaller town than mine that he returned to his dorm, knelt by his bed, and prayed, “Please Lord, don’t let me be average.”

I suppose that’s what the Texas Legislature feared back in 1876—we might be rugged and heroic because of our dramatic history and rural roots but just average at more civilized pursuits. Having the noble words “a University of the first class” written into our Constitution still stirs our orange blood and makes us stand a little taller, but I think each generation brings its own needs and expectations to the definition.

PrueSize alone provided what most of us small-town kids were looking for—some anonymity, please. My professors of the “first class” didn’t seem to notice how average I was. They were never condescending and pitched their lectures to the highest level.

Now, glory be, half a century later 12 students of the “first class” in the Liberal Arts Honors program call me “Professor Mackintosh.” When I asked what they found “first-class” about their UT-Austin experience, they reeled out a laundry list: the Daily Texan, the UT radio stations, the Ransom Center, and the interesting mix of cultures now drawn to the Forty Acres. Football didn’t come up, but this is a spring class. Location and weather did. Because they know admissions standards are high, they come here expecting to learn as much from their peers as from professors. The respect they offer each other is heartening.

When I was a student here, study abroad was limited to a Chilean program; now the opportunities seem limitless. My students practice their French in Senegal, their Russian in Moscow. Student protests, thanks to Facebook, are better organized, and the wit displayed on campus, even in bathroom graffiti, seems more inventive. Last year I saw a student in a crawfish costume snoozing near the drain in one of our drought-stricken fountains.

Course counseling, study programs, and degree advice are available for the asking. Not so in 1966. Just weeks before my own graduation, I received a card from the registrar with the news that I was missing a credit in romantic poetry for my English degree. I had a job for the fall, a wedding set for June 6, and a $5-a-day European honeymoon planned. I couldn’t go to summer school. The head of the English Department, Clarence Cline, turned toward the window in his office when I burst into tears trying to explain all this. He reached into his desk drawer and scribbled something on a postcard. “Send me this from the Lake Country or even the Connaught Grill in London, and I’ll see that you get credit for your Wordsworth.”

Was that a university of the first class? I thought so.

Read more takes on the phrase “a University of the first class” here.

Illustration by Sean McCabe.


Tags: , ,


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment