The Bullhorn: November 1981

We’ve dug deep into the Alcalde archives to bring you historical campus news. The events described below actually happened.*

The Bullhorn: November 1981

Center for Metric Conversion ignites campus-wide debate.

by Uriah T. Schrivner

This month, university officials notified students and faculty of a new center on campus. Designed to help Americans make the transition to the metric system, a set of measurement based on simple factors of 10 and used in nearly every nation on Earth, the Center for Metric Conversion hopes to begin introducing metric measurements to the University of Texas immediately. While center director Bill Thomson said the center will put UT “kilometers ahead” of its peers, reaction on campus has been notably negative.

“What the heck is kilo-whatever?” freshman Kimberly Cruz asked. “I know what a foot is. It’s a foot. Why can’t we just stick with that?”

The reaction has even led to the creation of a student organization meant to protest America’s planned conversion to the global standard. Metric Insanity Leads to Invasion, or M.I.L.I., has picketed the center since its opening earlier this month, claiming that metrication is a devious plot to destroy American identity and perhaps even, as the name suggests, facilitate a Soviet invasion. Students holding signs with slogans like “KILL THE METER / SAY NO TO KILOMETERS” and “GIVE AN INCH AND THE SOVIETS WILL TAKE OUR MILES” have hissed and waved rulers and yardsticks as Thomson and his colleagues entered the new center each morning.

“I don’t get it,” Thomson said. “We’re trying to make things easier. Scientists, engineers, business people. They all have to use the metric system already. What are they so worried about?”

Outside Thomson’s office, however, the M.I.L.I. leaders were holding an impromptu rally.

“You know who invented the metric system?” shouted M.I.L.I. founder Hector Stone. “The French!” The crowd of about 10 students booed at this assertion. “You know who wants it in our schools, in our universities? The communists!”

But communists aren’t the only ones pushing for metric conversion. The little-known U.S. Metric Board has attempted to get Americans to think metrically since the passage of the Metric Conversion Act by Congress in 1975. The Act was introduced in Congress by then-congressman Olin “Tiger” Teague, a graduate of Texas A&M. This fact wasn’t lost on the students of M.I.L.I., who have published a pamphlet haranguing Teague under the title From Maroon to Red: How An Aggie Hopes to Destroy America. The leaflet also includes a section of “fun facts” about U.S. customary units, citing figures such as UT’s annual water consumption (63,492.06 hogsheads) and the amount of liquor poured annually at the Cactus Cafe (1,752,042 drams).

Some students and faculty members in the College of Natural Sciences, however, have praised the new center.

“About time,” said graduate student Neil Tyson.

Beloved physics professor Archibald Frang, who has conducted research at UT for over 30 years and now runs the Advanced But Totally Not Suspicious Operations Division at the  Off-Campus Research Center, said he hadn’t heard of the protests.

“It’s madness!” Frang said while flipping a variety of toggle switches. “Madness, I tell you!”

A self-proclaimed sixth-year senior, Ward Wardly, weighed in on the matter outside of Oat Willie’s tobacco shop near campus. “That’s old news, man,” said Wardly. “Like, whoa. Everybody knows that stuff. I could get you a gram right now, if you want. And like, my friend Chico has got a kilo down in Manchaca. We could go ask, but like, I’d need to get a ride.”

Others have expressed opinions reflecting ignorance or ambivalence. “I don’t really care,” said sophomore Gil Pinto. “I read somewhere that if we switch to cumulous or whatever, it’ll only be 35 degrees in the summer,” he continued, mistakenly referring to celsius. “So that’s pretty cool.”

Still, the M.I.L.I. militants are undeterred. They’ve papered campus with fliers denouncing the international standard system of measurements and the Center for Metric Conversion. “I love America a bushel and a peck,” reads one. “If they come for your quart, take them to court!” Cries another.

While the protests have thus far been legal, some vandalism has been reported. Earlier this week, spray paint was seen obstructing a sign put up by the center that reads “Welcome to the University of Texas at Austin, The 16.1874 Hectares.”

*No, they didn’t.

Photo by Taylor Callery


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