University of Houston Early History
(Answering Questions of a Young Student)
August 15, 2006
Where to begin? You asked if there was ever a time when most of the students were not apathetic about athletics. You may find this hard to believe today, but our athletics program was started right after WWII precisely because the students demanded that we have sports! They petitioned, held meetings, etc., and the administration responded. And when we started, we had nothing – I mean nothing: no coaches, no players, no uniforms, nowhere to practice, nowhere to play, no balls (that’s as in footballs, basketballs, etc., so don’t go making any goofy comments!), and no money to buy any of those things.
We managed to get some hand-me-down equipment from the old Ellington Air Force Base; we practiced anywhere we could, which usually meant in some borrowed high school gym. Most of the players on our first teams were simply students who volunteered, but many of them were WWII veterans; and those guys were very mature (most already in their early 20’s), and tough as nails!
We played anyone who would agree to a game, and soon we were playing some of the minor junior colleges and smaller colleges. And we began to win pretty quickly and promptly set our sights on bigger and grander things. Soon we were trying to get into the SWC – long before we were really ready. Well, you already know that saga, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that we have one of the most outstanding sports histories of any college in the USA. We have always accomplished more with less than anyone else!
Yes, we have been down the last few years, but the great Cougar tradition is about to return. You are very lucky to be able to participate!
You then suggest that things around the campus need to improve, and you ask if anyone thinks that is possible. Well, that simply demonstrates that no one has bothered to tell you about how things used to be – and not so terribly long ago, in the great scheme of things.
Bauerboy, you have absolutely no idea how bad things used to be! UH was a very small school all during WWII, but when the war ended the enrollment absolutely exploded. Imagine – thousands of GI’s returning home, already late in getting into college; and all of them now able to afford college because of the new G.I. Bill. They enrolled everywhere; all the colleges were completely overrun. And UH was no exception. We went from an enrolment of just a few hundred to several thousand almost overnight. Soon we were the second largest university in Texas – atm was third!
Classes were being taught in all kinds of “temporary” buildings (I think one or two of them are still on campus, alas!), and students were housed in an enormous trailer park immediately to the east of Calhoun, between that street and the railroad tracks which are still there. And there was no such thing as a paved street in the park; only a few had a little shell on top of the ground – most streets were just dirt. You can imagine the quagmire when it rained – and doesn’t it always rain in Houston?
Now, in addition to all the “temporary” buildings, the university started to frantically build more permanent buildings. But, even by the summer of 1949, when I graduated, there were only about 5 or 6 permanent buildings on campus, and they were just finishing the Ezekiel Cullen Building. We were not a state school in those days, so all construction had to be financed from contributions (thank God for the Cullen family!). Our commencement was held outdoors on the grass, out in front of the new Ezekiel Cullen Building, near where the large fountain stands today.
Oh, and there was one other thing you definitely need to know about while we are discussing the “environment” of those times. Across the railroad tracks from the current campus was a very large stockyard. And if you were a student in those days, you prayed constantly for the wind to be blowing east! If not, the smell would knock you off your feet.
I tell you all this so that you can fully appreciate the improvements that have been made in the last few decades. Today we have many beautiful permanent buildings, all sitting in a park-like setting, and slowly we are removing all vestiges of those terrible old days.
And there is much more to come. If you have not already seen it, I suggest that you search the Coogfans website for postings about the new Master Plan for the campus, which was recently released. Oh, some of it may never be realized, but much of it will – and soon. The new rail line will help, and redevelopment is coming ever closer to our campus. These things take time, but improvements are coming all the time.
You comment that many of the top-notch students prefer uta and atm. Well, now, are they really the super top-notch, well rounded students? I would suggest to you that at least some of them flee to uta and atm because of their perception that those schools are “less diverse” than UH. And those unfortunate souls are dodging the realities of life in America today.
Don’t sell our students short. Most of them are very sharp, indeed, and they are fully participating in an environment that closely mirrors our society. I suspect that most of them will be better equipped to tackle the business world than most others. But, don’t take my word for it. Ask around to various business leaders. You will find many who prefer our graduates because they are perceived to be better adjusted, with a better work ethic, and fully prepared academically to perform.
Oh – another thing. Have you ever run into some of those so-called superior students from uta or atm who sneak into UH in the summer to take a class or two? Some will openly state that they are doing so in order to easily get credit for a class or two which they found too difficult at the other schools. And then they flunk the course here! I will bet it is still happening, and I remember seeing that same phenomenon as far back as 1948-1949. So, no, sorry, their students are not superior to ours!
And then you wonder if we will ever achieve Tier One funding. Well, that will be tough – you can be sure that there will always be severe opposition from uta and atm. On the other hand, there is more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes.
We will get as much state funding as possible, but there are other major possibilities. Our university sits in the fourth largest city in the United States, and Houston is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. So, what funding we cannot get from the state, we will seek elsewhere.
You may have already heard that we are planning a major fund-raising drive, to begin very soon now. You will be shocked at the amount of money we will get from that drive. It will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars! We conducted a similar drive about ten years ago, and I think they raised something near five hundred million dollars.