On May 15, 1988, the University of North Texas celebrated its transition from North Texas State University to its current name. This would mark the seventh title for the institution since it began 125 years ago as the Texas Normal College and Teacher’s Training Institute. The event was celebrated with a small parade, releasing green balloons advertising the name change, the burial of a time capsule, and the unveiling of both a new university seal and a new sign bearing the name of the University of North Texas.
While University Day 1988 was a festive event, it was intended “to be a joyous, but not frivolous, occasion,” as achieving the new name was much more difficult than anticipated. After having changed names several times throughout its history, in 1961 the institution first attempted to legally change its name from North Texas State College to the University of North Texas; however, while the bill, introduced by State Representative Joe Ratcliff, easily passed the Texas House, it met opposition in the Senate from Senator Charles Herring of Austin. Senator Herring feared the bill would harm the University of Texas and “said it was ridiculous to think there could be two universities ‘in a little town the size of Denton.’” He called North Texas State College’s attempt to become the University of North Texas a “fraud on the public,” and insisted that the institution “is nothing but a teachers college and that’s what it’s going to be for years to come.” Representative Ratcliff compromised, rather than let the bill die in the Senate, and the name was changed to North Texas State University.
A second attempt to change the name to the University of North Texas was made during the 1969-1971 legislative session, however this move was once again challenged by the University of Texas at Austin, and their opposition prevented introduction of this into legislation at that time. Not willing to completely give up on the name change, university officials began discussing the potential change to the University of North Texas once again in the fall of 1986. This bid ultimately met with success, but not before nearly dying twice on the legislative floor. Neither near-failure had anything at all to do with the merits of the bill itself, but both were purely due to political games. The first near casualty came from Representative Wilhelmina Delco of Austin, who delayed passing the bill through the Higher Education Committee in favor of her own bill. The bill finally passed out of the House committee only three days before the end of the legislative session. The second challenge for the bill came from Representative Jim Rudd of Brownfield, who, in retaliation for an unrelated slight, placed objection to five of Senator Glasgow’s bills, including that of North Texas State University’s name change. Some quick work from members of the Calendars Committee got the bill moved to a higher priority, and the House approved the change from North Texas State University to the University of North Texas. Govenor Bill Clements signed the bill without any further drama, officially changing the school’s name to the University of North Texas, effective May 15, 1988.
Success at last! The University of North Texas had come a long way from its roots as a teacher’s college in the upstairs rooms above a hardware store on the downtown square. In the years since they first tried to rename North Texas State College, the school had increased its areas of recognized excellence from education and music to also include, among many other subjects, business, journalism, public administration, library and information sciences, chemistry, and computer sciences. According to then Chancellor Alfred F. Hurley, “You might say a theme in the history of the institution is our aspiration to that name.”
– by Jessica Phillips, Preservation Librarian
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