Lessons for the University in The Daily Texan’s history

Laura Wright

The pages of the Texan are proof that someone, somewhere cares and has cared about the day-to-day of University life for over a century. As former Daily Texan Editor Willie Morris wrote in 1955, “The Daily Texan is bigger than any one man. We will protect it and its traditions with our personal reputation. You will be jostled, cajoled, embarrassed. Yet, through our telescope of ideas, you will see your life here in much nobler focus.”

Morris was speaking of the Texan, but he might well have been speaking of the University, which finds itself at the precipice of change much in the same way the paper does now. Heavily dependent on its print product for revenue, the Texan has struggled to adapt to a digital world without changing both its business model and its mission. Heavily dependent on tuition dollars and state funding, the University is floundering to figure out where online courses and antiquated degrees fit into the changing model of higher education.

This year, after a series of tense Texas Student Media board meetings and more than a few fiery editorials, the Texan found a (temporary) answer to the question of its future when President William Powers Jr. secured transitional funding for the paper’s move to the Moody School of Communication and, presumably, a few years down the line, the Texan’s adoption of a new business plan. The promise of the money quelled quite a few concerns, but it should have raised more. 

If the solution to the paper’s inability to adapt was to find a generous benefactor in the tower, what will be UT’s solution to insufficient funds when tuition can’t be raised any higher? The folks at the Capitol may not be as generous to the University as Powers was with us, and given our state’s aversion to taxes, they may not have so much to give.

I raise these questions here because I think what happened at the Texan bears remembering as the University charts its course in the decades to come. For instance, 10 years ago, questions began to enter the conversation about the Texan’s future — questions like how we might keep our print product in the face of fading revenue or how we might retain a staff as large as generous decades had accustomed us to. Those at the Texan then should have been asking why the paper existed in the first place. Had they, I’m sure the answer would have been that The Daily Texan exists “to educate and inform”  — the model of delivery notwithstanding. And yet, 10 years later, we are just exiting a burdensome argument about print.

So what does this have to do with higher education? Conversations about the future of UT are often raised in the context of “how’s”: how we might get students to graduate in four years, how we might get them into the right class, how we might make their degree most valuable. But if the Texan’s history is any indication, now is the time for why’s and what’s: Why do we teach students in the classroom? Why do we charge what we charge for tuition? Why are we here, learning and striving? What is the meaning of being a “University of the first class,” as the state constitution requires us to be? The answers may not be in line with what we think of as a University education. If that’s the case, its better we find out now, so that we can start working toward changing our ideas of what it means to attend UT. The University, like the Daily Texan, is bigger than anyone man, and it is our job as Longhorns to chart a course that serves not our own understanding of a University education but our belief in its higher purpose. 


Wright is the outgoing editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan. She started at the Texan in summer 2012 and previously served as a life & arts senior writer and an opinion columnist.