Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Shining a light on who lights the Tower

Kennedy Weatherby
The University of Texas tower on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. The tower was lit up orange for the Women’s Indoor Track and Field Big 12 Championship win.

As the UT Tower ticks one year closer to 87 years since its dedication, lighting the beacon of the Forty Acres orange looks much different than it did in 1937.

Preset with an astronomical clock that glows at sunset and shines orange to celebrate athletic achievements and recognitions on the president’s command, the job of turning the Tower orange falls under the University’s Planning, Design and Construction department.  

With home football games being the rare instance the staff uses the manual switches near the observation deck, the staff typically lights the Tower using a remote software program for both scheduled events such as Gone to Texas and unscheduled events such as athletic victories, said Chris Whitley, manager of in-house construction in the department. 

“(During) home night games we actually have two electricians on site: one is in the Tower and one is in the press box in the stadium,” Whitley said. “We station them up there at halftime and …  when our senior electrician gets the cue to light it, it’s instantaneous. Other than that, every other lighting is remote.”

Whitley said six people in the Planning, Design and Construction department can remotely light the Tower, including himself.  

“What we have is a depth of coverage,” Whitley said, “(We are) six (tiers) deep so (if) one person’s sick or has communication issues, we pride ourselves to make sure when (the president) asks for the Tower to go orange or white, … we’re able to make that happen.”

Though lit remotely, Whitley said members of the in-house and construction services carpentry and electrical teams configure and add lights to the Tower’s windows to display symbols for special occasions such as when UT women’s volleyball won the national championship this past December. 

“(The volleyball team was) out of town when they won and the president’s office (said) ‘Hey let’s welcome them home with a number one in the orange Tower,’” Whitley said. “So the carpentry shop went out and configured the windows and it was (on) standby.”

Jim Nicar, founder of The UT History Corner, said people came from around Texas to see the Tower lit after UT football won the national championship in Jan. 2005.

“They turned the Tower orange … and had it that way for a week because it was such a big deal,” Nicar said. “There would always be a crowd up on the Main Mall … taking pictures of the Tower, (and) when you listened to them, they’d (say), ‘I just drove in from Houston’ or ‘I drove in from Midland, just to see the Tower orange.’”

Whitley said he and other members of in-house and construction services feel proud to participate in lighting the Tower. 

“Everybody that’s involved in lighting the Tower, I will say, is very honored and loves being involved with the iconic Tower,” said Whitley. “They take a lot of pride in doing it.”

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