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Ceremony At The Alamo Celebrates UTSA's 50th Birthday

A state bill signed 50 years ago this week in front of the Alamo created The University of Texas at San Antonio, so it was fitting to return to the site on Wednesday to mark UTSA’s golden anniversary. 

There was singing, music and speeches from dignitaries.  Hundreds turned out to reminisce about how far UTSA has come.

Yvonne Katz, a lifelong educator and now on the board of trustees of Alamo Colleges, was a member of the university’s first class of graduates in 1974. She said there were some concerns about the young school.  Some students may have wondered if the school’s diplomas were worth the paper they were printed on.

Back then, the study body was small enough one could easily get a personal audience with University President Arleigh Templeton, so that’s what Katz did.

“He assured me this University of Texas system campus would be fully accredited and so I remember telling him, ‘Well if I can take a chance on you, you can take a chance on me,’” she said.

Today UTSA has 32,000 students. Its current president, Taylor Eighmy, teaches in the university’s College of Engineering and College of Sciences.

“We have a number of areas where we are highly regarded: biological sciences, business cyber security, data sciences,” he said. “Those are all emblematic of our institution.  We look forward to growing those programs as we get bigger.”

Credit Brian Kirkpatrick | Texas Public Radio
UTSA president Taylor Eighmy at the university's 50th anniversary celebration.

Eighmy has some thoughts on where the university will be in another 50 years.

“It’s going to be world-renowned,” he said. “It will be changing things that affect the future of our country, of Texas, of South Texas, of everything we do here, so we’re going to be big and bold.”


A ceremony in front of the Alamo on June 5, 1969, gave birth to the university when Texas Gov. Preston Smith signed the bill creating UTSA.

The university will celebrate the anniversary with UTSA President Taylor Eighmy and former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who helped push the bill through the 61st Texas Legislature. The event is scheduled Wednesday 5 p.m. at the Alamo.

Before UTSA, San Antonio was the largest city in the nation without a four-year, public university according to a news release.

The event also marked the first time a bill was ever signed outside of Austin.

The UT System regents met in Austin in December 1970, where they approved a conceptual design plan for the new university.

A team of combined architects planned a campus design “reminiscent of a Spanish town,” according to UTSA's website.

The group had a $41 million budget and a 600-acre site on San Antonio’s northwest side. They broke ground on May 1, 1972, on what was the largest single building project by the UT System at the time.

Credit Provided
Peggy Jo Tholen, an elementary school teacher in the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, was UTSA's first student.

On March 30, 1973, Peter Flawn, UTSA’s president at the time, presented a letter of acceptance to the university’s first student, Peggy Jo Tholen.

Students arrived at the Kroger Center for the first day of registration a few months later on June 4, 1973.  

Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at Brian@TPR.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian.