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UT Austin opens its doors and its Tower for its 116th birthday celebration

The University of Texas at Austin will celebrate its 116th birthday on Sept. 15 with music, a symposium, a state of the University address by President Larry R. Faulkner and the president’s historic reopening of the Tower observation deck.

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AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin will celebrate its 116th birthday on Sept. 15 with music, a symposium, a state of the University address by President Larry R. Faulkner and the president’s historic reopening of the Tower observation deck.

“UT Austin students and the entire University community are excited about the reopening of the Tower,” Faulkner said. “The structure has always played a central role in the daily life of our campus and is symbolic of UT’s prominent stature as an institution of higher learning. Everything from marriage proposals to Commencement and spirited public debate takes place in and around the Tower, and we are pleased to once again open its observation deck to the public,” he said.

UT Austin’s grand and glorious history began on Sept. 15, 1883, when the doors opened to its only building. It employed eight teachers in two departments and served 221 students. In fulfilling its founding mission of education, research and service, UT Austin — the academic flagship of the UT System’s 15 component institutions — now is home to about 49,000 students, 2,500 faculty, 8,700 other full-time staff members and about 4,400 part-time staff members, not counting student employees.

Birthday festivities will begin at 11:50 a.m. on the South Mall near the Tower. The Texas Exes Student Chapter will serve birthday cake to members of the University community and guests during a traditional ceremony featuring celebratory music, brief remarks and the unfurling of a large Texas flag off the Main Building.

At 1:30 p.m., Faulkner will present his second annual State of the University Address, an assessment of the University in its 116th year and an outline of plans for the institution as it moves toward a new millennium. His presentation will be at Jessen Auditorium in Homer P. Rainey Hall, located on the South Mall near Littlefield Fountain.

The president’s presentation will be followed, also in Rainey Hall, by a symposium in which a panel of faculty, staff, students and alumni will celebrate the University’s birthday with reflections on the Tower’s real and symbolic past, and share their hopes for the future. Dr. Teresa Sullivan, vice president and dean of graduate studies, will serve as moderator.

The panelists will include Dr. Susana Alemán, assistant dean of the School of Law; Dr. Michael L. Benedikt, the Roland Gommel Roessner Centennial Professor in Architecture; Dr. Rosa A. Eberly, assistant professor in the department of rhetoric and composition; and Dr. Kenneth E. Foote, professor of geography. Guests are invited to a reception after the symposium.

A Tower concert and ceremonial reopening of the Tower observation deck will begin at 7 p.m. on the South Mall. It will feature special Texas music including popular UT ensembles and The University Wind Ensemble and Chamber Singers.

Images of the Tower observation deck as it is reopened by the president will be projected onto a large video screen on the South Mall. Upon arrival, all guests attending the event will be invited to fill out a card in a drawing for a very special honor — 10 people will be selected at random to join the president in the first ceremonial tour of the observation deck.

For the first time since it was built, the observation deck will be accessible to people who would be unable to climb a series of small stairs leading from the 27th floor to the observation deck. A newly installed elevator between the 27th floor and the observation deck is among the renovations made in recent months to prepare the Tower observation deck for reopening.

The observation deck was officially closed in 1975 following several suicides over a period of years. After becoming president of UT Austin in 1997, Faulkner responded to numerous student requests by asking for, and obtaining, UT Board of Regents’ permission to open the observation deck. A stainless steel lattice “crown” now arches over the observation deck for safety reasons but still provides an almost unobstructed view of the city.

Austin architect and artisan Lars Stanley, designer of the protective “crown” for the Tower’s observation deck, said, “The Tower is just too valuable not to be open to the public.”

The University has begun accepting reservations for public tours of the observation deck, which will begin on Sept. 16 as “Twilight Tours” offered for a limited time. Regular weekend tours begin Sept. 18 and will be conducted every Saturday and Sunday, except during holidays and University closings. The ticket price is $3 per person, payable at the Information Center in the Texas Union building. The reservations telephone number is (512) 475-6633, or 1-877-475-6633.