AUSTIN, Texas—New custom-designed doctoral academic regalia — designed and fabricated by a University of Texas at Austin professor of theater and dance — will be introduced at the May 19 spring 2001 Commencement evening ceremony. UT Austin President Larry R. Faulkner, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University, will wear a prototype.
The fabric of the robe is silk crepe and is customed dyed burnt orange. If the new doctoral robe is enthusiastically received, it will be offered commercially to Ph.D. graduates.
"Many universities have found that distinctive doctoral robes foster greater identity and esprit de corps among graduates," said Faulkner. "As with many of our enhancements to Commencement, we have turned to talent within the UT Austin community. This design is the product of an imaginative and talented designer, Susan Tsu."
Tsu is director of the costume program at UT and holds the David Bruton, Jr. Professorship in Fine Arts. In addition to working in most of the major theaters across the country, Tsu has designed costumes for television and opera. She has received numerous honors, including the New York Drama Desk Award, the New York Drama Critics Award and the Phoebe Award.
Dr. Teresa Sullivan, UT Austin vice president and dean of graduate studies, provided historical background information about the formal regalia used at the University as well as historical information about the development of commencement robes throughout past centuries.
Besides being a sign of terminal degree, the doctoral robe is a public link to one’s alma mater," said Sullivan. "UT Austin doctoral degree holders have added much to the intellectual life of universities, as well as to the arts, professions and school systems. But their standard black robes have not added so much to the color and pomp of academic ceremonies.
"UT doctoral recipients will always have the choice of using the simple black robe, but the option of the new robe will permit our alumni to visibly add a little burnt orange to formal ceremonies."
Both undergraduate and graduate students wore burnt orange robes for the 1983 centennial class said Sullivan. "After that, we returned to the black robe but with three bright orange velvet bars on the sleeve of the doctoral robe. (The velvet bars are a traditional sign of a doctoral degree.) A more recent trend in the United States has been to wear colored robes that indicate the school of origin, such as crimson (Harvard University), blue (Yale University), maroon (University of Chicago) and purple (Louisiana State University).
"The new burnt orange robe would bring UT in line with this trend, and the new robe is prettier and more functional than the one-time centennial robe."
The new robe design is a collaborative effort making use of the University’s resources and talents. Kathy Lang, who is wardrobe curator at the Performing Arts Center, devoted her time draping the robe and hood — taking the paper design and constructing the garments.
Last May during the weekend of Commencement 2000 the Medallion of Office was introduced by UT graduating students. The handcrafted medallions were presented to the deans of each college or school, the executive vice president and provost and the president. They will be passed from generation to generation of academic officers.
Each medallion is presented on a custom galant, a neckpiece also designed by Tsu. "I had such a good time working on the medallion of office project, that I was delighted when I was asked to design the new academic regalia for doctoral graduates," she said.