Last week the Briscoe Center celebrated the release of Dr. Bill Cunningham’s memoir, The Texas Way: Money, Power, Politics, and Ambition at The University, with an event at the Alumni Center. The event was a who’s who of the campus community, with university leaders past and present on hand to congratulate Bill on his book. I’m grateful to Leslie Cedar, executive director of the Texas Exes, for co-sponsoring the book launch, and to President Bill Powers for his remarks at the event.
Red McCombs has said that Bill Cunningham has “influenced more Texans than barbeque.” Whether you agree with that or not, Bill’s influence on the University has been profound. His support of the Briscoe Center is but just one example of the impact he has had across the UT Austin campus, not to mention the UT System as a whole. As UT Austin’s president, he helped establish the center as an independent research unit. In 1986, he provided nearly $1 million for the acquisition of the Natchez Trace Collection, an archival treasure trove that elevated the center to a position of national leadership in the study of the cotton and slave economy of the antebellum South.
In 1988, he persuaded Houston oilman and former University regent J. R. Parten to fund the Parten Chair in the Archives of American History, the first unrestricted endowment in the center’s history. Finally, Cunningham played a key role in the addition of the Sam Rayburn Museum, the Winedale Historical Complex, and the Briscoe-Garner Museum, as divisions to the center.
This book would be worthy of publication simply on the merits that it is a first hand accounting of Bill’s years of service to the University. But The Texas Way is important for an additional reason: it expertly fills a significant void in the historical record. There are surprisingly few monographs on the University’s history. Bill and his co-author Monty Jones have exhaustively researched and meticulously prepared this book. Luckily for the reader, Cunningham’s knowledge is as broad as it is deep, making the memoir a candid, compelling read for anybody interested in the inner workings of a modern university.
The Briscoe Center is proud to publish Bill Cunningham’s memoir as part of our mission to document the history of the University. I want to thank Briscoe Center staff members Erin Purdy and Holly Taylor for the outstanding work they performed in the production of The Texas Way. Hook ‘Em Horns!