Christina Lopez Current Staff General Content Student Life

Teacher, Chemist, Leader: Meet UT’s First and Only Female President

Written by Christina Lopez.

Lorene Lane Rogers was the 21st president of The University of Texas at Austin and is widely recognized as the first female president of any public university in the United States. One of her most notable achievements was creating The College of Liberal Arts, housing General and Comparative Studies, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Humanities. She passed away on January 11, 2009 at 94 years old.

Rogers remains the only woman in UT history to hold the position of president.

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Pictured: Lorene Rogers. Image originally published in The Alcade, Nov. 1974.

Rogers was born in Prosper, TX, about 35 miles north of Dallas, on April 3, 1914. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at North Texas State Teachers College, which is now The University of North Texas. She was a school teacher for several years until her husband, Burl Rogers, died in a laboratory explosion at a Virginia chemical company in 1941.  Inspired by her husband to pursue the field of chemistry, which was largely dominated by men, she enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin and earned a master’s degree as well as a doctorate in biochemistry.

She began her career at Sam Houston State College and then returned to UT Austin as a researcher in 1949. After 13 years, she sought a teaching position in the Chemistry Department, but was rejected. She was eventually offered a position as a professor of nutrition in the Home Economics Department where she rose in the ranks, becoming a full professor, assistant director of a biochemical institute, associate dean of graduate studies, and vice president in 1974.

In 1975, after the dismissal of Stephen H. Spurr, Rogers was named interim president by the University Chancellor, Charles A. LeMaistre.

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President Lorene Rogers at the dedication ceremony held in honor of the new Perry-Castaneda library, which was opened to the public in 1977. Here, Rogers stands next to the portraits of Dr. Ervin Perry (left) and Dr. Carlos Castaneda (right).

This decision drew the ire of the nation, and attracted attention for the controversy it sparked. According to The New York Times, Rogers was approved for the job on September 12 in a 5-3 vote of the Board of Regents despite protest from a faculty and student advisory panel that claimed they had no say in the process. The only woman regent, Lady Bird Johnson, also voted against Rogers, supporting the need for a fair process.

The only woman regent, Lady Bird Johnson, also voted against Rogers, supporting the need for a fair process. 

Protests by faculty members and students continued, aimed at forcing Rogers to resign. That same year, seven professors filed a lawsuit against Rogers and the Board of Regents, claiming that Rogers had violated their First Amendment rights by arbitrarily reducing salary increases, recommended for each of the seven professors by their respective deans and department chairmen. Rogers contended that the suit was “ridiculous,” saying she cut the salaries of 70 people, not seven singled out professors.

Despite the controversial beginning of her presidency, the university accomplished many things during Rogers’ tenure, including hiring two Nobel laureates as faculty, as well as acquiring the Gutenberg Bible for UT’s archives. In 1977, within the first few years of Rogers’ presidency, Earl Campbell led UT’s football team to an undefeated season, and became the first Longhorn to win the Heisman Trophy.

“One has to respect [Rogers’] dedication and hard work,” William Livingston, a retired senior president of UT, said in 2009. “She became president at a very difficult time and handled it as well as anybody could handle it. I think the university is in her debt.”

“She became president at a very difficult time and handled it as well as anybody could handle it. I think the university is in her debt.”

Unfortunately, Rogers is still not a well-known name on campus. Taylor Sanchez, a sophomore majoring in political communications at UT, was shocked after learning of Rogers for the first time.

“I’m in awe at the fact that she was not only the first woman president on campus, but the first woman university president in the nation,” Sanchez said. “That says a lot about UT and it’s strive for progression. For that reason, I think we need to recognize and honor her more than we do.”

According to a 2013 Daily Texan article, there are 62 buildings on campus that are named after significant university faculty members, presidents, or regents. None are named after Rogers.

“It would be great to have a building on campus named after her like other former presidents,” Sanchez said. “But I think it would be better to have some type of larger recognition of Dr. Rogers on campus because I wasn’t aware of her until a few moments ago.”

Rey Castillo, a communications and leadership student, expressed similar sentiments of admiration for Rogers. “She had to overcome the adversity of being a woman in a position of power and she made difficult decisions in a leadership position that would ultimately benefit our university,” Castillo said.

“She was one of the pioneers for inspiring women to work towards positions of leadership in society and I believe that is the greatest legacy she has left behind.”

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