From the acquisition of a Gutenberg Bible to the recruitment of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, the University of Texas has used money to buy academic respectability.
No more so has this been true than in the pursuit of literary manuscripts by the university's Humanities Research Center (HRC), which in 25 years has grown from nothing to one of the leading libraries in the world and boasts an almost unparalleled collection of modern British and American manuscripts.
But this month, Texas lost out to the University of California at Los Angeles in a bid to acquire the manuscripts and archives of composer Igor Stravinsky, one of the crown jewels of 20th century culture. At an institution used to getting its way with money and manuscripts, no one can understand why.
"This I would regard as a major defeat," said Decherd Turner, the director of the UT's Humanities Research Center and a man not used to losing such battles. "We're terribly disappointed, chiefly because the background setting and resources here were so much superior."
Texas offered $2 million for the collection, to UCLA's $1.5 million, but in Surrogate Court in New York City, the Texans were told that, in the academic world, there is more than money.
"Even if a purchaser were to offer $20 million for these archives and manuscripts with the intention that the purchaser would then destroy these papers, this court would not and could not approve of such a sale," wrote Surrogate Judge Millard Midonick in his decision.
The scholars here, who had pursued the Stravinsky collection for more than a decade, resent that sentence because of their pride in the HRC holdings, and they regard the defeat as a sign that age-old prejudice toward Texans still exists.
"There's a feeling of snobbism toward the University of Texas, you know, a feeling of, 'Maybe they have a lot of money, but they haven't been wearing shoes for a very long time,'" said Carlton Lake, a former foreign correspondent who is now the HRC's executive curator.
Lake is an old Bostonian and remembers parties he attended back East around the time of a New Yorker series on Texas in which there was much laughter about the rich and vulgar people of the Lone Star State. But to Lake today, as the leader of the university's latest effort to get the Stravinsky collection, the sting of this defeat seems especially personal.
"We've been on trial for a long time," he said.
The University of Texas is an institution with ambitions and the money to achieve them. Its endowment is $1.693 billion, placing it nearly on a par with Harvard. The money comes from oil-producing lands in western Texas, and is shared with Texas A&M University.
Its campus here has 48,000 students, a $29 million basketball arena, a $6.6 million swimming complex, and a growing list of scholarly superstars. In recent years, it has lured to south-central Texas Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel Prize for physics while at Harvard, and Marshall Rosenbluth, an eminent fusion specialist at Princeton.
The Humanities Research Center was the brainchild of former chancellor Harry C. Ransom, who decided that the university should have a first-class research library and, with dazzling speed, created it, beginning in 1957.
For a new collection, its holdings are awesome: the handwritten originals, and later drafts, of William Faulkner's "Absalom! Absalom!"; D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and others; George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman" and others; Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"; Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra"; the first photograph ever taken (in 1826); the complete library and papers of Evelyn Waugh, including walking sticks; the papers of Tennessee Williams, Edgar Lee Masters, and others; and even the study of Erle Stanley Gardner.
Ransom bought things that no one else was buying and bought in quantities that astounded the rest of the academic world. In the 1960s, Texas bid on nearly everything relating to modern literature and got almost all of what it wanted.
Ransom's methods offended much of the library world, because other librarians were being squeezed by the escalation in prices and by UT's voracious appetite. For a time so much material was being acquired that the university could not process it. But today, the collection has earned the respect of other institutions.
"It's a young collection and they've done a very good job," said Rodney G. Dennis, curator of manuscripts at Harvard. "I don't think they were silly or vulgar."
It was Ransom who contacted Stravinsky about acquiring the composer's manuscripts and archives, for he knew that collection -- of perhaps the dominant composer of the 20th century -- would be a priceless addition to his center.
Stravinsky had lived in Hollywood for 25 years, and after his death in 1971, his widow, Vera, and his protege and alter ego, Robert Craft, along with one of the trustees of the estate, favored selling the collection to UCLA. Stravinsky's children by his first wife -- who have been at odds with their stepmother and with Craft -- and the other trustee favored Texas. Because of the split among the trustees, the matter had to be resolved in court.
"Our interest," said William Schaefer, vice chancellor at UCLA, "has always been to set up a center for the study of Stravinsky's works. The papers have been seen as just a nucleus for that."
Texas prepared lengthy and impressive memoranda on how its existing collections meshed with the Stravinsky archives and described its new performing arts center to persuade the court.
UCLA submitted a one-page listing of collections relating to the Stravinsky archive that included reference to such composers as Henry Mancini and Andre Previn. But it pledged to name the new wing of its music building for Stravinsky and to produce a series of concerts, publications and fellowships in his honor.
A witness in behalf of Texas, music professor George Perle of the City College of New York, scoffed at the UCLA submission on its existing collection.
But the court's expert, Edward H. Roesner of New York University, found UCLA's music school to be "one of the top very few departments in the world," and said Los Angeles was perhaps "the most fitting and appropriate place" for the papers to go, even though Stravinsky once expressed bitterness that UCLA had failed to honor him on his 85th birthday.
The UT's Turner now says, "There will be other opportunities."