W. Page Keeton graduated from The University of Texas Law School in 1931 and joined the Univeristy of Texas law faculty the following year at the age of 23.  He earned a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from Harvard in 1936.  Keeton served as dean of the University of Texas Law School for 25 years (1949-1974) and was dean of the law school at the University of Oklahoma for three years (1946-1949).  He is considered one of the nation's foremost authorities on the law of torts.

Presented are selections from a series of interviews with Dean Keeton in which he dicusses, among other things, integration at both law schools and the cases that brought them about: Sweatt v. Painter and its companion case, McLaurin v. Oklahoma.  The transcript of the interviews, W. Page Keeton: An Oral History Interview, may be found in the Rare Books & Special Collections, Tarlton Law Library, The University of Texas at Austin.


This is the second interview with Dean Page Keeton in his office at The University of Texas law school. The date today is June 2, 1986. I’m Bill Brands.

BB: Dean, the last time, we got you through your first years as an undergraduate at The University of Texas. As I recall, you were in a program where you got a bachelor’s degree and an LL.B. simultaneously.

PK: Yes, but at that time, they had a prescribed three-year pre-law course, in which you could count up to a year in the law school as credit towards your Bachelor of Arts degree, so that in six years—three years pre-law, three years law—I got two degrees. So I got both degrees in 1931.

BB: Was it common for students to take that route in those days?

PK: Well, it was a popular program, and I would probably guess that as many as a third of the students that came to The University of Texas, maybe not that many, but at least 25% of the students that came to The University of Texas law school when I came in 1928 came under that kind of a plan. Of course, it was a special University of Texas plan, so that students who came to the law school from other places didn’t come in that kind of a way. As I probably said last time, you could get into the law school on two years.

BB: Right. Did other schools follow similar programs back then?

PK: They did. As a matter of fact, I think The University of Texas law school had a plan pursuant to which other schools, like A & M or SMU could adopt such a plan, if they had the right courses, so that the law school would take students not only from The University of Texas but from SMU and A & M, so that students from SMU and A & M could get into the law school and get a bachelor’s degree from SMU or A & M. I don’t think that was possible with many schools.

BB: Do you know when, and why, the concurrent program was dropped?

PK: I don’t think it was dropped until about 1940 or just before World War II. I don’t know. I think the feeling was that it would be better for students to have a full degree, and have that much more general or liberal education, and that three years was an inadequate program to give a lawyer the kind of liberal or general education he ought to have. That probably was sound.

BB: Now if I recall, by that time, you were in the administration in the UT law school, weren’t you?

PK: Yes. I became Assistant Dean of the law school in 1940, at the same time Charles McCormick came in as Dean, and it may be that it was during that period that . . .

BB: But you don’t recall any particular input that you had?

PK: No, I simply don’t recall. I don’t recall.

BB: In your own case, did you find that the decreased amount of time you spent as an undergraduate was at all a hindrance?

PK: No. And, as a matter of fact, I have some reservations about whether or not it was necessary. Of course, I agree that a lawyer should be well educated, not only so far as the law is concerned, but other matters, because law touches everything. All human activities are controlled by law, in one way or another, and so the more a lawyer knows about the world around him and about the people who live in it, the better he is. But you’ve got to get educated all through life. You’ve got to get a good deal of self-education. So I’m not sure that the additional year of pre-legal education and the degree requirement added much. I’m sure it didn’t help me get through law school. It may have made me a better educated person. But it didn’t help me get through law school, and I doubt if it does anybody else.

BB: You graduated from law school, what, at the age of 22?

PK: I graduated from law school at the age of 21. I was 22 in August after graduating but I started to school in the second grade.

BB: Just as a matter of curiosity, are there any law schools in the country who still have a program like that that you went through?

PK: I don’t think so. I doubt it.

BB: While we’re on that subject, do you know when The University of Texas required an undergraduate degree for admission to law school? At what point?

PK: At what point in time they required an undergraduate degree? I think that was probably after the war. I became Dean.

BB: When you graduated from The University of Texas law school, if I recall correctly, a diploma from the UT law school automatically admitted you to the Texas bar.

PK: Right.

BB: Do you know when they dropped that?

PK: That was about 1935, 1936, at least between 1935 and 1940. I’m not quite sure when. But it was several years before World War II. You understand the reason. The only law school in Texas that had that diploma privilege of getting admitted was The University of Texas law school. Yet, there were other law schools, including Baylor and SMU. Those are the two principal ones that I’m thinking about at that point in time. The justification was this was a state institution—the state law school. The theory was that graduates from the state law school ought to get a license without having to go through the process of taking a bar admission examination. But it became politically inexpedient. Other law schools began to complain about the fact that The University of Texas graduates were getting admitted without taking it and their graduates were required to take it. I think it made sense.

BB: If I remember the State Legislature created the new State Bar Association in 1939, whereas before there’d been the Texas Bar Association, a largely voluntary thing.

PK: Oh, yes. That’s about right.

BB: Do you happen to recall if the requirement for a Bar exam coincided with that? Was that related?

PK: I don’t believe that was related.

BB: Who were the dominant or the striking personalities in the UT law school, on the faculty, when you were there?

PK: On the faculty? Well, of course the Dean was Hildebrand. And I don’t know whether we’ve said anything about him up to this point now.

BB: I don’t believe so.

PK: But I happen to think that he deserves a great deal of credit, probably as much credit as any person, for making this law school what it is today. And the reason is that back in the early 1900s he went to Harvard law school. And he got the impression that that law school was great, as it was and as it had always been. And so when he became Dean of The University of Texas law school in about 1925, he began to change various things about the law school in order to make it as near as possible to the kind of situation that existed at Harvard. Well, Harvard was his idea of what a law school ought to be, and he patterned The University of Texas law school after Harvard, including the introduction of the case book method as almost the exclusive method for teaching. He was a contracts scholar. I would not say that he was a great scholar—he didn’t write anything of any significance—but he was a good teacher, and a good leader in the sense that he patterned the law school after Harvard. And he did manage, with the assistance of the faculty, to appoint good people to the faculty, and when I entered the law school in 1928, the law faculty was composed of probably about eight persons. About 300 students to eight people. You had a student/teacher ratio of about 40 to one. But, these were outstanding basic people. George Stumberg was one of the best. He was a conflict of laws scholar, and I think probably as good a Socratic teacher as there ever was. He was superb as a Socratic teacher and as the kind of person that Hildebrand contemplated that ought to be on the law faculty.

BB: Where did he come from? Do you remember?

PK: He came out of Louisiana, I believe. I’m not sure that was where he first came from, but I think he came to Texas from Louisiana. Anyway, he was one of the best. Then they had the man by the name of Robert W. Stayton, who came out of the Texas environment and was a judge before he ever came to the law faculty. He taught Texas procedure, and he was a very hard worker, a very good scholar. Not as good a teacher as Stumberg, but nevertheless, acceptable. A very good scholar. And then, another man on the faculty that should be mentioned was A. W. Walker, Jr. who practically made oil and gas law in Texas.

BB: I’ve read some of his articles.

PK: Well, he was a superb scholar and teacher. Still alive. So, Stayton, Walker, and Stumberg, and then another man. That was Bryant Smith. I’ve forgotten where Bryant Smith came from. He wasn’t a native of Texas like A. W. Walker and Stayton were, but he was an excellent person. Smith, Stumberg, Stayton, Walker—and I even would mention Frank Bobbitt, who was accidentally killed, shortly after I joined the law faculty a few years later. So it was a first-rate faculty. You had about eight people, and there were only two of them that were not any good. One of them was put on by the Board of Regents over the objection of the law faculty—political appointment. And occasionally, politics has gotten involved with the law school like it does with The University.

BB: I hope we’ll talk about that a little bit more later on.

PK: OK. But really, I think it was as good a law faculty, man for man, as there is in the United States today.

BB: That’s remarkable.

PK: Now that doesn’t mean the law school was as good a law school, because you had other problems running a great law school besides having a good faculty. That’s the most important, but that’s only one of them.

BB: Right.

PK: But it was a great deal better law school than it was recognized to be nationally. I didn’t know it then. But I know now it was, because I know what those people were, I know what they did, and I know what people are today, and I’m around them all the time.

BB: Why do you suppose the law school didn’t have a reputation to match its actual quality?

PK: Well, after all, it hadn’t been a great law school until Hildebrand came on. It was using old-style methods. And I don’t suppose Texas was recognized as having anything good—(laughs)—by the eastern standard.

BB: I have a great-aunt who’s been in education, and she always swore up and down that there wasn’t a decent college or university south of the Mason-Dixon line.

PK: That’s part of the problem.

BB: How about your classmates? Do you recall any of your fellow students that had an influence on you one way or the other, or who stick out in your mind?

PK: Well, our 1931 law class was a close class, and I made friends there that have been friends of mine all my life. One of them was Charles W. Duke of San Antonio, who ended up as our class secretary and who’s been keeping in touch with us all through the years. And another one was Bill White, who’s in Dallas. As far as I know, Duke’s in San Antonio, Bill White’s in Dallas. Another one I might mention is Bob Calvert, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I don’t know that we were too close while in the law school. We’ve become a whole lot closer since, because we’ve had a lot of associations and problems together. Oh, Cecil Redford of Corpus Christi. The State Bar’s meeting in Houston and the Redfords, the Dukes, the Whites, and the Keetons are getting their suites close by.

BB: Really goes back. You said you think that the caliber of the faculty in those days was as good as any place in the country. How was the caliber of the student body?

PK: Well, you see, that’s one reason we weren’t the great law school that we could’ve been. The student body was composed of a lot of people who had only two years of college work, and with a bare C average. That meant that more than half of the students that were accepted in any given year were unqualified to be studying law. In first-year classes a lot of students just didn’t understand what was going on, and your discussion wasn’t anything like as intellectually stimulating as it could be with a group of students all of whom were qualified to be there.

BB: Right.

PK: Now, all our students are qualified, and you can carry on an intelligent discussion that can be followed by nearly all of the students. You couldn’t do that then.

BB: Do you know why the admissions requirements, such as they were, were low in those days?

PK: The law school couldn’t have adopted any different standards. It wouldn’t have been politically possible. Everybody thought if a person wanted to study law, he ought to have an opportunity to study law.

BB: Was there great difficulty in tightening the requirements later on?

PK: We didn’t tighten the requirements, really, until after I became Dean. And what really made it possible to improve standards of admission—was the great demand for the study of law that came on about 1948, ’49, ’50. Demand exceeded the capacity, and there was no other way. I adopted as the principle on the basis of which to decide how big the law school ought to get, the size that the faculty would have to be, and the managerial problem that would be involved, and I concluded that you ought not to have a faculty of more than 50. And I put a student-teacher ratio there of about 30 to one, and that meant no law school bigger than 1,500 students. And so, that was the justification that we had to give—the inability to take any more students than that.

BB: I suppose you could justify that to the political powers on the basis that “you’re going to have to either allow us to increase admission standards, or hire more teachers and build more buildings.”

PK: The president of The University was Logan Wilson when we adopted these proposals and when I went to the Board of Regents with his support for the increase in the standards for admission. He not only supported it but was using the law school’s case, as a basis for saying that we’re going to have to do something like this all over The University, sooner or later, and that we ought to, not only because of the demand, but because that’s the way to have a great University. So he used the law school as an illustration of what was going to have to be done and what has been done.

BB: In the late ’40s, that idea for The University as a whole was a little bit ahead of its time, wasn’t it?

PK: Yes.

BB: But you did get it adopted for the law school at that time?

PK: Oh, yes.

BB: Had the case method of teaching been adopted entirely throughout the law school? While you were a student, you said that Hildebrand brought it in?

PK: Oh, yes. Yes. We had no small classes because, with eight faculty members, and 30 to one, you’re not going to have room for that. So you had no seminars, which are now required of all students here. At these seminars, you don’t want more than about 15 people—when you’re supervising, and giving some individual instruction, and so forth, teaching writing and research. You couldn’t do all those things. At that point in time, all our classes were pretty much the Socratic-type casebook method of teaching.

BB: Was that style of teaching becoming widespread throughout the country?

PK: Yes.

BB: When you were a student here, or when you were getting to the point where you were going to graduate, were UT graduates taking jobs as clerks for judges?

PK: No. I don’t think there were any clerkships available at all at that point in time. The first place, I don’t think the courts were given the authority to employ clerks. They didn’t have the budget for doing that, so that you didn’t have those clerkships available. And they are very valuable to the courts, and to the people that serve the courts, the clerks themselves. At the time I graduated from law school, it was the depth of the Depression, of course. Very few people got any kind of a job at all. I didn’t, immediately after graduation. I had the highest grade in class. The only ones that got jobs were sons of lawyers, who had law firms, and who could bring them into their establishment. I don’t say that’s all, but that’s about all. And their salary, if they got one, was $50.00 a month, or something like that.

BB: Judge Calvert told me a funny story about how when he graduated, he heard of a job down in the Rio Grande Valley, and he spent all night one night riding in the back of a chicken truck to go down and interview for the job. (Laughs.)

PK: (Laughs.) Well, you know, of course, $50 a month was probably about $1,500 a month or probably $2,000 a month now, because you could buy a good meal for 25 cents. But there were very few that got that. I almost immediately went to work for The University of Texas. Tell you how it happened. I graduated in June, without a job. I went to Wilbarger County, Vernon, Texas, where my parents had moved, and a lawyer gave me the privilege of an office in his establishment. And I could do whatever I could get—and he would give me some additional work to do too, when he got busy or something or other and needed help. And I’d get paid for it. And I was going to run for county attorney.

BB: At the ripe old age of 21.

PK: He and the other lawyers were going to help me run for county attorney. But as I was making my plans to do this sort of thing, I got an offer from The University to come back, and work for a year as a research assistant to Judge Stayton and as a business manager of the Texas Law Review—combined job, kind of an administrative job and research job—with the promise that I’d be on the law faculty the next year. They knew they were going to have a vacancy the next year. And, of course I had a very good average at the law school, and it impressed the faculty so that I came back. And hell, I got about $150 a month, as I recall, or something like it. So I came back. And that’s how I got to teaching. I guess, if there’d been good times and been jobs available, I’d have been a practicing lawyer. But I ended up on the law faculty.

BB: Had it ever occurred to you when you were a student that you’d wind up teaching?

PK: Never. But I liked it after I got into it.

BB: Tell me about your first year back, when you were business manager of the law review and research assistant?

PK: Both of these jobs involved working for Judge Robert W. Stayton, because he was the executive head of the law review, which was a separate corporation, at that point in time. I was his assistant on that. And he also had a lot of research going on on procedure, and he had some money available to him for that research. And so I had two jobs with him—one doing procedural research, which was right down my alley, and the other was business manager of the Texas Law Review.

BB: Well, how did running the business affairs of the Texas Law Review go?

PK: Oh, fine. I didn’t have a problem.

BB: Was there much to it?

PK: No, not a whole lot. I’d had some accounting background, and that’s about all it took.

BB: Well, how about your research work, then, for Judge Stayton?

PK: Well, that helped. During that year, I wrote an article, and it’s always good for somebody to have an article written if he’s joining the faculty. So that went well.

BB: Who was it who retired; who was going to retire?

PK: He didn’t retire, he went to Washington. Mastin White had agreed to be General Counsel of the Department of Agriculture.

BB: You were on the faculty then, starting in the academic year ’33?

PK: ’32.

BB: ’32-’33, OK.

PK: ’32-’33. Finished in ’31. So ’31-’32, after being out for a couple of months, I was back, and ’32-’33 on the law faculty. Now I don’t recommend that for people. I think it’s a little better now that the clerkship program has been a great source for giving people some experience, before they join the law faculty. I think it’s better for a person to have had some practical experience, and I had had practically nothing. (Laughs.) It’s better for a person to have had practical experience, before they become a member of the law faculty, I think.

BB: Did you come to that conclusion right away, or is that something that has come upon you over the years?

PK: Over the years. Of course over the years, I’ve worked closely with lawyers, in the sense that I’ve visited with them, talked with them a lot. As Dean I was with them all the time. So a lot of their practicalities rubbed off. And then I have done a little work here and there, all along the way, outside. More lately, of course, where now I spend half my time practicing law. But I think the practical experience that a person needs varies with the type of thing he’s doing. If he’s going to teach administrative law, it’s good for him to have some experience with an administrative agency or something. And after I became Dean, I always was looking for opportunities to give a member of the faculty a leave of absence to do some work in the area of his expertise as a practitioner.

BB: When you started teaching, since you had essentially completed your education in two years’ less time than people normally take, you were the same age, I assume, as some of your students.

PK: Oh, yes.

BB: That cause any problems?

PK: No, we got along very well. I never attempted to indicate that I knew it all, and I started out saying, “We’re going to learn this together.” (Laughs.) No, we never had any problems.

BB: You remained on the UT faculty until World War II, then?

PK: Yes. Well, I went to Harvard. I had a leave of absence in 1935-36. I taught three years. See, Hildebrand had the notion, which was sound, that those of us who became members of the faculty, and were graduates of our own law school, ought to get some experience somewhere else. And that was, I think, sound. I’d never been anywhere but Texas and The University of Texas. Well, he had a program with Harvard, pursuant to which they would take—they had confidence in his recommendation—they would take a young member of the law faculty who had had three years’ experience teaching, and let them work directly on a Doctor of Juridical Science, which is the Ph.D. in law. Not just this so-called Doctor of Laws that you have now, J.D., but which was the Ph.D. in law so-called. And in other words, it permitted that person to skip a Master of Laws. The normal routine would’ve been a Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws, and Doctor of Laws. Some people thought that’s the way you ought to go in order to be a teacher. I think that’s ridiculous. The way you ought to go is Bachelor of Laws, practice, and teaching, because I think the practice is more important than additional work. But, the graduate work after teaching, a little bit, or the opportunity to do research—concentrated research—after teaching was great. And so, the degree that I worked on at Harvard was really a research degree, in the sense that I took very little course work, and mostly I was involved in writing a thesis, and doing research under supervision at Harvard, under some of the best teachers in the United States.

BB: Tell me who you worked with at Harvard.

PK: Warren A. Seavey was the main one. Warren A. Seavey was the man who had a torts book with Thurston. There’s a copy of Seavey, Treat and Thurston.

BB: Right, I see it.

PK: Well, at the time I went to Harvard, that was a Harvard course book—a Harvard-produced course book by Seavey and Thurston. They were two of the people that supervised my research—Seavey, Thurston, and Magruder at Harvard Law School. Thurston was a good deal older than Seavey at that time. I think he died two or three years later. In any event, when Thurston died, Seavey asked me to join him in revising the book. And of course I jumped at the opportunity, because it gave me an opportunity to get some national recognition. And so we kept Thurston’s name, and the book became Seavey, Keeton, and Thurston for a time. Then my brother, Bob, joined the Harvard Law Faculty some time later, and it became Seavey, Keeton and Keeton. Then it became, see, way up there, Keeton and Keeton.

BB: Right. (Laughs.)

PK: The point is, you never know what’s going to happen to you that’s good for you. But it just turned out that my association at Harvard was the best thing that ever happened to me nearly, because I got an opportunity to be associated with some of the best torts teachers in the United States—two or three of the best torts teachers in the United States. And I made a good enough impression on them that Seavey asked me to join with him in the casebook work. I could’ve gone to other schools, at that point. I didn’t have any desire to go anywhere except back. I wasn’t talking to anybody else. I wasn’t negotiating with anybody else. I wanted to come back to The University of Texas.

BB: OK. Well, my tape’s just about up. This would probably be a convenient place to stop, for now, and then we’ll pick it up later on.

PK: OK. All right.

BB: Thank you.


This is the third interview with Dean Page Keeton at his office at The University of Texas law school. The date today is July 16, 1986 and I’m Bill Brands.

BB: Dean Keeton, after you came back to The University of Texas from Harvard in 1936, how long was it before you became assistant or associate dean.

PK: Assistant dean, in 1940.

BB: How did that come about?

PK: Came about because at that point in time, Hildebrand resigned as dean. And Charles T. McCormick, from Northwestern, who had at one time been on the law faculty at The University of Texas law school in the early ’20s, had returned to the law school as dean. And he came to me—I think before that, Hildebrand had not had an assistant dean—but he came to me and asked me if I would be willing to serve as assistant dean, which I did. Of course, that meant that I was primarily in charge of students, and their registration, and their problems, and so forth. It was kind of a students’ dean’s job.

BB: And you were what, all of about 30 years old at this point, 31?

PK: I was born in 1909, so I was 31.

BB: Did your relative youth cause any problems?

PK: No. No, it didn’t cause any problems. I expect that made it easier to deal with students. I wasn’t so far removed myself, and so I think I understood their problems. I don’t think there ever was a rule that a faculty could adopt that didn’t need some equity in the administration thereof. There should be some exceptional circumstances justifying special treatment. And so I got pretty well acquainted with dealing with problems of that kind. And later on, when I became dean, I got an assistant dean that operated the same way. (Laughs.) That’s the only way I would’ve had one.

BB: Were you in that position, then, when the United States got into World War II?

PK: Yes. Yes. Of course Pearl Harbor was 1941. And I devoted a good part of my time, from that point to the end of that school year, dealing with students in their leaving the law school for the military service. We were able to work out a program, pursuant to which we gave a good many students full credit for the spring semester, even though they withdrew in the middle thereof, where they were drafted or went into the military service—at least, students who were scheduled to graduate in May of 1942. So, we worked out a program, and I did a great deal of it, pursuant to which we gave degrees, with the law faculty’s permission and The University’s permission, to a lot of students who didn’t complete that last semester of work.

BB: And was it also understood then that students who left, say, in their first or second year, to go off to the military, would be accepted back?

PK: Oh, yes. They were accepted back, and my recollection is that we probably didn’t make them repeat that semester’s work. We gave them semester’s credit, too, if they withdrew after at least they’d completed the major part of the semester.

BB: Were you still around when the fall semester of ’42 began?

PK: No. No. Everybody was leaving, and it appeared that the law school would be left with an enrollment of no more than 40 or 50 students, which happened, during the war years.

BB: Do you remember what the size of the law school was, say in ’41, just before the war, by way of comparison?

PK: I’d say it was about 750.

BB: That’s quite a drop.

PK: It got down to 50.

BB: Of those 750 in 1941, how many of them were women students?

PK: How many women? I would say no more than seven or eight.

BB: (Laughs.) So that you couldn’t count on the women to keep the enrollment up.

PK: I’d say no more than 1%, probably weren’t that many. I’d say five or six.

BB: While I’m thinking about it, was there any attempt to boost the numbers of women, or for that matter, to keep the numbers down? Either one?

PK: No attempt either way. It just wasn’t the period when the sex revolution had come on, and women weren’t coming to law school. We had a few women who graduated with my class in 1931, and there hadn’t been much change in that up till World War II.

Now I tried to get into the military, by way of getting a commission. I had two children, and my wife’s mother and my mother living with us. So I had quite a dependent group. I tried to get a commission, but I couldn’t pass the physical, for two reasons. One was I had one eye that was defective. I’ve always had a defective right eye, in the sense that I didn’t see much out of it. It was called an idle eye, which wouldn’t have impaired my work as a commissioned officer, because I wouldn’t have been shooting a gun. But nevertheless, they had the foolish requirement that I couldn’t get a commission because of that. And also because I was running high blood pressure most of the time. I was a typical person with somewhat higher blood pressure than is normal. But anyway, I couldn’t get a commission, so I offered my services to the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C.

. . . .

BB: Well, what tipped the balance in your decision to go back to academia?

PK: Oh, I don’t know. My wife in part. She wanted to come back to Austin. But, no, I think I made that decision. And I think I’d have been happy either way, because what I would have done is work with the law in some capacity or other. But I came back.

BB: Professor Hodges told me that the class of students that returned from the war was the best class he’d ever had, in terms of motivation and desire to get on with their lives, feeling that they’d lost time. What was your impression?

PK: I’ll agree with that in general. When I came back from the war—I mean, from Washington—I call my experience in Washington fighting the battle of the Potomac—but anyway, when I came back, I didn’t stay but nine months, because I went to Oklahoma. But I had the same students at Oklahoma and for one semester here. I taught contracts in the spring of ’46 to 250 students in one room. They were hanging out the window. The GI’s were coming back. Now, there’s no question but what they were more highly motivated than any group of students I think we’ve ever had. They’d been in the war several years. They were getting up in years. A lot of them were married. They needed to get out and get to earning. They were real highly motivated. They were by no means as smart as the students we’ve got now, because at that point in time, we were admitting anybody with a C average and three years of college work towards a degree plan of some kind.

BB: OK, so the law school still wasn’t requiring a bachelor’s degree?

PK: It still wasn’t requiring a bachelor’s degree. They were requiring one more year than they required when I entered the law school. But they still weren’t requiring a bachelor’s degree. The main thing is that it was not the degree requirement that caused us to get so many students that weren’t capable of getting through. It was the average requirement. No admission tests—just a bare C average would get you in—and the result was that about half the students weren’t qualified. So while they were highly motivated, a lot of students in the class couldn’t follow what was going on, and they would hold up the classroom discussion. The level of discussion was not nearly as good as you can make it today. But the students were much more highly motivated than they were today.

BB: Tell me about the circumstances that led you to Oklahoma.

PK: Mainly the offer of a deanship. See, I didn’t get back from Washington until about October or November of ’45. I went to the law school association meeting in December. At that point it met December 28, 29, 30 every year. I went to the Association of American Law Schools meeting, and a committee from Oklahoma requested that I visit with them regarding the deanship. So I interviewed the committee that was present at that meeting, and then they invited me to come in the spring to visit the whole faculty—with other candidates, like you always select deans, and, administrators. In about March, I was offered a deanship at the University of Oklahoma, having been back only a few months, and we’d just bought a house. I decided to take it, and we moved to Oklahoma in June of ’46. And the reason mainly was that the Oklahoma law school wasn’t nearly as good as this law school. It didn’t have the financial support this law school had. But I wanted to experience running a law school. At that point in time, I was just 40. You don’t make a binding commitment to stay forever. You’re just trying out an experience. And I doubt if I would have been dean of The University of Texas law school if I hadn’t gone to Oklahoma, simply because they got in a big fight here, while I was gone, over Rainey. You probably know something about the big fight.

BB: Right.

PK: And the faculty everywhere was divided in that struggle, and I would’ve taken a position, no doubt. But the result would’ve been that I wouldn’t have been asked by the faculty to be their dean. I suspect that.

BB: How did you like your years at Oklahoma?

PK: Fine. Enjoyed it. The GI’s came back there, too. It was about 500 and some-odd students—600 and some-odd students. They had had about 200 and some-odd before the war, so they had a similar increase to what was present here. And all the problems of trying to handle that vast increase were present there as well as here. Space at the University was short, and the president appointed me as chairman of the Space Committee for the whole University. In other words, I had not only to run the law school, but to deal with how space was going to be utilized at the University of Oklahoma, where you had competing arguments for the use of the space that was available, and what priority you would take in trying to get additional space. He said when I left there that he valued my services more in that capacity than as dean of the law school, because it—(laughs)—saved him enormous problems.

BB: (Laughs.) You said you went to Oklahoma with the idea that you’d like to run a law school. Did you have any particular ideas that you wanted to implement? Anything particularly you wanted to accomplish as dean?

PK: Not really, no. Of course, I had ideas about how a law school ought to be operated, from what experience I’d had as assistant dean, which was of some help. We did some things well. We did several things there that I thought helped to put the law school more in line with the best law schools. We started the law review. They didn’t have one. We’d had one at Texas since 1925. They didn’t have one at Oklahoma.

BB: Did you have any model in mind of what the University at Oklahoma law school ought to look like? Were you patterning it on some other law school?

PK: Yes, of course, on the basis of this law school to a considerable extent. But also, with what weaknesses I thought we had here, too. In other words, you were trying to make a first-rate law school out of it, so the first thing you give attention to is the faculty. That was one of the reasons the Oklahoma law school wasn’t as good as Texas, because they didn’t have as good a faculty as Texas. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a few professors that were good, but the first distinction is the faculty. And so I got some ideas as to what a law school ought to be like from that experience that helped me here. For example, I started fund-raising there, and I came here with the first priority being that of fund-raising for the law school, which was greatly objected to by The University administration.

BB: Was it objected to at Oklahoma also?

PK: Yes. Administrative officials did not want any division of The University of Texas seeking money for that division. They wanted money sought for The University at large, with the Board of Regents in charge of how that money was to be used, and you didn’t raise anything that way. Or very little. It was hard to sell the Administration on that notion. Of course, we started it here at The University of Texas, where a division would solicit its alumni, and its friends, and the industry and everything, for support of legal education. Shortly after we got it going, the engineers started doing it. They found great success in doing it. Then the business school, and so on, and so on. Of course it’s worked out real well, but the law school started that.

BB: I’d like to come back to this more later on, but I can’t help asking this question now. Once the law school started raising money on its own, did you find that the administration or the regents, whoever allocates the money generally, began to take that into account, saying, “Well, look, the law school has money of its own?”

PK: That was one thing we anticipated. And one thing that the administration objected to, which we did, was to create The University of Texas Law School Foundation. I just didn’t run the fund-raising through the office here by appointing somebody. We created a corporation—educational corporation, the University of Texas Law School Foundation, with a powerful Board: Dan Moody, Sylvan Lang from San Antonio, and Charles I. Francis from Houston, Jim Sheppard from Bergrom’s—powerful Board, that the administration just couldn’t just brush off. And so, the funds were raised by the Board, and appropriated by the Board annually on the basis of my recommendation, through The University for certain support. That way, you see, you retain a good deal of control, and if you begin to see that they’re cutting down on your—and they did start to do it from time—I don’t think they’d try to do it any more, but they did for a while. And all I would do then was apprise my board of what was happening, and pretty soon it got stopped.

BB: I’ve always wondered about that, how you deal with that problem.

PK: That’s the way you dealt with it then.

BB: OK. Maybe we have time for one more question. How was it that you came back to The University of Texas? Tell me a little bit about the circumstances.

PK: Well, McCormick decided to resign as dean in the fall of ’48, or just to serve for the rest of that year. And so the faculty did as was customary, I think, select a panel from which the board and the president would select a dean. And I was one of three on the panel. The other two were Jim Hart—you know who Jim Hart was, who later was on the Supreme Court of Texas, I think, and A. W. Walker, Jr.

BB: Was he still on the faculty here at that point?

PK: He was not on the faculty at that point. He had resigned and gone into practice. I think that they offered that job to the other two before they offered it to me. And I think the regents were a little reluctant, but I had a powerful constituency. The constituency that I had were the students who had graduated from this law school from 1932 until the war. And they had, in the course of that time, gotten to be fairly influential in a lot of ways. There’s no question but what they might’ve supported the others, too, but they thought I was qualified. And I got a call one day from the chairman of the Board of Regents, who later became my very good friend and supporter in everything that I did—Dudley Woodward, from Dallas. I had a call from him in the summer, early summer—no, May, I think it was, May of ’49—to come up and visit with him about the deanship. He was really the president of The University, just between us. . Painter was not a very strong president. He was the one that came after the big fight.

BB: I gather that was one of the reasons he was chosen.

PK: That’s the reason he was chosen. So Dudley Woodward asked me to come up. And I didn’t realize quite what kind of a meeting was here. But when I got to Dallas, he had scheduled a meeting with about 15 or 20 lawyers present, who mostly were friends of mine. We had about a two or three hour meeting. And when we left the meeting, and I went with Dudley Woodward to pick up my wife, he said, “Well, you’re going to be our dean.” (Laughs.)

BB: (Laughs.)

PK: See, he didn’t wait to tell me, to visit with the president. (Laughs.) That’s not the way to select a dean, but I took it.

BB: Did it cause any problems with Painter?

PK: No. No. Painter and I got along very well. I liked Painter. He and I got along very well, over the years.

BB: Well, I think we better stop now, but thanks very much.

PK: Yes. Well, thank you.-+++++++




This is the fourth interview with Dean Page Keeton in Austin. The date today is July 28, 1986.

BB: Dean Keeton, were you dean here when the Sweatt case originated?

PK: No.

BB: That originated under your predecessor.

PK: That’s right.

BB: Where did you pick it up? Or I should say, where . . .

PK: I didn’t have anything to do with that case. I was in Oklahoma, at the time the Sweatt case was pending down here. You see, I went to Oklahoma in June of 1946. And the Sweatt case was pending here at the same time Ada Lois Sipuel, a black woman, was trying to get admitted to the University of Oklahoma, so I participated in the Oklahoma case. I did not participate in the Sweatt case, but I admitted both students. I admitted Ada Lois Sipuel—who turned out to be Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher by the time the case was concluded. I admitted her in June of 1948, I believe it was, and admitted Sweatt in September of 1949 to this law school. So I admitted the first black student to a separate state law school. Now, both were under order of the court. But I testified in the proceeding in Oklahoma, which was tried in Norman, Oklahoma, in which I testified in behalf of the blacks, on the ground that the separate state law school that was set up would not be equal to the University of Oklahoma law school, of which I was dean.

BB: Right. Was the separate law school in Oklahoma as hurriedly put together as the one in Texas?

PK: Yes. Actually, the one put together in Texas was better than the one put together in Oklahoma, but they were both put together hurriedly. The one in Texas was better, because it was staffed with University of Texas law professors, teaching part-time in the separate law school set up at the Capitol, and the dean of The University of Texas law school, McCormick, was also the dean of the separate law school. They asked me in Oklahoma to do the same thing, and I refused with permission of the president of the University of Oklahoma. In other words, I didn’t want to participate in what I regarded as an unsound step.

BB: Did either you or the president of the University of Oklahoma come under any pressure from the regents?

PK: No. We had a good chairman. And when I went to the president, he said, “Well, I will support you.” And the regents put no stumbling block to that. Now, something happened there that I thought was likely to result in trouble. I was subpoenaed to testify by the State of Oklahoma through the Attorney General. But before he subpoenaed me, I told him that I wasn’t going to testify that the separate law school was equal to the University of Oklahoma, and that I would not be in favor of his position. He understood that, and subpoenaed me in the hope that this would throw off the opposition—he wasn’t going to call me. He was just subpoenaing me, and would not call me, but he thought that that might throw off the other side.

BB: Had you been in contact with the other side, then?

PK: I had not been. On the other hand, I had worked with a lawyer by the name of Ming, who was a black lawyer that worked with me in O.P.A. during World War II—in other words, between ’42 and ’46, several years. So he was a friend of mine. He had a pretty good conviction of what my position would be, and he advised Thurgood Marshall, who is now on the Supreme Court and who was operating everything at that time, to go ahead and subpoena me to testify. He also offered a member of the law faculty to testify, who had volunteered himself to testify in behalf of the blacks. So we were both called to testify by Thurgood Marshall. He testified emotionally, and . . .

BB: This was your colleague?

PK: —my colleague—emotionally, and in many ways poorly, about the fact that the law school that was set up was a fake, a fraud, and a deception, and it was about time the Attorney General of Oklahoma started upholding the Constitution.

I testified much more calmly, much more rationally, about the fact that I didn’t think it would be equal and why it wouldn’t be equal, and so forth. And the wolves started howling—not against me, but against him—and it looked like he was going to get fired by the regents. And I wrote a long letter to the regents, addressed to the chairman of the Board of Regents, who was general counsel of Phillips Petroleum Company, and a very able and progressive individual. And I wrote a long letter about what the consequences would be of discharging this professor, who I thought had testified passionately and unsoundly and had made a mistake. But I said that it was not a mistake that I thought ought to justify discharging. After all, his position was in effect no different from mine. I wrote a long letter about what the consequences would be for the University of Oklahoma law school if he was discharged and what it would appear to be nationally, and closed with the statement, humorously, “After all, one of his forebearers lit the lantern that sent Paul Revere on his famous ride,” which was true. (Laughs.) And he didn’t get fired.

And when I left the University of Oklahoma—I can’t recall the chairman’s name right now—he said the only thing that saved that professor was my letter. (Laughs.)

BB: (Laughs.)

PK: But the Board of Regents was surprisingly tolerant of the position that I was taking that the president supported me in, and I suppose in many ways the heat that he generated took it off me because his was much more.

BB: When you arrived at Texas in ’49, where was the Sweatt case? Had it gone to the Supreme Court?

PK: Now, I’ve lost track of just how those cases—I think her case came up before his case.

BB: I think that’s right.

PK: And in her case, the decision was not quite as specific as it was in his case. When she was admitted, they still had the idea that segregation per se was not necessarily unlawful.

BB: Well, if I recall, in fact, that was the holding of the Court in the Sweatt case, that the thing which made the situation in Texas unconstitutional was that the law school for blacks was not equal.

PK: Yes.

BB: OK, but it wasn’t inherently unequal.

PK: Well, that’s probably true. It’s probably true of both cases. In her case, she was admitted and segregated in the classroom.

BB: How was that done?

PK: Putting a sign up, or putting an area up, “For Colored Only.” Now of course, this was at the insistence of the Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma, and the opinion apparently did not prevent this. As a matter of fact, there was another case up there, the McLaurin case, which wasn’t a law school case. And they had him sitting outside the classroom, right, I think, at the door to the classroom, where he could overhear. Now, that, gave the student the opportunity of being present at a law school that was no doubt superior to the separate law school that she would’ve been attending, but it was much more demeaning than if she’d been kept out altogether.

BB: I think so.

PK: Well, anyway, for two or three weeks, that sign was there. Now, the custodian came to me immediately and said, “Those students”—of course the students knew how I felt, and knew how the law faculty felt in the light of the leadership that I was giving then, and most of the students were opposed to this, just like most of the students were opposed here. It was the older people, and the politicians, and so forth, that were opposed to integration. So most of the law students at Oklahoma were just like the law students here—young students, and GI’s, and a few people that participated in the war in favor of all this integration. And so, the custodian came to me and said, “That sign is being moved around, and one time it was put in front of the professor.”

BB: (Laughs.)

PK: (Laughs.) And he said, “What am I going to do about it?” Well, I said, “You just put that out in the morning and then forget about it. I don’t care what happens to it. Put it up, forget about it.” That happened for a few weeks, and finally we just quit putting it up at all, and to hell with the Attorney General. (Laughs.)

BB: I don’t imagine he visited the classes very often.

PK: No. Anyway, that’s what happened at Oklahoma. Then I came down here in 1949, and enrolled Heman Marion Sweatt.

BB: How was that experience, compared to this situation in Oklahoma?

PK: Well, it was a little easier. I’d had a little more experience with it. The day he was to be enrolled, a bunch of journalists had requested, permission to come in and photograph me enrolling him in the law school. And I said, “I’m not going to allow it. We’re going to enroll him, we’re going to enroll him calmly and without fanfare, and I don’t want the people stirred up over this thing.” I said, “You’re not going to do it. And I’m not going to let you do it, unless the president orders me to do it. And I’m going to raise hell if he tries to order me to do it.” Well, they said, “We’re going to come in anyway.” I said, “I’ve got a bunch of law students around here that says you’re not.” (Laughs.)

BB: (Laughs.)

PK: So they didn’t show up. I had a number of letters. I had a letter from an acquaintance, who wanted, for example, to have his son, who was then a senior, take his last year’s work at Baylor—transfer it to The University of Texas, but he didn’t want his son going to law school “with a nigger.” And—(laughs)—I wrote him a long letter, castigating him, and he sent it to the chairman of the Board of Regents, in the hope that that would cause me trouble. The chairman of the Board of Regents was the person we talked about last time, who really employed me. He wanted me to succeed, and he was a friend. And he wrote him back, and he was supporting me all the way. I wrote him and said—truth of the matter that I made a mistake. I did make a mistake. I did the same thing that my colleague did at Oklahoma, and over reacted. I should’ve written calmly a letter, simply saying, “Well, I just simply don’t agree with you, and we’re not going to do this. If people get a degree at The University of Texas law school, they’ve got to have a valid reason, such as illness, or being called away to another state or something, to justify making an exception to the general rule that the last year of work must be taken at The University of Texas law school.” That’s what I should’ve said and quit. But I overreacted. I should have that letter.

BB: (Laughs.)

PK: It must be in the files. (Laughs.)

Now there was a group of students who came to me and said, “We don’t want to go to the same restroom”—that’s Texas, too—“as these blacks are going to. We object to them. We want you to have a separate ‘black only’ restroom.” So that type of segregation they wanted within the law school. That might’ve been lawful at that time, I don’t know, but I wasn’t about to do it. But we did have two restrooms—two men’s restrooms, fortunately, and not just one. And so I called the blacks in. I said, “Look, I’ve got a group of rednecks here that object to using the same restroom you use. Now, they wanted me to set up a ‘For Blacks Only’ restroom. Well, I refused. But, will you voluntarily use just one of those men’s rooms, instead of both of them. We won’t put up any signs or anything.” They said they would. And so I told these rednecks that they could use this other one. And they didn’t have much complaint then.

BB: Did that sort of attitude persist very long after the school was integrated?

PK: No. I didn’t ever have any enforcement rules about that. That was purely voluntary, and that was the last I ever heard of it. We must have won them.

BB: What were the numbers of black students in the law school?

PK: My recollection is we admitted six.

BB: In the first year?

PK: At the time we admitted Sweatt, all in the first year. And it was good that we did, because I think two or three of those six—I believe two—succeeded. The only two. Of course, at that point in time, about half the whites weren’t succeeding, because we had general admission standards which were very low. Of course, the blacks as a group were not as well trained, obviously, as the whites as a group. But at least two of them were able—without any favoritism given to them, or any discrimination made in their behalf—to succeed under the rules of the law school. Sweatt was impossible. He couldn’t write a simple sentence. He just had a terrible background.

BB: Did the numbers of blacks remain very low through most of the 1950s?

PK: Yes. Yes. For a while we didn’t have any kind of an affirmative action program. And there’s no question but what the blacks felt that they would not be treated fairly, and so The University of Texas was not a popular place. Moreover, those few blacks that were qualified were heavily recruited by first-rate law schools out of state, like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and all, and so we didn’t get very many. We didn’t start any affirmative action program until, I suppose, ten years after they were qualified, and we were not getting over three or four a year into the first-year class, during those years. Then we started an affirmative action program, pursuant to which we tried to identify and get scholarships for qualified black and brown students. I, as a matter of fact, became chairman of CLEO. I don’t know what year that was. The American Bar Association—at the time Lewis Powell was president, and at the time I was president of the Association of American Law Schools—1961, or thereafter. I was president in ’61. Anyway, along about that time, the American Bar Association decided to raise money and support affirmative action in behalf of qualified blacks. And I was chairman—Council of Legal Education Opportunity—CLEO—and I was made chairman of that by, I think, by Lewis Powell. I’ve got two good friends on the Supreme Court of the United States—Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell. Lewis Powell came down here at my retirement, and spoke. The faculty invited him. So we got somewhat active. I don’t remember the timing on this. The files, I’m sure, would show it somewhere. But I think our affirmative action program, once adopted, had two ideas. One was financial support, so that we could attract just like Yale, Harvard, and some of them were attracting good students; and two, to help the black people and others from getting the notion that they were going to be discriminated against once they got into law school and weren’t welcome.

We wanted them to know that they were welcome, that they were going to be treated fairly. And thirdly, I suppose I ought to say that we decided that there would be some bending, but there wouldn’t be anything like equal recruitment in proportion to the number.

BB: Like a quota system?

PK: Quota. It wouldn’t be anything like a quota system. That I always thought was ridiculous, and still think so. So, that I didn’t want to admit students that I didn’t think could succeed, once they got here, being treated like other students were treated. Why take people, and then bust them out, or should we take people and apply different standards to them after they got here, from the standards out for others. And I said, “No! After all, we want good lawyers. Whether they’re black, brown, or whatever, we want good lawyers.” We never took very many while I was dean, simply because we couldn’t identify very many that we thought would be able to succeed, assuming you applied to them the same standards of excellence that ought to be applied to anybody who wanted to be a lawyer. Now, they’re taking more now, by a good deal, than we took. I think there are more people that are qualified than there used to be. After all, the educational process ought to be improving.

So that there’re more that would meet the qualifications that we had when I was dean. And I think they’re getting over the notion that we don’t want them here at The University of Texas. I think they’re becoming reconciled to the fact that we do want—and all The University wants—black students, as well as brown students, who can meet our University standards, at whatever level they’re admitted. And I think, thirdly, they’ve relaxed somewhat, too, more than we had. But anyway, that’s the history of the situation.

. . . .

BB: When did the law school move into Townes Hall?

PK: ’53.

BB: What was your role in getting the new building built?

PK: Well, that was the second—I had two important points to make when I was appointed dean. One was that I wanted to develop financial support for the law school that I talked about, and the other was that we needed a new law building. The old law building was just simply inadequate.

BB: That was the one down on 21st and Speedway?

PK: On the corner of 21st and Speedway. You probably knew it as Pearce Hall, or was it torn down when you arrived.

BB: I don’t think it was here when I arrived.

PK: It was on the corner of 21st and Speedway, where the business school nearly occupies that space now, or maybe something else, but I think it’s mostly occupied by the business school. We recommended three places—one was where the business school is—that big space. Another was where it is, and a third was out at the golf course. And as you know, The University has property out there.

BB: Out on Lake Austin Boulevard.

PK: Yes. No, wait a minute. It was not where the business school was. We recommended this place, and the one out there, and I believe that’s all. And the Faculty Building Committee of The University of Texas wanted to put us where the business school now is. And I objected, and I remember Leon Green, who was a distinguished faculty member and educator for many years, came to me and said, “Don’t let them do it, Page. You do whatever you can to stop that.” And, of course his reasoning was, and I knew it was, when we made the other recommendations, that that was not a good site, because we were likely to need expansion. I think I had planned for a building that would take care of a thousand students. I went to the President about it, and said, “I would like to contest this. And I would like to appeal from your decision.”

BB: This was Painter?

PK: Painter—“and go to the Board of Regents about it.”

And, well, he said, “That’s all right.” He wasn’t going to support it but said, “It’s all right if you want to try to accomplish that.” In my usual style, I went to about half a dozen strong alumni, powerful, legal alumni, and went to Houston to a meeting and told them in some detail about the needs of the law school, what we were trying to do, and about a continuing education program that we hoped to develop, involving lawyers who come in for continuing education courses and the like, which hadn’t been engaged in by the law school in any extent, and that we needed a place that wasn’t so crowded or would be so crowded, space that The University wouldn’t need. I took the position that The University would need the space badly that was being given to the law school. And it’d be better for us to be somewhere else, because we didn’t need to be right next to some other department or some other area. And anyway, I convinced them of the soundness of my position. And I said, “Well, now, what I want each one of you to do, I’m sure each one of you know some member or members of the Board of Regents.” (Laughs.) “I want you to go to the one of your choice or to the ones of your choice, and talk to them about this problem, and help me convince them.” Well, when the Regents met, this subject was on the agenda. I had worked hard in preparing a speech that I was going to make to them. And, when I got there and sat down, and after they got through with some other business, the chairman of the Board came to me and put his hand on my shoulder, and said—you see, he was the one that selected me.

BB: Woodward?

PK: Woodward. He said, “Page, we’re going to put that law school where you want it.” (Laughs.)

BB: (Laughs.) Easiest sales job you ever had.

PK: (Laughs.) I didn’t say a damn word.

BB: Did it occur to you in the decision over the site for the law school that you might be more independent of The University administration if you weren’t right there below the main building?

PK: Well, perhaps so, yes. Of course, some people disparagingly referred to the law school as the “Page Keeton School of Law,” indicating that I had no respect or regard for The University of Texas at large, which is not true.

. . . .