Skip to main content

Brown-ribboncuttingRain couldn’t dampen the mood last week as the university officially dedicated its first new residence in forty years, the Fred D. Brown Jr. Residence Hall.

“This is a tremendous day for UT to be able to offer such a state-of-the-art facility,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “When I called his wife to tell her of our plans to name it after him, she said she was honored. I told her, ‘No, we are the ones who are honored.'”

UT President Joe DiPietro, Brown’s family, friends and former students, and Cheek joined in celebrating Brown’s life in a ceremony that included live music, food, and tours of the residence hall.

Brown’s son, Douglas Brown, delivered perhaps the most poignant of the day’s speeches. As he recalled memories of his father—some of which sparked laughter and some of which highlighted his impact on the sixty-plus former students of his dad’s in attendance—the standing-room-only crowd gained insight to a man responsible for making great leaps in UT’s diversity efforts.

Brown, who died in 1986, was the College of Engineering’s first director of what was then called the Minority Engineering Scholarship Program, which started in 1973.

Renamed the Office of Diversity Programs in 1999, the office serves to increase the number of underrepresented—African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, Alaskan Native, and female—students.

Once on campus, students turn to the office to gain a sense of community and find help in tackling the rigors of college, a task Brown took personally.

“Fred Brown was an extremely important person in the lives of his students,” said Wayne Davis, current dean of the College of Engineering, who was a professor at UT when Brown arrived. “He was instrumental in making sure that students didn’t just come to UT, but that they graduated.”

That notion came up a number of times on Friday during various gatherings celebrating Brown’s impact.

More than one of his former students described how Brown took a “hands-on” approach to their education.

“He would come to dorms and check to make sure you were studying and he would make a point of walking with you to class to make sure you went,” said Robert McKinney, a 1986 graduate. “He made it clear that you were down here to learn.

“He was definitely a man who made his point.”

Cavanaugh Mims, a 1986 nuclear engineering graduate, said Brown came to his house in Georgia to convince him to come to UT, something a number of his former students echoed.

Mims said that at the time he didn’t even know where UT’s campus was located, but something about Brown’s pitch convinced him to come.

Several students echoed the sentiment that Brown’s guidance was key to them not only getting through college, but thriving.

“He would come to our dorm and see if we were playing cards or studying,” said Spruell Driver Jr., who is now on UT’s Board of Trustees. “He did everything he could to make sure we were prepared for success.”

As for the dorm itself, the 250,000 square-foot facility houses about 700 undergraduates.

The building includes an art gallery, two restaurants, recreation and workout facilities, Internet and conference lounges on every floor—even its own post office.