"Harvard on the Border” is a nickname of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The nickname was on bumper stickers in the 1970s and is believed to have been coined by UTEP professor Charles Leland “Doc” Sonnichsen (1901-1991).
Since its founding in 1914, the University of Texas at El Paso has been a leader in higher education.
In 1966, UTEP – then named Texas Western College – changed the face of collegiate athletics.
An upstart squad of five African-American players beat Kentucky to win the NCAA basketball championship, breaking color barriers in college sports.
Today, UTEP is changing the face of higher education.
UTEP is the only major research university in the country whose students are predominantly Mexican-American. As Hispanics become the largest minority group, the university is winning national recognition for its innovative teaching methods and programs designed to help students succeed.
In 1914, we were El Paso’s future. We still are.
Now we’re the future of Texas and the nation, too.
Sonnichsen Family Papers
Charles Leland Sonnichsen was born on September 20, 1901 to Henry Matthew and Mary Hults Sonnichsen in Fonda, Iowa. The family moved to Hancock, Minnesota in 1903 where Leland finished grade school. In 1916 the family, which had grown to include two more boys, Lloyd and Harold, moved to Wadena, Minnesota where Leland graduated from high school in 1920.
Instead of going to one of the smaller, closer colleges, Sonnichsen attended the University of Minnesota where he obtained his BA in English in 1924. As his family did not have much money, Sonnichsen worked his way through college. After graduation, he got a job teaching in Faribault, Minnesota as an Assistant Master at the St. James School. After two years he had earned enough money to afford to attend Harvard for his Masters which he received in 1927. While there, Sonnichsen belonged to the Harvard Glee Club that gave performances around the United States. Even though Sonnichsen enjoyed singing, the performances conflicted with job interviews, and at graduation time when he returned from an engagement, the only job left for him to accept was at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Sonnichsen worked as an instructor of English for two years, after which he had accumulated enough money to return to Harvard for his Ph.D. in English Philology.
Sonnichsen received his Ph.D. in 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression. Shortly before his orals, he heard about, and applied for, a summer position at the Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy in El Paso, Texas. When no job offers came his way throughout the summer, Sonnichsen asked for an extension at the college. So started Sonnichsen’s career at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), and, from 1931 until 1933, he was an Associate Professor of English.
In June 1972, “Doc” Sonnichsen was honored with the title Professor Emeritus when he retired from UTEP. At the age of 70 he found a new career. Sonnichsen started, in July of 1972, as Senior Editor for the Journal of Arizona History. In 1976 he officially retired again and concentrated on giving speeches and lectures and researching and writing books. However, on occasion, Sonnichsen was still called in to work on various aspects of the Journal of Arizona History. Sonnichsen worked till the very end of his life and died at the age of 89 in July of 1991. In 1992, Arizona Humoresque: A century of Arizona Humor was published posthumously.
edited by Mike Blakely and Mary E. Goldman
New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
But there is more to El Paso than its rough Old West image. The University of Texas-El Paso is here, once described by noted historian C. L. “Doc” Sonnichsen as the “Harvard of the Border” and currently the home of one of the world’s foremost Victorian scholars, Robert Bledsoe, and the world-recognized Faulknerian scholar, Gail Mortimer.
UTEP Campus Compact Talk
Over the past two decades, UTEP has engaged in major institutional transformation. A university that once offered its alumni bumper stickers that read “Harvard on the Border” woke up to the reality of its surroundings and began earnest efforts to serve as an authentic and responsible catalyst for the human development of an undereducated and economically under-performing region.
Philosophy Society of Texas
All of this reminded me then of UTEP in 1971. When I arrived there, there was another kind of myth. We had bumper stickers in El Paso that said, “UTEP: Harvard on the Border.” Now, that’s amusing, but there’s also a certain pathos in it. There’s a certain desire to be something that you’re not, to turn your back on your surroundings, to isolate yourself, to be an ivory tower, to be something that you couldn’t possibly be, or shouldn’t want to be.
I am trying to remember if I had any classes with C L Sonnicsen. I think he may have been my history prof. Are there any photos available?
I remember him as being tall, thin and balding.