Southwestern University

Southwestern University (Southwestern or SU) is a private liberal arts college in Georgetown, Texas. Southwestern is Texas’ oldest college or university, founded in 1873 as a revival of collegiate licenses awarded in 1840. Southwestern University provides 40 bachelor’s degrees in the arts, sciences, visual arts, and music, as well as multidisciplinary and pre-professional programs. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the National Association of Schools of Music, and it has historically been linked with the United Methodist Church.

The college is a member of the Annapolis Group, the Associated Colleges of the South, the Council of Independent Colleges, and a signatory to the Talloires Declaration.


Prior to its current form, the Texas Legislature (Texas Congress 1836-1845) gave charters to four educational institutions: Rutersville College in Rutersville, Texas, Wesleyan College in San Augustine, Texas, McKenzie College in Clarksville, Texas, and Soule University in Chappell Hill, Texas.

In 1873, the four universities merged to form Texas University, which opened in Georgetown.

The Texas Legislature gave a charter in 1875 under the name Southwestern University as a continuation of the charters for Rutersville, Wesleyan, McKenzie, and Soule, intending to reserve that name for a future state university in Austin, the University of Texas. Rutersville College, which began in 1840, is considered the institution’s founding date. Southwestern thus claims to be the oldest institution in Texas and the second oldest coeducational liberal arts college west of the Mississippi.

Southwestern was a founding member of the Southwest Conference in 1915. Southern Methodist University was Southwestern’s main adversary for several decades due to an unsuccessful attempt to transfer Southwestern to Dallas, which resulted in the founding of SMU. When SMU’s student body grew significantly, students at Southwestern began to regard Trinity University and Austin College as the school’s principal competitors. After WWII, Southwestern turned itself into a tiny liberal arts college, canceling post-graduate degrees, disbanding the football team, and rebuilding much of the campus with a huge capital campaign. The endowment grew significantly.

Until 1965, no African-Americans were permitted to attend the university. Ernest Clark began his studies in 1965 and graduated in 1969.

Former president Edward B. Burger stepped down in January 2020 to become president and CEO of St. David’s Foundation.

Southwestern trustee and former provost Dale T. Knobel acquired interim leadership of Southwestern until Laura Skandera Trombley began her tenure as president on July 1, 2020.


Southwestern University is located in Georgetown, Texas, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Austin. The campus is 700 acres (2.8 km2) in size, predominantly north of University Avenue, with some areas acting as an EcoLab where faculty and students conduct research. The main campus is built around a central academic mall made by a semi-circular grassy area flanked by a pedestrian path and academic buildings. Residence halls and on-campus flats are located to the east and northwest of the academic mall. Sports fields, support facilities, and parking are located on the outskirts of the main campus.

Important structures

The Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen Building (previously known as the Administration Building) was constructed in 1898 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cullen Building currently houses the administration, business office, alumni relations, and classrooms. It has also held the campus auditorium, gymnasium, chapel, and library at various periods during its existence. It is named after Hugh Roy Cullen and his wife.

Mood-Bridwell Hall, once a men’s dormitory, was erected in 1908 and now houses classrooms, faculty offices, a computer lab, the Debbie Ellis Writing Center, and an indoor atrium. Mood-Bridwell is on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the Cullen Building.

The A. Frank Smith Library Center, formerly known as the Cody Memorial Library, was built as part of a WPA project in 1939. It was extended in 1966 and again in 1989, obtaining the new name as a result of the second expansion. In addition to books and periodicals, the library has a film and audio collection, a 24-hour computer lab, maps, sheet music, and special collections for Texas history and culture, John Tower, J. Frank Dobie, Jessie Daniel Ames, Herman Melville, Aaron Burr, Edward Blake, Thomas Bewick, and Australia. 

The Lois Perkins Chapel was erected in 1950 and features an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. Stained glass windows on the east and west sides portray Reformation and Methodist figures with seals for the educational institutions with which they were linked.

The McCombs Campus Center opened in 1998, replacing the Bishops’ Memorial Student Union Building and the University Commons. It houses cafeteria facilities, the school bookstore, ballrooms, and student organization offices. It is named after billionaire entrepreneur and Southwestern alumnus Red McCombs.

The Fayez Sarofim School of Fine Arts is headquartered in the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Building, which was established in 1956 on the former land of Texas rancher John Wesley Snyder, a Southwestern University benefactor.

The Fine Arts Building (FAB) has been refurbished several times, most recently in 1998 and 2008. The FAB features the 700-seat Alma Thomas Theater, the smaller Jones Theater, the Caldwell-Carvey Foyer, many practice rooms, art studios, a black box theater, and an instrumental rehearsal hall.

The Wilhelmina Cullen Admission Center debuted in 2009, displacing the admissions office from the Roy and Lillie Cullen Building. It is Southwestern’s first “green” building and was planned to achieve Gold LEED certification. Some of the building’s features include a bamboo floor in the lobby, skylights in the center, solar-powered sink faucets, and reflective roof shingles. Southwestern intends to repurpose the section in the historic Cullen Building originally used by the Admission Office into a museum. The Admissions Center was named after Wilhelmina Cullen, the daughter of Roy and Lillie Cullen.

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