Looking into the history of Valenti scholarships: The R. Ray and Tom C. Battin Endowed Scholarship

Tom C. Battin
Tom C. Battin working in the KUHT studio

Ongoing since before the 21st century, the R. Ray and Tom C. Battin Endowed Scholarship has been serving students interested in mass communications through award funds. The Battins and their history with the University of Houston go back to the 1950s.

The scholarship is geared toward media production students as Dr. Tom C. Battin was a professor at the University for over 20 years in that department. Dr. R. Ray Battin, his wife, also taught at UH in the psychology department.

“My husband was tremendous,” Battin said about her late husband, Tom who died in 1987 at 82 years old.

Dr. Battin is 98 years old and still taking patients for her practice as an audiologist and neuropsychologist. After marrying Tom, R. Ray moved to Florida for a few years before finally making the shift to Houston with him.

“My husband had the first doctorate in mass communications that was given anywhere,” Battin said. “So, they wanted him involved with the department down there.”

In the summer of 1954, R. Ray was still working on her doctorate while Tom was invited to attend the first anniversary of KUHT in Houston. While writing her dissertation, R. Ray got a call that said the head of her department had a stroke, became very paranoid and destroyed all of the research she was working on at the University of Florida. It was her sign for a next step.

“I had to start all over again,” Battin said. “I finished that in 1959 while we were here (in Houston) and I taught some courses at the University of Houston.”

One notable course Battin reflects on is the English as a second language class she taught at UH. There were students from various countries coming to Houston not too long after the tensions of World War II. Battin said this experience enlightened her on how students who could originally hold prejudice against one another or stereotype their classmates could grow to understand each other and end up being friends.

“At the end of the class, we had a party at my house,” Battin said. “They all brought food from their various countries and it was interesting to see this development over the semester.”

When John Schwarzwalder started the department of KUHT, now Houston Public Media, UH was still considered a junior college, not a state school, Battin said. Schwarzwalder established KUHT at UH in 1948 and came from being an associate director at the Wall School of Music, according to an interview conducted by Dr. William Hawes.

“My husband not only taught courses to the students, in television,” Battin said. “But he also directed academic courses at the school.”

A big focus of Tom's work with students was behind the camera and how to use the equipment. In his courses, students were able to help direct dramas and projects that appeared on television. The most famous work Battin’s students aided was “The Comedy Hour of the Evening,” which was broadcasting the Houston school board meetings around 1956.

“There was a very interesting group of people at the school board meetings,” Battin said. “There (were) lots of arguments and fights, and it all went out over the air on KUHT. (Tom) worked almost every night of the week directing the shows.”

When the University of Houston became a state school, the need for cameras in classes, such as the ones Battin was teaching, increased. Other state schools like the University of Texas at the time were charging the use of cameras, and that wasn’t a possibility for UH students, Battin said. So, Tom arranged a deal with Channel 39 where he could take his students to practice in their studios to get the work they needed done.

Tom Battin, while this method of teaching students was going on wrote an article titled ‘The Most Expensive Pracitcum’ about the experience, according to his wife. This came with the tales of students getting to use the expensive camera equipment for the first time.

The original plan was to have R. Ray become an associate professor, but when the time came, she was not able to join her husband on the faculty due to a nepotism law, she said. This led her to open her own practice in psychology and speech-language pathology in 1959 which went on up until four years ago.

One fond memory R. Ray has of her time on the UH campus was eating lunch down in the faculty lounge.

“When I was teaching, I was always kind of a maverick,” Battin said. “There was an English professor, and we would (play) at the pool table down there. The ladies of the faculty thought that was terrible because they were ladies, but I would shoot pool.”

When Tom passed away is when R. Ray set up the endowment for students. It was not until recently that the endowment title was changed to include both of their names.

“I put as much as I can every year, but I have it in my will, so (the students) can get more from it,” Battin said. “It was to help students in television and in writing.”