University of Texas

History of Operations Research at The University of Texas at Austin

Operations Research in the School of Engineering

In 1961, Charles Beightler (1924-2011) and Douglass Wilde were hired to work in the Mechanical Engineering (ME) and Chemical Engineering departments, respectively, at The University of Texas (UT) in Austin. As Wilde recalled in a memorial resolution following the death of Beightler, “Chuck and I first met in the dean’s office soon after joining UT Austin.  The dean told us that we were competing to see who would start an operations research program.  Immediately afterwards, Chuck and I agreed to cooperate rather than compete, our collaboration often taking place in Scholz Garten,” a restaurant that is the oldest business in Texas.

According to Wilde, he and Beightler combined their new departmental  OR courses, having the students meet together while the professors shared the lectures and issued notes. Eventually, in 1967, the Graduate Program in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering (ORIE) at UT Austin was born. Wilde having left for Stanford in 1963, ORIE was housed the ME Department, which still provides most of ORIE’s administrative support related to teaching and secretarial services. However, ORIE is an independent graduate program that admits students, provides assistantships, offers courses, and awards its own Master’s degree and, since the late 1980’s, a PhD degree (which prior to approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had been issued by the ME Department). In 1967 collaborators Beightler and Wilde won the Lanchester prize for their book, Foundations of Optimization, which grew out of the notes from their combined course.

Soon after, three more faculty were hired in ORIE - William G. Lesso (1931–2015), Paul A. Jensen (1936–2011) and Gerald R. Wagner. Jensen had just graduated with a PhD in OR from John Hopkins, and continued as a part of UT’s ORIE group for the next 35 years. (Jensen later developed the publicly and freely available website to describe models for a variety of O.R. problems. It provides more than 30 add-ins for Microsoft Excel that implement OR methods). Also, Jensen’s book co-authored with another UT faculty member John W. Barnes, Network Flow Programming, received the 1980 Book of the Year Award from the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE)).  Wagner introduced a series of courses in applied statistics and information systems that attracted many graduate students who were also military officers. Wagner had earlier worked in a corporate OR group at Swift and Company in Chicago, and resigned his faculty position at UT Austin in 1978 to start a software company, Execucom. Wagner and his UT students also created a financial modeling language called Interactive Financial Planning System which was marketed by Execucom.

By 2016 there were 13 full-time ORIE faculty including members cross-listed across other UT engineering departments.

Operations Research in the School of Business

In 1966, George Kozmetsky (1917-2003), the co-founder of a conglomerate Teledyne, came to Austin, where he accepted a position as Dean of UT’s College of Business Administration (now McCombs School of Business). Kozmetsky set about expanding the OR faculty at UT. First, he brought Fred W. Glover (Carnegie Mellon PhD 1965) to join UT’s business school. Glover remained as a UT faculty member between 1967 and 1970. Here, Glover developed a productive collaboration with business school doctoral student Darwin Klingman (1944-1989, UT PhD 1969), which in 2003 led to the creation of the prestigious Glover-Klingman Prize by the journal Networks. Klingman joined the faculty immediately after his graduation in 1969.  The Glover-Klingman research on facility location, transportation problems, and financial planning  was adopted by numerous government agencies and private companies including the Departments of Transportation and Energy, the United States Army and Navy, General Motors, Exxon, and Standard Oil.

Kozmetsky also brought to UT two well-established OR professors, with both of whom he had worked at Carnegie Institute of Technology: first, in 1968, Abraham Charnes (1917-1992) and in 1980, Charnes’ close collaborator William W. Cooper (1914-2012). Both Charnes and Cooper remained in Austin till their deaths. Kozmetsky also hired leading industrial professionals, and encouraged the entire business faculty to work closely with other fields, altering the graduate curriculum to give students a wider and more hands-on education. He would also play a monumental role in shaping Austin into the technological center it is today. At UT, Charnes and Cooper went on to make several contributions to OR.  One of these was data envelopment analysis, a form of linear programming that determines whether decision making units in an organization are making efficient use of their inputs and output.

In 1968, Glover brought Robert Eugene (Gene) D. Woolsey to UT as a doctoral student in the ME department where he completed his thesis under the supervision of Glover and Bill Lesso. Gene was subsequently awarded the highest U.S. civilian decoration, the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service, for 20 years of pro bono work for the Department of Defense and later became the thirty-third President of the Institute of Management Sciences.

Cooperation and Synergy

Glover and Lesso’s joint supervision of Woolsey was likely the first formal cooperation between the Business School and the ME department, but there were other significant occasions. As one example, when Glover returned to UT in 1988-89 as a Visiting Cockrell Family Regents Chaired Professor in Engineering, he worked with Klingman and Leon Lasdon in the Business School. Glover met Manuel Laguna, a ME doctoral student, and they later coauthored the book Tabu Search. Glover coined the term metaheuristics, and was awarded the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1998.

Over the years, the cooperation and synergy between the ORIE faculty and the OR faculty members in the business school continued.  Most of this cooperation has been informal and focused on the graduate programs in the two departments.  OR PhD students from business are encouraged to take courses from the ORIE curriculum and vice versa, and to attend seminars sponsored by the two groups.  As a result, supervising committees for these students have often been a mix of faculty members from ORIE and the business school.  This interaction has also led to joint research efforts and a number of publications that are co-authored by these same faculty members and graduate students.

Other OR luminaries

Several other OR luminaries have been associated with UT Austin, a few of which we mention below.

  • Thomas M. Cook (UT PhD 1972) was the ninth President of INFORMS. He worked at American Airlines, and also helped found Sabre Technology Services. Sabre included the largest operations research group in the world for many years.
  • James S. Dyer (UT PhD 1969) was a finalist for the 2004 Edelman Prize for his joint work on American and Russian plutonium disposition options. Dyer’s 1972 article in Management Science on interactive goal programming has received over a thousand citations.  He is a recipient of the Frank P. Ramsey Medal of INFORMS’ Decision Analysis Society and is a chaired professor in the McCombs School of Business.
  • Leon S. Lasdon (Case Institute of Technology PhD 1964) joined UT with a joint position between the business school and the ME department. Lasdon’s book Optimization Theory for Large Systems received an honorable mention by the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize Committee for best OR publication. Lasdon, along with Glover, won the 2010 INFORMS Impact Prize. Lasdon’s contribution was as a member of a team that worked with Microsoft to develop the Microsoft Excel Solver. Glover’s contribution was for his seminal work on metaheuristic algorithms.
  • R. Tyrrell Rockafellar (Harvard PhD 1963) was a UT faculty member between 1963 and 1965. His book Variational Analysis, jointly with Roger Wets was awarded the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize. He also won the John von Neumann Theory Prize in 1999.
  • UT Chemical Engineering B.S. and M.S. alumnus Michael E. Thomas (Johns Hopkins PhD 1965) was the thirty-third president of ORSA. He received the George E. Kimball medal in 1994.
  • ORIE Professor Jonathan Bard (George Washington DSc 1979) won the David F. Baker Distinguished Research Award given by IIE to recognize a lifetime of achievement, and Operations Research Division of IIE Outstanding Contribution Award.

 - Bismark Singh

Links and References

IC2 Institute, The University of Texas at Austin. About the IC2 Institute. Accessed July 7, 2015. (link

University of Texas at Austin Mechanical Engineering. Operations Research & Industrial Engineering: About. Accessed July 7, 2015. (link

Associated Historic Individuals

Bass, Frank M.
Beightler, Charles S.
Charnes, Abraham
Cook, Thomas M.
Cooper, William W.
Dyer, James S.
Glover, Fred W.
Jensen, Paul A.
Klingman, Darwin D.
Kozmetsky, George
Lasdon, Leon S.
Mood, Alexander
Rockafellar, R. Tyrrell
Rothery, Richard W.
Thomas, Michael E.
Thompson, Gerald L.
Woolsey, Robert Eugene D.