Homer Price Rainey, university president and gubernatorial candidate, was born on January 19, 1896, in Clarksville, Texas, son of Edward L. and Jenny (Price) Rainey. Though reared in a poor farm family, he was valedictorian of his class at Lovelady High School in 1913. He was ordained a Baptist minister at the age of nineteen, and during World War I he enlisted in the United States Army. He earned a B.A. from Austin College in 1919, and then pitched briefly for Texas League baseball teams. He taught education courses for three years at Austin College before earning a master's degree from the University of Chicago in 1923 and a doctorate in 1924. He then taught for three years at the University of Oregon, during which time he published three monographs on Oregon's public schools. Rainey served as president of Franklin College in Indiana from 1927 to 1931 and published Public School Finance in 1929. From 1931 to 1935 he was an innovative president of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. During four years as director of the American Youth Commission of the American Council on Education, he summarized numerous surveys; the summaries were published as How Fare American Youth? (1937).
Rainey was named president of the University of Texas by the board of regents in 1939. The complexion of the board soon changed due to appointments over the next several years by governors W. Lee O'Daniel and Coke Stevenson. By 1941 some regents began exercising a resolve to control faculty and courses. Several on the board pressured Rainey to fire four full professors of economics who espoused New Deal views. In 1942 the regents fired three untenured economics instructors and a fourth who had only a one-year appointment for having attempted to defend federal labor laws at an antiunion meeting in Dallas. Rainey protested in vain. He again displeased the regents when he tried to bring the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston into the university proper. Rainey also protested to the board when tenure was weakened and social science research funds were terminated. Regent D. F. Strickland wrote Rainey that the president of the University of Texas had no business suggesting anything to the regents and that if the abolition of tenure would make it more difficult to recruit out-of-state professors, Texas would be better off. The most spectacular single issue dividing Rainey from the regents was the board's repression of John Dos Passos's USA and its efforts to fire the professor who placed the third volume of the trilogy on the English department's sophomore reading list. The regents deemed the work subversive and perverted. Since the selection had been a committee decision no one was fired, but Rainey was outraged at what he believed to be a witch-hunt.
Rainey made a dramatic public statement of all his grievances to a general faculty meeting on October 12, 1944. The regents seized the opportunity to fire him on November 1, without citing any reasons. Regent Marguerite Gibson Shearer Fairchild cast the sole vote to keep Rainey. University students went on strike, and 8,000 marched in mute mourning from the campus to the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. Controversy lingered for months. Early in 1945 Governor Stevenson appointed six new regents. They made some amends, such as increasing research funds and offering reemployment to the fired economic instructors, but refused to rehire Rainey. Meanwhile the American Association of University Professors, the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, and Phi Beta Kappa reprimanded the university. The AAUP censorship lasted nine years, until the organization was convinced that the regents had changed their policies.
In 1946 Rainey ran for governor. Although he was a devout Christian, Rainey was attacked as a dangerous radical. His candidacy was identified with controversial causes-academic freedom, taxes on natural resources, labor union rights, and suspected integrationism. Four candidates concentrated their fire on Rainey. After a bitter primary, Rainey was beaten badly in a runoff by Railroad Commissioner Beauford H. Jester. Rainey was the first candidate to run for state office who was supported by an emerging urban coalition of labor, minorities, and independent progressives. In 1947 Rainey left the state to become president of Stephens College in Missouri. He joined the education faculty at the University of Colorado in 1956, received an outstanding teacher award in 1964, and became professor emeritus that same year. In 1971 he wrote The Tower and the Dome, an account of his experiences as president of the University of Texas. Rainey married Mildred Collins on July 28, 1920; they had two daughters. He died on December 19, 1985, at the age of eighty-nine.