E-mails from The Texas Tribune show that alumni and donors were threatening to stop funding the university and urged the university president to do more for « The Eyes of Texas ».
by Kate McGee
Before March 1, 20216 hours
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The Texas Longhorns had just lost to Oklahoma for the third time in a row – this time after four times overtime.
The bruise loss was quickly overshadowed when the then Texan quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood alone on the field to defeat the Alma- Playing the university’s mater song « The Eyes of Texas », a post-game tradition. The rest of the team, who usually stay at the end of games to sing the song with the fans, had retired from the field.
For many students at the University of Texas at Austin who protested the school for months and one Having petitioned to get rid of The Eyes of Texas, it was unbearable to see the student leader appear to take a stand. (Ehlinger later said he was only left in the field to speak to coaches.) The song – played on the tune, « I worked on the railroad » – has historically been performed on campus minstrel shows, and the title is linked to a quote from Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee.
However, hundreds of alumni and donors were more concerned about why Ehlinger was alone. They emailed UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell describing the abandoned quarterback image as « gross, » « embarrassing, » and « disturbing. » They demanded that the school stand up to « break the culture » and stand firm behind the song – otherwise the donors would go away.
« My wife and I have more than $ 1 million in endowment for athletics This could very easily be lifted if things don’t change drastically here, « one donor wrote in October. His name was edited by UT-Austin, citing open record laws protecting certain donor identities. « Has everyone forgotten who supports athletics? »
Hartzell had previously publicly stated that the university would keep the song, but hundreds of emails received through requests for public records show that the decision was made did not upset some of the most ardent supporters of « The Eyes ».
From June to the end of October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people emailed to Hartzell’s office about « The Eyes » requested that the school be closed it continues to play. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop funding the school and urged the university to take a stronger hand by protesting against students and athletes who they believed were disregarding university tradition.
« The Eyes of Texas is non-negotiable, » wrote another graduate who said he has had season tickets since 1990 and whose name has been edited by the university. « If not followed and fully accepted, I will not donate additional money to athletics or university or attend events. »
This month a university committee will be formed to document the history of the song , is set to release its highly anticipated report, which is likely to rekindle the debate within the school community.
While those who emailed represent a fraction of the more than 540,000 UT Austin alumni, resolved Some university fundraisers alert their threats.
« [Alumni] pull planned gifts, cancel donations, step away from causes and programs they have been passionate about for years, even decades, and turn away in disgust. Last night wrote they texted me at 1:00 am trying to find a way to go to Kent Kostka, President of the Board of Trustees of Longhorn Alum ni Band Charitable Fund, wrote to a group of administrators, including Hartzell. « This is not an exaggeration or exaggeration. The persistent silence causes real damage every day. »
Alumni and donors threatened to cancel season tickets, end donations and boycott games. They complained that Hartzell did not defend the song and school traditions violently enough and accused him of submitting to political correctness.
« It is a shame to see the lack of unity and our fiercest competitor Sam E [h] almost stand alone, « wrote a graduate whose name was also edited by the university to protect the identity of a donor. « It is a symbol of the disorder of this football program that you inherited. The junk of critical racial theory picked up by the football program and the university is causing massive irreparable damage. »
Among the donors who contacted, was billionaire businessman and alumnus Bob Rowling, whose holding is owned by Omni Hotels and previously Gold’s Gym and whose name adorns a building within McCombs School of Business. besides saying that ‘The Eyes’ has to be our song, « wrote Rowling to Hartzell. « I want you to be aware of the ‘talk about the city’ in relation to UT. There are many people in this email chain who love UT and are in positions of influence. »
In an interview with The Texas Tribune stood by Rowling and said Hartzell should consider donors’ requests. « My advice to Jay was that these alumni gave and give, » Rowling told the Tribune. « We’re in the middle of a capital campaign right now. … We’re raising billions of dollars right now. If you want to dry this up right now, cancel ‘The Eyes of Texas’. »
« UT needs rich donors, The Eyes of Love Texas more than a group of irresponsible and ignorant students or faculty who don’t do what they’re paid to do, « said Steven Arnold, a retired administrative law judge and UT Austin law graduate student, wrote to Hartzell. Reaching out for comment, Arnold said he hadn’t donated to the university in recent years and was completely banned from college football after the events of last year.
Hartzell explicitly stated in July that « The Eyes of Texas « would remain a university tradition, but said the entire school community must try to understand its origins.
» The Eyes of Texas « should not only unite us, it should unite us all for the core values of our institution Hold an account. But we have to own the story first, « Hartzell said in a July letter to the university community.
Commitment to the song came from the Board of Regents and from Steve Sarkisian, the new soccer coach, who hired in January was confirmed.
From the start, Sarkisian signaled that he would take a different approach than former coach Tom Herman, who said he would respect players who didn’t want to stay to sing the song.
« I know so much, » said Sarkisian, « ‘The Eyes of Texas’ is our school song. We will sing this song. We’ll sing this proudly. «
Criticism of the song has raged for years, but this summer as protests spilled across cities across the country over police brutality against blacks following George Floyd’s death, college students called universities Relics of the past reminiscent of racist personalities.
Before the season started, student athletes threatened not to show up at fundraising events if the university did nothing and many players left the field as « The Eyes » after the first two Home games of the season began to play. In September, the students launched a petition to boycott the song, which coincided with a social media campaign called « Rewrite, not Reclaim. » « If something offends a certain population and make them aware of it. » and they have the right to be offended by it if we listen to them, « said Madison Morris, a freshman who is part of The Long horn Athletic Agency within the student government of UT-Austin.
In early October, Hartzell announced that Richard Reddick, professor and assistant dean of the College of Education, would chair a committee to review the story of « The Eyes of Texas « to review and document the past – even if it had no intention of abandoning the song.
The committee’s announcement prompted some alumni again to question whether the university would leave the door open for the song. The rhetoric among donors and alumni increased as the request to keep the song over the summer led to frustration that Hartzell needed to take a more aggressive approach. They demanded that students and gamers be part of the university tradition. Multiple emails have argued that black students should switch schools or leave the state.
« It’s time for you to step down and make it clear that the Texas legacy is not being lost wrote another donor who graduated in 1986. Your name was also edited by UT-Austin. « It’s sad that it offends blacks. As I said, blacks are free and it’s time for them to move to another state where everything is in their favor. »
At least two people argued that since the black student population at UT-Austin is small, their votes should not outweigh the larger desires of the alumni base.
« Less than 6% of our current student body are black, » wrote Larry Wilkinson, a donor, who graduated in 1970, citing a statistic that UT Austin officials said they are working to improve. « The tail must not wag the dog … and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing compels these students to visit UT Austin. Encourage them to choose an alternate school … NOW! »
Wilkinson repeated his opinion in an interview with the Tribune. « Everything in life comes back on money, » he said. He said he hadn’t received a personal response to his email from Hartzell, just a general message saying the song would stay.
The controversy over « The Eyes » was for Hartzell, who came out in April as Interim president began and was officially offered the job in September, a kind of fire process.
In an interview with the Tribune and follow-up emails last fall, Hartzell confirmed the heated debate that the song had sparked.
« Many believe that the song is a positive unifying force that inspires Longhorns to do their best. We also recognize that some feel different. So we took the approach we took and an in-depth one Investigating the history and origin of the song, « he wrote in an email. « I hope that with the clarity of the facts, we can begin the process of learning and accounting with ‘The Eyes of Texas’ in a way that can be a model for difficult conversation, bridging divisions, and understanding different points of view. » »
Hartzell wouldn’t say whether donors played a role in his decision to keep the song, but emails show that the staff in his office closely monitored and summarized messages from people weighing the song / p> « Went through the inbox of [Eyes of Texas] again this morning, » wrote Gary Susswein, former chief communications officer, to Hartzell and his deputy Nancy Brazzil in mid-October. « Almost 100 percent support for the Eyes of Texas. »
After Hartzell had sent a letter announcing the creation of the committee to investigate « The Eyes », Susswein also documented the reaction on social media.
« Opponents of the song fear that the work ahead is just a justification for keeping ‘The Eyes’ intact, » wrote Susswein. « Those who prefer the song say they’ll keep singing it no matter what the university decides. »
Recently, Texas A&M University was researching the impact donations could have if they had a campus statue of a former university president and Confederate General, Lawrence Sullivan Ross. The university is embroiled in a similarly tense debate about the monument there. According to the report, interviews with fundraising groups at Texas A&M indicated that the university can expect a short-term decline, but long-term fundraising drives are unlikely to be affected.
Meanwhile, Hartzell has skillfully avoided giving his personal opinions on « The Eyes » in interviews to communicate. But in emails he shared his feelings that the heated debate had bothered him.
« I woke up yesterday and my dog pooped on my kitchen floor, » he replied to a friendly alumnus who emailed him and applauded his leadership during the firestorm. “I thought this was a metaphor for my week!”
Emails show the problem was privately held in the president’s office, even after the school reopened during a pandemic.
As one An email from a parent at UT-Austin telling their son’s mental health problems inadvertently went unanswered, a student affairs agent asked if Hartzell’s office would like to reply directly. The president’s office declined, however.
« If you think we can [redacts] help, please go ahead, » wrote Geoff Leavenworth, a former communications director at UT-Austin who was temporarily hired to help Office in the fall to help with correspondence. « I’m afraid the Texas eyes problem is currently consuming a lot of bandwidth. »
On an email chain, alumnus Trey Hoffman distributed a letter to keep the song, which received 257 signatures. He also shared criticism and concern about the committee that was tapped to review the story of « The Eyes of Texas, » led by Reddick. The email included a large photo of Reddick who is black.
« This professor is in charge of the team / that tells us whether the song is racist or not? His Twitter account is lured and screaming. Baby trash filled « , was the headline under the photo. « UT better brings it together and uses its brain, not that biased ‘victim’ professor on UT! »
« His opinions are uninformed and imprecise, » wrote Scott Rabenold, vice president of development, who pointed out that Hoffman Donated $ 70,000 to Longhorn Athletics. “But his message is / will resonate.”
When Hoffman reached for a comment, he went back to criticizing Reddick. He said he did not write the comments in his email criticizing Reddick, but copied them from a post he saw online.
« I happen to believe that Professor Reddick is a longtime supporter from UT and its traditions, « he said. « Although his committee has not yet finalized its report, I hope they get a positive result that everyone can live with. »
Emails show that other alumni have argued that the committee promotes « Marxist ideology » and call it a product of « culture break off ». Several alumni who emailed the university called the students « snowflakes, » a term popularized by the old-right to criticize progressives who they consider too sensitive.
Almost one Dozen of emails asked whether there would be conservative voices on the committee, accusing the university of silencing non-liberal students on campus.
« I really hope you appreciate the diversity of opinion … but if you are similar to today’s science you will close conservative viewpoints and true facts, « wrote one alumni identified as Myers, who referred to himself as » disgusted alumni « from the 1984 class. » I no longer support UT (though mine Family has 3 generations of graduates) because it has become a bastion of far liberal indoctrination and only teaches one point of view … Liberalism. Sorry, but it’s clear at UT that the white male is totally insane unless you ‘woke up’. «
In an interview, Reddick said he had mostly received support and encouragement from people about the committee’s work, but said he was prepared for the divided opinions.
» I do public grants all the time. I’m used to people having strong opinions about what is being done, and I’m used to people maybe not really approaching each other openly, « he said. » But this is a collective effort. It’s not Rich Reddick’s job. It is the work of the 25 people in our church. And we stand behind the work we do. «
While the vast majority of those who emailed UT-Austin asked to keep the song, a small handful of alumni urged the president to become the alma mater and some threatened to raise funds if the song didn’t go away.
He submitted the lyrics: « The power of Texas is yours / Hail, Orange and White / The power of Texas is yours / Together we will fight. «
Another alumna and her grandmother also submitted revised texts that included a new second verse: » Do your best to be a Texan – from the night to the wee hours of the morning! The Texas sky is over you until Gabriel blows his horn! «
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business at UT-Austin, Texas A&M University, and Robert B. Rowling have The Texas Tribune Funded, a non-profit, impartial news organization funded in part by donations from members. Foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial backers are no part of the Tribune’s journalism. A full list can be found here.
Correction, March 1st 2021: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Bob Rowling’s holding company owned Gold’s Gym, which the holding company previously owned but sold in 2020.
Updated: October 21, 2020
July 13, 2020
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