“UT Needs Rich Donors”: Emails Show Wealthy Alumni Supporting “Eyes of Texas” Threatened to Pull DonationsBreaking News
tags: racism, sports, Texas, University of Texas, college athletics, football, public history, colleges and universities
The Texas Longhorns had just lost to rival Oklahoma for the third time in a row — this time after a quadruple overtime.
The bruising loss was quickly overshadowed when then-Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood alone on the field for the playing of the university’s alma mater song "The Eyes of Texas," a postgame tradition. The rest of the team, who typically stay to sing the song with fans at the end of games, had retreated from the field.
For many University of Texas at Austin students who had spent months protesting and petitioning the school to get rid of "The Eyes of Texas," it was gutting to see the student leader seemingly taking a stand. (Ehlinger later said he was only lingering alone on the field to talk with coaches.) The song — played to the tune of "I’ve been working on the railroad" — was historically performed at campus minstrel shows, and the title is linked to a saying from Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee.
But hundreds of alumni and donors were more concerned about why Ehlinger was alone. They blasted off emails to UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell, calling the image of the abandoned quarterback "disgusting," "embarrassing" and "disturbing." They demanded that the school stand up to "cancel culture" and firmly get behind the song — or else donors were going to walk away.
"My wife and I have given an endowment in excess of $1 million to athletics. This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here," wrote one donor in October. His name was redacted by UT-Austin, citing open records laws that protect certain donor identities. "Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??"
Hartzell had already publicly stated the university would keep the song, but hundreds of emails obtained through public records requests show that decision didn’t quell the furor among some of the most ardent supporters of "The Eyes."
From June to late October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people who emailed Hartzell’s office about "The Eyes" demanded the school keep playing it. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially, calling on the university to take a heavier hand with students and athletes they believed were disrespecting university tradition by protesting it.
The committee announcement caused some alumni to again question whether the university was leaving the door open on the song. Rhetoric among donors and alumni intensified as pleas to keep the song over the summer turned into frustration that Hartzell needed to take a more aggressive approach. They demanded students and players be required to participate in the university tradition. Several emails argued that Black students should switch schools or leave the state.
"It's time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost," wrote another donor who graduated in 1986. Their name was also redacted by UT-Austin. "It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it's time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor."
At least two people argued that because the Black student population at UT-Austin is small, their voices should not outweigh the larger wishes of the alumni base.
"Less than 6% of our current student body is black," wrote Larry Wilkinson, a donor who graduated in 1970, quoting a statistic UT-Austin officials have stated they’re working to improve. "The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!"
Wilkinson reiterated his opinions in an interview with the Tribune. "Everything in life all comes back to money," he said. He said he did not get a personal response to his email from Hartzell, only a generic message that said the song would remain.