UT donors threaten to pull funds over calls to change school song with racist origins

Emails revealed alumni and donors would no longer financially support the Texas university if they separate from its racist past

Donors and alumni of the University of Texas at Austin have threatened to halt financial support for the school’s athletic department if University President Jay Hartzell did not take a stronger stance over the school song “The Eyes of Texas.”

In emails obtained by the Texas Tribunethe institution’s supporters demanded Hartzell stick to “racist roots.” According to the report, the football team suffered a loss to their athletic rivals in a competitive, quadruple overtime game. 

After losing, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger took the field alone as the fight song “The Eyes Of Texas” was played. While he later said he was only on the field to talk with coaches, the appearance of a lone quarterback after students spent months protesting and advocating for the song to be removed alarmed certain donors.

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Between late June and October 2020, Hartzell received emails from nearly 300 people with more than half of them demanding the song remain.

“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 This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” wrote one donor in October. UT-Austin redacted his name due to open records laws that protect donor identities. “Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??”

AUSTIN, TX – SEPTEMBER 21: General view of the University of Texas Tower on the University of Texas campus on September 21, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“The ‘Eyes of Texas’ is non-negotiable,” wrote another graduate in an email obtained by the Tribune. The university redacted their name, but they claimed to have held season tickets since 1990. 

The email continued, “if it is not kept and fully embraced, I will not be donating any additional money to athletics or the university or attending any events.”

“It’s time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost,” said another donor in a separate email. Their name was also kept confidential 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.”

According to Texas Monthly, student-athletes at the university decided to take a stand against racism after the recent uprisings ignited by the violent police killing of George Floyd. Committing to football season through protests and the coronavirus pandemic was not taken lightly for most.

Head football coach at the time Tom Herman told his players, “you’re a minority football player at one of the biggest brands in the country. You have a voice. Use it.”

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Afterward, two dozen Texas student-athlete, including football players, basketball players, and track team members, shared a letter on social media demanding change. The letter stated they not to participate in upcoming recruiting or fund-raising events unless certain things were addressed and reformed by the university.

Texas Monthly reported the list included renaming certain buildings on campus named after men who supported the Confederacy, creating an outreach program for underprivileged communities, creating a permanent exhibit honoring Black athletes in the Texas Athletics Hall of Fame, and replacing the fight song, which has racist language.

Valero Alamo Bowl - Texas v Colorado
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – DECEMBER 29: Casey Thompson #8 of the Texas Longhorns throws a pass in the third quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 29, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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“Eyes Of Texas” is sung at the beginning and end of every UT sporting event. According to KHOU 11, the song is sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad” and was typically performed at minstrel shows in the 1900s.

While the lyrics are not blatantly racist, the undertones and the song’s origin are.

UT Professor Dr. Edmond Gordon explained the satirical tune evolved from a phrase inspired by Robert E. Lee, “the eyes of the south are upon you.”

“Students, as students will do, decided to make fun of that and created a satirical song that have words that were appropriate to the University of Texas,”  Gordan explained. “Those are the words of the song, and they put it to the tune of a well-known song, which was ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.’”

The Tribune reported Hartzell confirmed back in July the song would remain.

“The ‘Eyes of Texas’ should not only unite us but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values. But we first must own the history,” Hartzell said in a letter to the university community, according to the report.

In early October, Hartzell announced Richard Reddick, a professor and associate dean in the College of Education, would lead a committee to review and document the history of the song so the school and community can be educated on the past, but still did not share plans to change the song.

Reddick, a Black professor, was targeted in emails after the announcement of the committee was made.

“This professor is in charge of the team/ that tells us whether the song is racist or not? His Twitter account is filled with race-baiting and cry baby [Black Lives Matter] junk,” the caption below the photo of Reddick inserted in the email read, according to the report.

“UT better get it together and use its brains, not this biased ‘victim’ professor at UT!” read an email sent by alumnus Trey Hoffman. His letter garnered over 200 signatures.

Hoffman informed the Tribune that he didn’t write the comments himself but pasted them from an online forum. Hoffman has donated $70,000  to UT Athletics.

Despite the emails threatening to abandon the university, Reddick shared with the outlet he has also received encouragement and support.

“I do public scholarship all the time. I’m used to people having strong opinions about what’s done, and I’m used to people maybe not really approaching with open minds,” he shared with the Tribune. “But this is a collective effort. It’s not the work of Rich Reddick. It’s the work of the 25 people in our community. And we stand behind the work that we do.”

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