That didn’t stop alumni from flooding Hartzell’s inbox with threatening emails. “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 This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here,” one donor wrote. “Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??”
“The Eyes of Texas” references a common saying of Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee and was frequently played at university minstrel shows, in which white actors wore blackface and reinforced racist stereotypes about Black people. “Current students don’t feel pride when singing a song that is meant to bolster school spirit,” organizer Jacey Rosengren wrote in a petition to boycott the song. “It is our responsibility to listen to the voices of students. They are the life and culture of the university.”
Hartzell has made no such denunciation of the song itself, but he poo-pooed alumni who support it in a statement on Tuesday. “People who target our students with hateful views do not represent the values of the Longhorn community,” the university president said in the statement. “A few extremist views in the sample of emails the Texas Tribune reported on do not speak for the 540,000 proud Longhorn alumni who actively support our students and university.”
“Out of the many emails I received this fall, a very small number included comments that were truly abhorrent and hateful. I categorically reject them, and they bear no influence on any aspect of our decision-making. The fact that we don’t all agree on our school song doesn’t mean that we don’t all belong. Next week, the Eyes of Texas History Committee will release its report. Equipped with a common set of facts, we will then continue the conversation about our song. Having spoken to students and faculty on the committee, I truly believe we can be a model for how communities address complex problems and move forward together.”
Clinging to a song more than 1,580 people signed a petition to ban as racist is a position no reputable university should hold up as a model. Even before the revealing Texas Tribune article, the president supported the song in a statement last October. He wrote:
“The Eyes of Texas will be played this weekend as it has been throughout this season – and it will continue to be played at future games and events. While we would love the band to be with our fans at all our games, we never planned for them to perform live this Saturday. We knew this summer that, as we make our campus a more welcoming place, we would face many hard conversations. I remain truly optimistic that we will find ways to join together around our song, which has been so positive for so many Longhorns over the past 120 years.”
The emails Hartzell received didn’t exactly exude positivity. “The Eyes of Texas is non-negotiable,” wrote one graduate who bragged about having season tickets since 1990. “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.” Another wrote: “It is disgraceful to see the lack of unity and our fiercest competitor Sam E[h]linger standing nearly alone. It is symbolic of the disarray of this football program which you inherited. The critical race theory garbage that has been embraced by the football program and the university is doing massive irreparable damage.”
Although the university redacted the names of many of those who penned emails due to open records laws that shield some donors, that protection didn’t extend to billionaire Bob Rowling, President of the Longhorn Alumni Band Charitable Fund Board of Trustees Kent Kostka, or retired administrative law judge Steven Arnold.
“UT needs rich donors who love The Eyes of Texas more than they need one crop of irresponsible and uninformed students or faculty who won’t do what they are paid to do,” Arnold reportedly wrote Hartzell.
Rowling, who owns Omni Hotels and formerly Gold’s Gym, told the university president: “I am not advising you or taking any position regarding this issue right now, other than to say ‘The Eyes’ needs to be our song. I AM wanting you to be aware of the ‘talk about town’ regarding UT. There are a lot of folks on this email chain who love UT and are in positions of influence.”
And Kostka seemed to be driven to a virtual panic over the potential loss of dollars for the university. “[Alumni] are pulling planned gifts, canceling donations, walking away from causes and programs that have been their passion for years, even decades and turning away in disgust. Last night one texted me at 1:00 am, trying to find a way to revoke a 7-figure donation,” he reportedly wrote administrators. “This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Real damage is being done every day by the ongoing silence.”
Welp, silence no more. We all know exactly where the president stands on respecting the generational trauma of his Black students versus earning a dollar. Hint: It’s not with the students.