Football

Texas President Jay Hartzell unveils 24-person committee to study ‘The Eyes of Texas’

Committee features athletes, professors and administrators; Hartzell: ‘Step one is to get the truth out’

Posted November 6th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Reddick said the committee held its first meeting Thursday. “I think the dominant vibe was humility,” he said.
  • Hartzell on the band: "I’ve been trying to just give them space and support as they go on their own process of talking about a tough issue.”
  • The group is expected to complete its work by January.

University of Texas officials unveiled a list of 24 people from a cross section of the campus landscape Friday to serve on a presidential committee that will do a deep dive into “The Eyes of Texas” school song.

The committee’s work is likely to shape how millions of Texas students, alums and fans view the school not only today but for generations to come.

Texas ex Richard Reddick, the associate dean for equity, community engagement and outreach in the College of Education, is the committee chairman. Other members include former athletes, current athletes and band members, professors and the school’s historian. The group is expected to complete its work by January.

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In an interview with the American-Statesman, UT President Jay Hartzell said committee members eagerly accepted an invitation. He wants the committee to explore the song’s origins and “also the way the university has used it over time and used in broader culture.”

“The Eyes of Texas” has been UT’s school song for more than 100 years. The song, first written in 1903, was initially meant as a humorous jab at the UT president at the time, William Lambdin Prather. He took a phrase once said by Robert E. Lee and turned it into “The Eyes of Texas are upon you.”

The song was first performed at minstrel shows by white singers in blackface. Over time, the song came to symbolize university pride and is now sung before and after every sporting event and most university functions.

“Step one is to get the truth out. That I think is largely our starting point,” Hartzell said. “I think the next several months presents an opportunity to bring some things out in the open to have those conversations.”

Reddick said the committee held its first meeting Thursday. “I think the dominant vibe was humility,” he said.

“I think we’ve taken an interesting, I think, visionary approach, which is to sort of grapple with the difficulty,” Reddick said. “These are complexities that don’t really lend themselves to a simple, binary, yes-no, for-against kind of thing. It’s circumstantial, it’s it depends on the context.”

The song’s origins have always been available in the public domain, but many were simply unaware. This summer, various social justice issues came to the fore, bringing the song’s past into focus.

UT football players first refused to sing the song this season, sparking a furious backlash among fans. Ultimately, the players and administrators reached something of agreement — players were not required to sing the song, but the team would stay on the field after games to acknowledge the fans.

Enough members of the Longhorn band objected to playing “The Eyes” that band leaders had no option but to bench the entire group. The UT band did not perform for the Longhorns’ first two games because of the pandemic. But that has since given way to issues over the school song. The band will not perform the rest of the 2020 football season.

Longhorn fans sing the Eyes of Texas before a football game against Baylor at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Oct. 13, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]
A UT spokesman said about 40% of band members have some kind of scholarship money tied to being in the band. The athletic department does not offer any sort of scholarship to band members like it would athletes.

“We’ve had a bunch of conversations with the band; they’re having conversations,” Hartzell said of the Longhorn band. “I feel for them. I think they’ve gotten blasted some in social media and other circles, and I think that’s hard on them. And I’ve been trying to just give them space and support as they go on their own process of talking about a tough issue.”

Hartzell and Reddick were clear this is not some process to rubber-stamp a pre-authorized decision. That said, Hartzell confirmed the school is keeping the song and will not change the lyrics or tune.

Emails sent to Hartzell’s office obtained by the American-Statesman through an open records request are overwhelming in favor of keeping the song. Page after page in a 130-page document reveal fans threating to pull their donations or season tickets and end their lifelong support if “The Eyes” is changed.

“To assume there will be some bill of health issued on The Eyes of Texas is probably not what’s going to happen,” Reddick said. “Let’s not take the easy route, either dismiss it or just sort of make an edict and say, ‘It’s going to be this way.’ Let’s actually, you know, get into the mess.

“The reality in my opinion is there’s a real honest discussion, and there’s a pain that our students have vocalized very eloquently in 2020,” he added. “And we need to hear that. We need to sit with it, we need to empathize with it and we need to make changes.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

“The Eyes of Texas” presidential committee

H.W. Brands, Professor of History

Ricky Brown, Assistant Athletics Director, Director of T-Association

Don Carleton, Executive Director, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

Rick Church, Texas ex and Longhorn Band alumnus

Quan Cosby, Texas ex and former Longhorn football player

Jim Davis, Vice President for Legal Affairs

Logan Eggleston, Longhorn volleyball player; President, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee

Caroline Enriquez, Assistant Director of Recruitment Scholarships, Office of Admissions

Cloteal Davis Haynes, Texas Ex and President of The Precursors

Yolanda Hall, Texas Ex, Chair-Elect of Black Alumni Network

Kathleen Holloway, Communications Director, Graduate Student Assembly

Peniel Joseph, Professor, Department of History and LBJ School of Public Affairs

Sharon Justice, Former Associate Vice President and Dean of Students

Anagha Kikkeri, Student Government President

Jim Nicar, Director, UT Heritage Society

Richard Reddick, Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach, College of Education (committee chairman)

Kyanna Richard, Longhorn Band member

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Professor of Journalism, Director of the Voces Oral History Project

Victor Saenz, Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

Cherise Smith, Chair, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies

Courtney SoRelle, Captain of Spirit Squad

Ronnye Vargas Stidvent, Executive Director, Center for Women in Law

Andrew Vo, Texas Ex, Chief Human Resources Officer – Growth Markets at Accenture

Jenn Wang, Senior Director of International Advancement and Principal Gifts

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