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Exclusive: ‘The Eyes of Texas’ committee report, all 95 pages, expected to challenge narrative

After months of study, UT’s 24-person committee scheduled to release a final report on Tuesday about controversial school song

The Texas volleyball team stands together during the playing of "The Eyes of Texas" after a victory over Texas Tech at the Erwin Center in October.

Quan Cosby was on the field that magical night in January 2006 after Texas beat USC to win the national championship. He proudly sang “The Eyes of Texas,” as did thousands of UT fans in the Rose Bowl.

For the past three months, the Texas ex has been serving on a 24-person committee researching the school song’s origins as a fact-finding expedition. But fans want to know, is "The Eyes" racist? Should the university ditch the century-old song or not? 

The committee’s final report will be released Tuesday. The American-Statesman has learned the university will release the 95-page document, featuring 169 footnotes detailing the report’s sourced material. People can decide with their own eyes.

School administrators have already said “The Eyes” is staying. Asked how the report will be received, Cosby said, “Nationally, I have no idea.” As for former teammates and other UT athletes, “They want to know the truth.”

“Some of their questions about the narrative that was going was, ‘Man, why didn’t they tell us this while we were at school? Why would they have us sing this song? Why did they teach us this tradition?’ ” Cosby said. 

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“And so I followed up and our conversation was, ‘Hey, we’re about to learn. There was a committee formed. Let’s figure this piece of it out. And let’s hold judgment until we learn the truth.’ Facts — specifically to Longhorn Nation — I feel like will matter.”

The Statesman was not allowed to see the report but did speak to committee members as its release neared. The report will challenge the established narrative that’s divided fans, students and alumni.

For example, it’s widely believed that the phrase “The Eyes of Texas are upon you” is a spin on an old phrase coined by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee after he became a university president in the 1860s.

“We cannot find evidence of that,” said Dr. Richard Reddick, the committee chairman and associate dean in the UT College of Education. 

Texas football players remain on the field for the singing of "The Eyes of Texas" after beating Baylor at Royal-Memorial Stadium in October. Many players had been going to the locker room immediately after games earlier in the season. In November, UT launched a committee to examine the song's origins and produce a report.

“Bill Brands, our historian on our committee, contacted Washington and Lee University, and said, ‘Can you please share with us any documentation you have about “The Eyes of the South Are Upon You?” ’ ” Reddick said. “They couldn't find it at Washington and Lee University, where Robert E. Lee was president.”

As best the committee could research, that tidbit was traced back to a UT historical document published in the 1930s. Whether right or wrong, it was adopted as fact over the years and even used in UT’s documentation about “The Eyes” decades later.

For some, the connection to Lee is an automatic disqualifier. It’s become widely used as the first bullet point in an argument to dump the song. Once the issue gained traction last fall, football players refused to stand for the traditional postgame singing of “The Eyes.” Longhorn Band members refused to play it as well. 

The issue triggered a massive public relations disaster for the university. The Statesman received 130 pages of emails in November through open records requests that described fan anger over the issue. The majority of the emails sent to UT President Jay Hartzell expressed support for keeping the song and threatened to withhold donations if there was any change.

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The issue came storming back to the forefront last week after The Texas Tribune published another batch of emails from alumni threatening to pull their financial support. 

Around the nation, the story was perceived as wealthy UT donors giving the school marching orders. But a UT source told the Statesman that one email author had a lifetime giving total of $50. 

In a group interview Friday with the Statesman, several committee members expressed pride in their exhaustive work. Committee members leaned on the staff at UT's renowned  Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. At the group’s first virtual meeting, dozens of documents were already loaded onto cloud storage files.

Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, said he’s been involved with other projects that “couldn't hold a candle to the thoroughness of this.”

“The thing is, we’re going to have the evidence available for everyone,” Carleton said. “We will have it online. It’s an amazing archive of material.”

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As a historian, Carleton calls himself a “professional skeptic.” Still, Texas officials are braced for the idea that some people won’t believe whatever facts are published.

“They don't have to take our word for it,” Carleton said. “We can’t make people think any way, any particular kind of direction. But we can at least provide the evidence and let them understand why we produced the report that we did.”

Graduating senior Kyanna Richard, a tuba player in the Longhorn Band, served on the committee. “Going in, I was absolutely terrified,” she said. “I quickly got over that.”

“We’re hearing all of the things that people are saying on social media, but obviously, you have to clear that out of your mind because it’s not all true,” Richard said. “It’s not backed by any sources.”

Richard said there are 13 members of the Longhorn Band who identify as Black or African American. She acknowledged that “the culture of the LHB right now is very divisive.” UT administrators eventually had to suspend the band for the entire football season because the issue caused such an uproar. School officials played taped music, including “The Eyes,” during football and basketball games.

“As soon as we get this report, I know we are set to go over it and really digest this information and acknowledge, accept and do what we have to do on a personal level,” Richard said.

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Richard said she went in with a “super open mind.” Reddick started the proceedings with an anonymous survey. What did committee members think of the song? Was it racist? From there, the members found they could have dialogue in a safe environment for open expression.

“I did go in there with a little worry. Holy crap, what are we going to find out?” Cosby said. “It was dialogue. It was tough conversations. But unbelievably, I grew through going through this committee on how to go through tough situations. It actually reminded me of training camp. We have fights at camp. But it’s growth. There’s a level of respect you gain in that tough process.”

Ultimately, that’s what a university campus is supposed to be — a place for tough, fair, open and honest thought. Protest and expression are daily campus features around the UT Tower. Higher education is about opening one’s mind to new ideas.

Controversy about “The Eyes” has been drawn down political battle lines, though. Instead of an issue about a song, UT is now facing demands not to give in to “cancel culture.” Or school officials must stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement and ignore the wishes of thousands of alumni.

Hartzell has taken criticism for even forming this committee in November to do expansive research.

“When people heard a committee, their eyes rolled,” Reddick said. “You could hear the sound of collective eyes rolling across the world.”

The committee’s report is expected to become the definitive piece on the issue, serving as a permanent historical and teaching document. 

“It’s more about getting the facts out there and making sure people can at least move forward in hard conversations with a common set of facts,” Hartzell said. “There was never an ask for a judgement to be passed.”

All Texas fans can decide on their own come Tuesday.

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Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email or @BDavisAAS.