Wealthy alumni threatened to pull donations to the University of Texas at Austin because its president largely stayed silent in response to student boycotts of the university’s fight song.
Students have called on the university to rewrite or replace “The Eyes of Texas” for months, The Texas Tribune reported. The song was first performed at a campus minstrel show in 1903 and is linked to Confederate general Robert E. Lee. University president Jay Hartzell said publicly that UT Austin will keep the song, but hundreds of alumni have called on him to take a stronger stance in support of the song.
“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,” Bob Rowling, a donor and alumnus, wrote in an email to Hartzell obtained by the Tribune. “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.”
Many have also threatened to pull a donation or end continuous support. University fundraisers took notice.
“[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,” Kent Kostka, president of the Longhorn Alumni Band Charitable Fund Board of Trustees, wrote to a group of administrators, including Hartzell. “This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Real damage is being done every day by the ongoing silence.”
Hartzell created a committee to examine “The Eyes of Texas” that would provide options for how the university can learn from its past, the Tribune reported. The announcement of that committee was also divisive — some alumni were concerned that the university was entertaining keeping the song. Others doubled down on their plea to keep “The Eyes,” suggesting students be required to participate in the song or that Black students who are offended by it leave the university.
Hartzell did not tell the Tribune whether threats from donors influenced his decision to keep the song.
“Many believe the song is a positive unifying force that inspires Longhorns to do their best. We also recognize that some feel differently. This is why we have taken the approach that we did, conducting an in-depth study of the history and origin of the song,” he told the Tribune in an email. “My hope is that with clarity of the facts, we can begin the process of learning about and reckoning with ‘The Eyes of Texas’ in a way that can be a model for having difficult conversations, bridging divides and understanding diverse points of view.”