After coming under fire for a racist history, the controversial University of Texas alma mater "The Eyes of Texas" will remain the school song after a committee review found no racist intent, according to a report released Tuesday.
Students and some alumni have stood firm in their position that the song has a racist history, pointing to certain lyrics and the song's use at a minstrel show over 100 years ago. Issues with the song came after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests heightened social tensions—and were accompanied by demands for other changes, such as renaming UT buildings with Confederate namesakes. This led to hundreds refusing to sing the alma mater at football games, football players leaving the field during the playing of the song and even the band opting out of playing it in the stands this past season.
The song has created a division between the UT community, as hundreds of alumni and university donors sent emails to UT President Jay Hartzell demanding the song remain in place, The Texas Tribune reported last week.
In recent months, a committee made up of 24 faculty members, athletes, band members and alumni reviewed the song for its origins and use over the years and have since released a 58-page report. The report states that the history of the song reflects the history of the country at that time, and while the song was performed at a minstrel show in blackface, it was intended to "parody the famous phrases of the university president."
In summary, the committee wrote, "Research by the committee has uncovered important facts and historical context, some of which have never been systematically compiled and analyzed until now ... These facts add nuance and richness to the story of a song debuted in a racist setting, common for the time, but, the research shows, was intended to parody the famous phrases of the university president."
The report states that "the eyes of Texas are upon you" phrase drew inspiration from a favorite phrase of then-UT president William Prather. The controversial lyrics were believed to be drawn from a quote often repeated by leader of the Confederate army, Robert E. Lee: "The eyes of the south are upon you."
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Do not think you can escape them
At night or early in the morn.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you
'Til Gabriel blows his horn.
But the committee found the song lyrics to have no connection to Lee. The committee also found the phrase "the eyes of ___________ are upon you" was often used before 1903.
And moving through the other lyrics, the report states that the words' meaning, which some associated with slaves escaping, is about elders having a watchful eye on students of the university.
Along with pages on various aspects of the song, the report offers 40 recommendations for healing from the history of the alma mater in a constructive way. View on page 9 here.
While the song is to stay, changes that did or are in the process of taking place on campus include:
- Renaming the Robert L. Moore building, one of several buildings that students have long protested for being named after an outspoken segregationist. Other protested buildings and landmarks, such as Littlefield Fountain and the statue of Texas Gov. Jim Hogg, will remain on campus.
- Renaming Joe Jamail Field in honor of Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams—two "Longhorn legends"—at "the suggestion of the Jamail family."
- Adding a display and statue of Herman Sweatt to the T.S. Painter Hall. Painter, a university president, denied Sweatt admittance to UT's law school and the case went to the Supreme Court, where Painter lost.
- Adding a statue for Julius Whittier, UT's first Black football player.
"My hope is that we can sing it together, mindful of our university's past and proud of the progress we've made since the 19th century."
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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