The University of Texas-Austin heard a number of viewpoints on whether or not it should continue playing "The Eyes of Texas” after games, including some alumni saying they’d pull their donations if the tradition stopped.
The Texas Tribune obtained emails showing that, “From June to late October, over 70% of the nearly 300 people who emailed (University of Texas-Austin president Jay) Hartzell’s office about ‘The Eyes’ demanded the school keep playing it. Around 75 people in emails explicitly threatened to stop supporting the school financially, calling on the university to take a heavier hand with students and athletes they believed were disrespecting university tradition by protesting it.”
A group of Texas athletes and students began protesting the song, as well as several other campus institutions and traditions, last summer amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Daily Texan reported in October that the Longhorn Band was divided over whether or not to play “The Eyes of Texas,” while Hartzell released a statement saying the song “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.”
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“The Eyes of Texas” has roots in minstrel shows, while the title is reportedly linked to a saying from Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee.
A majority of the alumni emails to Hartzell came after Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was alone at midfield of the Cotton Bowl while the song played following a 53-45 triple-overtime loss to Oklahoma on Oct. 10. Ehlinger’s teammates didn’t stay on the field to sing with the fans.
According to The Texas Tribune, emails from alumni and donors said that Hartzell needed to show more support for “The Eyes of Texas” or the school would lose donations. They called the Ehlinger image “disgusting” and “embarrassing.”
"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 This could very easily be rescinded if things don’t drastically change around here," wrote one donor in October, as reported by The Texas Tribune. "Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??"
The emails drew attention among a number of university officials,, as well as Kent Kostka, the president of the Longhorn Alumni Band Charitable Fund Board of Trustees.
"[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," Kostka wrote to UT administrators. "This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Real damage is being done every day by the ongoing silence."
According to The Texas Tribune, a university committee is expected to release a document on the song’s history later this month.