Secession: impossible and undesirable

Travis Knoll

Two weeks ago, a recently arrived international friend and I took a tour of the Texas Capitol. On our way to see this monument to Texas pride, we overheard two people discussing Texas’ right to secede from the U.S. I explained to my friend that, despite their comments, Texas could not secede from the Union.

Although little support exists for secession (18 percent of Texans support secession, according to a 2008 Zogby Poll), significantly more residents believe Texas has the right to secede (31 percent, according to a 2009 Rasmussen Poll). That doesn’t come as a surprise. Our state leaders always seem to have secession in their talking points and on their agendas. In January, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst even met with the Texas Nationalist Movement, a secessionist organization.

As a lifelong Texas resident, I’ve grown up with myths of Texas’ grandeur and been reminded constantly of the decade that Texas was its own republic. We should, however, remember that Texas begged to enter the Union precisely because it realized that the Republic of Texas was not viable. Despite this historical warning, some pundits and politicians defend secession by boasting that an independent Texas would be sustainable. Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Joe Strauss III boasts that Texas would be the 14th largest world economy, and it’s often noted that Texas is a net contributor in federal taxes. The implicit assertion is that the federal government needs Texas more than Texas needs the federal government and that if the U.S. were to somehow accept Texas’ secession, we would do just fine on our own.

Students should roundly reject this view. Texas is not self-sufficient. For example, consider what would happen to UT.

Tom Melecki, director of Student Financial Services, estimates that around 21,000 students received some sort of financial aid in 2011-2012. Of that estimated total, 11,569 students, or 55 percent of those receiving aid, received Pell Grants. Of the 21,000 students that received financial aid, 89 percent of them received a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan. Eighty-one percent of students receiving financial aid take out some sort of federal unsubsidized loan. It’s easy to see that students in need rely heavily on federal resources. This trend is likely to continue with the reduction of state financial aid, like TEXAS Grants or forgiveness programs such as B-On-Time.

Other sectors of the University would not be exempt, either, including resources to fund research. According to the 2010-2011 UT Statistical Handbook, around $262 million, or about half of all University research money, came from the federal government. If all of our out-of-state  students (11 percent of the student body) suddenly became international students (now 9.1 percent of UT students), the workload of UT’s International Office would double overnight, and new agreements would have to be established to facilitate exchanges with the  now-foreign U.S. universities.

There is no guarantee that out-of state and international students would stay at UT.  Out-of state students can rely on federal monies to help them defray the costs of out-of state tuition, but they would now have to attend UT without the subsidy of the federal government, and with the emphasis on balancing budgets in our Legislature nowadays, there is little chance that they would receive Texan federal aid. These students might decide that it is better to go elsewhere. If they were to opt for other more affordable universities, we would not receive their substantially elevated tuition (around $16,000 a semester as opposed to $4,900 for in-state students) further strapping the UT system.

Few effectively argue for secession. Gov. Rick Perry’s assertion in 2009 that “[W]e’re a pretty independent lot” ignores the complicated relationships of our federalist system. Talk of, or allusion to, secession is impractical. But it also fails to recognize harm that secession caused — the death of 600,000 Americans in the brutal Civil War — makes it unconscionable. Secession talk should be replaced with efforts to protect and perfect the Union we have.

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.