Daily Texan must remember — and continue to strengthen — its role in campus debate

Travis Knoll

Editor’s Note: A -30- column is a chance for a departing staff member to recollect about his time at The Daily Texan.

I first came to The Daily Texan two years ago as a senior fresh off my exchange to Brazil. During that trip I was asked by Hannah Jane DeCiutiis, then a reporter in the Daily Texan news department, to comment on sociology professor Mark Regnerus’ gay-parenting study and its potential effects. When I returned to campus, I realized I wanted to contribute further to the ongoing discussion around Regnerus’ study and the larger questions it raised. I wrote a guest column about the importance of personal parental sacrifice, the editors liked it, I applied as an opinion columnist and was lucky enough to be selected. I wrote, rushed, fretted and celebrated through two years of being a columnist because I wanted to join the local, state, national and global debates in which our University was involved. I was not disappointed. I was lucky to have two thoughtful editors, Susannah Jacob and Laura Wright, and a host of associate editors and fellow columnists who challenged me to make my columns more accessible and organize my sometimes muddled thoughts before they reached print.

When I was mired in self-doubt and anxiety as a writer, frustrated by a complicated story or simply tired of the weekly grind of the newsroom, I would remember President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne expounding upon civic duties. He warned his audience against inordinate materialism and asked them to stay “in the arena,” where they could produce relevant knowledge for worthy causes. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I hope to have made some impact on UT’s conversation. But what does the UT “arena” look like?

Being a student-writer has been a privilege for me. Balancing my undergraduate thesis, and later my graduate work, while churning out columns was sometimes a pain. But consistent writing kept me on my toes and in tune with some of the happenings of our University that I normally wouldn’t have delved into. I got the chance to sit through and cover events ranging from workers’ rights in the Caribbean to environmental conferences. I was able to shed light on debates about appropriating the past, such as the meaning of Thanksgiving and the complexities of Holocaust comparisons. I got to cover key aspects of student life ranging from non-violent protest to our financial situation, to stories as ordinary as how to talk with someone who begs on the drag. Most interestingly, I got to “follow the money” of various UT centers, government scholarships, outside think-tanks and UT research to raise questions about what goes on “behind the scenes.” I thank all of those sources who contributed to my stories, on and off the record, to better inform my opinions and refine my message to our readers.

Without these sources, their patience, and most importantly their time, my stories would be nothing more than the frivolous statuses I post each second on Facebook or Twitter. I thank those sources with whom I disagree for sharing their views and expertise and for furthering the conversation. 

Institutions, UT included, must be pushed to do the right thing. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” the phrase on the UT Tower, is a warning against attaching the Longhorn logo to sub-standard distortions, misrepresentations and hidden agendas. Nevertheless, UT has shown itself willing to support sub-par research until the backlash creates a liability for the University’s “business brand.” Therefore, our job as student journalists is to create a liability for UT when it fails to properly vet the research it promotes, fails to rethink questionable partnerships on UT restructuring plans and fails to promptly speak out against abuse and misreporting, by its employees or others, of the University’s “core competency” of serious scholarship. As student journalists, we need to drive home the message that, at a time where the University is considered a business, we the students are not the “raw material” but rather, the stockholders, without whom the University’s mission is nothing but that of another nameless think-tank. As journalists, we should remember that although everyone is welcome on our opinion page, UT officials already have a megaphone and don’t need another pulpit. Instead, they need an adversary — a devil’s advocate. In short, we have responsibilities too.

As journalists, as students and as scholars, let us not be “cold and timid souls” afraid of the powerful and complacent in our privileges. Whether reaching a casual or avid Texan reader or employing a staff writer and occasional contributor, it’s my hope that The Daily Texan continues to strengthen its role as a serious voice “in the arena” of the University’s vigorous debate.


Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas. He has worked as a columnist and guest columnist since fall 2012.