Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

‘The Eyes of Texas’ referendum cancellation shows administration prioritizes tradition over student well-being

Sharon Chang

UT’s ongoing debate over “The Eyes of Texas” culminated in the administration’s cancellation of the Eyes of Texas referendum, another decision in a series aimed at maintaining the University’s official song. 

Amidst these decisions, UT grapples with the tension between tradition and student opinions. UT’s repeated affirmation of the song despite student protests shows a disconnect between its values of tradition and the well-being of its students. Ultimately, their decisions highlight their failure to prioritize students’ perspectives.

President Jay Hartzell announced the song would remain UT’s alma mater in 2020 after  The Eyes of Texas History Committee’s report determined the song debuted in a racist setting but was not overtly racist. While the committee was responsible for researching the song, committee member and history professor H.W. Brands clarified the committee did not make any ultimate decision about the song’s usage.

“The committee came to no decision,” Brands said. “The decision was made by the President and the Board of Regents.”

Although the committee reported the song was not intentionally racist, its origins still have created an uncomfortable environment for students, who have repeatedly shared their concerns. Hartzell’s announcement failed to completely address these concerns, reiterating the university administration’s lack of consideration for marginalized students in their decision.

The committee included five student perspectives in their report, yet many others are still upset over the song and have taken action, from The Eyes of Texas Tour Guide Group to UT student government’s repeated legislation attempts.  By disregarding the song’s racist beginnings, Hartzell’s decision also disregarded the feelings of the student body.

The decision to cancel the referendum came after its postponement in February 2023, which was caused by a tweet made by the student government. The Office of the Dean of Students felt the tweet falsely indicated the administration’s support for the referendum.

Because (the Office of the Dean of Students) felt the tweet could be interpreted as taking a stance, they thought it would sway the outcome,” said Kennedy Bailey, speaker of UT’s student government assembly. “Therefore, the referendum would no longer be valid, which meant they didn’t want it to proceed at that time.”

According to Bailey, former assembly speaker Kevin Roberts told the assembly that the administration had never supported the referendum, but it proceeded because its process was in accordance with its governing documents.

“We did everything the right way until that tweet,” Bailey said. “Ultimately, administration did not want this to proceed, and this was an easy way to shut it down.”

Bailey said that in a meeting with the Dean of Students, the office referred to the referendum’s proceeding as “pointless.” The actions and statements of the administration show they are against the song’s removal, and unwilling to listen to the perspectives of student representatives.

Despite the postponement, some representatives still hoped the referendum would pass. Former student government president Leland Murphy said he worked with fellow assembly and administration members to introduce a new resolution to the assembly. However, they voted to table the resolution. 

I had this feeling that if the assembly voted to table it, then it wasn’t going to be able to happen after that,” Murphy explained. “Because then it might set the whole process back and people who wanted to do it again in the future would have to start all the way over.”

The Office of the Dean of Students said in a statement regarding their decision, “As the sponsoring department for Student Government, it is our responsibility to guide and support these students through their work. The University issued its full and final report on “The Eyes of Texas” in 2021. The proposed Student Government referendum on the Eyes of Texas was not approved because the ballot language would have wrongly led students to believe they were voting to change or keep the alma mater.”

Moving forward, UT must rectify this failure by taking student concerns into account on a greater scale, even if this means foregoing decades of tradition. Through attempts at uplifting student voices, UT can create a more inclusive community.

Ava Saunders is a journalism and government freshman from Wheaton, Illinois.

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