Texas donors threatened to cut off funds in angry, racist emails over school song


Several wealthy donors to the University of Texas-Austin reportedly vented their concerns -- and in some cases their racism -- over the school's handling of the controversy around a school spirit song with Confederate origins.

In scores of emails addressed to UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell last year, which were obtained by the Texas Tribune as part of a public records request and published on Monday, many of the rich alumni express racially motivated anger at the situation -- and some threaten to withhold their donations if the matter isn't resolved to their liking.

The university came under scrutiny last year over the alma mater song "The Eyes of Texas," sung to the tune of the folk song "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," amid nationwide protests over systemic racism and police violence.

Opponents protested and lobbied the school for months to abandon the song, which was reportedly first performed in minstrel shows, and whose title is said to be taken from a quote by Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Texas responded to pressure by permitting football players to remain in the locker room if they did not wish to be on the field when the song was played. Players and coaches had stood for the song and held up the familiar "hook 'em horns" hand signal both before and after games for decades, as part of a longstanding tradition.

One disturbing email, in which the author complains about "critical race theory," appears to have been sent in response to misleading photos which seemed to show Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger as the lone Longhorns player observing the tradition, after a gut-wrenching quadruple-overtime loss to Oklahoma in the 2020 Red River Shootout.

"It is disgraceful to see the lack of unity and our fiercest competitor Sam Ehlinger standing nearly alone. It is symbolic of the disarray of this football program which you inherited. The critical race theory garbage that has been embraced by the football program and the University is doing massive irreparable damage to our glorious institution and the country. It has got to stop."

Separate photos later revealed Ehlinger was in fact joined by several teammates on the field for the song.

The university redacted several names on the embarrassing emails, citing "open records laws that protect certain donor identities," the report said.

In October, one donor threatened to cut off an endowment "in excess of $1 million" in response to the program's woes.

"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. Has everyone become oblivious of who supports athletics??"

One alum, whom the outlet identified as a retired administrative law judge and graduate of UT-Austin law school, took a decidedly "love it or leave it" approach to students and faculty who oppose the song.

"UT needs rich donors who love The Eyes of Texas more than they need one crop of irresponsible and uninformed students or faculty who won't do what they are paid to do," complained Steven Arnold, who, when reached for additional comment by the Tribune, said he had stopped supporting the athletic program altogether in light of last year's events.

While one missive complained about students weaponizing "cancel culture," another seemed to suggest ratcheting up punishment against those who oppose the song, the report said.

Others were even more unrestrained in showing their bigotry.

"It's time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost," wrote a donor who graduated in 1986. "It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it's time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor."

In all, roughly 70% of the 300-odd emails received by the president's office from June through October favored keeping the song, the report said.

New Longhorns coach Steve Sarkisian, after being introduced in January, said the song would remain a staple of the program under his guidance.

"I know this much, The Eyes of Texas is our school song," Sarkisian said. "We're going to sing that song. We're going to sing that proudly."

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