By Steve Lansdale
AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas announced Monday a plan to make changes to the school’s physical campus and to various programs in an effort to “promote diversity, inclusion and equity and to more fully support Black students on campus,” according to a statement released on the university’s website. Some of the changes will have a direct impact on UT athletics.
The announcement came after weeks of conversations with students, alumni and members of the university community.
Among the proposed changes:
- A multimillion-dollar investment from the Texas athletic department’s revenue will be made to programs, on or off campus, designed to recruit, attract, retain and support Black students.
- At the suggestion of the Jamail family, Joe Jamail Field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be renamed in honor of UT’s two Heisman Trophy Winners: running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
- A statue honoring Julius Whittier, the university’s first Black football letterman, will be erected at the stadium.
- The establishment, in a collaborative effort with the Texas Exes and using a new program within the athletic department as a pilot project, of a program designed to improve the ability of UT students to position themselves for post-graduation success.
No timeline was immediately given for the projects. Details and schedules will be released in the weeks and months ahead.
The initiatives, which were developed by Texas Interim President Jay Hartzell in conjunction with university leaders and UT System Board of Regents chairman Kevin Eltife. In a letter to the UT community detailing the plans, Hartzell said the two primary areas of focus will be “doing more to recruit, attract, retain and support a talented and diverse group of students, staff and faculty; and second, reconsidering how to best reflect the university’s values, both in the symbols and names on campus and in the openness with which UT tells its history.”
During the early stages of the conversations leading to the changes announced Monday, one suggestion was that The Eyes of Texas, which is sung at athletic and some non-athletic events, should be replaced as the school’s alma mater. Amid protests across the country in support of Black Lives Matter and police reform, the song came under fire from current and former students and faculty who charged it had historical ties to a period of racism. The alma mater will remain “in its current form,” but part of the announcement was the declaration that the school would “acknowledge and teach about all aspects of the origins of The Eyes of Texas as we continue to sing it moving forward with a redefined vision that unites our community… (The) university will work to reclaim and redefine what this song stands for, first by owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent, and then by partnering with the campus community to reimagine its future as a song that unites all Longhorns.”
In his letter, Hartzell reported that the “number of Black undergraduate students on campus has risen by nearly 9% during the past five years,” but also pointed out that “(even) so, our Black students still comprise only 5.1% of the student body.”
The field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was named in honor of Jamail, a generous alumnus of the university, in 1997. Jamail died in 2015 at age 90, and according to the university’s statement, the suggestion to rename the field in honor of Campbell and Williams came from Jamail’s family.
The former UT stars issued statements expressing honor and humility over the honor of having the field on which they created so many of the highlights that made them Texas football legends.
“The symbolism of this honor transcends the recognition of the Heisman Trophies we received,” Campbell said in his statement. “It extends to all students, but specifically Black athletes, who continue to work to define our collective motto ‘Winning with Integrity.’”
Williams expressed similar sentiments, adding that he hoped other universities would acknowledge the decision and consider similar changes on other campuses.
“We recognize the naming of Campbell/Williams Field is a historic moment,” Williams said in his statement, “and we urge our nation’s universities and communities to continue to reflect and review the history, symbolism and identities that we place on monuments, public institutions and sports organizations.”
Other initiatives announced by the university include, but are not limited to:
- Expanding the school’s presence and outreach in cities across the state, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, “to better recruit outstanding high school students from underrepresented groups.” Additional funds will be raised to establish more private scholarships “specifically dedicated to recruiting students such as those 1,900 Black students who were accepted here and chose to go elsewhere.”
- The establishment of a university-wide plan “to recruit, develop and retain world-class faculty members who bring more diversity to (UT) research and teaching missions.” The announcement said that the plan has been “in the works for more than a year under the leadership of Vice Provost for Diversity Ted Gordon and includes new funding for research and scholarship.”
- Expand the UT Austin Police Oversight Committee “to include more community members and a broader range of students, have it meet more frequently and broaden its mission to oversee student and community engagement, communications and the exploration of creative approaches to community policing, on-campus safety and wellness issues.”
- Rename the Robert L. Moore Building as “the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building.”
“These are the actions we will take together,” Hartzell said in his letter to the university community. “They represent the continued evolution of our university, which has been taking place for 137 years and will carry forward for generations to come.”