About the Report
In the summer of 2020, a mass social movement to identify and root out systemic racism swept the United States. As part of this movement, a number of students, faculty members, staff members, and alumni of The University of Texas at Austin raised concerns with issues of social progress on our campus and in our community, in addition to long-standing concerns over the university’s alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas.” Like the dialogue across the country, diverse university constituents had raw, emotional and heart-wrenching responses. The environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic limited conversation and exacerbated the situation, as people inside and outside the university were forced to process challenging social issues without the benefit of in-person dialogue.
The concerns about “The Eyes of Texas,” in some cases unsupported by facts, included that the song was debuted in a minstrel show and therefore most likely by student singers wearing “blackface”; the belief that the phrase “The eyes of Texas are upon you” was inspired by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was thought to have often said “the eyes of the South are upon you”; the claim that lyrics such as “Do not think you can escape them at night or early in the morn” were nostalgic references to slavery; and the belief that the tune itself, lifted from “The Levee Song,” better known as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” constituted a racist trope.
After many weeks of meetings with dozens of groups and individuals, then-interim president Jay Hartzell announced on July 13 a raft of initiatives aimed at making the university a more inclusive environment for all students, faculty, and staff. Among the list of initiatives, Hartzell addressed “The Eyes of Texas” controversy, writing:
Own, 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 Eyes of Texas,” in its current form, will continue to be our alma mater. Aspects of its origin, whether previously widely known or unknown, have created a rift in how the song is understood and celebrated, and that must be fixed. It is my belief that we can effectively reclaim and redefine what this song stands for by first owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent.
Together, we have the power to define what the Eyes of Texas expect of us, what they demand of us, and what standard they hold us to now. “The Eyes of Texas” should not only unite us, but hold all of us accountable to our institution’s core values. But we first must own the history. Only then can we reimagine its future, and I look forward to partnering with our campus community to do just that.
The UT System Board of Regents supported the decision to keep the song.
In a followup message to campus on Oct. 6, President Hartzell wrote:
I have asked Professor Richard Reddick, a Texas Ex and Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement and Outreach in the College of Education, to chair a committee that will chronicle the full history of the “The Eyes” and recommend ways we can openly acknowledge, share and learn from it. The committee will be composed of diverse alumni, staff members, faculty members and students, including current or former athletes and Longhorn Band members, and will draw upon the expertise of the many historians and higher education scholars here at UT.
The Eyes of Texas History Committee, as it was named, was given four charges:
- Collect and document the facts of the origin, the creators’ intent, and the elements of “The Eyes of Texas,” including the lyrics and music.
- Examine the university’s historical institutional use and performance of “The Eyes of Texas”
- Chronicle the historical usage of “The Eyes of Texas” by University of Texas students, staff, faculty and alumni, as well as its usage in broader cultural events, such as film, literature and popular media.
- Recommend potential communication tactics and or strategies to memorialize the history of “The Eyes of Texas.”
In its final report, the committee combined charges 2 and 3 above into a single section and added a timeline of notable milestones in the song’s history to that section. The full, book-length report can be read here.
The committee wrote, “Through our conversations, it has become clear that without facts and clarity, there will still be potential for division. Even with this report, that divide may remain – but it will be framed by facts grounded in history, rather than assumptions and narratives without factual basis.”
This website will summarize the committee’s major findings and recommendations with the following categories: