Renaming schools, disinviting speakers, and canceling professors is all the rage on campus these days. At the University of Texas at Austin (UT), it seemed only a matter of time before our allegedly racist school song would be the next casualty of this woke crusade.
An uplifting number written in 1903, “The Eyes of Texas,” is traditionally sung at Longhorn football games and other events. But following last summer’s social justice protests, many called for it to be expunged due to supposed associations with slavery. The pressure from students, faculty members, and the media on the UT administration was immense.
This time, though, sanity prevailed. According to a just-released report by The Eyes of Texas History Committee, archival research found no evidence of racism in the song’s intent. Its lyrics do not long for slavery. Nor were they inspired by something Robert E. Lee may have said. The message of the song is accountability, not racism. Though acknowledging that “The Eyes of Texas” was born at a time of racial prejudice, the committee noted in its key takeaways that “The History of the Song Reflects the History of America” and “Facts and Historical Context Matter.”
President Jay Hartzell agrees. In a March 9 email to the UT community announcing the report’s release, he said that the song will be kept in its current form while rejecting two of the arguments often trotted out in support of cancel culture. First, Hartzell challenged the uniformly negative view of American history peddled with growing regularity on college campuses. “But while the American story is imperfect, I believe it is positive overall,” he wrote. Second, Hartzell defended free speech, arguing that “no one should shout down those who wish to continue in the tradition of singing.”
Those statements would not have raised any eyebrows just a short while ago. Yet they are most controversial now. To assert that America’s past is commendable rather than contemptible runs counter to the woke narrative that now dominates academia. Liberal orthodoxy, which counsels reform, not revolution, as the remedy for America’s problems, has been cast aside for a progressive offshoot that sees in this country only irredeemable wrongs to be extirpated. The new dogma also equates speech one doesn’t like with violence.
In this illiberal climate, releasing the report took courage. The committee members, which include students, alumni, faculty, and staff, are mostly, if not entirely, on the Left. But they did not let ideological prejudgments blind them to the historical record. For being upfront about the evidence they deserve great credit.
Hartzell also deserves credit for deciding the song will stay. That won’t win him any plaudits with our woke betters in faculty lounges, newsrooms, or left-wing Twitter feeds. Yet it will win the respect of those who hope there is still a small measure of common sense left on campuses that seem to produce everything but it.
At a time when our elite institutions capitulate left, right, and center to cancel-crazed mobs, it is encouraging to see that at least one still has backbone. May others follow UT’s example.
Daniel J. Samet is a Ph.D. student in History at the University of Texas at Austin.