UT has hired a consultant to makeover the image of the song “Eyes of Texas”

As outrage swirled among students at the University of Texas at Austin last fall over the school’s alma mater, “The Eyes of Texas,” and its early association with minstrel performances on campus, president Jay Hartzell made a classic decision in higher education: he organized a committee.

This, he said, would include 24 Longhorn athletes, historians, faculty and students who would investigate and “chronicle the full story of ‘The Eyes” and recommend ways to openly recognize, share and learn. “.

But by the time the group released its final report in March, a new name had quietly been added to its ranks: Brad Deutser, a Houston consultant who helps organizations in everything from corporate culture to communications. crisis and branding.

The Longhorn Hellraisers applaud during the Texas game against Louisiana Tech on August 31, 2019. Credit:

In fact, UT-Austin had hired Deutser and his company for two contracts worth up to $ 1.1 million to revamp the image of the alma mater, as well as larger organizational projects including a new communications and engagement strategy for the university, and defining “what it means to be a Longhorn,” according to copies of contracts obtained by The Texas Tribune through an open case request.

Ultimately, the committee’s report concluded that the intent of the song was “not overtly racist” and could not find any primary documents linking the phrase to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, such as some members of the school community had previously said.

Deutser’s involvement in the work of the group was so important that he was named chairman of the committee in his final report.

“Brad Deutser has tirelessly supported our work by interviewing hundreds of members of the Longhorn Nation, participating in our committee work and orchestrating many committee products such as videos – a truly dedicated Longhorn,” Professor wrote. and UT-Austin co-committee. -President Richard Reddick in a letter accompanying the report.

Hartzell commissioned the Eyes of Texas committee to research and document the song’s history last November after a group of college students and student-athletes asked the school to stop singing it at the following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police. Students raised issues with the song’s origins, including the fact that it premiered on a campus minstrel show where the students were likely wearing blackface.

According to the contract, Deutser was also to “align the findings of the Eyes of Texas history committee with cultural imperatives” and “leverage the results to develop the desired culture and necessary understanding.” It was also required to develop a communications strategy for the report.

Deutser, who is white, has also been tasked with managing several diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, including “developing the plan to create a more welcoming campus and community.” One particular task is to engage with education officials in Texas to “understand the perspectives of black high school students”.

While Reddick praised Deutser’s work with the Eyes of Texas committee, several student leaders who met with Deutser and other university administrators throughout the spring semester said they had different take-away points from the meetings they attended. they attended.

Some students called the meetings held after the university’s report was released as “conferences” where they felt that Deutser was trying to convince them of the school’s stance on the song, rather than fostering real dialogue or speaking out. respond to student concerns. Other students said they were confused by his presence and felt he did not take their opinions seriously.

“It was kind of like he was really trying to convince us of what they were thinking, in terms of ‘this is what the song means’,” said Brianna McBride, a young graduate who ran The Black President’s Leadership Council at UT-Austin. .

Alcess Nonot, another recent UT graduate and former chair of the UT University Council Senate, said she also attended virtual meetings with Deutser following the release of the Eyes of Texas report. She said hearing what the contract now included raises questions for her about the intent of those meetings.

“Looks like her job was to make sure everyone was happy and the arguments ended,” she said. “If the goal was to bring the students together, I don’t really know if that is what happened after the report was released.

Hartzell said the song would stick to last July – months before the committee’s report was released – while announcing a variety of diversity initiatives and changes to help make campus a more welcoming place. The committee, he said, would allow the university to “own, recognize and fully teach its school song.” The report ultimately confirmed that the song made its debut at a minstrel show, but could not find any evidence directly linking the song to Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, as previously had. claimed opponents of the song.

“These historical facts add complexity and richness to the story of a song that debuted in a racist setting, extremely common at the time, but, as the preponderance of research has shown, no ‘had no racist intent,’ the report said in its summary. “The Eyes of Texas” should not only unite us, but hold us all accountable for the core values ​​of our institution. “

Nonot said many students questioned the findings of the committee report after another UT-Austin professor Alberto Martinez released a second report providing additional information and analysis on the song not included in the university report. Martinez says his research shows the phrase “Eyes of Texas” was inspired by a story former UT-Austin president William Prather read about General Lee, and was written specifically for a show. minstrels.

The Black President’s Leadership Council, a group of leaders of black student groups on campus, also criticized these meetings with the university administration after Martinez’s report raised questions about the completeness of the information in the report. from UT-Austin.

“On the day the initial report was released, meeting hours were called at the last minute to discuss its findings,” the board wrote in a March 31 letter to Hartzell and the board. “Since these discoveries are incomplete, we spent those hours on gas, our intelligence was not respected and our time was wasted.”

In May, the Senate of College Councils wrote a letter to Hartzell and other university leaders calling on the university to abolish song at all university events, citing that report as evidence.

“There is no doubt that ‘The Eyes of Texas’ not only has an explicitly racist past, but detrimental effects in the present,” the letter read. “No student should feel unwelcome at UT, but ‘The Eyes of Texas’ keeps many black students from feeling valued, respected, or heard.”

UT-Austin has publicly maintained its own report, “understanding that others would examine their work and come to their own conclusions, which is the nature of scholarship,” according to a statement by spokesperson JB Bird. Still, Deutser has been more critical of Martinez’s report in at least one meeting with students, according to an audio recording obtained by the Tribune between Deutser and UT-Austin student tour guides this spring.

Deutser had met with the guides in April before they went on strike over a dispute over whether to remove a plaque with the words of Eyes of Texas from the college visitor center. At that meeting, Deutser called Martinez’s report “more of an opinion piece.”

“They did not have access to the documents, they chose to ignore certain documents. Some information overlaps exactly. But unfortunately, the facts do not support the story. He’s a disgruntled employee suing the university, ”Deutser told the students. “It gets complicated because, what do the media want? They want to stir up controversy.

Martinez filed a lawsuit against UT-Austin and its former department head in 2020 accusing the school of discrimination and retaliation after he released a report detailing wage inequalities for Hispanic professors.

Martinez denied to the Tribune that his research on the song was related to his grievance against UT-Austin.

According to the contracts, Deutser was helping the university from August to the end of 2020 with a maximum total compensation of $ 150,000. UT-Austin officials then signed an additional contract with Deutser Company in December to last through 2021 with a maximum payout of $ 900,000 including service charges and travel costs.

The university has paid Deutser’s company at least $ 400,000 so far, according to monthly invoices filed by its company and provided through an open case request.

Deutser and UT-Austin did not respond to multiple interview requests about contract deliverables or how Deutser became a member of the volunteer committee.

Beyond his work with the Eyes of Texas committee, Deutser was also to work on something called the “Longhorn Way,” which would define what it means to be a Longhorn, and develop a book and tools that will be incorporated into new hires. and student orientations.

While the committee’s report on the song is complete, it remains to be seen whether students will accept its findings. Some UT-Austin students said they believed returning to campus life in person during the fall semester would bring renewed energy to the discussion throughout this year and beyond, from especially as UT-Austin continues to implement its plan to become a more welcoming campus.

Not saying that in the future UT-Austin should tap into the intellectual capital that already exists on campus without enlisting outside help.

“We have a really incredible faculty, the black faculty, [people of color] faculty that does [diversity, equity and inclusion] work and do it really well and teach the students, ”Nonot said. “I wish the university would rely more on the resources we already have so that we can have these difficult conversations.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texatribune.org/2021/07/19/university-texas-eyes-of-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a non-partisan, member-backed newsroom that educates and engages Texans about state politics and politics. Learn more at texatribune.org.

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