July 13, 2020
Dear UT Community,
During the past month, I have listened to — and spoken with — scores of students about how The University of Texas at Austin can promote diversity, inclusion and equity and fully support our Black students.
These and similar conversations with alumni, faculty, staff and community members have been challenging, fulfilling and eye-opening all at the same time. I went into them understanding that UT has worked hard in recent decades to become a more diverse and welcoming campus. I came out of them realizing there is still more work to do — and that this work starts and ends by creating an environment in which students, faculty and staff are fully supported before, during and after their time at UT.
This goal is shared by many, including the Chairman of our Board of Regents, Kevin Eltife. The Chairman and I have worked closely during the past few weeks, and I’ve been grateful for his ideas and inspiration. I am excited by the next steps and future conversations that are emerging from this process, and I know that Chairman Eltife, our university leadership and I share a common goal of making UT the best it can be for all of our students, faculty, staff and alumni for many years to come.
The number of Black undergraduate students on campus has risen by nearly 9% during the past five years, and we are also optimistic about enrollment in this fall’s entering class. With support from the Board of Regents, we have launched the $160 million Texas Advance Commitment and programs such as UT for Me, which are providing many eligible Black students, among many others, with millions of dollars of additional financial support and resources to ease the financial burden for them to attend UT.
Even so, our Black students still comprise only 5.1% of the student body. And during the past five years, more than 1,900 Black students who were automatically accepted here given their outstanding performance in high school instead chose to go elsewhere. Obviously, these talented students had many college options and made choices for a variety of reasons. Equally obvious to me is that many of those talented students do not believe our campus will be a welcoming home to them, and that we have not provided enough resources to ensure they will get all that is possible out of a UT education. I have heard this from current and former students, from faculty members, and from staff members. It is clear from these conversations and from the data I’ve reviewed that we can do better. So, together with the support of other members of university leadership, I am announcing a series of initiatives today to change that.
These efforts fall into two categories. First: doing more to recruit, attract, retain and support even more talented and diverse students, staff members and faculty members who can change the world. And second: reconsidering how to best reflect our values, both in the symbols and names on our campus, and the openness with which we tell our history.
Every action we take must support the people who make UT such a special place and must fulfill our mission to teach, learn and discover.
To recruit, attract, retain and support talented and diverse students, faculty and staff, we will:
Work with a group of students, faculty, staff and alumni to allocate a multimillion-dollar investment from Athletics’ revenue to worthy university programs — whether on or off campus – that work to recruit, attract, retain and support Black students. We expect that our investments will include at a minimum:
Expanding our presence and outreach in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and elsewhere to better recruit outstanding high school students from underrepresented groups. We will raise additional funds 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.
Providing significant new resources to expand programs that provide transformative opportunities for future Black leaders, including some of the outstanding work already being done within the university.
In conjunction with the Texas Exes and using a new program within Texas Athletics as a pilot project, launch an effort to improve our students’ ability to position themselves for post-graduation success. This will maximize the impact of our vast alumni network and corporate relationships.
Adopt a university-wide plan to recruit, develop and retain world-class facultymembers who bring more diversity to our research and teaching missions. This 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.
Refocus and sharpen the implementation of our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (UDIAP), which was released in 2017. We will regularly signal our priorities, commitment and progress toward measurable goals through a refreshed and better-communicated plan, overseen by Vice President Leonard Moore.
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.
The second set of actions addresses issues related to our campus and its symbols. After listening to many constituents, I’ve based these decisions on our role as an institution of higher education that is designed to teach and enable discovery. In doing so, I’ve relied upon the input I’ve received from our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the work to date of our Campus Contextualization Committee, chaired by Vice President Leonard Moore.
I have weighed the effects that specific individuals or symbols have made on our university; how they fit with our values today; and the opportunities we have to use the stories surrounding these individuals and symbols to educate, to learn, and ultimately, to move us closer together as a community.
To ensure that we recognize and learn from our history and reflect our values through our campus symbols, we will:
Rename the Robert L. Moore Building as the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building and provide historical explanations within the building about why past university leaders chose to name the space for Professor Moore.
Honor Heman M. Sweatt in additional ways: by creating the Heman M. Sweatt Entrance to T.S. Painter Hall as the main entrance on 24th Street; placing a statue of Mr. Sweatt near the entrance; and then reimagining, redesigning and rededicating a major space in the building as an exhibit and gathering place where we will tell the story of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweatt v. Painter. This will recognize Mr. Sweatt’s courage and leadership in changing the world through the 1950 case that he won, allowing him and other Black students to attend UT. This will also place Painter Hall within the context of our university’s resistance to integration under T.S. Painter’s presidency, and ultimately to the Sweatt decision’s crucial role in integrating public education.
Honor the Precursors, the first Black undergraduates to attend The University of Texas at Austin, by commissioning a new monument on the East Mall. This will be the central feature of a larger space dedicated to the pioneering students and faculty members who helped move the university toward becoming more inclusive.
Erect a statue for Julius Whittier, the Longhorns’ first Black football letterman, at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
At the suggestion of the Jamail family, rename Joe Jamail Field at the stadium in honor of Texas’ two great Heisman Trophy winners, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams, two Longhorn legends with a record of commitment to the university.
Educate our community and visitors about the history and context of many of the names that remain, such as the Littlefield Fountain, the statue of Gov. Jim Hogg, the Belo Center and the pedestals on which a series of statues stood until 2017. Building on the work done by the Campus Contextualization Committee, this education may take the form of plaques and a website that our community and visitors can easily access from their phones.
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.
These are the actions we will take together. They represent the continued evolution of our university, which has been taking place for 137 years and will carry forward for generations to come.
As we develop the details for these plans, I will share them publicly.
To all who have been so candid with me about your frustrations, your concerns, your experiences and your beliefs — thank you. It has been a humbling experience to hear and learn from you.
Interim Executive Vice President and Provost
Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement
Chris Del Conte
Vice President and Athletics Director