March 5, 2021
Dear UT Community,
I understand that for many of us this has been an upsetting week. In the run up to the Eyes of Texas History Committee’s report (to be released Tuesday), articles in the media have pushed a narrative that university donors are dismissive of our students’ concerns and have exerted undue influence over campus decision making. I don’t believe this is true. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And after speaking with many of you during the past few days, in particular with community members of color, I want to say that I hear you: I believe your pain is real and your anger justified. Encountering news of this kind is sadly not a new experience for many of you, and some old wounds have been reopened.
It is true that during the fall, I received a small number of emails that were abhorrent and hateful. Please know that I categorically reject these sentiments and that those who express them bear no influence on my decision making. In addition, I will not tolerate threats to our students and faculty members through email, social media or any other forum. Please also know that the vast majority of our 540,000 proud Longhorn alumni actively and enthusiastically partner with us to fund research, student scholarships and academic success. THEY ARE PROUD OF YOU. They want to support you. And, they join me in condemning racism of any kind.
Next week, we’ll begin reading the Eyes of Texas History Committee report together. As we do so, we’re going to continue our work of pioneering a new model for hard conversations. The conversation on social media suggests we can’t solve problems together. But when we gather face to face, we naturally gravitate toward humility, empathy and problem solving. We start to understand that we don’t have to all agree to all belong. Speaking to students, staff and faculty who were on the committee, it’s clear that their processes for meeting and researching were focused, candid, fierce and nuanced. I want to thank them for modeling an approach to complex and emotional issues that we can learn from. These virtues are vital because we’re not moving on from this debate — we’re moving forward with it … together.
Since I became president, the two most pressing issues we’ve faced have been the pandemic and unrest on campus in the wake of the senseless killing of George Floyd. I firmly believe we are combating both with our talents, energies and, indeed, our kindness for others. And I believe we are prevailing. This year has been hard on us all, and I can’t wait for us to get back to life together in person. I know you can’t either. Between now and the fall, let’s work in unison to continue making our campus the incredibly diverse, welcoming and inclusive place we know it can be.