- The Texas Student Publications Board insisting on printing an advertisement denying the Holocaust in the Daily Texan newspaper
- A tenured Republican law professor claiming that black and brown students can’t academically compete with whites.
- Law students throwing a “Ghetto Fabulous” party in which they wore blackface and, enacting racial stereotypes, carried 40 oz. cans of malt liquor.
- A football player calling President Barack Obama a “nigger” on Facebook.
- The president of the Young Republicans resigning after imagining on social media how nice it would be if Obama were assassinated, only to be replaced by another student who writes crude rap lyrics about the president using crack and posts them online.
For years, UT featured a dormitory named after William Stewart Simkins, a legendary law professor at the school and, unfortunately, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida during the Reconstruction Era. An irritable heavy drinker, Simkins taught at UT from 1899 until 1929. Born in South Carolina, he attended the Citadel military academy in Charleston and some claimed that he fired the first shot in the Civil War during the Battle of Fort Sumter.
Simkins said later that his family lost property in South Carolina after the war because of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's "Special Order No. 15." The order seized abandoned property owned by Confederates on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts and distributed it to penniless and suddenly homeless freedmen. Simkins would characterize this action as theft, ignoring that slaveowners like him had stolen the bodies of their chattel and had expropriated the profits created by their human property. In any case, the Congress passed legislation to reverse Sherman's military order.
Nevertheless, Simkins moved to Florida after the defeat of the Confederacy. With his brother Eldred, he helped establish the Sunshine State’s chapter of the KKK during Reconstruction in the late 1860s. He often laughingly told stories about violently terrorizing Northern-born residents of the state –- whom he sneeringly called “carpetbaggers” – and newly freed African Americans. Simkins bragged in a 1914 speech at UT, later reprinted as an article for the UT alumni publication Alcalde two years later, about his Klan days. .
In those days "insulting a white woman" could mean that a black person had looked directly into a white women's eyes or had not stepped off the sidewalk fast enough to make way for a white woman, or failing to bow and scrape with enough enthusiasm. At the same time the white rape of black women went unpunished. This law professor bragged about committing a felonious assault and never saw this as a violation of the professional code of ethics. Throughout his life, Simkins did not believe that any law applied to African Americans except those of the Southern caste system.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision that declared that segregated public schools violated the United States Constitution. Four years earlier, the justices had ordered the University of Texas to admit an African American, Heman Sweatt to its law school. Perhaps in defiant protest, the Board of Regents in 1954 voted to name a dormitory in honor of a Klansman. Simkins Hall kept its name until changed by the University regent to Creekside Residence Hall in 2010. The name change happened largely through the efforts of a former University of Texas law professor Tom Russell, who now teaches at the University of Denver. Russell's research uncovered Simkins' connection to the Klan, an resume item well-known earlier tin the century . (For more, see http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/05/24/university-texas-considers-renaming-dorm-kkk-link/).
Meanwhile, a controversy now surrounds the Confederate statues in the South Mall, with some proposing the removal and storage of the old statues and replacement with art representing the state's diversity, some advocating the sale of the Confederate tributes, and others calling for their placement in a central location where new signs would explain their historical context and the school's racial history. (For more on this, see http://www.texasexes.org/alcalde/feature.asp?p=2056).
This heavy atmosphere of white terror did not lift from the school upon desegregation. Heman Marion Sweatt forced open the doors of the UT law school to African Americans in 1950. An NAACP activist in Houston since the early 1940s and a columnist for the local black-owned newspaper the Informer, Sweatt plunged into fundraising drives for the NAACP’s lawsuit against the so-called “white primary.” Democratic rules in Texas barred blacks from voting in primaries which, given the party’s almost complete monopoly on elective office in the first half of the twentieth century, left African Americans with no voice in partisan political races. The NAACP successfully persuaded the United States Supreme Court to declare the white primary unconstitutional in the 1944 Smith v. Allwright case.
Heman Sweat, the postal employee, who battled to attend the University of Texas' segregated law school and prevailed before the United States Supreme Court in 1950. (http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-473-488-90/37/3795/EWIIF00Z/posters/heman-sweatt-an-african-american-mailman-who-has-registered-at-texas-univeristy-law-school.jpg).
At the urging of Dallas NAACP attorney W.J. Durham, Sweatt applied to the UT Law School, aware that the school was legally vulnerable to litigation since the state of Texas had failed to provide a law school for African American students. Sweatt applied, was turned down and on May 16, 1946 filed the Sweatt v. Painter case that became one of the building blocks for the later, more famous Brown decision in which the United States Supreme Court ruled against “separate but equal” schools.
Heman Sweattg stands in line for registration. (Photo from http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2004/dorn.html).
The intense scrutiny of the press, the racism of faculty and students, and financial pressure destroyed Sweatt’s marriage during his two years at UT and undermined his academic performance. Poor health added to Sweatt’s difficulties as he battled a painful ulcer and missed seven weeks of classes after suffering appendicitis. He failed courses in his first year, audited the classes he failed in the fall of 1951, and re-enrolled in the spring semester of 1952, but he subsequently dropped out.
As soon as the Supreme Court, in the Sweatt v. Painter case desegregated the university's professional and graduate schools, other African Americans bravely registered at the school. Here, John Saunders Chase enrolls in UT's master's program in architecture in 1950. Chase later enjoyed a successful career. Such students, however, suffered brutal harassment from white students and even faculty members. (Photo from http://www.utexas.edu/features/2008/chase/).
By 1960, black students still were barred from UT housing, drama productions, student teaching program, the Longhorn Band and athletic teams (even in 1969, the national championship Longhorns football team didn't have a single black player), African American women shopping at a white-owned downtown store like Scarbrough’s had to put paper on their heads if they wanted to try on a hat and could not try on a dress at all. Restaurants on Congress Avenue closed their doors entirely to black customers. The restaurants on the ‘Drag” (Guadalupe Street alongside the campus) still enforced segregation in the early and mid-1960s and students conducted “stand-ins” in movie ticket lines in a long, hard struggle to desegregate area movie theaters.
Not all UT students or faculty members were mean-spirited or intolerant. Some treated pioneer African American students with respect. Folklorist J. Frank Dobie taught at the university, recorded black and Mexican folktales in the state, and basically sponsored the writing career of important African American folklorist J. Mason Brewer. A University of Texas graduate, Alan Lomax, also preserved African American folklore and recorded for history traditional black freedom and work songs. Without Lomax, important black artists like Leadbelly may have faded from memory. By the 1960s, white students participated in protests against segregation on campus and along "The Drag" -- the collection of stores, restaurants and clubs on Guadalupe Street on the fringe of the campus. Such figures, sadly, did not represent the norm in Jim Crow-era Austin.
Racism at UT survived desegregation. The university still does not have a reputation as a tolerant place in the African American community. Between 1980 and 1990, during the traditional spring social event called "Roundup," on at least five occasions floats in a parade sponsored by fraternities ridiculed African Americans and Mexican Americans as well as gay people. The traditional parades ended because of these repeated incidents and Roundup turned into a series of disconnected fraternity and sorority parties held on the West campus. (See http://www.dailytexanonline.com/news/2011/04/13/racial-conflicts-tarnish-history-roundup)
On November 2, 1989, five members of the Delta Gamma fraternity assaulted a Latino family sleeping in a van near their worksite. The assailant claimed they made the attack because they thought their victims were homeless and posed a threat to an Austin neighborhood. Interfraternity Council President Larry Dubinski insisted that the incident was not motivated by racial hatred. (See http://www.utwatch.org/timeline.html).
Even as black and Latino enrollment at UT lagged far below the numbers these groups represented in the state as a whole, racist incidents began occurring with alarming regularity beginning in 1990. That year, African Americans still made up only 3.7 percent of the student body. By the spring of 1990, someone spray-painted the phrases “Fuck Coons” and “Fuck You Nigs Die” on an old car sitting in the driveway of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house. That same semester, the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity passed out t-shirts that joined the body of basketball superstar Michael Jordan with a “Sambo” head featuring big lips and eyes.
UT frat boys remained equal opportunity bigots, holding in 1990 a “Blue Collar Party” to mock working class people, a “Jamaican Party” in which attendees were asked to wear blackface, and a “Drag Worm” Party ridiculing the homeless people who have historically gathered on Guadalupe Street. Many suspected that fraternity boys knocked down a wooden shanty constructed in the West Mall to protest black poverty under the apartheid regime in South Africa. (For more, see http://books.google.com/books?id=cisEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA165&lpg=PA165&dq=%22University+of+Texas%22+AND+%22Fraternity%22+and+%22racist%22&source=bl&ots=FmGdYogYn7&sig=sqcFtUvg9qArdFxGH8qxYrMaTSA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JBFzT6PVNMKO2AXTiIX0Dg&ved=0CEcQ6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=%22University%20of%20Texas%22%20AND%20%22Fraternity%22%20and%20%22racist%22&f=false)
By then, other professors quoted in the Smith ad objected to the use of their names and the TSPB decided to drop publication of the propaganda. Nevertheless, the board in 1993 compelled publication of an advertisement for a video that claimed to prove that Nazi concentration camp gas chambers were a fraud.
Setting aside the problems with defining chimeras like general intelligence and racial categories, Murray and Herrnstein later turned out to have misquoted and to have misrepresented the results of many of the studies they cited, to have used sources from long discredited eugenicists in the 1930s, and to have made major math errors in their calculations. (For a systematic debunking of The Bell Curve can be found in Bernie W. Devlin, Stephen E. Fienberg, Daniel P. Resnick and Katherine Roeder, eds., Intelligence, Genes, & Success: Scientists Respond to the Bell Curve (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997); Steven Fraser, ed., The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence and the Future of America (New York: basic Books, 1995); and Joe L. Kinchloe, Shirley A. Steinberg, and Aaron D. Gresson III, Measured Lies: The Bell Curve Examined (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997).
Willerman helped direct the Texas Adoption Project, which purported to demonstrate the genetic basis of intelligence and was funded in part by the eugenicist Pioneer Fund, which on its webpage describes most of its funded researchers as “race-realists [who] view race as a natural phenomenon to observe, study, and explain. They believe that human race is a valid biological concept, similar to sub-species or breeds or strains.” A Willerman study claimed that “mixed-race children whose mothers were white had higher average IQs than mixed-race children whose mothers were black.”
Hitler fans and Klansman: this is the sleazy company that the best and the brightest in the UT psychology department kept in the 1990s. No one in the department as a whole was apparently upset by white supremacist letter in the Wall Street Journal or the crude racist sentiments of such a large percentage of the department's faculty in the late 20th century.
Tenured UT law professor Lino Graglia, hired in 1966, liked to call his black students "pickanninies" and said in 1997 that black and brown students can't compete with whites academically. When students and activists protested and called for his dismissal, many faculty members only worried about threats to the school's tenure system. (Photo from http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/headshots/graglia_lino_lg.jpg).
Racism is intrinsically a violation of academic ethics. Racist professors - those who argue that certain ill-defined large categories of humans are intrinsically deficient intellectually or biologically - have no place at any college or university and should be fired. Such a stance is entirely consistent with academic freedom and the concept of tenure because the research of a person with such strong biases and the student evaluations made by a racist will always be suspect.
With so many white supremacists on the faculty, it's not wonder that UT produced so many ill-behaved, bigoted students in the last 20 years. Student racists at the school continue to congregate on Greek Row and now seem to congregate with the school's Young Republican Club.
On January 31, 2002, the Kappa Alpha fraternity hosted a "Gin and Juice" ghetto-themed party in which one guest wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a large watermelon. On October 31 the same year, the Phi Gamma Delta frat held a Halloween party in which attendees included a white man wearing black face and an "Afro" wig and a chain with a lock (presumably "humorously" referencing slavery. Fore more, see http://www.tspnsports.com/forums/showthread.php?16049-Costumes-at-frat-parties-drawing-complaints-at-UT&s=e92e8be39f316563bf66adbc2a00cf58 and
In late 2011, in quick order two presidents of the University of Texas College Republicans chapter suffered national embarrassment after one posted about how nice it would supposedly be to assassinate President Obama and when her successor made the racist suggestion that the Commander-in-Chief was on crack. First, Lauren Pierce tweeted the following message:
"I know it may be tempting, but don't shoot President Obama. We need him to go down as the worst president in history."
Sorry, Lauren, but George W. Bush has a lock on the "worst president" title for the foreseeable future. Unlike Graglia, when Pierce faced sufficient outcry, she at least did the honorable thing and resigned. Then Cassandra Wright got elected as her replacement and celebrated by tweeting this:
"My president is black, he snorts a lot of crack. Holla!"
The bad attempt at a rap lyric was apparently inspired by a song called "My President is Black" performed by a hip-hop artist called Young Jeezy. An Austin Republican tried to pass this tweet off as a "simple mistake." As a writer for The Daily Kos puts it:
"Leaving the water running in the sink or leaving your door unlocked is a "simple mistake". Making a racist slur about the President... ummm no. That is not a simple mistake. That is straight up bigotry. And then to double down with "Well, it could have been a careless remark"... Sure, because we all just make highly inflammatory racist comments offhand. (/snark)”
So far, about 1,500 people have read this essay around the world at this site and my Red State Blues blog. Some people people have posted responses suggesting that I should post an equally long essay noting UT's efforts to promote diversity. Frankly, I find that absurd. Institutions should not be congratulated for doing what should be expected of them.
Given UT's long history of segregation and the role of students and at least one law professor in trying to undo Affirmative Action, the university had a moral obligation to reach out to the African American and Mexican American community. Congratulating UT Austin for its attempts to diversify its student body is somewhat akin to congratulating Penn State, post-Jerry Sandusky, for no longer concealing the sex crimes of its faculty. And the UT student body is still overwhelmingly white, largely a result of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Republican-dominated legislature's insistence on slashing state support for public colleges and universities, a policy which has again made higher education against a preserve of affluent white people. Texans of all races, ethnicities and economic classes will soon pay a heavy price for this penny-wise, pound moronic approach to education.
One more note. Lest anyone think that members of the UT faculty have only taken funding from racist hate groups like the eugenicist Pioneer Fund, at least one of UT's scholars has devoted himself to anti-gay causes. Right-wing, homophobic organizations like the Witherspoon Institute have bankrolled the sloppy research of sociology professor Mark Regnerus that purports to show that children raised by gay parents suffer harm leading to unemployment and other difficulties in later life. Regnerus admits that the methodology of his study on the effect of gay parenting -- which uses vague definitions of who is "gay" and which defines economic success in life with no reference to the sorry state of the American economy in the past decade or the economic conditions of the families examined -- does not work "to the long-term benefit of science." His work also contradicts a mountain of other studies that suggest that the children of gay parents thrive and may even do better that the children of gay parents. The Witherspoon Institute, by the way, has extensive ties to National Organization for Marriage, which has been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, as an "anti-gay group." Regnerus' work on gay marriage is below the expected standard of the sociology discipline. Again, the issue here is not academic freedom. It's academic competence. (For more, see http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/open-letter-to-university-of-texas-regarding-professor-mark-regneruss-alleged-unethical-anti-gay-study/civil-rights/2012/06/24/41977 and http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-s-anti-gay-hate-list-compiled-with-diligence-and-clear-standards and http://www.livescience.com/17913-advantages-gay-parents.html).