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UT Board of Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife speaks during a press conference to announce an $80 million gift from the East Texas Medical Center Foundation for a medical on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020 at Willow Brook County Club in Tyler. The donation came shortly after last week’s announcement that the UT System would seek approval for a medical school in Tyler. The new medical center aims to significantly transform health education, healthcare and health outcomes in the East Texas region. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Led by Chairman Kevin Etlife, the University of Texas System Board of Regents approved several actions Tuesday for UT Austin to take to recruit, attract, retain and support talented Black students from around the state and promote a better campus environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors.

Eltife, who is a former Tyler mayor and state senator, has worked closely with UT Austin interim president Jay Hartzell over the past month as campus leaders have spoken with dozens of students and community members and developed the initiatives, which were announced on Monday, to promote diversity and equity.

“I have heard this week from a wide range of Longhorns who are excited about this plan, which will make us an even stronger university, help attract the best students and make the campus a true home for them throughout their lives,” Eltife said. “President Hartzell has done an outstanding job listening to the needs of our students and our state in these challenging times — and finding ways to help more Longhorns change the world.”

Nearly 2,000 Black students who were automatically admitted to UT Austin because of their outstanding performance in high school have chosen instead to attend other colleges during the past five years. The actions approved by the Regents include new resources to attract those students to UT and support them while on campus, while ensuring that the university understands and teaches about its history and symbols and redefines some of them for the future.

“I’m proud of my alma mater for its approach to this process and for taking the necessary steps to lay the foundation for marked, meaningful progress and a more diverse and inclusive university,” said Regent Jodie Lee Jiles, who made the motions to approve UT Austin’s recommendations. “I am particularly pleased that so many perspectives were offered and people came together thoughtfully and respectfully to discuss sustainable change. Implementation of these new actions will be transformed into results, demonstrating what we all expected—accountability.”

“I want to add my thanks to President Hartzell and his leadership team, and to all the UT Austin stakeholders who participated in reaching today’s recommendations—the faculty, staff, alumni, and especially our students,” Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “I also want to thank Chairman Eltife and all members of the Board of Regents for their strong support of these important steps. This outstanding institution will be a more welcoming and an even better university for it.”

“I am grateful to Chairman Eltife for his guidance and Chancellor Milliken and the Board of Regents for their support as we introduce this bold plan to become a more diverse and welcoming campus in which all Black students, faculty and staff are fully supported and empowered to go out and change the world,” Hartzell said.

The initiatives include:

  • Allocate a multimillion-dollar investment from Texas Athletics’ revenue to programs — on or off campus — that work to recruit, attract, retain and support Black students.
  • Expand UT’s presence and outreach in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and elsewhere to better recruit outstanding high school students from underrepresented groups.
  • Adopt a university-wide plan to recruit, develop and retain world-class faculty members who bring more diversity.
  • Refocus and sharpen the implementation of the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, released in 2017.
  • Expand the UT Austin Police Oversight Committee to include more community members and explore creative approaches to on-campus safety and wellness issues.
  • Rename the Robert L. Moore Building as the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building.
  • Honor Heman M. Sweatt, UT’s first Black student, in additional ways:
  • Creating the Heman M. Sweatt Entrance to T.S. Painter Hall on 24th Street.
  • Placing a statue of Mr. Sweatt near the entrance.
  • Reimagining, redesigning and rededicating a major space in the building as an exhibit and gathering space to tell the story of the U.S. Supreme Court case of Sweatt v. Painter, recognize Mr. Sweatt’s courage and leadership in changing the world through the 1950 case that he won, and place Painter Hall within the context of the university’s resistance to integration under T.S. Painter’s presidency.
  • Build new spaces and monuments for deserving, heroic Longhorns:
  • Honor the Precursors, the first Black undergraduates to attend UT Austin, with a new monument on the East Mall, as part of a larger space dedicated to pioneering students and faculty members.
  • Erect a statue for Julius Whittier, the Longhorns’ first Black football letterman, at Darrell K Royal-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.
  • Educate visitors to the campus about the history and context of many of the names that will 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.
  • 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 UT’s alma mater, but the university will work to reclaim and redefine what this song stands for, first by owning and acknowledging its history in a way that is open and transparent, and then by partnering with the campus community to reimagine its future as a song that unites all Longhorns.
 
 

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I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.