Gary Lavergne

Almost 50 years after Charles Whitman shot and killed 16 people and wounded another 32 on campus, the sniper rifle used in the infamous shooting is up for auction online.

According to the Texas Gun Traders website, the Remington 700 rifle, Whitman’s primary weapon in the shooting spree, has a starting bid of $25,000. The seller has chosen to stay anonymous, but Donald Weiss, the mediator in the sale, said he has received multiple offers for the rifle so far. The rifle has appeared in four ads on the Texas Gun Traders website since Sept. 17 and has accumulated more than 16,000 online views in total.

“This rifle is probably going to be sold by next week,” Weiss said.

Whitman’s rifle, along with the rest of his firearms, originally went on sale to the public when the Austin Police Department put the items up for auction in 1967.

The current owner acquired the Remington rifle after a series of purchases. Gary Lavergne, author of “A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders,” said the firearm’s serial number proves it is authentic.

Similar to past sales of the rifle, this auction has garnered negative attention. Lavergne said he believes the auction of Whitman’s rifle is in “poor taste” and that the firearm should not be treated as a historical artifact.

“It wasn’t used by a historical figure as much as it was used by an individual with a huge ego who wanted to make a name for himself,” Lavergne said. “One of the tragedies of this is that he succeeded. He has made a name for himself, and he used that weapon to do it.”

Weiss said the bidders would not want to purchase the rifle for its historical significance but rather for its value as a collector’s item.

“[The auction of the rifle] was strictly for collector value because there are a lot of collectors in the state who are interested in that firearm,” Weiss said.

As far as how the auction of the rifle may affect those impacted by the 1966 shooting, Weiss said he is aware of the impact Whitman’s actions have on the University today and that the seller’s intentions were not to hurt anyone.

Lavergene said he respected any individual’s right to purchase or sell the firearm but said he doesn’t comprehend the allure behind the item.

“I don’t doubt the right of people to buy artifacts to buy them and sell them if they want to sell them,” Lavergne said. “I don’t understand why someone would attach so much value to an instrument that hurt so many people and that hurt people to this very day.”

Weiss said he heard the University could be interested in purchasing the firearm but said the University has not contacted him. Ben Wright, a spokesman at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, said the center has no plans to bid on the item.

Enrollment numbers decreased after all-time high

UT offered admissions to 1,400 fewer students this year.

For the upcoming fall semester, 7,200 first time students are expected to enter the freshmen class, according to Gary Lavergne, Office of Admission program manager.

Wednesday was the final day for high school seniors to accept or decline admissions offers to the University.

Lavergne said out of the 38,150 first-time freshmen who applied, only 15,150 were offered admission to the University.

Lavergne said the official total would not be clear until school starts because the admissions cycle is not complete until the 12th class day of the fall semester.

Last year, 35,431 applied and 16,563 were offered admission, while 8,092 incoming freshmen were enrolled in the fall.

Heman Sweatt was refused admittance to the UT Law School, and the Supreme Court eventually ordered Sweatt be accepted into UT.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

In order to discover and address systemic problems facing men of color in higher education, the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights continues the legacy of one famous African-American.

Students, faculty and staff will gather this evening at the 2012 Heman Marion Sweatt Legacy Award reception to honor the legacy of Heman Marion Sweatt, the first African-American admitted to the UT School of Law. The reception culminates the semester-long Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, a program bringing faculty, scholars and community leaders together for numerous public discussions of contemporary racial issues.

The symposium, created by UT students 26 years ago, remembers the history, legacy and courage of Sweatt, said Deb Duval, executive director for external relations in the Division of Diversity and Community and Engagement. The two goals of the symposium are building awareness and creating an open dialogue about contemporary racial issues, she said. The focus of this year’s symposium is men of color in higher education, and numerous programs have been held this semester where speakers address contemporary issues of African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian-Americans, said Victor Saenz, College of Education assistant professor and Division of Diversity faculty fellow. The Latino Male Symposium will take place today before the award reception.

Duval said systemic problems that still exist must be overcome if men of color are to be successful.

“Many say we have made progress in race relations, but if you look at the data, one will see how few men of color are actually successful in higher education,” Duval said. “Long and deep-seated obstacles facing men of color need to be identified, and people need to be made aware of these obstacles so they can be fixed. There is still much work to be done.”

Saenz said he appreciates the University honoring Sweatt for the past 26 years, but in order to enact change, an ongoing discussion must continuously take place as a part of the curricular and pedagogical priorities of the University. These symposiums should not be isolated incidents, he said.

Office of admissions program manager Gary Lavergne wrote the award-winning novel “Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road To Justice.”

After being denied acceptance to UT based on his race, Sweatt sued the University in the famous Supreme Court case, Sweatt v. Painter and ultimately fostered a change spurring the legal end of segregation, Lavergne said.

Lavergne said he came close to not publishing his novel for fear of insulting readers sensitive to the issue of race. Everyone who gave him advice for his novel had differing views on how to refer to African-Americans, and this was just one example of the discouragement he experienced, he said.

“The most frustrating thing I encountered is that it’s almost impossible to purge emotion from a dialogue on race,” Lavergne said. “If we can’t figure out what to call each other, how are we ever going to live in harmony?”

Although Sweatt was not educationally separated from the rest of the UT students, he experienced the full range of treatment during his attendance at UT — from those who were kind to those who were bigots, Lavergne said.

“The biggest problem of racism in general is the subtleties,” he said. “It’s easy to deal with the obvious, blatant acts of racism, but the subtle racism is still prevalent in our society.”

Lavergne said the Sweatt family are very accomplished and successful people who appreciated their relative’s courage in enduring pain for the sake of justice.

Heman Sweatt’s nephew, James Sweatt, was 10 years old when Sweatt v. Painter went to the Supreme Court. He said his uncle faced many difficulties during the trial and while attending UT, but the number of African-Americans graduating from college significantly increased shortly after Heman Sweatt graduated.

“My uncle paid a tremendous price doing what he did,” he said. “His marriage broke up because of it, but I think all of his hardships were absolutely worth it. My uncle did an amazing thing for African-Americans.”

Printed on Friday, May 4, 2012 as: Sweatt symposium to continue legacy

Members of Heman Sweatt’s family sat among faculty, staff and students at a book talk Thursday to honor UT’s first African-American law student. The talk was the first event of the 25th Annual Heman Sweatt Symposium, which will last throughout the semester. UT admissions officer Gary Lavergne spoke to a standing-room-only crowd to discuss his new book, “Before Brown: Heman Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall and the Long Road to Justice.” Following a U.S. Supreme Court case, Sweatt was admitted to the University’s law school in 1950, paving the way for integration on campus. “[The case] is an important part of UT’s history,” said Greg Vincent, vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement. “It’s also an important part of Texas history and American history.” When Sweatt applied to the School of Law in 1946, he was denied admission. At the time, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People attempted to find a plaintiff to launch a case to fight segregation. The civil rights group eventually chose Sweatt. Initially, the state attempted to avoid allowing Sweatt admission to the school by building another law school for African Americans in Houston. Ultimately, however, the Supreme Court decided that the new school was not sufficient, largely because the school was not equal in prestige or faculty experience to the UT law school. As a predecessor to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education, Sweatt’s case ultimately allowed for admission of African American students at other institutions, Lavergne said. “You do not get to Brown v. Board without the Heman Sweatt decision,” Lavergne said. “In order to knock down the unanimous decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, you had to make sure that everyone understood that law was wrong.” In addition to providing details about the case and Sweatt’s life, Lavergne and Vincent also discussed Sweatt’s personality and his ability to stand up for his rights. “[The case] stands for the epitome of moral courage,” Vincent said. “Heman Sweatt was a modest, unassuming man. But he wanted to do what all of us wanted to do, which was to pursue his dream of a quality education at his university. Because of his moral courage, he made it easier for all of us.” Students at the event said Lavergne’s talk helped explain some of the roadblocks African-Americans faced in the mid-20th century. “The fact that this guy was willing to be the center of all this hatred blows my mind,” said finance sophomore Joe Niehaus. “It’s cool that he went through all the rungs of hardship to deal with that, especially since it’s so pertinent to this University.” The symposium will continue throughout the semester. The next event will feature a panel discussion about the history leading up to the creation of the symposium. It will culminate with a special evening of honors on May 6.