Theodore Roosevelt

Editor’s Note: A -30- column is a chance for a departing staff member to recollect about his time at The Daily Texan.

I first came to The Daily Texan two years ago as a senior fresh off my exchange to Brazil. During that trip I was asked by Hannah Jane DeCiutiis, then a reporter in the Daily Texan news department, to comment on sociology professor Mark Regnerus’ gay-parenting study and its potential effects. When I returned to campus, I realized I wanted to contribute further to the ongoing discussion around Regnerus’ study and the larger questions it raised. I wrote a guest column about the importance of personal parental sacrifice, the editors liked it, I applied as an opinion columnist and was lucky enough to be selected. I wrote, rushed, fretted and celebrated through two years of being a columnist because I wanted to join the local, state, national and global debates in which our University was involved. I was not disappointed. I was lucky to have two thoughtful editors, Susannah Jacob and Laura Wright, and a host of associate editors and fellow columnists who challenged me to make my columns more accessible and organize my sometimes muddled thoughts before they reached print.

When I was mired in self-doubt and anxiety as a writer, frustrated by a complicated story or simply tired of the weekly grind of the newsroom, I would remember President Theodore Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne expounding upon civic duties. He warned his audience against inordinate materialism and asked them to stay “in the arena,” where they could produce relevant knowledge for worthy causes. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I hope to have made some impact on UT’s conversation. But what does the UT “arena” look like?

Being a student-writer has been a privilege for me. Balancing my undergraduate thesis, and later my graduate work, while churning out columns was sometimes a pain. But consistent writing kept me on my toes and in tune with some of the happenings of our University that I normally wouldn’t have delved into. I got the chance to sit through and cover events ranging from workers’ rights in the Caribbean to environmental conferences. I was able to shed light on debates about appropriating the past, such as the meaning of Thanksgiving and the complexities of Holocaust comparisons. I got to cover key aspects of student life ranging from non-violent protest to our financial situation, to stories as ordinary as how to talk with someone who begs on the drag. Most interestingly, I got to “follow the money” of various UT centers, government scholarships, outside think-tanks and UT research to raise questions about what goes on “behind the scenes.” I thank all of those sources who contributed to my stories, on and off the record, to better inform my opinions and refine my message to our readers.

Without these sources, their patience, and most importantly their time, my stories would be nothing more than the frivolous statuses I post each second on Facebook or Twitter. I thank those sources with whom I disagree for sharing their views and expertise and for furthering the conversation. 

Institutions, UT included, must be pushed to do the right thing. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” the phrase on the UT Tower, is a warning against attaching the Longhorn logo to sub-standard distortions, misrepresentations and hidden agendas. Nevertheless, UT has shown itself willing to support sub-par research until the backlash creates a liability for the University’s “business brand.” Therefore, our job as student journalists is to create a liability for UT when it fails to properly vet the research it promotes, fails to rethink questionable partnerships on UT restructuring plans and fails to promptly speak out against abuse and misreporting, by its employees or others, of the University’s “core competency” of serious scholarship. As student journalists, we need to drive home the message that, at a time where the University is considered a business, we the students are not the “raw material” but rather, the stockholders, without whom the University’s mission is nothing but that of another nameless think-tank. As journalists, we should remember that although everyone is welcome on our opinion page, UT officials already have a megaphone and don’t need another pulpit. Instead, they need an adversary — a devil’s advocate. In short, we have responsibilities too.

As journalists, as students and as scholars, let us not be “cold and timid souls” afraid of the powerful and complacent in our privileges. Whether reaching a casual or avid Texan reader or employing a staff writer and occasional contributor, it’s my hope that The Daily Texan continues to strengthen its role as a serious voice “in the arena” of the University’s vigorous debate.

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Knoll is a first-year master’s student in Latin American studies from Dallas. He has worked as a columnist and guest columnist since fall 2012.

Photo Credit: Anik Bhattacharya | Daily Texan Staff

When President Barack Obama spoke Thursday at the Civil Rights Summit, it was not the first time a U.S. president has visited the University. Since 1900, seven different presidents have given speeches at the University to commemorate events and inspire students — although some of them did it from their carriages rather than being live-streamed on television.

The first president who visited the University was President William McKinley, who spoke from his carriage in front of the Tower in 1900, according to the book “The University of Texas Records.” Nearly five years later, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke from his carriage in the same spot, although not very eloquently, the book said.

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“He is not an easy speaker,” the book said. “His words indeed come with considerable effort, but they are well chosen, and his intense earnestness and sincerity give great force to what he says.”

A 1905 editorial in The Daily Texan gave the students’ opinion of the president’s qualities. “The student body at the University and the people of Texas, as a rule, may not agree with the President in politics, but they are much too broad-minded not to honor the office which he holds,” the editorial said. “Besides, he has some good qualities anyhow.”

Two of the four presidents at the summit, Obama and former President Bill Clinton, also previously visited the University. In 1995, Clinton gave a speech on racial harmony and cooperation, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and urging both black and white Americans to reconcile their differences.

“We must clean our house of racism,” Clinton said. “We are one nation, one family — indivisible.”

Obama gave a speech in Gregory Gym in 2010, in which he showed students his “Hook ‘em Horns” hand sign and emphasized the importance of prioritizing education.

The president closest to the University has always been President Lyndon B. Johnson, who visited campus regularly and even attended football games in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, although he disliked the sport. One of his staff members was quoted in an ESPN article as saying, “He didn’t pay any attention to the game at all. He cared about as much about football as I would a ladies’ dressing parade.”

Johnson was friends with former head football coach Darrell K Royal and many other University staff and faculty, and the LBJ Library was built on campus in 1971 in his honor. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, who worked for The Daily Texan, had degrees in history and journalism from the University.

President Johnson gave a commencement speech at the University in 1964, just before he signed the Civil Rights Act. In his speech, he spoke about how increasing population growth meant more responsibility for students to improve the world.

“For we are at a turning point in the history of our Nation,” Johnson said. “One road leads to the Great Society … and the other road leads to a legacy of despair and degradation. This is the time for decision. You are the generation which must decide.”