Tag Archives: UT-Austin

A remarkable man passes on

I hate getting news like this, but at my age I fear they are becoming more frequent.

A friend of mine in Amarillo called this morning with news that a mutual friend of ours has died. Most of you don’t know Gene Gifford, but I’ll take a brief moment to acquaint you with a truly remarkable man.

He grew up in Amarillo. Gene, to borrow a phrase, was an “acquired taste,” but once you acquired it you learned to love this man. My wife and I loved him dearly.

He played football at Tascosa High School. He went on to attend the University of Texas-Austin, where he continued to play football. He warmed the bench for most of his time at UT while the Longhorns played football for the legendary coach Darrell Royal. Gene talked openly about his time at UT and laughed at himself because he lined up at practice against his teammates, rarely getting to play against opposing teams.

Gene then went into the Air Force, graduated from officers’ candidate school, went to flight school and earned his wings after learning how to fly high-performance jet fighters. Then he got his orders to Vietnam to fight in the war. When he arrived in-country, Gene got a serious surprise. He wouldn’t fly the high-performance jet on which he qualified. The USAF would put him in a slow-speed reconnaissance plane, a propellor-driven O-1 Bird Dog, and he would serve as a forward spotter for artillery units. Gene would become a sitting duck for enemy gunners. He got through it, came home and became a financial adviser.

Gene Gifford was known as “Dirty Giff” to his friends and his grandchildren. He was a man’s man, as hard-bitten a conservative as anyone I ever met. He wore his politics on both sleeves and was unafraid to express his opinion on anything at any time and to anyone who was within earshot.

We met Gene Gifford not long after we moved to Amarillo in 1995. We became friends, but only after I told one time after he needled me about some political issue: “Gene, I am convinced that you don’t believe half the crap that flies out of your mouth.” I recall that he was caught flat-footed by that rebuke.

Our friendship blossomed after that moment.

Gene suffered personal tragedy; his son died in an auto accident years ago. He was an avid horseman but suffered a serious injury when a horse fell on him. He fought through his heartache and his physical injury.

Gene was ill for several years. The call that informed me that Gene had died came from one of his former colleagues who loved him as much as we did. In a strange way, it was a call I half-expected to get. When it came, though, it still hurt deeply.

Then again, we are reaching that stage in life when we should expect them more often.

Still, I will miss my friend.


UT hazing case brings disgraceful behavior front and center

Blogger’s Note: This blog post appeared originally on KETR-FM’s website.

I guess I missed out on a lot of “fun” while attending college back in the day.

The “fun,” had I joined a fraternity at Portland (Ore.) State University, would have included hazing. You know, things that involve sleep deprivation and assorted other forms of what would qualify as “torture” if it was being done to soldiers captured by the enemy on the battlefield.

Nicholas Cumberland died Oct. 30, 2018 after being hazed at the University of Texas by the Texas Cowboys, a fraternal group that UT-Austin has suspended for six years. Cumberland died in an automobile accident. He had been subjected to the kind of activity that clearly should be considered torture. The university has just released a report detailing the incident and the punishment it has leveled against the organization linked to the tragedy.

I find this kind of activity to be reprehensible. I’m an old man these days, long removed from my own college days. I was a young married student when I enrolled at Portland State. I lived with my bride and would go home each day after class. Thus, I avoided being sucked into the kind of activity that fraternities do to their members.

As KTRK-TV reported: “Cumberland was paddled so hard, he had ‘significant bruising on his buttocks nearly a month after the Retreat and car accident,’ records allege.”

Yes, the young man was on a “Retreat” when the vehicle he was in rolled over.

We hear about this kind of thing all the time. It’s certainly not unique to UT-Austin, or even to any public college or university in Texas. My hope would be that university educators and administrators everywhere in this nation would be alarmed enough to examine how their own fraternities conduct themselves.

A report by the UT-Austin Dean of Students Office notes that the Sept. 29, 2018 retreat included students bringing, among other things, “copious amounts of alcohol.” They also brought a live chicken and a live hamster, presumably to arrange for the frat pledges to kill the animals in bizarre fashion.

I get that I didn’t get to experience the full breadth of college life back when I was trying to get an education. I had seen enough already, having served a couple of years in the U.S. Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. So, I wasn’t a totally green homebody when I enrolled in college upon my return home.

I still cannot grasp the “benefit” accrued by hazing students to the point of killing them.

Perhaps the death of Nicholas Cumberland could prompt university officials to take a sober look at certain aspects of campus life and whether some elements of it result in campus death.

Former UT football coach lands in good place


Charley Strong didn’t coach his team to enough football wins to suit the boosters, the athletic director and the fans who follow the University of Texas Longhorns.

UT fired the coach, sent him packing. Then the coach landed another gig, at the University of South Florida, where he succeeds Willie Taggart, who has headed off to coach the University of Oregon.

Despite the dismal win-loss record, Strong left the University of Texas football program better off. Why? Because of what he did in his first season in Austin. He cut loose a bunch of bad boys on the team, student-athletes who weren’t acquitting themselves properly off the field. He tossed them over, telling them, in effect, that they needed to live by certain standards to play for his team.

When it happened, I recall some of the players were stars on the team, gridiron studs, big men on campus. Coach Strong believes that character matters.

The loss of that athletic talent might have hurt the Longhorns’ football performance. It helped the team understand what their coach stood for: integrity.

I am not a UT grad. I didn’t attend school there. Neither of my sons attended UT; one of them graduated from Sam Houston State University, the other from the Art Institute of Dallas. I don’t have any particular vested loyalty in the program.

I do have an interest in seeing young men develop the right way when they are given a chance for a fully paid college education. Athletic scholarships aren’t just tickets to sports stardom. They also give these young people a chance to obtain a good education — paid for by their athletic skill — that will shepherd them through the rest of their life.

Coach Strong, by my way of thinking, sought to imbue that ethic in young men who play big-time college football.

He didn’t win enough football games. Big deal. I’m betting he likely produced a sufficient number of winners who played football for him — and will do so again at his next stop.

Thanks, Coach, for setting a great example.

Campus-carry takes effect … very soon!


Monday will be a big day in Texas.

Fifty years ago, a gunman climbed to the top of the Texas Tower at the University of Texas campus in Austin and opened fire with his high-powered rifle.

Sixteen people died that day before the cops got to the gunman and shot him dead .

Aug. 1, 1966 is one of the state’s most infamous days.

Texas is going to mark that date by allowing people to carry guns on college campuses.

Ironic, yes? Tragically so? Yes again.

It’s interesting to me — and to a lot of others — that educators oppose this notion. Only one private university is allowing guns on its campus; the rest of them have said “no thanks.” Public universities are required under the law to allow students to carry guns into classrooms.

UT Chancellor William McRaven — the former Navy SEAL and special forces commander — is one of those who opposes campus-carry. But, what the hey? What does he know?

I’ll stipulate that I have come to accept concealed-handgun-carry as a way of life in Texas. I don’t necessarily endorse it.

Allowing guns on campuses, though, does present a unique set of concerns. What if a professor hands out a failing grade to a student who, um, might have a short fuse that could be lit with a dose of bad news? Does that student then pose an extra threat to the prof if he’s packing heat under his jacket?

Well, Texas is about to enter another era on its college and university campuses.

I’m going to hope for the best.

If only the state could have picked another date to allow guns on our campuses.

‘Deep reservations’ about all-volunteer military


Secretary of State John Kerry has broached a subject that is sure to get many Americans riled up.

He said during a symposium about the Vietnam War that he has “deep reservations” about our nation’s reliance on an all-volunteer fighting force.

Is he calling for a return of the draft? No. He’s not going that far. Indeed, show me a politician who does so and I’ll show you a politician who’s likely on his or her way out of office.

But this man does know a few things about combat, about sacrifice and about shared responsibility.

He was a Navy officer during the Vietnam War. Kerry came from that war and became a leader in the effort end that conflict.


What was Kerry’s major point about his appearance at the LBJ School of Public Administration at the University of Texas-Austin? “Don’t confuse the war with the warrior.”

That, sadly, is what many Americans did as they lashed out at the policies that caused so much dissension here at home. The blamed the young Americans who were following lawful orders.

That terrible time helped contribute to the end of military conscription.

More than 40 years later, the nation has been fighting wars on multiple fronts with young men and women who have served multiple tours of duty. They serve, return home and then go back into the combat theater. Again and again they go.

Some of them pay the ultimate price during those redeployments.

Kerry has asked a pertinent question: Are enough Americans buying into our nation’s commitment to fighting this war against international terrorism?

Indeed, the all-volunteer force — while still the deadliest fighting force in the world — has put tremendous strain on the young Americans who keep answering the call to thrust themselves back into harm’s way.

Is it time to force more Americans to share in this fight?

Let’s have this discussion.


Hideous coincidence follows campus-carry law


On Aug. 1, 2016, Texas is going to mark two important events.

One of them will be when the state law allowing anyone to carry a weapon onto college and university campuses takes effect.

I dislike the new law, although I am not vehemently opposed to it. The campus carry law gives me the heebie-jeebies, given the outbreak of violence that occurs on campuses throughout the country.

Now, for the next event.

Next Aug. 1 marks the 50th year since Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the Texas Tower on the University of Texas-Austin campus and opened fire with his high-powered rifle, killing 16 people before being gunned down by police.

The campus-carry law takes effect on the very same day that Texas will mark what’s been called commonly as the first such tragic incident of its kind in the nation.

Tower shooting

Erica Greider, writing a blog for Texas Monthly, poses this thought: “This is just a comically lurid coincidence that led me to ask myself whether the Lege should lose its lawmaking privileges, and probably raises more substantive questions for many of you.”

Could the Texas Legislature have picked a more ghastly date for this law to take effect? I think not.


On a side note, one of my sisters recently expressed her dismay over the use of the term “anniversary” to remember events such as these. The term, she said, ought to be reserved for occasions that recall joy and happiness.

This date ain’t an “anniversary.”

So long, President Davis


Weep not for the removal from the University of Texas-Austin grounds of a statue.

It is of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The statue removal has been the subject of considerable angst at the campus. In the end, a judge said the statue could be removed.  So today it was taken down, wrapped up, put on a truck and will be taken to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

It need not be shown in a public place where everyone — including those who could be offended by a statue depicting someone who led the secessionist movement in the 19th century.

Davis statue comes down

It’s one more action taken in the wake of that monstrous shooting in Charleston, S.C., of nine African-Americans by someone who allegedly declared his intention to start a race war. A young man has been charged with the crime and this young man is known to have racist views and has been pictured with symbols of the Confederacy.

Do you get why the Jefferson Davis statue might be highly offensive, say, to many of the students and faculty members at UT-Austin?

According to the Texas Tribune: “UT Student Body President Xavier Rotnofsky — who proposed the removal of the statue as part of his satirical campaign — said the fight is over and he is happy to see the statue being moved.

“’It’s very satisfying,’ Rotnofsky said. ‘What started off as a very far-fetched idea during the campaign — we came through with and the school year has barely started.’

“He said the national conversation after the South Carolina shooting and the passion of students on UT’s campus made the removal possible.”

Yes, Davis is a historical figure in the strictest definition of the word. He also was a traitor to the United States of America. Has anyone lately seen any statues, for instance, of Benedict Arnold?

So, put Davis’s likeness in a museum, where it can be looked at and studied by those with an interest in the Civil War.

And be sure it includes all the reasons that Davis and the Confederacy went to war against the Union in the first place.

UT to examine student-athletes’ record

It is entirely possible that a planned examination of alleged cheating by University of Texas student-athletes could mushroom into something much broader.

UT is looking into whether three basketball players cheated in the classroom. But officials say they intend to broaden the investigation, to look more deeply into the conduct of students — and their instructors.


This ought to be a welcome development if we’re going to continue to refer to these young men and women as student-athletes, putting the word “student” first.

UT-Austin President Greg Fenves said “no improprieties” have been found … so far.

Let’s hope it stays that way.

If, however, the university determines that “improprieties” do exist in the classroom, there must be serious consequences delivered to all offending parties.

Some of us — me included — like the term “student-athlete” and all that it implies.

Chief among the implications is that the young men and women should be enrolled in our public universities to obtain an education, that they aren’t in school just to play whatever sport in which they excelled in high school, earning them a fully paid publicly funded post-secondary education.

I don’t want the UT brass to find widespread cheating. If they do, however, then I’m prepared to support some serious punishment.



Grand jury calls for UT regent's removal

Wallace Hall should hit the road and leave the University of Texas System Board of Regents.

That’s the recommendation from — get a load of this — a Travis County grand jury.


Hall has been in the middle of a firestorm for more than a year over regents’ relationship with UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Criminal charges were filed against Hall, alleging that he went far beyond his mandate as a regent and meddled in administrative matters that are supposed to be within the campus president’s purview. The complaint alleged specifically that Hall shared private student information with his lawyers.

“Transparency and accountability are key elements in maintaining citizens’ trust in their government,” the report said. “Regent Hall demonstrated neither accountability nor transparency in his actions.”

The Texas Tribune reports that the grand jury action is unusual in its scope and in the strength in the wording it uses in recommending Hall’s ouster from the UT Board of Regents.

The grand jury didn’t indict Hall, but it went almost as far in calling for his ouster.

I’m thinking Regent Hall ought to go. I also am thinking the board of regents ought to stop meddling in UT-Austin administrative business.

Enough is enough.


Coach Strong seeks to be an educator

You could hear just a bit of grumbling coming from Austin when the University of Texas hired Charlie Strong to be the head coach of the school’s football team.

He wasn’t the favorite of some high-powered, well-heeled alumni. They wanted a proven big-time winner to restore the Longhorns to gridiron glory. Strong? Good guy, but can he win?

The jury is still out on the winning part, but he’s embarking on an effort that should get the attention of universities across the nation.

He’s trying to teach the young men of his football program how to become good men.


More power to you, coach!

As the Dallas Morning News blogger Jim Mitchell noted, “I don’t know whether it is possible to teach values to a college athlete if the player didn’t arrive on campus with a pretty clear understanding of right, wrong and personal responsibility. But I’m intrigued that the University of Texas is going to try.”

Strong took over from former coach Mack Brown and began tossing players off his team for what’s cryptically called “violation of team rules.” I was wondering at the outset whether Strong had come to Austin to imbue a certain kind of ethic in the players. One of the dismissed players hails from Amarillo, so it was a bit of a disappointment to see a local athlete caught up in this min-purge.

Strong’s efforts will be comprehensive, according to Mitchell: “Now comes a groundbreaking effort called the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation, which UT-Austin officials say will ‘leverage UT Austin’s expertise in academics and success in athletics to change the culture at a time when national headlines remain focused on high-profile athletes’ behavior and responsibilities.’”

I absolutely support the idea of reminding these young men that they have responsibilities that go far beyond their athletic exploits. Many athletes view their athletic skill as a sign of privilege. They think they have some God-given right to behave as they see fit. “Normal” rules don’t apply to them. Coach Strong says that’s not the case, that their elevated status requires them to behave properly and to exhibit the kind of life skills that will carry them through the rest of their life.

What is so wrong with that? Not a single thing.

Go for it, Coach Strong.