Division I Diatribes-Don’t Mess With Our Traditions

For Clarification, the following article is an opinion piece by the staff of the Lion Wire writers. It is not associated with Texas A&M University-Commerce, Lion Athletics, or anyone associated with the University in any official capacity. This is 100% opinion.

What do all great Universities have in common?

They have traditions. Great ones.

They also administrators that have the sense, decency, and good judgement not to mess with the traditions of the school. They understand that they are gatekeepers and stewards of that schools that they work at, and that as such they have a duty to make that sure that school keeps what made it great at the forefront. They don’t change or try to erase traditions.

Homecoming 2022 was a great day. We honored the members of the 1972 team that won a National Championship and rolled out the welcome carpet for these legendary guys. We presented them with a new trophy that had been donated by various alums and friends of the program. Someone had taken our tradition and messed with it. We got it back, and these men were honored as they should have been. Things were going great, until I got back to the pressbox.

I was told that the University Bookstore was phasing out all East Texas State apparel. When I called the school to speak with someone in authority, all I got was the bureaucratic nonsense and a biggest non answer saying it was a “licensing issue.” When people won’t give you an explanation, that usually tells you all you need to know about what they really want to do, which is something they really cannot say. To say the alums I spoke with are furious would be an understatement. I was furious as well. The employees at the bookstore were incredibly helpful but could only give answers with limited information because I suspect they know about as much as we do.

It should not be this way. We are a Division I school now. Our football team is playing the defacto conference championship game this Saturday. Our College of Business was just named a top US Business School and it’s Accounting program honored, and here we go again with this nonsense. One would think that the person making this decision would be ashamed that we were ever called East Texas State University. Look, I get it, Commerce is not really “East Texas” but the name is still there, deeply rooted in the Hunt County Blackland soil. It will never go anywhere, or should not at least.

Before you start saying, “but what about the current students and/or TAMUC graduates?” WE LOVE THE NOD TO OLD ET. Most of us wish we would have kept the East Texas moniker in our school name and not get overruled when our opinions were aired out. I spoke with someone who sells ET apparel and they say that most of their business are new students. Whether they mean to or not, this attempt to mute and get rid of the voices of East Texas State is one of the dumbest things someone can do. Our endowment needs money to help with the transition to Division I, and do you know who gives most of the money to that endowment? ETSU alums. Trying to purge the school of any of its vestiges of Old ET is really a foolish and short sighted thing to do based on emotions and not any good judgement of any kind. Speaking of…..

I know some of you will disagree with me, but so much of this started to take shape when Gee Lake and Gee Library were renamed. All for the grand prize of 20,000 dollars from a “anonymous donor.” Meanwhile, it cost various East Texas State alums 1.5 MILLION DOLLARS JUST TO GET THE NAME of legendary Coach Ernest Hawkins on the field of Memorial Stadium. Coach Hawkins, by the way, did more to move this school along in the right direction in both athletics and societally than just about anyone in the current school administration has done. The people who decided to make the change to two major University landmarks were and still are completely ignorant of who Dr James Gilliam Gee really was and what he stood for. The Man who was responsible for the Fieldhouse being built, Memorial Stadium being built, for ETSU to have more Ph.D’s than ANY public school in Texas and also secured funding for Highway 24 to serve as an alternate route to get from Dallas to Oklahoma by going through Commerce. The Man who got the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities to say “East Texas State approaches superiority as an institution in the Fall of 1964.” This was a man who said there would be none of this immoral and criminal behavior in opposing integration that had gone at places like Ole Miss, Alabama, and other colleges throughout the South. This was a Man who said “It is my devout wish and fervent prayer that the integration of this college will come about in an orderly manner and within a climate of peaceful dignity, becoming a well-mannered institution of higher learning. It is my hope, girded by my confidence in you and your loyalty, that not only the act of our being integrated but all ensuing developments thereafter, be conducted in the spirit of harmony, respect for law, constituted authority, and in the spirit of the teachings of the Golden Rule.” Gee’s legacy and his speech was a tradition that was honored for so long, until it was attacked by a group of activists and educational bureaucrats masquerading as academics. The fact that we have a University Administration that stripped Gee’s names off of all landmarks on campus and said they would never allow another landmark to be named after Gee tells you we have some leaders that do not care about our traditions and the people who truly made this school what it is, and in a style that would make the Bolsheviks and Stalin blush, try to erase all the beloved history our school, (including the very text of Dr. Gee’s incredible speech in 1964) has under the duress of the sensibilities of a handful of perpetually offended people who don’t know or understand history, and certainly do not appreciate the great traditions of our Alma Mater dear. Some of you might say “Look, lay off the Lake and Library issue, what does this have to do with our traditions?” It has to do with people who thought they knew better starting to attack traditions that were small, and are now moving on to the bigger ones, and unless the alums and donors push back, it will continue. We need to demand that the administration of this University respect our school and its traditions. When the President of your University does not even bother to wear a suit or dress decently during the presentation of the Homecoming court during the Homecoming game, that should tell you something. Now, while the decision to remove the East Texas State apparel was NOT, and I emphasize NOT an order from the President, it leads into this point. There are people under him that feel this is a good idea. Nobody, and I MEAN NOBODY, should dare to EVEN THINK about having a leadership role in this University, from the President on down, unless they believe with all of their heart that our University is one of a kind, it’s traditions are to be honored, and it’s future to be steeped in those traditions, not in the latest fads and trends of the day. If you don’t like our traditions, you don’t have to work here or go to school here. Nothing gives you the right to mess with it. Tradition never graduates, but it does fill up the endowment coffers and unifies Lion nation regardless of lifestyles, background, color, creeds, rather than divide us along those lines. You cannot claim to love Texas A&M-Commerce and yet hate East Texas State. It is time for alums to start raising some major cane when these things happen. Quit being afraid of having your voice heard. SPEAK UP with your voice and your money. However, when the University is doing great things, and they are, especially right now in athletics, GIVE and support them. One day, we will have a good administration again, like we did as recently as three years ago, and certainly 6 years ago. There are many people who are diverting their support from the school to the athletic department because right now that is the only thing that is reflecting well on our school. We have a terrific athletic administration and set of coaches in all sports. Don’t take it out on them and withhold support just because their colleagues in the administration building have no sense.

Bring back the East Texas State apparel and merchandise.

Bring back the Victory Bell to ring at the game.

Bring back King Pride.

Bring back the Lions For Life Tunnell.

Bring back the East Texas throwback jerseys in ALL SPORTS.

Bring back the line “Hail ET” in the Alma Mater.

BRING BACK something that honors Dr. James Gee restore his library archives, so that people can see his historic speech.

BRING BACK SOME SENSE of Campus Autonomy from the A&M System.

Quit Trying to get East Texas State graduates to get “Texas A&M-Commerce” diplomas.

STOP OFFENDING the people who want to give and support the school.

Don’t Mess with our Traditions. East Texas State traditions are Texas A&M-Commerce traditions.

7 thoughts on “Division I Diatribes-Don’t Mess With Our Traditions

  1. From an historical viewpoint (circa 1965), the University has not adequately attended to the identification, development and perpetuation of institutional traditions to the degree some other institutions have. Most collegiate institutions of note have long understood the importance and necessity to establish traditions that, to some degree, define the school and its earliest origins not just to the general public but to the institution’s own students’, most of whom will become alumni in time.

    Institutional identity is formed through a combination of academic recognition, athletic success, historical events and a desire to create an identity that is both known and respected afar. TAMUC, while having all of those aspects and qualities, has not devoted sufficient time nor thought to the importance that tradition in defining an institution to the broader public.

    TAMUC is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States (not just Texas) and there are numerous schools’ that were established decades after TAMUC that have ascended to the highest levels of academic/institutional recognition that now eclipse that of TAMUC. That could only occur if there has been a failure on the part of TAMUC leadership, both historical and current, to place a priority on development of the reputation and prestige the University. And, having failed to do that, the University continues to languish in near obscurity on the broader higher education horizon.

    Ultimately, this is a leadership issue that points to what the University is versus what is seeks to be. And, that TAMUC is one of the older institutions of higher education in the nation should suggest to someone that the University has been doing something correct all these years or it would not be here today.

    This is the challenge to University leadership in its broadest form including an engaged and active alumni constituency. With a current giving rate of less than 2%, the importance and necessity of an informed and engaged alumni becomes paramount. Then and only then will the voice of an active alumni for Texas A&M University-Commerce ever be heard or acted upon by University officials, State officials and anyone else that follows the University’s pursuit of institutional excellence.

  2. Brian,

    It may be of some interest to you to know that I purchased an original program (a pamphlet) from eBay that was a commemorative celebration of Dr. Gee’s life upon his retirement that provided insight and definition to his many lasting contributions to the University. Included in the approximately twelve page document was the quotation that you cited in your accompanying “The Lion Wire” article. It is not difficult to ascertain the nature and reasoning that contributed to renaming the library and the lake and the unusual swift manner in which those actions were taken, something that the University is not known for.

    Historians understand that all history must be evaluated in the context of the complete record. History, as an academic focal point, requires evaluation of any event, result or circumstance in the context of the broader theater of social change. To do so is not an excuse or explanation for a specific action, but one that does potentially provide context to actions and events within the period in which they occurred.

    In the case of integration, the historical record for Dr. Gee’s actions are not subject to uncertainty. The official record in the University Archives (strengthened with donation of the commemorative retirement pamphlet) provides ample and relevant contemporary perspective of Dr. Gee, his mindset and purpose in leading the University at a time that most institutions of higher education were undergoing campus turmoil and strife attendant to the desegregation process across the nation. I was a part of one of the first desegregated classes for ETSU (1966) and did not witness nor learn of any developments on campus that even remotely suggested opposition or resistance to the Federally mandated desegregation order.

    Thus, Dr. Gee provided the necessary leadership and direction to a momentous period in the University’s fabled history that guided the institution through a challenging and difficult period in American higher education without incident. Few, if any, other institutions’ navigated the vagaries of the desegregation process as effectively and uneventfully as did ETSU under the leadership of Dr. James Gilliam Gee and that is a matter of historical record.

    But it it important to remember that history occurs everyday and recording what, at the time, is only daily activity, provides the sole record of what occurred and its affect on the immediate and long term state of affairs. The historical record for Dr. Gee at the point when the University was transitioning from a segregated to desecrated status is more than sufficient to recognize not penalize a demonstrated leader in both private and military life. In time, as further evaluation of Dr. Gee’s momentous life continues, his historical accomplishment’s will inevitably emerge as being notable and worthy of the recognition they deserve.

    Ted R. Crim Class of 1970

    >

      • Brian,

        The item I mentioned in my article was an original University printed retirement commemorative program for Dr. Gee. I was a student at the time Dr. Gee retired and I did meet him in my freshman year (19656-1966). As I have done with myriad other original historical items from the University’s fabled past, I donated it to the Department of Special Collections and University Archives in the library on campus.

        Obviously, there were any number of these pamphlets (approximately twelve pages) printed, but this was the first I had ever seen. The pamphlet is probably twelve inches by fifteen inches in size and was light gray color heavy paper cover with a large reproduction of Dr. Gee’s unique signature. There are photographs in the pamphlet and it is quite interesting particularly in view of recent developments.

        Anyone can visit the Library and ask to see the copy that I donated probably one and a half years ago. This donation was but one of many such ORIGINAL items that I have bought off of eBay for return to the University including a gavel used and signed by Mr. Rayburn. I have always felt that if these items are not obtained, they are essentially lost forever.

        Best,
        Ted

          • Brian,

            No, they, whoever they are, will not trash this item. It is historic and is now ensconced within the Archives as it should have already been but was not. Both the Department of Special Collections and University Archives and the Office of Philanthropy and Engagement (Advancement) were not established at the University until 1970, the year I graduated with a B.S. degree by Dr. John Carrier, a Professor of History in the Department of History at E.T.S.U. A little late for an institution that was then eighty one years old for both historical archives and organized fund raising. Before that, there were no University archives to preserve original elements from the University’s rich past. Nor was there any formalized fund raising largely because of a disproportionate dependence upon State funding that was enabled by the late State Senator Ralph Akin of Paris, Texas. Senator Akin, though not an alum of ETSU, did much, while the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, to bolster ET. When he passed away, so did his enormous influence and dedication to ET. And, ever since, the University has been trying, somewhat poorly, to develop a successful fund raising program to augment State assistance not support. Since I commenced working on an Endowed Chair bequeathment for the University (it’s first), there have been two VP’s for Philanthropy and Engagement and two staff persons’, both of whom have now left for positions’ elsewhere. Too much turnover, not enough fundraising (a 2% giving rate by alumni) and lack of overall planning and stabilization has cost and is costing the University everyday. Hope springs eternal!

            Ted

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