Page Two

The Evil Regents Return.

Page Two
Driving to work, I've been known to take long detours just to keep listening to the radio. The morning of the Texas A&M bonfire tragedy, radio was unusually interesting, the morning deejays showing a respect for the tragedy but remembering that the core of their job is energizing and entertaining those who have mostly just arisen -- workers and students, housewives and truck drivers. Listening to Dale Dudley and Bob Fonseca on KLBJ-FM, I was struck by Dudley's tact. Somber and thoughtful about the accident, Dudley bet his listeners that the outside media, especially on the East Coast, would cast this genuine tragedy in the most base, hick terms: Here are the cowboys with their frontier redneck football rituals. I'm sure he was at least somewhat right.

I've been thinking about that a lot as I ponder the current University of Texas black comedy: Just When You Thought They Were Gone, the Evil Regents Return. Over the last three years, dozens -- if not hundreds -- of professionals, including many UT professors, collaborated on the effort that led to the design of the Blanton Museum of Art. It was applauded by many faculty. Two regents, in an insipid display of power, torpedoed this design. Some traditionalists are rejoicing, seeing this as a victory for old-fashioned design, arguing that the design of the new museum didn't fit into the university. Most folks, regardless of their take on the design, are shocked by this interference.

The regents don't "own" the university; they operate it in the institution's best interests. Their job is to nurture the university, guide its growth, and aid its vision. This repudiation of the design was a denouncement of the faculty who participated in the design plan's creation. Most grievously insulted is the School of Architecture. If the regents don't trust the judgment of the very architecture educators it offers to the student body, what does it say about their confidence in the school? Dean Larry Speck had little choice but to resign.

People I've talked to are almost all outraged by this situation. If this is not playing well in Texas, imagine how the rest of the nation is looking at the event. Think of the building we're going to get in the wake of this ugly interference. It will probably be in the shape of an armadillo to go along with the cowboy hat and state of Texas. Even a local independent arts institution functions in consistent collaboration with the national arts community. Deciding which institutions host visiting exhibits and traveling shows is always a political process. To return to Dudley's comments, just imagine how the East Coast press will portray this one and how the cultural community will consume it. Texas still does things the backward way: Big-money bully politics sink outstanding museum design. This is a tack the outside media have too often taken, only this time they'll be right.

I'm thinking a stink is in order here -- letters written and phone calls made. Governor Bush may be in a vulnerable position here; he doesn't want to be presented to the nation as a hick whose regents' petty interference arouses national indignation.

Austin should be evolving from a city without one major art museum (in terms of physical capacity; I'm not dissing any institution) to one boasting two outstanding ones, the Austin Museum of Art-Downtown and the Blanton on campus. Instead, it looks like we may end up with one and a half.

Threadgill's will be hosting the 10th anniversary Musicians Appreciation Supper on Tuesday, December 14. All working musicians are invited. All you have to do to get in is register your act for the 17th annual Austin Chronicle Musicians Register (co-sponsored by KGSR-FM and KLBJ-FM) to be published this February and also distributed at SXSW. You have weeks to register, but if you want to partake of the free food, you must get your form in before Dec. 14. end story

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