Texas Campus Stirs as One Man Gets a Second Statue
By NATHAN LEVY
New York Times
Published November 26, 2004
Joe Jamail has given more than $21 million to the University of Texas. A statue of him stands in the university's law school pavilion, which bears his name, as does the university's football field.
AUSTIN, Tex., Nov. 25 - Of the more than a dozen statues peppering the University of Texas campus here, one glorifies the first native-born governor, two pay tribute to deceased American presidents, and others honor Confederate leaders.
Another statue is poised to join the cast on Friday, honoring a graduate who is a successful trial lawyer.
The subject, Joe Jamail, a Houston alumnus who has donated $21.7 million to the university and its athletic programs, already has one bronze likeness at the law school and his name is on several campus sites. The newest statue of Mr. Jamail, who won billions of dollars for Pennzoil in a landmark suit in the 1980's, is scheduled to be unveiled inside the football stadium before the annual game against archrival Texas A&M.
"It is absolutely appropriate to say thank you," said William Powers Jr., dean of the University of Texas Law School. "He is an avid Longhorn sports fan."
But not everyone looks forward to another likeness. The statue, a donation from the law firm of Vinson & Elkins in Houston, makes Mr. Jamail the only person with two on the 350-acre campus, university officials say, and that distinction has rankled some faculty members.
"One is enough, with due respect to whoever," said a journalism professor, Gene Burd.
Professor Burd added that, at a time when public universities are desperate for money because of fluctuations in state financing, the new statue sent the wrong signal for people "who see this as another white male capitalist."
"Considering all the talk about other statues, it is almost asking for a demonstration or incident," he added.
Mr. Jamail's new statue has prompted campuswide discussion about who is honored at the institution. In addition, the symbolism of statues has become a flashpoint for a renewed debate over race at the campus of 50,400 students.
The president of the University of Texas, Larry Faulkner, is considering moving the prominently placed Confederate statues, which include Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, in response to a recommendation in May from a task force on racial equality. The proposed move is an effort to reduce the "institutional nostalgia for the Confederacy and its values," Mr. Faulkner wrote in a letter to the university.
The task force was put together in the spring of 2003 after several incidents on campus revealed ethnic and racial divisions. Two fraternities were penalized for parties at which members were photographed wearing racially offensive costumes, and the campus police were accused of racial profiling. In addition, vandals defaced a campus statue of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. twice in a span of 19 months, the first in 2003 on the national holiday honoring him. The statue was spray-painted in the most recent attack, in August.
Other recommendations from the task force included appointing an official to steer diversity projects, requiring students to take a crosscultural course and recruiting more diverse faculty and staff members.
The effort to expand the range of campus statues has already had some success. A student-inspired effort has led to statues of two civil rights leaders, the late Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan and the labor leader Cesar Chavez, to be erected in a couple of years.
"A lot of students don't feel welcomed when they see those Confederacy statues on campus," said Julie Wimmer, a senior who heads an organization behind the campaign for the new statues. "It's important we be representative in our public art."
Statues reflect not only the past, but also the future, said Pauline Strong, a professor of anthropology who studies commemorations. She is against the Jamail statue, Professor Strong said, adding, "There is a cautious attitude towards naming buildings and erecting statues to people who are still alive."
Mr. Jamail, 78, practices law in Houston. His 1985 defense of Pennzoil convinced a Houston jury that Texaco interfered in his client's attempted acquisition of Getty Oil. Pennzoil won an $11 billion verdict, the largest in the history of tort law. It was later reduced to $3 billion in 1987, and bankrupted Texaco.
In his autobiography, "Lawyer: My Trials and Jubilations" (Eakin Press, 2003), Mr. Jamail described his persona: "I happen to have a giant ego, an admission that will not shock my close friends or critics. I am not uncomfortable in saying that because the ego of a man often gets great things done. The trick is to learn to contain one's ego, not conceal it."
An admitted fighter and hard drinker in his youth, Mr. Jamail earned his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Texas. In his book, he said he got into law school without taking the entrance exam. "It has been pointed out to me, more than once, that for someone who chose a profession steeped in procedure and protocol, I had little use for either," he wrote.
Sites at the university named for him include the swim center, the football field, a law school pavilion, which houses his statue, and the legal research center, which contains the law library.
The newest statue of him was unexpected, he said. The professors, coaches and administrators "trying to eradicate ignorance" are the ones who deserve gratitude, he said in an interview, adding, "I give money to help them do their job."
The statue of Mr. Jamail planned for a corner of the football stadium is a casting of the one in the law school. Vinson & Elkins commissioned the same sculptor for about $100,000 to make a replica, said a law partner, Harry Reasoner. It will be placed near a new statue of the former national champion football coach Darrell Royal, which Mr. Jamail and his wife paid for.
One person who said she would not be at the Texas-Texas A&M football game to see the new statues is Mary Hill of Austin. From 1981 to 1992, Ms. Hill worked for the Houston offices of Getty Oil, which later became a part of Texaco.
Ms. Hill, a semi-retired legal secretary, said Mr. Jamail was clever in the courtroom during the Pennzoil trial and knew how to convince the Houston jury that a New York-based Texaco had double-crossed the local company. But she cautioned that people should realize how he earned his wealth.
"When you erect these statues to Joe Jamail, they have got some skin and blood underneath them," Ms. Hill said. "People at Texaco paid a high price emotionally and financially for that."