The Tower, in all its glory, is perhaps the most recognizable landmark on UT’s campus. It’s only lit on special occasions, and its lighting holds a great deal of meaning for the UT community. If you want to know why the Tower is lit, all you have to do is Google it. An equally important, although sometimes overlooked, procedure also occurs on the Main Mall — the lowering of the U.S. and Texas flags. If a student doesn’t know why the flags are at half-mast, though, the answer isn’t as accessible. The lowering of these flags holds just as much reverence within the UT community as lighting the Tower, and students deserve an easy, reliable and convenient way of knowing why flags are at half-mast around campus.
Online, there is a small section on UT’s Financial and Administrative Services page that provides a brief explanation of the flags’ current positions, but the information is impossible to find with a simple Google search — the site is financials.utexas.edu. For the sake of accessibility and convenience, the University should make an effort to move this information to a more accessible and popular spot, such as UT’s main page utexas.edu.
The only other way to know why a flag is lowered on campus, according to the flag-lowering policy page, is by physically stopping by one of the flags in front of the Tower and reading the explanation plaque at its base. In contrast to the simplicity and convenience offered by the Tower’s website, finding information on why the flags on UT’s campus are at half-mast is way more difficult than it needs to be.
According to Rhonda Weldon, director of Financial and Administrative Services Communications, the Texas flag alone can be lowered for UT-related reasons — most commonly, to mark the passing of a student or a faculty or staff member. In these instances, an easily accessible explanation of the flag’s lowering is especially crucial. No one wants to be uninformed, especially on a topic as sensitive as a death on campus.
Accounting sophomore Gabby Knox walks by the flags in front of the Tower at least twice a day on her way to class, and admits that if the flags are lowered, she often has no idea why. “The only way I would know (is) if it’s, like, a national holiday,” Knox said. “Then I’m just inferring that that’s what it is, but other than that, I don’t know for sure.” If a website like the Tower’s website existed for the flags, she wouldn’t hesitate to use it, Knox said.
“People like knowing what’s going on,” Knox said. “If there was a quick way that they could be brought up-to-date with something on campus that’s happened, or something in the world that has, I know I would enjoy that and I think others would share that viewpoint.”
A simple solution exists — move the information on the flags’ status from its awkward location on the Financial and Administrative Services page to a more visible, accessible and convenient location within UT’s website, like the main page. The lowering of the flags on campus typically represents a time of mourning, and this difficult time shouldn’t be complicated by students’ inability to find the reason the flags are lowered in the first place.
Caldwell is a journalism and Latin American studies sophomore from College Station.