Swinish Behavior

Texas A&M's attempt to push an animal research center on a black neighborhood has raised a sour smell in College Station

In March 1994, about 60 to 70 people met with A&M officials to express their concern. "We didn't know anything about the three buildings, the lagoon and the other animals," says Al Schaffer. "All we knew about was the pigs. The information about the other facilities came out in subsequent meetings. We were very naive."

But they were also angry. They connected the decision to move hogs into their neighborhood with the Bush Library, which was displacing A&M's antiquated pig farm on the west end of the main campus. Cedric Rowse, a fiery young minister who lived in Bryan and grew up in Brushy Community, put it this way: "Our homes mean as much to us as the Bush Library means to you." The university was asked for an environmental impact statement and for technical data on the site.

A&M's administrators promised to get back to the community in a few weeks, which soon stretched into months. In October 1994, the residents learned that A&M had reduced the number of pigs planned for the facility to under 1,000; as a result, the TNRCC would no longer have any jurisdiction over what was done. The message to the residents was loud and clear: A&M was eliminating one of their avenues for challenging the facility.

Two months later, a number of Brushy residents again met with A&M administrators, and again came away dissatisfied.

"Their aim seemed to be to show us what a great facility it was, but they didn't discuss the number of buildings, or animals. They provided minimal information," remembers Al Schaffer, who by that time was tape recording all the meetings. "We begged the university to perform an environmental impact statement which would take into account the economic and social impact on our property, and they said they would think about it."

Schaffer recalls interrupting Bill Turner, then acting head of the animal science department, with a question about the site-selection process. Turner noted that A&M had looked at several possible sites for its animal farm and, when contemplating the site near Brushy Community, had met with two families who lived nearby.

Those families, Schaffer knew, were among the area's few white families. "When I asked him," Schaffer says, "about whether he had met with any black families, he got hot under the collar." The moderator quickly moved on to other things.

A later meeting between residents and A&M officials at Clayton Baptist Church went little better. Cora Rogers, a private-care nurse who put her life savings into a small house in Brushy, put it this way: "We don't have any college degrees in animal science, but we know better than to put large numbers of animals in a residential neighborhood." Frustrated, the residents demanded a meeting with Ray Bowen, A&M's new president.

Bowen had come to College Station in mid-'94 in part to help stop a flow of negative stories that had been issuing from College Station. The university had been sanctioned by the NCAA for giving football players summer jobs for which they did no work; disciplinary action had been taken against some Greek organizations for racist incidents; charges of sexual harassment and date rape were being lodged against the Corps of Cadets; the Texas Rangers were investigating several administrators for financial improprieties; and state auditors were investigating management problems in the handling of a contract to build a new power plant.

Bowen was supposed to bring in fresh air and a fresh perspective, but by November '94, when he should have been presiding over a public relations boon with the groundbreaking for the Bush Library, he instead had to face a public relations crisis. Rene A. Henry, the university's outgoing public relations director, had written Bowen an analysis of the conflict over the livestock center, weighing the university's defenses against the neighborhood's complaints. Henry concluded that the university ought to put construction on hold and find an alternate site, or else prepare for a PR nightmare. The memo appeared to have little effect on Bowen's thinking.

When Bowen met with the Brushy residents on December 20, 1994, he talked of contrition for A&M's stupidity, and said his staff offered the residents an open invitation to be involved. While stopping well short of offering to find another site, Bowen promised to work hard on getting the pigs out.

Bowen wanted a tradeoff: if the university got rid of the pigs, the leaders of the residents would sign a memorandum of agreement accepting the rest of the animals and facilities the university wanted to install. It sounded like a magnanimous offer, but it was full of pitfalls, given that A&M had yet to provide the residents any detailed plans, numbers of animals or technical studies of the facility's environmental impact. Neither the Schaffers, Rowse nor Williams felt comfortable in signing an agreement for the entire community, especially one that put so much power in the hands of A&M. Ruth Schaffer pointed out that the university didn't even maintain the student chairs in her classrooms. How, she wondered, could it be trusted to maintain something as perilous as, say, a waste lagoon for an uncertain number of animals?

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