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

At the meeting, Bowen and A&M administrators talked about building a spirit of "camaraderie" into the negotiations. Two days later, the Brushy residents discovered what that meant. Rather than consulting with them, Bowen announced he was appointing an African-American administrator from A&M to be not only a "liaison" to his office, but the "advocate" for the Brushy Community. The Brushy residents were outraged, in part because A&M was assuming to speak for them when they could speak for themselves, and in part because Bowen didn't bother to alert them to his decision. They learned about it only by reading the Bryan paper. It was, they felt, just more arrogance of the type Bowen had ostensibly been brought in to eliminate.

A&M's "advocate" would attend one meeting, then fade from view. In January of last year, the Schaffers again met with university officials. By this time, they had filed an extensive Open Records request. The university had replied that the request would cost the residents at least $600, money their organization didn't have. But if they would withdraw their legally binding request, they were told, the university would supply records voluntarily, and for free. The residents agreed, and were surprised at some of the records they did receive, such as the memorandums on the site-selection process. But the documents seemed incomplete, and some requests -- such as soil studies of the site, specific numbers of animals planned, the budget of the animal science department and records on the university's sewer treatment plant -- were never answered.

By this time, the residents had turned to a lawyer. Cedric Rowse had driven to Houston to meet Grover Hankins, a law professor at Texas Southern University. Hankins had worked for ten years in the Justice Department, had been general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and had served as a top lawyer for the Department of Health and Human Services. After listening a while, Hankins said he and a colleague from Dallas, Bob Hager, would take the case.

During the first five months of last year, Hankins wrote A&M four times to request a meeting. Finally, he was invited to come out on June 5. The meeting was held at the office of Bill Helwig, a university attorney new to the issue. Al Schaffer recalls that Helwig kept asking why the residents were concerned. It was infuriating to have to educate another university administrator, Schaffer says. As at every earlier meeting, the residents asked for an environmental impact statement; they were told it would be considered. When it came to plans and precise numbers, says Schaffer, "they would not tell us. They didn't say they would not tell us, they would just ignore the question and go on to something else."

But the university did have one precise number, and that was the number of pigs. The center had to have 75 to 100 on the site at all times for teaching and research purposes. The residents suggested scattering the pigs to various sites, but got nowhere.

Within a week after the meeting with the residents' lawyer, A&M issued a press release saying it was letting the animal project out for bidding. In the Brushy Community, garage sales and barbecues were held to raise money for a lawsuit. Last August, the residents sued A&M in federal court. In the suit, Hankins charged that geological studies showed that the soil on the site was highly permeable and that waste from the operation could contaminate area wells. Such actions, Hankins charged, violated the federal clean water and drinking water regulations. But the charge that carried the most potential for stopping A&M was the accusation that in choosing its site, A&M had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race.

So much for camaraderie.

A few months after the Brushy Community conflict came to a head in court, A&M suffered another controversy with racial overtones. The faculty senate offered up a plan to broaden required courses in the university's undergraduate curriculum, it was quickly attacked as an example of multiculturalism run rampant and the administration crumbled in the face of the dissent. Keeping what Barry Thompson, the A&M system's new chancellor, described as the university's constituency of "Bubbas and Bubbettes" happy was deemed more important than a few years of work by A&M's faculty senate.

Still, while A&M may not have changed its undergraduate requirements, it may have nonetheless created an educational experiment in multicultural studies through its dealings with the Brushy Community. If the university gets its way, the largest university animal science department in the country -- a department that has no black faculty and only two black undergraduates -- will be teaching Aggies how to manage a concentrated livestock operation adjacent to an angry, resentful, minority community. It could be an interesting experiment.

John Beverly, A&M's deputy vice chancellor of agriculture, is the administrator given the responsibility of arguing the university's decision to place its animal research center near the Brushy residents. Like many of the agriculture administrators, he wears a heavy gold A&M ring, a gray suit with a crisp white shirt and necktie and cowboy boots. As hedrives to the livestock site to view the construction, he emphasizes that the university is not building an animal production center but a teaching center. A&M has a mandate from the state to prepare agricultural leaders, he notes, and students need hands-on experience with animals. The underlying rhetorical strategy is this: the Aggies are not building the center on this spot just because it was convenient and they've now gotten themselves in too deep to get out easily. They're doing it because they have a moral imperative to help the whole state and the nation. This is bigger than A&M and, though Beverly never directly says so, bigger than the Brushy Community's fears.

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