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Austin American­Statesman

Diploma accentuates the positive

Dave McNeely

11 March 1993

University of Texas Chancellor William Cunningham presented a law degree a few days ago to state Rep. Pete Gallego, (D) ­Alpine. It was a little­noticed event that underlined some of the dramatic demographic changes taking place in Texas.

They include channeling more university money to heavily Hispanic South Texas, because of court pressure, and an increase in the number of Hispanic legislators.

Gallego graduated from the UT law school in December 1985. But his degree omitted the tilde in his middle name. Since then, he returned home, and in 1990 beat an incumbent Anglo state representative named Dudley Harrison.

Now in his second term, Gallego, 31, is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a new member of the House Appropriations Committee ­which has a great deal to do with deciding the size and direction of the UT budget.

That fact is not lost on Cunningham. When he met with Gallego, the sophomore representative brought up an old wound.

"I said that the last taste I had in my mouth of UT...was a very bad one," Gallego said. In 1985, "I had gotten from UT a form letter saying `This is the way your name is going to appear on your diploma.' And it was a typed letter, and it didn't have the tilde over the N.

"My name is Pete Pena Gallego, and the Pena is my mother's maiden name. And so since it was a form letter, I went over there and I said, `I know that you can't put this on your typewritten letters, but I want to make sure that when it's on the calligraphy on the diploma that the tilde is there.'

"And the woman who was working at the registrar's office that day told me that she was sorry, but that they didn't do things like that for foreign students.

"And I said, `Excuse me?' And she repeated, `We don't do things like that for foreign students.' And I said, `Well, I'm not a foreign student. I was born and raised in Texas. I paid in­state tuition for a reason. And I spent a lot of money at this law school. And the least that you can do is spell my name correctly on my diploma.'

"And she said again that they wouldn't do that, that there were no exceptions to the rule ­ that they only printed stuff in English. We went on about considering the money that I had spent it wasn't that expensive for them to get a calligrapher or to do whatever they did to change it. And she refused. And she was very rude about it.

"And by the end of the conversation, she picked up a black Magic Marker and she threw it at me, and she said, `If you want it on there that bad, you take a little black Magic Marker and you put it on there yourself.' "

Which Gallego did. But he didn't forget.

When he told Cunningham the story seven years later, the chancellor "freaked out," Gallego said. "He didn't know that stuff like that happened, and I think he was sincere about that. He was genuinely distressed, and indicated that that was something that was relatively easy to fix.

"And when he gave me my new diploma, he indicated that there had been an informal policy I think in the print shop, but it was not an administrative decision. It was just somebody in the print shop that didn't want to change the fonts. And that they were getting themselves into the 21st century now."

Asked about the incident, Cunningham said, "As soon as I heard about the problem, I was determined to do whatever was necessary to correct it. And I was delighted to be able to provide Rep. Gallego with a diploma with his name spelled correctly.

"I was surprised to learn that the university did not use tildes and other accents on the names on diplomas. It was embarrassing that this practice had not been brought to my attention earlier, but I am pleased that the problem has been solved. Beginning with diplomas issued this spring, UT- Austin will use the proper accent marks in all names."

McNeely, an American­Statesman columnist, covers political issues affecting the state.

© 1993 Austin American Statesman. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.