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The record as to why Harris was expelled is vague. No UTEP official cares to come up with a precise answer. "Phil never did anything bad," says George McCarty. "He was continually doing the marginal." There was a matter of parking tickets, which Harris claims he did not start getting until he began dating a blonde, and being put on report for dormitory violations, and an ashtray he may or may not have thrown and a remark in a store he may or may not have made. Presumably, all of this is buried in the files of the disciplinary hearing held on his case. But one thing he definitely did do was get engaged to his green-eyed Caucasian beauty and show her off proudly around the campus.
"It wasn't that Phil didn't know his place," says a white teammate. "He knew it, but he defied it."
Harris' refusal to follow the wishes of the UTEP establishment may have had nothing to do with his expulsion. UTEP officials repeatedly say that it did not. All that is clear is that Harris, already on campus probation, became involved in an argument with a dorm manager on a Saturday, and an ashtray was broken—Harris says he accidentally knocked it off a table. On Monday morning he was told there would be a hearing on his case that afternoon, and a few hours later, having ignored the warnings he says he got from coaches and George McCarty that his pro basketball career would be affected and that he would be asked to leave school if he didn't stop dating his girl, he was through at UTEP.
During this period his fianc�e was having predictable troubles with her friends on campus—but some surprising other difficulties, too. A 21-year-old member of a well-to-do Eastern family, she had been maintaining a good average in a complex course of study when she heard that a certain professor had said he would never pass a white girl who dated a Negro. And, in this case at least, he did not. She says her marks were all A's and B's, with one C, and then suddenly came an F. "I was so upset I looked at somebody else's tests and lab reports and my work compared well," she remembers. "I got a low mark in my finals, so I took my paper and my textbook to the teacher and showed him, for example, where one of my 'wrong' answers was almost an exact paraphrase of the text. He told me that was too bad, that he disagreed with the text. I took the whole thing to the head of the department and he told me, 'You got what you deserved.' "
A member of the faculty committee said he would be happy to sum up the Phil Harris case, provided, as usual, that his name not be mentioned. "White guys get it tougher than Phil Harris got it," he said. "We leaned over backward to be fair and not to be racist in his case. The white girl complicates things, obviously, but not in our minds. Not in ours, really, but in other people's." Wherever one turns at UTEP, it always seems that it is "other people" who are prejudiced.
You can see the Negro students of UTEP almost any day of the week drinking Cokes and playing cards at the last two tables in the rear of the spa, pool hall and bowling alley in the basement of the Student Union Building. If you could not tell them by their color and by the fact that they are voluntarily sitting "in the back of the bus," you could tell them by their bored looks. A high percentage of them are scholarship athletes, "professional amateurs."
"They told me that college would be a rewarding experience," says Fred Carr. "They said I'd meet people, I'd travel. Well, I did, but I still call college the time of my greatest suffering. I came to college and discovered prejudice."
"There is not a thing that goes on here that I like," says Bob Wallace. "We don't have nowhere to go. After every game we are supposed to stay around the dorm playing cards. Nothing to do. Nothing to do. These are supposed to be the best years of our lives, and it turns out to be a drag."
"It's a funny place," says Dave Lattin, now one year removed from the campus. "On the basketball court you're groovy people, but off the court you're animals. Even the Mexicans look down on you."
"We can't get into the fraternities." says Jerri Wisdom. "I was so innocent, I went through a frat rush. One day a guy called me aside and said, 'Hey, man, forget it!' I knew a Jewish kid who was hanging around with some Negro kids and the guys in the fraternity he had pledged told him to cut it out. That's before they found out he was Jewish. Then they dropped him altogether. They told him to go find a Jewish fraternity. Me, I was so dumb I kept trying to get in, but I didn't make it."