Hey, North Carolina, we're raising the ante on claim to the title of State Most Shamefully Committed to the Stupid Political Ruination of Science - except we're not that shameful about it. Instead, we're putting our boisterous Texas spin on it.
Last week, the University of Texas's Invest in Texas campaign held their lobby day, in which students from across the political spectrum visited with legislators to advocate on behalf of the university community. Here with a guest post on these efforts is Michael Morton, outgoing president of the UT Senate of College Councils, who helped organize the effort.
UT Students Call on Legislature to Invest In Texas By Michael Morton
More than 80 University of Texas at Austin students descended upon the State Capitol on Tuesday, April 2 for the Invest in Texas Legislative Day. Students dressed in "Invest in Texas" T-shirts walked from UT Austin's Student Activity Center to the Capitol's North Steps to hold a press conference advocating to keep the university competitive, safe, represented, and affordable.
The press conference featured speeches from student leaders as well as Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), member of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, and Representative Dan Branch (R-Dallas), Chair of the House Higher Education Committee. Both legislators spoke about the importance of higher education and how UT Austin benefits the state of Texas.
Following the press conference, the Invest in Texas campaign was honored in the House of Representatives by Representative Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) who authored HR 1215 recognizing April 2 as Invest in Texas Day at the State Capitol.
Immediately after the reading of the resolution, students spent the afternoon meeting with legislator offices in small groups to discuss the campaign's legislative platform and why higher education is important to the state.
The Legislative Day was part of the student-run, non-partisan Invest in Texas campaign coordinated by UT Austin's Senate of College Councils, Student Government, and the Graduate Student Assembly, along with more than 30 other UT student organizations. Started in 2011, the campaign is designed to advocate for students during each legislative session and focuses on key student issues such as increased state appropriations and financial aid funding, providing plus-one insurance benefits to university employees, allowing UT Austin to determine its campus gun policy, and granting the UT System Student Regent a vote on the Board of Regents. Each legislative session, members of the campaign draft a legislative platform and campaign representatives meet with legislators and testify at house and senate committee hearings.
This year, Invest in Texas also organized the inaugural Flagship Legislative Day with Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, and Texas State University in order to underscore the importance of higher education.
Watch a video of the Invest in Texas press conference below the jump.
Rick Perry's at it again, trying to mess with the University of Texas, and again rumored to be using his cronies on the Board of Regents to try and drive out UT President Bill Powers.
What remains to be seen is if this latest effort by Perry to harm the competitiveness of our state's flagship public university will go beyond well-sourced rumors. However, I have no doubt that Powers is ready to fight not merely for his job, but the integrity of the University of Texas.
It's old news that Perry tends to reward his biggest donors with plummy positions on the Board of Regents -- as of November 2012 the UT Regents had donated $796,892 according to analysis by the Daily Texan. Last May, Texas Exes rose up in support of Bill Powers when Paul Burka published rumors that the UT President's job might be in jeopardy. Whether it was a strategic effort to rally popular support for Powers and avert his firing or simply bad intel, the next day UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa stated unequivocally that he was never directed to fire Powers.
There's obviously tension between Powers and the Regents -- Powers' recommendations of what the University needs to thrive and maintain its world-class status seem to fall on deaf ears for some of the Regents, some of whom seem particularly hostile to Powers' efforts to marshall enough revenue to run the university.
Earlier this session, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst led a bi-partisan effort in the State Senate to praise Bill Powers on the floor, stating "I believe in reform and I know that Bill Powers believes in reform. That's why I'm particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system."
As of Fall 2011, 20% of UT's student body is Hispanic. But that isn't stopping a couple of sororities from throwing a party chock full of racist stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
Last night, two sororities, Zeta Tau Alpha and Delta Delta Delta, hosted their annual "Zeta-Tri Delt Fiesta Party" at Recess Bar on 6th street. They rented the bar out until 12:30p.m. for their hundreds of guests, many of whom wore ponchos and other stereotypical Mexican garb of a bygone era.
Now, I don't believe that wearing tradition Mexican attire is inherently racist. But I do know that you have to be classy about it. Laying down some ground rules for attire would have been a much better step for the sororities, instead of encouraging hundreds of drunk Texas Greeks to parade around 6th street in clothing which suggests that this is what Mexicans and Mexican-Americans wear. Anyone who's been to a modern-day fiesta knows that this isn't how people dress.
Unfortunately, having no rules led these two sororities to host a party which also accepted, and obviously encouraged, outright racism. See the picture in this post, taken from the event. What the hell does an undocumented immigrant and a border patrol officer have to do with a fiesta party, which is supposed to be a celebration of Mexican-American culture? The "illegals" are clearly what some students thought this party was a referendum on. If you're not an "illegal" - a crude, dehumanizing term suggesting that a person's entire existence is defined by the status of their papers - then you're an ancient Mexican stereotype divorced from today's society. This type of dress should absolutely have been banned by two sororities claiming to be stand-up members of the UT and Austin communities.
It's not that these two sororities are racist, nor that all their guests are. It's that there are bounds of reasons in everything - themed parties included. Your right to free speech doesn't mean others can't critique the way you use it. There are 600 undocumented UT students in the same community as these revelers and they should be able to expect respect from their Longhorn peers. In their efforts both to study on Texas's DREAM Act, while politicians debate ridiculously over a national DREAM Act, it's not right for them to have to put up with this public display of antipathy.
In February, University of Texas professor of geologic sciences and associate director of UT's Energy Institute Charles "Chip" Groat released a study called "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development," which found no evidence that hydrauling fracking harms the environment. When it was discovered that Groat has been on Houston-based oil company Plains Exploration & Production Co.'s board for several years, the study's validity was immediately thrown into question - and for good reason. Groat has received millions of dollars from Plains. In 2011 alone, Plains paid Groat $413,900 and Groat holds more than $1.6 million in the company's stock. Groat has refused to comment on the study to defend himself.
So, fact-finding professor or amoral industry hack? That's what a new UT panel announced Tuesday will try to find out. The Austin American Statesman profiled the three-member panel:
The panel will be chaired by Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., and a member of a scientific and technology advisory council under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and a NASA committee under President Barack Obama. He has served as board member of the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center.
Joining him are James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, who has served on the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy at the National Academies; and Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation and former president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. She chairs the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which is distributing $500 million for research in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Augustine, Duderstadt, and Colwell will attempt to determine the scientific credibility of the report. They have a very important responsibility, and one that all those who care about UT should care about too. If the university cannot be trusted to produce factual studies because of corporate influence, the university fails to exist. It becomes a propaganda machine. No UT student spends or spent time on the Forty Acres to learn from a propaganda machine.
And, by the way, fracking totally does harm the environment - viciously. "Chip" Groat's study appeared to be a very rare non-industry studies to say otherwise...until it became clear that it was industry-sponsored.
Yesterday, 37 state legislators, led by Houston's Senator Rodney Ellis, filed an Amicus Brief with the Supreme Cout of the United States in support of the University of Texas' admissions policy, which utilizes race as a consideration. The admissions policy was adopted after Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, which outlined acceptable ways to use race.
The University's policy was upheld both by District Court Judge Sam Sparks and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will decide this case without the help of Justice Elana Kagan, who has recused herself from the case.
If the high court rules against the University of Texas, the increased diversity at UT and other institutions across the country will likely start reversing without some other effective public policy.
In filing the petition, Ellis said, "I fear that if the Supreme Court overturns UT's admissions policies, we will likely see campuses that do not reflect a state as diverse as Texas. I pray the Supreme Court will recognize the wisdom of its prior decision, because we cannot afford to roll back the clock on a half century of progress."
The legal counsel for the legislator's brief includes Robin Lenhardt of Fordham University School of Law, Michelle Adams from Cardozo School of Law, John Brittain from the David A. Clark School of Law at the University of District Columbia, and Eric L. Lewis, a partner at Lewis Baach PLLC.
Every Democrat in the Travis County delegation at the Texas Legislature joined Senator Ellis with this brief. Congressional nominee Marc Veasey was also among those who joined.
Last night the Internet lit up with burnt orange outrage as University of Texas students and alumni reacted to the news that Governor Perry may be trying to force out University of Texas President Bill Powers, over Powers' opposition to the UT Board of Regents' tuition freeze.
Paul Burka posted late Wednesday evening that a source told him that the Perry-appointed Board of Regents chair had asked for Powers to be fired:
I do not have an official confirmation, but I was told that the situation is fluid and may be happening as I write. My understanding, based on what a source with knowledge of the proceedings has conveyed, is that Regents' chairman Gene Powell asked Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to recommend that Powers be fired. Cigarroa refused. The next step will likely be a special meeting of the board to take action. I have no indication that notice of the meeting has been posted.
I will continue to make attempts to confirm this report. If it is accurate, the impact on the university's reputation could be devastating. UT will have to undertake the search for a new president at a time when top-grade candidates will be unlikely to be attracted to a position that is subject to political pressure.
The conflict started when the UT System Board of Regents met last week and denied the request of the University of Texas's flagship campus to raise tuition. By not raising tuition, the Board of Regents left the University with a several-million-dollar budgetary shortfall, which for two years will be made up with funds from the Available University Fund, the investment income from West Texas oil lands that are managed by the UT System. However, the Board of Regents made clear that this was only a two-year fix for the two-year tuition freeze, so the President of UT (whoever that is in two years) will have to go back and beg for more funding to help the University maintain its academic standards. Powers criticized the decision, noting that what the University needs is "recurring revenue," or money it can count on year after year to maintain and establish high-quality academic programs.
Every member Board of Regents has been appointed by Governor Rick Perry, and many of them are hefty, hefty campaign donors to his various electoral efforts. Perry has largely turned leadership of our university systems into a system of political patronage awarded to the highest bidders, so it's no surprise now to see the Regents potentially firing back at a widely respected administrator who has openly clashed with their anti-funding ideology. It is also worth noting that the Board of Regents approved an increase in tuition at other UT campuses. All of this tuition trouble -- both increases that impact student affordability and freezes that hurt faculty and academic quality -- stems from the basic fact that the state of Texas and the Republican legislature simply does not fund our public higher education institutions to the degree necessary to maintain their high standards. Without adequate public funding for the so-called public university, there aren't a lot of other options for the University of Texas to fund its faculty, staff, and programs to the degree necessary to maintain its status as a world-class, Tier 1 research university. And I'm sure the current students and alumni of UT don't want to see the value of their degree become worthless due to Republicans' efforts to destroy the quality of education at UT through refusing to fund it.
The news from Burka set off a social media firestorm, as the hashtag #SaveBillPowers quickly became a trending topic and the Facebook group I Stand With Bill Powers picked up thousands of members. It is definitely "going viral," as the kids say, and while there is some opposition to tuition increases in general most students appear to rally around their university president and defend him from what may well be a politically motivated firing.
If Powers can credibly stand up to the Perry-appointed Board of Regents, and stand up to the Texas Legislature's attempts to slash funding from higher education, it makes the entire Republican budgetary house of cards look all the more shakier. Powers is widely respected in the state and by many leaders in the Legislature, as well as on a national level. Should he be ousted by his unwillingness to keep quiet about the harm caused to UT by draconian anti-spending austerity measures, it will send a strong and sad message about the state of affairs on the 40 Acres.
This is BOR's Video of the Day, or VOTD, our nightly video clip segment that hopefully provides you with a laugh or a chance to think at the end of the day.
With all of the craziness in this year's UT Student Government elections, just about the only thing that didn't happen was the formation of a SuperPAC. Well, a Stephen Colbert viewer seems to have taken care of that, and requested that the SuperPAC man let him start a chapter of his SuperPAC at UT.
Additional fun fact: more Texans have donated to Colbert's "Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow" SuperPAC than the pro-Romney SuperPAC "Restore America's Future." Heh. Enjoy:
External Finance Director Madison Garnder was supposed to be the next Student Body President. He was going to ride a pretty strong wave to victory, too, but University-Wide Representative Yaman Desai was going to run strong and hard after getting encouragement from one or two key members of the previous Student Government Administration.
Oh, but they both got disqualified.
Even still, three-term Representative John Lawler was still on the ballot, and he was picking up broad swaths of support. Lawler was the new favorite, despite the fact that some of his most ardent supporters believed privately that his chances were zero to none before the campaign started. Lawler was just running, because "Why the hell not?" -- and he found himself pretty close to victory.
But he fell short, too. Instead, political Longhorns found themselves congratulating a surprise victor. Thor Lund is the University of Texas' Student Body President-Elect, and he has never held even the smallest of responsibilities related to Student Government. Even the most outlandish prognostications, before the elections began, never foresaw Mr. Lund winning.
President Thor Lund. Many UT students are still confused by that name and title combination. But luck strikes from time to time in electoral politics, and the it carries people to victories.
True, in partisan elections for real governmental office, candidate disqualifications are events of our imagination, at best. But the case of Thor Lund and Wills Brown (his Vice Presidential running mate) still provides a lesson for Democrats in Texas: anything can happen.
So, Democrats should look at the wackiness of UT's Student Body Elections (which, like our primaries, were actually delayed by a court order) as a lesson to only reinforce what many of us constantly say: Run Everywhere. Every once and a while, you'll win, too. And then one of the losers will throw a whiny fit, such as that time when Mark Strama's opponent accused him of "illegally" changing the composition of people who vote. (Or, you know, getting out the vote.)
And on the 40 Acres, some losers want to abolish their entire student government. UT's "Anything Can Happen" aura, therefore, is a heavy exaggeration on what we will ever see with the politics in which we participate. But change isn't always a bad thing, as countless students signified with their 2008 votes for Barack Obama. And luck isn't bad, either. Thor Lund isn't a conniving politico who was named after a Norse God. He is a student, too. He ran for office and won. So what if he got lucky? Some elected Texas Democrats got lucky, too, and they're actually doing a pretty fine job.