Archive for the ‘Texas Education’ Category

Texas A&M students form group to oppose outsourcing at the university

Posted on: April 12th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

Texas A&M University (Photo: Flickr/sarowen)

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is looking to save money through outsourcing, and a group of Texas A&M University students plan to rally the student body in opposition.

The Texas Tribune reports that Sharp is seeking bidders to outsource food services, janitorial services, building maintenance and landscaping. Those four services currently comprise 1,880 employees with an annual budget of $92.3 million.

This has caused a stir among faculty and staff. According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the Texas A&M Faculty Senate is in unanimous opposition to the plan. The body passed a resolution that states the senate opposes “the move to outsource Texas A&M services without the due diligence of shared governance.” During a town hall meeting with Sharp, staff members shared their concerns about the possibility of losing their jobs.

“There hasn’t been a strong student voice in the matter,” said Valery Owen, one of the organizers of the student protest. “These are services that directly affect the students, and we should have a say in what happens. In addition, one of the main reasons given for the potential outsourcing is to help the students by keeping tuition low, so the students should certainly have a say in what is decided.”

The group says that the university administration has pursued the changes under the guise of keeping tuition low for students, but they take issue with using students as an excuse to make changes they say will have negative impacts. “Human beings are not expendable,” said Owen. “The people whose jobs are being jeopardized are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. Although we believe that keeping tuition low should be a priority, it should not be at the expense of loyal employees, many of which are making relatively low wages.”

“One major goal of the student protest is to show the administration that there are plenty of students who oppose outsourcing,” said Owen. The group hopes that it raises awareness and support among students who may not have known about this situation otherwise. “We also want the people whose jobs are being affected by the potential outsourcing to know that there are students who stand behind them and care more about human beings than money.”

Using social media and other online tools has been part of the group’s strategy to raise awareness. A Facebook event page has been created to inform students of the protest, and 74 people have confirmed their plans to attend a protest today. The group will meet at the Sul Ross statue in Academic Plaza at 4:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to bring signs. An online petition at has attracted more than 170 signatures from those who oppose the administration’s outsourcing plan. “No matter what the turnout is like, the petition and protest together is evidence that the students are not unanimously supportive of outsourcing,” said Owen. “We are hoping media coverage will make even more people aware of outsourcing, and the effect it would have on so many people’s lives.”

Terrance Edmond, a student senator, told the Texas Independent that the long term effects of outsourcing will be an excessive turnover rate for employees working under contractual terms. “While numerically, outsourcing may allow the A&M system to shift cost, high turnover rate among potential employees will inevitably reduce quality,” said Edmond.

”Most employees that have worked for Texas A&M University for ten plus years have not done so for their salary,” said Edmond. “Many of the employees maintain job stability for the sake of organizational connection, benefits, and the assurance of working for a public institution. Even if these very benefits were mirror imaged into the private companies’ plan, the conditions by which the benefits are executed will change due to operational differences. Long-term, you will have a Texas A&M University that is no longer an institution, but an operation.”

To back up their claims, the group points to a report by the Association of College Unions International that examines how outsourcing affects the university culture as a whole. According to the report, potential downsides of outsourcing include “loss of institutional control of the outsourced area, human resource problems, and campus exposure to additional risks such as bankruptcy or the sale of a company.” The report concludes that “Outsourcing is not conclusively helpful or harmful to campus climate.”

Top Stories Photo Credit: Flickr/oneservant2go

TFN calls for investigation into David Barton’s role in Board of Education campaign

Posted on: April 6th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

An influential Christian conservative’s involvement with a Board of Education candidate’s campaign is fueling calls for an investigation into whether or not his involvement violates Texas law.

The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) asked district attorneys in Harris and Jefferson counties to investigate whether Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) incumbent Republican David Bradley’s campaign fundraising events “feature the illegal involvement of a prominent political leader who also publishes instructional materials used in Texas public schools.” According to the press release, the involvement of David Barton as a featured speaker at two Bradley fundraisers on Saturday (March 31) in Beaumont and Houston constitutes a violation of the Texas Education code.

David Barton makes featured appearance in America: A Call to Greatness (Photo: Provided by Paige-Brace Cinema)

In response, Bradley told the Texas Independent that TFN “is not a ‘mainstream, non partisan organization’ as they purport to be.” Bradley claimed that TFN supported the removal of the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms in a recent Supreme Court Case, and that they now don’t support Barton’s right to freedom of speech. “I suspect their pleas to investigate will fall on deaf ears,” said Bradley. “To my knowledge, Mr Barton has never submitted his materials for State adoption. With recent legislation (SB6), school districts are now free to buy anything outside the State adoption process, even at their local Barnes and Noble bookstore.”

“The claim that TFN supports removing the Pledge of Allegiance from classrooms is a complete fabrication – we haven’t supported any such thing,” said TFN Communications Director Dan Quinn. Quinn suggested that Bradley’s claim of TFN’s support for the removal of the Pledge refers to a former TFN president’s involvement in a court case seeking to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge. “This also isn’t a free speech issue. Those claims are just pitiful attempts to distract folks from the issue at hand.”

Quinn said that the issue is a state law that TFN claims prohibits people who create and sell instructional materials from helping raise money or campaign for candidates who, if elected, will have the power to adopt or reject instructional materials for Texas public schools. “It’s important to note that Mr. Bradley doesn’t dispute the key fact that David Barton publishes and sells instructional materials,” said Quinn. “Yet he had Mr. Barton speak at two of his campaign fundraising events. This raises troubling questions about Mr. Bradley’s judgment, his respect for the law, potential cronyism and the role of politics in textbook decisions.”

Bradley suggested that the statute itself “is generally acknowledged” by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) legal staff to be unconstitutional. Debbie Ratcliffe, director of Communications and State Board of Education Support for the TEA, told the Texas Independent that the agency had “several times pointed out to the board as they discussed this section that there is an AG opinion holding the… reference in Section 7.108 to be unconstitutionally overbroad.” But Ratcliffe went on to say that the “TEA does not have the authority to hold a statute unconstitutional. It’s just not our decision to make.”

The code reads that “a person engaged in manufacturing, shipping, selling, or advertising instructional materials commits an offense if the person makes or authorizes a political contribution to or takes part in, directly or indirectly, the campaign of any person seeking election to or serving on the board.” However, the opinion cited by Bradley and the TEA, M-1262, was issued in 1972, when the code did not include language referring to “manufacturing, shipping, selling, or advertising instructional materials.”

Bradley is involved in a contentious primary campaign with fellow Republican Rita Ashley, in which they have sparred over residency requirements. The Ashley campaign addressed the issue of Barton’s involvement in the Bradley campaign by releasing a statement that called on the campaign to return all the contributions received “at illegal fundraisers.”

“I’m not surprised Mr. Bradley’s actions have raised ethical questions yet again,” said Ashley. “This isn’t the first time and unfortunately for the people of District 7, Mr. Bradley’s latest disregard of the law makes it clear the best predictor of future behavior is his past behavior.” Ashley was referring to Bradley being indicted along with two other former SBOE members for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act in 2002.

Bradley has has also been criticized for statements he has made about the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts advocacy of teaching critical thinking skills in public schools. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Bradley said during the curriculum debate that “these are the education establishment folks against phonics, spelling, grammar and handwriting, They prefer critical thinking skills, whole language reading, and preparing kids for jobs that don’t currently exist.” Bradley dismissed the group’s proposal as “gobbledygook.”

Barton, former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party and an evangelical minister, is the founder of WallBuilders, an organization that advocates against the separation of church and state. According to the group’s website it is “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”

During the battles surrounding the history curriculum for students in Texas’ public schools, Barton was chosen by Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas) and Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) to testify as an “expert” during the SBOE hearings about the social studies standards. The public testimony of Barton and others ignited criticism over the legitimacy of the religious figures hand-selected to lead history standard revisions. This led to the SBOE adopting new standards for how experts can be selected, and establishing a minimum standard for who can be considered an expert.

In September of 2011 Barton filed a lawsuit against former SBOE Democratic candidates Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, claiming that statements made by them subjected Barton to “public hatred, contempt, ridicule, financial injury and impeaching [Barton’s] honesty, integrity and virtue.” The allegations center around a YouTube video in which the candidates claim that Barton is “known for speaking at white supremacist rallies,” which is likely referring to his speaking engagements at organizations known to be part of the so-called “Christian Identity” movement.

Barton has also been involved in Republican presidential politics. During the run-up to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ill fated presidential campaign Barton was involved in a gathering of thousands of evangelical Christians in Houston called the Response. Critics said Perry was using the event to fuel his presidential aspirations. Barton is also on the board of Renewing American Leadership, or ReAL, which was founded by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich as a nonprofit organization appealing to religious conservatives. In January Barton was among prominent evangelical Christian leaders who met in Texas in an attempt to decide which Republican presidential candidate to endorse.

University of Texas System launches program for students to finish degrees online

Posted on: March 2nd, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

UT Austin Tower lit entirely in orange to celebrate a significant athletic victory or campus-wide accolade

The University of Texas System has launched a new program aimed at college students with unfinished degrees, giving them the opportunity to finish their education online. The program works as a partnership between the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB).

Martha Ellis, the associate vice chancellor for community-college partnerships at the UT System, told the Texas Independent that the Finish@UT program was developed collaboratively among the UT System and UT institutions. “The concept was developed by institutional leaders and approved by regents and administrators,” said Ellis. “Among others playing a pivotal role in its development were faculty and advisers as well as the UT System online consortium staff working with them to get the program where it is today.”

“The program had its roots four years ago,” said Pete Smith, the Associate Vice President and Director-Office of the Provost and V. P. for Academic Affairs at UTA. “As we looked at the college completion market we found that a significant numbers of individuals in Texas amassed a fair number of college credits but haven’t completed. That was a group we wanted to reach.”

Smith told the Texas Independent that in developing the program it quickly became obvious that it needed to be available online. “It made sense that it had to be an online degree since the students utilizing it are likely to be in full time jobs or be parents,” said Smith. “We had to let them make choices that allow them to be flexible with their career plans. We offer clusters of classes and then logically weave them into a degree that fits their academic needs.”

The program had significant start-up costs. “The Board of Regents invested some seed money for marketing, faculty development, student support and technology,” said Ellis. “But costs are no different for any other academic program that any other institution would be operating.” The marketing for the program has been outsourced to the Austin-based company Hahn,Texas, but the classes themselves are not being outsourced and will be taught exclusively by system faculty.

The program will expand beyond the campuses it is currently offered at. “Institutions can choose to be a part of the Finish@UT program, so it is up to the institution to seek participation,” said Ellis. “UT Brownsville will be the next to participate, in the fall of 2012.”

While Ellis did not want to speculate or predict the number of degrees that may be earned through this program, she did share the number of students that the UT System expects to utilize Finish@UT. “About 125 students were in the pilot program,” said Ellis. “But the current projection is that that figure will double to 250 in fall of 2012.”

As the Texas Independent previously reported, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa laid out a broad plan for the system in his “Framework for Excellence.” Ellis said that this new program falls in line with the goals established by that plan. “The program will help increase the number of degrees earned and will improve time to degree,” said Ellis. “It is also expected to help transfer students attain degrees in a more flexible manner. These are all mentioned as areas targeted for improvement in the chancellor’s framework action plan.”

With graduation rates under scrutiny, this program may help alleviate some of those concerns. Ellis sees the program as something that other university systems my want to emulate. “We expect the collaborative nature of the Finish@UT program to be a very attractive element for other programs,” said Ellis. “Prospective students will be especially drawn to the flexibility of course scheduling. So it may be very well perceived as a model worthy of replication elsewhere.”

Undocumented student loses campaign for student body president at Texas A&M

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 2 Comments

Jose Luis Zelaya Campaigns for Texas A&M University Student Body President (Photo courtesy of Zelaya)

When the results of the Texas A&M University election for student body president (SBP) were finalized this morning, one candidate had already made an impact–even though he lost the election. Jose Luis Zelaya was a candidate for SBP for many different reasons, from improving student services to promoting access to higher education. However, he was not running for the reason that many people took notice of his campaign: Zelaya is an undocumented immigrant.

“I’m not running because I’m undocumented,” said Zelaya. “I’m running because I’m an Aggie.” Zelaya told the Texas Independent in an interview prior to the release of the election results that he was also running because of his involvement with student organizations on campus, where people often told him he should run. “A lot of people I talked to thought it would be a good idea if I ran, and said that I would represent A&M well.”

Zelaya’s campaign platform has focused on advocating for students and improving student communication with the administration and improving student services. “I think we can advocate for more access to higher education at the local, state and national level,” said Zelaya. “A significant part of my campaign is how can we get better food services, better transportation service, and other student services. I am concerned with the raising of student fees and tuition without feedback from students.”

Zelaya’s nine pages of position papers on issues include his stances on bettering communications between the student government, the faculty, and the students. He also wants to keep the university accountable to the students for how it is using student fees. Other issues include keeping the transition from the Big XII conference to the Southeastern Conference smooth, and ensuring that construction around campus and the renovation of the Memorial Student Center continue to go well.

Throughout the campaign, he says the vast majority of his interactions with students have been positive and his immigration status has not been a major concern. He has not faced much negativity during the campaign. “Personally there hasn’t been much, but online there have been comments,” said Zelaya. “There have been comments that I should be burned, set on fire and sent back to Mexico.” Zelaya was born in Honduras.

“The campaign has been great,” said Zelaya. “It has probably been one of the most beautiful things I have experienced.” Zelaya says that he has been able to use his personal story to connect with students, and help inspire them. “It has been a great experience getting to know the students and hearing their opinions and concerns. I had a student come up and say that he was going to withdraw from A&M, but after hearing the obstacles I have overcome he decided to stay at A&M.”

The campaign for SBP has received much more media coverage than is typical, and most of it has been driven by Zelaya’s immigration status. Zelaya tries to keep it in perspective, and use the exposure in a positive way. “The whole media thing is a great way to inspire people,” said Zelaya. “That eleven years ago I was homeless and now I’m in college – if the fact that I can go to college can inspire people, I think that can make an impact.”

While Zelaya has not focused on his immigration status during the campaign he has not been afraid to speak out on immigration issues. The Texas Independent previously reported Zelaya’s and another undocumented student’s story during Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s ill fated campaign for the Republican nomination for President.

Zelaya told his story of growing up in poverty and hardship with an abusive father. His brother died when he was just five years old, and their home was destroyed in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch. His mother fled her dangerous marriage in 2000, moving to the U.S. with his sister. A 45-day journey that began in Guatemala, brought him to the United Sates seeking to reunite with his family.

Zelaya was detained by the U.S. Border Patrol attempting to cross from Mexico, and his case slowly worked its way through the immigration system. So far, his application for political asylum has been denied, in part, he said, because the hurricane that destroyed his childhood home also took the medical and police records he’d need for his case. Today, he describes his immigration status as “frustrated.”

In all of the media coverage Zelaya is referred to as an “illegal” immigrant. Organizations like the Applied Research Center have campaigned to end the use of “the i-word,” saying that the “i-word” is a “racially charged slur used to dehumanize and discriminate against immigrants and people of color regardless of migratory status.”

Zelaya thinks that the use of “illegal” is an important issue. “Many people might say that illegal is politically correct,” said Zelaya. “During slavery the word “nigger” was also politically correct. There are certain words that hurt our society’s humanity. There are certain words that destroy an individual’s humanity. My status doesn’t define me.”

During the student election at Texas A&M, another student has gained media attention for attempting to be elected as the first female Yell Leader in the school’s history. Samantha Ketcham, who was profiled by the Wall Street Journal, has faced another type of obstacle in what is viewed as a male only tradition. But Zelaya sees her candidacy as another positive step forward for Texas A&M. “She doesn’t want to break tradition, she wants to start a tradition.”

During the campaign and in interviews with other media outlets, Zelaya has maintained that the focus of his campaign has not been about his immigration status and that his focus is on something bigger than himself. His focus has been on embracing all students at Texas A&M. “I think that we can unify campus,” said Zelaya. “We’re Aggies and that is the thing that unites us.”

When election results were announced early this morning, Zelaya did not receive enough votes to qualify for the runoff election. However, as Zelaya was fond of saying, “No matter the result, we’ve already won.”

Texas Freedom Network forms partnership with student organization at University of Houston

Posted on: February 24th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 3 Comments

The Roy G. Cullen Building at the University of Houston

The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) was originally founded by former Gov. Ann Richards’ daughter Cecile Richards as a counter to the religious right in Texas. While Richards is now president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the TFN has continued with the work she started. According to the organization’s website, it “has been instrumental in defeating initiatives backed by the religious right in Texas, including private school vouchers and textbook censorship at the Texas State Board of Education.”

TFN claims to have about 60,000 members and supporters across the state, in addition to support from the Texas Faith Network, a group of hundreds of clergy from representatives of different faith traditions who are supportive of the values of TFN. The mission of the organization falls under three different categories including protecting religious freedom, defending civil liberties and strengthening public schools.

In 2005, 10 years after the organization’s founding, TFN created the first student chapter of the organization at the University of Texas at Austin. Garrett Mize, the youth advocacy coordinator at TFN, told the Texas Independent that the organization seeks to reach out to college campuses to find future leaders. “Like many non-profits, to truly engage future leaders who are going to be tackling the same issues, its only natural to work with student leaders,” said Mize. “UT-Austin has gone on to become one of the larger and more active student organizations on that campus.”

After establishing a student organization at UT-Austin, TFN looked to expand to other universities around the state of Texas, with particular focus on universities in the state’s heavily populated metropolitan areas. “We decided to expand that model and we soon had student chapters at UT-San Antonio and Texas State,” said Mize. “We’ve expanded even further to seven student chapters in all.”

“The way that we organize it is we have a student leadership council,” said Mize. “They are a group of student leaders who are technically interns in TFN. We train them in student organizing to help create sustainable organizations on their campuses.” Recently a TFN chapter was organized on the campus of the University of Houston (UH). After reaching out to different organizations on campus, TFN accepted applications for internships.

James Lee, the president of the UH Chapter of TFN, told the Texas Independent that after hearing about the work that TFN does he thought it would be the type of organization that he should be involved with. “I first heard about them on campus, there was an email circulating around,” said Lee. “I read about the issues that they are involved with and I thought it was a great opportunity.” Lee, who is originally from Brownsville, has been actively involved with GLBT issues on the UH campus and appreciated TFN’s focus on issues of equality. “I have been involved with LGBT organizations on campus, and I thought this would be a good organization to bring on campus.”

For Lee the experience of working with TFN has been a rewarding one. “TFN has been an incredible experience,” said Lee. “I’ve gotten to meet so many different people and experience so many different things. It’s helped initiatives at UH having TFN behind us, and TFN has really given us creative control over what we want to do as long as it fits under TFN’s mission.”

Part of the focus for Lee has been on GLBT and equality issues that have included pushing to change the college’s non-discrimination policy to have more inclusive language. “Initiatives that we have started on campus such as LGBT issues are important because people need to be willing to hear and talk about them,” said Lee.

Another initiative has been an attempt to secure domestic partnership benefits for faculty and staff same-sex couples. “During this past Valentines Day we had an event called Kiss-In: Celebration of Love, to bring focus to the fact that LGBT faculty member partners do not receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts,” said Lee. “We created a petition to request domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff.”

Lee sees this activism as leading him down the road toward public service, and advocating for marginalized communities. “I’ve been involved in politics since I was 16, working on local, statewide and national campaigns; for me this is another step in that direction,” said Lee. “I’ve been working toward things I think need to be changed, especially here in Texas. Growing up here I saw Texas create laws that discriminate, and it’s hard being treated differently, even by other people who are supposed to be progressive.”

UT tenure review policy receives mixed reaction from faculty

Posted on: February 22nd, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

UT Austin Tower

The debate surrounding higher education in Texas has affected the state’s colleges in different ways, and now it appears that the faculty at the University of Texas (UT) System colleges are the focus of a new reform. A move to change the way professor tenure is reviewed–supported by the administration–received mixed reviews from the faculty members who helped develop it.

Earlier this month the UT System Board of Regents approved a policy change aimed at creating additional accountability for tenured faculty members on the system’s campuses. Under the new guidelines the performance reviews that tenured system faculty receive have been modified to take place on a more frequent basis and to be more in depth.

There are now two types of reviews. Faculty will be reviewed on a yearly basis, and they will also receive “comprehensive reviews” at least every six years. In addition, faculty will be given one of four ratings as opposed to the previous pass or fail system. The ratings include exceeds expectation, meets expectation, does not meet expectation and unsatisfactory.

If faculty members receive two consecutive “unsatisfactory” reviews, a comprehensive review can be initiated. The new policy is designed to make it easier to reward professors with exemplary performance and to dismiss those with unsatisfactory performance.

In interviews with the Texas Independent, faculty members from around the system expressed a variety of viewpoints on both the policy change and how it was developed. Some faculty members are fully supportive of the policy change, some are ambivalent and others are admittedly opposed.

“I’ve been opposed to the change in the policy since the beginning,” said Alan Friedman, a faculty member at UT-Austin. “There’s no question that the most immediate impact will be that these changes will be both demanding and burdensome. Faculty will have to spend more time evaluating each other and this will impede productivity.”

Friedman laid out the case that the policy would create more bureaucracy. “More people will need to be involved, a great deal more effort and time will be involved in original post tenure review,” said Friedman, who helped create the previous policy on faculty performance reviews 10 years ago. He sees the new policy as something very different from what was created then. “This is a radical departure,” said Friedman. “It fundamentally alters the process and potential outcome.”

“This is a refinement of the old rule. The old rule, in my opinion, was rather vague,” said Daniel Formanowicz, a faculty member at UT-Arlington. Formanowicz supports the new policy, and disagreed with the characterization that it would be burdensome, and said that it strengthens the review process.  “The old rule didn’t really allow us to recognize everyone. The new rule allows us to recognize people based on their performance. I think it gives us more protection. It gives us more peer review. I think it protects us better. It gives us room for faculty development.”

Formanowicz thinks that the only situation that actually calls for more work on the part of faculty is if someone does not meet expectations. “The only time this brings in any more work at all is if a professor asks for peer reviews,” said Formanowicz.

Developing the policy change

Early last year, the UT System Faculty Advisory Committee (SFAC) began working on the language of a new policy to govern tenured faculty reviews. The SFAC is typically made up of two faculty members from each system campus and one alternate, and includes an executive committee.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa had contacted the SFAC executive committee to inform them that the Regents were interested in a change in policy. A task force was formed with four members of SFAC. This committee worked with the interim Vice Chancellor Pedro Reyes and Executive Vice Chancellor David Prior to develop a task force draft. That draft was issued to the entire faculty advisory committee.

During a September meeting, the new proposal from the task force was presented to SFAC members, and was highly criticized. Formanowicz, a former chair of the SFAC executive committee, told the Texas Independent that the specific proposals within the draft were never actually discussed. “When it got to the meeting, we never actually considered the draft,” said Formanowicz. “There was a lot of discussion about changes to the draft, and after the meeting there was an alternative draft that was circulated via email.”

The new alternative draft was circulated among the members of SFAC, and eventually an email vote was taken with the majority supporting the alternative draft. Some faculty members have contended that during that September meeting there was a lack of transparency with how the task force developed the original draft, and that there was a misunderstanding of what policy suggestions were contained within the draft.

At a January meeting of SFAC, faculty members had to make a choice between supporting the original draft and the alternative draft. It was at this meeting that Cigarroa reportedly made the case for supporting the original draft. However, his message was perceived very differently by various faculty members.

Friedman told the Texas Independent that Cigarroa forced the faculty to rescind the vote by threatening something worse. Friedman said that Cigarroa “made it clear that if the faculty didn’t support the administration’s proposal that something much worse would be implemented down the line.”

“The chancellor never said that,” said Formanowicz, who contested Friedman’s version of events. “He never threatened the faculty. He said that he thought the first task force draft was better.”

According to the UT System Office, Chancellor Cigarroa was not available for comment on this story due to his travel schedule.

Derek Catsam, faculty member at UT Permian Basin, told the Texas Independent that Cigorroa made the case for a unified faculty in support of the original draft. “I think that Cigarroa legitimately has the long term interests of the faculty in mind,” said Catsam. “With that said, it was made clear to us that a unified front had to be put forward and that unified front had to come in the form of the plan that the chancellor had put forward.”

The members of SFAC eventually did vote for the original draft supported by Cigarroa, by a count of 26-3. A member of the SFAC who wished not to be identified said that Cigarroa supported the policy that he could sell to the regents. “He knows what we’re dealing with as far as the regents. He is a good politician, and he knows that politics is the art of the possible. If you’re involved in faculty governance you can’t be a bad loser, we all want to have a voice in shared governance.”

Putting the policy into practice

Each of the System campuses is now charged with implementing the new policy, and on several campuses the change is well underway. Each campus is required to draft an implementation document, which will typically be reviewed by faculty and approved by the administration. Most faculty members said they believe implementation of the new policy would take place in full during fall semester of 2012.

Murray Leaf, a faculty member at UT-Dallas, told the Texas Independent that at UT-Dallas one of the main challenges is the annual review. “That’s what we’ve been working on,” said Leaf. “We’ve got a process that we’re working on. We just had a discussion in the faculty senate on the possible problems in the policy. “

In a broader context, the policy change is part of an ongoing debate surrounding higher education in Texas. The policy changes affecting tenured faculty are among the goals of those promoting reform to the higher education system and calling for more accountability. “The obvious question of accountability is to whom,” said Leaf. “Our first job is to be accountable to our profession and then our accountability to the public is that we are being professional. The question is what kind of information does the public need to have to know how we are doing our jobs, and that would be how well we are teaching and how productive we are.”

“There is a lot of concern about where things are going in general in Texas,” said Formanowicz. ”There is a reason why the state legislature formed a joint House and Senate committee. I think that there are some outside forces that have been prominent in the media, for example the Texas Public Policy Foundation, who have not exactly been accurate in what they are saying. They get a little bit of data and misconstrue and cherry pick the things that are going to fit their argument.” Formanowicz also says that faculty on the Austin campus have been unfairly targeted, and that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of tenure. “It is not a lifetime contract,” said Formanowicz.

Pay-to-play tradition for Perry appointees continues with Texas Tech regent appointment

Posted on: February 2nd, 2012 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

Now that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is out of the national spotlight, it’s back to business as usual in Texas. Last week Perry appointed John Walker to the Board of Regents for the Texas Tech University System. With this appointment Perry continues his long tradition of appointing campaign donors to state offices and giving plum positions to supporters.

A Texans for Public Justice report found that Perry’s regent appointees have contributed over $6 million to his campaigns since 2000. Those appointed to the boards of regents at the University Texas System, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and University of Houston have given the most money to Perry’s campaigns.

Walker is the president and CEO of EnerVest Ltd, an oil and gas company that is described on its web site as “using private equity” to “acquire onshore properties with proven reserves, enhance and build up those assets, then sell prudently three to five years out.” In addition to being a Texas Tech alum, Walker is also a member of the National Petroleum Council, past chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and a past board member of the Natural Gas Council.

While Walker has contributed to Perry’s campaigns, four other Texas Tech Regents have contributed significantly more. According to Texas Ethics Commission records, Walker has contributed $75,000 to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns, which is still above the $64,343 average from Texas Tech regent appointees. In addition to contributions to Perry’s campaigns, Walker also donated $1,000 to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and $7,000 to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Before the donations to Perry’s campaign, Walker also initially contributed $26,000 to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s campaign for governor, and it has been alleged that regents that supported Hutchison’s challenge of Perry faced political retribution. The Austin-American Statesman reported that two Texas Tech appointees said that Perry’s campaign pressured them to resign after they endorsed Hutchison.

Walker has been a much more active contributor to federal campaigns than he has to state campaigns. A review of Federal Elections Commission records found that Walker has contributed more than $73,000 to 22 different candidates, including $2,500 to Perry’s failed presidential campaign. In addition, Walker has contributed another $38,500 to political action committees, including $26,250 to the Republican National Committee.

The vast majority of Walker’s contributions have gone to Republican candidates. While he has contributed to several candidates from Texas such as more than $8,000 to Sen. John Cornyn and nearly $10,000 to Rep. Pete Olson, Walker has also contributed to candidates elsewhere including $2,400 to Sharon Angle in Nevada and $4,800 to Carly Fiorina in California.

Calls for increased militarization of the border come from Texas members of the ‘Drone Caucus’

Posted on: January 31st, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

A predator drone (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The increased violence in Mexico fueled by the war between drug cartels and the Mexican government has also fueled political rhetoric on the American side, calling for the militarization of the countries’ border. (more…)