Posts Tagged ‘Texas A&M’

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 Change.org 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

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 A&M University measures faculty productivity with Academic Analytics software

Posted on: December 15th, 2011 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

With the rising cost of tuition and decreasing funding from the state, Texas universities are increasingly looking for more tools to increase their efficiency and productivity. How to measure faculty productivity has become a contentious debate within the higher education establishment, and Texas A&M University has been at the center of the discussion.

According to the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Texas A&M recently inked a deal with Academic Analytics LLC for software that tracks faculty members’ scholarly productivity. Reportedly the contract is worth $525,000 over five years, and tracks when faculty members publish journal articles, how much grant funding is received and awards received from professional organizations.

Academic Analytics was founded in 2005 by Dr. Lawrence Martin, the dean of the graduate school at Stony Brook University and associate provost and director of the Turkana Basin Institute. Martin described what he does to MoneyScience.com as “providing a clear snapshot of scholarly strength relative to others helps universities better market their differentiators as a way to attract students and enhance their reputation.”

According to its web site, Academic Analytics is a “full service provider of academic business intelligence data.” In addition the web site proclaims that it has “reinvented itself during the last three years and transformed from a company that publishes ranking tables into a higher education service provider geared to delivering accurate and timely academic business intelligence to university administrators.”

Based in the Long Island High Technology Incubator at Stony Brook University in New York, Academic Analytics compiled data from 2007 through 2008 on 173,865 faculty members associated with 8,744 Ph.D. programs at 387 universities in the United States. The company has contracted with universities such as Howard University, Northeastern University, University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Missouri at St. Louis and University of Houston.

On Monday, Texas A&M Provost Dr. Karen Watson presented the Faculty Senate with a presentation about software which is designed to help the provost, deans and department heads measure the scholarly productivity of departments or disciplines. The software allows universities to compare a department or disciplines against peer institutions.

Dr. Michael Benedik, speaker of the Texas A&M Faculty Senate, told the Texas Independent that it “seems like a useful tool if used in conjunction with other evaluative measurements and if the results are put into context of that department and its history.”

The push to measure faculty productivity comes after the faculty of Texas A&M was at odds with the Texas A&M System regents over implementing other means of measuring faculty productivity. As the Texas Independent reported, when regents attempted to implement the recommendations of the conservative think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the faculty was highly critical of the changes.

Benedik sees this new initiative as completely different. “The TPPF proposals were only to evaluate faculty on the basis of cost per student taught, so it focused on teaching and emphasized large classes as the logical outcome to lowering cost,” said Benedik. “It was a superficial and naive approach, failed to look at differences between graduate and undergraduate education, failed to differentiate between different types of universities or colleges and failed to take into account quality or any other contributions faculty might make.”

In addition while Benedik does not view the Academic Analytics software as the complete solution to measuring productivity because it only measures one piece of the whole picture. “Multiple tools are needed,” said Benedik. “Also note that this tool does not look at individual faculty but only at departments or units. That is probably the correct way to do it because a department operates like a team, individual faculty members contributing in different ways.”

Texas alumni groups selling students’ personal information to financial institutions

Posted on: September 26th, 2011 by Teddy Wilson No Comments

Colleges and alumni associations throughout Texas are making money from banks and credit card companies by selling them the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of alumni, faculty, ticket holders, donors and students, according to reporting by KENS Channel 5 in San Antonio. (more…)

Critics of Perry-led higher ed reform in Texas warn Florida of ramifications

Posted on: August 31st, 2011 by The American Independent 3 Comments

Rick Perry (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/eschipul)Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t been specific about his plans to overhaul the state’s higher education system, but he has made clear his intention to make some changes — and higher education reforms in Texas will be a likely template. # (more…)

A&M professors lash out over former UT adviser’s report on faculty productivity

Posted on: August 4th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant No Comments

Texas A&M University faculty are unhappy with a recent report on faculty productivity written by Rick O’Donnell, a former special adviser to the University of Texas Board of Regents.

The report, released last month, splits instructors into groups according to labels like “dodgers” and “sherpas,” based on the credit hours they teach and the grant money they attract. (more…)

Texas Tech using cost/productivity data to form 2011-2012 budget

Posted on: June 29th, 2011 by Patrick Brendel 1 Comment

The release of data on individual faculty members’ salary and productivity has sent shockwaves through the world of Texas higher education, pitting agitators for “transparency” and “accountability” against proponents of the reputations and track records of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University. (more…)

Former Perry chief Kimbrough confirms he is in running for A&M interim chancellor job

Posted on: June 29th, 2011 by Mary Lee Grant No Comments
A&M regents are expected to name Jay Kimbrough to a pair of top positions later this week.

While Texas A&M’s choice of an interim chancellor is looking more certain, a fresh controversy is developing around the way Gov. Rick Perry selected a student regent for the system’s board.

 

The Texas Tribune reported that Rick Perry’s former chief of staff Jay Kimbrough was the likely pick for the Texas A&M system’s interim chancellor, and Kimbrough later told the Bryan-College Station Eaglehe is indeed being considered for the job.

“It’s not set in stone,” said Kimbrough, who serves as special adviser to the Board of Regents. “Regents have the authority and flexibility to pick anyone they want.”

The A&M System Board of Regents will meet Thursday to consider selecting an interim chancellor and deputy chancellor, and Kimbrough confirmed that he’s being considered for the deputy chancellor job as well.

Kimbrough, 63, a motorcycle enthusiast who received a Purple Heart in Vietnam, has served as deputy chancellor and general counsel from June 2007 to October 2008.

In August of 2009 he became an adviser to regents. He also has been put in charge of several troubled state agencies, including the Texas Youth Commission.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, told the Eagle she has known Kimbrough since 1986, when she was running for the Senate and he was on his way to becoming  Bee County judge. Although he is a close Perry ally, she says she believes he will act independently.

“He’s just a very strong person,” she said. “He’s intelligent. He’s thoughtful. He’s methodical. And he’s a problem-solver. I would be concerned if I saw any behavior on his part that indicated he was going in with a closed mind and with a single purpose,” Zaffirini said. “But that has not been my experience with him.”

But another selection process at A&M is causing greater division. Texas A&M’s Student Senate says Perry’s office has “tarnished” the application process for the position of A&M student regent by picking someone who skirted the outlined process and applied directly to him, the Eagle reports.

A resolution in the Student Senate, approved on a 9-to-5 vote, says that the governor did not act in accordance with the Texas Education Code, a state law that carries no penalties. By violating the statute, the resolution states, “the Office of the Governor has tarnished the application and selections process.”

Perry, a Republican, chose tea party activist Fernando Trevino Jr., a, as the non-voting student member of Board of Regents in April. The position has existed since 2005, to provide more student input on the system.

According to the Texas Education Code, those who wish to be student regents apply through their college’s student government, which then forwards five names to the system chancellor, who recommends at least two candidates to the governor.

“We are concerned that the avenue the governor took really destroys any confidence students may have in the process that we have for applying for this position,” said Chris Esparza, the student senator who authored the resolution.

Perry’s office denies violating the education code, because a line in the statute specifies that the  governor is not required to choose a candidate forwarded by the chancellor. Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry, said Perry is free to pick any candidate he wishes.

“The governor will continue to appoint individuals based on their qualifications and willingness to serve,” Nashed said.

However, three lawyers contacted by The Eagle, and and both Democratic and Republican legislators, say that Perry is stepping out of bounds. State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the conservative Republican who wrote the statute, said it demands the governor choose from applicants who applied through student government.

Zaffirini, the Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman, said she was “disappointed” by Perry’s move. “Students are looking to us for an example. They went to participate in the process, respected the process, and their efforts were thwarted,” she said.

Copies of the student resolution are being sent to the governor’s office, to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin, Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Weber, the student body presidents of the other 10 A&M System universities, along with Zaffirini and Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican, who are co-chairs of a new higher education governance oversight committee.