Communication Council

Mayor Lee Lefingwell speaks about his bacjground in public service and the future of Austin in a lecture Tuesday evening. The talk was part of a week long celebration of the Moody College of Communication.

Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan staff

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Although Austin has experienced exceptional population and economic growth in recent years, growth creates a host of new challenges for the city, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in a talk on campus Tuesday.

In the lecture hosted by the Moody College of Communication Council, Leffingwell said Austin is the fastest growing city in the U.S., with its population expected to reach four million over the next 20 years.

“We have not done a good job of creating a transportation plan, and it’s something we badly need to cope with [because of] the growth we’re experiencing,” Leffingwell said. “Urban Rail, along with other forms of mass transit, has to be a part of that system. We need an option for people to get into Austin that doesn’t require sitting in traffic for two hours.”

Leffingwell said Austin’s diverse economy helped it through the recession and is continuing to bring money into the city. 

“Our economy is red hot right now,” Leffingwell said. “We have industries in gaming, microchips and renewable energy. The Formula 1 race alone brings in $300 million. That’s a lot of barbecue.” 

According to Hugo Rojo, Communication Council administrative director, Leffingwell was chosen as a speaker because of his public advocacy and dedication to Austin.

“Leffingwell has taken a leap into the digital age to connect with Austinites and increase government transparency with tools like a recent Reddit “Ask Me Anything” and a weekly email newsletter,” Rojo said.

According to Leffingwell, the need for increased communication with the public is also a major concern for the city. 

“How do we get information out in a way that’s simple and direct that everybody — even the lowest common denominator — will understand?” Leffingwell said. “Some issues are extremely complex, and to get the message across takes a lot of talent.”

Public relations freshman Alexandra Mascareno said she thought the lecture provided a good look into how the government deals with complex issues.

“I never realized everything that goes on, particularly [with] the communications aspect, [with the] state government,” Mascareno said. “It’s crazy: the amount of things the city deals with, especially as its population grows so much.”

The lecture was part of a week-long celebration by the Moody College of Communication, featuring local leaders who advocate for innovation and the public good. Past speakers have included South By Southwest co-founder Louis Black and Mark Strama, head of Google Fiber in Austin and former state representative.

Communication students listen to answers from their schoolÂ’s Deans in the Main Building on Monday afternoon as part of a Town Hall meeting arranged by the Communication Council.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Online course work should be emphasized during the summer so that students will be encouraged to continue their degrees during their three month break, said Communication Council president Patrick White during a Town Hall meeting Monday night.

The 4th Annual Communication Council Town Hall Meeting invited College of Communication faculty from all departments to hear and discuss survey results regarding the areas of four-year graduation rates, online courses and academic advising. An annual survey conducted in October revealed the major issues students wanted to discuss and change.

Roderick Hart, dean of the College of Communication, also discussed the financial status of the College and the opening of the Belo Center for New Media.

“We’ve been under very difficult circumstances budget-wise, and the University itself has been under financial stress in recent years so we hope things will perk up,” Hart said. “Our current financial priority is a proposal to try to move faculty to handle online courses, add more advisors to the advising staff and try to support online courses with more assistance.”

Hart said offices located in the CMA building will start moving into the Belo Center in June and students will have access to the building beginning July 30. White, also an advertising senior, said more than 700 responses to the October survey fueled a lot of the insights that were discussed at the meeting.

“So many changes that students will see in the coming months within the different departments are really coming as a result from the survey and appointed questions the students had for faculty,” White said.

Online coursework has become a hot-button topic, and faculty and students discussed it at the meeting.

“I’ve seen it go from being hated by students four years ago, but now graduating, there are students who are really on board and see that technology has improved enough to make online coursework happen,” White said. “It’s important to make sure we’re investing in quality forms of education.”

White also said academic advising and chances for students to be able to speak with faculty need to improve.

“It’s extremely important, especially in the College of Communication, to have access to a person that can help you and be able to communicate face to face,” White said.

Communication studies sophomore Jannah Deis, student issues and advisory chair for the council, said the four-year graduation rate is always a major concern.

“We want to get people out in four years, but students are so intent on double majoring or doing certificate programs and, as a college, we need to help them get their degrees on time in order to make room for new students,” Deis said.