University of North Carolina

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Over 300 members of the UT community gathered on the front steps of the Main Building on Thursday night for a vigil in memory of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill who were killed in their apartment Tuesday evening.

Police charged Craig Stephen Hicks with three counts of first-degree murder for shooting Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha. Officers said the shooting was the result of a parking dispute, but the victims’ families said the act was clearly a hate crime.

“This is a loss for the Muslim community, in general, all over the world,” said Rawand Abdelghani, psychology junior and Muslim Students Assocation president. “As far as we identify, this could have been any of us that this happened to. Even though we don’t all know the three victims, we feel with them, feel with their families.”

Watch footage from the vigil here:

English professor Snehal Shingavi said the repercussions of the UNC shootings stretch across the country, including to the UT campus.

“It has now become very, very clear that the sort of racial debates that happen in America are finding their place on campus,” Shingavi said.

Because the victims were college students, the vigil held a personal importance for many attendees, according to Usama Malik, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Organization.

Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

“Even though it’s 1,300 miles away, this event has hit more close to home than we can imagine,” Malik said. “These were individuals –— 23, 21, 19 year-old Muslim students —such as myself, at a public university, [who] were slain.”

Several speakers cited Islamophobia, a hatred, prejudice or fear against Muslims, as a cause of the events that occurred in Chapel Hill.

“At this time, Islamophobia is picking up some ground,” Malik said. “Through the actions of terrorist groups such as ISIS, people are having a skewed perception of what Islam is.”

Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Shaykh Mufti Mohamed-Umer Esmail, an imam, or Muslim worship leader, at the Nueces Mosque in West Campus, said those who are persecuted should not have hatred toward the persecutors.

“We want to remind ourselves that the future is bright,” Esmail said. “We’re not going to let the one percent who have hate govern our lives … we’re going to be much better than that. We’re going to show that love to that extent that those who don’t love their neighbor will change their mind.”

Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Dr. Torin Monahan gives a talk about Department of Homeland Security fusion centers in Garrison Hall Thursday afternoon. There are 72 fusion centers across the country that alert the DHS about possible terroristic threats. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Torin Monahan, a communications associate professor from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said abuses of power by data surveillance agencies could compromise the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security’s anti-terrorism operations in a talk Thursday hosted at the Graduate Student Symposium titled “Beyond Counterterrorism: Data Fusion in Post-9/11 Security Organizations.”

The Department of Homeland Security, along with a multitude of other governmental agencies, make up fusion centers — physical collaborations of police, national security and private sector experts — in an effort to aggregate their collected data and compile a full-bodied database of possible security threats. The department expedited the launch of these fusion centers on state, city and regional levels following the breaches in national defense during the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001.

“Our technological world tends to collect data by default, and these security organizations have adapted to the imperative of the surveillance society we live in today,” Monahan said. “Just about any data that are out there, they can basically bring together.”

Monahan’s previous research has focused on the way state surveillance promotes social inequalities but said his research on fusion centers has made him more sympathetic, as “information societies are [also] surveillance societies.” 

The centers are intended to serve as neutral, apolitical channels for multiple agencies to join forces and physically discuss their shared intel. But most of the 78 fusion centers across the country are housed in police departments — characterizing them less as passive conduits of information and more as groups in active pursuit of threats, according to Monahan.

The issue remains that fusion centers succumb to cultural biases, Monahan said, especially within the centers’ associated police departments.

Though federal law requires “reasonable suspicion” for the storage of information, the FBI has since changed its rule, allowing agents to make quick searches through these databases without recording the information found.

American studies graduate student Carrie Andersen said she feels the population has a general tendency to trust the government, but the lack of transparency makes that trust harder to justify.

“I think it’s a perpetual problem,” Andersen said. “How do you create accountability when the system is so secretive?”

The effectiveness of fusion centers is unmeasurable, but the concept of pooling governmental resources certainly champions efficiency. Simone Browne, assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, said the potential use of the compiled data could still be beneficial as a concept.

“The idea of combining all this data could be very useful for other things — even Amber Alerts,” Browne said.

President William Powers Jr. addresses the packed B. Iden Payne Theatre at his annual State of the University Address Thursday afternoon. President Powers lauded the college’s successes and detailed a plan for its future. 

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

UT President William Powers Jr. promoted a balance between University business plans and the mission of higher education during his seventh State of the University address. Powers spoke to a crowd of more than 250 people at the B. Iden Payne Theatre Thursday.

“By any measure, UT is one of the most efficient flagship universities in America,” Powers said. “We perform our mission at the lowest per-student, per-year cost of any university in our 12-school peer group.”

Powers said the University of North Carolina generates the most revenue among UT’s peer institutions in terms of state general revenue, tuition revenue and endowment revenue. UT generates $491 million less than North Carolina and $77.6 million less than the median revenue for the peer group. UT’s total operating revenues for the 2012-2013 school year are $1.4 billion. 

“We simply do more with less,” he said.

UT should focus on using existing resources to foster success and produce high-quality education in order to push a business model and steward revenue from taxpayers, Power said.

Powers said he is “heartened” by talk of locking in tuition on a rolling four-year basis, an idea Gov. Rick Perry has endorsed. Powers said the state should show its commitment to decreasing the cost of higher
education by providing secure revenue streams while tuition is frozen.

“Predictability aids planning, and planning promotes efficiency,” he said. “If Texas wants a business plan to compete in the 21st century, it will have to address funding for higher education.”

Faculty Council chair Martha Hilley said budget cuts have not fazed individual faculty performance.

“Cuts don’t keep you from being innovative,” she said. “In fact, I would say it makes you work to be more innovative in the classroom.”

More students apply to UT than any other college in the state, Powers said. The University received 35,430 applications this year, resulting in a freshman class of 8,092 students, the largest freshman class in UT’s history.

Powers also said outside funding for University research increased by 14.4 percent to $628 million last year. This year the National Science Foundation awarded the University $70 million in grants and awards.

Executive vice president and provost Steven Leslie said the increase in research funding is proof of the University’s work toward creating a quality research environment.

“It’s a powerful statement that draws attention to our excellence on a national level,” Leslie said. “This attracts top-tier faculty, undergraduates and graduate students to UT.”

Powers said 89 percent of all undergraduate students participate in some type of research while at UT.

The University is redesigning the undergraduate experience by combining online and transformative learning supplements with traditional in-class formats, Powers said.

Online and blending learning is part of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s Framework for Advancing Excellence, an action plan adopted by the UT System last year.

Powers said moving forward with online supplements, open online learning courses and technological partnerships are part of the University’s blueprint in the coming year.

Powers also touched on the increased possibility of a UT-Austin medical school and said the University is closer than ever to its creation now that a funding model has been implemented.

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Powers emphasizes progress, prestige

Real estate graduate students Brian Thomas, Jason Levine and Allen Logue finished competing in the 10th annual Real Estate Challenge on Thursday. The competition, hosted by the McCombs School of Business, featured sixteen teams from universities across the nation.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Real estate graduate students from 16 universities across the country competed for cash prizes and top honors at the McCombs School of Business’ 10th annual Real Estate Challenge this week.

This year’s challenge attracted some of the most distinguished real estate students from programs across the nation, including the winners from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and attracted leading corporate sponsors. Glenn Lowenstein, a partner at the Lionstone Group real estate firm, said his firm sponsors the competition because the partners really believe in the Real Estate Finance and Investment Center at UT and want to offer graduate students a real-life experience.

“I’m an investor nationally, and I think this real estate center has the potential to become the best in the U.S.,” Lowenstein said. “We especially support it so the best real estate students from around the nation can come and compete.”

Lowenstein said his firm plans to continue sponsoring the competition in the future. Students in the challenge competed in teams of six and had four days to analyze a case sponsored by investment firm J.P. Morgan, identify the issues of the case and develop a solution. The teams then presented their findings in 20-minute PowerPoint presentations to a panel of real estate executives who judged them on analytics, judgment and clarity of presentation, Lowenstein said.

This year’s challenge included teams from Duke University, New York University, University of California at Los Angeles and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

Christina Griego, administrative associate in the Department of Finance, said every school has to be invited in order to participate in the conference. She said McCombs chose their team through a specific application process.

“The quality of the teams and the quality of the case is different from last year,” Griego said.
Business graduate student Brian Thomas competed for UT in the challenge and said it was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience and get exposure to industry leaders. Thomas said his team worked on it every hour they could and that deal structures, understanding of the other parties’ interest and understanding of the finance market were major components in the competition.

Although UNC-Chapel Hill took the grand prize, Thomas said all the teams brought different skill sets and perspectives to the case and that UNC deserved to win.

“I’m not disappointed,” Thomas said. “You can spend a lot of time reading a book, but the only way to really learn is to experience it.”

On Monday, President William Powers Jr. used his Tower Talk blog to praise the UT faculty for its role in making the undergraduate academic reputation of UT seventh among public universities and 27th among all universities, despite the fact that UT is ranked 96th in faculty resources and 82nd in overall financial resources.

Powers also rightly points out that our main public competitors in the race for academic excellence still outstrip us in both crucial areas, despite their recent funding woes. For example University of California, Berkeley is 33rd and 43rd, respectively, University of California, Los Angeles 41st and 23rd and University of North Carolina 47th and 30th.

While his praise of faculty is nice to hear, we have heard it before, many times, from past presidents.

Likewise, I’ve heard the promise that we’ll get the message out to the citizens of Texas — especially legislators, regents and the governor — every year since I came to the University in 1986.

But the president knows we are in pretty much the same position, if not a worse one, regarding educational quality resources as we have been for the past five, 10, 15 and 20 years.

Powers publicly laid out that UT Austin has received annual increases in state appropriations on the average of 2 percent for the past two decades, well below cost-of-living increases.

What are our prospects? I am no Chicken Little. The sky is not falling. But we are mired in a situation where we are fooling ourselves if we think we can catch up to UC Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan and UNC given current funding levels and institutional priorities.

Other schools have raised tuition significantly and increased the numbers of out-of-state students to offset the cuts in state appropriations. UNC raised tuition a whopping 22 percent this year, Berkeley 5.85 percent.

UT’s tuition increase was capped at 3.95 percent, and the number of out-of-state students was also strictly limited. It is unlikely that our phenomenally successful UT research professors can force federal, foundation and corporate funding sources to magically increase their allocations — they too have been hammered by the recession. Private donors also have shrinking wallets. The sky is not falling, but things are as bad as they look.
One thing we can control is institutional priorities. We have been doing foolish things and that is demoralizing.

If the general faculty, and the staff who support the faculty, are what makes our University great, then that is where we should be putting our limited resources, not into unneeded buildings, ever-increasing administrative costs, distracting and ineffective regents’ teaching prizes and entertaining a demographically privileged segment of our population at sports spectacles.

Instead we have been, and still are, cutting academic budgets to fund a new liberal arts building, cover faculty hires and even to generate meager merit pools. The growth in administrative positions, offices and salaries appears staggering and way out of line with our current plight. We at least need a systematic, independent study of this, since it is part of a national phenomenon.

Finally, the problem in increasing funding may be one of mindset.

As long as 100,000 fans pour into the palatial Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturdays and regents and administrators spend time in deluxe sky-boxes, there will be no serious gut feeling communicated to the general public or the regents themselves that UT is in real need.

If I dined in a club seating lounge at the stadium, went to a reception at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, stayed the night at the pharaonic AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center and saw new buildings rising faster than souffles, I would think that UT had money to burn.

I would certainly not think of directing significant new resources or redirecting existing resources where they should be going: to the human beings, faculty and staff, who make this institution what it is, for the hard-working students who deserve even better than what they are getting.