William Powers Jr.

Students watch as fireworks are set off in honor of the Class of 2015 in front of the Main Building on Sunday evening.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

After University administration canceled the 132nd University-wide commencement Saturday because of weather and safety concerns, graduates took to social media and planned their own celebration.

Radio-television-film graduate Marshall Kistner said he started the Facebook event for the student-run commencement after he and many others were disappointed with the University's cancellation. Kistner said he posted on the Class of 2015 Facebook page Saturday night to see whether anyone wanted to go watch the fireworks before they were canceled, and that eventually sparked the unofficial commencement event.  

“Of course, that [the planned fireworks display Saturday] was canceled as well, so someone on my Facebook post said to start a Facebook event,” Kistner said.  “Within 2 hours of posting, there were almost 1,000 people invited, and many said they were attending."

Fireworks still lit the sky 10 p.m. Sunday, as the University planned.

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Kistner said Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky jumped on board with the event as it was being put together because of their three years together at the Texas Travesty, UT's student-run humor publication.

Communication studies graduate Ignacio Cruz said, since he is the first person in his family to graduate from college, he wanted commencement the way it was suppose to be.  However, Cruz said he was still excited about the unofficial commencement.

“I am so excited to be attending the unofficial commencement tonight,” Cruz said.  “It goes to show our unity as a campus.  Tonight it will be special — it’s a moment I’ve been waiting years for.”

Outgoing SG President Kori Rady gave a shorter version of his speech from the night before, and President William Powers Jr. came on short notice to give his final speech as president at commencement.

“I called President Powers’s spokesperson and told him needed Powers right away,” Rady said.  “To his credit, even though he was at a wedding, Powers came when we needed his help.” 

As Powers spoke, he said this event shows what UT students are all about. 

“I can’t believe the crowd we have tonight and the organization … this is what students at the University of Texas are all about,” Powers said.  “This tenure with you all has been the blessing of my life.  You all are the very best students in America.”

Students also listened to the jazz band, Interrobang, which was called up in the spur of the moment because of a band member’s friend. 

“Early on, a friend of [a band member] in communications asked him if we could perform for the School of Communications,” said Sung June Lee, who plays the trombone in the band.  “It was not until we got here that we realized we would be performing in front of the Tower.”

All the members in the band said this was the largest crowd they performed in front of, and the experience was surreal. 

Kistner said Saturday was heartbreaking for a lot of people, but the Class of 2015 did not need to end their college career like that.

“We managed to turn a negative into a massive positive,” Kistner said.  “The spirit of the Class of 2015 is unmatched, and I’m so proud to be a part of such an incredible group of new alums.”  

University cancels commencement ceremony because of severe weather

The University canceled its commencement ceremony, scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, because of inclement weather.

“We share in the deep disappointment that cancellation will cause our graduates and their families,” President William Powers Jr. said in a statement. “We made every effort to stage the 2015 commencement as planned. We are very disappointed that we cannot proceed under this evening’s severe weather conditions. I want to personally convey my congratulations to all of this year’s graduates, and my thanks to our commencement speaker, Darren Walker.”

Lightning early in the day prevented the University from fully setting up for commencement, and a forecast of continued thunderstorms and heavy rain convinced administrators to cancel the ceremony entirely. 

According to a press release, the University has plans to continue with its regularly scheduled fireworks show, set to begin at 10 p.m.

Although the University-wide commencement ceremony has been canceled, individual schools are continuing with their own convocations as planned.

Austin has been placed under a flash flood watch until 7 p.m. Sunday. 

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops protested at the Main Building on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

For over five hours Thursday, students held a sit-in protest outside administrators’ offices to raise awareness of working conditions in factories that produce University apparel — eventually leading President William Powers Jr. to come down from his office to speak with the group.

Students Against Sweatshops, a UT branch of the nation-wide United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), organized the protest, which focused on the licensing agreement UT approved in March with 289c Apparel. The agreement reduced official apparel suppliers from about 2,000 to 20 but also created a deal between the University and the Dallas Cowboys’ official apparel company. Franchesca Caraballo, USAS member and social work junior, said the Cowboys’ apparel company is known for having sweatshops in countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia.

“The deal essentially means that the Cowboys’ merchandising will have a monopoly over our apparel, and that’s problematic because they have a long range of labor rights abuses and human rights abuses in some of their factories located around the world,” Caraballo said. “The deal was made with no student input.”

Caraballo said the organization will fight the 10-year agreement until it goes into affect in June 2016. 

According to University spokesman Gary Susswein, UT has multiple partnerships with workers’ rights organizations.

“UT-Austin is a member of not just one, but two separate organizations that monitor worker safety in apparel factories — including one that was specifically recommended, backed and endorsed by United Students Against Sweatshops,” Susswein said.

About 15 students occupied the space over the course of the protest. After about four-and-a-half hours, Powers came down from his office, to tell protesters the new deal bolsters UT’s ability to oversee its shortened list of suppliers as well as protect worker safety.

“We take workers’ rights seriously, whether it’s in the United States or abroad,” Powers said. “We monitor [these issues] through the groups that we’re in. We respond to reports that we get and we take them seriously.”

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Jefferson Davis Statue

In their first month leading the student body, Student Government president Xavier Rotnofsky and vice president Rohit Mandalapu pushed for the removal of UT’s controversial Jefferson Davis statue. Over the course of the semester, the statue has been defaced twice — first with chalk and then again with spray paint. In late March, SG voted almost unanimously in support of the statue’s removal. As with all SG proposals, the Jefferson Davis legislation will be sent to the president’s office for review. 

Fenves to take office

Following a six-month national search, the UT System Board of Regents named executive vice president and provost Greg Fenves to replace current President William Powers Jr. Fenves, who takes the position on June 2, will lead the University in a period of significant high-level administrative turnover. Fenves will oversee a search for three new deans, and will also need to replace Kevin Hegarty, UT’s former vice president and chief financial officer, who announced his plans to leave the University in February.

Dean searches

Tom Gilligan, McCombs School of Business dean, Robert Hutchings, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs dean, and Roderick Hart, Moody College of Communication dean, all announced their resignations this year. Hart will step down in May, and Jay Bernhardt, the Everett D. Collier Centennial chair in communication, will serve as the interim dean.

Regent controversy

Just months into his role as UT System chancellor, William McRaven is already butting heads with Regent Wallace Hall, who appealed to the attorney general in April to review student information despite McRaven’s admonition that Hall’s requests go “well beyond any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.” 

Hall is attempting to access the thousands of documents Kroll Associates Inc. used in an independent investigation into UT admissions policies earlier this year. 

Campus Carry bills

Several bills pertaining to the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses have made their way through the Texas Legislature this year. Under current state laws, licensed students, faculty and staff are allowed to keep handguns in their cars on campus. If SB 11 is signed into law, licensed students, faculty and staff will be allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus, over the objections of UT administrators.

Powers, McRaven and other SG representatives have expressed strong opposition to the bill, which may gain a fast track to passage under a plan to attach it as an amendment to another gun bill. Lawmakers plan to attach campus carry legislation as an amendment to House Bill 910, passed in mid-April, as it leaves the Senate.

Students Against Sweatshops members participate in a “die-in” at the Main Mall on Tuesday after- noon to protest against the conditions of sweat- shops where UT apparel is made. Members Andrew Messamore, sociology senior, and Carlos Flores, physics freshman, lead the peaceful protest.
Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

More than a dozen students lay down in front of the Tower on Tuesday in a “die-in,” protesting the conditions of sweatshops where official UT apparel is made.

Students Against Sweatshops UT, a student group affiliated with the nation-wide United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), organized the protest and intended it to pressure campus administration into understanding that students want a sweatshop-free campus, USAS member and sociology senior Andrew Messamore said.

Messamore said the organization expected about 30 people to participate in the die-in. He said USAS encouraged participants to wear UT or Dallas Cowboys apparel because the group wanted to emphasize the relationship between clothing and where it comes from.

“UT is the biggest producer of college apparel in the world, and we forget where burnt orange comes from — it often comes from Bangladesh, it comes from Indonesia, it comes from Honduras — so all of these places get forgotten in the commodity chains,” Messamore said. “And if we think about the worker that made [the] clothing, I think that changes the meaning of this deal.”

Messamore said USAS organizes protests because student bodies and voices are the most powerful way of reaching the administration. Taking up space and remembering the lives of garment workers through demonstrations is much more powerful than presenting a resolution in student government or writing an op-ed, according to Messamore.

In a March 2015 letter responding to USAS’s concerns for garment industry workers and requests to sever ties with certain companies, UT President William Powers Jr. said he “reaffirm[s] the University’s opposition to exploitative employment practices.” The University recently approved a new licensing agreement that reduces the number of suppliers from 2,000 to about 20.

“Specifically, we hope that this partnership will allow the University to focus more attention to detail on compliance performance, better identify areas for improvement, and continue to promote safe working conditions,” Powers wrote in
the letter.

USAS has written lots of letters to administrators this semester and hasn’t poured as much effort into organizing demonstrations such as the die-in, social work senior Franchesca Caraballo said.

“I guess the way you gauge letter effectiveness is if the person responds and if they follow-up with your demands,” Caraballo said. “So, in that way, President Powers has responded to quite a few of our letters but has not answered one of our demands —  not even just a simple meeting with students — [he] has not granted us that.”

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down, UT’s next president, Gregory Fenves, said his goals for the University center around addressing persistent issues, such as increasing access to research opportunities and engaging in more productive dialogue with the UT System Board of Regents.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Fenves, executive vice president and provost, also said he hopes to explore issues of accessbility and affordability, closely echoing his predecessor.

Fenves said his initial goal will be to manage the cost of education, an issue Powers, UT System Chancellor William McRaven and previous chancellors and regents have acknowledged. 

“I think the most important issue that’s facing the University is, ‘How do we provide high quality education at a reasonable cost?’” Fenves said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in April, Powers said the solution to affordability is not clear-cut. He said he was sure  that future administrations would continue to grapple with the issue.

“There’s no single bullet,” Powers said. “We just always keep trying [to operate the University] as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

Fenves said one of his educational goals is to connect undergraduate and graduate students to campus research opportunities. 

“What I feel is the most important theme for education at the University of Texas is how we link our undergraduate education mission with our research mission,” Fenves said.

Fenves said his previous experiences as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering and as provost have helped him form relationships with the regents and UT administrators.

“I can work with almost anybody, and I’ve had good working relationships with members of the board,” Fenves said. “In my current role as provost, and my previous role as dean, I’ve had a lot of interaction with them through the presidential search process and the selection process.”

One challenge preparing for the presidency poses is that issues and opportunities for change often remain unseen until one actually takes the position, according to former UT President Larry Faulkner.

“I don’t think any president should come in with a firm idea of what all [his or her] goals are,” Faulkner said. “I don’t think that you know enough until you’re in the job, what is really ripe, what are the best opportunities for the institution, and in fact, opportunities will appear while you’re serving.”

Faulkner said he would advise Fenves to take steps to learn more about the University but said Fenves is positioned differently than he was when he first came into the job.

“When I came in, I didn’t know the people, [and] I didn’t know the intricate issues facing the institution, and I had to learn about those,” Faulkner said. “Greg Fenves has been here for years now, and so he is more prepared on that scene than I was.”

Working with the state Legislature night pore a greater challenge for Fenves when he becomes president, Faulkner said.

“What I don’t think [Fenves] has had is an opportunity to talk to people in the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though Greg Fenves would have gotten some of that activity while he was dean and provost, it’s nothing like being president.”

Fenves said he has gained valuable experience working with the Legislature in previous roles at UT.

“I have considerable experience working with the Legislature,” Fenves said. “I’ve been working with the Legislature since soon after I joined the University of Texas. I think I’ve developed great relationships with many members. I understand the legislative process.”

Judith Langlois will serve as interim provost

UT President William Powers Jr. announced an interim replacement for Gregory Fenves, provost and executive vice president, who was named UT’s next president earlier this week.

Judith Langlois, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies, will serve in the interim provost and executive vice president, while administrators conduct a search for a permanent replacement, according to an email sent by Powers to students, faculty and staff. Langlois will assume the position May 26.

Langlois has served as associate dean and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and also served as chair of the Presidential Committee on the Status of Non-Tenure Faculty.

In the email announcement, Powers said the search for a permenant replacement for Fenves will begin immediately.

Fenves will begin his term as president June 3.

President William Powers Jr. hopes that the new administration also prioritizes accessibility and affordability.
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down from office, he said he hopes affordability and accessibility remain priorities for the new administration.

Powers said although he has worked to keep cost and access primary focal points during his presidency, there is still work for the next UT president — likely Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, who was recently named the sole finalist for the position.

“We’re always looking for ways [to be] more productive,” Powers said. “It’s not just reducing cost; it’s the relationship between cost and output.”

Improved four-year graduation rates have helped reduce the burden on students and their families who can now pay less in tuition, Powers said.

“There’s a lot of discussion and, rightly so, about affordability and the resources that a family has to devote to public higher education,” Powers said. “We’re sensitive to that.” 

An accountability report UT produced found that between 2000 and 2014, the four-year graduation rate improved by roughly 15 percent.

The use of scholarship money is another valuable tool in taking on the cost of education for students, Powers said.

“One way [to improve affordability] is scholarship money. We’ve raised a lot of it. We use a lot of it,” Powers said. “A quarter of our students don’t pay any tuition. The average student pays about half the full sticker price because of the grants and tuition they get or financial aid they get.”

Undergraduate studies freshman Kayla Potter said that although affordability has not been an issue for her personally, she believes high out-of-state tuition makes attracting talented, non-Texas students challenging.

“I think in-state tuition isn’t ridiculous,” Potter said. “Out-of-state tuition has stopped a lot of my friends from places like California because the tuition is so high.”

Powers said there is not one single answer for making higher education affordable while maintaining a national reputation for quality.

“We want the education to improve — undergraduate curriculum, better advising, better undergraduate studies — and to be a good value for the inputs that we’re putting into it,” Powers said. “There’s no single bullet. We just always keep trying to do it as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

 UT System Chancellor William McRaven said he shared Powers’ concern regarding affordability and accessibility at a press conference in March.

“A lot of [concern] is about affordability and access in terms of how do we ensure that we get more students in our system writ large across the UT System, make it affordable to them [and] make sure that good education is accessible,” McRaven said.

It is dangerous for UT System institutions to swing too far in either direction with regards to affordability versus the quality of education, McRaven said.

“This is a balancing act — to make education as affordable as can be but still as high quality as it can be,” McRaven said. “Frankly, the students that are looking for a high-quality education, if they don’t think that we’re giving them a high enough quality education, they will go outside the state.”

The UT System Board of Regents is expected to name Fenves as the next president Monday, after he was selected as the sole finalist in late March.

One of President William Powers Jr.’s central goals for his presidency was to achieve a 70 percent four-year graduation rate. While the goal has not yet been reached, Powers said the University has made “tremendous progress.”
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

The University’s four-year graduation rate has shown improvements over the last several years — but when President William Powers Jr. leaves office at the end of the school year, fewer than 70 percent of the students who started as freshmen in fall 2011 will be leaving with him. 

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Powers acknowledged that he will leave office without watching a class achieve one of the central goals of his presidency — a 70 percent four-year graduation rate. Still, Powers said, the University is on its way to meeting such a goal.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re making tremendous progress,” Powers said. 

The four-year graduation rate was 54.5 percent in fiscal year 2014, up from 40 percent in fiscal year 2000, according to a University accountability report.

Watch an interview with Powers as he discusses his tenure as president:

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said when he was brought into the provost’s office, he was charged with improving the four-year graduation rate quickly. 

“The class that was supposed to have this done by was the class of 2017,” Laude said. “That means the class that is currently finishing its sophomore year — two years from now — they need to be graduating not with a 50 percent graduation rate, but with a 70 percent [rate].” 

Over the course of the last two years, the University introduced a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the four-year graduation rate. Laude gave a $3 million-grant to the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs to hire mental health counselors in the University’s largest colleges, to reduce student stress, and launched a four-year graduation “help desk,” among other initiatives.

Last month, UT System Chancellor William McRaven said he was not satisfied with current four-year graduation rates at any of the UT System institutions. 

“We have got to get our four-year graduation rates and our six-year graduation rates — we have got to improve those across all of our institutions,” McRaven said. “I’m not happy with where they are in a number of areas.” 

Postponed graduation causes a negative ripple effect impacting student debt, among other factors, McRaven said. 

“We are doing a disservice to the students, to the family of those students and, frankly, to the institution by not having better graduation rates,” McRaven said. 

Powers said the root of the argument for increasing four-year graduation rates is that UT should do all it can to reduce the financial impact of higher education on students and families. 

“There’s a lot of discussion and, rightly so, about affordability and the resources that a family has to devote to public higher education,” Powers said. “We’re sensitive to that.” 

Powers said the dialogue on campus between students and the administration has changed in his years as president. 

“I’m very proud of the fact that the initial response was, ‘Well, they’re telling us we’re not graduating on time,’ and now the attitude is, ‘We’re working together, helping each other toward a common goal,’” Powers said.

The class of 2017 is exhibiting the right signs for meeting the 70 percent graduation rate, Laude said. 

“The class of 2017’s persistence rate at the end of their first year was 95 percent,” Laude said. “In other words, all but 5 percent came back and started their sophomore year, and that is the largest rate in the university’s history.” 

The improvements stem in part from a changing campus mindset, according to Laude. 

“A lot of the reason for this improvement has to do with things like really getting everybody to buy into the idea of trying to make it possible to graduate in four years,” Laude said. “There’s lots of community building.”

Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

UT president William Powers Jr. addressed concerns regarding UT’s unchanged student-faculty ratio at the faculty council meeting Monday.

Powers said using University funds to attract a higher quality faculty should come before putting significant resources toward a rapid expansion of faculty.

“I think it is not [a] good strategy to go and expand when we’re not competitive and not get the faculty we want,” Powers said. “Getting our student-to-faculty ratio better is still a priority, but it would put the cart before the horse to go out and try to do that before we first try to correct the problem of being more competitive.”

The student-faculty ratio during the 2014-2015 academic year was 1:18.62, according to the UT Office of Institutional Reporting, Research, and Information Systems.

According to a report from UT, beginning in 2001, UT president Larry Faulkner wanted to hire nearly 300 new faculty members to reduce the student-faculty ratio over the course of ten years.

Powers said the initiative was strong for the first few years and explained why it had not met its goals of decreasing the ratio of students to faculty.

“We introduced a program over a decade adding 300 net new tenure, tenuretrack faculty members, and each year for the three or four years at that rate, we added 30 new faculty members,” Powers said.

In his 2006 address to the University, Powers went beyond Faulkner’s plan. He said the initiative should be taken even further, calling for an additional 145 faculty members to establish a student-faculty ratio of 1:16. A commission made of UT community members made the recommendation to Powers.

“We are already committed to hiring 125 more to complete our 300 faculty expansion,” Powers said in his speech. “Beyond that, we need an additional 145 new faculty to attain the Commission’s goal.”

However, Powers said once the recession struck in 2008, and the budget was restricted, the initiative’s progress came to a halt.

“In 2008-2009, we had a budget crunch, and, at that point, I think it was well understood, certainly well stated, that we certainly did not have the financial wherewithal to continue adding 30 faculty members net, year after year,” Powers said.

Power said the University began to focus on increasing salaries for faculty and graduate students during the same time frame to attract higher quality applicants for both positions.

Associate history professor Alberto Martínez questioned the initiative at the faculty council meeting in March. He said there is still work to be done in comparison to other universities.

“I worry that the overall, average faculty salaries can be raised just by hiring a few new professors at very high pay scales,” Martin said. “Instead, I know that we can hire similarly excellent faculty at more moderate salaries, thus being able to hire more faculty in order to improve our ratios as well.”