Andrew Watts, management information systems sophomore, founded Speak as a way to get students involved in bringing high-profile speakers to campus.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

A new wave of speakers will come to campus thanks to Speak, a new organization that already has a list of high-profile individuals scheduled to speak in the fall, according to the organization’s president.  

Students organized Speak as a way to get students involved in bringing high-profile speakers to campus. Before the club’s conception, Andrew Watts, president of the club and management information systems sophomore, was involved in bringing speakers such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to campus.  

Watts said the organization will teach those who join how to design and develop these events from beginning to end.

“This goes from contacting speakers all the way to managing volunteers on the day of the event,” Watts said. “Students will get hands-on experience by working with others, leading teams and developing marketing strategies.” 

No application is needed to join, according to Amanda Barrington, corporate communications junior and vice president of National Speaking Events. Barrington said she and Watts designed the organization to be as inclusive as possible. 

“The one thing that we both agreed on when we were talking about Speak becoming a thing at UT was the inclusive and exclusive parts of organizations on campus,” Barrington said. “We really wanted to make it open to the whole campus so everyone could get involved in the entrepreneurial community and the entrepreneurial scene.” 

Speak aims to bring a large and diverse group of leaders to campus, according to Sierra Salinas, business freshman and vice president of internal communications.  She said the current line-up of speakers are business-related, but the lineup has potential to expand and to include professors, authors, athletes, scientists and artists. 

“I think the most exciting thing about this organization is knowing that our options are limitless,” Salinas said. “The more people we get, the more comfortable we will feel reaching out to companies or individuals, and the more variety we will be able to have in the future.” 

Speak’s future line-up includes Yik-Yak co-founders and the senior director of digital and social marketing for Taco Bell. Speak’s long-term future depends on those who decide to join, Watts said. 

“I hope people are encouraged to join because they have a crazy idea for a speaker to come to campus and have the drive to make that event happen,” Watts said. “This can help the organization go beyond just being simply a speaking-events-oriented club, but more of a community for students to take part in.”

The Student Government Assembly elected Tanner Long, a liberal arts representative and government senior, on Tuesday evening as Speaker of the Assembly.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Assembly elected Tanner Long as speaker of the Assembly with a 33–2 vote Tuesday night.

Long, a liberal arts representative and government senior, said he thinks SG has failed in the past to fully represent students and said he wants to include more student voices during his term.

“I want to foster a better connectedness between Student Government and the student body,” Long said. “Everyone is a member of Student Government on this campus, and it’s about time we started treating it that way.”

Long said he hopes to implement a program in which representatives will speak at more organizations’ meetings on campus. He also said he wants to help improve the SG assembly meeting livestream and oversee the creation of more ad-hoc committees.

“My ideas may seem ambitious, and I will be held accountable to them,” Long said.

Long said he feels the speaker position has typically served as a stepping stone for future SG presidential candidates, but he said that is not his intention.

“Since I’m graduating next spring, that gives me the ability to focus 100 percent on the duties of speaker,” Long said.

Long ran against Kallen Dimitroff, University-wide representative and government junior, in the race. Dimitroff failed to gain the nineteen votes needed for a majority vote with a 17–18 vote in the Assembly. Long also failed to receive a majority with a 18–15–2 vote.

The Assembly recalled the vote, but Long again failed to gain a majority with a 18–16–1 vote. The Assembly would have then re-voted on both Dimitroff and Long, but Dimitroff withdrew her candidacy for the position. After Dimitroff’s withdrawal, the Assembly elected Long.  

Dimitroff withdrew her candidacy because of the long process involved in electing a speaker of the Assembly. The initial votes and recall took more than 30 minutes.

“I don’t want to make us do this [vote] again,” Dimitroff said.     

President and Vice President Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu were also sworn into their offices Tuesday night. The meeting, which took around three hours, culminated in a pizza delivery.

“The meeting went longer than most meetings, and I hadn’t eaten since 11 a.m.,” Rotnofsky, Plan II and linguistics junior, said. “Because of that, I figured, why not get a pizza delivered to Rohit and me?”

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, Plan II and economics senior, are in the process of selecting an executive board and the President’s Student Advisory Council. They have received 105 applications, which will equate to over 30 hours of interviews.

Rotnofsky said he is excited to start his term and work with all of those in SG.

“I’m looking forward to working with the Assembly and seeing how we can work together and make SG more present on campus than just at a Tuesday meeting,”
Rotnofsky said.

Straus' committee picks show his continued pragmatism

The Texas Legislature is an ironic place. Historically, U.S. governments have been set up that are composed of a pragmatic upper house (Senate) and a radical lower house (House of Representatives).  

In Texas, the opposite is true. Nowhere has that become clearer than in the way the leaders of the two respective chambers — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the Senate and Speaker Joe Straus in the House — have selected the composition and heads of pertinent committees, the lifeblood of legislatures in the modern era. 

Patrick, a bombastic right-wing activist elected last year, quickly made good on his promise to slash the number of committees and boot most all of the Democratic chairs from power. Straus, on the other hand, elected by the House's members in bipartisan fashion, largely retained the pervasiveness of Democratic influence in the lower house. Furthermore, for those Republicans selected to lead committees, many moderates received the most plum assignments

State Representative John Zerwas, R-Richmond, for example, was chosen to lead the House Higher Education Committee. As most media sources quickly noted, Zerwas has recently been a supporter of the Texas Dream Act, which grants in-state tuition at state universities such as this one to undocumented immigrants. State Representative John Otto, R-Dayton, meanwhile, was selected as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which is tasked with the enviable position of writing the state's budget. In a recent analysis by Rice University, Otto was noted as the fifth most liberal Republican in the legislature while Zerwas was rated the third . 

Roughly a third of committees will be headed by Democrats, mirroring the proportion of the House itself occupied by the minority party. Most of these committees are rather insignificant, but others are invaluable. The transportation committee will be chaired by state Representative Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. State Representative Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the second-longest serving member of the legislature, will continue at the helm of Local & Consent Calendars, one of the most powerful committees under the dome. 

The most zealous conservatives, specifically the ones who voted against Straus last month for speaker, were unsurprisingly punished. Special Purposes Districts Committee immediately comes to mind. 

In continuing his pragmatic and bipartisan approach to House administration, Straus has sent a message back to Patrick: The House will continue being a bastion of real government solutions to problems and not just a breeding ground for right-wing pipe dreams, no matter what the Senate descends into.  

Horwitz is the Senior Associate Editor.

Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, discussed controversies regarding the UT System Board of Regents and 2015 legislative session at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday.

Held on campus at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, the discussion was moderated by Ross Ramsey, executive editor at The Texas Tribune, who posed a wide range of questions, opening with the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

“Why do you still want this job?” Ramsey said.

Straus, who is facing a challenge for the speakership from Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, said he does not think his work is done.

“We have a lot of work still ahead of us,” Straus said. “This is my fourth election as speaker. It will be the fourth, very different House of Representatives than the first time I was elected as speaker.”

According to Straus, the relationship between Republicans and Democrats in the House is vital to the legislature's success.

“I try to help manage the House to set an example that is unlike Washington, D.C.,” Straus said. “I don’t worry about politics too much, as long as we get our job done.”

Ramsey posed a series of questions about the current relationship between the Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature. Straus said he thinks there is a disproportionate focus on the goings on at UT.

“I’m sick of [UT] being the only campus in the state of Texas that gets this much attention,” Straus said. “It’s crazy. It’s too much focus on UT-Austin, too much turmoil here. It all ties back, I believe, to the disfunction of the Board of Regents.”

In 2013, Straus authorized the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to open an investigation into Regent Wallace Hall. In August, the committee censured Hall.

Also in August, the UT System hired a risk mitigation response firm to conduct an external investigation into UT’s admissions process after questions where raised about whether letters of recommendations sent directly to President Powers from state legislators or other influential individuals had any impact on admissions decisions. The System previously conducted its own investigation and found no structured system of wrongdoing.

Straus said he does not have a problem writing college recommendation letters for college applicants.

“I’m happy to do it, but very clearly there’s no expectation that [the student] will get in because I write a letter,” Straus said. "I don’t think another investigation is necessary. People write letters. Every letter I write I expect to see it on the front page of the newspaper – I’m not embarrassed about it.”

Straus said he is hopeful the turmoil on the board is coming to an end.

“It think it’s a manufactured issue,” Straus said. “You have to have some faith and confidence in your administrators...I think it’s an excellent thing that [Admiral William McRaven] is coming in and I have very high expectations for everyone. Our new governor will be making some appointments to the board. I think we’re, hopefully, about to work our way through this.”

Government junior Shalaka Joshi said she was intrigued by Straus’ discussion of the current state of the regents.

“His thoughts on what’s happening at UT and with the Board of Regents were interesting, and I agreed with him when he talked about how the process needs to be depoliticized and that the quality of the University should be the most important thing,” Joshi said.

Despite recent advances in human rights laws worldwide, laws for Romani women still allow discrimination because of cultural stereotypes, said a guest speaker on campus Friday. 

Human rights activist Alexandra Oprea spoke about the subordination and lack of reproductive rights for Romani women, and how their experience parallels with that of minority women in the U.S. The Romani, also known as Gypsies, are an ethnic group that originated in India but now live mainly in parts of Europe and the Americas.

Ian Hancock, linguistics professor who is Romani, said he believes the Romani’s history of migration has subordinated them and made them subject to discrimination. 

“They’re a population with roots in Asian language and culture but existing primarily in the West, which has created problems since day one,” Hancock said. “They’re eternal outsiders. They have no country, no army [and] no government to belong to.”

Oprea, who is Romani, said she believes discrimination toward the Romani arises because of their poor economic and social status. According to Oprea, they are the poorest ethnic group in Europe, and 80 percent of Roma in Romania and Bulgaria live on fewer than $4.30 per day. Their literacy rates are also among the lowest in the world: Only 31.7 percent of Roma in Europe have finished primary school, according to Oprea. 

Because of these social and economic factors, Romani women have few legal rights, Oprea said. During childbirth, Romani women are often forced to sign consent forms for sterilization procedures, even though they cannot read, according to Oprea. She said this discrimination exists because of cultural stereotypes about Romani women. 

“The rape of Romani women isn’t considered a crime because of this Jezebel trope [of the Roma],” Oprea said. “People see Gypsy women as ‘welfare queens,’ sexually promiscuous and irresponsible. 

The discrimination and subordination Romani women face parallel that of minority women in the U.S., Oprea said. 

“Like African-Americans and Native Americans, Roma have a long history of subordination in the hands of white supremacy,” Oprea said. “Just as the rape of black women by white slave masters was essential to the perpetuation of the system of slavery in the U.S., the rape of Romani women was essential to the system of slavery in Romania.”

Angel Fuhre, Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies senior  said she did not realize the extent of the discrimination Romani women experience. 

“It was shocking to me, to think that this is 2014, and all of this is still going on,” Fuhre said.

Oprea said more support is still needed for Romani women — both in the U.S. and worldwide. 

“We don’t have a Romani civil rights organization in the U.S,” Oprea said. “There needs to be more laws protecting Romani women and avenues for outside support.”

Only five of the 14 commencement speakers since 2000 have been women— most recently Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Although the University has hosted numerous commencement speakers since its first commencement ceremony in 1884, during the past 24 years only about one-third of those speakers have been female.

Horacio Villarreal, former Student Government president, said diversity is one of many factors that influence the decision for commencement speaker.

“I don’t know exactly why that happens,” Villarreal said when referring to the lower percentage of female speakers. “A lot of it just has to do with the current time and with what’s going on in the world. We try to pick someone relevant to UT, who has gone through challenges, and who will be motivating to students.”

Andrew Clark, former Senate of College Councils president, said many different student groups provide input toward selecting a commencement speaker. 

“Student leaders from the Senate of College Councils, the assembly and Student Government get together with the [University] president to decide who the speaker is going to be,” Clark said. “We make a rough list of initial names from input we get from our constituents, and then we vet them and the list gets narrowed down.”

Several factors, such as alumni status and recognition, influence the choice for commencement speaker, according to Clark.

“Being a UT grad is always a top priority,” Clark said. “Then, we want someone well-recognized — particularly if they have national recognition around the time of commencement.”

Clark said speaking ability is also a priority.

“We look for someone we think would be captivating for students to hear,” Clark said. “It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to pick someone who’s going to put people to sleep.”

Villarreal said he thinks more students should be involved in the selection of a commencement speaker.

“Every student should have a say in sharing their opinions,” Villarreal said.

The last female speaker the University chose was Sanya Richards-Ross, a gold medal Olympic sprinter and Texas alum who spoke at the 2013 commencement ceremony. Since 2000, five of the 14 commencement speakers have been female. 

Michael Morton, former Senate of College Councils president, said the University chose Richards-Ross because of her accomplishments and alumni status.

“The students selected her because she [was] a leader at the top of her profession who achieved success through integrity and hard work,” Morton said in a statement released by the University.

Clark said diversity was still a main goal in choosing commencement speakers. 

“UT has a lot of diverse graduates,” Clark said. “There are a lot of people who have gone out there and, as the University motto says, ‘changed the world.’”

After the National Council on Disability released a statement Friday addressing the lack of a panel on disabilities in the upcoming Civil Rights Summit, Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library and Museum, announced Monday that a speaker is being added to the “Social Justice in the 21st Century” panel to address discrimination against citizens with disabilities.

Speaking at a press briefing, Updegrove said the Civil Rights Summit will now include Lex Frieden, who played a significant role in the formation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and will speak Thursday at 2:05 p.m. Updegrove said the summit originally did not address citizens with disabilities because of time constraints.

“I can say [that], when we were fleshing out the agenda for this, we had limited slots for different panel positions,” Updegrove said.

The statement posted on the National Council on Disability website expressed the group’s displeasure with the summit’s original decision to not include representation for the community of Americans with disabilities.

“The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency whose 15 members are appointed by the President, urges the LBJ Presidential Library to take this opportunity to include the perspectives and contributions [of] 54 million Americans with disabilities in keeping our collective eyes on the prize for every American still subject to discrimination,” the National Council on Disability said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990, and aims to guarantee equal opportunities for those with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, telecommunications and state and local government services. The act is enforced through an unfunded mandate, which means states are not given resources to meet the requirements.

An upcoming conference at Texas A&M celebrating the ADA played a part in the decision to leave this aspect of civil rights out of the Summit, Updegrove said, expressing his regret for the original decision.

“Right up the road in College Station, there is going to be a conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the George H. W. Bush administration, and, on their agenda, there was something about ADA,” Updegrove said. “I thought that, if they were addressing that, we would address other issues involving civil rights. It was probably a little shortsighted on my part.”

Maya Henry, assistant professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders, said the government is not doing enough to aid many people with neurodegenerative diseases.

“I think we could do a lot better, in terms of the population that I work with, in terms of how to help them with long term rehabilitation and reintegration into the community after their brain injuries,” Henry said. “They’re massively overlooked. Insurance runs out and they’re not covered and they don’t get any help.”

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Tom Horton, former president and CEO of American Airlines, spoke about his perspective on leadership Tuesday as part of the University’s VIP Distinguished Speaker Series.  

Horton was president, chairman and CEO of AMR Corporation until its merger with US Airways Group formed American Airlines Group, Inc. in December 2013.

After being elected president of AMR Corporation, then immediately voting with the board of directors to declare bankruptcy in one decisive 2011 phone call, Horton said it was his stubbornness and determination that allowed him to remain optimistic and eventually help turn the company around.

“I had sort of a dogged, maybe persistent, belief in that, and I think people eventually got behind me — that’s where we landed,” Horton said. “Stubbornness almost to the point of dumb optimism [allowed me to be successful].”

McCombs Undergraduate Dean David Platt, who interviewed Horton throughout the talk, said he would emphasize to students the importance of persistence. 

“Resilience is vastly underrated,” Pratt said. “If people could take something away from him it’s to know that people like him, at the highest levels of [a] company and who influence how everyone else thinks about it, are really so sincerely serious about integrity.”

Drawing upon Warren Buffet, William Shakespeare and George Strait quotes to give business advice to students, Horton emphasized hard work, integrity and humility. Horton said this commitment to ethics could be manifested by a strong belief in capitalism.

“I believe in the golden rule … as a principle property of business,” Horton said. “We need to be successful in producing a good product for our customers which … will produce security, jobs and hopefully growth in jobs … there’s almost nothing you can do better for your fellow man than to give him a job.” 

Charlie  Adkins, chair of the VIP Distinguished Speakers Series and business honors and accounting sophomore, said he has been continuously impressed by the affability of the speakers, especially Horton’s commitment to character and hard work.

“Behind being CEOs of a company, [VIP distinguished speakers] have also been really great people and I think that’s something that’s really important to look for in a leaders,” Adkins said. “It really hit home with how you should do negotiations and have business and just leadership in general.”

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Gail Collins, New York Times columnist and author, outlined how women’s roles in society have changed over her lifetime in the 2013 Liz Carpenter Lecture on Monday evening.

Collins primarily discussed the changing rights and roles of women in society and said she is still in awe of the fact that the majority of these changes took place during her lifetime.          

“This change took generations of women who were not afraid to be laughed at or to fight,” Collins said. “I came one second after them, and I saw the benefits of their persistence.”  

Michael Stoff, director of the Plan II Honors Program, introduced Collins and discussed the history of the Liz Carpenter Lectureship, which was established in 1984 to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Liz Carpenter, a trend-setting journalist, feminist and political adviser. The speaker is selected every year by the Carpenter Lecture Committee.

Collins spoke about one of her books, “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.” 

“The Carpenter lecture traditionally has been about news makers, people who are prominent in the news and society today,” said Phillip Dubov, the staff coordinator for the event and Alumni Relations and Development specialist of the Plan II Honors Program. “We want to bring these people to our campus for our students to interact with.”

Journalism sophomore Will Cobb said he was surprised when Collins admitted she faced very few challenges as a female journalist.

“I expected her to talk more about issues she faced,” Cobb said. “I was surprised when she said the real work was done before she came into the business.”

Business freshman Samira Nounou said she attended the event as extra credit for her sociology class, but a lecture she heard earlier in the week had her interested in experiencing a different viewpoint. 

“I was interested to hear a speaker with a liberal perspective, because I recently went to another lecture and the speaker expressed a more conservative opinion,” Nounou said.

Collins also spoke about the future of journalism and what young journalists can expect from a constantly changing industry.

“I firmly believe that when there is a drastic change in the physical way people write, it changes not only the facility in which you write, but they way you write,” Collins said.

Unlike most representatives, Joe Straus, Texas Speaker of the House, can bring together green cars and Republican politics.

“Who else do you know that drives a Prius with a Romney sticker?” said Brian McCall, chancellor of the Texas State University System.

On Tuesday evening, the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life presented the annual Texas Leadership Award to Straus, R-San Antonio.

According to the institute, the award honors outstanding public servants in the state of Texas. 

First joining the House in February 2005, Straus was elected speaker during the 81st Legislative Session in 2009 and won re-election in 2011 and 2013.
During his acceptance speech, Straus said he was deeply honored to receive an award that bears the Strauss name. He also shared some of his insight on the obstacles of engaging the public in political processes.

“The solution to what ails most of our politics today is for more voters to get involved,” Straus said. “Some voters will always be cynical but we can begin to restore trust in government if we provide a positive vision for where we want to go.”

Roderick Hart, College of Communication dean and director of the Annette Strauss Institute, hosted the tribute and presented a total of eight speakers throughout the night including Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Theodore Strauss, co-chair and husband of the late Annette Strauss.

The Annette Strauss Institute honors the legacy of former Dallas mayor Annette Strauss through the promotion of civic engagement and leadership, according to its mission statement. Institute director Regina Lawrence said the organization is equal parts research and educational programming.

“The skills and attitudes and values and habits that are necessary for real democracy and self governance are things that must be taught,” Lawrence said. “Too often, they are not taught and our mission is to try and fill that gap.”

The institute primarily reaches out to middle school, high school and college students to encourage public service and civic participation.

President William Powers Jr., who officially presented the award to Straus, said he could not think of a more deserving recipient of the award based on the institute’s mission.

“You embody the ideals that Annette Strauss tried to inculcate in what we do and what we try to inculcate in young people today in this country, in this state and in our community,” Powers said.