• Board of Regents chairman refutes O’Donnell’s claims

    UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell refuted Rick O’Donnell’s statement about Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa encouraging donors and alumni to oppose the Regents’ efforts, according to a press release.

    Last Friday, the System and O’Donnell reached a settlement of $70,000, in which the former special adviser agreed not to sue the Regents over his dismissal. O’Donnell was hired in March but dismissed in April after controversy erupted over his views on higher education and were disputed by the UT administration and groups like UT alumni network the Texas Exes.

    After reaching the settlement, O’Donnell criticized University administrators, Cigarroa and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, for their handling of the situation. He told the Austin American-Statesman on Monday that Cigarroa discouraged efforts to obtain the faculty productivity data and that officials were attempting to quell his right to free speech.

    Powell said in the statement that Regents have a good relationship with Cigarroa and that the board fully supports his vision of advancing excellence in academics and research.

    “The comments made by Rick O’Donnell in today’s Austin American-Statesman with regard to his recollection of interactions with the leadership at the University of Texas System are unfortunate,” Powell said in the press release. “At no time did Chancellor Cigarroa encourage donors and alumni to actively oppose efforts by the Board of Regents and Mr. O’Donnell to obtain various data. Furthermore, Chancellor Cigarroa did not encourage ‘a brutal campaign’ against specific members of the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents has an excellent relationship with Chancellor Cigarroa and fully supports his vision and commitment to advance excellence in education, research, patient care and service across the great University of Texas System.” 

  • Texan may be first openly gay US attorney nominee

    A University law professor might be nominated as the first openly gay U.S. attorney for Texas.

    Adjunct professor Robert Pitman is currently a U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Texas which spans from Austin to El Paso. Pitman is also a graduate of the School of Law.

    Three other nominations for the other Texas districts are expected to be announced soon by White House officials. The White House notified Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn about the selections, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

    Both senators recommended Pitman for the position. They will have to approve the selections if Pitman is officially nominated.

    He has taught a signature freshman Plan II course and worked with professor Michael Stoff, director of the Plan II Honors program.

    “He has clearly brought real world knowledge of the law to his classroom and an empathetic sensibility to his students,” Stoff said. “I think helping to shape young minds, helping them to explore subjects with depth and sensibility can only help him as a U.S. attorney.”

    Interim U.S. attorneys who were not presidentially appointed have been serving in the positions for the past two years.

    Various bumps have slowed down the selection process in recent years including disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about which candidates to choose.

    “The administration has disregarded its previous agreement and our hope for more change in the Texas justice system after decades of total Republican domination,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, told the Express-News in an article Monday.

    Pitman declined to comment on his potential appointment.

  • Budget passes despite initial rejection by House

    The Texas House of Representatives first rejected, then passed the “must-pass Senate bill” that will balance the state’s 2012-13 biennium budget.

    The Senate voted on the bill earlier in the day and passed it 21-9.

    The House, which passed the bill two weeks earlier, first voted 64-79; potentially causing a second special session. After Republicans held a caucus, the House reconsidered the legislation and passed the bill with a vote of 80-57.

    Rep. Phil King, R-Fort Worth, who was one of 32 Republicans who initially voted against the bill, said it was a hard vote but decided to vote for the legislation after discussing the legislation with other Republicans.

    “The statement was made [before the first vote] that unfunded mandates would cost our small counties during the next budget cycle, but it has been checked back into, and that is not the case,” King said.

    Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said since none of the wording was changed in the bill, votes should not change either.

    “The writing of the bill has not deviated at all. Regardless of what people think of SB 1 at this point, the wording will speak for itself,” Turner said.

    A filibuster against the budget by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, forced the special session to begin with, and some representatives are saying that poor leadership and time management put the House in this position.

    Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst praised the bill earlier in the day after the Senate adjourned for sine die, saying it was a wonderful budget that Texans would be proud of.

  • Higher education coalition voices opposition to affordability center's analysis

    The Texas Coalition of Excellence for Higher Education opposes what it calls a "flawed" analysis by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity that undermines the efforts of administrators and professors at UT, according to a press release this morning.

    The press release outlines yet another attack on the administrators and especially the UT President William Powers Jr. The members of the coalition believe that the report attacks people like Powers who teach in addition to their administrative duties.

    Last month, UT System released salaries of the professors and class enrollment sizes. A cautionary statement warned the readers that data is premature and cannot yield accurate analysis.

    Texas Public Policy Foundation said in a recent interview with the Daily Texan that less productive professors and excessive academic research should also be eliminated. Richard Vedder, who authored the CCAP report, based his analysis on the data and concluded that increasing class enrollment can halve tuition. The coalition said his analysis also condemns administrators who also teach for being unproductive.

    "In addition to President Powers, two vice provosts and 11 university deans, including the deans of the colleges of Architecture, Nursing, Communication, Pharmacy, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, among others, as well as many associate deans, department chairs and directors fall in the bottom quintile of the study, when sorted for the simplistic measure of productivity," according to the press release.

    The Coalition formed this month seeks to oppose some of the proposals supported by Gov. Rick Perry, the TPPF and Vedder.