• Senator files bill to legalize civil unions

    Same sex couples would have access to many of the benefits and legal protections afforded to heterosexual married couples if a bill and several resolutions filed in the Texas Legislature gain approval.

    The bill, filed by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would partially repeal the Texas Defense of Marriage Act of 2003, which prevents Texas from recognizing same sex unions.

    In a statement, Hinojosa cited a 2012 public opinion poll conducted by UT and The Texas Tribune showing that a majority of Texas voters favored some legal recognition of same-sex couples.

    "Texans are now realizing the importance of providing same-gender couples the same protections that married couples receive," Hinojosa said.

    The bill would provide same sex couples certain legal protections including property rights, adoption rights and worker compensation benefits.

    One of the three constitutional amendments proposed last week by state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, or state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, must pass in both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority vote and then approved by Texas voters in order for Hinojosa’s bill to take effect in 2014.

    The proposed constitutional amendment would repeal the 2005 Texas Marriage Amendment to the Texas Constitution, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and prohibits recognition of civil unions.

    Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, an organization that lobbies for gay and transgender rights, said in a statement that Hinojosa’s legislation is the first step on a path toward recognizing rights for same-sex couples in Texas.

    "We believe that every Texas family should be able to take care of those they love," Smith said.

  • UT to launch five free "massive open online courses" or MOOCs this fall

    UT will be offering free online courses available to anyone around the world starting this fall.

    Four courses will be offered in the fall, including "Ideas of the 20th Century," "Introduction to Globalization," "Bench to Bedside: Introduction to Drug Development and the Commercialization Process" and "Energy Technology & Policy." Next spring, another five courses will be offered including "Jazz Appreciation," "Foundations of Data Analysis," "Mathematics and Effective Thinking," "Introduction to Embedded Systems" and "Linear Algebra: Theory and Computation."

    Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and research senior lecturer, said the classes, created by UT professors, will offer students a certificate of mastery or completion at the end of the course but will not qualify for course credit for current UT students.

    “UT is one of the leading institutions in technology-enhanced learning education,” Keller said. “This is one of the most interesting frontiers we’re exploring. These courses are aimed at personal enrichment and lifelong learning.”

    The University recently joined the edX program, a not-for-profit organization providing free online learning that was started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The program also includes Wellesley College, Georgetown University and the University of California, Berkeley.