Texas Exes

The Texas Exes joined the ranks of supporters of a local initiative that would increase property taxes in Travis County to help fund a new UT medical school and teaching hospital.

The UT alumni association officially launched the UT M.D. campaign Wednesday in support of Proposition 1, an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot. The proposition calls for a five-cent property tax increase to be allocated to Central Health, Travis County’s health care taxing authority.

The proposition would increase the county property tax rate by 63 percent from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The increase is expected to raise an estimated $54 million to be used to fund various health services, including $35 million a year toward the proposed UT medical school and teaching hospital.

Texas Exes president John Beckworth said the association’s board of directors voted to support a UT medical school earlier this year after the UT System Board of Regents and the Seton Healthcare Family of Hospitals committed to providing funding for the school in May.

“There are compelling reasons to support the medical school, including the research and teaching opportunities that could come from it,” Beckworth said. “The medical school would also provide health care services needed in the community and a positive economic impact for the region and the state.”

The UT regents voted unanimously in favor of committing $25 million annually to operate the medical school and $5 million per year for eight years to cover laboratory equipment at their May meeting. Seton pledged $250 million to fund a teaching hospital to accompany the medical school. The UT system already boasts six health institutions in Dallas, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio and Tyler.

The Texas Exes is comprised of more than 99,000 members, and 80,000 alumni reside in Travis County.

Dennis McWilliams, UT alumnus and member of the association’s board of directors, said a UT medical school would not only benefit medical students but also impact students majoring in related fields like pharmacology and medical engineering.

McWilliams, who is also CEO of medical device company Apollo Endosurgery, said he attended graduate school at Stanford University because UT’s lack of a medical school did not allow him to adapt his degree to his chosen field.

“It’s easier to tailor a degree in the medical engineering field, for example, if you have access to a medical school,” he said.

Texas Exes spokesperson Tim Taliaferro said the association hopes to educate alumni about the transformative impact a UT medical school could have on the community.

The Texas Exes operates from the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on campus but is not directly affiliated with UT. Taliaferro said the campaign is a Texas Exes initiative rather than one from the University.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Texas, said the Texas Exes’ support for the proposition demonstrates the impact a medical school could have on the University and the community. Watson said it is the first time the Texas Exes have supported a local proposition.

Watson has played an integral part in the push to establish a medical school and modern teaching hospital in Austin, leading the initiative through his “10 Goals in 10 Years” vision.

“The Texas Exes have a unique love for their university and a strong sense of how transformative a medical school could be,” he said. “Proposition 1 will cement a new, vital partnership to help keep Austin and Central Texas healthy, and the Texas Exes’ historic support shows how important that is. The medical school needs this funding source, just as Travis County families and individuals need these services.”

Other Proposition 1 supporters include the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Some community members, such as the Travis County Taxpayers Union, oppose the proposition because it will increase property taxes.

Earlier this month the Austin City Council approved a budget including a separate property tax increase, which became effective Oct. 1. The tax hike increased the tax rate 2.18 cents for every $100 of assessed property.

Printed on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 as: Alumni back new medical facilities

As a result of the new partnership between Texas Sports, UT’s alumni association Texas Exes and Southwest Airlines, the gold lines and red heart that make up the Southwest Airlines logo will have a reserved space on the UT campus for the next five years, most notably at UT football games.

The Dallas-based airline released a statement Monday saying it will sponsor all 20 official UT sports teams and the Texas Exes in a five-year contract beginning fall 2012. The airline, whose CEO Gary Kelly is a UT alumnus, will have a presence at home football games and promotional events throughout the year. It will also be the primary sponsor of the first home football game every year.

Texas Exes spokesman Tim Taliaferro said it has not yet been determined how the money from the sponsorship will be spent.

“I don’t know that we’ve determined what it will go to exactly,” Taliaferro said. “The money isn’t earmarked for any specific need. Texas Exes is delighted to be partnering with the UT athletics program’s and Southwest Airlines’ deal, and we feel it is going to be valuable to our members.”

Taliaferro said the partnership between UT Athletics and Texas Exes is due in part to the efforts of Texas Exes CEO and executive director Leslie Cedar.

“One of Leslie’s real priorities is to improve partnerships on campus, and she has worked at building relationships with other parts of campus like athletics,” Taliaferro said. “I think somewhere in that discussion it became clear that we should all be working together to identify possible sponsors.”

Jim Nicar, former Texas Exes director of history and traditions, was fired Monday after 20 years of service as a part of a strategic planning process the organization is undertaking.

The Texas Exes dismissed Nicar and two other employees Monday as part of the organization’s efforts to increase advocacy, student development, alumni relations and strategic partnering with UT. Leslie Cedar, Texas Exes executive director, said Nicar was involuntarily terminated because the organization is repurposing some staff positions to better deliver Texas Exes’ priorities in new and innovative ways.

Cedar said the organization began its reorganizing efforts after she joined the Texas Exes as executive director in 2011. She said the group has since evaluated its core purpose and decided Texas Exes will lead the charge to help UT be a first class, leading research and teaching public university in the country.

“The new strategy is more updated and focuses on making alumni very active in becoming a formidable force [at UT],” Cedar said.

Cedar said since July 2011, four people including Nicar have been involuntarily dismissed and five roles within the organization have been eliminated. Texas Exes now has a total of 49 employees. In addition to serving as director of history and traditions, Nicar also served as the Texas Exes liaison and advisor to the Spirit and Traditions Council, an umbrella group for many different spirit groups on campus. She said the organization wishes Nicar the best.

Admissions counselor Lisa Lockhart said she heard about Nicar’s firing via email from a student who is a member of a club Nicar mentored. Lockhart said Nicar has spent several decades serving UT working, researching, writing articles and giving presentations on UT history and traditions. She said students who worked for her were always thrilled when Nicar taught them something new about UT’s history. Lockhart said discharging an individual with Nicar’s longevity, knowledge and integrity is outrageous and damaging. She said she spoke to Nicar after he had been fired about what he would do next.

“We spoke of his future plans,” she said. “[Whether] to return to school or finish working on a book about UT’s history and traditions. I do not know what reason was given to him but he did mention poor morale and high turnover at Texas Exes.”

With regard to rumors of canceling and disbanding Texas Exes programs, Lockhart said to follow the money.

“Are new, middle management positions being created?” she said. “Did these jobs exist before? Are programs being sacrificed to provide salaries?”

Cedar said 11 new positions have been added and eight people have been promoted since July 2011 in efforts to align resources and talents and deliver on strategic priorities.

Matt Portillo, Spirit and Traditions Council co-chair, said his organization was shocked when they learned of Nicar’s termination. Portillo said he found out from Nicar himself and confirmed the news with an email from Tim Taliaferro, Texas Exes vice president of communications and digital strategy. Portillo said Taliaferro told him to direct any questions and concerns about the Spirit and Traditions Council to him from now on. He said Taliaferro also told him Texas Exes is currently assessing the council’s future within the organization and the council should hold no meetings or activities without a Texas Exes staff member present. Portillo said he was told the council could not meet until after they met with Texas Exes leadership in a meeting after spring break due to legal and liability considerations.

Portillo said he thinks the Texas Exes’ restructuring and Nicar’s firing is due to a budget shortfall within the organization. He said the council may be rolled into the Texas Exes Student Chapter organization. Portillo said the council is open to change, but he is concerned that Texas Exes has not involved the group in any discussions about the proposed changes.

“There’s been some miscommunication and I think everybody is in a somewhat turbulent state,” Portillo said. “But what’s important right now is for students and the Texas Exes leadership to come together and work towards solutions that will benefit everyone.”

Although the Spirit and Traditions Council receives approximately $6,000 in funding from the Texas Exes, Portillo said it is a registered student organization and he believes it is free to act according to the will of its student membership.

Cedar said despite rumors Texas Exes was cutting programs and clubs, no such entities have been eliminated.

“We will continue on with all of our traditions,” Cedar said. “We have the opportunity to build on top of these. How do we continue on? That’s the task we were charged with when I came in.”

Additional reporting by Nick Hadjigeorge.

Printed on Friday, March 9, 2012 as: Texas Exes' restructuring results in loss of jobs

Attorney and lobbyist Machree Gibson will take over as the first black woman president of the Texas Exes on July 1.

This past year, she served as president-elect of the powerful and independent UT alumni organization. Current president Richard Leshin, who will serve as the chair of the organization when his term as president ends, said he thinks Gibson is a prime fit for the volunteer leadership role.

“I think she’ll do a great job. She has a great sense of humor and she will be able to use that sense of humor in leading us into the next year,” Leshin said.

The Daily Texan talked to Gibson about her connection to the University and her goals for the Texas Exes.

The Daily Texan: What do you want to say to UT students?
Machree Gibson: They are at one of the best schools in the country, and they need to appreciate the opportunity that has been bestowed on them. The friends they make now will probably be friends for a long, long time. I hope that when they graduate they become a part of the Texas Exes because that expands your UT family.

DT: What do you plan to focus on during your time as president?
MG: A lot of times, since the University is in our own backyard, we sort of take it for granted. We need to tout the accomplishments of the University of Texas such as what value research has upon the state of Texas as well as developing phenomenal minds that go out and change the world.

DT: How do you feel about being the first black woman to serve as president of the Texas Exes?
MG: Very proud. What that does is it shows minority students that they too can be a part of the University and fall in love with it and one day they too can lead an organization of the magnitude of the Texas Exes.

DT: Businesswoman Leslie Cedar will take over as the first female Texas Exes CEO and Executive Director at the end of this month. How do you think your combined female leadership will impact the organization?
MG: Leslie has so much energy, I am enamored with her. I think we are going to have a good time. I think women have a different way of looking at things. They see an issue and they look at it from many different sides. Women tend to want to solve a problem and not just fix it.

DT: You got an English degree in 1982 and a law degree in 1991 from the University. How does this connect you as president of Texas Exes to the University?
MG: When I was in college I worked at the capitol, and I used to park in the middle of Speedway. I’d wear my flip flops and my backpack. Depending on which direction I was going in, I’d switch to my pumps and grab my purse. So it’s kind of great having come full circle, to be working at the capitol and back on campus. But this time I keep my pumps on.

Printed on 6/23/2011 as: Black female readies to lead as president of Texas Exes