Engineering-Science Building

Photo of Chenxi Deng courtesy of APD

Chenxi Deng, who was charged with aggravated assault after stabbing his estranged girlfriend with a fork in the Engineering-Science Building in September, spent less than a week in jail before being bailed out and is now suspected to be in China.

A judge at the Travis County Central Booking facility set Deng’s bond at $50,000, which was paid by an unknown individual on Sept. 30, five days after his arrest.

James Young, Travis County assistant district attorney, said he suspects Deng returned to China to avoid trial in the U.S.

“Once he’s in China, there’s no getting him back really,” Young said. “I just don’t see that happening.”

If Deng did return to China, he would not face any further penalties, Young said. The U.S. and China do not have an extradition treaty, which is an official document that would require China to surrender Deng and other people bearing arrest warrants to the U.S. judicial system.

Deng followed Li You, a UT graduate student, from Beijing, where the two had maintained a romantic relationship. Deng audited several classes in an attempt to contact You before he crossed paths with her in the Engineering-Science Building.

Deng and You attended Peking University together, though You left China after graduation to pursue her master’s degree at UT. Deng and You were talking in the hallway when the conversation escalated to physical violence. According to the police affidavit, You had visible puncture wounds on the left side of her nose from the fork. 

Deng was able to attend one of You’s classes through UT’s class auditing program, which allows non-UT individuals to take college courses without earning credit. Auditors need the class instructor’s signature and $20 to secure a seat in the classroom, though it has not been determined whether Deng went through the official process.  

According to Jim Whitten, a senior administrative associate for the Office of the Registrar, class auditing provides a chance for people to learn at their own leisure and for a fraction of the cost. 

“For maybe a retired person would want to take a class for their own enjoyment or just anyone who wants to take a class, we offer that ability,” Whitten said.

No record is taken of previous class auditors, according to Shelby Stanfield, vice provost for enrollment management and registrar. There is no system in place to keep past auditors, such as Deng, out of the classroom. 

“As long as the instructor signs off on the person’s ability to take the course, they’re in,” Whitten said.

Jimmy Moore, a UTPD officer in the Crime Prevention Unit, said safety policies have not been altered in any way since the incident.

Deng, charged with a second-degree felony and facing up to 20 years in prison, disregarded his Nov. 22 court date, according to Young. Because Deng failed to attend his court hearing, his bond has been forfeited and there is now a warrant out for his arrest.

Deng’s whereabouts remain uncertain, but he was given an emergency protective order that prevents him from being within 200 yards of You at any time.

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Electrical engineering students, faculty and staff will face a disruptive transition period as their operations relocate from the Engineering-Science Building, set to be demolished this summer, to the new Engineering Education and Research Center.

John Ekerdt, associate dean at the Cockrell School of Engineering, said students and faculty have voiced concerns about the transition to the center, which is expected to be constructed by 2017. Ekerdt said his department is trying to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

“We’re working with all the different groups to try to minimize the impact, but there will be compromises and there will be sacrifices that a number of groups will be making during the construction,” Ekerdt said.

Even after the construction and movement process is finished, some student are worried that they won’t have a community setting in which to study and meet with classmates, according to electrical engineering sophomore Tyler Walker. While there has been an effort to maintain a lot of the department’s activities in the general engineering area, some of the study space will be lost as a result of the move.

“I’m worried about losing the [electrical engineering] community,” Walker said. “A lot of the times you build relationships with people you study with, and that comes from being in the same area. If you don’t have a support group of [other students] making it through this major will be very difficult — it’s not easy.”

During the transition, faculty will be relocated to the UT Administration Building, located at 16th and Guadalupe streets as well as the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Building, located at the corner of 24th and Speedway streets. As of now, faculty do not know who will be in which building, but faculty with research groups are more likely to be in the administrative building so their location is centralized, Ekerdt said.

Those involved with the project have begun meeting with the registrar to discuss where classes displaced by the transition will meet.

“We’re arranging to have many classes in the engineering precinct,” Ekerdt said.

Temporary offices will be located in the Academic Annex for professors and teaching assistants to have a place to meet with students, Ekerdt said.

Although the Engineering-Science Building is set to be torn down in the summer, administrative offices have had to temporarily relocate there from the first floor of the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall so that those portions of the hall can be repurposed as lab space. Last week, the Engineering Student Life office was the last office to be relocated from the hall to the Engineering-Science Building. 

According to junior Miranda Pacheco there is excitement about the new building but some students will miss the Engineering-Science Building.

“It’s really sad because we won’t have the third floor to study in and everyone will be in random places,” Pacheco said. “I just think it will separate us as [a department] because we won’t see each other around a certain building. It’ll probably be OK, it will just be an inconvenience.”

Chairman Wm. Eugene “Gene” Powell (left) and Regent Robert L. Stillwell (right) hear various proposals, including one for the new engineering building, during a UT system board meeting in January. The board approved the potential use of tuition revenue bonds.

Photo Credit: Pearce Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The UT System Board of Regents approved a proposal that would demolish the Engineering-Science Building and replace it with a new building called the Engineering Education and Research Center at its meeting Wednesday.

The proposal will now go to the Texas Legislature for tuition revenue bond funding. President William Powers Jr. said the University plans to build the new Engineering Education and Research Center regardless of the funding decision, but if the Texas Legislature approves the bond, UT will be able to build the center sooner.

“This is the highest priority project on our campus right now and one of our most important and most successful colleges,” Powers said at the meeting Wednesday. “The [Cockrell School of Engineering] brings in $160 million a year in external research funding. ... It teaches 5,600 undergraduates and 2,200 graduate students. It has 278 tenured and tenure-track faculty, so it’s a very large and very important part of our campus.”

This building is part of a 10-year project to modernize UT’s engineering facilities. The University built the Biomedical Engineering Building in 2008 for the new department, but pre-existing engineering programs have not received new buildings, Powers said. 

“In terms of the main campus and teaching our students and doing research, the last engineering building was the Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Building in 1986 — that’s 26 years,” Powers said.

The new engineering building will total 430,000 square feet and will take the place of the Engineering-Science Building in the engineering area.

“We are replacing an existing building and removing 240,000 square feet of space,” Powers said. “It is virtually not quite unusable, but obsolete, and in great need of either repair, but in this case replacement. It would add 193,000 square feet.” 

The project is intended to improve the resources, technology and research available to engineering students. 

“It is a combination of a student-oriented project learning center … and flexible interdisciplinary modular research space,” Powers said. “It reflects not just the need for updated and higher-tech classrooms, but really a new way of teaching students, much more project-oriented, much more team-oriented.”

The projected total cost of the project is $310 million, and Powers requested a $95 million tuition revenue bond authorization, or TRB. According to UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, a tuition revenue bond finances construction through the selling of a bond. She said if the bond is approved, it would be issued to UT, but the state would pay the full amount. 

Powers said if the bond is not approved, the project would still be financed through alternative sources.

“This project is going forward when we get the fundraising done even if the Legislature says we’re not going to have any TRBs,” Powers said. 

This project meets the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s standards for space need, building cost and building efficiency and will lower the amount of deferred maintenance. The project was previously unsuccessfully proposed to the Legislature in May 2012.

Engineering students said they look forward to the renovation and expansion of their program’s facilities, particularly because of the age of current engineering buildings. 

“They definitely look outdated in comparison to all of the newer buildings,” mechanical engineering sophomore Chris Krieps said. “They don’t have the same openness. It feels really cramped and stuffy when you’re inside of them versus the new liberal arts buildings which are really open and breathe nicely versus being in the mechanical engineering building.”

New and updated resources are also a promising aspect of this project.

“Some of the new technology that’s come out since [the buildings] were created could help us out,” electrical engineering sophomore Eric Van Dyk said. “If we could get new facilities, it could help us with research; some of the materials we use are kind of old, and some of the stuff that we could have could be so much better.”

Printed on Thursday, January 24, 2013 as: UT System approves plan for Cockrell replacement