UT-Austin campus

The fate of funding for more than 60 campus construction projects across the state, totaling more than $2.5 billion, rests in the hands of Gov. Rick Perry, who can choose to either add the issue of tuition revenue bonds, the main funding mechanism for campus construction projects at universities across the state, to his call for the special session or letting them languish in the Legislature until the 84th session begins in 2015. 

On the line is funding for projects ranging from an effort to replace water systems at Texas State Technical College (for which the Senate issued a mere $4 million in TRBs) to the construction of the new Engineering Education and Research Center on the UT-Austin campus, for which the Senate granted TRBs totaling $95 million (which still account for less than a third of the building’s total projected cost). Although universities pay back the state for TRBs with tuition dollars or student fees, the state reimburses universities with general revenue. Although for nearly a decade between 1997 and 2006, the Legislature granted TRBs every other session, an extremely limited number of TRBs have been funded since that time. 

Given the 7-year-long TRB drought in the past three legislative sessions, it seems like legislators would be able to agree to at least partially fund TRBs. But the students of Texas have no such luck. In the words of state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo and the former chair of the Higher Education Committee, legislators “simply ran out of time.” 

But from the sidelines, the Legislature’s handling of TRBs seemed to run up against more than a time limit. The effort played out like a tennis match in which one player decides to drop the racket and hold the ball hostage. The Senate served up the original bill, filed by Zaffirini, and asked for $2.4 billion in TRB authorizations with a unanimous vote. The House countered with an amended bill which brought the amount of TRBs authorized up to $2.7 billion. Then, for all intents and purposes, the lower chamber dropped the racket and stood still on the court, refusing to appoint any representatives to reconcile the two versions of the bill, a move that is customary but not required. Now, Gov. Perry will have to explicitly add the issue of TRBs to the special session agenda for the chambers to reconsider them, placing up to $2.7 billion in higher education funding in the hands of a man whose unknowable political plans make him nothing so much as a wild card. 

According to Gregory Fenves, the current dean of the engineering school, the new engineering building would “create a culture of innovation” in the Engineering College and provide “a much better learning environment” for students. Clarke Rahrig, an electrical engineering senior and president of the Student Engineering Council, called the current engineering building “severely outdated in terms of technology and facilities.” But even those with the biggest stake in the project recognize the importance of TRBs not just to the engineering college at UT-Austin, but to the state as a whole. 

“I hope Gov. Perry does add it to the call,” Fenves said when asked what would happen should the governor choose not to address TRBs during the special session. “And not just for this project, but for the 60 projects at universities across the state.” 

Among the projects the TRB bill would have helped fund was a renovation of a building on the Texas A&M-Galveston campus which state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, called “a tin warehouse” and “the worst facility that we have on any campus in our state.” 

In other words, not passing a TRB bill puts at risk funding not just for the creation of “much better learning environments,” but also for the creation of workable learning environments, period. 

Soon after I arrived on the UT-Austin campus, I saw a group of girls wearing striped Nike Tempo shorts, tennis shoes and oversized t-shirts. I thought they were part of a feminist organization rebelling against revealing miniskirts, cleavage-baring tops and high heels. Before coming to Austin, I’d lived in a town on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany, where most women wear jeans and an outdoor jacket in the evening and consider themselves down-to-earth and unpretentious for doing so. Going to class in a gym outfit, however, is a level of informality that German women haven’t reached yet. I was impressed by that group of girls who were, in my eyes, setting new standards for independent and unencumbered wardrobe choices.

But after seeing another group of girls in identical shorts, and then another and another, it dawned on me that this was a uniform for these girls — just like miniskirts, revealing tops and high heels are for others.
Both uniforms serve the same purpose: by wearing them, you identify yourself with a group. You don’t have to waste time or effort building your own identity. When I asked girls why they wear such sorority regalia, they all had more or less the same answer. A biology sophomore, who I’ll call L, said, “This outfit is cool and comfy, and I can give it a personal touch, like shoelaces in my favorite color.” An undeclared sophomore, who I’ll call C, agreed and added that wearing the same style as her sisters gave sorority members a feeling “of being close even when we are spread over the campus”. L said that she thought exactly the same thing. Or was it the other way around? Did C say it was cool and comfy and then L agree and add that it made her feel close to her sisters and then C say she thought the same? I really can’t remember; they looked so similar they were nearly interchangeable to me.

After hearing my peers’ opinions, I wanted to form my own, so I headed to Barton Creek Mall. To my surprise, there is not yet a specialty shop that sells these uniforms. An entrepreneur could make serious money selling piles of Nike shorts ($30 each) and matching shoes (at least $100 a pair.)

I finally located a sporting goods store with the uniform on offer. As soon as I stepped out of the changing room and looked in the mirror, I knew I looked good in my neon shorts and shoes with matching laces. I resolved to buy ten more sets of the uniform in exchange for my personality at the check-out counter. “What shall I wear today?” and “What shall I think today?” were two birds that I was about to kill with one stone. I would belong to an elite group of the coolest girls on campus.

Just joking. No question, the stuff was comfortable, but so were my off-brand-slightly-different sport shorts at home. To anyone out there who wears Nike shorts and oversized t-shirts for the mere comfort of it, keep doing so! But I doubt that very short shorts and a t-shirt are a comfortable outfit for all occasions. While I was sitting in a supermarket parking lot all night to get an Austin City Limits ticket, wearing jeans and a sweater, right behind me in the line was a group of girls equipped with dozens of blankets wearing shorts. I’d rather wear something warm than follow the herd instinct and freeze, but that’s everybody’s own decision. Or their group’s decision, if they’ve given up deciding for themselves.

Hardt is an English junior from Freiburg, Germany.