Department of Justice

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

EdX and the United States Department of Justice reached a settlement to make edX’s online courseware more accessible to students with disabilities after the company allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a statement from the Department of Justice. 

EdX publishes college-level massive online open courses and was created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The UT System, an edX charter member, has contributed 12 courses to edX.

EdX did not caption and transcribe certain videos to meet industry standards, according to Coleman Tharpe, the communications coordinator for edX’s Energy 101 course and anthropology and radio-television-film senior. Energy 101 is a course the Cockrell School of Engineering published on edX.

“It hinged on video,” Tharpe said. “They were producing and publishing video that [they] were including in courses essentially without captioning and [transcribing] the videos or separating the transcripts and the captions from the video. [The time lag between the captions and video] was far away, and that’s not a best practice.”

According to Philip Long, associate vice provost for learning sciences, all courses published by UT Austin on edX contain full captions and transcripts.

Juan Garcia, a media production services manager at the engineering school, said edX prioritized the timely publication of content over accessibility concerns.

“If you’re really under the wire and trying to get content to an organization, to an institution [and] to students, it’s much easier to do that as a process,” Garcia said. “In many cases, having these transcripts can take double and triple the amount of time than it actually takes to produce a video.”

Tharpe said he did not receive any complaints about accessibility issues when collecting feedback for the Energy 101 course.

“From what I heard, the student experience was overall very positive,” Tharpe said. “The production was beautiful, but they did take the time to make this course, as it is, the best practice for a university.”

Garcia said UT-Austin can draw upon resources such as the Center for Teaching and Learning and other course support staff to comply with accessibility laws. Other institutions, Garcia said, may struggle to revise their courses to comply with the terms of the settlement.  

“Not everyone has a network or capabilities of putting this into place, and so, now, the institutions are going to be looking to the states and the states are going to be looking back at the institutions,” Garcia said. “The benefits extend well beyond compliance, but the hard part is figuring out who has the time and the money to do this.”

Correction: This story has been amended since its original publication. According to Tharpe, only some EdX videos did not meet industry standards. All courses published by UT contain captions and transcripts, Long said.

UT student Rahatul Khan, left, and Michael Wolfe, right, have been charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists in a United States Attorney's Office for the Western Distrcit of Texas press release. Photo courtesy of Williamson County Sheriff's office and the Austin Police Department. 

A federal grand jury indicted UT student Rahatul Khan with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, according to the Department of Justice on Friday.

Khan was scheduled to appear in federal court on Friday for a detention hearing, but it has been reset to June 30. Khan was arrested Tuesday on the same day as Michael Todd Wolfe, who waived his detention hearing and will remain in custody. Wolfe is from Austin but is not a UT student. Both men are 23.

According to the justice department, both men waived formal arraignment and have pleaded not guilty.

From March 2011 to January 2012, “Khan allegedly conspired with others to recruit persons to travel overseas to support terrorist activities including committing violent jihad,” according to federal prosecutors.  

If convicted, both men face up to 15 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.

British oil company BP said Thursday, it is in advanced talks with U.S. agenciies about settling criminal and other claims from the Gulf of Mexico well blowout two years ago. (Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard)

NEW ORLEANS — The manslaughter charges brought against two relatively low-ranking BP rig workers in the deadly Gulf of Mexico disaster may be as far as federal prosecutors are willing to go.

The Justice Department has said only that its criminal investigation is still going on.

“Either there simply isn’t evidence that anybody higher up was involved, or the department has concluded the only way it’s going to make its case against more senior corporate officers is if it charges and eventually obtains cooperation” from the two men, said David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section.

A federal indictment unsealed last week charged BP rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine with botching a crucial safety test before the 2010 drilling-platform explosion that killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Two and a half years after the blast, they are the only individuals charged directly in the tragedy, despite a string of government investigations that spread fault among a host of people and companies. None of the company’s onshore engineers or executives was accused of wrongdoing in the indictment. BP agreed last week to plead guilty to charges related to the workers’ deaths and pay a record $4.5 billion.

I had never heard a rape joke until I came to UT. Sitting in a crowd of freshmen in Hogg Auditorium, I watched orientation advisors caution against making an exchange commonly heard between students on campus: “How was your test?” “Man, I raped it!” “Awesome, bro!”

Three years later, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard or read rape jokes made by friends and peers, delivered in person or broadcast on Facebook. Aside from learning when people “rape” or “get raped” by their exams, I hear the verb when I least expect it. My friends and I were once sating our late-night munchies at Kerbey Lane when one proclaimed, “Man, y’all are raping that queso!”

There must be something about our campus culture that suggests rape isn’t really a big deal and that joking about it in public is okay.

It’s not.

Rape is an act of violence. Rape takes the beauty and intimacy of human sexual expression and twists it into assault. It’s something grotesque that happens when rapists rob others of the ability to say “no.” Can you imagine what it’d be like to lose all control and power over your own body? Rape doesn’t happen to difficult exams or Kerbey Queso; it happens to human beings.

And it happens all the time, to people of all genders, ages, and sexual orientations. According to the 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey from the Department of Justice, 66% of rape victims are attacked by people they know. Sadly, victims are told time and time again that rape is their fault. “They had way too much to drink.” “They wanted it!” “They said yes to this; I thought we could do that.” “Look at what they’re wearing!”

Sound familiar?

Many people think of rapists as strangers, but most incidents of rape happen between people who know each other. The often-repeated warnings to carry pepper spray or wear long skirts suggest a lack of understanding that most rapists aren’t strangers to their victims. The single best, most effective way to prevent rape is for rapists not to rape. Yes, you can reduce your chances of being a victim of sexual violence by drinking with people you trust, watching your drinks and by staying away from dark, unpopulated places. Ultimately, the people responsible for rape are rapists; those who force others into unwanted sexual contact. Despite this, we still describe what rape victims did wrong to increase their risk, therefore reducing the culpability of rapists, while congratulating our friends for “raping” their exams.

Students on this campus need to stop cracking jokes about rape. Rape is neither funny nor something to be proud of, and it’s never the victim’s fault.

Some argue that making light of rape somehow diminishes the horror of it. Aside from the fact that I have yet to hear a single actual rape victim reclaim the word, those who make rape jokes are often the same people who blame victims for their rape. Truth is, rape isn’t something we can end by joking about it. It’s quite the opposite: joking about rape can keep people from taking it seriously, which in turn leads to more rape and blaming the victim. We’re caught in a vicious cycle, and it needs to stop.

The next time you hear a rape joke – or make one yourself – give it some thought. In most situations, no one self-identifies as a victim of sexual violence. You have no idea who among your friends – or how many of them – could be victims. You also have no idea who could be a potential rapist and understand your joke as support for their actions.
Let me be clear: fighting against rape jokes isn’t about positioning angry feminists against evil men. Although most men aren’t rapists, the Department of Justice has found that 99% of rapists are men. Both men and women are victims. Fighting against rape jokes is about returning to a world – or at least, a campus – where sex is safe and consensual for everyone.

Eyberg is an English major from El Paso.

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined more than 50 groups in support of UT's consideration of race as a factor for undergraduate admissions.

 

 

The United States, through the Department of Justice, joined more than 50 organizations and public officials Monday in publically supporting UT in the upcoming Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court case. Brought forth by rejected 2008 UT applicant Abigail Fisher, the case alleges the University’s consideration of race in its admission process violates the fourteenth amendment.

 

In a statement of support filed with the Supreme Court, legal representatives of the Obama administration stated that federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, consider diverse university graduates crucial to their mission. The U.S. also stated UT’s race-conscious policy to promote diversity was constitutional in supplement with Texas’ Top Ten Percent Plan, a rule that grants automatic public university admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

 

This is the second brief the U.S. Department of Justice has filed in support of UT. It filed the first brief in 2010 when the case went before the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of UT.

 

 “The University legitimately concluded in these circumstances [when evaluating applicants not admitted through the Top Ten Percent Plan] that the holistic evaluation of each individual student would be incomplete and insufficient without consideration of applicant’s race along with other factors,” the brief states.

 

The U.S. also stated that since race is one of many factors considered in the admission process, there was no ground for Fisher’s claim UT was trying to fill racial quotas. UT also considers leadership, extracurricular activities, honors and awards, work experience, community service and special circumstances such as socioeconomic status and the primary language spoken at home.

 

Race and ethnicity are considered special circumstances that help admission counselors obtain a full understanding of the student.

 

As of 7 p.m. Monday, other UT supporters included the University at North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 17 U.S. senators, 38 Texas senators and representatives Houston Community College System. There are 17 supporters for Fisher, which include the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization; the American Center for Law and Justice, which fights for religious and constitutional freedoms and the California Association of Scholars.

 

In a statement, UT President William Powers Jr. said the University was delighted by the show of support. He said the support demonstrated the importance of the issue and will guide the U.S. in the future.

 

“We need to have pathways for our students into leadership positions so we can have a robust economy, a robust culture and a robust democracy,” Powers said. “These briefs also speak to the absence of the full educational benefits of diversity at UT in 2004 when we introduced our race-conscious, holistic review admissions policy."

 

Damon Hewitt, director of educational practice at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, was part of the team that filed a brief supporting UT. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund is a non-profit legal organization advocating for racial justice. In the brief, which also expresses support from UT’s Black Student Alliance, the organization states meaningful representation of African-American students is essential to receive the full educational benefits of diversity.

 

“UT has a very robust race neutral component in the Top Ten Percent Plan,” Hewitt said. “On the holistic component, there is nothing odd about a university opening up a student’s application and learning everything about the student in order to make a decision.”

  

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Fisher v. UT Oct. 10.

Separation of powers showdown

Yesterday, President Obama granted Attorney General Eric Holder executive privilege to withhold documents requested by the House committee investigating the administration’s involvement in the failed ATF gun smuggling sting, Operation Fast and Furious.

The executive privilege, Obama’s first use of the power, ignited a “political firefight” on Capitol Hill and resulted in the House Committee voting to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.

Punches were thrown, and Holder claimed the vote was politically motivated.

"It's an election-year tactic intended to distract attention — and, as a result — has deflected critical resources from fulfilling what remains my top priority at the Department of Justice: Protecting the American people."

Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor defended the committee’s contempt vote and released a statement saying, “Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Presidential use of executive privilege dates back to George Washington when he denied the House’s request for information relating to the Jay Treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain.

More recently, Bill Clinton used executive privilege 14 times, most notably in an attempt to withhold his aides from testifying in court during his impeachment in 1998.

George W. Bush used the power six times, once to withhold the details of Vice President Dick Cheney’s meetings with energy executives, and several times to block congressional subpoenas of his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers and political aide Karl Rove.

While voting to hold an official in contempt can potentially lead to jail time, politicians usually avoid carrying out the entire procedure because it could lead to a court battle that redefines the limits of executive privilege.

Nancy Pelosi chastised House republicans Wednesday and claimed they misused the contempt vote.

“It doesn't serve our country, and it undermines the true purpose of contempt of Congress," Pelosi said. "That's why I didn't arrest Karl Rove when I had the chance."

Things seem to be calming down now, with the Associated Press reporting a compromise between both parties is in the works.

This April 24, 2012 file photo shows a sign at the entrance of a polling station in East Greenwich, R.I., advising voters that identification is required. President Barack Obama’s campaign is recruiting legions of lawyers to handle disputes that may arise from now through Election Day. Thousands of attorneys and support staffers have agreed to aid in the effort, providing legal support that appears to be unrivaled by Republicans or precedent.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The fate of Texas’ controversial new voter ID law, which requires voters to show photo identification at the polls, is set to be decided this week in a federal court in Washington.

The state, which claims the law will prevent voter fraud, is seeking to persuade a three-judge panel to uphold the statute. The Justice Department and a slew of intervening groups say the law disproportionately affects minority voters, violating the federal Voting Rights Act. They want it thrown out.

The case will be a test of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965, which was designed to protect minorities’ rights to vote.

The Justice Department set up this week’s court fight when it blocked implementation of the law in March. Texas quickly filed a lawsuit in federal court, bringing the two sides back to Washington for the second time in months.

The two sides spent two weeks earlier this year arguing in front of a similar three-judge panel about Texas’ redrawn congressional maps. As now, the Justice Department claimed Texas was violating the federal Voting Rights Act. No final decision has been made in that case, but a federal court has approved interim maps that have allowed Texas elections to go ahead.

One of the judges in this week’s trial, Rosemary Collyer, appointed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, is involved in both cases. The other judges hearing the voter ID case are David Tatel, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and Robert Wilkins, appointed in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

Texas plans to argue its law is a simple safeguard on voter fraud. The state already requires voters to show a voter identification card or other acceptable form of ID, but it has no photo requirement.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the new law is similar to those in Georgia and Indiana that have withstood legal scrutiny. He said he believed Texas’ law was in line with Supreme Court precedent.

“What the Supreme Court has made clear is that to get documentation and have a photograph taken ... is simply not an infringement of the right to vote,” Abbott said.

The Justice Department and intervening groups will argue that the law disproportionately affects Hispanic voters.

They also say it addresses a problem that doesn’t really exist.

“The state’s argument has this notion of widespread fraud, when what we know from the evidence is that so far, for 2008 and 2010, there were 13 million votes cast across the state and of those 13 million, there’s been one indictment for voter fraud,” said Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the groups joining the Justice Department.

The five-day trial begins Monday.

WASHINGTON — The General Services Administration inspector general said Monday that he’s investigating possible bribery and kickbacks in the agency, as a central figure in a GSA spending scandal asserted his right to remain silent at a congressional hearing.

Inspector general Brian Miller, responding to a question at the hearing, said, “We do have other ongoing investigations, including all sorts of improprieties, including bribes, including possible kickbacks.”

Jeffrey Neely, who asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege before the committee, has been placed on leave as a regional executive in Western states.

Neely, summoned before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, could face a criminal investigation by the Justice Department — where his case was referred by the inspector general.

Neely was largely responsible for an $823,000 Las Vegas conference in 2010 that was the focus of Miller’s report. Three other congressional committees also are looking at the conference spending and a culture of waste at the agency in charge of federal buildings and supplies

“Mr. Chairman, on advice of counsel I decline to answer based on my constitutional privilege,” Neely said in response to questions from chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. The conference was the subject of a highly critical report by Miller issued on April 2. Taxpayers picked up the tab for a clown, a mind-reader, bicycles for a team-building exercise.

Martha Johnson, who resigned as chief of the agency after the inspector general’s report was issued this month, said the Western Regions Conference “had evolved into a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event.”

Johnson, whom lawmakers accused of sitting on the findings for 11 months after receiving an interim briefing from the inspector general, apologized “to the American people for the entire situation.

“As the head of the agency, I am responsible. I deeply regret that the exceedingly good work of GSA has been besmirched. I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment.”

Previously, Neely had told inspector general investigators that a $2,700 party he threw in his Las Vegas hotel suite was an employee-awards event, according to a transcript of the interview.

“This is an award recognition ceremony ....” Neely insisted to an internal investigator. “That’s what this was. That’s...not a Neely party right. I actually...it was in a suite that wasn’t even mine.”

The investigator then confronted Neely with his email saying that he and his wife “are hosting a party in our loft room. There will be wine and beer and some munchies....” There was no mention of awards.When Neely insisted again it was an awards event, the skeptical investigator told him, “You realize how this looks?”

“I get it that it looks funny,” Neely said.

The inspector general has referred Neely to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation, according to a congressional committee official who was not authorized to be quoted by name on the subject.

It was not clear what the department was asked to investigate.

Neely, on leave as regional commissioner of the Public Buildings Service for the Pacific Rim, was largely responsible for the Las Vegas conference.

The Oversight Committees released internal memos that showed GSA officials debated last year whether to give Neely a bonus for his job performance. The officials were aware at the time that the inspector general was investigating the conference spending.

The now-resigned GSA administrator, Martha Johnson, granted Neely a $9,000 bonus over the objection of Deputy Administrator Susan Brita.

Brita wrote in a November 2011 email, that “based on what we know already” about the conference and a questionable awards program, “I would not recommend a bonus.”

Johnson wrote in an email, “yes on a bonus” in part because Neely had to serve in an acting capacity “forever and a day.”

Published on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: Ex-GSA chief pleads fifth on wasting money

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has been busy lately. With the redistricting battle temporarily settled — though the final outcome is still uncertain — the attorney general’s office filed several other suits against the federal government. Last week, Abbott challenged the constitutionality of the government’s refusal to fund the Texas Women’s Health Program if the state excludes Planned Parenthood. Also last week, Texas’ controversial Voter ID law passed last year, was rejected for preclearance by the Department of Justice. In response, the attorney general’s office filed suit arguing that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the same provision responsible for the redistricting headaches, is unconstitutional.

The Voter ID law passed by the Legislature last session would require voters to present a state-issued photographic ID card in order to vote in elections. Acceptable forms of ID include state drivers licenses and concealed handgun licenses but notably do not include student ID cards issued by state universities. If the law had gone into effect as planned, students wanting to vote in the May 29 primary would have needed to present an acceptable ID, presenting a problem for many out-of-state students and others without driver’s licenses unaware of the law.

Though the implementation plan included a voter education campaign, the state seems to have done little in that regard. Moreover, the added requirements of the voter ID law would have further complicated an already uncertain and confusing election cycle which has included multiple changes of dates and districts. The Justice Department’s blocking of the law means that it will not be in effect for the May 29 primary. Their move is welcome as it will likely reduce the chances voters will be turned away at the polls for being unaware of an increasingly dizzying array of last-minute changes to the process.

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is refusing to ask the Justice Department to release thousands of records from the House Ethics Committee’s investigation into his conduct as speaker in the 1990s.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond likens the request from the open-government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to “wild goose chases.”

The organization asked the Justice Department to release documents forwarded from the House in 1997 after it investigated Gingrich’s use of tax-exempt organizations for political gain. The House committee never concluded whether tax laws were violated, and the Internal Revenue Service later cleared the organization involved.

Hammond said Wednesday the IRS was “exonerating every politically motivated charge.”

Gingrich agreed to pay $300,000 as reimbursement to taxpayers for the cost of probe.