Senate of College Councils

A recent Senate of College Councils survey shows almost half of UT students strongly disapprove of more tuition hikes.

The survey, which started early October and ended last Thursday, sought to gather student input as the University works on tuition proposals for the 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 academic years. With state funding cutbacks, the University has relied on tuition increases for more funding over the past two years.

Out of 5,404 responses to the survey, almost 46 percent of students voted that they “definitely do not approve of tuition increases,” and another 38 percent voted that they would “probably not approve of tuition increases,” Senate President Austin Reynolds said.

“We’re definitely looking at a majority (of students) leaning towards the no tuition increase side,” Reynolds, an English senior, said. “If faculty or the administration are seeing (tuition increases) as a clear option, the students don’t understand why, and they’re not behind it.”

About 14 percent of the students surveyed said they would probably approve of increased tuition to fund more University resources. Only about two percent strongly approved of tuition hikes.
Reynolds, a student representative in the University’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, presented the results to University members of the committee on Friday. A full report of the survey, including college specific-data, will be available at the next Senate meeting on Nov. 16, Reynolds said.

Jay Bernhardt, dean of the Moody College of Communication, also forms part of the committee. He said he isn’t surprised by the student concerns raised in the survey.

“As the father of a UT freshman, I understand these concerns,” Bernhardt said in an email. “In the absence of detailed information about actual costs and benefits, it is not surprising that many students would oppose any tuition increases in principle.”

The committee will send out an email to students with more information about the tuition setting process and proposed tuition changes this week, said Joey Williams, communications director for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

“I hope our student leaders will encourage students and families to get the facts on how a modest tuition increase would actually affect their costs and help improve our university,” Bernhardt said.
There is no specific timeline for student input, but Williams said the committee plans to also look at more student input provided by Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly.

“Student involvement is critical in these discussions, and the students on the committee are clearly working very hard to accomplish this,” Williams said. “TPAC will be taking all this feedback into consideration going forward.”

The University email will also include a link to a TPAC survey for students to provide feedback on the tuition information released, Williams said.

“(The TPAC survey) is just another avenue for us to get more input,” Williams said. “We’re obviously going to leave the survey open as long as possible. That’s why we’re trying to push to get this message to campus very soon.”

The committee has until December to recommend tuition changes to President Gregory Fenves. With these recommendations, Fenves will present a final tuition proposal to the UT System Board of Regents in February. The Board of Regents will then set the final tuition for the next two academic years.

Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

A group of students and faculty members are currently building a case to add UT’s first law-focused certificate to the course schedule.

UT-Austin currently does not offer a minor or certificate program for pre-law students. Students from the Senate of College Councils and administrators in the College of Liberal Arts are working to change that by developing a certificate to offer students the chance to take law-related courses as an introduction to similar classes they may encounter in law school.

Current pre-law students often have difficulties receiving college credit for law classes, because they do not always fit into their degree plans, Senate policy director David Jenkins said.

“Because pre-law students come from a lot of different colleges and backgrounds, taking those classes is often difficult because they don’t contribute directly to your degree,” Jenkins, an English honors junior, said. “You have to take them as elective hours, and the University only really allots for so many of those."

Work on the certificate started about two years ago when students brought the need for a pre-law degree program to the attention of the Senate. After a series of roadblocks on both student and administrative sides, the organization is finally bringing the initiative back to the table, Jenkins said.

Government professor Raul Madrid is working with the team to get the project started, and they are currently in the process of working with members of the liberal arts college to form a committee and develop a proposal. He said the certificate would probably not be available to students for at least two to three years.

“We’re just in the process of forming a committee to try to study what it would consist of and what it would be called and the gist of what would be the requirements,” Madrid said. “We’re in the very early stages.”

Although the certificate will draw across departments for law and the criminal justice system classes, it will likely not be advertised as a pre-law certificate, so that students do not interpret it to be preparatory in any way for law school applications, Madrid said.

Madrid said he would like to dissuade students from thinking graduating with the certificate will tip the scales in their favor in regards to law school applications.

“Law schools themselves are not particularly interested in recruiting students that have a pre-law certificate,” Madrid said. “This has never been a priority for law schools.”

Senate vice president Lu Barraza said he does not expect the certificate to be a contentious proposal to pass, and that adding the certificate would be beneficial for students who want to take the first steps towards law school without the jump of taking the LSAT and applying.

The certificate might also have an affect on the number of applicants for the UT School of Law, Barraza said.

“One of the things that the law school brought up to us was that law schools across the country are experiencing a decline in applicants overall,” Barraza said. “We hope that this certificate will allow UT’s law school, as well as law schools around the country, to tap into the incredible students that we have here on campus and hopefully motivate them to pursue a career in law as well.”

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Briseño | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate of College Councils proposed a resolution Thursday night that would allow students to add preferred pronouns to their profiles on Canvas.

Senate president Austin Reynolds, the author of Senate Resolution 1707, said the initiative would allow professors to become acquainted with their students’ pronouns before class and make self-expression more available in the classroom. Reynolds, an English senior, said similar initiatives have already been implemented at comparable universities such as Ohio State University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It’s important because we rarely get to talk about how individual identity affects learning spaces and how someone can experience a level of discomfort in a classroom where they’re either being misidentified or where (preferred pronouns are) not present, and they don’t feel like they’re fully welcomed inside that environment,” Reynolds said. “It’s for students who feel like they don’t have a place in the academic community.”

Transgender and non-binary communities at UT, including the on-campus Gender and Sexuality Center, pushed the initiative, Reynolds said.

With this change, students would be able to type in their preferred gender pronouns and update their student profile page on the website. Professors would have access to this information online and be better equipped to address students correctly, Reynolds said.

Students might even perform better on tests, said Jordee Rodriguez, president of Liberal Arts Council. She said addressing students by the wrong pronouns even accidentally could be seen as microagressions, which studies have shown can worsen students’ grades.

“Gender exists not in a spectrum but more so in a matrix,” government senior Rodriguez said. “Because of that there’s so many options within it … There’s too many to list, and there’s also people who don’t identify themselves as someone who has a gender, and that’s also important to recognize, because there’s different ways of articulating that.”

Reynolds said it is important that the website feature a fill-in-the-blank option instead of a drop-down menu so that they would have more options and be able to apply the pronoun most appropriate for them.

Biology sophomore Arianna Garcia said although she doesn’t imagine herself needing to use the feature, she thinks it would make school easier for students who would want to specify their preferred pronoun.

“I don’t have a pronoun in mind, but I think it would be great for people who do want that,” Garcia said. “It would make people feel more inclusive that way.”

Photo Credit: Rena Li | Daily Texan Staff

With possible tuition increases on the horizon, a Senate of College Councils survey is collecting student opinions on tuition until Wednesday night.

With a $20 million budget reduction in June, University administration is assessing whether to recommend more tuition hikes for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years. The data from the Senate’s College Tuition Budget Advisory Committee survey will be used to inform college deans about student concerns.

Senate president Austin Reynolds said the survey gives students the opportunity to propose other ways to balance growing budget constraints and student needs. As of last Friday, Reynolds said about 2,000 students had filled the survey.

“(Tuition is) not the only way to go about bringing revenue into the college,” English senior Reynolds said. “I feel that’s where the students’ voice is important, because we can talk about what resources we value and if students feel comfortable with a tuition increase.”

UT’s tuition rose from $6,054 to $9,257 between 2002 and 2015, according to a UT System report. Most recently, tuition increased by about $150 in 2017 and 2016.

Executive vice president Maurie McInnis said tuition increases have become necessary to cover the costs of inflation as the state continues to cut funding for universities. State funding for UT-Austin decreased from 58 percent to 42 percent between 2002 and 2015, according to the UT System report. 

“States pay a smaller and smaller portion of what is necessary to educate students,” McInnis said. “So increasingly more and more costs are being shifted to students through increases in tuition.”

Reynolds also forms part of the University’s student and staff Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, which has until December to make recommendations to UT President Gregory Fenves concerning tuition.

“I do think generally students are concerned about tuition every year,” Reynolds said. “I think a very small percentage of students actually know how tuition is handled at the University.”

Fenves will use TPAC’s recommendations to present a final tuition proposal to the UT System Board of Regents in February. The Board of Regents will then decide the future tuition.

McInnis said the TPAC has not yet decided if a tuition increase will be recommended for the following academic years, but TPAC will take student input into consideration.

Nursing sophomore Julia Vasquez said she didn’t know of the survey until a Monday tabling event by Senate. She said she doesn’t know much about the tuition-setting process but is not surprised tuition might be raised again.

“Every year I’ve just heard that there’s the possibility of tuition increasing,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t think it would be likely for there to be a decrease anytime soon.”

Vasquez said she would not appreciate further tuition increases as a student paying her way through college.

“I didn’t receive any financial aid, so it’s already enough stress in addition to school and passing classes,” Vasquez said. 

Public health senior Holly Bowles said she hasn’t been personally impacted by past tuition increases but knows the rising costs have impacted some of her friends. 

“Lowered tuition would be great, but at the same time there are necessary functions and things that make UT great that are kind of necessary,” Bowles said. “Maybe raising tuition wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if they’re also making a greater effort to provide more scholarships for students.”

Rep. John Zerwas, chair of the House committee on higher education, speaks to members of Invest in Texas at the Capitol on Thursday.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

Student leaders headed to the Capitol on Thursday as part of the annual Invest in Texas campaign, speaking with legislators and their staff about campus carry regulations, in-state tuition for undocumented students and a host of other higher education-related issues.

As part of this year’s Invest in Texas campaign, a nonpartisan lobbying effort between the Graduate Student Assembly, Senate of College Councils and Student Government, leaders from the organizations presented six platform points on behalf of the student body.

“We ran a well-oiled machine,” said John Brown, government junior and Invest in Texas co-director. “Our messages — they were very well-received. We got a lot of good feedback on our platform.”

One of the group’s platform points supported a capital investment for the renovation of Welch Hall. Welch houses the UT chemistry and biochemistry departments, and the building is 85 years old. The University needs around $125 million to renovate the building and improve laboratory safety, according to administrators from the College of Natural Sciences.

Geetika Jerath, international relations and global studies senior and Senate of College Councils president, said she believes Welch, which approximately 10,000 students use each day, is unsafe for laboratory use.  

“Students and faculty members fear for their safety,” Jerath said. “This is not a mindset that Longhorns … should have. We should be focused on conducting groundbreaking research in state-of-the-art facilities.”

The platform also called for legislators to continue support of the Texas DREAM Act, which grants in-state tuition for undocumented students with Texas residency. Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), chair of the House committee on higher education, spoke to students before they met with legislators, and he said he thinks the DREAM Act will pass in the House again. 

“The opportunity for [undocumented students] to go on in higher education is critically important to their success and the success of the state,” Zerwas said.

The students who lobbied also spoke in opposition to tuition regulation at the state level, asking that state universities be allowed to determine their own tuition.

“If tuition is re-regulated, the very people who pay the tuition will lose their voice in this critical issue,” Jerath said.

Students also lobbied in favor of a bill that would establish tax-free periods for textbook sales in August and January, and for continued state funding and grant-matching to support research at Tier One institutions, including UT. 

The group lobbied in support of allowing college campuses to set their own policies on campus carry, a bill that, if passed, would allow students to carry concealed handguns into campus buildings. 

Sharla Chamberlain, public affairs graduate student and GSA’s legislative affairs director, said graduate student voices often go unheard.

“There are 12,000 graduate students living, working, researching at the University of Texas today,” Chamberlain said. “Graduate students provide an invaluable service to UT. … We’re all taking time from our busy lives to invest in our education.”

Plan II and English Senior David Engleman speaks at a Senate of College Councils meeting in Feb. 2014. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate of College Councils passed two bills in February that altered its nomination processes before the 2015 elections, which will take place March 12.

The Senate created and passed SB 1408 on Feb. 26 during the nominations general assembly meeting. The bill allows any council or general assembly member to be nominated for a Senate position, if at least two-thirds of councils vote to allow the motion.

During the nominations general assembly meeting, there were originally no nominees for the position of financial director, which was a problem most members had never encountered, according to current financial director David Engleman. This absence of candidates prompted the bill.

Two candidates who met the eligibility requirements did step up during the meeting, but the Senate decided to pass the bill regardless, Engleman said. 

“The discussion became about, ‘Should we open up eligibility requirements to run for one of these positions?’” Engleman said. “Ultimately, the vote was made to do that.”

The Undergraduate Business Council was one of the two councils that voted to oppose the bill.

“We voted against it out of principle,” said Adam Petras, Undergraduate Business Council president. “When Senate wants to be reformed, it’s something that should be thought about in advance. We didn’t think about it enough.”

The total discussion of the bill took 20 minutes, whereas a normal proposal for change usually takes up to two weeks. There was no real discussion about potential conflicts or problems that may arise from the passing of the bill, according to Petras.

“[The bill] might not have any impact in normal situations,” Petras said. “But it opens up the possibility for less qualified and less experienced applicants running for Senate.”

The Senate also unanimously passed SB 1405 on Feb. 12 to modify the nomination process. The original nomination process required all nominations to occur during the second-to-last general assembly meeting in February. However, since the spring semester resumed one week later than usual this year, candidates running for Senate president, vice president and financial director had a shorter campaign period. 

To accommodate for the time lost, the Senate passed SB 1405, which stated that all nominations can happen at any general assembly meeting in February, with one month of prior notice.

“Bill 1405 allows for more flexibility, giving members more time to choose nominees and giving nominees more time to campaign,” Senate president Geetika Jerath said.

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

In an effort to find ways to ease transfer students’ social and academic transition to the University, the Senate of College Councils formed an ad hoc committee to address the issue.

The Transfer Student Ad-Hoc Committee, which is open to both Senate and non-Senate members, met for the first time Thursday to set an outline of which issues are most important for transfer students. At the meeting, the students discussed the possibility of a transfer student services office, an extended transfer student orientation and the tracking of transfer students. Students also spoke about their personal experiences and concerns.

Committee co-chair Corey Hayford said transfer students lack these resources on campus.

“When you’re talking about a population that is that large, and for them not to have the resources offered to other students, I think that’s a key issue that needs to be addressed,” said Hayford, who transferred to UT from St. Edward’s University.

The committee is divided up into subcommittees for CAP and PACE, external transfers and internal transfers. The committees will submit proposals that will then be examined and potentially implemented.

“We’d like for each group to do their own research and have a proposal set up by April, so we can thoroughly do the research we need to do,” Hayford said.

When the new Senate session starts, Hayford said he hopes the committee will become its own Senate agency, a group that reports to Senate but operates somewhat
independently.

George Bennett, a computer science junior who is not a member of Senate, said he joined the committee because he thinks transfer students lack the same resources as freshman and don’t get basic information, such as how to register for classes, explained in enough detail.

“Personally, I had a lot of negative experiences with orientation and things like that — that they kind of walk freshmen through but that they don’t really do that for transfer students,” Bennett said.

One of the topics the committee discussed is transfer credit. Hayford said many students lose credit because the University does not make it clear to transfer students what courses do not transfer from outside institutions.

“My experience hasn’t really been that bad because I’m going to graduate in the summer, so just a little over four years [without] losing a lot of credit,” Hayford said. “But I have been around a lot of students who have had a bad experience and who have not had the proper resources.”

Hayford said the biggest problem for internal transfer students is the lack of access to restricted classes required for a given major.

“The major issue with internal transfers is that the applications for the internal transfer process are not read until June and you pick classes in April,” Hayford said. “If you’re not in that college in April, then you’re not able to register for those restricted classes.”

The committee is also looking into aiding transfers with social adjustment to UT by creating a transfer student Camp Texas, an extended orientation that adds social activities to the orientation and resource and career fairs.

“There are not a lot of transfer student organizations and stuff for transfer students on campus,” said Nick Sajatovic, co-chair of the committee. “They definitely don’t feel at home right away when they come here, like freshmen do.”

As the official voice of students in academic affairs, the Senate of College Councils has been working hard this year to enhance the academic sphere of UT in various ways.

We kicked off the year with our annual Academic Expo, during which students learned more about Senate’s internal structure and our initiatives. Since then, our six committees have been working on university-wide events and legislation. Recently, our Academic Integrity Committee hosted IntegrityUT Week, a weeklong celebration of academic integrity and the new honor code that Senate helped to create. We hosted a series of Lunch and Learns with distinguished faculty and administrators, including President Powers. A thousand students received t-shirts with the new honor code to wear on test days to promote academic integrity. More than a thousand students also memorized the honor code and signed a huge honor code board to show their commitment. President Powers also signed it to support our students. During Senate’s last General Assembly, we passed legislation to include the new honor code and a statement regarding Student Judicial Services’ procedures on syllabi.

We have many more academic themed weeks and initiatives coming up. The Faculty Affairs Committee is planning Faculty Appreciation Week 2015 and are soliciting applications for Professors and TAs of the Month. The Undergraduate Research Committee is currently seeking applicants for a $1000 undergraduate research grant and planning for Research Week 2015. The Recruitment and Retention Committee is preparing to host Ready Set Go, a college readiness program for high school students. They are also leading our recently announced Transfer Student Ad-Hoc Committee, which will include a working group and focus groups for transfer student issues. We passed legislation and are hoping to create a Transfer Student Experience Program within the First Year Experience Office in order to promote resources and four-year graduation rates for transfer students.

In November, the Academic Enrichment Committee will be hosting Academic Enrichment Week, which will include events about internships, study abroad, research, and academic service learning. On November 19, the Academic Policy Committee with the Undergraduate Studies Council will host our first Student Series Campus Conversation on Technology in Higher Education from 5-7pm in the Gregory Gym Games Room. We invite every student to attend and participate. We hope students will share their opinions concerning these university-wide issues. We hope to create new legislation based on these conversations and report recommendations to UT’s future president.

Our coordinators are working hard this year to support the mission of Senate from managing our media and outreach efforts to implementing legislation previously passed in our assembly concerning faculty exit surveys, an online handbook, and supporting student ownership of intellectual property among other pieces.

In addition to our internal work and efforts to support our 20 college councils, Senate is a part of Invest in Texas, a student lobbying campaign at the Texas Legislature with the GSA and SG. Our Invest in Texas Co-Director is planning for our Invest in Texas Day at the Capitol and will be reaching out to our student body to identify student priorities. We plan to also engage other UT System Schools during this process.

At the beginning of the year, we welcomed 50 new At-Large members into Senate. They are pursuing their own individual initiatives which include expanding the FRI model to other colleges, creating an IntegrityUT Campaign, tackling registration issues, creating a medical excuse policy, streamlining the pre-law program and more!

 We encourage all students to connect with us through our website, utsenate.org, or through social media by following us on Facebook and @utscc on Twitter. Our General Assemblies are every other Thursday at 7pm in the SAC Legislative Assembly Room with our next one on November 13th. Our meetings are open to any student and we would love to hear about your ideas for legislation or events.

We look forward to serving the student body through various events, initiatives, and legislation pieces. We are launching some big surprises in the coming months, so stay tuned! In Senate, what starts here changes the university.

Jerath is the president of the Senate of College Councils. She is an international relations and global studies senior from Friendswood.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate of College Councils passed a resolution at a meeting Thursday requesting the University require the honor code be placed on all course syllabuses. With its passing, the resolution will be submitted to the Faculty Council for review. 

In 2012, the Senate of College Councils changed the University’s academic honor code to read: “As a student of the University of Texas at Austin, I shall abide by the core values of the University and uphold academic integrity.”  

“That’s something that every student looks at, and that’s a contract between a student and a professor,” said Sasha Parsons, at-large Senate representative and author of the resolution. “So, there’s no better place to have it right now.”

According to the Senate President Geetika Jerath, current syllabuses have a section included about academic dishonesty, but it is usually outdated, written by a specific department or not consistent across the University. Jerath said the goal of the resolution is to establish a consistent honor statement in all University syllabuses and open a dialogue about how it varies for individual professors.

“We need to have discussions,” Jerath said. “[Academic integrity] differs from each college, each class. There are different components to each classroom — whether it has technology or not. So, we really wanted to start that discussion and have something feasible to work on.”

Many students do not know what happens when one is accused of academic dishonesty, but having information about Student Judicial Services in syllabuses would clarify that process, according to Parsons.

“We really want students to understand the repercussions if they do something wrong, but also who’s there to help them,” Parsons said.

Parsons said the honor code will help to maintain the value of a student’s education at UT.

“We’re here to get degrees and certification that we have learned something,” Parsons said.

At the meeting Thursday, representatives suggested to the authors that a statement be added to the resolution requesting that professors define what academic dishonesty is in their specific course, but the amendment did not pass.

Shannon Geison, at-large Senate representative and author of the resolution, said personal professor statements should be discussed in a later bill, after more research has been done.

“I think that all of the opposition that we have seen has just been trying to have professors provide more definitions and having them address these things, like technology in the classroom,” Geison said. “Which are things we are definitely talking about but coming at a later date.”

Geison said these statements should include integrity policies on the use of technology — such as Google Docs, QUEST and Spark Notes — in the classroom. The topic will be discussed on Nov. 19 at a Campus Conversation meeting hosted by the Senate’s Academic Policy Committee.

According to Parsons, some students have expressed concerns that having the honor code in a syllabus will not change academic dishonesty, but she said it would with time.

“We just have to realize that everything is a gradual process, and it’s about the attitude people have and talking about integrity and the hard decisions we make in college,” Parsons said.

Biology pre-med senior Hamidat Momoh writes honesty and discipline as her definition for integrity during the annual Integrity UT Week on Thursday. Integrity Week is held by the Senate of College Councils to raise awareness of the honor code and emphasize integrity.

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate of College Councils is holding its annual Integrity UT Week, which runs through Friday, to promote academic integrity inside the classroom and raise awareness of the University’s honor code.

According to Robert Guajardo, biology senior and the Senate’s Academic Integrity Committee co-chair, the main goal of Integrity Week is to make it easier for students to know the honor code and the consequences that come when they break it. He said the week consists of four days of tabling, in which students get the opportunity to receive prizes by reciting the honor code and take a picture with the integrity board, which will later be posted on Facebook.

“This is an eye-opening week because I can see how much change Integrity Week could cause,” Guajardo said. “There is a tremendous amount of change in how many students know the honor code.”

Since the University changed its honor code two years ago, Guajardo said Integrity Week also helps upperclassmen be aware of the new honor code. According to Guajardo, the honor code was changed to be more concise and easier for students to recognize.

“Now that the honor code has been changed, we want students to know it better than they would before,” Guajardo said.

Guajardo said the week also consists of different luncheons in which faculty guest speakers talk about what integrity means to them. According to Guajardo, it also involves an event at the Perry-Castañeda Library, “Integrity: Pass It On,” in which the Senate members pass on blue books that have the honor code on the back. He said they also project the honor code on the exterior of the PCL.

“All of these activities are meant for students to either memorize or learn the honor code,” said Elizabeth Roach, history freshman and Senate at-large member. “We also encourage students to wear our T-shirts on test days, which becomes a subtle reminder of integrity.”

At Thursday’s luncheon, President William Powers Jr. talked about the importance of the honor code to the University.

“This is a great university and there’s a lot of things to be proud of,” Powers said. “We play fair, and we know that rules are for people with integrity, which is something that’s promoted with the honor code.”

According to Guajardo, the Senate gives away 1,000 shirts each year to students who are interested in learning the honor code.    

“Integrity Week brings awareness to the honor code,” said Ryan Shu, business sophomore and Senate of College Councils at-large member. “I have seen that it does make a difference.”

Guajardo also said students get the opportunity to express what integrity means to them.

“To me, integrity means not being afraid to do the right thing,” neuroscience freshman Toyana Niraula said.