In this week's podcast, Jacob Kerr, Amanda Voeller and guest Bobby Blanchard discuss the Interfraternity Council's decision not to endorse any candidates in the Student Government races and the results of the Senate of College Councils election. They also discuss Bobby's recent in-depth story on connections between the executive alliance campaigns and student organizations on campus.
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Senate of College Councils
The Senate of College Councils elected Geetika Jerath as its next president on Thursday.
Along with Jerath, Senate elected Yaneli Rubio as vice president and David Engleman as financial director. Both Jerath and Engleman are in the Liberal Arts Council.
Senate is a legislative student organization representing 20 college councils at the University. Elections are conducted internally, with each council allotted one vote to select the organization’s leaders.
Jerath, an international and global studies junior, has been involved in Senate since her freshman year and is currently in the Liberal Arts Council, a role she said makes her qualified to work with external and internal parts of Senate.
“Not only do I have internal experience, but I’m also in a council,” Jerath said. “I know the direction Senate needs to go. I have innovative practices that I would like to see, and I know how to get us there.”
Jerath said she hopes to develop a branding campaign and a strong presence at the Capitol.
“I have a very unique vision for Senate next year,” Jerath said. “It will definitely be a change that I think the University and Senate needs to see for the future.”
Rubio, a marketing and sociology junior, said her experience in Senate and other organizations qualifies her for vice president.
After spending her last semester studying abroad in Paris, Rubio said she returned with a fresh mind.
“I think studying abroad helps me a lot because I was able to step away from university politics, which a lot of university leaders get caught up in,” Rubio said.
Rubio said as vice president she hopes to improve orientation. Her experience as an orientation advisor inspired her to seek feedback from students to help the program grow.
Engleman, a Plan II sophomore, said his experience as financial director of Liberal Arts Council has prepared him for the role of Senate financial director. He said he will guarantee that all councils will receive a fair allocation of Senate funds each year.
“A major focus of my position this year and my position next year is to maintain and build strong relationships with the staff that help the financial directors do their job,” Engleman said.
Senate president Andrew Clark said he felt all candidates were qualified for their positions. Clark said serving as both vice president and president during his time in the organization taught him that Senate needs leaders who can handle difficult situations and are able to respond to things quickly.
“There’s no better way to learn how to do something like this than just get in there and do it,” Clark said. “Everybody gets to put their own stamp on the organization, which I think is the best part about it.”
In any given semester, a student’s class schedule will often include courses with varying degrees of difficulty and class work. Some classes just require more effort, more work and more time — though all classes count for a similar number of credit hours. Consequently, many students find themselves enrolled in courses that require them to be in class or in lab for far more time than is reflected on their transcripts. Why? Because the University insists on sticking to course measurements that do not fairly assess its classes’ time commitments or workload. This problem is not just students complaining about being in class longer than they want to be, but also students falling behind in their degree plan because of a bad academic policy.
“The general rule of thumb is any one hour that is given credit, that equates to one hour of meeting time per week over the course of the semester,” Vice Provost and registrar Shelby Stanfield said. “A three-hour course would meet for three hours a week, for a total of 45 hours a semester.”
As Stanfield explained, the faculty and curriculum committees within each college determine the credit hours warranted for each course based on this “rule of thumb.”
The amount of work necessary for a single credit hour is determined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but Stanfield said that simply serves as a minimum for the number of course hours awarded. That means a faculty committee can allot three hours of credit even for a class that meets more than three hours a week.
Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president, said the unfair credit system is a problem the Senate hears about often.
“If you have a lab that gives you two hours’ worth of credit, but you’re consistently spending five hours a week in a lab, why shouldn’t you get something that accurately represents the amount of work that went into your project?” Clark said. “We commonly hear that from engineering and natural sciences students. It is certainly something the University should take a closer look at and be proactive on.”
Clark said the problem is felt most acutely in STEM courses, which often include lab sections with hands-on work. But the problem exists in courses from any college that require labs, studio time or discussion sections.
Studio art junior Haylie Weathersby said studio courses cause art students similar issues to the ones seen in the science labs.
“The studios are four-hour classes, twice a week, but you’re only getting credit for three hours,” Weathersby said. “There is only a couple of time slots from [8 a.m to 12 p.m.], 2-6 p.m. or sometimes even a 6-10 p.m., so you have to plan around your lunch break or work and the other required classes you need outside of art.”
Weathersby said the difficulty of getting the right classes at the right times in the day can be a problem for art students and can put them behind schedule.
There is no question that hands-on work — whether it be in biology or ceramics — takes time. And certainly, not every course offered on campus should be limited to a three-hour time slot. But the University should understand that the extra in-class time required for a course should be reflected in credit toward a degree.
Michael Morton, former president of the Senate of College Councils, said that the Senate has tried to tackle this problem before but has had no success.
“It’s an issue that is never going to be resolved unless you redid the entire curriculum or degree plans,” Morton said. “[Members of Senate of College Councils] had discussions about it with President [William Powers Jr.], provost [Steven] Leslie and at the time Vice Provost Gretchen Ritter, though everyone’s left, about how it would be implemented and how you could get a fair credit for class. In our discussions with Powers, he didn’t see it as an issue we could resolve and there were better issues to focus on for helping students with other hiccups in the actual degree plans.”
Morton said the simple solution of increasing the course credit label to the actual number of hours required — i.e., an intensive 3-credit-hour lab that actually takes up 8 hours of class time would become an 8-credit-hour class — doesn’t help if the degree plan also becomes more difficult to accomplish. Moreover, this solution bypasses addressing the problem of fair course credit assessment.
Admittedly, restricting curriculum and redistributing course credit would be a massive overhaul for the University’s course catalog. But there’s no point in sticking to a flawed system just because it’s already there.
An ad hoc committee of student leaders, working to replace UT’s Tuition Policy Advisory Committee, proposed to increase tuition for out-of-state undergraduates by 3.6 percent after a process involving almost no student input.
Andrew Clark, Senate of College Councils president, said the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee did not have a full semester to plan its proposal because the UT System did not send instructions until mid-semester.
Since 2003, a committee, made up of University officials and student leaders, are tasked with recommending the rate of tuition for undergraduate and graduate students required to fund the academic budget on a biennial basis. The committee’s recommendation must be approved by the University president and the UT System Board of Regents to take effect.
This year, a working group of three students was set up in place of the committee. The group is made up of Clark, Student Government president Horacio Villarreal and Michelle Moon, a finance, business honors and government senior.
“TPAC has always been a holistic process with a lot of data collection, information gathering and open forums to voice their opinions on tuition,” Clark said. “Given that we were under time constraints, we did not feel like we had the ability to do a full-scale TPAC like we did in years past.”
In the proposal, the group recommended that no change in tuition for graduate students and resident undergraduates, but requested that non-resident undergraduate students receive a 3.6-percent tuition adjustment.
According to UT spokesman Gary Susswein, President William Powers, Jr. has already endorsed the student recommendation and sent it to the UT System.
Laura Grisham, an undeclared freshman and out-of-state student from Missouri, said the decision to raise non-resident tuition was alarming.
“It would make sense if they had more open meetings,” Grisham said. “At least those out-of-state students would understand why the proposal was made to raise out-of-state tuition.”
The only opportunity for student involvement came when the tuition reports were presented at the Student Government and Senate of College Councils meetings during the last week of classes in December.
“We didn’t feel like there was enough time to really seek the campus’ opinion on tuition, and we didn’t feel it would be right to potentially raise people’s tuition without a chance to give them an opportunity to voice their opinions,” Clark said.
The working group’s decision to request a change in out-of-state tuition was determined by the request made by the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee in 2011.
“The reason we went with that number was because the 2011 TPAC process was the last time that the campus had a real opportunity to voice its opinions and engage in tuition,” Clark said.
He said the working group also made sure the University would comply with House Bill 29 — passed in the 83rd Texas Legislature — which requires all institutions to offer a four-year fixed-rate tuition plan for entering students.
Clarification: The headline for this story has been changed since its original posting.
The existing UT System Intellectual Property Policy will be revised to clarify language discussing ownership of student ideas and creations following legislation passed in the Senate of College Councils.
Intellectual property refers to a wide range of ideas and research products, including discoveries, inventions, writings and software produced by University employees and students. In certain situations, the UT System Board of Regents or a specific University owns intellectual property created by its employees under conditions outlined in the UT System Intellectual Property Policy.
Meagan Abel, academic policy committee co-chair and author of the legislation, said there are no clearly stated guidelines in the policy for addressing cases involving students.
“The focus of the legislation was this idea that when students come up with an idea that is profitable and patentable, how can they go through the motions of having that done?” Abel said. “We would like the policy to have clear language that references students.”
Currently, the policy states its guidelines apply to System and University employees, and “anyone using the facilities or resources of the UT System or any UT System institution, including, but not limited to, students enrolled at a UT System institution.” The body of the policy addresses the procedures in place regarding intellectual property generated by employees, but does not include language overtly addressing the property of students.
The Senate submitted the legislation to the System after it was passed in November. Abel said she hopes a change in the wording of the policy will encourage students to pursue research and the development of their ideas.
“With seeing how much students are creating software and apps, we just felt that there’s a larger amount of students in a capacity to create things that are in this gray zone of ‘is it copyrighted’ or ‘is it patented, and if it’s patented what’s the policy’, all of that,” Abel said. “We feel that the climate isn’t moving in such a way that students would feel inclined to create some of these things.”
Juan Sanchez, the University’s vice president for research, said he met with members of the UT System and Daniel Sharphorn, UT System Interim vice chancellor and general counsel, on Oct. 11 to discuss the possibility of addressing student intellectual property in existing policies.
“As far as I know, the University of Texas at Austin has never ever claimed IP that we believe belongs to a student,” Sanchez said. “It’s just that the policy is not clear about it, and it creates confusion unnecessarily. I think that aligning the wording of the policy with practice and what we think is the right thing is good policy.”
According to Sanchez, Jim Phillips, a UT System attorney, said the System is planning to address concerns raised in the legislation.
“[Phillips] told me they’re working on either modifying the IP Policy, which will probably need to go to the Board of Regents, or issuing a clarification that we, the campuses and the students, can use,” Sanchez said. “It is in their hands. I think there is general agreement as to which way we should go, and that’s all I know at this point.”
Sanchez said he thinks by clarifying the regulations regarding student intellectual property the University will potentially influence policies at other schools as well.
“I think it is extremely important to pursue this issue because I believe that most universities in the U.S. are overreaching when they claim the intellectual property of students who are not employees of the University,” Sanchez said. “I think that we will be making significant progress for the entire community if we are very, very clear and explicit about that.”
In her visit to the Senate of College Councils last Thursday, Student Regent Ashley Purgason was quick to say that online courses “are here to stay.” More grim than enthusiastic, she assured students that online courses represented the way of the future and that faculty and students are being actively consulted about the courses’ development. The students, for the most part, seemed nonplussed by this announcement.
Why is online learning the way of the future? When I asked other students if they like online courses, their responses universally lukewarm included the following: The courses are easy to game. They’re what you make of them. They’re easier. One student responded by saying he had never taken an online class, only to remember that he had, and the experience had been so unremarkable that he had completely forgotten about it.
They had all taken online courses. Why? Because they were accessible, and these students needed the course credits the online courses provided to complete their real-life degrees.
The accessibility of online courses makes ignoring their rise impossible (or at least foolish). And the UT System has already made a move to develop online courses. Last October, UT invested $10 million in the nonprofit online course platform edX, joining Harvard, MIT and the University of California at Berkeley in developing massive, open online courses that could be taken for free — although not for credit — by anyone in the world. The move, as The Texas Tribune reported, was praised by Gov. Rick Perry, who said that the partnership was “great news for Texas” and “exactly the type of effort [he hopes] more schools will consider.”
The editorial board of this paper, however, took a more skeptical view, saying that “fully online courses, like those that will be offered through edX, are as yet unproven substitutes for in-person learning.” The UT System would be wise, suggested the editorial, to provide a vision for what online learning might look like before they pony up the money for a new delivery system.
In the five months since the partnership, eight more universities have jumped on the edX bandwagon, including Australian National University, Wellesley College, and Rice University. UT is planning to launch four courses through the edX platform in the fall. Given the enduring appeal of online courses and the suggestion last Thursday by Purgason that they are the future, what should a brick-and-mortar university like UT do to prepare for the rise of online education?
When asked about how UT-Austin can better prepare for the rise of online courses, Harisson Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and research, suggested that UT do three things: Engage faculty and students in course development, establish new partnerships with other educational institutions, and invest in technological infrastructure on campus. I suggest we do a fourth: Define the values of a UT education we want to persevere in this rapidly changing educational climate.
What do I mean by values? I mean, how much do you value sitting in a Welch lecture hall and listening to your professor speak? How much do you value retrieving a book from the PCL stacks or studying in the Hogwarts-esque Battle Hall reading room? How much do you value living in an on-campus dorm like Jester?
All these are linked to the idea of college as a campus-centric experience in which you interact face-to-face with other students and your professors. And while I could never claim that online courses present an immediate threat to this experience (edX courses aren’t even offered for credit, after all), every day a student completes their coursework online, from home, is a day they don’t come to campus and walk past the Tower, past the South Mall, past 60,000 other students who have come from somewhere else to learn here, in a classroom on the 40 Acres, instead of through a website that just happens to bear the school’s name.
Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.
The Senate of College Councils showed unanimous support Thursday for legislation to limit the powers of university system boards of regents across the state and elected a new president after the previous president-elect resigned earlier this month.
A bill filed in the Texas Senate would amend state laws to allocate all duties and responsibilities not specifically granted to university systems or governing boards to the individual institutions of that system.
The resolution passed minutes after Student Regent Ashley Purgason spoke to the student Senate regarding the regents’ relationship to UT, among other topics.
The vote also came one day after the UT System Board of Regents voted 4-3 to conduct a new external review of the UT Law School Foundation’s relationship with UT as part of an ongoing investigation of the foundation. In 2011, Powers instructed Larry Sager, then dean of the School of Law, to resign as dean after Sager received a forgivable loan of $500,000 from the foundation. Sager still holds a faculty position in the Law School. An internal audit of the foundation conducted by System General Counsel Barry Burgdorf, who resigned earlier this month, found that the loan was conducted in an inappropriate manner.
Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils outgoing president, said the investigation into the foundation was valid but the ongoing conflict between the regents and Powers is “petty.”
“At some point, we need to all realize this is not the best interest of students if we’re just spending money trying to dig up information so we can settle a political grudge or what have you,” Morton said.
The Senate will send the resolution to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and higher education leaders in both houses of the Texas Legislature.
Purgason, who was not present at Wednesday’s regents’ meeting and is not a voting member, told the Senate that she stands by her fellow regents’ decision to conduct the additional audit.
“I want to be very, very clear that everyone on the board, and I do mean everybody, loves this campus dearly,” Purgason said. “Truly, we have your best interests at heart. I realize that sometimes it seems that there are tensions or you’re not being put first, but I promise you that every action that’s taken is done out of the love for this University.”
Also during the meeting, the Senate elected Andrew Clark, international relations and global studies and history senior, as the new president in a special election. Clark replaced Ryan Hirsch as president-elect after Hirsch resigned earlier this month.
Clark said he would prioritize staffing the five members of the Senate’s executive board and 16 committee chairs before he and his fellow officers take office April 18.
“There’s a lot of lost time to make up for,” Clark said.
Senate of College Councils president-elect Ryan Hirsch resigned from her position Wednesday night.
Hirsch, a neuroscience and pre-med junior, also left her post as current executive director of Senate because of personal reasons, according to current Senate president Michael Morton.
Morton said the organization will have to go through the election process again, starting with nominations March 21 and voting April 4.
“She handled this situation very professionally,” Morton said. “This was entirely on her own accord. This was strictly to do with personal reasons. There is no other factor involved or any inappropriate behavior.”
Senate elected Hirsch on Feb. 22.
“Students deserve a seat at the table,” Hirsch said to the councils. “We must continue to grow and develop to better address student concerns and create policy to better the academic lives of students.”
Morton said Hirsch has not made it clear if she will continue as a part of the organization.
“We would love to have her come back to the organization when she is ready,” Morton said.
Hirsch has not replied for comment.
The Senate of College Councils elected next year’s president, vice president and financial director Thursday.
Senate elected Ryan Hirsch president, Kiefer Shenk vice president and Phillip Wiseman financial director. The Senate is a legislative student organization that represents students through the 20 college councils of the University. Each college council was allotted one vote to select its leaders.
Current Senate president Michael Morton said the executive positions require certain qualities to help interact with all the councils and committees in the organization.
“They really need to be good listeners,” Morton said. “They need to be compassionate and just never stop.”
Hirsch, a neuroscience and pre-med junior, said as president she plans to increase student involvement for new project ideas on campus and to improve academic policies. Hirsch said she would also work to better inform the student body of Senate initiatives and projects.
“Students deserve a seat at the table,” Hirsch said. “We must continue to grow and develop to better address student concerns and create policy to better the academic lives of students.”
Shenk, a marketing and physical culture and sports senior, said he would like to focus more on easing the transition to the University for transfer students. Shenk said he would implement team-building workshops to pinpoint priorities, find ways to better allocate current resources on campus and interact with students about difficult issues.
“Contentious issues should be dealt with in a town hall meeting setting, where students can really voice their opinion to impact change on this campus,” Shenk said.
Wiseman, a government senior, said he plans to create an online lender database for the councils and committees to have access to reliable and secure vendors for activities and events. He said he would also like to help financially support council initiatives through corporate sponsorship in a related field.
“I want to take my experience to secure funding from local businesses, national corporations and even University departments to pool with the resources Senate currently holds so that Senate’s treasures grow just as our initiatives and programs do as well,” Wiseman said.
Published on Februarry 22, 2013 as "Student Senate officials elected".
Horacio Villarreal and Ugeo Williams are running to include student opinions more in the work of Student Government, improve safety on and around campus and better serve the community and students. Villarreal is a history senior and Williams is a sociology and education senior.
“We want to give students something to be influenced by and be inspired, with this idea of unity, of coming together to bring this to life,” Williams said.
Villarreal said their alliance will focus on strengthening Student Government’s connection to the Senate of College Councils and Graduate Student Assembly.
“We want to increase the participation of our legislative student organizations,” Villarreal said. “We come from different types of organizations. The ideas and people we can relate to are completely different, which is great. That’s what Student Government is. It’s the voice of the students at the University.”
Williams said they would like to make the campus more comfortable for new students by implementing a mentorship program in which upperclassmen could apply to help them adjust.
“There are incoming students, including freshmen and transfers, that are just overwhelmed,” Williams said. “That would allow about 30 percent of the student body a chance to mentor a new student.”
Published on February 15, 2013 as "Meet the candidates".