Student Government

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Last month, the originally satirical Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu were swept into office as student body president and vice president, respectively. In doing so, they pledged to shake up Student Government and offer a much-needed respite from the “more of the same” complacent attitude that has admittedly plagued SG for many years.

However, in the brief time since taking office, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu have done their best to assimilate into the unique SG atmosphere and continue many of the troubling traditions of their predecessors. This was put on full display when the new administration recently made their new staff picks. Nearly all of those selected are, like Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, students in the Plan II program. If SG was exclusive before, now it is a downright private club. And while we admire the open-mindedness in bringing on former supporters of the Jones/Dargahi ticket — Taral Patel, specifically, as chief of staff is perhaps the one smart pick — the new administration appeared to simply pluck its appointees straight from that same, predictable group of sycophants that the majority of the University’s electorate evidently dislikes about Student Government.

 This same appropriation of historic Student Government norms was also evident recently when the new Student Government Assembly considered A.R. 3, the contentious divestment from Israel bill that ultimately failed. Rotnofsky, who would have had the power to veto the bill should it have passed, was totally silent on the topic and offered no leadership, guidance or semblance of his own position on the controversial topic. As opponents of the asinine resolution, we would have preferred for him to oppose it, but any position would have spoken louder than his silence.

The University elected Rotnofsky and Mandalapu in order to shake things up and move in a constructive new direction from the failures of previous administrations. Undoubtedly, that new direction includes being willing to take a stand on issues instead of trying to equivocate and please everyone. Rotnofsky and Mandalapu rightly chastised one of their opponents for waffling on the important campus carry issue; it is the height of hypocrisy for them to engage in the same tactics after taking office.

While the new administration joked on the campaign trail about forcing out President William Powers Jr., the reality is that a new president — Gregory Fenves — will be taking the reins in just a little more than a month. Rotnofsky and Mandalapu were elected in a unique position to be a force to be reckoned with by the University administration, but only if they hold fast to their key tenet of being different. Right now, they just simply seem like more of the same.

The William Randolph Hearst Building houses Texas Student Media.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

On Tuesday, Student Government approved A.B. 3, which amended certain provisions of the University of Texas Student Government Code of Rules and Procedures. Most of the changes within A.B. 3 acted as clarification of internal rules and procedure, but a specific clause that mentioned The Daily Texan was altered and could be interpreted as an attack on the publication.  

As an active proponent of the change, I am writing to ensure the Daily Texan staff, and the paper’s readership, that the action was not intended to be defamatory toward the paper whatsoever. 

Previously, Chapter Two, Article III, Section 3.2 of The Code of Rules and Procedures for UTSG read as: 

“The Communications Director shall be the primary media contact for Student Government and shall manage its interaction with The Daily Texan and other media outlets.” 

The passage of A.B. 3 altered the wording of the clause, and removed the Daily Texan as a specific example of a media outlet, but this change will not serve to hinder the relationship between the publication and Student Government. 

After lengthy debate over the issue, I led a charge to accept the change to remove the Texan from the clause, and I am writing to explain why. 

As an avid reader of the Texan, I fully support the paper and view it as an official student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin. I know that I share this view with many members of Student Government, including Communications Director Thomas Mylott, and I am confident that the Student Government will continue to have a great relationship with the Texan. 

The only reason that I voted to remove the Texan as a media example in the rules is that I do not see an advantage in the special mention of one publication when there is a diverse group of student-run media outlets on campus. In the interest of transparency, it would not be fair to promote a relationship with the Texan simply because of its reputation as the official paper, and I want all media (student-run, local and national) to feel like we are an accessible body. 

During my campaign, I pledged to the students of UT that if elected, I would fight to make Student Government more transparent, and I believe that making media feel more comfortable approaching us is an important step to furthering communication with the student body. 

Schredder, a University-wide representative, is an international relations and global studies and economics junior from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. 

As your new Student Government president and vice president, we know it is our job to advocate for what is best for students and will maximize safety. House Bill 937, currently being considered by the Texas House of Representatives after the Senate passed its own version of the bill in March, would allow guns in classrooms on public university campuses. That’s why we think this bill is so dumb. Private universities are afforded the right to opt out, whereas public universities are not. Why are we, as a public university, not able to have a voice in what happens on our campus?

UT System Chancellor and former Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven expressed his concerns about firearms on campus in a letter to legislative leaders in January, saying, “The presence of handguns...will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds.” Former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa agreed, as do the chancellors from most major Texas university systems. Current UT President William Powers Jr. also expressed discontent with campus carry, as did Art Acevedo, the Austin police chief.

This bill, if it becomes law, will allow real firearms on campus. For some perspective, it would still be against University policy to bring pellet guns, airsoft guns, and prop guns — fake guns — onto campus. You’ll be able to bring a pistol to campus, but if it has an orange tip, get that out of here!

Students should have a say in what happens on their own campus. A change.org petition of UT students opposing campus carry had over 5,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning. UT’s Student Government passed a resolution officially opposing guns on our campus. According to a poll conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety, over 60 percent of those polled believed that students should not be allowed to carry handguns on campuses or in dormitories, and over 70 percent believe college students should not be allowed to bring concealed handguns to class.

Many of the Texas schools affected by this legislation are as big, or bigger, than the cities where many of these legislators hail from. We have reached out to student body presidents and vice presidents across the state, and an overwhelming majority share our opinion. We, as fellow student representatives, have been elected to voice the needs of our students,and do not appreciate attempts in the Legislature to take local governance away from our communities.

Guns disrupt the academic atmosphere of a university. Sitting in a class, knowing that fellow students might be armed, alters the environment. For professors and teaching assistants, lecturing in front of a hall of hundreds of students knowing that some are potentially armed encroaches upon the sanctity of the classroom.

College students experience incredible amounts of academic, social, and family stress.  RAs shouldn’t have to deal with guns in dorms on top of the multitude of stresses associated with on-campus living. Campus police shouldn’t have to worry about distinguishing between a well-intentioned citizen and a bad actor. Professors shouldn’t have to worry about students bringing guns to classes.

Claims that students are in danger on UT’s campus and need guns to protect themselves are unfounded.  Since the UT Police Department began keeping online records in 2000, there have been no murders on the UT Austin campus. In a hypothetical active shooter scenario, who would you rather trust handling the situation: a trained UTPD officer or a sleep-deprived (probably hungover) upperclassman? HB 937 is attempting to fix a problem that does not exist.

The Texas Legislature is ostensibly trying to pass this bill for the good of campuses across the state. How is that the case if so much of campus is against this legislation? The best outcome would be for the bill to be defeated; otherwise, we implore the House to amend the current legislation with an opt-out clause that enables the stakeholders within a university to decide what’s best for campus.

The only guns that should be allowed on campus are our biceps. As good and strong boys, we stand staunchly against campus carry. We hope the Texas Legislature listens to campus opinion and grants all Texas universities the discretion to make decisions regarding their own safety.

Rotnofsky is a Plan II, linguistics, computer science and creative writing junior from Laredo. Mandalapu is a Plan II and economics senior from Sugar Land. They are Student Government president and vice president, respectively.

At the beginning of the spring 2015 semester, we, the Society for Cultural Unity, wrote Student Government Assembly Resolution 31, which asked for assembly support of “student-led efforts to raise student awareness and help stop the ugly history of racism and sexism from repeating itself at UT Austin.”

Through distribution in every Cultural Diversity flagged class, these efforts would expose all UT students to archives that make strong visual connections between historical prejudice and today’s racism and sexism. The archives include police reports, newspaper articles and photographs of racial and sexual violence, blackface parties and protests, all from UT’s history, from the early 1940s through the 21st century.

It took SCU nearly a month to shepherd the resolution out of the highly subjective and politicized committee “process,” where representatives modify the underlying messages of sponsored resolutions to their own liking.

SCU endured the representatives’ indignation because we refused to dilute the language of the resolution. Not bending to make the message of the resolution more palatable for certain West Campus interests resulted in the strong opposition and scorn of various committee members. When the resolution finally escaped committee and came to a vote in favor of or against passing AR 31, the majority of the 108th Student Government Assembly voted to table the resolution largely because making students learn about UT’s historical struggles with racism and sexism might make an irreparable negative first impression in the minds of UT’s freshmen.

If need be, take time to read that sentence again. When that argument was made by AR 31’s opponents during what was a quasi-Lincoln-Douglas debate over the resolution, neither I nor the representatives next to me could believe our ears. Some of them even whispered to me that the representatives who were attempting to make such arguments were not the people they had been working with this past school year.

More embarrassing was the fact that during the debate, arguments became so vitriolic that various minority and women supporters of AR 31 had to leave the Assembly room before the vote could even be held.

A room is veritably hostile when certain people feel targeted and threatened after they thought they were in a safe place. At another point, the debate became such a caricature of itself that one member of the opposition “pointed out” that his posturing against AR 31 wasn’t biased in any way because he was “Mexican American.”

At no point during the 108th Assembly’s last meeting was there room for civil or respectful discussion about the resolution or the various “issues” opponents had with it because of those types of outbursts.

After AR 31 was essentially defeated by a small cadre of student representatives, many of them left the meeting laughing and with smug grins, having no idea how ironic and historically significant their actions were that night. As far as they were concerned, AR 31 would be left stuck in yet another one of their “editing processes.”

Many of the people we read about in history books who perpetuated or condoned racism and sexism were ordinary citizens like you and me.

Outside of why we read about them in the first place, they loved music, movies, politics, books, laughing, dancing, singing and those values of hard work and integrity in the pursuit of the American dream.

But at the end of the day, we don’t learn about those people for their otherwise ordinary qualities or even for the color of their skin. We read about them because they represent the cautionary tale of what happens when society accepts a status quo that condones the inhumane and senseless marginalization of people with darker skin tones or different genders.

When historians 50 years from now read about our ancestors who perpetuated or condoned the status quo, the ugly stain of ignorance will mark over most of the positive aspects of their otherwise normal legacies. After the Supreme Court stated in Dred Scott v. Sanford that people of African descent “were not intended to be included under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution,” its credibility as a system of authority would forever after be in doubt.

The Student Government Assembly is far from having the authority of our nation’s judicial branch, but the importance of the statements it makes in the form of the resolutions it passes still matters very much. When Student Government passes or rejects a resolution, it is making a statement about which values it represents. With AR 31, student representatives had an opportunity to say how much they cared about and understood many of the issues that minority students and women face every day.

Since they didn’t take that opportunity, the Society for Cultural Unity is banding together with various student groups to give the 109th Student Assembly, recently convened, not only a chance to redeem the organization’s reputation but to also prove itself worthy of its affiliation with the word “government.”

On Tuesday, we will be approaching Student Government to make a motion to bring AR 31 out for reconsideration. We are only changing its name, which will now be “In Support of Student-led Efforts to Raise Student and Student Government Awareness and Help Stop the Ugly History of Racism and Sexism from Repeating Itself at UT Austin.”

All students are invited to come out and show support as we plead with Student Government on Tuesday in SAC 2.302 at 7 p.m. Interested students can also visit the Society for Cultural Unity on social media, where they can see examples of the historical archives, message us about involvement or share their stories of racial or sexual marginalization here at UT. The aforementioned Student Government meeting minutes can be found at the following link: utsg.org/minutes/.

Davis is a government senior from Lake Arlington. He is a founder of the Society for Cultural Unity.

 

AR 31

Former SG leaders sign open letter in opposition to BDS resolution

Seventeen former Student Government leaders signed a letter addressed to the current SG executive board and Assembly, urging them to oppose a divestment resolution set to be voted on Tuesday night.

The resolution calls for the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest from corporations that authors said “facilitate the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”

The former leaders, who served SG terms ranging as far back as 1983, said SG should not associate with the boycott-divestment-sanctioning – known as BDS – movement upon which the resolution is based.  

"The BDS movement is rooted in a philosophy that rejects Israel’s very existence," the letter read. "While reasonable people can debate the merits and faults of Israel's specific policies, supporting BDS necessarily means supporting a philosophy that advocates the destruction of Israel and its inhabitants. We do not think the Student Government Assembly should align itself with such a philosophy."

Seven of the eight most recent SG presidents and vice presidents signed the letter, including last term's president and vice president, Kori Rady and Taylor Strickland.

The leaders also said Texas has kept close ties with Israel, regarding similarities in agricultural and policing policies.

"There is much that the state of Texas and Israel share, and the BDS movement attempts to undermine that relationship," the letter read.

The Assembly will vote on the resolution Tuesday night.

To read more about the debate surrounding the resolution, click here. 

To read about the resolution as it stands, before it heads to the Assembly for a vote tonight, click here. 

Read the letter here:

Former SG Leaders in Opposition to BDS and AR-3

I strongly disagree with Friday’s editorial, which claims “Student Government is the wrong place to deal with [the Israeli-Palestinian issue] because such contentious issues have nothing to do with the stewardship of this University.” 

Who or what the University supports economically through its investments matters. This editorial serves as a cop-out for debating about world events we all have a stake in.

Regardless of the obvious complexity and intractability of this specific conflict, this editorial sets a dangerous precedent on other pending issues like petroleum divestment and the campaign to improve working conditions in the factories that UT uses to produce its clothing.  It also fails to wrestle with the  historical precedent of  university activists who pushed for divestment from South Africa’s apartheid state at a time when federal state actors turned a blind eye to — some claim even supported — the Afrikaner regime. 

Again, I am not arguing that Israel is an apartheid state. Rather, I contend debates involving the politics of the University’s investments, which fund many of our scholarships and fellowships, should take place with both sides of this issue having a chance to make their case before the students’ representative body. 

With so much private money flowing into the University to sponsor various projects, centers and student scholarships, our community is not served by ignoring the social impact (conservative or progressive) of the University’s dollars.

In an era when the University is a business, its branding, as well as its social conscience, should matter to students, to faculty and to those who have to decide which investments balance the University’s core mission of “changing the world” through teaching and research with the practical needs of everyday funding.

— Travis Knoll, second-year master’s student in Latin American studies, in response to the Friday editorial titled “SG should vote down divestment bill.”

Students at the University of Texas are always willing to voice their beliefs, and those voices often lead to real, material changes in the world. 

Student-led groups and Student Government work together to express concerns, but as a student body, we have the duty to make sure our speech is valuable, relevant and warranted. UTDivest and the language of the pro-divestment AR 3 represent a scenario where UT students are speaking out on issues beyond their level of responsibility.

SG is responsible for both representing the student body and allocating resources on behalf of that body. It serves as our collective voice, and as such, can speak for whom we want to manage our endowment. 

Picking an investment manager is no easy task, but the University of Texas Investment Management Company has done a stellar job managing the second-largest endowment in the US. Portions of our more than $25 billion are carefully invested in over 2,000 public equities like the ones mentioned in AR 3: Cemex, HP, Proctor & Gamble, etc. (embedded below) This is done through a Fund-of-Funds model, meaning UTIMCO allocates the endowment to a number of third-party investment managers, who then select equities to buy.  UTIMCO itself does not directly buy and sell equities with endowment money, according to Bruce Zimmerman, UTIMCO’s CEO and Chief Investment Officer.  This management style is common to large endowments due to the amount of resources needed to allocate billions of dollars.  Because the decision to divest lies with third party managers and not UTIMCO, AR 3 is misdirected and represents a misunderstanding of how our endowment is managed.

As a student body, our responsibility is to make sure our endowment rests in the hands of a manager who will carefully and effectively grow the fund over its lifespan. As students who are not industry-trained investment managers, we are not responsible for evaluating third party managers and their individual investment decisions.

The UT System maintains a Board of Regents that oversees the selection of management and supervises high-level decisions for the University and the other System campuses. However, their responsibilities do not include micromanagement. The Board does not decide what classes will be offered next semester, which textbook a professor issues for a class or which video is shown in that class. 

Because the Board does not have all of the relevant information to make lower-level decisions, it is in their best interest to find managers to make those decisions instead.

Similarly, it is not in students’ best interest to try to micromanage UTIMCO by telling it which managers to use and which companies to invest in. Rather, they can help find qualified professionals who can understand the nuances of managing investments. These managers have a responsibility to ensure their portfolio companies are ethically operated in ways that are not overtly harmful to any group of people. This responsibility is dutifully carried out through meaningful analysis.

Investment managers go above and beyond to vet every single equity. This includes multiple weeks of intense company research and financial valuation modeling. 

Students simply do not have the necessary time to read company filings or complete the extensive due diligence needed before making multimillion dollar investments. UTIMCO and third party managers have access to information students do not, and therefore can make more informed decisions on whether a company is worth investing in. 

Students need to acknowledge an investment management company is not the place to make a political statement and understand UTIMCO makes deliberate decisions using the best information it can compile.

Stepping back from an investment manager’s perspective, students who feel passionately about either side of the political debate should take a closer look at companies that are operating in Israel and the economic benefit they provide to Palestinians and Israelis alike.

For example, metalworking company ISCAR, owned by publicly traded Berkshire Hathaway, employs 3,000 Israelis, of whom half are Arab. ISCAR’s founder, Israeli Stef Wertheimer, was awarded the Oslo Business for Peace Award in 2010 for his efforts to use manufacturing facilities to unite Israelis and Arabs. 

Over 20 percent of Intel’s international property, plant and equipment are centered in Israel, and wages from those operations flow into the economies of both Israel and disputed territories. 

These are companies who bridge the political divide and promote cooperation and mutual economic gain. Divestment from these beneficial industries would not just be a vote against cooperation but a vote that would directly harm the Palestinian economy.

No company is perfect, and that fact cannot be disputed. But it is UTIMCO’s job, not the UT student body’s, to make this determination. Student Government should oppose AR 3 not for political reasons, but because the legislation speaks on behalf of students who are not qualified to micromanage more than $25 billion. The Board of Regents votes on managers, not stocks, and Student Government should do the same.

Johns is a business honors and finance sophomore from Fort Worth. Stein is a business honors and finance sophomore from Houston.

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AR3

One of President William Powers Jr.’s central goals for his presidency was to achieve a 70 percent four-year graduation rate. While the goal has not yet been reached, Powers said the University has made “tremendous progress.”
Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss President Powers' record on improving graduation rates, the Jefferson Davis statue being vandalized, potential changes to the Hazlewood exemption, Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky and Vice President Rohit Mandalapu's platform goals, and rising rent prices in Austin.

Last month, this board asked Student Government to vote down a resolution that offered nothing but obsequious promotion and praise of the State of Israel. We did so not because we disagreed with the political points of the resolution’s proponents but because we felt it was inappropriate for Student Government to meddle in a “foreign policy squabble” such as the ongoing territorial and political disputes between Israel and Palestine.

Now, representatives of the Palestine Solidarity Committee have introduced legislation in Student Government to pressure the University’s investment company into divesting from any company that financially benefits from and is complicit in the occupation of Palestine. The plan is part of a broader platform called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which seeks to stigmatize and isolate Israel into changing its foreign policy, particularly toward the Palestinians, whose lands they continue occupying in defiance of international law. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also recently backed away from statements supporting the creation of a Palestinian state on that land, as Israel has supported in the abstract for nearly 25 years. Both are serious transgressions that require immediate attention, but Student Government is the wrong place to deal with it because such contentious issues have nothing to do with the stewardship of this University.

With a new SG administration at the helm, this is a time for actually accomplishing real things, not mean-spirited fights over a foreign policy squabble half a world away. SG should vote down this divestment bill, as well as other proposals from the misguided BDS movement. It’s just, in more ways than one, the wrong thing to do.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial was overly broad in its description of the companies targeted by the legislation currently being considered by Student Government.

Photo Credit: Ryan Ladd | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's Note: The Texan received this piece around the same time as Mukund Rathi's piece. They are not intended to be read as a point/counterpoint.

At the University of Texas, we pride ourselves on our commitment to fostering cutting edge research, high quality education, and open dialogue and discussion. Over the past few weeks, a movement known as BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, has begun on campus and stands counter to these ideals.

The movement, taking the form of a piece of legislation written by members of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, will be introduced at the second Student Government assembly meeting on Tuesday. The aims of this campaign are ostensibly to encourage the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest from certain companies that do business in the State of Israel.  However, the true motives behind this movement are less than clear.

Several key BDS activists, including one of its founders, have used BDS as a tool to advocate for the delegitimization and the demolition of the Jewish State of Israel.

Even assuming best intentions on the part of the organizers at UT, it is clear that the proposed legislation is problematic, and our campus community would be well served by a careful discussion of the dangers posed by this divisive campaign.

A group of students at the University, myself included, have launched a campaign called Unify Texas. Our goal is to show the student body and UT community that one does not have to be pro-Israel to oppose BDS legislation which would divide the student body and alienate certain groups on campus.

Unify Texas has made clear that it is open and willing to facilitate discussion with anyone — be they pro-Israel, anti-Israel, indifferent or anywhere in between. However, Unify Texas is attempting to draw a distinction between the positive dialogue that is possible between people who share opposing ideologies and the negative, one-sided divestment resolution proposed before Student Government, which we view as extreme.

UT Divest’s claim that this legislation will be helpful to Palestinians is misleading. In fact, BDS damages the Palestinian economy and negatively affects the tens of thousands of Palestinians who are employed by companies in Israel and the West Bank, compounding the struggle for each side to achieve the mutual goal of peace. This is crucial to understanding this ultimately flawed legislation.

Unify Texas will remain sincere in our effort to unite our campus community. We will not label BDS proponents at UT or attempt to supply their motives. We reject the notion that they attempt to incite anti-Semitism. However, as students at the University, we are obligated to examine the potential effects of the legislation and observe how similar campaigns have negatively affected other campuses.

The passage of BDS would be extremely damaging to campus atmosphere. If our Student Government votes to endorse a one-sided view predicated on delegitimizing and demonizing the State of Israel, it will alienate and isolate many students whose opinions differ. It would not be acceptable for our Student Government to declare to a large group of students on this campus that their passionately held views are irrelevant or misguided.

Students who feel differently than the sponsors of the resolution would feel antagonized and isolated by our student government, because of deep familial and emotional ties to the issue at hand. Student Government is not the correct vehicle for UT Divest because of these undeniable facts. The complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict merits a much more nuanced and inclusive approach, one that accounts for the sensitivities of all sides.

We strongly encourage Student Government to take a stand for unity on our campus by opposing BDS legislation. Representatives should make an unequivocal statement to their constituents that advocating for one side in a debate need not bring down the others. Decisions concerning political and business relationships with Israel should be made on Capitol Hill and in corporate boardrooms, not in the Student Activity Center. We strongly encourage a dialogue on campus regarding the issue, yet abide in our conviction that passage of BDS legislation would do a great disservice to our University and our campus community.

Fountain is a government junior from Pelham, New York.