Texas A&M University

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

With its latest mobile app, Prime Now, Amazon is one step closer to world domination.

With the app, which is available on iOS and Android, Amazon Prime subscribers have the option of free two-hour delivery — or delivery within an hour for $7.99. The app also encourages you to pay a $5 tip to the couriers.

Prime Now service finally launched for select zip codes in Austin on Wednesday, making it the sixth city in the nation to have it. Prime Now originally launched in New York City in late 2014, later expanding to Baltimore, Miami, Dallas and Atlanta.

In the name of journalism, The Daily Texan tested out the service by placing two separate orders for two very important items. The first was a Barbie Collector’s Edition Texas A&M University Ken Doll, at the request of Texan film critic Alex Pelham. The second was 125 feet of bubble wrap, because the Texan knows how to have fun. The first item was hyper-specific, the second big and bulky.

Daulton Venglar | The Daily Texan

Both were ordered using the one-hour service and delivered to Almetris Duren Residence Hall, where I was waiting with a stopwatch.

Ken arrived to my reluctant embrace 19 minutes and 59 seconds after we placed the order. The gentleman who delivered him appeared stumped as to why a young man would require a doll. Perhaps he thought I was into voodoo magic.

The bubble wrap arrived in 25 minutes and 38 seconds, and it was delivered by a different person. Popping will ensue.

So there’s no question about it: Amazon Prime Now lives up to the “Now” in its name. It works exactly as advertised, and the couriers who delivered the items were courteous despite the time crunch. No company’s customer service has ever been this horrifyingly good.  

But don’t be mistaken, Prime Now has a few drawbacks. Orders must cost at least $15 to be eligible, and for the one-hour delivery service, the cost adds up more quickly with the shipping fee and tip.

 
It’s also strange that a service based on convenience is rather inconvenient to use — Prime subscribers have to order exclusively from the mobile app in order to use Prime Now. Amazon should look into making Prime Now delivery options available on its website in the future.

Daulton Venglar | The Daily Texan

Of course, you also have to be a Prime member to use Prime Now. This means you have to pay an annual fee of $99, but the membership gets you free two-day shipping and access to streaming movies and TV shows.

Amazon Prime Now offers reliably speedy service, but UT students have mixed feelings about it.

Civil engineering junior Vanessa O’Kelly, an Amazon Prime member, would rather use the two-hour service than the one-hour one.

“There’s nothing I need in one hour that justifies [spending] $8,” O’Kelly said.

Plan II freshman Seton Uhlhorn, also an Amazon Prime member, said the cost of using Prime Now is reasonable for the service, and she would use it for certain items.

“It would definitely be helpful for buying books for school,” Uhlhorn said. “I hate waiting to receive books, especially if I need them quickly for research.”

Amazon Prime Now offers impressive delivery times, but its pricing strategy may deter customers, and its speedy service feels mostly unnecessary. Unless you really need a Texas A&M Ken Doll or can’t wait for 125 feet of bubble wrap, you’ll probably only use Prime Now for one reason: to time the delivery guy.

Daulton Venglar | The Daily Texan

Amazon Prime Now is now available in these Austin zip codes: 78613, 78701, 78703, 78704, 78705, 78708, 78711, 78712, 78713, 78714, 78720, 78722, 78723, 78727, 78728, 78729, 78731, 78751, 78752, 78753, 78754, 78755, 78756, 78757, 78758 and 78759. To read more about how Prime Now came to Austin, click here.

Recent increases in oil production in West Texas have also increased the amount of money available to the UT System, according to Scott Kelley, the System’s executive vice chancellor for business affairs.

From June 2013 to June 2014, the market value of the Permanent University Fund, or PUF, increased 19.4 percent — from $14.4 billion to $17.2 billion — according to reports from The University of Texas Investment Management Company, the organization that invests money for the UT System.

“Our revenues and the values of our assets in West Texas have grown substantially in recent years to allow for a larger endowment,” Chairman Paul Foster said after an August meeting of the Board of Regents.

PUF is an endowment containing 2.1 million acres in West Texas that was created to benefit UT and Texas A&M University systems. The proceeds from the sale of oil, gas, sulfur and water royalties are invested in the form of stocks, bonds and equity interest to establish the Available University Fund, or AUF. Two-thirds of these funds go toward the UT System and one-third goes to the Texas A&M system.

Kelley said horizontal drilling, a new oil drilling technique used to expose more surface area of oil bearing rock, can explain the increase in the value of the PUF on oil lands that were once thought to be in decline.

“Probably 20 years ago it was thought that the Permian Basin in West Texas was a mature [oil] field, and its best days were really behind it,” Kelley said. “The new technology — horizontal drilling and the ability to extract oil and gas from some of the shale that’s out there — has just created a whole new wave of production. We will probably have $1.2 billion dollars in revenue this year coming into the PUF from University lands, whereas four years ago it was maybe $200 million.”

Citing the fund’s growth, the regents decided not to increase in-state undergraduate tuition in May and approved an offset plan for the lack of increases in August. As UT-Austin is the only System institution that is legally able to directly use the AUF for academic operations, the System allocated $28.2 million in recurring revenue from the fund to the University.

“UT-Austin is very fortunate to be a beneficiary of the Permanent University Fund, especially when the fund is on such solid footing,” University spokesman Gary Susswein said in an email. “Recurring funding from the PUF and other sources is vital to our efforts to become the best public research university in the country.” 

Under the offset plan, the System decided to cover costs and activities traditionally undertaken by the other eight institutions.

In August, the growth in PUF also allowed the regents to approve an increase in PUF endowment distribution to AUF for the 2014 fiscal year, bringing the rate up to 7 percent. With the decision, academic institutions in the System will present proposals to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa illustrating how they intend to use the additional funds.

Kelley said the policy distribution rate is 4.75 percent but can be raised higher in response to financial returns that exceed their benchmark over a three-year period.     

“With the increase in what’s happening in West Texas and with a look at the oil and gas assets, there was a determination by the board over the last couple of years to increase that distribution, not necessarily permanently, but on a one-time, year-to-year basis to 5.5 percent,” Kelley said.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

In accepting the UT System’s operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Board of Regents approved Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s proposal Thursday to utilize more of the System’s endowment to offset the lack of in-state tuition increases.

Prompted by Gov. Rick Perry, the Board of Regents decided in May against increasing in-state tuition costs at the University and the other eight System academic campuses.

Following the decision in May, Cigarroa and Scott Kelley, executive vice chancellor for business affairs, devised a plan to offset the cost of not raising tuition. Their now approved proposal will allocate $28.2 million in recurring revenue from the Available University Fund, or AUF, toward the University.

"A lot of work went into that offset plan and a lot of different scenarios were looked at," Chairman Paul Foster told reporters after the meeting Thursday. "One of the challenges was coming up with a plan that was recurring."  

The AUF stems from the public endowment known as the Permanent University Fund, or PUF, which is funded by the proceeds from the sale of oil, gas, sulfur and water royalties in West Texas and then invested in the form of stocks, bonds and equity interest. The return on these investments becomes the AUF, which is used to support both UT and Texas A&M University institutions.

Because UT-Austin is the only System institution that can directly receive AUF money, the System will cover costs and activities traditionally undertaken by the eight other UT academic campuses. The System intends to pay for costs related to property insurance and information technology and assume management of internal audit functions and digital library services, opening up $31 million for those institutions to use.

"It’s a very strategic initiative, so we don’t have to increase tuition for our students," Cigarroa said.

The regents also approved a one-time 1.5 percent increase in PUF distribution to AUF for the 2014 fiscal year. The decision brings the fiscal year’s distribution rate up to 7 percent. With the additional money available, the nine System academic institutions will each present proposals to Cigarroa over the next six months to show how they will use the money to increase both online and campus enrollment.

"Our revenues and the values of the our assets in West Texas have grown substantially in recent years to allow for a larger endowment," Foster said. "Our campuses have needs. We’re trying to increase access, which really means increasing enrollment. We’re trying to make an education available to a lot more kids, and we’ve got to find ways to fund that."

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University will review how it could spend the additional funding.

"We hope that this additional funding gives us what we need to maintain our levels of excellence at UT-Austin," Susswein said.

Overall, the System’s 2015 fiscal year budget will increase by $888 million in revenue to a total of $15.9 billion and increase by $1 billion in expenses to a total of $15.6 billion. The University will have a 6.8 percent increase in its share of the budget, totaling to more than $2.5 billion.

In discussing the budget with the regents, Cigarroa said the increase for the University accounts for the accommodation of the Dell Medical School and a more accurate research budget, which he said was under-budgeted for the 2014 fiscal year.

At Thursday's meeting, the regents approved the creation of a neuroscience institute, an engineering institute in Houston and allocated more than $2.5 million to expanding System-wide suicide prevention programs for students.

“I bleed burnt orange” is a cliche largely understood to be a metaphor, but thanks to a company specializing in college-themed fragrances, it just became a little easier to try to achieve oneness with your university. 

This week, the company Masik, which specializes in collegiate perfumes and colognes, rolled out a new line of UT-themed scents. The line, named “Passionate, Triumphant and Strong,” comes in scents for both men and women. Some of the smells listed on the company product description page as having gone into the formulas are “aged bourbon accord” in the men’s cologne and “skin musk” in the women’s perfume. It appears that Masik understands that hard liquor and body odor are two of the indispensable smells that define UT, particularly on game day. What’s more surprising is that UT is late to the party in licensing its name for a perfume. Both the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University already have their own, and Masik has plans to expand its line to include namesake scents for other universities in the future.

Anyone who’s been on the UT campus, or any other major public university campus for that matter, knows that collegiate brands are important. They’re distinctive, they help define the identity of the wearer and they represent an affiliation or value set to people who see it. A strong brand with a loyal contingent of consumers can be an attractive and valuable asset for the entity that owns it. According to figures released in January by the Wall Street Journal, UT is the most profitable college football franchise at $875 billion in net worth. 

Although, increasingly, churning out branded merchandise leads to bizarre products such as collegiate perfumes, it makes sense for UT to maximize the monetary value of not only the sports teams, but the Longhorn brand itself. It would behoove the administration to aggressively pursue this strategy, if it wasn’t clearly doing that already. The embrace of corporate sponsorship by college athletics teams has become a national norm, and the Longhorns are leading the way in going even further. According to a February article from the Houston Chronicle, men’s athletics director Steve Patterson has proposed UT playing a football game in Mexico City. This model has proved hugely successful for other, admittedly more globally marketable, sports teams. The NBA started staging games internationally in 1978 and has since expanded the scope of these games to more than 20 countries and made these games a regular practice.

Thinking globally about UT and the Longhorn brand is the only way for Texas to remain the financial juggernaut it has become. Expanding the brand abroad could more prominently feature the University to international academic talent. 

“Normally there would be an end for most brands,” marketing senior lecturer Stephen Walls said. “University athletic programs appear to be a bit different in that people will buy anything with the logo. In fact, you can already buy UT-branded car mats. I would say that as long as the product doesn’t tarnish the image of the university … then there probably is not much more of a limit.”

Increased branding for UT isn’t lacking in student support, either: a piece of legislation introduced to the Student Government assembly Tuesday supports the proliferation of branded material around UT campus, which the authors feel would “increase school spirit and to encourage a positive campus climate.”

Some people may protest that the inextricable tying of an educational institution with commercialism could raise conflicts of interest. But raising funds is one of the most essential functions of the University. One of President William Powers Jr.’s chief successes has been his ability to raise funds from the alumni community, bolstering the University’s balance sheet and national rankings. Extensive alumni and corporate fundraising efforts are now commonplace for every major school that runs on relatively unpredictable state funding. It is clear that UT stays competitive through its raising of revenue, and sometimes the best way to raise revenue is to capitalize on brand loyalty and recognition.

These revenue-raising campaigns also serve to insulate the University from devastating budget cuts from state legislators. In 2011, in the wake of dismal budget projections by the comptroller, the Legislature slashed higher education funding significantly. Although funding may have recovered somewhat since the recent oil boom, institutions that take state money seem to have learned a lesson about how fickle and unpredictable that money can be.

So while it may initially seem strange to introduce a fragrance to the market that bears a university’s name, it increasingly fits into a long-term funding strategy of continuously raising money. In a time of increasing financial pressure on public universities, the way to ensure that what starts here changes the world is to make sure that what starts here earns royalties, too.

Matula is a finance junior from Austin.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced Wednesday the launch of the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Program as a “low-cost alternative” to a college degree.

The program, which was developed by the board, South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce, will take students three years to complete, at a total cost of $13,000 to $15,000.

Students in the program will complete the required 120 credit hours through a combination of online modules and face-to-face instruction. The first seven-week term of the program began in late January at South Texas College and A&M-Commerce.

“[We listened] to what national and regional employers are saying they really want: graduates with critical thinking skills who are quantitatively literate, can evaluate knowledge sources, understand diversity and benefit from a strong liberal arts and sciences background. This isn’t just another business degree,” Van Davis, director of innovations for the board, said in a statement.

System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the board did not approach the UT System to join the partnership that established the program.

According to UT-Austin spokesman Gary Susswein, the University does not have plans to pursue a low-cost degree program because it “would not be viable” considering the University’s rigorous academic plan.  

UT-Permian Basin currently offers a $10,000 bachelor of science four-year degree through its Texas Science Scholar Program, which it launched in May 2012, while UT-Arlington and UT-Brownsville offer similar programs, developed through partnerships with community colleges and school districts in their respective areas.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Exes canceled the annual Hex Rally on Monday because of inclement weather and the effects of the rain on all the participants and electrical equipment involved.

“You got a lot of equipment out there that the rain was likely to effect — it wasn’t the cold,” said Tim Taliaferro, vice president of communications and digital strategy for the Texas Exes. “You’ve got Longhorn Network that’s going to be out there to do the show, and they’ve got equipment, and the band’s going to be out there. … Bevo wasn’t going to be able to be there.”

The tradition began in 1941 after a local fortune teller advised the Longhorns to burn red candles to perform a “hex” on Texas A&M University, which was ranked No. 2 going into the Thanksgiving Day game. Texas won the game 23-0 in College Station. Since then, the rally has only ever been canceled once before — in 1999 out of respect for 12 Texas A&M students who died after the Aggie Bonfire famously collapsed during Thanksgiving week.

After Texas A&M moved to the Southeastern Conference last season, Texas played Texas Christian University in 2012 and will play Texas Tech University on Thursday.

Senior geography lecturer Troy Kimmel said the current weather Austin is experiencing came in early on Friday morning. The cold air arrived first and the upper air systems arrived after and combined to create the cold, moist environment. 

Rain gauges at Camp Mabry have recorded approximately 2.74 inches of rain since last Thursday at midnight. The lowest temperatures have been around 36 degrees.

Journalism junior Eleanor Holmes said she understood why the Texas Exes canceled the event, but she still wanted to carry out the tradition started in 1941.

“I think it’s important that the student body [makes sure] the Hex Rally, and these traditions didn’t die when A&M went to the SEC,” Holmes said. “It’s a Texas tradition, and we have to make sure that it continues on.”

Kimmel said the weather is expected to change Tuesday morning, and Austin should not expect any ice in the mean time.

“We just weren’t cold enough to get the ice … but we just missed it by a couple of degrees, being a little bit too warm,” Kimmel said.

Computer science junior Rebecca Carrender said she will be traveling home for the Thanksgiving holiday but is not worried about the weather as the system leaves. 

“I’m not too concerned,” Carrender said. “I prefer that it didn’t rain, but, as long as there’s not ice on the road, I’m not too concerned.” 

On Tuesday, the temperature is expected to dip to 31 degrees, with a high of 49 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Over the next five years, UT will collaborate with two other Texas universities on offshore drilling research as a part of the new Ocean Energy Safety Institute.

The institute, funded with $5 million from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, will be geared toward information sharing in the hopes of advancing research. The institute will also work to better enable individuals in the oil industry to handle crisis situations in drilling and use proactive practices to prevent future disasters.

The University will work alongside Texas A&M University and the University of Houston in the initiative. Tad Patzek, chair of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering, said he hopes the institute will provide a non-threatening environment for cooperation.

“[The institute] will be a place to do cutting edge research,” Patzek said. “The institute will not be a brick and mortar building — it will be a virtual institute run at the universities.”

Patzek said getting the grant money for the institute was a significant achievement for Texas.

“Texas A&M, UT and the University of Houston had a joint proposal to have the institute,” Patzek said. “It was a national competition, and Texas won, [which] is a big deal.”

Patzek said he believes Texas is the best place for the institute because the state has the largest oil industry. He said the Gulf of Mexico will be the most important place institute researchers focus their efforts, but said the researchers will also examine the Arctic Ocean. 

“We cannot afford having a spill in the Arctic. It has no means of cleaning itself up like the Gulf of Mexico can,” Patzek said. “The creation of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute is critical to  preserving our water resources and meeting our nation’s energy demands.”

The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center will manage the institute.

“The three partner universities represent a unique combination of capabilities and resources needed to address the needs for the Institute,” said M. Sam Mannan, the process safety center’s director, in a statement. “We applaud [the bureau] for supporting this major undertaking of national importance, that will impact ocean energy safety for the nation and world for years to come.”

Emily Mixon, a Plan II and geography senior and director of the Campus Environmental Center, said she does not support offshore drilling, but she appreciates the goal of the institute.

“I wish we had less offshore drilling, but if it’s the energy plan of the U.S. than at least they’re trying to make it safer for the environment,” Mixon said.

Photo Credit: Daily Texan Staff

Behind the fresh, glamorous exteriors of the newly built private off-campus dorm, The Callaway House, is American Campus Communities, a private student housing developer that the UT System has invested more than a million dollars in. And sitting at the top of American Campus Communities is R.D. Burck, the chairman of the board of directors for American Campus Communities — and a former UT System chancellor.

The University of Texas Investment Management Company, an external investment company that manages investments for the UT and The Texas A&M University systems, invested in American Campus Communities in 2008. Currently, UTIMCO owns stock in American Campus Communities valued at more than $1.5 million, according to the company’s latest audit reports from 2012. The investment was made with the Permanent University Fund, a state endowment that funds a part of the systems’ budgets. 

As chancellor, Burck served on UTIMCO’s board of directors beginning in 2000. While Burck stepped down as chancellor in 2002, he continued to serve on the board until 2005. Burck became a chairman of the board of directors of American Campus Communities in 2004. 

UTIMCO spokeswoman Christy Wallace said the investment company does not purchase stock directly but instead hires investment managers. These managers cannot invest in companies on a restricted list, which includes companies associated with members of UTIMCO’s board of directors. 

“[American Campus Communities] public equity securities were on the restricted list when Mr. Burck was on the UTIMCO board, so none of UTIMCO’s investment managers held any of their securities at that time,” Wallace said. “As Mr. Burck is no longer chancellor or on the UTIMCO board, [American Campus Communities] securities are no longer on the restricted list.”

Burck is not employed by American Campus Communities and instead represents the company’s shareholders as an independent chairman, according to American Campus Communities spokeswoman Gina Cowart. UTIMCO is one of the shareholders Burck now represents.

“What an independent board member means is there is no affiliation with the company and no employment,” Cowart said. “That’s an important distinction.”

Burck is currently a member of the Executive Committee of the University of Texas Chancellor’s Council, which advises the current chancellor, Francisco Cigarroa. Cigarroa and several other regents sit on UTIMCO’s board of directors.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to comment and instead deferred questions regarding investments and a possible conflict of interest to UTIMCO. 

This year, American Campus Communities opened a private off-campus dorm, The Callaway House, in West Campus and now owns six other apartment complexes in the area. The company, which owns complexes across the United States, also recently became the “Official Student Housing Sponsor of UT Athletics,” which allows the properties to use the University’s Longhorn logo.

“Our properties have no formal relationship with the University of Texas other than our sincere desire to be a good neighbor,” Cowart said.

While UTIMCO has invested in American Campus Communities, Burck has been openly critical of the UT regents. The former chancellor wrote an editorial during the height of the recent conflict between the regents and the University in February. In the editorial, Burck said some of the regents have not fulfilled their duties.

“Some of the most recent regents selected by the governor have worked to dilute, undermine and even attack the mission that they swore to protect,” Burck said in his editorial that ran in the Austin American-Statesman. “We need regents who respect the diversity of those interests and support the institutions in their quest to achieve their missions.”

UT and Texas A&M University officially opened the Joint Library Facility Friday, a library in Bryan, Texas where libraries from both schools can send less-popular books. 

Photo Credit: Texas A&M University | Texas A&M

More than a million books from UT and Texas A&M University will have a new, shared home in Bryan, Texas.

The $6.3 million dollar Joint Library Facility officially opened Friday and will free up room at the main libraries at both schools by allowing them to send less popular books to the Bryan library, officials said.

It will also reduce costs associated with storing print books and journals, which amounts to $4.26 to store one book each year. UT and A&M worked on the project for three years.

The new facility will use high-density shelving to store library books and reduce the cost of storage to 86 cents per book each year. Other academic and health institutions will be able to use materials from this library, officials said.

UT and A&M have collaborated on joint library projects in the past, including a preservation library for rare books at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus.

“Collaborating allows us to build a larger facility and share a single copy of an item that can be recalled by a patron at either of the universities,” said Travis Willmann, a spokesman for UT Libraries. “[It] keeps down costs for each university.”

Willmann said the goal of the Joint Library Facility is to create new study space in libraries at both universities and free up more room for higher circulation materials.

James Hallmark, A&M vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the Joint Library Facility is an example of cost efficiency and cost sharing.

 “We live in an era of unprecedented budget cuts to higher education. We must pool our resources and work together for the good of Texans, especially those with students attending our universities,” Hallmark said in a statement.

Alejandro Azocar, an aerospace engineering senior at Texas A&M, said he uses the libraries often for his research. Azocar works on creating aircraft simulators from scratch and also tests new autopilot systems.

“It may seem inconvenient to not have the library nearby, but the library's existence will most likely make more books accessible for students that may otherwise not be available,” Azocar said.

Finance junior John Roberts was the only representative to vote against the bill supporting the continuation of funding the Gender and Sexuality Center.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

A bill to ensure the continuation of funding for the Gender and Sexuality Center passed in Student Government on Tuesday.

The bill was filed in response to events at Texas A&M University, where its Student Senate filed a bill to allow students to opt out of funding the University’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center for religious reasons. 

The purpose of the bill was to show that the student body supports the Gender and Sexuality Center and its educational value, Queer Students Alliance director Kent Kasischke said.

All members voted in support of the bill, with the exception of John David Roberts, a finance junior and McCombs representative.

“Today I represent the constituency that isn’t okay with the minority being forced to pay for something that they might have a moral problem with,” Roberts said.

Roberts said he is a supporter of the gay community and was a sponsor for another bill that supports Ally Day. The difference is that the Ally Day bill is about support while the Gender and Sexuality Center bill is about money, Roberts said.

“Just because we are a Texas school does not mean we are going to do the same actions [Texas A&M and the Texas Legislature] have,” said Janet Yang, an author of the Gender and Sexuality Center funding bill.

Yang said the bill also addressed the possibility of people around the nation categorizing UT into the beliefs Texas A&M and the Texas Legislature have set forth recently. The bill will not make any changes, but was an expression of Student Government’s stance on funding the Gender and Sexuality Center, according to Yang.

“It’s the visibility of it all,” Yang said. “Just to make sure that the stance of UT is being seen, we want to put something in writing explaining our viewpoint.”