University of Texas System

Executive director of the Institute of Transformational Learning Steven Mintz is behind innovating collaborative and personalized online classes to propel UT in becoming a leader for online education. 

Photo Credit: Yamel Thompson | Daily Texan Staff

Established by the Board of Regents in 2012, the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning has a bold mandate: to leverage technology to make a UT quality education more accessible, affordable and successful, especially among populations that higher education has too often failed.

The ITL’s mission is to serve as a catalyst for innovation.  To this end, the ITL has supported a number of initiatives at UT Austin including innovative online delivery of a large number of “gateway” classes and development of nine massive online courses, or MOOCs, that have reached nearly a quarter of a million students globally. These included the first MOOCs to implement adaptive learning, which tailors learning pathways to individual students’ needs, and project-based learning — in the case of Jonathan Valvano and Ramesh Yerraballi’s Embedded Systems MOOC, building circuits and programming a real microcontroller.

UT Austin is currently integrating MOOC assets and digital content into on-campus courses.

Right now, ITL’s energies focus on ways to better serve non-traditional students: low-income students, first-generation college students, part-time students, commuting students, working adults, family caregivers and students with some college and no degree.  

Our strategy is three-pronged. We are working with faculty across the System’s academic and health science campuses to: 

1) Develop transformational curricular and program designs that offer a clear value proposition, individualized learning pathways, anytime, anywhere access to course content, and wrap-around student support.

2) Design and implement next generation user experiences and infrastructure that will allow the UT campuses to deliver personalized, adaptive educational programming and support services at scale.

3) Harness the power of advanced learning analytics to better advise students, personalize instruction, and continuously improve teaching methods and student support services.

We consider the ITL-supported projects to be among the most exciting in higher education.  These include: 

1) An array of career-aligned, competency-based degree programs in areas of high employer and student demand.  The first of these programs, a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences at UT Rio Grande Valley, will launch this fall.

2) Degree pathways with an intentionally designed curriculum that can begin in high school and lead to graduate school or a rewarding career. UTRGV’s B.S. in Biomedical Sciences is part of a broader Middle School to Medical School pathway. 

3) Innovative medical school curricula that are competency-based and that emphasize experiential and project- and challenge-based learning; and 

4) UTxProfessional Health, a cross-institutional educational marketplace for health professionals worldwide.

Uniting these initiatives is an approach that is student-centered, outcomes-oriented, career-aligned and data-driven. Our projects emphasize high fidelity content and instructional design, personalization, powerful networking and collaborative experiences, high impact student services, sustainability and scale — which will provide the data needed to further enhance these programs and to better support student success.  

Faculty at UT Austin are among the country’s leaders in inventing next generation teaching and learning and conducting educational research. The ITL is staunchly committed to partnering with campus visionaries to support the innovations that will define the future of higher education.

Mintz is the executive director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning and a UT Austin history professor. 

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Marsha Miller | Courtesy

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with the deans of the University’s 18 schools and colleges. 

The Daily Texan: Could you talk about some goals you have for the next year and some accomplishments you'd like to note from the past couple of years?

Douglas Dempster: One of our largest programmatic goals is to launch something we call the Center for Arts and Entertainment Technologies... It has a research component. We've got a Bachelor of Arts in Arts and Entertainment Technologies that is under review and we hope will be approved for the 2016 catalog. We're hoping to build a maker space in the fine arts library... for all students on campus. We're also engaged in a major facilities review, a 10-year facilities review of the college in hopes of improving some of our oldest and most antiquated facilities as a result of that. We're also doing a major review of our professional development initiatives and programs in the college so that we can think about better ways to prepare students for their professional lives after college. One of our major goals is to survive another year under the current budget circumstances without further drastic cuts to programs, faculties and services, but I remain very nervous and worried about that.

DT: What kind of appreciation do you feel like the fine arts school receives from not just the university, but from the regents and legislators? How do they interact with y'all?

Dempster: The University's been very supportive of fine arts. I feel throughout the University of Texas System, there's much greater emphasis on STEM fields. We have some very old, antiquated facilities that really hold us back as a college in different ways, and for instance, it's hard to imagine that the College of Fine Arts would end up being nominated for a tuition revenue bond... In this day and age, there's a lot of pressure on the STEM fields. Business, engineering, science, mathematics, and that's a larger cultural phenomenon. I think the fine arts are underestimated for what they bring to the economy, which is partly why we're creating this center on arts and entertainment technologies, which is all about commercialization of artistic and entertainment content and patents, because we're trying to make the point that our students move out into that commercial world as well, and that we shouldn't think that it's all about oil and gas and software technologies. It's a big marketplace, and the colleges that are contributing to the economy of Texas and the United States are not just confined to two or three colleges. I think the University has been generous to the fine arts, but the STEM fields are obviously getting a much greater amount of attention.

DT: How do you plan to work with the medical school?

Dempster: Dean [Clay] Johnston of the medical school feels very strongly about the role of design studies in health care and being more thoughtful about how we design not just our spaces — the architectural spaces — but also the interface with the public and the business practices, and we're building a much larger design program than we've had before, so there's a partnership right there... Design studies is an area where, one, it's very popular with students and two, it has very good employment prospects for students. Right now, our design program, I think it has about 60 undergraduate majors, but we turn away hundreds of applicants every year. There's something wrong with that picture.

DT: The music school froze the music business and recording technology program partially in order to start up the arts and entertainment technologies program?

Dempster: We're finding that we can't fund all of our initiatives. That's what it's coming to. We've been doing pretty well for about four years. This bad budget situation's been going on for four, now we're looking into five years, so I feel pretty good about how long we've hung in there with very little new revenue every year. The good news for y'all is that your tuition has been frozen for five years. The bad news is that we're really starting to see the effect on the quality and diversity of programs we can offer... How crazy is it that we have a music school in the middle of Austin that won't have a music business program? That seemed like a no-brainer, right? So it's really painful for me to imagine that we might not be offering that in some future, but we are at the point where we're having to make hard choices about what we can and can't do... I think the truth of the matter is that those programs, we launched, but our timing was terrible because we launched them right into the recession, and they've never been very well funded or well supported and they've struggled... There is not a decent recording studio in the music school. There is a recording studio, but it's about 30 years old. You can find a better recording studio at ACC... The [Butler School of Music] director, Dr. Poole, just made a very hard choice that we weren't doing a great job at this, it deserves better, and until we can do a better job, we need to pull back to what we're already doing well and try to revive these programs when we can do a better job.

DT: When students graduate, what do they generally do?

Dempster: About 40 percent of our graduates, at some time in their career, will make a living through teaching the arts. Much to my happy surprise, about 70 percent of our graduates are making some part of their living in the arts, and the rest are working the same place that all college-educated people go. Some become doctors and lawyers and bankers and nurses and you name it. They're doing all kinds of things. A relatively small number become celebrities in the arts. Oscar-winning actors, or Grammy award-winning composers or celebrated playwrights, but we know that that's a minority... Our undergraduate programs are largely liberal arts programs, with an emphasis in the arts, so our students follow all kinds of careers, but as a matter of fact, 70 percent of them stay in the arts in some fashion. [Fine arts] is what I would call a pre-professional major. It tends to orient people's careers in a certain direction without defining that direction for them.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa speaks at the Student Government meeting in October. Cigarroa, who has held his position for over five years, is leaving his role as chancellor in January to return to medicine. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The Cigarroa family has had a long and affectionate relationship with the University of Texas at Austin. My father attended UT in the 1940s and left when Harvard Medical School admitted him after his junior year. That’s a strong endorsement of UT’s academic preparation, even 70 years ago. He is still practicing medicine to this day, and he credits UT for his success and for inspiring him to be a critical thinker and lifelong learner. 

In the summer after my freshman year at Yale, I took a course in physics here at UT. It was the most difficult course I’ve ever taken. I wanted to do research on cell biology, so I looked at the syllabus and discovered that Dr. Guy Thompson was an expert in cell membrane physiology. I knocked on his door and asked if I could do research in his laboratory that summer.  Even though he didn’t know me, he was pleased by my interest and determination, and he welcomed me into his lab. He taught me the fundamentals of basic science research, and to this day, I credit Dr. Thompson for my love of biomedical research.

The lives of three generations of Cigarroas from South Texas as well as many other lives have been transformed by their educational experiences at UT Austin. What starts at UT truly changes the world, and that is one of many reasons this great flagship university is regarded with the utmost admiration and respect. It is also why one of my most important priorities as chancellor of the University of Texas System was to advance excellence at the UT flagship and strive to make it the best public university in the nation. 

Over the past six years, the System leadership team and I — in close collaboration with the Board of Regents and institution presidents — focused our attention on several important initiatives:

We worked on accessibility and affordability for UT students and their families, with a special emphasis on controlling tuition increases and student debt. 

We improved student advising. 

We provided greater safeguards for campus security and addressed a growing need for mental health counseling in the university community.

We developed and implemented best-in-class blended and online learning and greatly expanded access to online educational tools.

We supported a flurry of new state-of-the-art centers and complexes that are indicative of UT Austin’s growth and national stature in a wide range of fields, including the Belo Center for New Media in the Moody College of Communication, the Engineering Education and Research Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and Dell Computer Science Hall and the Liberal Arts Building.

After several years of planning, the UT System, working in close collaboration with President William Powers Jr. and his leadership team, are building the new Dell Medical School at UT Austin, which will educate and train new generations of doctors and health professionals and give the University a major biomedical research component. It will also solidify Austin as a world-class center for research, technology innovation and entrepreneurship. 

And we are funding the establishment of major institutes which will benefit UT Austin in the fields of neuroscience and neurotechnology, engineering education, energy research and computer science.

As I leave the chancellor’s office and return to transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, I see a very bright future ahead for UT Austin and all UT institutions across the state. Retired Admiral William McRaven will serve as the next chancellor, and he is an experienced and effective leader with impeccable integrity and a long and distinguished career of service to our nation. The System is in excellent hands. 

Serving as chancellor has been an extraordinary experience. People have asked what motivated me most, and it’s a very easy question to answer. What inspired me most every day was my interaction with remarkable people and the knowledge that, while the daily work was challenging, the end result was eminently worth it. My days were enriched by getting to know students, alumni, presidents, donors, faculty and staff members at UT institutions spread across this great state. I cherish those many interactions, and I will carry their memory with me for the rest of my life.   

University of Texas students — you are our future, and you will shape the intellectual and economic landscape of our state and nation in the years ahead. I have complete faith in you. If your educational experience on this campus has been like my father’s and mine, and countless others for more than a 130 years, then UT has instilled in you a love of learning that will lead you toward an abundant and fulfilling life. Embrace this experience. It is a rare and wonderful thing.

As I prepare to step down from this truly extraordinary job, I want to take the time to thank you, the students of the University of Texas, for entrusting your education to us. Education is an investment that will never fail you. I know that sometimes pursuing higher education takes great personal sacrifice, and being a part of your journey has been the honor of my lifetime. 

Cigarroa is the outgoing chancellor of the UT System.

Editor’s Note: Ali Breland, the author of the resolution discussed in this editorial, was an opinion columnist for The Daily Texan during the spring semester. He wrote this column supporting the UT System’s divestment from companies in Sudan.

Student Government introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for the UT System to divest from companies that support genocide. The University of Texas Investment Company, known as UTIMCO, manages $25 billion in endowments for both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, investing more than $12 million in companies that fund genocide in Sudan. Student Government is calling for the System “to create or agree upon a blacklist of companies that UTIMCO cannot invest in that is more thorough and comprehensive than the Texas Comptroller’s blacklist.”

In 2003, the genocide in Sudan began, and has killed nearly half a million people and displaced almost 3 million since then. The Sudanese government facilitates these murders, and our University System indirectly funds them. One company in particular that the System should prioritize divesting in is PetroChina, in which the System invests approximately $1 million. PetroChina, which numerous companies have divested from in recent years, owns 40 percent of South Sudan’s oil assets and finally admitted in January that it has done business with Sudan, a U.S.-sanctioned country. In 2005, Harvard University voted to divest from this company, and in 2006, the University of California System, which the University of Texas System constantly competes with, approved a policy to do the same, in addition to divesting from eight other companies that also inadvertently contribute to genocide. UTIMCO should follow these schools’ leads and also divest.

In 2004, the University of California System suggested divestment “when the United States government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide,” and in 2004, the U.S. declared this about Sudan. The UC System ended up agreeing upon a slightly different policy, but if the UT System decides not to create a thorough blacklist of companies it won’t invest in, it should at least divest from companies that work with foreign regimes the U.S. has declared are facilitating genocide.

By keeping its investments in these companies, the University of Texas System is knowingly supporting genocide. Allowing our University to indirectly take part in this is completely unacceptable, and we agree with Student Government in urging the System to divest from these companies.

Cigarroa: "I knew the day would come when I would return to transplant surgery."

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who has served in the position since 2009, will resign at a specially called press conference Monday.

Cigarroa will stay in his current role until a replacement is found, after which he will become head of the pediatric transplant team at the UT-Health Science Center at San Antonio.

In an email he sent to UT System employees late Sunday evening, Cigarroa explained his decision to step down and said he was ready to take the new opportunity, which was initially offered to him in late 2013.

“When I began my journey as chancellor of the University of Texas System in February 2009, I knew the day would come when I would return to transplant surgery,” Cigarroa said in the email. “The time has come for me to return to my lifelong love and passion — saving lives one individual at a time.”

Cigarroa said he felt proud of the goals the System has achieved during his tenure as chancellor over the course of the last four years.

“[The position] presents an opportunity for me to do what I trained so many years to do, and I view it as an important calling at an ideal time,” he said. “Thanks to your extraordinary work, many of the U. T. System goals we developed together are now in the implementation stage and in excellent hands. I can leave the U. T. System Administration with the highest degree of confidence, knowing that together we have successfully achieved what we set out to do.”

Cigarroa has been a key figure in ongoing tensions between President William Powers Jr. and members of the regents over the course of the last several years. At the board’s December meeting, where the board discussed Powers’ employment, Cigarroa recommended Powers remain president but also issued a strong warning to Powers to “improve relationships” with the UT System.

Cigarroa said Powers had made public statements misrepresenting the relationship between the University and the System even in times when there was no conflict.

“The main reason for the strain is that [Powers] and I would agree on certain principles, and then I would act on those principles, but then [Powers] would often convey a message of misalignment,” Cigarroa said at the meeting.

After the decision, Powers said he was thankful for Cigarroa’s continued support.

According to Cigarroa, his decision to step down is largely based on his feelings for his communities, the UT System and his own family.

“My new position will allow me to remain in the U. T. System family, an environment to which I am dedicated and committed,” Cigarroa said. “Additionally, I will be able to convey gratitude and respect to my parents for the sacrifices they made for my siblings and me to spend considerable years in school to train as physicians.”

Cigarroa will be returning to where he began his career at the UT System, as he served as director of pediatric surgery at UTHSC-San Antonio from 1995-2000 and served as president from 2000-2009. In 2009, he was named chancellor of the System by the Board of Regents.

Two years ago, Cigarroa told The Daily Texan he originally planned to return to practicing surgery full-time after his tenure as president expired but changed his mind when the chancellor position opened up. Cigarroa has four other siblings who practice medicine.

“You will never separate the love for medicine from a Cigarroa,” Cigarroa said in 2012. “It’s in our genome.”

Cigarroa will make his announcement at 11 a.m. at Ashbel Smith Hall.

The UT System Board of Regents approved an allocation of $265.6 million of the Permanent University Fund for capital projects at its regular meeting Thursday.

The allocation was recommended by Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and outlined a $142 million allotment for the UT South Texas Project, which is dedicated to creating a new university in South Texas that encompasses existing UT facilities in the Rio Grande Valley.

“I would like to convey to this board that this would be the first time in the history of the University of Texas System where a board allocates Permanent University Funds to the Pan American Campus, the Brownsville campus and then the establishment of an academic building, for the region-wide school of medicine in Rio Grande Valley,” Cigarroa said in the meeting.

Vice Chairman Gene Powell choked up when making the motion to approve the recommendation. He said he was proud of how far the Board has come in their efforts to establish another University.

“Thank you for the opportunity to make this historic motion,” Powell said. “It’s really a great moment today.”

Of the remaining allocation, $10 million will go toward building an extension to the existing Texas Advanced Computing Center building on UT-Austin’s campus. The center is located at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus and focuses on advancing science through the use of advanced computing technologies.

The board also approved the construction of a new tennis facility at Whitaker Field because the existing Penick-Allison Tennis Center is scheduled to be demolished in May of 2014 in order to accommodate the construction of new Dell Medical School buildings. President William Powers Jr. recommended the action and said the projected total cost of construction would be $15 million, with funds coming from the money contributed by Auxiliary Enterprises — self-supported, UT affiliated entities, such as the Frank Erwin Center and UT Athletics, that contribute 3.25 percent of their gross revenue to the University.

“It is 12 outdoor tennis courts, grand stands, locker rooms, offices and support facilities,” Powers said.  “I can’t say it’s exactly court for court to [the Penick-Allison Tennis Center,] but this will satisfy our intercollegiate men’s and women’s tennis requirement.”

The Board also authorized an increase in funding for the construction of a pedestrian bridge connecting the Belo Center for New Media and the Jesse H. Jones Communications building across Dean Keaton. With the Board’s approval Thursday, the total project cost went from $65.765 million to $75.765 million. The Moody Foundation donated $50 million to the newly named Moody College of Communication in October and $5 million of the donation will go toward renovations.

Regent Wallace Hall alleges lawmakers unduly influence admissions

A University of Texas regent has responded to a House committee considering his impeachment by alleging that lawmakers unduly influenced student admissions in at least two cases and that school officials misrepresented donations, according to an attorney's letter released Friday.

The formal response from Wallace Hall's attorney said Hall was just doing his job in questioning activities at the University of Texas at Austin and called on lawmakers to conduct a thorough investigation. Hall has made repeated requests for a large number of university records, which some lawmakers have called a witch hunt to justify removing UT Austin President Bill Powers, a political enemy of Gov. Rick Perry. Hall was appointed by Perry.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus asked the Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to look into Hall and what critics call his attempt to micromanage the university.

"Regent Hall looks forward to the opportunity to tell this committee exactly what he was looking for, what he found and what he believes are the next steps on such topics as have animated members of the Legislature," the letter from attorney Stephen Ryan said. "He will stop only when the University of Texas System ... fully shares this committee's expressed commitment to transparency to all Texans."

The letter said Hall has found evidence that one House member and one senator improperly influenced university officials to accept two students at the UT system's flagship campus. He said the university also improperly reported non-cash gifts and failed to make information overall available to regents or the public as required by law.

Additionally, he expressed concern about salary enhancements for law school faculty, an issue that led to the UT law school dean's resignation.

There was no immediate way to independently verify Hall's allegations.

Gary Susswein, a spokesman for the University of Texas at Austin, denied any wrongdoing by campus officials.

"We're proud of our admissions policy and are happy to talk to the legislative committee about applicant recommendations we receive from lawmakers and other state officials, including regents," he said. "There was a disagreement over an accounting procedure and we've complied with the regent's request to count these contributions differently."

In June, powerful Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, asked lawmakers to investigate Hall, complaining that he was acting on behalf of Perry to force Powers out of office in order to radically change how UT operates.

Perry has called on the university's leadership to adopt wholesale changes proposed by a conservative think-tank, which officials say would cripple the campus and hurt its academic reputation.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, grilled Perry's latest additions to the UT Board of Regents during their confirmation hearings earlier this year about their role as overseers of the system and insisted they not try to directly manage the campuses, where educators enjoy some autonomy.

Hall also attracted criticism for failing to disclose his involvement in several corporate lawsuits when he filled out a questionnaire prior to his Senate confirmation. Hall has since updated his disclosure forms.

Complying with requests from several Texas lawmakers, the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday to release documents requested by legislators and allow the Texas Attorney General’s Office to conduct an investigation into the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation

The decisions came after several months of tension between the board, the Texas Legislature and UT President William Powers Jr. Regent Printice Gary acknowledged the tensions while speaking after the decisions were announced. 

“I think it is important we acknowledge that the reality of the controversy surrounding the Board of Regents and the Legislature has unfortunately and inadvertently cast a shadow on the University of Texas System,” Gary said. “Let’s remember that the Board of Regents is here to serve the System.”

Last week, board Chairman Gene Powell inquired to the attorney general’s office about the legality of withholding information after state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a broad open records request as a private citizen instead of in her capacity as a legislator. 

Though there is no specific deadline by which regents must respond to legislators’ open records requests, according to the Texas Public Information Act, governing bodies must handle all requests from private citizens in good faith and produce requested information “promptly.” If this cannot be done within 10 days, governmental bodies must recognize this in writing and set a date and hour when the records will be available. Alternatively, if there is a desire to withhold information, the governing body has 10 days to write to the attorney general asking for a decision.

Powell’s move spurred intense criticism from several legislators and prompted a three-page statement from Zaffirini. In it, she said she had heard the chairman’s behavior compared to that of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

The board also reconsidered its March 20 vote to continue an external investigation of the relationship between the law school and its foundation. The investigation was criticized by legislators and individual regents themselves. Regents Steven Hicks and Robert Stillwell both referred to the external investigation as “beating a dead horse,” and Stillwell said the initial investigation, conducted by outgoing System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, was sufficient.

Powell maintained that the additional review of the Foundation is a necessary move but said he felt confident in the attorney general’s ability to conduct it.

“If I’d been here on the day of the [4-3] vote, I’d have been the 5th vote to continue the investigation,” Powell said.

In February, the Legislature relaunched the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency for the purpose of investigating regents’ alleged micromanagement of the University.

Committee members expressed relief and skepticism Thursday about the regents’ decisions to disclose documents and allow the Attorney General to investigate the foundation. 

Zaffirini said she was glad regents took lawmakers’ suggestions regarding the investigation into the foundation.

“However, I do think it’s a waste of time and effort and waste of state resources, because it’s been investigated again and again,” Zaffirini said. “I’m expecting the same results from the Attorney General’s investigation.”

Committee Co-Chairman and State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he was pleased to see regents make both decisions and he expects regents to supply information requested by lawmakers within the next few days.

“To me, it’s two steps in the right direction,” Branch said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the decision to disclose documents constituted the first step in ending conflict between regents, UT and the Legislature that has arisen during this legislative session.

“To be clear, this isn’t the end of this process, nor does it complete all of the board’s responsibilities to legislators and to Texans,” Watson said. “But, I do hope it’s a healthy, positive start.”

Hours after the board meeting, the Texas Senate approved a bill to limit powers of university boards of regents over individual institutions within university systems.

The bill, filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, was filed in response to the UT System Board of Regents’ alleged micromanagement of UT, specifically President William Powers Jr.

The House of Representatives must now vote on the bill, which would limit regents from “interfering” in the daily operations of universities under systems’ purview. It would also prohibit regents who were appointed when the Legislature is not in session from voting until nominees have appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee.

Students and faculty criticized University administration for a new rule restricting camping on campus and questioned the motivation at a time when camping is a prime symbol of the Occupy movement at a faculty council meeting Monday.

University spokesman Gary Susswein said the amendment to the Handbook of Operating Procedures took effect Jan. 11. The Office of Legal Affairs drafted the amendment. President William Powers Jr. then reviewed it and submitted it to the University of Texas System, where it was approved by the executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, Susswein said.

The amendment defines camping on campus as the attempt to establish temporary or permanent living quarters outside University housing, sleeping outdoors between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. and setting up a sleeping area at anytime with tents and other “sleeping equipment.” People may not camp on campus except in cases of sports tailgating, performances authorized by the University and natural disaster situations.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for Legal Affairs, said the amendment is not a response to Occupy UT protest concerns, but is supposed to clarify rules already enforced by the University. Powers said the administration will help students interested in protesting.

“If it’s the symbolic act of putting up tents we can work with that,” Powers said.

Powers said the amendment is important to reiterate the University’s position.

“I don’t think we want people for long periods of time camping on campus,” Powers said.

The Occupy UT movement has protested against several grievances, including proposed tuition increases, but it has not used camping as a form of protest. Assistant English Professor Snehal Shingavi said the amendment seems like a response targeting the Occupy movement.

“I think that it has a political motivation,” Shingavi said. “It’s been presented in a way to intimidate students from protests.”

Marketing professor Mark Alpert said there are rational reasons to limit camping, such as campus safety. He said the amendment is not an administrative attempt to limit free speech, but is an important clarification to provide to students.

“I think this administration is trying to encourage students to protest,” Alpert said. “A lot of people are trying to work to help people to disagree with us.”

Lucian Villaseñor, Mexican-American studies senior and Occupy UT member, said it feels like the administration is trying to squelch Occupy UT. Villaseñor said occupying a space at UT is still a possibility if membership numbers increase.

“The only way to receive any change here is to not operate within the system,” Villaseñor said. Villaseñor said the administration should not make exceptions for other groups if Occupy UT is not allowed to camp out. He said administrators approached individual Occupy UT members but did not attend general meetings to discuss the camping issue.

“They’re trying to outline how we can have a toothless protest,” Villaseñor said. “Maybe they think we’re a threat to the University.”

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Rick O'Donnell | Daily Texan Staff

The University of Texas System will pay $70,000 as part of a settlement with a former Board of Regents adviser who officials say was planning to sue the system following his dismissal in April.

Former adviser Rick O’Donnell was employed from March to April and was dismissed by UT administrators following controversy over statements he made criticizing university research efforts. According to the terms of the settlement, the UT System will pay O’Donnell $70,000 and issue him a letter from the Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell stating O’Donnell was inaccurately portrayed by his critics.

“Much of what you were hired to do ... was, as you know, mischaracterized by some and the subject of controversy that was not of your making, a controversy that deflected attention from the mission of your important work,” Powell wrote in the letter.

O’Donnell indicated he had plans to sue if he was unable to reach a peaceful resolution with University officials, UT System Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Barry Burgdorf said in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman Monday.

“It was very clear that he was going to sue the UT System and he had the backing to do it,” Burgdorf said to the Statesman. “It would have cost me a lot more to defend that lawsuit and get it dismissed than we ended up paying.”

Under the settlement, neither O’Donnell or University officials will admit any wrongdoing and both parties agree not to take further legal action against one another.

Powell’s decision to hire O’Donnell on March 1 sparked much controversy as he was set to receive a $200,000 yearly salary during a period of budget cuts and hiring freezes in the UT System. The Board of Regents later shifted O’Donnell from his role of advising University administrators on efficiency and effective teaching techniques to a temporary position scheduled to end on Aug. 31.

O’Donnell’s affiliation with local think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation also received public criticism. In 2008, O’Donnell wrote a policy paper for the organization criticizing publicly funded academic research and claiming it has “few tangible benefits.”

“I looked at the return on scientific research as measured by available data such as income royalties and licenses on patents,” O’ Donnell said in a letter to the Board of Regents on March 25. “Whether we want the attention or not, it seems clear that questions on productivity, efficiency, and accountability for our research universities and research expenditures are being asked.”