Bill Zedler

On April 4, the Texas House of Representatives passed the state budget for the next two years. Who were the winners? Gun owners? Teachers? Republicans? Sure, but those groups always win. This time, the LGBT community of Texas secured a small, but not unnoticed, victory.

With a passionate group cheering on the event, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, pulled his own amendment off the House floor. The failure of the amendment to pass, which would have stripped funding for gender and sexuality centers in state institutions of higher education (University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M and University of Houston), was a win for a group that has rarely been a winner in the Texas Legislature. It was largely thanks to UT students from Texas StandOut (a queer advocacy group on campus) that LGBT students in Texas were given a voice.

How did a group of college students cause change in times when people’s voices are drowned out by a bureaucratic government and viral Internet sound bites? Did they parade around the Capitol and cause massive unrest? No. Did they argue that what Zedler was doing was morally wrong and unfair? No. Did they denigrate Zedler by calling him “prejudiced” and “backward?” No. Instead, they did it by using facts — not public opinion.

The students of Texas StandOut realized that if they fought a war on principles, they would lose. This is, after all, the Texas Legislature, and the conservative views of most representatives are not favorable toward the LGBT community. But that didn’t matter. The students proved that our representatives can make an informed decision when given the right facts and qualified information.

Zedler had proposed the amendment on the basis that these centers increase the rates of people who can contract HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases. Contrary to his beliefs, study after study has shown that such centers actually lower the number of people who get these diseases. Also, these diseases are not limited to the gay and transgender communities, but instead are diseases that are common in the entire population. These centers are helping, not hurting.

Zedler’s office offered no comment on this story. It was a good answer on his part. What else could you say if an amendment you proposed that clearly lacked merit was struck down by both sides of the aisle? That is the result of a conversation on policy by a well-informed electorate.

Frequently in politics, we get stuck in a conversation based on personal views. Some people believe a woman should have a choice on aborting a child while others believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. No one’s hands are clean, as Republicans and Democrats have both made every single issue an issue of personal belief. Whether it is health care, gun laws, gay marriage or anything else that is a hot topic, both sides engage in conversations grounded solely on personal beliefs. What gets lost in all of this muck is the truth. If a group of students from Texas StandOut has taught us anything, it is that sometimes, facts alone speak louder than the loudest speaker.

Lakhani is a finance sophomore from Sugar Land.

These days, political figures and organizations swarm everywhere attempting to impose their personal world view on our school curriculum. On Jan. 9, the National Association of Scholars released a report for the Texas Legislature’s consideration accusing UT and Texas A&M of focusing introductory history course syllabi too heavily on issues of race, class and gender. A month earlier, state Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) filed a bill, HB 285, that aims to prohibit “discrimination by public institutions of higher education against faculty members and students based on their conduct of research relating to intelligent design.” According to UT spokesman Gary Susswein, the University “embraces academic freedom and does not penalize or discriminate against professors based on the content of their research.” So it appears Rep. Zedler wrote the bill in advance of the 2013 session as a preemptive measure rather than a correction of past discrimination.

The bill reads: “An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.”

This bill would effectively permit and protect academic fraud. It would prohibit universities from holding faculty and students responsible for the conduct of their research.

Significantly, Zedler’s proposed legislation addresses only research relating to intelligent design. But if its proposed protections were applicable across all disciplines, it would cast doubts about all research conducted by Texas public universities. Zedler doesn’t want faculty or students to be able to draw errant conclusions and call them “research” about every subject — just the one specific theory of biological origin he mentions in his bill. But his proposed bill is one development among many that represent increased political intervention in academia, whether it be compromising research standards or revising curricula for ideological purposes 

By allowing faculty and students to conduct unchecked science, Zedler and proponents of his legislation show little to no faith in researchers’ potential to prove the theory of intelligent design through peer-reviewed science. If research supporting the theory of intelligent design held up to academic review, creationists would benefit much more than if such efforts were without scrutiny and therefore not credible. Perhaps Zedler doesn’t foresee intelligent design research surviving such scrutiny, which would explain his attempt to restrict public universities from penalizing academic fraud when it comes to creationism.

The need for the University to safeguard against flawed research became apparent in 2012 when Dr. Charles “Chip” Groat, then a UT faculty member, led a study by UT’s Energy Institute that claimed that hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “fracking”) does not cause groundwater contamination. After the study was released it was revealed that Groat had held but not disclosed a position on the board of a company engaged in fracking and had received compensation more than twice his University salary for that role. An independent review of Groat’s study concluded that his research itself was flawed, and the University pledged to strengthen its conflict of interest rules. Groat retired and Energy Institute Director Ray Orbach resigned following the incident. Also last year, a study by UT sociology professor Mark Regnerus that claimed that children of homosexual parents fared worse was also called into question after he was accused of bias because of funding from a conservative political organization. A UT investigation determined that Regnerus had not committed scientific misconduct, but his study was still subject to criticism that its methodology was unsound. Regnerus acknowledged several flaws in his study and released revisions several months later.

Given the recent episodes with Groat and Regnerus, the purpose of Zedler’s bill — to  protect intelligent design researchers at UT from scrutiny or consequences — is foolish and should not be allowed to succeed.

A pair of bills filed in the Texas House of Representatives seeks to strip undocumented students of eligibility for in-state tuition.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, and state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, have filed separate bills that would amend the qualifications for in-state tuition to exclude undocumented students. Since 2001, undocumented immigrants have qualified for in-state tuition if they received a high school diploma in Texas, lived in the state for at least three years upon high school graduation and signed an affidavit stating their intention to apply for permanent residence when eligible.

Larson’s bill would amend the current law to explicitly exclude “a person who is not authorized by federal law to be present in the United States” from state resident status.

Unlike Larson’s bill, Zedler’s does not explicitly exclude undocumented immigrants from in-state tuition, but strikes part of the current language that gives them the opportunity to qualify as state residents. Zedler did not immediately respond to phone requests for comments.

Larson said the issue at hand is one of fairness to students who are here legally.

“For the state to impose a mandate that you have to offer in-state tuition, I don’t think that’s fair to the folks going through the process legitimately from other countries and states that are trying to get into these universities and paying tuition rates three times higher than someone who is here illegally,” Larson said.

In 2012, tuition at UT for state residents was $9,792 compared to $33,060 for out-of-state students. According to PolitiFact Texas, 16,476 undocumented college students in Texas received in-state tuition in 2010 through the pathway outlined in the current law. Four percent of those students attended UT (612).

Denise Gilman, clinical law professor and co-director of the law school’s immigration clinic, said she disagrees with Larson’s assessment of the fairness of his proposed bill.

“To me the fairness question really is one of treating students who have grown up here their entire lives fairly,” Gilman said. “It seems fundamentally unfair to exclude promising students from the opportunity of a higher education at a state institution because of their immigration status rather than any concerns of their ties to the community or willingness to contribute back to this community.”

Larson said his objection is not to undocumented students attending college in Texas but to the financial advantage they receive by qualifying as state residents.

“There’s no prohibition for allowing folks to apply if they’re here undocumented, but I don’t think we need to give them the same rate as the kids that are here legally and have in-state residence requirements met,” Larson said.

Javier Huamani, mechanical engineering senior and historian for University Leadership Initiative, said most undocumented students rely on in-state tuition eligibility to attend college. ULI is a student group that advocates policies and programs that would benefit the undocumented community.

“If in-state tuition were repealed, the hopes and dreams of many of these students would be crushed and those who try to pay would be facing the danger of debt,” Huamani said.

In the 2011 legislative session, several similar bills were filed, but none made it out of the committee process.

Printed on Thursday, November 29, 2012 as: In-state tuition challenged for undocumented Texas students

A state representative and his new bill are stirring the debate on evolution in classrooms. Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, said he believes the possibility that human life began by chance would be like going to a casino slot machine and hitting the exact winning tumble hundreds of times — once for every person in the world. “No one doubts that within a species you can have changes,” Zedler said. “The question becomes, is there some change from one species to another without causation?” Zedler has recently introduced legislation to protect students and education professionals who question the theory of evolution from discrimination. His bill presents intelligent design, an idea that states an intelligent being is responsible for life’s origin, in opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Zedler said he filed the bill because of the reports of dismissals and disciplinary actions against professors who mentioned a theory other than evolution in their presentation, citing “Slaughter of the Dissidents” by Jerry Bergman, a book that documents such cases. “What it’s about is freedom,” Zedler said. “When we think of universities and colleges we think about academic freedom, the ability to take a position and express it as long as we have the academic evidence to back it up.” Zedler’s bill would allow legal recourse for professors dismissed from their jobs or students who were reprimanded because they questioned evolution. Richard Heineman, a natural sciences professor and evolution specialist, said no one in his department would likely be hired unless they believed in evolution. Heineman teaches a class on Viral Evolution where the class experiments with viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages, and changes their environments and genetic makeup to test the theory of evolution. Heineman said he does not speak about theories like intelligent design in his class because it’s not a scientific approach to the question of how life began. “When we talk about it, we talk about it as an example of the difficulties people have in applying scientific [explanations] to issues,” Heineman said. Biology sophomore Kylee Walter said she learned about intelligent design briefly in high school but never in any of her biology classes at UT. Although Walter said she never saw a faculty member at UT get ridiculed or attacked for mentioning intelligent design, she saw students get ridiculed for expressing belief in it. Walter said a bill like Zedler’s would be beneficial to students and professors.

82nd Legislature

A state representative and his new bill are stirring the debate on evolution in classrooms. Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, said he believes the possibility that human life began by chance would be like going to a casino slot machine and hitting the exact winning tumble hundreds of times — once for every person in the world. “No one doubts that within a species you can have changes,” Zedler said. “The question becomes, is there some change from one species to another without causation?” Zedler has recently introduced legislation to protect students and education professionals who question the theory of evolution from discrimination. His bill presents intelligent design, an idea that states an intelligent being is responsible for life’s origin, in opposition to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Zedler said he filed the bill because of the reports of dismissals and disciplinary actions against professors who mentioned a theory other than evolution in their presentation, citing “Slaughter of the Dissidents” by Jerry Bergman, a book that documents such cases. “What it’s about is freedom,” Zedler said. “When we think of universities and colleges we think about academic freedom, the ability to take a position and express it as long as we have the academic evidence to back it up.” Zedler’s bill would allow legal recourse for professors dismissed from their jobs or students who were reprimanded because they questioned evolution. Richard Heineman, a natural sciences professor and evolution specialist, said no one in his department would likely be hired unless they believed in evolution. Heineman teaches a class on Viral Evolution where the class experiments with viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages, and changes their environments and genetic makeup to test the theory of evolution. Heineman said he does not speak about theories like intelligent design in his class because it’s not a scientific approach to the question of how life began. “When we talk about it, we talk about it as an example of the difficulties people have in applying scientific [explanations] to issues,” Heineman said. Biology sophomore Kylee Walter said she learned about intelligent design briefly in high school but never in any of her biology classes at UT. Although Walter said she never saw a faculty member at UT get ridiculed or attacked for mentioning intelligent design, she saw students get ridiculed for expressing belief in it. Walter said a bill like Zedler’s would be beneficial to students and professors.