Geetika Jerath

The Senate of College Councils passed legislation Thursday in support of this year’s Invest in Texas platform, effectively finalizing the list of policy goals and setting the stage for the nonpartisan lobbying day next month.

Invest in Texas is a student-led, nonpartisan campaign sponsored by more than 20 student organizations, and student leaders will head to the Capitol to lobby on behalf of the student body on April 9.

Both Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly approved the platform earlier in March.

Invest in Texas co-director John Brown, who authored the platform with co-director Taylor Guerrero, Senate president Geetika Jerath and SG president Kori Rady, said new leaders in the Texas legislature mean new lobbying challenges, too.

“It’s been a different year,” Brown said. “We’ve got our ammo, and we’re ready to go to war for higher ed.”

The platform is divided into six parts. Students will lobby for capital investment funding for the renovation of Welch Hall, for the continuation of in-state tuition for undocumented students of Texas residency and for provisions that allow for institutions to determine their own policies and guidelines on campus carry, a law which would allow people to carry concealed handguns on campus with a proper license.

“Campus carry has been a big one for me,” Rady said. “A lot of students have voiced their opinions on it, and it’s one that seems to be a hot topic in regards to the student body.”

All of the platform points focus on items that are currently being debated in the Texas Legislature. Students will also lobby in support of continued funding and matching of grants to help UT maintain its Tier One status as a research institution. Further platform points include opposition to tuition regulation and support for a tax holiday for college textbooks.  

“We definitely want [the platform] to be as inclusive as possible,” Jerath said. “We don’t want to make a certain platform that not all students will agree with.” 

Brown said University officials often push for certain policies without the support of students, making Invest in Texas even more important.

“Sometimes people tend to forget students,” Brown said. “Some of us do have educated opinions [and] read up on the issues. What we hope to do is remind the legislature … that UT students are down the road, that we can be noisy. We can help.”

Many students involved in the legislative student organizations will march to the Capitol, along with any other students who want to join. Longhorn Advocates, a group of 31 UT students, will also attend and be paired with 31 separate senators. Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), the chair of higher education, will speak to students who attend.

The Invest in Texas team has been planning the day since last summer and will continue to advocate following the campaign. 

“We’ve been advocating all throughout, and we’ll be advocating after,” Rady said. “Our Invest in Texas day doesn’t mean the work is done.” 

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate of College Councils passed a resolution at a meeting Thursday requesting the University require the honor code be placed on all course syllabuses. With its passing, the resolution will be submitted to the Faculty Council for review. 

In 2012, the Senate of College Councils changed the University’s academic honor code to read: “As a student of the University of Texas at Austin, I shall abide by the core values of the University and uphold academic integrity.”  

“That’s something that every student looks at, and that’s a contract between a student and a professor,” said Sasha Parsons, at-large Senate representative and author of the resolution. “So, there’s no better place to have it right now.”

According to the Senate President Geetika Jerath, current syllabuses have a section included about academic dishonesty, but it is usually outdated, written by a specific department or not consistent across the University. Jerath said the goal of the resolution is to establish a consistent honor statement in all University syllabuses and open a dialogue about how it varies for individual professors.

“We need to have discussions,” Jerath said. “[Academic integrity] differs from each college, each class. There are different components to each classroom — whether it has technology or not. So, we really wanted to start that discussion and have something feasible to work on.”

Many students do not know what happens when one is accused of academic dishonesty, but having information about Student Judicial Services in syllabuses would clarify that process, according to Parsons.

“We really want students to understand the repercussions if they do something wrong, but also who’s there to help them,” Parsons said.

Parsons said the honor code will help to maintain the value of a student’s education at UT.

“We’re here to get degrees and certification that we have learned something,” Parsons said.

At the meeting Thursday, representatives suggested to the authors that a statement be added to the resolution requesting that professors define what academic dishonesty is in their specific course, but the amendment did not pass.

Shannon Geison, at-large Senate representative and author of the resolution, said personal professor statements should be discussed in a later bill, after more research has been done.

“I think that all of the opposition that we have seen has just been trying to have professors provide more definitions and having them address these things, like technology in the classroom,” Geison said. “Which are things we are definitely talking about but coming at a later date.”

Geison said these statements should include integrity policies on the use of technology — such as Google Docs, QUEST and Spark Notes — in the classroom. The topic will be discussed on Nov. 19 at a Campus Conversation meeting hosted by the Senate’s Academic Policy Committee.

According to Parsons, some students have expressed concerns that having the honor code in a syllabus will not change academic dishonesty, but she said it would with time.

“We just have to realize that everything is a gradual process, and it’s about the attitude people have and talking about integrity and the hard decisions we make in college,” Parsons said.

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (2:56 p.m.): In a statement distributed by attorney Allan Van Fleet, Regent Wallace Hall said his impeachment would not solve the problems he has identified at UT System institutions.

"When a Board encounters problems, coverups, and intransigence at a taxpayer-funded institution, is the proper response to hold those who are responsible accountable, or to impeach the board member?" Hall said in his statement. “If the Transparency Committee desires transparency, it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas."

Hall said his role as a regent is to protect the individuals at the various UT institutions.

"My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them," Hall said.

Original story: In a 7-1 vote Monday, the House transparency committee voted there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall’s impeachment. The committee will meet on May 21 and 22 to try and determine the nature of specific articles of impeachment.

If the committee votes on specific articles, Hall’s case will go to the full Texas House of Representatives. If a majority of the members of the House approve of the case’s merits, it will go to the Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision. If the Senate concurs with the committee’s recommendation, Hall will be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.

Rep. Carol Alvarado, committee co-chair and D-Houston, said Hall’s actions warrant extreme actions.

“Impeachment is an extraordinary tool to use in extraordinary circumstances,” Alvarado said. “I view Regent Hall’s conduct as extraordinary for an appointee.”

Rep. Dan Flynn committee co-chair and R-Canton, said he encouraged Hall to resign, and noted that if Hall were to resign before May 21, the committee would not have to convene.

The only committee member to vote against grounds of impeachment, Rep. Charles Perry R-San Antonio, said he did not feel all sides had been provided adequate chance to explain themselves.

“I think UT has lost some of its swagger,” Perry said. “I believe my opinion may have been different if I had heard testimony from all sides.”

After the committee voted, Rep. Lyle Larson R-San Antonio issued a request for Governor Rick Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation. Larson said he has asked Perry three times previously, with no response.  

"I’ve been contacted by just about every chairman of the UT system for the last four decades, all indicating that something needs to be done,” Larson said. “What this has cost us in recruiting deans, in recruiting a new chancellor, and the monetary impact…like [Martinez Fischer] said, there have been opportunities for the UT system to intervene.”

Senate of College Councils president Geetika Jerath said she felt the decision reflects the best interests of the University.

“We made our voice very clear in our letter to the governor,” Jerath said. “That’s definitely in line with what, as Senate, we have come up with in our letter, and so I’m pleased to see they agree.”

The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has investigated Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. He has been accused by some members of the state legislature, including state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie,  as conducting a “witch-hunt” against Powers.

Hall was appointed to a six-year term on the Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011. Before his appointment, Hall served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works with legislators and education officials to enforce various education initiatives.

Tensions between Powers and Hall have been ongoing since 2011, when Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation's forgivable loan program. Sager awarded himself a $500,000 loan through the program.

Though Powers said he was not aware of the forgivable loan Sager awarded himself, Hall filed open records requests which yielded roughly 40 boxes of materials and claimed he had evidence Powers was aware of the forgivable loan but chose not to take action. Powers has repeatedly denied these claims.

After state legislators accused Hall of micromanaging the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus asked the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations in June 2013 to investigate the actions of executive appointees and recommend articles of impeachment if necessary. The committee subsequently began investigating Hall.

In August 2013, the committee hired Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel. Based on recommendations from Hardin, the transparency committee decided in September to not allow cross-examination of witnesses by Hall’s attorneys during the upcoming hearings in the investigation.

According to testimony from Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer at UT, Hall filed open records requests for over 800,000 pages of information from UT. System officials, including outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, have said the actual number of pages is closer to 100,000.

Last November, the transparency committee heard testimony from Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents. Frederick said Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information through his wide ranging open records requests.

In her testimony, Frederick said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a valid, job-related reason to see it.

In December, Powers and Cigarroa testified on subpoena in front of the committee. Powers said Hall’s open records requests cost the University well over $1 million, but insisted he could not provide an exact number at the time. Both Cigarroa and Powers testified Hall’s actions were a distraction to UT and the System.

At the request of the committee, Philip Hilder, outside counsel to the System, submitted a report to the transparency committee in January, stating there was “no credible evidence” Hall violated any state laws regarding the release of data. In his report, Hilder said Hall requested all information protected by FERPA be redacted from the documents, but UT failed to completely remove all potentially problematic information when providing Hall with the requested documents.

Hardin prepared a report on the committee’s investigation which concluded Hall likely committed impeachable offenses. The report lists a variety of basis for Hall’s impeachment, including his handling of confidential student information, his treatment of UT-Austin and UT System officials and his large number of open records requests. The report also suggests Hall attempted to interfere with testimony.

Following the release of Hardin’s report, the Travis County district attorney's Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into allegations that Hall violated privacy laws in distributing private student information obtained in one of his open records requests.

Seventeen college councils at the University signed a letter to be released Monday asking that Regent Wallace Hall resign from his position at the UT System Board of Regents.

The Senate of College Councils serves as one of the three legislative student organizations advocating academic issues at the University and is made up of 19 active college councils. The two councils from the McCombs School of Business — the Undergraduate Business Council and the Masters in Professional Accounting Council — were the only ones not to sign the letter.

Hall has been accused by state legislators of overstepping his authority as a regent by filing large records requests and working to oust President William Powers Jr. from his position. The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been conducting the investigation, and a report released earlier this month by the committee’s special counsel Rusty Hardin, found some of Hall’s actions constituted possible criminal violations of the Penal Code and Public Information Act in regards to student privacy.

Senate of College Councils President Geetika Jerath said the letter would continue to show students do not support Hall’s actions. The Senate and Student Government gave Hall a vote of no confidence in November 2013. 

“Since we have closely followed the work of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations as they are investigating the conduct of Regent Hall, we thought this was the perfect time to reaffirm our vote of no confidence,” Jerath said. 

Jerath said she wanted the student voice to be recognized in this matter. The letter will also emphasize senate’s support of Powers.

“We encourage him to resign, and, failing that, we ask Gov. Perry to seek his resignation,” Jerath said. “As student leaders, we have a duty to represent our constituents, to ensure that their interests are protected, and, since we have lost that trust in Regent Wallace Hall, we thought this was the appropriate action that was necessary at this time.”

Andrew Wilson, outgoing president of the Liberal Arts Council, which signed the letter, said he completely supported the letter after observing Hall’s actions throughout the year.

“Regent Hall’s actions were really uncalled for and illegal in some regards, and it’s really just unacceptable on behalf of the students,” Wilson said. “The things that stuck out to me were the laws he broke regarding student privacy.”

Along with senate’s letter, the seven members of the SG Executive Board will also write a letter and introduce legislation calling for Hall’s resignation at the upcoming SG meeting Tuesday.

SG President Kori Rady said he hopes the executive board’s letter and Tuesday’s resolution will continue the momentum of student involvement in the issue.

“We felt like this was important and key for the University and the students,” Rady said. “We want to make sure that people are aware that we know what’s going on, and we don’t want this to continue.”