Kel Seliger

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Senate voted to place certain limits on Texas public universities’ tuition rates Thursday.

The bill, authored by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), would set certain “performance measures” that public universities must meet to raise tuition. These measures range from four-year graduation rates and the number of undergraduate degrees granted to the number of hours taught by tenured faculty and administrative costs.

The bill limits tuition increases to 1 percent over the cost of inflation until 2018. After 2018, universities could raise their tuition by 3 percent, if they meet the performance measures set in the bill. Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) added these regulations to the bill in an amendment.

Seliger said the bill is intended to hold universities accountable for proposed tuition increases.

“[The bill] brings together the concepts of accountability and tuition by requiring institutions to prove performance if they wish to increase the costs,” Seliger said.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature deregulated tuition costs and granted universities’ governing boards, such as the Board of Regents, control of tuition rates. Since then, tuition has increased across the state.

Tuition at UT has risen from about $2,721 to $4,905 a semester since deregulation, although it has remained relatively constant for the past several years. Tuition for next school year is set at the same $4,905 for traditional, or non-fixed, in-state tuition.

University officials have voiced opposition to state tuition regulation.

Incoming president Gregory Fenves said he thinks the Board of Regents is the best determiner of tuition rates at UT.

“I think the University [and] the Board of Regents working as a public agency has the knowledge and the availability to set the right tuition level to provide the revenue to the University for a quality education,” Fenves said. “I think that’s the governance structure that will get the best outcome — balancing the public purpose of the University and the needs of the University to provide a quality education.”

John Brown, co-director of the Invest in Texas campaign, a nonpartisan lobbying effort made up of governing student bodies, said he was surprised a tuition regulation bill passed in the Senate. He said Invest in Texas and SG members plan to meet with representatives about the policy. 

“The whole sentiment is that college costs are just skyrocketing, so the Legislature response is, ‘Well, let us have that, and we’ll cut everything down and make your degree nothing,’” Brown said. “Well, when you cut tuition down, you forget that that’s your allotment — what the University spends on its operating budget.”

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

As last-minute bills rush in before the 6:00 p.m. filing deadline Friday, House and Senate committee chairs said they consider higher education funding to be this session’s legislative priority.

Members are allowed to file bills through the first 60 days of the legislative session. After those 60 days are up, the session becomes more fast-paced, Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) said. Bills go in and out of committees and can come up for a vote on the Senate or House floors.

Zerwas, who is chair of the House higher education committee, said there is typically an increase in the number of bills filed in the legislature as the deadline nears. 

“The deadline always brings a flurry of activity,” Zerwas said. “There are interest groups out there that realize, all of the sudden, that they don’t have anything and they come in desperately asking to get something in.” 

While the number of bills filed is increasing, Zerwas said he does not anticipate the filing of any major new pieces of legislation.  

“I think we have seen most everything that is kind of high-profile or a high-priority issue among the members of the house,” Zerwas said. 

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) said his committee is not looking to take on any more higher education bills.

“We pretty much have everything we can do a good job on this legislative session,” Seliger said. “You have to keep in mind there are bills that we have filed, and there will be a good number of bills that we will carry once they pass the House of Representatives.” 

One of the House committee’s goals, the Hazlewood Act, addresses tuition exemptions for state military veterans. At the end of January, a U.S. district court judge ruled that veterans who served in the military as non-Texas residents would be eligible for the tuition exemptions available to native Texas veterans if they established residency in the state.

Other priority initiatives for the House committee include improving student graduation rates, which will save students money in the long-term, Zerwas said. Some proposed methods include making it easier for students to get college credit through transfer courses and lowering the bar for Advanced Placement scores acceptable for credit.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), vice chair of the House Higher Education Committee, said some of the most publicized issues the legislature is facing — the renewal of the Texas Dream Act and Campus Carry — will not be discussed within the higher education committee, since they have such broad implications relevant to a number of other committees. 

“[The speaker of the house makes] determinations, probably from a variety of standpoints, [about which committee hears which bill] … but there are also, what you could call political reasons, and certainly more global reasons that it might go elsewhere,” Howard said.

Howard said she cannot fully predict whether the Campus Carry bill or Dream Act bill will pass at this point.

According to Seliger, Senate priorities include allocating tuition revenue bonds, which are bonds to build buildings that are funded partially from the state and partially from tuition, as well as research funding.

Seliger said, to a certain extent, the committee receives their priorities and sets them according to the needs voiced by universities. 

“The priorities, the importance is set by the people in higher education for whom we make laws and policies, as well as legislative appropriations,” Seliger said.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The Senate Committee on Higher Education left a bill regarding board of regent operations pending in committee to adjust the language of the bill.

SB 177, which Sen. Kel Seliger (R–Amarillo) filed, would establish certain restrictions and operation guidelines for the governing boards of public institutions of higher education, such as the UT System Board of Regents. If passed, the bill would establish new transparency and independence measures, ethics training and a clear definition of the board’s role in the university’s system.

Over the course of the last several years, UT administrators and the UT System Board of Regents have been involved in several highly-publicized debates concerning transparency. 

Last year, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations formally censured Regent Wallace Hall after he allegedly placed a burden on the University with a series of broad open records requests, spanning several hundreds of thousands of pages. 

The bill establishes that the board may not “unreasonably or unduly” interfere with daily university operations.

“My concern would be that in the event a board of trustees felt the need to have a little more interactive role in a day to day capacity, for whatever reason … I’m afraid this may put some handcuffs — if you will — on unforeseen circumstance,” Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) said.

At the hearing, Seliger said the bill would “establish consistency” in governing body processes across the state.

“This bill clarifies and codifies the best practice of university governance,” Seliger said at the hearing. “It also increases transparency and training for members of boards of regents.” 

Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) said she is concerned about the standardization of governing boards. 

“I like the individual ability of each board to, kind of, oversee as they see fit,” Burton said.

The bill also establishes that a system may terminate employment of a president only after receiving permission from the university system chancellors.

Seliger filed a similar bill last legislative session, and it passed, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

For the 2015 legislative session, the UT System is seeking funding from the Texas Legislature for large infrastructure projects at each of its educational institutions through tuition revenue bonds.

In a July meeting, the Board of Regents approved the System’s plan to request $1.9 billion in tuition revenue bonds, also known as TRBs, from state lawmakers. UT-Austin’s share in the proposal includes two building renovation projects: $100 million for Welch Hall and $105 million for the McCombs School of Business. 

If authorized, the proposed TRBs will pledge a revenue stream serviced by income from tuition charges levied against students with the expectation that the state will later reimburse the expenditures.

Barry McBee, System vice chancellor and chief governmental relations officer, said the lack of TRBs has contributed to overcrowding in classrooms and more limited access to laboratories at many of Texas’ public universities. While the System has used funding alternatives, such as the state’s Permanent University Fund and philanthropic contributions, to keep some projects afloat, they are not enough to meet all the needs of higher education institutions, according to McBee.

“A good example in Austin would be the engineering building; that was a TRB request last time,” McBee said. “It was the highest priority for UT-Austin, and it was obviously not funded, but we were able to put together funding for the project to proceed. That probably means that some other priority project on the campus had to be delayed.” 

The legislature historically passed new TRB legislation every other session, but lawmakers have not authorized new TRBs since a third-called session in 2006. Up until 2013, TRBs were consistently passed over because of budget concerns, according to McBee.

“Higher education collectively had an expectation in 2009 that we would return to what we call a TRB session,” McBee said. “But it was really something the state just could not afford at that time and it was sort of cut off again in 2011.”

In 2013, the House of Representatives and Senate proposed different versions of TRB legislation but, in the last days of the session, failed to pass a bill. McBee said 2015 is the next opportunity to negotiate with legislators over the need for state support for construction.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, filed Senate Bill 150, a $2.86 billion proposal that would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state with cash either from direct appropriation or from the Rainy Day Fund, a savings fund that allows the state to set aside surpluses in revenue for use in times of unexpected revenue shortfall.

Another construction financing bill, filed by State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, proposes roughly $5 billion for infrastructure projects, according to Seliger. 

“If we’re going to take money from the Rainy Day Fund, which I think is a legitimate way to do it, a $2.85 billion dollar subtraction is far more feasible than something over $5 billion,” Seliger said.

Sean Griffin, Zaffirini’s chief of staff, said Zaffirini wanted to take a broader approach with her bill, potentially granting institutions more funding. The bill’s cost will likely change to reflect the legislature’s budget and priorities. 

“Our bill is different because we want to discuss it with the entire legislature; it’s an open discussion of where we should put our resources,” Griffin said.

Seliger said he believes his bill, if passed, will help universities make significant progress in terms of infrastructure without piling on excess debt. 

“I’m not a big believer in debt,” Seliger said. “I think it appropriates forward to the tune of $200-250 million dollars every biennium for a long time, and, if you have the cash for one-time projects to fund and then not deal with again, I think that’s a good opportunity.” 

University spokesman Gary Susswein said TRBs are an important factor in funding new building construction as well as keeping tuition stable.

“We used these bonds to build the Seay Building in the late 1990s and the Norman Hackerman Building in the late 2000s,” Susswein said. “These facilities have ensured that our students and faculty have access to state-of-the-art lab space and classrooms.”

According to Susswein, the failure to pass TRB legislation in recent years has made it more difficult for the University to maintain state-of-the-art facilities. 

“Our goal of becoming the top public research institution in the nation is far more difficult to achieve without access to adequate funding, including tuition revenue bonds,” Susswein said.

McBee said he is cautiously optimistic that lawmakers will approve TRB legislation in the upcoming session.

“We recognize legislators have to make difficult decisions about funding Medicaid and roads, and public education, and higher education,” McBee said. “We would hope that the collective voice of higher education pointing out our needs will be persuasive to the legislature.”

The manner in which the UT System governs its institutions could again be a topic of discussion during the 2015 legislative session.

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has filed Senate Bill 177, which he said is designed to set a standard consistent with the practices and guidelines of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The mission of SACS is to improve education in the South through accreditation.

“[The bill] is not designed to limit the activities of the regents,” Seliger said. “The powers of the regents are what they are, and this doesn’t change those.”

Seliger wrote a similar bill, along with 11 other legislators, for the 2013 legislative session. The bill came around the same time controversy developed between the UT System Board of Regents and President William Powers Jr.

The 2013 bill was approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints regents to all state university system governing boards, vetoed the bill. In a statement expressing his objections to the bill, Perry said limiting oversight authority of the board is a step in the wrong direction.

“History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance,” Perry said.

Seliger said he is attempting to pass a similar bill in the 2015 session because he thinks it is necessary to set standards for governing boards of regents. Provisions of the legislation require boards to establish goals consistent with the roles and missions of each institution under its guidance, along with establishing institutional integrity. The bill also states that regents would not be allowed to fire a university president before receiving a recommendation from the chancellor.

“There’s very useful standards set down by people at the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools,” Seliger said. “[The bill] was very well received by chancellors and presidents and regents all over the state.”

Barry McBee, System vice chancellor for governmental relations, said he does not expect the legislation would dramatically change how the Board of Regents governs the System and its institutions.

“I would characterize it as more accurately clarifying the role of boards of regents, and, in some cases, it might limit some of the authority or again clarify some of the authority they currently have,” McBee said. 

McBee recalls the 2013 bill having significant support from the legislature, but he thinks things may turn out differently during the 2015 session, especially since current Attorney General Greg Abbott is set to replace Perry as governor in January.

“There’s new legislators in both the House and the Senate,” McBee said. “I don’t know what their views would be on this particular piece of legislation. I obviously would not want to speak for Governor Abbott.”

Some lawmakers hope for campus construction money in third special session

Gov. Rick Perry called lawmakers back for third 30-day special session Tuesday to deal with a $4 billion hole in transportation funding. Although Perry has only put transportation funding on the agenda, some lawmakers hope they will be able to pass key measures in higher education policy this time around.

Minutes after the governor decided to keep them in Austin, lawmakers filed at least three bills to fund campus construction projects at the state's higher education institutions. Perry has given no indication that he will add the so-called tuition revenue bonds to the agenda but has said in the past he would keep an open mind after the Legislature passed a transportation bill. The Legislature can only act on items the Perry puts on the agenda.

SB 10, a campus construction bill, was filed on Tuesday with 22 senators signed on as authors. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, also filed bills for campus construction projects. UT-Austin is currently hoping to receive $95 million for a new engineering building. 

Rumors were rampant on social media that the governor would add campus construction projects and measures for a concealed firearms on campus to the agenda, but by Tuesday evening only transportation was on the call.

"When it comes to transportation, the stakes facing our state could not be higher, and a failure to act now could take years - if not most of a decade - to correct, as traffic congestion increases and harms our quality of life," Perry said in a statement. 

Last Friday, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed Senate Bill 15, a piece of legislation by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) that would have limited the power of governing boards of Texas public universities by,  among other measures, mandating that a board of regents cannot fire an institution’s president without first receiving a recommendation  to do so from a chancellor. In a statement issued on Friday night, Sen. Seliger predicted that the veto of SB 15 would ensure that “the conflicts, controversies, and lack of transparency will continue.”

Of course, it was in the name of transparency that Regent Wallace Hall filed a massive open records request with the University on June 7. The request, which was obtained by the Texas Tribune through an open records request of its own, called for President Powers to turn over an array of documents, ranging from emails to Post-it notes.If this request seemed overreaching to Gov. Perry, his statement on the veto of  SB 15 didn’t betray that sentiment. In that statement, Perry justified his veto by saying that “limiting oversight authority of a board of regents … is a step in the wrong direction.” But if Hall’s open records request is any indication, SB 15 would have done little to limit the power of regents to influence university business through less-than-official channels. But allowing the bill to pass into law would have allowed us all — regents, administrators, legislators, alumni and students — to take a step away from the muddled mess of the Regents v. Powers showdown and focus our energies on the bigger questions plaguing higher education, like the future of MOOCs and fixed-rate tuition.

Wallace Hall is entitled to his Post-it notes, and Gov. Perry is entitled to his vetoes, but the students of Texas are entitled to a change of conversation. In a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune from Regent Bobby Stilwell, who expressed concern over Hall’s most recent open records request, to board Chairman Gene Powell, Stilwell wrote, “There is no excuse or cover provided for personal agendas or vindictive actions.” Stilwell was referring to the ‘fiduciary duty’ clause of the regents’ job description in particular, but we believe it could well be applied to the entire situation. The veto of SB 15 made it clear that Perry is more interested in winning even the smallest battles than swallowing his pride and letting legislators and students mark down a minor victory. 

Top five quotes from UT's graduation ceremonies

1. The Ten Commandments: College Edition

Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, spoke at the College of Liberal Arts convocation ceremony Friday. Seliger delivered what he called the college edition of the Bible's Ten Commandment's in his speech. 

"The last supper would be pizza and cola the next morning," Seliger said. He added later that "there would have to be a new edition of the Ten Commandments every two years to limit reselling." 

2. Doctors, don't do anything stupid

Graduate Studies dean Judith Langlois delivered the commencement address at UT's master's and doctoral convocations Saturday morning. Langlois stressed that with their degrees, students would be able to change the world. There are disadvantages though, she said.

"For the rest of your life, the next time you do anything stupid someone will sure to point out you have a doctorate," Langlois said.

3. You're not breaking up with UT

UT's alumni organization, the Texas Exes, ordered 900 bottles of champagne so graduates could toast to the future at its two-day event, the Great Texas Exit.

"Your connection with University isn't over. You're kind of starting a new chapter being an alumni," said Katie Lauck, campus relations coordinator for the Texas Exes. "We want to welcome you into the new family."  

4. You don't mess with someone's graduation

University Event coordinates official UT programs and community events, including graduation and Explore UT. UT staff have been physically setting up for graduation since April 8, when they set up the bleachers in front of the UT Tower.

"There are three events you don't mess with in people's lives - their wedding, their funeral and their graduation," said Susan Threadgill, production director for University Events.

5. No such thing as luck

Stan Richards, founder of the Richards Group, one of the largest independent advertising agencies nationwide, said people should not get discouraged if they're not the best in their class. Students can be successful even if they're not the best talent if they work hard, he said. 

"I don't believe in luck. You get what you earn," Richards said.

UT's 2013 graduation coverage

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

In his commencement address Saturday, UT President William Powers Jr said each graduate had a unique story to tell but had one thing in common: They all graduated from UT. 

Documenting the graduation experience of more than 8,300 graduates with different stories to tell is impossible. Instead of trying to document all these different stories, The Daily Texan worked to document the students' shared graduation experience by spending 13 hours with the Class of 2013. 

The Texan sent one reporter and various photographers to follow the UT graduates Friday and Saturday. We posted updates on what the graduates what experiencing every hour. Overall, the Texan attended seven individual graduation ceremonies over the two-day period and six iconic campus locations, including the Perry-Castaneda Library, the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center and Gregory Gym. 

College graduation is not just a wake up, graduate and go to sleep ordeal. It's an experience. The day is filled with preparation, spending time with family and visiting places graduates might not see for a while. Below is the experience, in chronological order, of the UT Class of 2013. 

Hour 1: 10 a.m. Friday — "Celebrate good times, come on"

About 314 students left Gregory Gym with government degrees after the first College of Liberal Arts commencement ceremony Friday morning.

Matthew Haynes, a senior academic advisor for the college, said he will remember the Class of 2013 as the independent class. Haynes said this group of students went beyond just going to classes, taking internships and other opportunities.

"Don't stop continuing to find your own opportunities," Haynes said. "Don't wait around for them to be handed to you - make your own."

The ceremony ended with "Celebration," a song by Kool and The Gang.

Hour 2: 11 a.m. Friday — Schmoozing with government graduates

Government senior Victoria Soto left Gregory Gym with a sparkle in her eye.

Soto was surrounded by family and friends as soon as she left Gregory Gym, where 314 students graduated from the College of Liberal Arts Thursday morning.

A crowd of about 500 students, their friends and family gathered outside to talk and take pictures after the ceremony. Soto said she was feeling overwhelmed and a little scared after walking the stage.

"I don't want to leave," Soto said.

While she is leaving UT, Soto said she is planning to stay in Austin for two years before she applies to law school.

Tiffany Williams also graduated with a government degree Thursday. Williams was accepted to the Cornell University Law School in New York and plans to attend in the fall.

"It's kind of just starting to set in that I won't be here next year and I'm moving on," Williams said.

Williams said she is in the process of finding a summer part-time job. She said she felt attending a school with a diverse student population has prepared her to live anywhere.

She had a few parting words for her fellow graduates: "We did it, so go apply it."

Hour 3: 12 p.m. Friday — Sen. Kel Seliger's Ten Commandments: College Edition

State Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, rewrote the Ten Commandments in modern times on stage in front of a thousands during his UT commencement address at the Frank Erwin Center.

Seliger delivered the commencement speech for UT's College of Liberal Arts joint ceremony despite a busy schedule at the Texas Legislature. He kept his speech light and peppered it with jokes, drawing laughter from the crowd throughout his time on stage.

High-profile speakers at college commencements across the country included President Obama at Ohio State University and Oprah Winfrey at Harvard University.

"You have me," Seliger said.

The highlight of his speech was when he delivered the Ten Commandments and rewrote them to apply to college life. Some of Seliger's commandments are below:

-     The last supper would be pizza and cola the next morning.

-     There would be a new edition of the Ten Commandments every two years to limit reselling.

-      The forbidden fruit would be eaten completely as long as it did not come from the Jester cafeteria.

-      The end of the world would be known not as armageddon, but as finals.

-     There would be no mules or sheep or goats, just mountain bikes.

-      Moses and the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 days because they didn't want to answer directions and look like freshman.

-     Creation was not done in six days. People would wait until the last day, pull an all-nighter and be done by 8:15 a.m.

Seliger kept the crowd laughing throughout his speech, opening with brief excerpts from his college experience. Seliger graduated from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

"My college education meant a tremendous amount to my family. It stopped my mother from ragging on me," Seliger said.

Hour 4: 1 p.m. Friday — "Three hundred dozen roses expected to be sold at graduation"


Sean Weicks got to UT at 4 a.m. Friday. His task: set up the three flower stands on campus that are estimated to sell about three hundred dozen roses for Friday and Saturday's commencement ceremonies.  

Weicks works for Commencement Flowers, a local business that sells flowers exclusively for graduation, and was stationed at Bass Concert Hall selling roses and UT commencement t-shirts Friday. Commencement Flowers will donate a portion of profits to UT to support University programs.

Roses from Commencement Flowers cost $30 a dozen and UT commencement t-shirts cost $20.

Weicks said it's funny to see his friends post pictures of themselves on Facebook with roses because it means he probably met their parents.

"I don't know what their parents look like, but I probably sold them those roses," Weicks said.

Hour 5: 2 p.m. — "Remember the library"

People walking in with a sweat-drenched wardrobe was a common sight at the Perry-Castaneda Library during Friday's graduation ceremonies.

"Water," said a graduate, who walked in with her hair pulled up and her white College of Liberal Arts graduation sash around her shoulders.

The Perry-Castaneda Library offered free cake, lemonade, water and a photo booth for graduates and their families in their first annual graduation celebration. UT Libraries spokeswoman Travis Willmann said staff wanted to give students a place to relax and remember the role the library played during their time at UT.

Willman said staff also set up the event as an outreach effort. Libraries don't have alumni like colleges and schools do and PCL needs student support, he said.

"We hope that they take away that this place helped them get through college and make it to this point," Willman said.

A couple hundred people visited the library today. Library staff said visitors included parents from California, Virginia and even Monterrey, Mexico.

Hour 6: 3 p.m. — "Luck does not exist"

College of Communication commencement speaker Stan Richards does not believe in luck. He believes people get what they earn.

The founder of the Richards Group, one of the largest independent advertising groups nationwide, addressed thousands at the college's commencement ceremony Friday. Richards urged graduating students to recognize the value in graduating from UT. Eighteen current Richards Group employees are UT alumni, he said.

Many students who come to UT are at the top of the class, he said. But once they get to University, which Richards called the "land of the ten percenters," they find they are probably just like the Average Joe.

Once students realize this, that's when they must focus on doing their best.

"I can't say whether I was greatest creative talent at Pratt, but I’m sure nobody at the school worked harder," Richards said. "I was hungry, I still am, I still work hard all day."

Hour 7: 4 p.m. Friday — Wait times lasting up to 45 min at Martin Luther King Jr Blvd

People leaving UT graduation ceremonies at the Frank Erwin Center Friday waited up to 45 min to get picked up because of the amount of traffic, Austin Police Department officials said.

APD officer Rick Zapata said traffic on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd has been up and down all day, typically increasing as it got closer to ceremony time. Zapata said people were complaining about a lack of parking and how much they had to walk to get to the center.

“I feel and hear their frustration,” Zapata said.

He said there was a fair amount of elderly people making the trek in the heat.

"I can't tell you how many ladies walked by with shoes in their hands," Zapata said. "Nicely dressed and sweaty."

Four ceremonies were scheduled at the center, including the communication, liberal arts and business convocations.

Hour 8: 5 p.m. Friday — Graduation is not just for family

Graduation is not just a family event, but also an event for friends, friends of friends and the relative you haven't spoken to in a long time.

Mary Blocker left San Antonio at 4 p.m. Friday to make it to her soon-to-be stepson's graduation from the McCombs School of Business at Gregory Grym. It is the first graduation she's ever been to.

Blocker said being at a graduation is exciting and seeing her stepson graduate makes her eager to see her daughter graduate from Texas State University in a few years.

Hour 9: 6 p.m. Friday — "Leave, but don't totally leave"

Graduates from the McCombs School of Business were told not to completely leave UT after graduation and were encouraged to give their time and talent back to the school.

Commencement speaker Jeffrey Swope, managing partner of real estate firm Champion Partners Ltd., graduated from the business school in 1973. But Swope never really left. Since he graduated, he has served on the board of various groups at McCombs and UT, including serving as chairman of the University Development Board and trustee of the McCombs Business School Foundation.

Relationships are important, he told the 600 students receiving a business administration masters degree. Almost every relationship needs to be a good one, and good relationships happen in helping others, Swope said.

"Don't get me wrong, the McCombs community wants you to go out into the world and leave your mark, that's what you're here for," Swope said. "But I would submit that your relationship with UT would submit you to give back a small amount of your valuable time, a small piece of your immense talent."

At 7 p.m., the Texan ended coverage for the day. We resumed our coverage of 13 hours with the Class of 2013 Saturday.

Hour 10: 9 a.m. Saturday — Setup is ongoing at the UT Tower

UT officials have one goal for Saturday's graduation ceremony in front of the UT Tower - make sure the 25,000 expected guests have a good time.

"There are three events you don't mess with in people's lives - their wedding, their funeral and their graduation," said Susan Threadgill, production director for University Events.

University Events director Rod Caspers said UT spends all year preparing for graduation. Setting up for graduation involves intense planning and preparation, he said. Curbs are repainted, flowers are replanted and 15,000 chairs at set up in the late hours of the night.

Caspers said UT started setting up the bleachers in front of the tower in April. University Events also works with the individual schools and colleges. When one school said they wanted confetti cannons, Caspers said his office tracked them down.

"It's kind of like we're inviting family and friends to our house. You don't invite family and friends to your house if you don't have enough food," Caspers said. "I don't want people to have a bad experience because we didn't plan for it.

Caspers said his office is already planning next year's graduation ceremonies.

Hour 11: 10 a.m. — "You are the 38 percent...act like it"

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, urged UT's Hispanic graduates to step up and demand they change they want in his graduation speech Saturday.

Martinez Fischer delivered the convocation for UT's Center of Mexican American Studies graduates Saturday morning. Fischer said the biggest challenge in Texas is not reforming higher education or expanding healthcare, but the 38 percent Hispanic majority that does not get involved in the legislative process.

The ceremony was part of multiple ceremonies for UT's College of Liberal Arts. With more than 21 academic departments and more than 41 majors, the college is one of the largest at UT.

Martinez Fischer urged graduates to think about ways they as Hispanics be more involved in decisions and issues affecting Texas.

"It's either going to be Latino brainpower that's going to be fixing those problems or Latino pocketbooks that are going to be financing those problems," he said.

Hour 12: 11 a.m. — The Great Texas Exit

Graduate student Stacey Jackson did not dare to enter the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center during her time at UT.

"I said, 'I'm not an alumni yet so I'll wait until my time,'" Jackson.

Jackson graduated with a masters in African and African Diasphora Studies Saturday. She stepped into the alumni center for the first time for the Great Texas Exit, a two-day graduation celebration hosted by UT's alumni group, the Texas Exes.

More than 2,600 graduates had visited the center by noon Saturday for free campagne, cupcakes and pictures with beloved UT icons, including mascots Bevo and Hook 'em.

"Your connection with the University isn't over. You're kind of starting a new chapter being an alumni" said Katie Lauck, campus relations coordinator for the Texas Exes. "We want to welcome you into the new family."

Lauck said the alumni organization was also offering a $200 discount for a life membership with the Texas Exes. Member benefits include career services, access to tailgates and online access to UT's library system. The regular price for the life membership is $1,000.

The Great Texas Exit will continue until 6 p.m. Saturday.

Hour 13: 12:00 p.m.  — The differences between graduate school and hell

The dean of UT's School of Graduate Studies warned UT graduates of the consequences of having a doctorate degree Saturday.

"For the rest of your life, the next time you do anything stupid someone will make sure to point out you have a doctorate," said Judith Langlois, vice provost and dean of the school. She has a doctorate from Louisiana State University.

Langlois gave the opening speech at the ceremony and UT President William Powers Jr handed out diplomas. Powers is scheduled to speak at the event. As of 1:15 p.m., he had not spoken. However, the dean kept the crowd entertained, comparing graduate school to hell on stage.

Langlois outlined the differences between graduate school and hell. Some of these are below:

-      You family actually understands the concept of hell. They might not understand the concept of graduate school.

-      You don't have to have three letters of recommendation to go to hell.

-      You would never tell someone who got on your nerves, "Oh shut up and go to graduate school."

-     Hell is forever. Graduate school only seems like forever.

People packed UT's Bass Concert Hall, which can seat to 2,900, Saturday for the graduate school ceremony. Those who could not find seats watched the ceremony on screens outside the hall.

Hour 14: 1:00 p.m. — A toast to all the memories ‚Äč(An extra hour with the Class of 2013 - yes, we accidentally did 14)

Cain and Abel's on 24th Street seemed a little lonely Saturday afternoon, though staff said they are prepared to get slammed with recent graduates, and their parents, after UT's main graduation ceremony at 7 p.m.

Bars around Austin are anticipating a busy night Saturday, as the Class of 2013 ditch their graduation robes to take a celebratory swig. Julian Tapia works at Buckshots on Sixth Street and said he saw about 800 people Friday night, the bulk of which he attributed to graduation.

Stacey Donalan, a public relations graduate, was at Cain and Abel's Saturday afternoon and said she would be returning to the bar before the main commencement ceremony. Donalan said she came to Cain and Abel's with her mother, aunt and friends Friday night to celebrate.

Donalan said she will toast to her four years at UT, but not to the memories at Cain and Abel's.

"I don't have any memories, I got too drunk," she said.

Conflicts between members of the UT System Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature are nothing new to the two bodies, but their relationship changes with differing political and economic climates, according to current and former members of each entity.

Former UT System Chancellor Hans Mark, who served from 1984 to 1992, said legislators did not involve themselves in the board’s affairs during his tenure, which he attributes to a lack of apparent partisanship on the board, a different economic climate and conflicts among regents over relatively minor topics.

“I can say certainly during my time, nothing was as serious as it is today,” Mark said.

Mark said the closest parallel to this session’s events, which stem from perceived efforts by regents to oust President William Powers Jr., is the board’s dismissal of President Homer Rainey in 1944. Regents fired Rainey when he refused to remove economics professors accused of teaching communist theories.

“That was a much tenser period because none of us really expected that the Soviet Union would be an enemy just a few years after the end of World War II,” Mark said. “Hell, I was around, I didn’t expect it.”

A bill that attempts to limit regents’ power over individual institutions passed the Texas Senate 29-2 on Thursday. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, authored the bill and said he hopes his bill along with the board’s decisions last week — to disclose information requested by legislators and to pursue an investigation of the UT Law School Foundation through the Texas Attorney General’s office — will bring the conflict to a close. 

Seliger said he spoke to a regent, whom he declined to name, at a social event and pointed out to the regent that they had not spoken to each other since the Senate confirmed the regent’s appointment.

“I’d like to go back to a system where regents never heard from legislators except when it comes to budgetary issues,” Seliger said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the current conflict between legislators and regents is a more specific and direct conflict than previous ones.

“Part of the reason I think that’s happened is [that] the regents have not been clear about why they’re doing certain things,” Watson said. “They’ve created, by their lack of clarity, a context in which certain things get assumed to be negative.”

Former board Chairman Charles Miller, who served from 2001 to 2004, said tension arose during the debate to deregulate tuition in 2003, which allowed the System to set its own tuition.

Miller said the current conflict between regents and legislators is more focused on personality than policy disputes, which legislators should acknowledge when proposing policies that could affect governance structure.

“I don’t think there’s a problem at all with governance structures in Texas,” Miller said. “What we have today is a more political and personal fight. When you respond to those kinds of conflicts by trying to change the structure, that’s a mistake.”