Mary Beth Mercatoris

At a public forum Monday afternoon, UTPD employees and the campus community offered comments regarding UTPD’s candidacy for three more years of accreditation — a prestigious recognition of professional excellence by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Less than 10 percent of the nation’s 10,000 police departments are accredited by CALEA, a national credentialing authority created by law enforcement’s executive associations including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Sheriffs’ Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. Accreditation is sought on a volunteer basis. 

“We put in so much work and so much effort, to be reaccredited will validate our work,” Lt. Julie Gillespie said. “It’s a feather in our cap as a department, it shows the professionalism we’ve achieved and it’s very important. You wouldn’t go to a college that wasn’t accredited — we look at it the same way.”

The forum was held as part of an on-site assessment performed by a team from CALEA. It included a retired chief of police and an administrative coordinator with the Virginia Tech police department. The team will develop a report documenting whether or not UTPD has maintained its standards since 2010, when the department was last accredited. Accreditation must be renewed every three years.

At the forum, representatives from the Office of the Dean of Students expressed their support of UTPD’s reaccreditation.

Christa Lopez, associate director for student emergency services, said her office has an “immense and fabulous” working relationship with UTPD.

“Our office pairs with UTPD quite frequently,” Lopez said. “We feel like they’re supportive of ... the educational process. They’ve always been very agreeable and easy to access 24/7.”

Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant dean of students for student activities, said UTPD has been invaluable in helping her office oversee more than 1,000 student organizations with “varied opinions and energies.”

“We have a wonderful working relationship with the UT police department,” Mercatoris said. “We strategize with UTPD to champion student rights to freedom of expression, while maintaining the integrity of the University – and more times than not everything works out really well. It’s a testament to this wonderful partnership.”

Mercatoris said UTPD is an essential facet of her office’s two-tier strategy when dealing with unfavorable situations or confrontations between student organizations.

“A lot of things don’t erupt into negative energy because we spend so much time front-loading this relationship [with UTPD],” Mercatoris said in regard to the diverging and often contentious opinions and worldviews between student groups. “I think it would speak very highly of CALEA to have UTPD accredited, because they’re doing things right here.”

The report will be submitted to a 21-person commission in July that will decide whether to grant accreditation. The commission members were appointed by the founding organizations and are made up of law enforcement executives and members of the public sector.

Striving to inform students about the University’s resources and academic issues, the Senate of College Councils hopes to start a new tradition this year.

The Senate is holding its first Academic Expo on Gregory Plaza from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, where it is partnering with the Office of the Dean of Students to educate students on various academic resources.

“We wanted to provide an event that highlighted and showcased all the academic resources at UT,” Senate president Michael Morton said.

Morton said the event will address six categories of resources and academic issues. Morton said the categories were study abroad, undergraduate research, technology in the classroom, recruitment and retention of first year and transfer students, faculty and student relations and curriculum.

Along with introducing University resources in each category, Morton said the event will inform students about academic issues students face. Examples include curriculum reform, plus-minus grading, advising, transfer student orientation and undergraduate research opportunities.

Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant dean of students, said the event will give students a comprehensive view of academic resources.

“I think holistically there is a lot of knowledge out there,” Mercatoris said. “But what I think happens for students is their interest for knowing the information presents itself at different times.”

Mercatoris said the event will give students all the information they need at once.

Ryan Hirsch, Senate’s executive director who organized the event, said this was an important year to keep students informed about academic recourses and issues.

“We’re going through a lot of changes at UT,” Hirsch said. “We’ve got a big freshman class, and there has been this big overarching theme about graduation rates.”

In addition to welcoming UT’s largest ever freshman class of 8,092 students, the University is also working to increase graduation rates from the current 52.2 percent to 70 percent by 2016.

“I think this is the optimal time to present academic resources, services and to connect student leaders in academics with the everyday student,” Hirsch said. “This [Academic Expo] will really enhance their experience, open them up to new opportunities and really encourage them to take ownership of their education.”

Morton said Senate’s goal is to make Academic Expo an annual event.

Printed on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 as: UT tries to increase resource awareness

Instead of hunting across the many entities on campus in search of meeting space, students will now be able to find reservation information for more than 550 indoor and outdoor spaces using online database “Find A Space.”

Student Government launched the comprehensive database March 5 in an attempt to simplify the process students go through when they reserve a space on campus. SG vice president Ashley Baker said SG received feedback from many students on difficulties finding and reserving a space last year and began working with the Office of the Dean of Students on the database last summer.

The database allows students to search for a room for their needs by specifying capacity and location preferences and informs students if a room has commonly requested items like movable chairs, a stage and a projector. It also gives students contact information for the entity in charge of the space and any amenities included.

“In my sorority when we have an event we go back and forth on what room to use,” Baker said. “We don’t want to have too big of a room where it seems we don’t have enough people, but we don’t have to have a small room and have people be cramped.”

Baker said the database did not cost any money to build, only labor to obtain information and take pictures. She said four volunteers from SG and two employees from the Office of the Dean of Students worked on the project.

Currently, there are several different entities on campus for students to reserve a space from, including Student Activities, University Unions, Recreational Sports, Texas Performing Arts and other departments within the various colleges on campus.

Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant Dean of Students, said Student Activities has received feedback from students articulating their difficulty knowing which rooms will accommodate their needs based on the resources in each room.

Mercatoris said “Find A Space” is a good example of how students and the UT administration can work together to improve the lives of students.

“I believe students will request the right type of room for the needs the first time they are making the request rather than finding out later that the room they reserved does not meet their needs,” Mercatoris said.

Educational administration graduate student Cecilia Lopez said she was involved in the Student Volunteer Board and the Leadership and Ethics Institute as an undergraduate and at first had difficulty finding an ideal space. She said she needed to research to find out what entity is in control of the space she wanted to reserve.

“Finding a space on campus is huge,” Lopez said. “That is where the big events happen and a lot of the learning takes place. Space is key, whether indoor or outdoor, because that’s where campus life happens.”

Baker said “Find A Space” allows students to see what SG does for them in a tangible way.

While the database does not allow students to reserve most rooms online, Baker said she hopes the “Find A Space” project will live on after her term to eventually have all room reservations made online. SG passed a resolution in support of a centralized online room reservation system Feb. 14.

Jeremy Gatson, Liberal Arts Council program coordinator, said although he has not explored “Find A Space,” he believes there needs to be an online room reservation system like the one in place at the University Unions. He said he liked the idea of “Find A Space,” but believes having contact information on the database will add stress on the staff that works to manage room reservations.

“If you send them an email on top of them having their own way of reserving rooms, it’s more work for them,” Gatson said. “It’s a good thing for people to utilize that, but it’s more stress on the staff side.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 as: SG aims to help students 'Find a Space' with launch

Gathered under the UT Tower for their weekly general assembly meeting, Occupy UT members discussed their demonstration plans for the following week. At first glance, the organization appears new — but it has been years in the making.

Dating back to tuition deregulation in 2003, student activist groups have held a presence at the University, with new names emerging every couple of semesters. In recent years, groups like Stop the Cuts, The Students Speak and now Occupy UT have fought an ongoing battle against University-wide budget cuts and the cost of attendance. Some members speculate that even if Occupy UT loses momentum, there will be another organization to take its place in the future.

Teri Adams, women’s and gender studies senior, said she became involved in student activism with Students Speak last year and will continue to be until the University takes action on student concerns. Adams said she began her fight against budget cuts and the administration with Students Speak in 2010 and is now a member of Occupy UT. She said Students Speak is no longer active because many members graduated or moved on to other organizations.

Students Speak formed in 2010 to oppose the $1 million cuts to the ethnic and identity studies programs in the College of Liberal Arts. The organization used flash mobs, lobbying, multimedia and marches in efforts to get UT administrators’ attention.

“The people who were involved in Students Speak who are still on campus are now involved in Occupy UT because it’s a better organizational platform,” Adams said.

The way UT administration responds to student activism has changed with every organization, Adams said.

“They didn’t respond much to Students Speak because of the general trend in letting students have their protest and hoping students will graduate or it will die down,” Adams said. “But [now] they respond immediately. Before we even show signs of encampment they show up with this camping ban.”

Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant dean of students, said UT students have a history of being engaged with political activism. She also said UT students may continue to utilize their freedom of expression if Occupy UT loses momentum. Students are given the chance to voice their opinions via the Tuition Policy and Advisory Committee and have engaged in TPAC since she began at UT in 2007, Mercatoris said.

Mercatoris said the University wants to support student protesters even though they usually display distrust towards the UT administration. Both Students Speak and Occupy UT have declined to become registered student organizations.

“As long as our students feel a call to action, they will come together to voice their passions and often this results in the formation of student organizations,” Mercatoris said. “When students come together to voice their opinions regarding different issues, our campus becomes the exact platform of education we desire.”

Jim Branson, a supervisor at the Texas State Employees Union, said the Union has supported Stop the Cuts, Students Speak and Occupy UT because his organization agrees with their cause. The Union is a state group that advocates for fair pay and fair policies for all Texas workers.

Branson said many of the students in Stop the Cuts and Students Speak crossed over to Occupy UT, which the Union currently supports.

“Did one organization become another? No,” Branson said. “Some folks have been involved with all three and new folks have been added along the way. The key thing is students have been continually expressing their opposition at the University and the question of the funding and quality of higher education.”

Student Government President Natalie Butler said she is familiar with all three organizations, and although they formed on different issues, they all share a common ground. Adams said she and many members of Occupy UT have expressed dissatisfaction with student representatives like Butler, because they think representatives cannot accurately represent the voice of 50,000 students.

Butler said she would encourage students in Occupy UT to understand the process rather than criticize it.

“As student leaders, we are here to listen and I hope they use those channels and actually engage in dialogue with us,” Butler said. “Also understand that agree or disagree, we are all working hard for students at the University of Texas.”

Occupy UT currently has approximately 60 members. On Tuesday, the group supported an SG initiative for a campus-wide tuition referendum, which passed with a majority vote in the SG general assembly.

Printed on Friday, February 3, 2012 as: Activist groups draw students