Shabab Siddiqui

Editor’s note: The Daily Texan editor-in-chief is elected by students each year. The election ensures that UT students get the newspaper they want and an editorial board that represents their interests. This year, two candidates are vying for the position: Susannah Jacob and Shabab Siddiqui. To better inform our readership, we asked the candidates to write a column on a topic of their choice. Vote online Wednesday and Thursday at http://utexasvote.com.

Much has been said about graduation rates after the University released its highly anticipated and oddly celebrated report from the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates last week.

President William Powers Jr. assembled the task force in July and Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, chaired it. Undergraduate students comprised four of the 14 members of the group.

The report’s two-pronged approach essentially advocates increasing various forms of support associated with improving time to graduation, such as advising, tracking and mentoring. Meanwhile the report advocates implementing various limitations associated with decreasing time to graduation, such as making it more difficult to change majors and enforcing the now-infamous “slacker rule,” which would charge out-of-state tuition to students who stay too long.

The report implicitly divides students into two groups. The first are students who are the victims of the state’s tradition to continue underserving the under-served. This group may include individuals who are low-income, minority, first-generation, married and many others who come to the University at a social, financial or academic disadvantage and are left to fend for themselves. Increasing resources to support these individuals can have a very positive net benefit to UT and its graduation rates.

However, the second group includes all other students, and the report’s unfortunate use of the word “slacker” plasters all eight-plus-semester students into popular culture like one of Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriends. And while the rule itself only applies to a small subgroup of students, it implies a broad culture of campus-wide apathy and academic deficiency.

But a closer look presents plenty of examples of to adore among the more-than-four.

The report features a deftly calculated table that estimates the effects of students’ backgrounds and characteristics in determining their likelihood to graduate in four years. A student’s rank in his or her high school graduating class is a comparatively strong indicator of the student’s likelihood of graduating in four years.

Yet the data also shows that students who are in the top 2 to 5 percent of their high school graduating class have a lower chance of graduating in four years than students who are in the top 5 to 7 percent of their graduating class in three of the four models. While correlation and statistical significance need to be taken into account, this does open the possibility of the very top students at the University falling into the “slacker” class.

Additionally, at a town hall meeting hosted by the Undergraduate Business Council last semester, Tom Gilligan, dean of the McCombs School of Business, said the students with the lowest four-year graduation rates among undergraduates at the business school are business honors students, a group whose freshmen this year graduated in the top 1.8 percent of their high school classes and scored an average of 1472 on their SATs.

On an individual level, when was the last time a Student Government president graduated in four years? The representative elected to be the face of the University usually has to dedicate at least three semesters of lighter course schedules for their full-time endeavor. The same applies to athletes, whose consuming commitments to their scholarship-providers make graduating in four years difficult.

While there are many benefits of improving graduation rates for students, parents and the University alike, part of the push has to do with improving UT’s reputation and ranking.

This falls into the long history of big, public universities transforming themselves to mimic the higher education world view of the small, private universities that sit at the top.

But rather than focusing so much on the inputs and outputs, the University’s challenge lies in redefining the process in between in a way that maximizes its size and its public status.

Graduation rates are important, but a narrow focus on them is the work of a slacker.

Siddiqui is a finance and government junior.

Editor’s note: The Daily Texan editor-in-chief is elected by students each year. The election ensures that UT students get the newspaper they want and an editorial board that represents their interests. This year, two candidates are vying for the position: Susannah Jacob and Shabab Siddiqui. To better inform our readership, we asked the candidates to write a column on a topic of their choice. Vote online Wednesday and Thursday at http://utexasvote.com.

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Abigail Fisher’s challenge of UT’s undergraduate admissions policy.

Fisher objects to UT’s consideration of the race for applicants who fail to gain automatic acceptance through the top ten percent rule. By doing so, Fisher alleges UT violates her Constitutional rights to equal protection.

A 21-year-old white woman, Fisher, now a senior at Louisiana State University, applied unsuccessfully to UT in 2008. Then, as a Sugarland high school student, she earned a grade point average that put her in the top 11 percent of her class.

When the court hears the Fisher case in November, UT and its admissions policy will come under national scrutiny. The court will evaluate the intricacies of how UT students gain admission. Because the Fisher case will reflect on UT students, they should know the following:

*Fisher contends UT discriminates against Asians and white applicants, who are not underrepresented minorities and therefore have less of a chance of admission than non-top 10 percent applicants who are black, Hispanic or Native American.

*Fisher has not asserted a class action claim so she is asking the court to determine what damages only she, as an applicant in 2008, suffered, not what all the rejected UT applicants in subsequent years have suffered; Rachel Michalewicz, another rejected UT applicant, who initially filed the complaint as a co-plaintiff with Fisher, dropped out of the litigation.

*UT contends all that Fisher should gain if she prevails: the $100 housing deposit and application fees she paid.

*Fisher alleges she lost more including in-state tuition discounts as well as her constitutional rights.

* A 2003 Supreme Court case remains key to understanding the Fisher arguments. In that case, the court ruled against Barbara Grutter, a white woman denied admission into University of Michigan Law School.

In that decision, the court approved limited use of race in admissions to “further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” In response, UT began in 2004 to use race in its admission considerations of non-top 10 percent students like Fisher.

Long before Fisher though, UT, race, and admission policies drew national attention. In 1940s, the UT School of Law denied Heman Sweatt admission because he was black.

When Sweatt sued, alleging that UT failed to provide equal facilities (at the time there was no black law school at the University), UT hurried to open a black law school in Houston to meet Sweatt’s demands. But the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1946 that the newly created law school was unequal to UT’s.

Fifty years later, the Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court’s ruling in favor of Cheryl Hopwood, a white woman who alleged that affirmative action policies the UT School of Law violated her constitutional rights. By doing so, the court effectively barred what was then UT’s affirmative-action practices. In response, to maintain and achieve further diversity on campus, the Texas State Legislature passed in 2007 the Top 10 Percent law.

Throughout that history, UT students have voiced their views about the courts, race and admissions. During the Sweatt trial, then UT student body president Jim Smith led some 2,000 who gathered to protest the black man’s rejection. Supporters of UT’s discriminatory policy had predicted that white law school students would ostracize Sweatt if he gained admission. But Smith told the crowd, “Heman Sweatt is my friend now, and he will be my friend after he is admitted to the University of Texas!”

Will UT students again gather on the mall en masse? Will chants support Fisher or UT? Either way, take time to understand the nuances of the questions the Fisher case poses.

Jacob is a history junior.

Student government president and vice president candidates attend the debate moderated by The Daily Texan Editorial Board in the SAC Auditorium Monday night. Candidates were given the opportunity to answer questions posed by Editor-in-chief Viviana Aldous and rebut comments made by the opposing candiates.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Candidates for the upcoming campus-wide general elections introduced themselves and their campaign platforms during a forum moderated by The Daily Texan Editorial Board.

The Office of the Dean of Students. During the first hour of the event, contenders for Student Government University-wide representative positions and the two candidates for Daily Texan editor-in-chief each had two minutes to pitch their platforms. The second hour consisted of a debate between executive alliance candidates.

Some campaign promises were nearly universal among the candidates vying for SG University-wide representative positions, including commitments to promote safety, improve the UT shuttle system and increase student involvement in SG. Manuel Ramirez is running on a single issue — the DREAM Act, a bill that would qualify undocumented students for citizenship.

Candidates for Daily Texan editor Susannah Jacob and Shabab Siddiqui each used a distinctive approach to pitch their candidacies.

Jacob briefly described her background in journalism and offered her vision for how the Daily Texan can have a greater influence on and off campus.

“The Daily Texan is strongest when people from outside of the University have felt that if they did not take The Daily Texan’s opinion into consideration, then they were going to have the wrath of UT students on the main mall,” Jacob said.

Siddiqui addressed the audience in verse. Reading a poem he claimed to have written just minutes before, he said “You may ask why I stand here and simply question, no closer to an answer, not even a suggestion. But the job of the Texan is not to serve solutions on a plate, but rather to host your discussion and debate.”

After Siddiqui spoke, four of the executive alliance pairs took the stage to answer questions concerning how they would influence tuition increases, budget cuts and their stance on the proposed smoking ban.

John Lawler and Terrence Maas, the first pair to address the crowd, said they differ from other candidates by running on specific reforms rather than repackaging vague campaign jargon.

“What we want to avoid as much as possible is just simply relying on the buzzwords,” Lawler said. “Things like ‘transparency,’ ‘safety’ and ‘affordability.’”

Each executive team also claimed to have specific plans and offered unique proposals for how they would carry out their positions.

Candidates Thor Lund and William Brown said UT should have a 24-hour library system. Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara said they would have regularly have breakfast with other campus leaders. Lawler and Maas said they would hold weekly “office hours” at the main mall and would raise revenue for the University by working with the University to start selling beer at football games.

The subject of state funding was discussed by the candidates and each team put forth strategies for interacting with Texas lawmakers in the case of election.

“We will be at the Capitol every day from January to May,” Gardner said. Guevara, his running mate, said, “I have lobbied to the secretary of state and got 6 million dollars pledged to my scholarship fund.”

Lawler reiterated the importance of a student presence at the legislature.

“We will have to, from the moment we get elected, start to lobby the Texas legislature,” Lawler said.

Lund said he would use the power of numbers and mobilize the student body to pressure lawmakers.

“It’s one thing for me to go talk to the legislature, but it’s another thing to get the whole student body behind this,” he said.

After the debate, Lund said he thinks the debate did not really change the campaign.

“It doesn’t change the campaign that much because all these people up here are talking about all these different things,” he said. “What we really need to do is get out and talk to students.”

Lawler said he thinks the debate did impact the race because it revealed more about the candidates.

“I think [the debate] showed who is and who isn’t knowledgeable of the issues, who is and who’s not passionate about fighting for the students, and who has proven results in their background,” he said.

Presidential candidate Yaman Desai and running mate Whitney Langston participated in the debate before rescinding their appeal of a disqualification ruling from the Election Supervisory Board and effectively removing themselves from the race.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: SG debate introduces candidates

Editor’s note: The Daily Texan editor-in-chief is elected by students each year. The election ensures that UT students get the newspaper they want and an editorial board that represents their interests. This year, two candidates are vying for the position: Shabab Siddiqui and Susannah Jacob. To better inform our readership, we asked the candidates to write a column addressing the following questions: What do you think the role of The Daily Texan should be on UT’s campus, and how should it work to fulfill that role? Students can vote online Feb. 29 and March 1 at http://utexasvote.com.

Almost every room in The Daily Texan office has an old, wise couch.

Over the years, the couches in the office have been moved around and thrown away. They’ve been sat on, jumped on and slept on. Some of them reek, and some of them shed. Former staffers will start to tell stories about something that happened on a certain couch but then pause, smile to themselves and decide it is best not to finish.

The couches have guided the Texan through the good and bad. Today, we stand at a place where seemingly every print journalism statistic is down, including circulation, advertising revenue and readership. It’s difficult to sit on the rotting cushions of the couches in the office, flicking off the yellow-colored stuffing that escapes through the seams, and not compare the present to the past.

But to see the couches as what they once were does an immeasurable disservice to what they always have been.

Year in and year out, these couches have been where the issues of the time are discussed and debated. It is where ideas are argued, tears are shed, laughs are shared and stories are born. It is from these couches that 20-year-old women and men gathered to challenge policies and celebrate championships.

And in the same way that these couches served generations of Texan staffers, The Daily Texan needs to serve the UT campus.

No other entity stretches across constituencies and locations like the Texan does, and with this reach comes the responsibility to be the host of discussion and debate. To do that requires a great deal of openness, visibility and a commitment to campus-wide interaction.

It is common for leaders to blame student apathy and disinterest for a lack of engagement. But to do so at the Texan is a petty surrender, an acknowledgement of a ceiling for an organization that survives on the belief of the unconquerable, unlimited and uncapped highs of student potential.

There are a lot of things that the Texan can be doing better to fulfill its role as the medium of discussion. We need to strive to be the premier source for Texas higher education happenings. There needs to be a continuing effort to localize city, state and national issues, as well as helping illustrate the complex financial and legislative workings of the University and the state. There also needs to be increased, two-way engagement with various groups, such as graduate students, UT staff members, Greek communities and minority students.

Most importantly, the Texan needs to be a pioneer in experimenting and reanalyzing the role of an invaluable news source in the current digital context. This goes beyond simply social media and the Internet but requires toying with deeper questions of how people interact with information.

Willie Morris, the oft-quoted Texan legend who served as editor-in-chief in 1955-56, wrote, “In its finest moments, and they had been often, The Daily Texan had defended the spirit of a fine university even when the University of Texas itself was unable or unwilling to do so, and in these periods it had reached an eloquence and displayed a courage that would have challenged the mature profession.”

The existential crisis that faces higher education is similar to the existential crisis that faces journalism in that both require a commitment to engagement that we may have been able to skirt in the past. While we’re quick to cover the ivory tower, we need to avoid becoming the ivory basement.

At the very least, this ensures that the lessons of the decrepit couches can be passed on to the next generation.

Siddiqui is a finance and government junior.