William Powers Jr .

UT System Regent Wallace Hall

On Tuesday of last week, Student Government passed a joint resolution with the Senate of College Councils approving a vote of “no confidence” against Regent Wallace Hall, who is currently under investigation by the House Transparency Committee for abusing his powers as a regent. The resolution proclaimed to pass no judgement on Hall’s guilt in “whatever actions and crimes are alleged against him." Ultimately, it is little more than a student government assembly-approved proclamation that students, too, are fed up with Hall’s behavior. 

But the resolution is yet another indicator that the long-simmering tensions between the Board of Regents and UT-Austin are now being kept on the burner by the actions of a single man: Hall himself. If that’s the case, we’d just as soon that Hall resign and take the drama with him, though given his past behavior, we’d expect nothing less than his stubbornly standing his ground to the detriment of the entire UT System. 

Initially, the conflict over Hall’s massive open records requests was viewed as an extension of the board and System’s alleged attempt to oust President William Powers Jr.  In response, the legislature, particularly Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, called for articles of impeachment to be brought against Hall. But as the initial exploratory investigation of the Committee has progressed, the idea of a board and System united in conflict with UT-Austin and Powers appears to be cracking.

Last month, the committee heard from Barry Burgdorf, previously a UT System vice chancellor and general counsel. Burgdorf testified to conflict between the board and the System, particularly where Chairman Powell’s hands-off style of leadership, which gave Hall free range to pursue individual investigation, was concerned. Burgdorf also spoke of Hall’s treatment of System staff, which he characterized as “like hired help.” 

More recently, the committee also heard from current UT System general counsel Dan Sharphorn, who said that he was “sympathetic” to the enormous workload Hall’s requests had caused among UT-Austin employees and that he thought that some of Hall’s requests were unreasonable.

The Board of Regents itself seems to be shifting toward a similar stance. Testimony from Francie Frederick, legal counsel to the board, seemed to mirror that of Sharphorn, purporting that a regent needed a “legitimate educational purpose” to request FERPA-protected documents, as Hall has done.

Frederick said she thought Hall, while a “principled man” who was “good at heart,” did not have such a legitimate educational purpose. She added that “distractions over the last several years are beginning to detract from the best interests of the UT System.”

The Daily Texan’s interview with Student Regent Nash Horne — while otherwise filled with so much dodging and weaving that Horne is rumored to be considering a bid for UT’s next star kick returner — seems to confirm this sentiment. In an otherwise vacuous set of answers, Horne called the impeachment hearings a “great thing,” and stated that document requests have taken valuable resources and focus away from other campuses in the UT System.

In large part, the conflict at the board level now seems to center on Hall and his apparently dwindling faction on the board, headed by, or perhaps composed exclusively of, Regents Alex Cranburg and Brenda Pejovich, who abstained from a recent vote to waive attorney-client privilege claims, a move itself designed to communicate to the committee that the rest of the board, as well as the System, was willing to cooperate.     

Some credit for this shift is probably due to a changing of the guard at the head of the board, as the newly-elected Chairman Paul Foster appears to have about-faced on his tie-breaking vote to restart the Law School Foundation investigation that kicked off this most recent mess. Foster has also outlined a plan to revamp the board’s way of conducting investigations, pointedly noting a need to look into “whether the information sought [in an investigation] is necessary and likely to be beneficial to the discharge of a board member’s duties.”

Of course, this picture of Hall as the last man standing might change if his December testimony brings with it the often-rumored, but somewhat less frequently-presented, “smoking gun” against Powers, UT-Austin, the legislature, and whatever Hall feels like “investigating” that day. And the displeasure voiced by members of the Committee at the System’s request to require subpoenas for witnesses suggests that both the System and the board may have a difficult road ahead of them convincing the committee that they don’t want to be lumped into the same basket as Hall. 

But all things considered, we’re glad to see that Hall’s now got his own basket, in the minds of not just the regents, but UT students as well. Of course, we know he won’t resign — putting a stop to this argument before it manages to monopolize the higher education conversation for three whole years would be all too kind — but it’s nice to see that he may not take the whole relationship between UT-Austin and its Board of Regents down with him. 

A panel of award-winning professors offers insight to students on how to participate in undergraduate research Thursday evening. 

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

In conjunction with Undergraduate Research Week, the Senate of College Councils sponsored a talk led by UT President William Powers Jr. and a panel of professors on Thursday.

The panelists have conducted research in fields including social work, philosophy, chemistry and communication science disorders. Each panel member discussed his or her experiences with research, both as undergraduates and in his or her current positions.

“What attracts us to being a researcher is you get to work with the best people,” chemistry professor Brent Iverson said. “And it’s great to achieve something that hasn’t been achieved before.” 

The panelists advised students on how to succeed if they decide to participate in undergraduate research. 

“Be persistent,” Iverson said. “Get to know the TAs and convince them you will make their life easier.” 

In Powers’ speech after the panel, he praised the status of undergraduate research on campus.

“It is a great development and bits of progress for the University,” Powers said. “This is a tremendous advance and we cannot rest on our laurels.”

Powers said the purpose of undergraduate education is to learn how to solve problems and the only way to do that is to jump into it.

“If students get into situations where they have to solve problems, you will do better in your field, your classes and beyond,” Powers said. “You learn how to use mental tools ... by being a part of research.” 

Music freshman Kristina Doan, who participated in the Longhorn Research Bazaar on Wednesday, said participating in such an event as a freshman is motivation to continue to explore research topics and look for ways to change the world.

“To do a research project as a freshman is a great boost to myself,” Doan said. “Now I’m anxious to look for ways to solve the problem I chose to research and make my dream a reality.” 

Complying with requests from several Texas lawmakers, the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday to release documents requested by legislators and allow the Texas Attorney General’s Office to conduct an investigation into the relationship between the UT School of Law and the Law School Foundation

The decisions came after several months of tension between the board, the Texas Legislature and UT President William Powers Jr. Regent Printice Gary acknowledged the tensions while speaking after the decisions were announced. 

“I think it is important we acknowledge that the reality of the controversy surrounding the Board of Regents and the Legislature has unfortunately and inadvertently cast a shadow on the University of Texas System,” Gary said. “Let’s remember that the Board of Regents is here to serve the System.”

Last week, board Chairman Gene Powell inquired to the attorney general’s office about the legality of withholding information after state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed a broad open records request as a private citizen instead of in her capacity as a legislator. 

Though there is no specific deadline by which regents must respond to legislators’ open records requests, according to the Texas Public Information Act, governing bodies must handle all requests from private citizens in good faith and produce requested information “promptly.” If this cannot be done within 10 days, governmental bodies must recognize this in writing and set a date and hour when the records will be available. Alternatively, if there is a desire to withhold information, the governing body has 10 days to write to the attorney general asking for a decision.

Powell’s move spurred intense criticism from several legislators and prompted a three-page statement from Zaffirini. In it, she said she had heard the chairman’s behavior compared to that of former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

The board also reconsidered its March 20 vote to continue an external investigation of the relationship between the law school and its foundation. The investigation was criticized by legislators and individual regents themselves. Regents Steven Hicks and Robert Stillwell both referred to the external investigation as “beating a dead horse,” and Stillwell said the initial investigation, conducted by outgoing System general counsel Barry Burgdorf, was sufficient.

Powell maintained that the additional review of the Foundation is a necessary move but said he felt confident in the attorney general’s ability to conduct it.

“If I’d been here on the day of the [4-3] vote, I’d have been the 5th vote to continue the investigation,” Powell said.

In February, the Legislature relaunched the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency for the purpose of investigating regents’ alleged micromanagement of the University.

Committee members expressed relief and skepticism Thursday about the regents’ decisions to disclose documents and allow the Attorney General to investigate the foundation. 

Zaffirini said she was glad regents took lawmakers’ suggestions regarding the investigation into the foundation.

“However, I do think it’s a waste of time and effort and waste of state resources, because it’s been investigated again and again,” Zaffirini said. “I’m expecting the same results from the Attorney General’s investigation.”

Committee Co-Chairman and State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said he was pleased to see regents make both decisions and he expects regents to supply information requested by lawmakers within the next few days.

“To me, it’s two steps in the right direction,” Branch said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the decision to disclose documents constituted the first step in ending conflict between regents, UT and the Legislature that has arisen during this legislative session.

“To be clear, this isn’t the end of this process, nor does it complete all of the board’s responsibilities to legislators and to Texans,” Watson said. “But, I do hope it’s a healthy, positive start.”

Hours after the board meeting, the Texas Senate approved a bill to limit powers of university boards of regents over individual institutions within university systems.

The bill, filed by state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Senate Higher Education Committee chairman, was filed in response to the UT System Board of Regents’ alleged micromanagement of UT, specifically President William Powers Jr.

The House of Representatives must now vote on the bill, which would limit regents from “interfering” in the daily operations of universities under systems’ purview. It would also prohibit regents who were appointed when the Legislature is not in session from voting until nominees have appeared before the Senate Nominations Committee.

If the UT System Board of Regents attempts to unseat President William Powers Jr., UT students will rattle their noisemakers and howl in objection. Powers commands wide appeal among a student population so large, diverse and disparate that its members have little else in common beyond agreeing they like their president a lot — he is a congenial guy.

Suggesting that the regents plan to fire Powers may seem alarmist and surprising given his record-breaking fundraising success during his UT tenure, but murmurs in recent months and days indicate that may indeed be the case.

On Monday on the Texas Senate floor, the regents came under fire for bullying the University’s beloved president when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and several state senators stood up in support of Powers, praising his accomplishments and questioning his critics’ motives. Citing cases of “character assassination,” Dewhurst said, “I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system.”

President Powers’ job security has been also the subject of media speculation. A Feb. 15 blog post by Paul Burka, the editor of Texas Monthly, warned of “unfavorable” developments regarding Powers, who has purportedly “been hounded for months by regents appointed by Rick Perry.” In an earlier May 2012 post, Burka wrote, “UT President Bill Powers may be in danger of losing his job as a result of his opposition to Governor Perry’s insistence on a tuition freeze.”

On the Senate floor, Dewhurst also alluded to letters defaming Powers’ character, possibly originating from the regents. Dewhurst didn’t provide specifics, but at times during his speech, he seemed to be on the verge of tears.

Other lawmakers, including Texas Senate and House Higher Education Committee Chairmen Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, came out in support of the UT president. Branch filed a pair of resolutions honoring Powers’ achievements at the University, and Seliger accused the regents of micromanaging the University’s day-to-day operations when they should be limiting themselves to broader policy decisions. After the speeches, the Senate gave Powers a standing ovation and posed with him for a group photo.

At a time when Powers’ continued leadership of this University appears in jeopardy as a result of the regents’ machinations, state lawmakers are right to defend him. Developments in the Texas Legislature this session thus far have been a circus void of principle and backbone. We were reassured seeing the legislative branch of our state government recognize Powers’ commitment to UT, even as Gov. Rick Perry — and the nine regents, many of whom have made significant financial contributions to Perry’s political campaigns — attempt to wield disproportionate power over this University. We know that, should the time come, Bill Powers has the support of UT students behind him, too.

No bombs went off, but there was fallout. At a noontime press conference on Friday, looking frazzled and like a man who spent a rainy Friday morning making decisions about a bomb threat on a campus where at least 69,000 people live and work, UT President William Powers Jr. assured reporters that, had bombs gone off, students would have been unharmed. The press conference was Powers’ first and only public appearance after UT used text messages, Facebook, UT’s emergency web site and sirens to warn confused students and staff about “threats on campus,” requiring they “evacuate all buildings and get as far away from the buildings as possible.” At the subsequent gathering before reporters, Powers offered mostly muddled rationalizations for his administration’s actions in response to the bomb threat when more explanation about the threat itself was still needed.

For our own protection, we are told, few details are being shared about the nature of the threat called into the University’s general number at 8:35 a.m. on Friday. The caller warned  that multiple bombs were set to detonate in multiple buildings on UT’s campus starting in 90 minutes, or around 10:05 a.m. After 75 minutes of evaluating the threat, the administration decided to call for an evacuation of all campus buildings. Within moments, at roughly 9:53 a.m., students heard sirens and received the two text messages.

Students on campus at the time say confusion reigned and questions abounded. What was the threat? Where was the threat? How far away from buildings was far enough? What if you lived on campus? Where should one go? A commenter on the site Reddit described his reaction to UT’s alerts: “I hauled ass down Jester and headed towards downtown in my pajamas, fearing for gunmen or bombs, and at the same time fearing this would occur downtown. I didn’t understand at the time why people were just gathered across the street, to me evacuate campus meant go as far away as you can ... ”

Around campus immediately after the alerts, as rain drizzled, thousands of students formed a sea of umbrellas and made their way down slick streets. When they reached what they thought a safe distance, a block away for some, and miles away for others, they loitered, looking and listening for some authoritative direction on what to do next.

At his press conference, Powers clarified that UT never intended for students to evacuate the campus, just the buildings. But anyone who received the text messages could tell you that was not made clear.

Also at the press conference, Powers spoke of room for improvement as if the morning’s activities had been a drill. But Friday’s bomb threat was not a drill, and those text messages should have been drafted in preparation for an event like Friday’s. It is very clear they were not.

 In Sept. 2010, a masked Colton Tooley walked into the Perry Castenada Library with a loaded AK-47. Tooley died by suicide on the sixth floor of that building, and the University administrators and police reacted quickly and kept the UT community well informed with texts and officers on the campus’ periphery. We hope administrators will make an effort to restore confidence in their readiness to handle emergency situations, which unfortunately seem all too common in our college experience.

History Junior Katy Aus talks to neurobiology and history senior Kamene Dornubari-Ogid as they exercise at Gregory Gym Plaza as part of OxFam UT’s Working Out for Workers’ Rights. The group gathered to promote awareness of their campaign to ask UT to join the Human Rights Consortium and speak out against sweatshops.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

A group of students have delivered a letter to UT President William Powers Jr. demanding the University affiliate with a workers’ right group that would independently monitor working conditions wherever officially licensed UT merchandise is produced.

Members of fair labor advocacy groups, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition and Oxfam UT, gathered at Gregory Plaza on Wednesday, petitioning students to encourage the UT System to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent group that monitors factory working conditions for more than 180 universities nationwide. The group then marched to the Tower where Oxfam president Katy Aus delivered the letter to the president’s office.

In the letter, students said Powers has not made public the results of University commissioned research on factories that produce UT apparel, which he has the power to do.

The UT System is currently associated with the Fair Labor Association, an industry body that allows members to monitor the working conditions in their own factories.

The results of the research were presented to senior associate athletics director Chris Plonsky and assistant athletics director Craig Westemeier in April. Westemeier, who is a University representative on the FLA board, is also a member of the Office of Trademark Licensing, the body which ultimately decides who UT affiliates with.

Aus said this presents a conflict of interest because representatives from major UT apparel suppliers, including Nike Inc., sit on the board and are less likely to report infringements.

“There’s a critical lack of transparency with the FLA,” Aus said. “They don’t give out names of the factories so students can find out where their clothing is coming from. We’re asking the administration to release the research that has led them not to join the WRC.”

However, the groups are not accusing the UT System of using sweatshop labor, Aus said.

History professor Neil Foley, who attended the event, said he supported the students’ request for assurances that apparel carrying the UT logo or burnt orange color did not use sweatshop labor.

“There are serious questions that have been raised about the FLA,” Foley said. “People from the corporate world are producers of these products and sit on the board. If every one of our peer universities has signed on to the WRC, we need to know why UT has been so reluctant to do so.”

Economics sophomore Cody Levy said he hoped the University could provide its own assurances that officially licensed UT apparel is not manufactured using sweatshop labor.

“It should be clearly known that UT is not a university that indirectly supports something like that,” Levy said.

A spokesman from President Power’s office said he has not yet had time to respond to the contents of the letter.

Printed on Thursday, December 1, 2011 as: Coalition insist UT join labor group, monitor factory working conditions

Don Evans, former chair of the UT System Board of Regents, testifies about policy practices in front of the Joint Oversight Committee for Higher Education.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

The UT-Austin president and UT System chancellor’s jobs are safe, according to a statement made by the UT System Board of Regents chair during a Monday forum designed to address questions regarding a recent research controversy.

The state Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency met with current and former chairs of the state university systems for its second meeting on Monday. The committee formed this spring following controversy surrounding a conservative think tank’s seven solutions to higher education.

The think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, has suggested that public universities measure teaching efficiency more systematically and has published policy statements that support splitting research and teaching budgets in order to place more scrutiny on research funding. Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, committee co-chair, said it does not seem like the board has policy independence separate from the think tank.

“My concern is that they were the only one who had such an influence and that they hijacked the higher education agenda,” Zaffirini said.

Zaffirini said there were rumors about interest in firing UT-Austin President William Powers Jr. and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.

“They are both very much respected and loved by members of the Legislature,” Zaffirini said.

Zaffirini said she had been told the university presidents had been muzzled by the Board of Regents.

“This session I was absolutely shocked at the limited communication from regents and presidents about the impact in reductions in funding,” Zaffirini said. “The directive was don’t whine, don’t complain and that they could deal with those reductions in funding.”

UT System Board of Regents chair Gene Powell said the rumors are unfounded.

Powell said he did not know of any muzzling and only mentioned how the chancellor should approach the Legislature.

“I said I would like for the chancellor to present these problems in a positive light,” Powell said.

She said chairs should not micromanage the universities they serve.

When asked about the controversy, Powell said the discussion allowed for the UT System chancellor’s Framework for Excellence action plan.

“There were a lot of people looking at what was happening and [jumping] to conclusions,” Powell said. “What we really care about is, what was the end result?”

Zaffirini said she has seen many confidential emails of UT System regents that concern her, and she did not think any of them should be marked confidential.

Powell said Rick O’Donnell, a former researcher for the Texas Public Policy Foundation who was fired amid research controversy, was the most qualified to be hired as a special advisor to the Board of Regents.

“I would say that it was a mistake on my part,” Powell said. “I got very good reports from those people and it turned out t not work.”

Powell said he did not want to reveal who gave him the recommendation about O’Donnell because they had not given him permission to identify them.

“They sure had an impact based on their recommendation,” Zaffirini said. “It falls under the charge of not only governance, but of transparency.” 

Randi Diehl, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, speaks at the forum for Liberal Arts Studies. Diehl discussed different ways to increase percentage of students that graduate in the recommended four year time frame.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

[Updated on Sep. 28 at 12:58 a.m., corrected graduation percentages]

In order to obtain student input for the task force working to increase the four-year graduation rate, the Liberal Arts Council and Senate of College Councils hosted an open forum at the University Teaching Center on Tuesday evening.

Using discussions and various polls of those who attended, the videotaped forum invited students to offer their opinions on what should be done to raise the four-year graduation rate, currently at 52 percent, to associate dean Marc Musick and dean Randy Diehl, the task force chair.

“Student support is imperative for increasing four-year graduation rates,” Diehl said. “Any successful initiative begins with listening, and that’s what this forum is about. I hope students will share their ideas about what motivates them to achieve a four-year degree and the barriers that may be standing in their way.”

Several topics were discussed at the event, particularly how to balance the ‘cultivation of the mind’ desired by President William Powers Jr. in reaching the four-year goal. Some were surprised, then, when many of the activities often associated with more time spent in college correlated with earlier graduation, such as the fact that students who studied abroad were statistically seven times more likely to graduate in four years, Diehl said.

“A lot of what they were talking about was about being innovative, and I’m really interested in getting a follow up of Musick’s research,” said international relations sophomore Kolby Lee. “What stood out to me was the correlation between study abroad and less time spent in college.”

The task force, which has been meeting twice a week since the summer, is composed of 10 faculty members from various colleges and five student representatives. Up until this point, the task force has been meeting with expert witnesses and student leaders to obtain a better understanding of the problem of graduation, Diehl said.

Ultimately, the task force hopes to develop a plan that will work for Powers’ goal to have an 70 percent four-year graduation rate in five years, Diehl said. The deadline for their proposal is currently set for December.

“The conclusions are that students that are integrated in their university socially and academically will do better,” Musick said. “What we want to do is change people’s minds about how they view the campus.” 

[Corrected Sept. 22: Removed last two graphs]

UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center plans to build a supercomputer with state-of-the-art computing and visualization capabilities as part of a National Science Foundation grant.

The NSF will provide $27.5 million immediately and is expected to invest $50 million total over the next four years for the new system, called “Stampede.” It will be the most powerful system in the NSF’s eXtreme Digital program, which enables advancement in science and engineering research, according to the center.

“This is a very generous donation, so we are very excited,” said President William Powers Jr.

Dell and Intel will work with the center to build the supercomputer. The machine will address challenging science and engineering problems such as weather forecasting, climate modeling, energy exploration and production, drug discovery, developing new materials and building safer automobiles and airplanes.

“NSF funded the [past supercomputers], ‘Lonestar’ and ‘Ranger’ — the top technologies for their times,” Powers said. “UT has been on the leading edge of technology for the last 10 years. Stampede will ensure that we remain there.”

The network will use new technology to explore phenomena that are too big, small or dangerous to be studied in a laboratory.

According to the center, Stampede is expected to be up and running in January 2013 at UT’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus, replacing the current supercomputer, Ranger. The grant may be renewed in 2017, which would offer another four years of the network.

TACC director and scientist Jay Boisseau said the center will release more information about Stampede at a press conference today.

The system will support more than 1,000 science and engineering projects across the country through a peer review system and will allow sharing of research and expertise. Clemson University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, Cornell University, Indiana University, Ohio State University and the University of Texas at El Paso will use Stampede. 

Printed September 22, 2011 as: Supercomputer will help explore phenomena

As UT’s freshmen express relief upon finishing their first few weeks of class, they remain blissfully unaware of a startling fact regarding their new home. Unbeknownst to most freshmen, half of their peers in the class of 2015 will not graduate in four years. Not only does this hinder the progress of students, it impedes the ability of the University to rise in national university rankings. In his State of the University Address last Wednesday, President William Powers Jr. forcefully declared his intention to raise the four-year graduation rate from 51 to 70 percent within five years.

Using powerful rhetoric, Powers effectively shifted negative attention away from the idea that faculty and professors are part of the problem, stressing that little can be accomplished quickly if UT is not “given room to focus” on solutions. While debate on the roles of research and instruction in Texas’ public universities persists, an emphasis on the quantitative efficiency of professors is counterproductive in the solution for higher graduation rates. The quantitative approach leads to significantly larger class sizes and less involvement of tenured faculty in undergraduate classrooms, which erases potential benefits for students and the reputation of the University. The quantitative approach also ignores students, who are the only part of the UT community that experiences first-hand the effects of diluted instruction.

Students who do not complete their degree within four years clearly lose economically by having to pay tuition for extra semesters in school. However, according to a recent report by Marc Musick, UT sociology professor and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, there are other “opportunity costs” associated with delayed graduation. Students experience economic costs for the time they could have spent employed full-time, psychological costs for blows to self-esteem and social costs for the lack of credentials to push their career forward, according to Musick’s report. Despite these problems that directly affect students, the average Longhorn has never been invited to submit suggestions for reforms that could lead to increased four-year graduation rates.

The UT community suffers from more than just grim-sounding graduation statistics. Powers emphasized in his speech the need to increase on-time graduation rates to allow “more students [to] enter the front door, thereby increasing access” for new students. To achieve his ambitious goal, Powers has suggested the “redesigning of courses and course pathways” in concordance with Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s “Framework for Advancing Excellence” introduced last month. Cigarroa’s plan for reform includes tuition policies that incentivize on-time graduation and improvements to student advising.

In a speech earlier this year, Powers characterized choosing a major, course selection and [UT’s] “own failure to provide enough available course sequences” as key reasons why students are unable to graduate on time. Short of an expensive hiring frenzy to lower faculty-to-student ratios, the idea of redesigning course pathways has been rightly lauded as a more economical and efficient way to increase UT’s graduation rate.

Despite having good intentions, the plan could portend trouble for students. Powers and other academics have repeatedly referenced the influential “Commission of 125” report from 2004 as the “marching orders” for the plan to increase on-time graduation. Many of their general suggestions have been brought to life in recent years — the School of Undergraduate Studies for undeclared students, the freshman signature course and the Freshman Research Initiative program — to mostly positive results. Although the idea of redesigning course plans in this objective is suitable, caution should be taken in implementing other ideas from the report.

A suggestion for limiting transfer credit is especially problematic. The commission, which did not include any students who were enrolled at the time, recommended that core requirements not be easily satisfied by Advanced Placement testing in order to prevent students from placing out of lower division courses. This ineffectual plan will only serve to postpone the graduation dates of students who are unsure of their major upon admission or those who pursue dual degrees and minors. If ambitious high school students are not able to transfer their credit, demand for AP classes that help prepare for success in college courses will diminish. Moreover, if UT refuses to accept AP credit or places a cap on credit, many high school students will find themselves applying elsewhere to save money and graduate on time, a net loss for the University.

With three-fourths of UT’s student population admitted automatically because of their rank in high school, improvements in the graduation rate should be possible. We have a highly intelligent student body that wants a well-rounded education and to quickly join the workforce. Include students in the discussion for degree plan improvements — they are uniquely able to provide solutions to the problems faculty and analysts often miss.


Katsounas is a business and government sophomore.