Richard Allen Finnell, left, a long-time adviser for The Daily Texan, died Saturday at the age of 70. He worked closely with Jennie Kennedy during her three-semester tenure as managing editor from 2000–2001. 

Richard Allen Finnell, journalist and long-time print adviser for The Daily Texan, died Saturday at the age of 70.

Finnell, a UT alumnus, was a mainstay of support for Texan staffers over the course of his 17-year tenure as adviser, according to former managing editor Jennie Kennedy.

“When I told Richard I wanted to be managing editor, I was dumb, and 20, and had all these beautiful ideas — and he supported me in every direction I wanted to go,” Kennedy said. “The thing I loved about Richard is that no matter what we wanted to do, he had our backs.”

Finnell worked long hours, reading each article before publication until his retirement in 2009. Erin Inks, who served as managing editor in 2004, said the staff appreciated his dedication — especially when technical delays meant the workday extended long past deadline.

“When I was managing editor, we had some difficulty implementing new software, so we were having tons of technical issues,” Inks said. “He was always the only adult there, sitting with us [and] finishing the paper. We were there so late, and he didn’t have to do it, but he stayed there with us. He was there to help.”

Finnell had an extensive background in journalism. Before working at the Texan, he served as the editor and manager of Hill Country News from 1983–1993 and as the managing editor of Taylor Daily Press for four years. Despite his experience, he let Texan staffers make their own mistakes, Inks said.

“For someone who had as much experience and knowledge as he did, I’m sure at times it was hard to pull back and let us be a truly student-led newspaper,” Inks said. “But that’s what he did. He was there for us to give advice, to circle something in red [and] to tell us what was really bad — but he was never overbearing.”

Finnell was known for his honesty, Kennedy said.

“Richard pulled no punches,” Kennedy said. “When he thought something was crappy, he told us. When he thought something was good, he told us.”

Kennedy, who was managing editor for three semesters, said she couldn’t imagine a better adviser. 

“There was nobody better in the world to support a bunch of college kids trying to write a paper,” Kennedy said. “At the end of the day, he taught us to use our good judgement. He taught us that no one was the boss of us.”

And Finnell, known for stroking his carefully cultivated mustache — and occasionally leaving the office basement to help his son run a fireworks stand — was funny, too.

“There’s just something about having an adviser that will look at your stuff at midnight and still crack up about it,” Kennedy said. “I advise everyone to get one of those.”

Finnell is survived by his sister, Carmen Shinn, and his son, Cory Finnell.

Police arrested Gay Liberation Front members for refusing to vacate the premises in 1972.

Correction: This caption has been updated since its original posting.

Photo Credit: Cactus Yearbook | Daily Texan Staff

While pursuing a psychology degree, Wendell Jones, a member of UT’s first gay student organization, was told by his adviser he should not pursue the degree since being gay made him unfit to give psychological advice to others. 

This type of discrimination led to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front, also known as GLF, UT’s first gay student activist group in early 1970. In addition to protests and rallies, the group hosted the first GLF conference in spring of 1971, which brought together gay liberation groups from across the country.

While composed almost exclusively of UT students, the group was prevented by the University’s policy from meeting on campus or becoming an official student organization. 

“The nation was just in incredible turmoil, but it was also a very exciting time when people were energized and felt that we could really build a better world,” Jones said.

Today, LGBTQ students and their GLF predecessors have different tactics and issues they are fighting for, but their underlying goal of equality has not changed.  

“I think our goals are fundamentally the same as when we started seeing more LGBTQ visiblity on campus,” said Marisa Kent, co-coordinator for UT’s Queer Student Association. “But the one big shift is that we are more accepted on campus.” 

Often faculty and staff members and students were supportive of gay students, but discrimination was common on campus in many forms. According to Randy Conner, UT alum and former GLF member, professors would sometimes alter grades if they discovered a student was homosexual.

“When I wrote an openly gay story, [my professor] totally flipped out and basically told me, after telling me I had great talent, that I had no talent,” Conner said. 

Conner contributed to the group by teaching one of the University’s first LGBTQ literature classes. The course was informal, not for credit and free for all students. 

“They made me call it ‘The Homophile in Literature,’ and no one used that term anymore,” Conner said. “That was a term from the ’50s. It was the only way they allowed me to teach the class.”

When UT did not recognize the group as an official student organization in the spring of 1972, GLF decided to sue the University. They raised money to sue through a school dance, which the then-dean Edward Price canceled at the last minute. Wendell and his peers refused to leave the area in protest and were arrested.

In jail, the police put Jones in a cell with an African-American man and told the stranger he could be violent toward Jones, stereotyping both men in the process. The man told Jones he had a gay brother [and that he] would not harm him.” 

This further opened Jones’ eyes to the connection between all minority groups.

“I began realizing that there were certain common things that homosexuals shared with black people at that time, and my politics started getting much sharper,” Jones said. “I started wanting to work with other groups — not just the anti-war movement and the gay liberation movement — that were trying to create a better world.”

In the spring of 1974, the GLF was finally recognized as an official student organization. But, as the Vietnam War came to an end, the gay rights movement became more conservative — the once-connected movements became isolated, and the group lost momentum. 

In 1976, Jones left UT to study law in California, and Conner graduated with his masters degree in English. 

Current LGBTQ student groups owe their establishment to the efforts of the GLF. 

“They had a hard fight to have the ability to form a group,” Kent said. “I think in that in itself, and what they were working towards, started opening the door for other groups to come in and form organizations based on their LGBTQ status.”

The issue of gay rights in regard to Proposition 8 will be discussed Tuesday, April 8 at 12:35 p.m. for the Civil Rights Summit. 

Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, second from right, visited UT Thursday to learn about research on campus.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

The second highest serving U.S. Army adviser visited the University to speak with faculty Thursday about brain and energy research that could help the Army.

U.S. Army Under Secretary Joseph Westphal’s conversations with faculty hit on timely issues in state higher education, from the push for a UT Austin medical school to funding constraints and faculty’s role in teaching versus doing research. Westphal toured several research labs on campus that could help with post-traumatic stress disorder and energy issues on Army bases. The Army currently provides funding for some University research initiatives and may expand funding to some projects regarding these issues.

Westphal said University researchers play an important role in teaching and said a University researcher should “be a teacher of teachers” by training students in their field to teach. Westphal said he was struck by the University’s interdisciplinary research, such as the projects fusing psychology, neuroscience and chemistry.

“It’s the study of all the impacts of combat,” Westphal said. “It’s what we’re looking for — that type of synergy between disciplines. I think you’ve been able to do things here that I haven’t seen at other universities.”

Westphal said many soldiers who are exposed to potential brain injury appear fine, but may have underlying problems. Jeffrey Luci, neurobiology research assistant professor, said the University’s new MRI equipment made by Siemens offers techniques that were unimaginable two years ago, including images that reveal degenerating areas of the brain affected by traumatic brain injury.

“We find new ways to use the scanner that Siemens hasn’t ever thought of,” Luci said.

When Westphal asked about the technology’s use in a medical school, faculty quickly explained state senator Kirk Watson’s plan to establish a medical school at the University. Westphal said medical schools are important but expensive endeavors.

Engineering faculty presented current projects about energy security, energy independence and alternative fuel sources. Associate Dean for Research John Ekerdt said the University’s energy research has potential to help the Army and to help the country’s general commercial needs.

“We serve as this advancing force,” Ekerdt said. “We don’t have an agenda because we can’t sell you anything except our ideas.”

Westphal said the tour gives him a “flavor” of University resources that would benefit the Army. However, he said budget cuts affect how the Army funds research at institutions like UT.

“We don’t have the luxury anymore to fund everything,” Westphal said. “We have to set priorities.”

Westphal said he is interested in energy research for improvements it could make to energy infrastructure on Army bases.

“It’s not just about ‘how do we fight the next battle,’ it’s ‘how do we protect resources, how do we live among communities and respect them as well?’” Westphal said.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Rick O'Donnell | Daily Texan Staff

The University of Texas System will pay $70,000 as part of a settlement with a former Board of Regents adviser who officials say was planning to sue the system following his dismissal in April.

Former adviser Rick O’Donnell was employed from March to April and was dismissed by UT administrators following controversy over statements he made criticizing university research efforts. According to the terms of the settlement, the UT System will pay O’Donnell $70,000 and issue him a letter from the Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell stating O’Donnell was inaccurately portrayed by his critics.

“Much of what you were hired to do ... was, as you know, mischaracterized by some and the subject of controversy that was not of your making, a controversy that deflected attention from the mission of your important work,” Powell wrote in the letter.

O’Donnell indicated he had plans to sue if he was unable to reach a peaceful resolution with University officials, UT System Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Barry Burgdorf said in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman Monday.

“It was very clear that he was going to sue the UT System and he had the backing to do it,” Burgdorf said to the Statesman. “It would have cost me a lot more to defend that lawsuit and get it dismissed than we ended up paying.”

Under the settlement, neither O’Donnell or University officials will admit any wrongdoing and both parties agree not to take further legal action against one another.

Powell’s decision to hire O’Donnell on March 1 sparked much controversy as he was set to receive a $200,000 yearly salary during a period of budget cuts and hiring freezes in the UT System. The Board of Regents later shifted O’Donnell from his role of advising University administrators on efficiency and effective teaching techniques to a temporary position scheduled to end on Aug. 31.

O’Donnell’s affiliation with local think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation also received public criticism. In 2008, O’Donnell wrote a policy paper for the organization criticizing publicly funded academic research and claiming it has “few tangible benefits.”

“I looked at the return on scientific research as measured by available data such as income royalties and licenses on patents,” O’ Donnell said in a letter to the Board of Regents on March 25. “Whether we want the attention or not, it seems clear that questions on productivity, efficiency, and accountability for our research universities and research expenditures are being asked.”

After hiring a $200,000-per-year adviser, the University of Texas System Board of Regents reassigned him last week and released a letter Friday addressing concerns about the Board’s commitment to academic research. The hire of the adviser, Rick O’Donnell, raised concerns among alumni, administrators and lawmakers because of O’Donnell’s work at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, conservative and nonpartisan think tank that researches public policy. The foundation, and O’Donnell specifically, have called for a focus on teaching and for less emphasis on academic research at universities. In a December 2008 policy statement for the foundation, O’Donnell questioned the current system, which encourages scholarly and scientific research. “Given that nearly half of the money going into higher education today is directed toward research, an area dominated by tenured professors, tenure track professors and Ph.D. programs, an examination of this system is in order,” O’Donnell wrote. “Everyone knows that it is scientific, academic research that fuels the modern economy — except that it doesn’t.” O’Donnell was initially hired as an adviser last month reporting directly to the Board of Regents at a rate of $200,000 per year. Because this role conflicted with the role of System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, O’Donnell was reassigned last week, System spokesman Matt Flores said. Flores said O’Donnell now reports directly to Scott Kelly, executive vice chancellor for business affairs, and is a non-contract System employee whose service is expected to end Aug. 31, 2011. He will now offer research and advising services for the Board’s Task Forces on University Excellence and Productivity and on Blended and Online Learning. He still receives an annual rate of $200,000, which is prorated according to how long he serves. Flores said the last time the Board sought input from outside advisers was in 2009. A seven-member group — made up of former medical school administrators and university presidents — recommended against the merger of UT-San Antonio and The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Flores said this advisory group did not receive pay for its services. Texas Exes President Richard Leshin released a letter to alumni and to the Board on Thursday. He urged members to contact the Board and express the value of academic research, contrary to the views of the Board’s new hire. “In addition to this intellectually flawed view that research at UT is valueless, these same consultants also believe that tenured faculty, distinguished in their fields, can and should be replaced by part-time, contract lecturers,” Leshin wrote. “They point to for-profit institutions as the correct model for controlling costs, because those institutions rely almost exclusively on lower-cost lecturers.” At the Faculty Council meeting last week, UT President William Powers Jr. said the University should embrace reforms on efficiency, but not those that attack the research the University does. “These reforms cut at the core of what a major research university does because they purposely say the research we do isn’t valuable,” Powers said. The Board of Regents’ chair and three vice-chairs responded in writing to the Texas Exes letter Friday, stating its commitment to encourage academic research at UT. “Our view is that academic research is extremely valuable to society,” the chairs said in their letter. “There has not been, nor will there be, an attempt to exclude research in how we value faculty.” Last month, the Board approved $56 million from the System to expand UT’s advanced computing research center, if the center wins a $54 million National Science Foundation grant.

Student photographers for The Daily Texan lost their long-time adviser Friday and several other UT student media employees lost their jobs to budget cuts as student publications compensate for declining ad revenue.

The Texas Student Media Board of Operating Trustees, the body that oversees The Daily Texan, Texas Student Television and other student publications, passed recommendations at Friday’s meeting to trim personnel for a savings of $190,000 and to open a bid to outsource delivery of The Daily Texan.

The recommendations still must be approved by Juan Gonzales, the Vice President for Student Affairs, so students who disagree with the opinion of the board can potentially appeal.

Jennifer Hammat, interim director of TSM, said the organization has a $500,000 budget deficit, so in order to retain the quality of UT’s student media, jobs had to be sacrificed to offset ad revenue losses.

“We’re going to have growing pains, we’re going to learn and there will be days where we struggle,” Hammat said. “In May, we’ll know a lot more. But I think we’ll also know if we made the right reductions to offset the losses that we’re looking at.”

Three delivery truck drivers, a web master, a photo adviser and other administrative employees will lose their jobs in December.

John Foxworth, the Daily Texan photo adviser since 1994, said he thought his job reduction was a done deal before he spoke to the board.

“It was supposed to be a position argument and it turned into more of a personnel thing — even though the board said they weren’t going to go there,” Foxworth said. “When I agreed to have it in open session, the interim director proceeded to say there was a personnel issue and then declined to speak about it, which put a black mark on me right away.”

Foxworth said the photo department will have a difficult transition period after he leaves.

“I was available at all hours of the week, and they won’t have that luxury anymore,” he said.

The reductions came as a part of a restructuring of TSM that will include the creation of a new job — multimedia adviser ­­­— and the consolidation of others. The position will act as an adviser to the photo and multimedia departments as well as consult on website production.

Wanda Cash, a journalism professor and member of the TSM board, said the most appealing aspect of the restructured organization is one of the new consolidated positions, the senior program coordinator, which will advise each student publication.

“The position offers us, for the first time, coordination, cooperation and convergence between all the different elements of our media conglomerate,” Cash said.

Lindsey Powers, the only member of the TSM board who voted against the restructuring, said current students did not have enough input into the decision to cut personnel.

During the meeting, Daily Texan photo editor Lauren Gerson said although Hammat performed a job evaluation, no one in the photo department was consulted. Gerson said the department depends on the adviser for equipment checkout, photography advice and camera quality.