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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Hundreds of students across campus working on green fee-funded projects have helped reroute over 27,000 pounds of UT’s compost from landfills, plant over 75,000 seedlings and grow about 250 pounds of produce.

The $5 student fee, the green fee, that makes these environmental projects, along with other University environmental initiatives, possible is at risk for removal this legislative session. Green fee-funded programs include projects such as the Microfarm, Longhorn Lights Out and the solar-powered charging stations.

In order for the green fee to be renewed past summer 2016, lawmakers must approve one of two bills filed in the House and Senate that would allow the fee to continue with student approval.

Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), author of the Senate version of the bill, placed his bill on Thursday’s intent calendar but said he doesn’t think there is enough support to renew the green fee.

“Right now the bill is stuck, unless more members of the Senate have a change of heart,” Rodríguez said in an email.

The House version of the bill remains pending in committee after an April 22 hearing.

All students pay the green fee, and it costs $5 during long semesters and $2.50 each summer semester. Karen Blaney, program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said most students pay, on average, $40 to $50 during their time on campus.

The fee was established on campus in 2011 under the authorization of a piece of legislation passed during the 2009 legislative session. The original bill stipulates that a University could implement an environmental-service fee that would be renewable for five years if approved by a student vote. UT’s program is currently entering its fifth year of operation.

The original bill does not clarify what happens after that fifth year. Current legislation that Rodríguez and Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin), who is the author of the original bill, filed would allow renewal of the fee every five years if the fee is approved by a student body vote.

“There are students all the time wanting to see a more environmentally friendly campus, and this is an opportunity for students to have a little bit of control — have a little influence in where their campus is going,” said Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, Green Fee Committee member and international relations and global studies senior who has been lobbying for the bills this session.

Since 2011, the fee has issued 103 grants and 67 distinct projects and employed 101 students in 59 new jobs. 

Approximately 6,800 students, representing 20 student organizations, submitted a letter to lawmakers in support of the green fee’s renewal.

“I hope it gets renewed,” said Allie Jeong, president of Longhorn Lights Out. “I think them taking away all the opportunities and potential programs at UT is pretty terrible.” 

Blaney said current projects would be completed even if the fund is not renewed for a sixth year.

“We would facilitate the completion of any project that has been funded, so nobody has to worry about that,” Blaney said. “I am certain that everything that has been approved this far is safe.”

The challenge would be for ongoing and new potential projects, which would lose a funding source, if the bills do not pass, director of sustainability Jim Walker said.

“They would have a challenge to figure out how to keep their operations going,” Walker said. “Now we would help them with that, but there’s not more money lying around the university, so it would be a challenge.”

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

The open carry of handguns state-wide is one step closer to being legal.

The Texas House gave initial approval to its version of the open carry bill, HB 910, on Friday. The Texas Senate approved its version of the bill in March. 

HB 910 would allow licensed handgun carriers to openly carry their guns in a holster. The open carry of long guns and rifles is already legal in the state. Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), primary author of the bill, said he thinks the bill will expand Texans’ rights under the Second Amendment. 

“This bill goes too far for some and not far enough for others, but I think its a good start to show that we as Texans can be respectful and still protect ourselves,” Phillips said.

Representatives were set to debate the bill Tuesday, but Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) pointed out a technical error that postponed discussion. The error was resolved the same day.

Martinez Fischer and Rep. Borris Miles (D-Houston) brought up points of order Friday, but the points were overruled. One of Martinez Fischer’s points was in response to an amendment Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress) filed that would allow the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses.

“This amendment has to do with what a licensed holder may or may not do,” Fletcher said. “This is the campus protection amendment to campus carry and is acceptable to the author.”

Fletcher, who also authored the House’s campus carry bill, HB 937, ultimately withdrew the measure. Representatives are set to debate campus carry at a later date.

Two of the 18 proposed amendments to the bill were approved. One amendment rewords the phrase “nursing home” to “nursing facility” when referring to facilities where open carry is not allowed.

The other amendment lightens the penalty for openly carrying a gun in a location with the proper signage displayed to ban to prevent open carry. The penalty for disobeying the signage would change from a class A misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor, resulting in a fine of up to $200.

Additional reporting by Jackie Wang.

Photo courtesy of the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Editor's Note: The Texan received this piece around the same time as Walker Fountain's piece. They are not intended to be read as a point/counterpoint.

 

In February, Harvard University’s Hillel center for Jewish students co-sponsored a civil rights panel on “Selma to Ferguson” which included Jewish civil rights veteran Dorothy Zellner. Zellner is also an unapologetic supporter of the Palestinian people and their call for a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This caused confusion, however, because Hillel International (which I’ll call “International”) disallows engagement with individuals or entities which support BDS or “demonize” Israel.

 

International typically requires its chapters to react far more sharply to undogmatic speakers. In January of 2014, the Hillel chapter at UC Santa Barbara rescinded its invitation for Jewish author David Harris-Gershon to speak on his book about reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Harris-Gershon committed the sin of backing the BDS movement (though he still supports the two-state solution), so Hillel decided his presence would lead to a “hurtful distraction.”

 

Shortly after the Harvard panel, Zellner and other civil rights veterans were barred from speaking at Hillel chapters at UMass Amherst and MIT. Just last month, the Hillel chapter at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania decided to host Zellner and others on a panel and was threatened with legal action by International.

 

International stated that the panel would be acceptable so long as the discussion was restricted to American civil rights and did not take up BDS and the occupation of Palestine. At Harvard, Zellner explained the problem with this perspective: Her support for BDS is simply a continuation of “the work that I learned from black people” in the civil rights movement. International’s standards thus cause a serious contradiction for civil rights activists and their underlying principle of justice.

 

The Swarthmore Hillel realized this contradiction in December of 2013 and made a choice to err on the side of justice, passing a resolution to “become an Open Hillel.” They charged International with trying to present a “monolithic face” which does not represent American Jewish diversity, falsely equating Israel with Judaism and generally obstructing open discussion with its restrictive standards.

 

The legal threats by International have culminated in Swarthmore Hillel’s effective expulsion from the organization. Open Hillel has since become a larger movement of Jewish students who believe that dialogue with Palestinians and anti-Zionist Jews is important and should not be subject to International’s authority.

 

Justice-minded students at UT Austin now have a similar choice to make. The Palestine Solidarity Committee has formed the UTDivest coalition, which calls on UT to end its multimillion dollar investments in corporations that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

They hope to pass such a resolution in Student Government and demonstrate student support through a petition. Of course, International is against such activism and so the Texas Hillel chapter is campaigning against UTDivest for its similarity to the BDS movement. They have formed a “Unify Texas” campaign which, on its Facebook page, calls for “open dialogue” and “peace and justice.” They do not provide any alternatives to BDS. They do not mention Texas Hillel and did not answer repeated requests from the author to publicly or privately clarify their relationship.

 

That relationship is incredibly important for understanding Unify Texas, as outlined in an anti-BDS email that Texas Hillel circulated. Even while acknowledging that some of its members “struggle with some of Israel’s policies,” Hillel advocates International’s standards of restriction and states that its members “must speak with one voice,” particularly a pro-Israel and anti-BDS voice. The unity and open dialogue that Unify Texas is calling for is a sham, as it rests on a core of restrictive standards and official dogma.

 

Moreover, as UTDivest supporter and SG representative Mohammed Nabulsi explained to The Daily Texan, the first prerequisite of open dialogue is justice. Nabulsi explains that “BDS is a step toward leveling the negotiating playing field so that the Israeli government is forced to take Palestinian demands seriously.”

 

PSC has consistently followed this standard of open and just debate, having recently hosted public demonstrations and events to discuss Palestine and BDS when their criticisms of Texas Hillel were ignored or deleted. They will host yet another public forum Wednesday to discuss UTDivest and BDS with the UT community before their SG resolution is voted on next week.

 

Students who actually care about justice should stand with movements like Open Hillel, UTDivest and BDS. This is not simply a “foreign policy squabble”, as the Texan editorial board wrongly framed it.

 

Those who stand against justice on the basis of “open dialogue” are not only paradoxical, but also on the wrong side of history. We should all reread Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous Birmingham letter in which he rejects the deception of white liberal calls for patience and unity, because freedom “must be demanded by the oppressed.” Do not forget that King himself was a striking point of disunity, having been overwhelmingly hated by white America and sabotaged by the federal government for his radical allegiance to justice.

 

We should honestly consider the statements on Palestine by South African anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela, who stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Do not forget that Mandela was considered to be a terrorist by the United States for decades. Justice is justice even if it goes against the will of power, and all peoples deserve it, including the Palestinians.

 

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

State legislators in the House and Senate filed identical bills Monday that would allow University students, faculty and staff with proper licenses to carry concealed handguns in campus buildings.

Under current Texas laws, licensed students, faculty and staff at universities are allowed to keep handguns in cars on campus, but general “campus carry” is illegal even with a permit.

The two bills, HB937 and SB11, which five representatives and 19 of the 20 Republican senators authored, prohibit University officials from creating rules to ban concealed handguns on campus in general. Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), an author of SB 11, said the bills give more freedom to independent and private schools because the institutions are not regulated by the state as strictly.

“Private institutions may opt out because they are not state institutions,” Seliger said. Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), primary author of HB937, said the bill would only apply to students over the age of 21 who have completed training and background checks.

“As long as they are concealing their gun as law requires with a license, we don’t want them to have to unarm themselves to [go to class],” Fletcher said.

Each bill does provide some leeway in certain areas and buildings on campus. According to the bill, administrators could still prohibit concealed handguns in residence halls, university-operated hospitals, sports games and on-campus preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools. UT currently has an on-campus preschool.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said it is not clear whether the Dell Medical School will be considered a hospital as defined by the bill. He said it will depend on how the state interprets “hospital” — if the bill is passed.

“It’s too early to say how much of the medical school building and the work that goes on there will qualify as a hospital,” Susswein said. The bills also contain provisions that would prevent universities from being liable for the actions of concealed handgun owners.  

Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who opposes campus carry and serves as vice chair of the higher education committee, said he thinks college campuses should be a “safety zone,” free of guns.

“I don’t know why in the world we would allow the proliferation of handguns on campus,” Royce said.Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Grandbury), an author of SB 11, said he thinks that allowing licensed students to carry concealed handguns on campus will increase safety.

“Criminals looking to do harm are going to carry on campus, regardless of the law,” “This bill acts as a deterrent, as criminals will no longer be able to assume their victims are unarmed on a college campus,” Birdwell said in an email.

Four Republican members of the House have signed the bill as joint-authors in support of the policy alongside Fletcher.

19 of the 20 Republicans in the Senate are listed primary authors of SB 11. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is the only Republican senator not listed as a primary author. In a statement from her spokesperson, Austin Arceneaux, Huffman said she is in favor of campus carry but wants to review the bill further.

President William Powers Jr. said he would not support campus carry policies at UT.

“I think the general view is there are situations that can be volatile, and — when a gun is present and alcohol is involved, or whatever — I think in the aggregate, that’s a dangerous situation,” Powers said. “I believe our law enforcement professionals agree with that.”

Representatives from the UT and UT System police departments declined to comment.

Chancellor William McRaven could not be reached for comment. However, UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said McRaven does not support campus carry.

“Chancellor McRaven plans to send a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott outlining his thoughts on the issue,” LaCoste-Caputo said.

During the 83rd legislative session, Fletcher filed a similar campus carry bill that was passed in the House and the Criminal Justice Committee in the Senate. The bill did not make it to the Senate floor for vote because Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) blocked it.

The three-fifths rule change last week allows a bill to be heard with 19 votes — which corresponds with the 19 senators supporting the bill. Fletcher said that with the current number of supporters, the bill will pass in the Senate. He anticipates it will pass in the House this legislative session as well.

“Things have changed, and I do believe I am going to get a vote in Senate this time,” Fletcher said.

Correction: This article has been updated to correctly reflect the bill's definition of a hospital. 

After Thanksgiving break

Taiye Selasi is the author of “Ghana Must Go: A Novel” and several other novels and short stories. She spoke about her inspirations and techniques used in her stories at the Symposium for African Writers in the Student Union on Tuesday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

African author Taiye Selasi spoke at the Symposium for African Writers at the Student Union on Tuesday.

Four other authors sat in the front row to see Selasi, as she spoke about her inspirations, writing techniques and recent exploration of African literature.

Selasi, author of “Ghana Must Go: A Novel” and several other novels, said her writing reflects that she never quite understood her own life and her family’s position in the world.

“Our class position was always in question, growing up the way that I did,” Selasi said. “My racial identity, my cultural identity, everything was always in question.”

Selasi said that, while class position remained a constant question in her everyday life, the hospital where her parents worked as doctors showed a different picture.

“The one thing that was clear to me, even as a young person, when I went to the hospital, was that all people were equal,” Selasi said. “Strangely, the hospital — the illness, it occurs to me now — became this space in which color and class did not exist.”

Selasi said her stories rarely move in an organized, linear method because it is not natural.

“I think that I had a sort of constitutional impatience with purely linear narrative,” Selasi said. “I think ‘Driver’ is the only thing I’ve ever written, including my journal entries, that just goes from point A to point Z. My mind doesn’t work that way, I am not convinced that anyone’s mind works that way.”

English lecturer Aaron Bady said Selasi’s writing brings a different perspective to African culture.

“An important part of what she’s doing is writing about middle-class Africa, writing about Africans outside of the narratives through which Africanness is traditionally construed in the media, but in a way that is not triumphant — it’s just very human,” Bady said.

English professor emeritus Bernth Lindfors said ever since Chinua Achebe — the first African author to visit UT — spoke in 1969, students have developed new perspectives and garnered greater interest in African literature. 

“It was important for our students to address him about the literature he had written,” Lindfors said. “He had published four fast-breaking novels by that time and was a well-known figure who contributed enormously to the awareness of students not only about Nigerian politics — what was going on in Nigeria at the time — but also an insight into what African writers were doing to address some of the problems in their own society.”

Merry Thanksgiving!