Students watch as fireworks are set off in honor of the Class of 2015 in front of the Main Building on Sunday evening.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

After University administration canceled the 132nd University-wide commencement Saturday because of weather and safety concerns, graduates took to social media and planned their own celebration.

Radio-television-film graduate Marshall Kistner said he started the Facebook event for the student-run commencement after he and many others were disappointed with the University's cancellation. Kistner said he posted on the Class of 2015 Facebook page Saturday night to see whether anyone wanted to go watch the fireworks before they were canceled, and that eventually sparked the unofficial commencement event.  

“Of course, that [the planned fireworks display Saturday] was canceled as well, so someone on my Facebook post said to start a Facebook event,” Kistner said.  “Within 2 hours of posting, there were almost 1,000 people invited, and many said they were attending."

Fireworks still lit the sky 10 p.m. Sunday, as the University planned.

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Kistner said Student Government President Xavier Rotnofsky jumped on board with the event as it was being put together because of their three years together at the Texas Travesty, UT's student-run humor publication.

Communication studies graduate Ignacio Cruz said, since he is the first person in his family to graduate from college, he wanted commencement the way it was suppose to be.  However, Cruz said he was still excited about the unofficial commencement.

“I am so excited to be attending the unofficial commencement tonight,” Cruz said.  “It goes to show our unity as a campus.  Tonight it will be special — it’s a moment I’ve been waiting years for.”

Outgoing SG President Kori Rady gave a shorter version of his speech from the night before, and President William Powers Jr. came on short notice to give his final speech as president at commencement.

“I called President Powers’s spokesperson and told him needed Powers right away,” Rady said.  “To his credit, even though he was at a wedding, Powers came when we needed his help.” 

As Powers spoke, he said this event shows what UT students are all about. 

“I can’t believe the crowd we have tonight and the organization … this is what students at the University of Texas are all about,” Powers said.  “This tenure with you all has been the blessing of my life.  You all are the very best students in America.”

Students also listened to the jazz band, Interrobang, which was called up in the spur of the moment because of a band member’s friend. 

“Early on, a friend of [a band member] in communications asked him if we could perform for the School of Communications,” said Sung June Lee, who plays the trombone in the band.  “It was not until we got here that we realized we would be performing in front of the Tower.”

All the members in the band said this was the largest crowd they performed in front of, and the experience was surreal. 

Kistner said Saturday was heartbreaking for a lot of people, but the Class of 2015 did not need to end their college career like that.

“We managed to turn a negative into a massive positive,” Kistner said.  “The spirit of the Class of 2015 is unmatched, and I’m so proud to be a part of such an incredible group of new alums.”  

The University canceled its commencement ceremony, scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, because of inclement weather.

“We share in the deep disappointment that cancellation will cause our graduates and their families,” President William Powers Jr. said in a statement. “We made every effort to stage the 2015 commencement as planned. We are very disappointed that we cannot proceed under this evening’s severe weather conditions. I want to personally convey my congratulations to all of this year’s graduates, and my thanks to our commencement speaker, Darren Walker.”

Lightning early in the day prevented the University from fully setting up for commencement, and a forecast of continued thunderstorms and heavy rain convinced administrators to cancel the ceremony entirely. 

According to a press release, the University has plans to continue with its regularly scheduled fireworks show, set to begin at 10 p.m.

Although the University-wide commencement ceremony has been canceled, individual schools are continuing with their own convocations as planned.

Austin has been placed under a flash flood watch until 7 p.m. Sunday. 

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

On this week's episode of the Daily Texan NewsCast we discuss Gregory Fenves', the next president of UT Austin, goals as president, an update on regent Wallace Hall's records requests, proposed changes to the Permanent University Fund, and developing news to keep watching over the summer.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Jefferson Davis Statue

In their first month leading the student body, Student Government president Xavier Rotnofsky and vice president Rohit Mandalapu pushed for the removal of UT’s controversial Jefferson Davis statue. Over the course of the semester, the statue has been defaced twice — first with chalk and then again with spray paint. In late March, SG voted almost unanimously in support of the statue’s removal. As with all SG proposals, the Jefferson Davis legislation will be sent to the president’s office for review. 

Fenves to take office

Following a six-month national search, the UT System Board of Regents named executive vice president and provost Greg Fenves to replace current President William Powers Jr. Fenves, who takes the position on June 2, will lead the University in a period of significant high-level administrative turnover. Fenves will oversee a search for three new deans, and will also need to replace Kevin Hegarty, UT’s former vice president and chief financial officer, who announced his plans to leave the University in February.

Dean searches

Tom Gilligan, McCombs School of Business dean, Robert Hutchings, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs dean, and Roderick Hart, Moody College of Communication dean, all announced their resignations this year. Hart will step down in May, and Jay Bernhardt, the Everett D. Collier Centennial chair in communication, will serve as the interim dean.

Regent controversy

Just months into his role as UT System chancellor, William McRaven is already butting heads with Regent Wallace Hall, who appealed to the attorney general in April to review student information despite McRaven’s admonition that Hall’s requests go “well beyond any reasonable desire to be better informed as a regent.” 

Hall is attempting to access the thousands of documents Kroll Associates Inc. used in an independent investigation into UT admissions policies earlier this year. 

Campus Carry bills

Several bills pertaining to the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses have made their way through the Texas Legislature this year. Under current state laws, licensed students, faculty and staff are allowed to keep handguns in their cars on campus. If SB 11 is signed into law, licensed students, faculty and staff will be allowed to carry concealed handguns on campus, over the objections of UT administrators.

Powers, McRaven and other SG representatives have expressed strong opposition to the bill, which may gain a fast track to passage under a plan to attach it as an amendment to another gun bill. Lawmakers plan to attach campus carry legislation as an amendment to House Bill 910, passed in mid-April, as it leaves the Senate.

Former UT vice president and provost Steven Leslie and UT Dallas president David Daniel will join the UT System as administrators, Chancellor William McRaven announced Wednesday.

Beginning May 11, Leslie will serve as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Daniel will join the System July 1 as deputy chancellor and chief operating officer, according to a statement released Wednesday.

Leslie, currently a professor and researcher in UT Austin’s College of Pharmacy, served as provost and executive vice president from 2007 until 2013.

“There are many ambitious initiatives already underway that are bound to have national and even international impact, and I am thrilled to join Chancellor McRaven as we work to position The University of Texas System as the undisputed finest public university system in the world,” Leslie said in the statement.

Leslie will succeed executive vice chancellor Pedro Reyes, who announced in April that he planned to leave the System and return to teaching.

Daniel, a UT alumnus, has served as president of UT Dallas since 2005. During his presidency, UT Dallas has seen increased enrollment and graduation rates, according to the statement.

“David Daniel possesses skills that are transferable across the system in managing and leading people, operations, new construction and technology,” McRaven said in the statement. “Everything he has done as president of UT Dallas prepares him for this new role, and now the entire UT System will be a beneficiary of his leadership.”

The System will immidiately begin a national search for the next UT Dallas president, according to the statement.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

In last Friday’s editorial, “Early moves by Rotnofsky, Mandalapu don’t quite shake things up,” the Daily Texan editorial board wrote that new student body president Xavier Rotnofsky and vice president Rohit Mandalapu, disappointingly “just simply seem like more of the same.” Any true engagement with Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s first few weeks in office immediately dispel this misconception.

The editorial claimed that Rotnofsky and Mandalapu “pledged to shake up Student Government” simply as an extension of entering office. At no time have Rotnofsky and Mandalapu represented themselves as anything other than two students — to use their words, “very good boys” — who thought they could bring some fresh ideas to the table.

Further, at their own admission, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu never thought they would actually get elected; they ran a humorous yet poignant satirical campaign in order to bring to light serious issues on campus and in SG. In doing so, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu captured the voice and spirit of campus and indeed were swept into office, not as the masquerading revolutionaries the editorial board painted them as but as two students that gained the confidence and trust of their peers against decades of precedent.

The editorial was wrong about Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s perceived failures, which were considered far too narrowly to be taken seriously.

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu smartly chose not to take a stance on AR 3, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) resolution. The debate devolved into hideous name-calling, character attacks and accusations of bigotry from both sides by the time it was voted on. By refraining from getting involved, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu protected their ability to serve as unifiers and representatives for the whole student body, not just one part of it.

Next, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu’s picks for their executive council are not the red flag that the editorial board perceived them to be. Rotnofsky and Mandalapu took a number of factors into account when appointing the executive board. To say that the new executive board does not represent a wide range of interests solely based on a shared major is absurd. Opportunities for involvement in the new administration did not end with the executive board appointments either, as there were dozens of internal and external appointments to apply for as well.

Finally, though their current platform is admittedly rather underwhelming, it will develop as student needs and campus opportunities do, as Mandalapu told the Texan when they went public with their platform.

In an interview conducted with Rotnofsky over the weekend, he told me that he and Mandalapu are actively seeking to make good on the faith that students have invested in them since the election.

First, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu have been invited to join the campus sexual assault task force by the Chief Compliance Officer. According to Rotnofsky, they are the first students to serve on the task force and are advocating for the appointment of a female student. Rotnofsky also said they hope to work with Not On My Campus to create a program similar to Alcohol MyEdu to educate students on sexual assaults on campus during summer orientations.

Rotnofsky said they are also developing a strategy for the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue. Although the resolution to remove the statue was passed, Rotnofsky said he and Mandalapu plan to approach the issue institutionally once they make all administrative introductions.

Rotnofsky said they have also met with the Division of Housing and Food Service about creating more kosher and halal options and expanding dining hours.

Finally, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu have maintained the comedic flair that set them apart from the rest in the election with the recent development of a student Chili’s coupon and a comedic interview with President William Powers Jr. that is expected to go online this week. 

In conclusion, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu are doing much more than last week’s editorial give them credit for. They are engaging with the issues that they now have a platform to combat, seeking promising solutions and restoring campus faith in SG at the same time. To quote my colleagues at the Texan, they are hardly “more of the same.” 

Smith is a history and humanities junior from Austin. Follow Smith on Twitter @claireseysmith.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Last month, the University of Texas Board of Regents announced — without much fanfare — the next president of this University: Gregory Fenves, the current provost and executive vice President. This set off a series of falling dominoes, as the University sought to replace the senior administrative post that Fenves would be leaving behind. Soon thereafter, Judith Langlois, the dean of graduate studies and a senior vice provost, was named the interim provost, starting later this month. 

At press time, the University had announced no replacement for Langlois within her school. Since the announcement of Powers’ impending resignation as president, several other high-ranking administrators have stepped down or announced they will step down, including former Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty as well as longtime Vice President for Research Juan Sanchez. These positions will need to be filled with permanent replacements.

These administrative changes have only reassured us that the transition into a new president will be a smooth and seamless one for the University. Outgoing President William Powers, Jr. reportedly appointed Langlois after close consultation with Fenves. Given embattled Regent Wallace Hall’s recent disagreements with Fenves, we are optimistic about his time at the helm of the 40 acres. To put it bluntly, if he is doing something that enrages Hall, then he is probably doing something right.

However, we are reluctant to grant Fenves a blank check considering he has kept a relatively low profile during his time as provost. It’s not enough to anger Hall. Our new president needs to be able to effectively go to war with him and win in a way that Powers did time and again. The new president, provost and other high-ranking officials must also be able to operate effectively under the high-stress and rapidly changing circumstances that come with the jobs.

To the University’s credit, they have made smart choices, but they have done a rather lackluster job at advertising and defending them effectively. In order to best serve the students and broader community here at the 40 acres, both must be done. 

Granted, Langlois may not be offered the prestigious position on a permanent basis, as Powers and Fenves will be conducting a comprehensive search for a permanent provost. Odds are, whoever is selected will be yet another internal promotion. This is not a bad thing; Powers, almost universally lauded by competent parties, was himself an internal promotion. But the University will be short-sighted if each and every position is merely filled by our farm system and not candidates from elsewhere across the country.

Andrew Watts, management information systems sophomore, founded Speak as a way to get students involved in bringing high-profile speakers to campus.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

A new wave of speakers will come to campus thanks to Speak, a new organization that already has a list of high-profile individuals scheduled to speak in the fall, according to the organization’s president.  

Students organized Speak as a way to get students involved in bringing high-profile speakers to campus. Before the club’s conception, Andrew Watts, president of the club and management information systems sophomore, was involved in bringing speakers such as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to campus.  

Watts said the organization will teach those who join how to design and develop these events from beginning to end.

“This goes from contacting speakers all the way to managing volunteers on the day of the event,” Watts said. “Students will get hands-on experience by working with others, leading teams and developing marketing strategies.” 

No application is needed to join, according to Amanda Barrington, corporate communications junior and vice president of National Speaking Events. Barrington said she and Watts designed the organization to be as inclusive as possible. 

“The one thing that we both agreed on when we were talking about Speak becoming a thing at UT was the inclusive and exclusive parts of organizations on campus,” Barrington said. “We really wanted to make it open to the whole campus so everyone could get involved in the entrepreneurial community and the entrepreneurial scene.” 

Speak aims to bring a large and diverse group of leaders to campus, according to Sierra Salinas, business freshman and vice president of internal communications.  She said the current line-up of speakers are business-related, but the lineup has potential to expand and to include professors, authors, athletes, scientists and artists. 

“I think the most exciting thing about this organization is knowing that our options are limitless,” Salinas said. “The more people we get, the more comfortable we will feel reaching out to companies or individuals, and the more variety we will be able to have in the future.” 

Speak’s future line-up includes Yik-Yak co-founders and the senior director of digital and social marketing for Taco Bell. Speak’s long-term future depends on those who decide to join, Watts said. 

“I hope people are encouraged to join because they have a crazy idea for a speaker to come to campus and have the drive to make that event happen,” Watts said. “This can help the organization go beyond just being simply a speaking-events-oriented club, but more of a community for students to take part in.”

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, discussed the goals he will have for the University when he takes office as president in June.
Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

As President William Powers Jr. prepares to step down, UT’s next president, Gregory Fenves, said his goals for the University center around addressing persistent issues, such as increasing access to research opportunities and engaging in more productive dialogue with the UT System Board of Regents.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Fenves, executive vice president and provost, also said he hopes to explore issues of accessbility and affordability, closely echoing his predecessor.

Fenves said his initial goal will be to manage the cost of education, an issue Powers, UT System Chancellor William McRaven and previous chancellors and regents have acknowledged. 

“I think the most important issue that’s facing the University is, ‘How do we provide high quality education at a reasonable cost?’” Fenves said.

In an interview with The Daily Texan in April, Powers said the solution to affordability is not clear-cut. He said he was sure  that future administrations would continue to grapple with the issue.

“There’s no single bullet,” Powers said. “We just always keep trying [to operate the University] as efficiently and as high quality as you can.”

Fenves said one of his educational goals is to connect undergraduate and graduate students to campus research opportunities. 

“What I feel is the most important theme for education at the University of Texas is how we link our undergraduate education mission with our research mission,” Fenves said.

Fenves said his previous experiences as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering and as provost have helped him form relationships with the regents and UT administrators.

“I can work with almost anybody, and I’ve had good working relationships with members of the board,” Fenves said. “In my current role as provost, and my previous role as dean, I’ve had a lot of interaction with them through the presidential search process and the selection process.”

One challenge preparing for the presidency poses is that issues and opportunities for change often remain unseen until one actually takes the position, according to former UT President Larry Faulkner.

“I don’t think any president should come in with a firm idea of what all [his or her] goals are,” Faulkner said. “I don’t think that you know enough until you’re in the job, what is really ripe, what are the best opportunities for the institution, and in fact, opportunities will appear while you’re serving.”

Faulkner said he would advise Fenves to take steps to learn more about the University but said Fenves is positioned differently than he was when he first came into the job.

“When I came in, I didn’t know the people, [and] I didn’t know the intricate issues facing the institution, and I had to learn about those,” Faulkner said. “Greg Fenves has been here for years now, and so he is more prepared on that scene than I was.”

Working with the state Legislature night pore a greater challenge for Fenves when he becomes president, Faulkner said.

“What I don’t think [Fenves] has had is an opportunity to talk to people in the state,” Faulkner said. “Even though Greg Fenves would have gotten some of that activity while he was dean and provost, it’s nothing like being president.”

Fenves said he has gained valuable experience working with the Legislature in previous roles at UT.

“I have considerable experience working with the Legislature,” Fenves said. “I’ve been working with the Legislature since soon after I joined the University of Texas. I think I’ve developed great relationships with many members. I understand the legislative process.”

As your new Student Government president and vice president, we know it is our job to advocate for what is best for students and will maximize safety. House Bill 937, currently being considered by the Texas House of Representatives after the Senate passed its own version of the bill in March, would allow guns in classrooms on public university campuses. That’s why we think this bill is so dumb. Private universities are afforded the right to opt out, whereas public universities are not. Why are we, as a public university, not able to have a voice in what happens on our campus?

UT System Chancellor and former Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven expressed his concerns about firearms on campus in a letter to legislative leaders in January, saying, “The presence of handguns...will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds.” Former Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa agreed, as do the chancellors from most major Texas university systems. Current UT President William Powers Jr. also expressed discontent with campus carry, as did Art Acevedo, the Austin police chief.

This bill, if it becomes law, will allow real firearms on campus. For some perspective, it would still be against University policy to bring pellet guns, airsoft guns, and prop guns — fake guns — onto campus. You’ll be able to bring a pistol to campus, but if it has an orange tip, get that out of here!

Students should have a say in what happens on their own campus. A petition of UT students opposing campus carry had over 5,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning. UT’s Student Government passed a resolution officially opposing guns on our campus. According to a poll conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety, over 60 percent of those polled believed that students should not be allowed to carry handguns on campuses or in dormitories, and over 70 percent believe college students should not be allowed to bring concealed handguns to class.

Many of the Texas schools affected by this legislation are as big, or bigger, than the cities where many of these legislators hail from. We have reached out to student body presidents and vice presidents across the state, and an overwhelming majority share our opinion. We, as fellow student representatives, have been elected to voice the needs of our students,and do not appreciate attempts in the Legislature to take local governance away from our communities.

Guns disrupt the academic atmosphere of a university. Sitting in a class, knowing that fellow students might be armed, alters the environment. For professors and teaching assistants, lecturing in front of a hall of hundreds of students knowing that some are potentially armed encroaches upon the sanctity of the classroom.

College students experience incredible amounts of academic, social, and family stress.  RAs shouldn’t have to deal with guns in dorms on top of the multitude of stresses associated with on-campus living. Campus police shouldn’t have to worry about distinguishing between a well-intentioned citizen and a bad actor. Professors shouldn’t have to worry about students bringing guns to classes.

Claims that students are in danger on UT’s campus and need guns to protect themselves are unfounded.  Since the UT Police Department began keeping online records in 2000, there have been no murders on the UT Austin campus. In a hypothetical active shooter scenario, who would you rather trust handling the situation: a trained UTPD officer or a sleep-deprived (probably hungover) upperclassman? HB 937 is attempting to fix a problem that does not exist.

The Texas Legislature is ostensibly trying to pass this bill for the good of campuses across the state. How is that the case if so much of campus is against this legislation? The best outcome would be for the bill to be defeated; otherwise, we implore the House to amend the current legislation with an opt-out clause that enables the stakeholders within a university to decide what’s best for campus.

The only guns that should be allowed on campus are our biceps. As good and strong boys, we stand staunchly against campus carry. We hope the Texas Legislature listens to campus opinion and grants all Texas universities the discretion to make decisions regarding their own safety.

Rotnofsky is a Plan II, linguistics, computer science and creative writing junior from Laredo. Mandalapu is a Plan II and economics senior from Sugar Land. They are Student Government president and vice president, respectively.