student services

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a UT alum, and his wife Renda Tillerson donated $5 million to help fund the Cockrell School of Engineering’s new research center, which will centralize engineering student services and include new research laboratories.

The center is part of a $310 million project to replace the current Engineering-Science Building on San Jacinto Street with a new research center. The demolition is scheduled to begin in September, and the center is scheduled to open in August 2017. 

Cockrell school interim dean Sharon Wood said she believes having alumni who are willing to donate to better the education of future students shows the value of the education they received.

“It’s really inspiring to know that these alumni that are so successful … have chosen to invest in us,” Wood said.

John Ekerdt, associate dean of the engineering school, said he believes alumni understand how use their engineering degrees to become successful — allowing them to contribute to future students’ success.

“These alumni are making investments in the students of today and of the future so they can make contributions in their own careers,” Ekerdt said.

According to Ekerdt, the new research facility will allow for expanded learning, focusing on collaboration between students.

“This building is designed with a mission of new education, collaborative spaces and new forms of learning,” Ekerdt said. “It will be a site for the discovery of new knowledge.”

According to Wood, projects such as the research center would not be possible without generosity from alumni.

“We depend on our alumni to help us move forward, especially in these difficult financial times,” Wood said. “It would definitely not be possible without their generosity.”

Witnessing successful alumni give back to the school allows students to see their own abilities, according to Wood.

“It helps students understand and see the potential that they have as they grow and their careers continue,” Wood said.

Petroleum engineering sophomore Nick Lavigne said alumni like the Tillersons make him proud to be a part of the engineering school.

“It’s really cool to see successful engineers come out of UT,” Lavigne said. “I can say I’m getting the same education as some of the most successful people in the country.”

The proposed Engineering Education and Research Center would feature collaborative spaces for students and faculty to work in. 

Photo Credit: UT System | Daily Texan Staff

A new engineering building, which would have included new research laboratories, collaboration space and centralized student services, did not receive a tuition revenue bond critical to its construction in the latest legislative session.

“The current engineering buildings are old and worn down,” petroleum engineering sophomore Niloy Chakravarty said.

The University has been planning for the Engineering Education and Research Center for three years and will continue to do so, new Provost and former engineering Dean Gregory Fenves said in a statement to the Texan. Fenves said the University will be looking for other sources of funding that aren’t verified yet.

In November 2012, State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed the tuition revenue bond bill as the first bill of the 83rd legislative session. Though the bill was passed in the Senate, the House did not create a conference committee. Ultimately, the legislature was short on time while considering the bill because they couldn’t work on it until the appropriations bills passed only a couple of months before the regular session ended.

Zaffirini said that currently, construction costs and interest rates are low because the economy is improving.

“[It would have been] perfect timing to pass because it is such an economic power tool,” Zaffirini said.

The bill did not pass in the regular state legislative session, which ended in turmoil as Republicans and Democrats faced off over several bills involving abortion and transportation. Although the Legislature then held three special sessions, the bond was not on the agendas.

“We could’ve worked out a compromise,” Zaffirini said. “It was doable, but the clock ran out.”

The last tuition revenue bond bill to be passed was in the 2005 session. Zaffirini said the informal agreement was that every four years the Legislature would pass a tuition revenue bond bill, so one should have been passed in 2009.

The $310 million project’s funds are divided into four categories, according to the project’s website. $105 million would come from Permanent University Funds, $105 million would come from philanthropy, $5 million would come from the University and the remaining $95 million would have come from the tuition revenue bond.

A tuition revenue bond finances construction through the selling of a bond to the University, but the state then reimburses the school.

“We appreciate the support this critical project has received from the UT System Board of Regents and members of the Texas Legislature,” Fenves said in his statement. “We are continuing to work on plans to complete funding for the building.”

Zaffirini said the engineering research center is important to the University because it will enhance learning, teaching and research and help recruit and retain students and faculty.

“This project is vital for the Cockrell School of Engineering to remain top-tier, attract the best students and faculty and help drive the innovation economy in Texas,” Fenves said in his statement.

Zaffirini said she plans to reintroduce the bill at the next session in January 2015.

UT is not being a nice neighbor right now. In case you missed it in Thursday’s Daily Texan, the University is trying to buy out Players, a generations-old, alumni-owned business that students frequent. Located on the southwest edge of our campus, adjacent to the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, it has served students for decades, but it won’t for much longer if the University gets its way and purchases the land.

The University won’t yet reveal its plans for the plot, but considering our bleak budget realities, I’m not expecting undergraduate teaching facilities or student services. And it probably won’t be turned into a popular student hangout that serves affordably priced dinner either.

UT has a spotty record when it comes to being a good neighbor in our community. The original 40 acres didn’t become the current 350 purely through friendly business transactions. And that’s putting it nicely. The University is not giving due consideration to how its actions affect undergraduates and is inciting ill will among community members. Moreover, UT should be fostering — not dismantling — local businesses, and it should certainly not be strong-arming its own alumni into selling their enterprises. As students who care about this institution, we ought to hold it to a higher standard. We’re not powerless here.

Matt Portillo
Music and rhetoric and writing senior