Steven Abrams, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UT-Austin’s Dell Medical School, speaks to doctors and nurses at Dell Children’s Hospital about his goals for the school’s pediatrics department.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Steven Abrams, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UT-Austin’s Dell Medical School, spoke Monday morning to doctors and nurses from Austin about his vision for the department’s future.

Abrams addressed several issues important to his goals for the medical school during his talk. One of Abrams’ most pressing challenges will be to connect already-established pediatric care centers and the medical school, according to S. Claiborne Johnston, dean of Dell Medical School.

“There are a lot of great things going on in pediatrics in Austin, and [there are] groups that are established and used to doing things a certain way,” Johnston said. “We need to work with them even if they’re fearful of us. [Abrams is] the perfect person to show them our goal is to make everyone better.”

Abrams said one of his main goals for pediatric care in Austin is to have better communication between facilities.

“I think the medical school stands not as part of hospital competition, but to serve the community,” Abrams said. “We can’t change that there is competition in health care. That’s an inherent part of it.”

Tim George, a neurosurgeon at the Dell Children’s Medical Center, said Abrams only provided a brief framework of his goals, and he would like more depth in the discussion of coordinating the medical school’s work with other pediatric clinics.

“There are tactical things we need to accomplish so we can solve the problems that face us and fulfill the goal of having a unique ecosystem,” George said. “How do we pay for it? These are all open questions. Once we figure that out, we can figure out how to better teach and care.”

Abrams also said he intends to provide more comprehensive health care for children in Austin as well as preventative care to address the growing problem of childhood obesity. 

“The University of Texas at Austin is an amazing place and one of the reasons why I’m so excited to be here,” Abrams said. “We need innovative curriculum, committed to creating not just physicians, but dietitians and nurses who will understand the needs of children. We have to educate all groups in health care providers, such as critical issues like on-time vaccinations. We have an opportunity to think carefully of that and think of the pediatric education, make pediatrics a field [medical students] want to go to and understand the value of a pediatric education.”

Le-Wai Thant, a doctor at the CommUnity Care clinic that aims to help the underserved population of Austin, said she is optimistic about the more well rounded health care children would receive with the medical school and outpatient clinics such as the one she works with.

“This will be the beginning, and we’ll start having a connection,” Thant said. “We haven’t set up an official way of communicating yet. It’s a big population we serve around here, and having the structure and way to communicate among specialists and the community medical school — to double up treatment — would be the best for the whole community.”

The University hired its first two department chairs for the upcoming Dell Medical School earlier this week.

Kevin Bozic will be the new chair of the medical school’s surgery department, and Amy Young was hired as the new chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department. Bozic said he plans to build his departments in such a way as to help make the Dell Medical School a nationally recognized institution.

“I am very excited about the opportunity,” Bozic said. “Austin has a very vibrant community who embraces innovation and change. I am looking forward into capitalizing the entrepreneurial, innovating spirit and improving the value of health care.”

Bozic said he has held leadership positions at institutions across the nation. He previously worked with Clay Johnston, Dell Medical School dean, at the University of California-San Francisco, where he is a professor and vice chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He is also a visiting scholar at Harvard Business School. He graduated from the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine and the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program. 

“A new way of teaching medicine in the new Dell school is to first understand the needs of the patient and organize a system to optimize the help to the patient,” Bozic said. 

According to the University, Young has an experience in initiating and leading programs and collaborative partnerships in obstetrics. Young now works as the chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-New Orleans. She has also served as the District XI chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“Improving women’s health is an essential part of the Dell Medical School’s mission,” Young said in a statement. “We can reshape health and health care delivery that improves outcomes for women here and helps catalyze positive change across the country.”

Johnston said the school is founded on a partnership that will help resolve the evolvement of health care.

“This is an exciting time,” Johnston said in a statement. “The decisions we make now will help make Austin a healthier place and a model for the world. The vital, inclusive health ecosystem we want to create is starting to shape.”

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

The Parking Strategies Committee recently announced its report and recommendations for University parking, which include permit rate hikes for at least the next five years. These hikes were solicited in January 2013, when a group of 13 businesspeople released the Committee on Business Productivity’s report for UT. This report called for various rate hikes, privatization plans and budget cuts. The University administration has been faithfully implementing these recommendations despite campus opposition. The Shared Services plan, which called for eliminating 500 staff positions and centralizing the remaining workers (removing them from their home departments), was met with a rally, mass faculty letter, staff speak-outs and a student sit-in, all of which decried the plan as an undue step toward corporatization of the University. Corporatization is an openly stated goal of President William Powers Jr., who endorsed the Business Productivity recommendations and stated that the University ought to follow the “best business practices.”

On Tuesday, the parking committee presented its report at a campus-wide town hall meeting, at the Graduate Student Assembly meeting and at the Student Government meeting. The committee presented on Thursday at a Staff Council meeting. The permit rate hikes are not intended to fill in budget gaps, but simply to increase University revenue. This revenue will not return to the campus community, through employee wage increases or otherwise, and thus this move can only be understood as a business operation that seeks to increase profit from customers. (Bob Harkins, chair of the committee and associate vice president for campus safety and security, told the Texan it is to fund the construction of new parking garages, but this is not the same information that was presented at the town hall.) Indeed, Parking and Transportation Services is designed as a business to begin with, as its sole revenue stream is from paying customers. In FY 2013 - 2014, for example, PTS made about $1.1 million from citations, $2.7 million from permits and $11.7 million from parking facility fees — that is $15.5 million in total. 

This economic model leads to an antagonistic relationship between PTS and the University community it serves, as PTS can only increase revenue by charging the community more. The alternative would be to bring PTS into the public sphere by appropriating University funds to it — in FY 2013 - 2014, however, PTS received a whopping $0 from this coffer. So rather than abide by the cooperative mission of a public university, UT’s proposed permit rate hikes push PTS in a privatized direction. This is an openly stated goal, as the Parking Committee’s report states that the primary motivation is to tack toward market-level rates, which are higher than the University’s. For a public university concerned with affordability, this lesser cost is appropriate — for a business, it is simply lost revenue.

In fact, $0 is a misleading figure. To be more exact, PTS actually receives negative dollar amounts from the University coffer. In FY 2013 - 2014, it had $8 million in excess income over budgeted expenses, and this was returned to the University in its entirety, through debt service and transfers to various departments (such as UTPD) and reserves. PTS has had steadily increasing excess income since at least FY 2009 - 2010, when it was $6.7 million. Every year, however, this surplus has been drained by the University administration — the Parking Committee recommends intensifying this policy, and by Year 4 it has PTS in the red for over $200,000. This is not an unprecedented move by the corporatized administration. For FY 2013 - 2014, PTS had requested additional funds to prevent UT shuttle bus cuts but was denied even though there was a reserve fund of $800,000 from past PTS surpluses. As a result, Capital Metro announced cuts to shuttle routes in the fall of 2013, and these cuts especially impacted financially precarious graduate students.

However, the corporatized University administrators have outright contempt for the idea of affordability. In a Daily Texan news article, the Parking Committee’s chair, Bob Harkins, cited the 2012 Campus Master Plan’s recommendations as another motivation for the permit rate hikes. Harkins notes that these recommendations included the replacement of surface parking lots with more expensive garage structures. However, the plan also states that this will “eliminate spaces that currently provide relatively low-cost options for faculty and staff” — Harkins doesn’t mention this, which is curious given that he was on the committee for the Master Plan as well. The permit rate hikes will obviously exacerbate this affordability gap, but the Parking Committee’s report does not include any discussion on these issues. Whether this is contempt or simply negligence, it is clear that affordability is not a priority of the University administration. 

For students, it’s worth noting that “student leaders” like Student Government President Kori Rady match the administration’s priorities – Rady recently told the Texan that “there’s nothing [they] can do” to prevent PTS from raising parking rates. This blasé attitude is consistent from student leaders on affordability issues, such as tuition hikes. Rather than take initiative to discuss tuition, they consistently wait for UT System intervention, whenever that may happen. Last year, an ad hoc tuition committee pushed through tuition hikes within a three-week time frame, and then-Senate of College Councils President Andrew Clark stated that hikes were inevitable because “we are at the mercy of the UT System.” This failure of leadership continues, as Rady told the Texan he is unconcerned that the student leaders haven’t formed a new tuition committee this semester, and Senate of College Councils President Geetika Jerath said they may simply repeat the ad hoc process.

This contempt for affordability — whether about Shared Services, tuition hikes or parking rates — is particularly outrageous because the administrators have alternative and direct ways of increasing revenue. The most obvious is to request additional funds from the UT System’s massive Permanent University Fund, which currently holds over $17 billion — this is the largest public university endowment in the country. Alternatively, an in-house solution could address the fact that UT has some of the highest rates of executive pay in the country — over 100 (and increasing) University administrators earn more than $200,000. An administrative salary cap at $200,000, an amount that is still excessive compared to the average staff worker salary of $52,000, would annually save $20 million in revenue. The Parking Committee projects that its recommendations will generate $40 million in 10 years — the salary cap, which puts a minor dent in inequality at a public university, would generate $200 million in that same time. Those who want to fight for a public university can sign the petition against the hikes. 

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin. 

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the Shivers Cancer Foundation | Daily Texan Staff

The Dell Medical School established a faculty chair to honor Austin physician Dr. Robert Askew, who graduated from UT and completed his residency at UT Medical Branch-Galveston in 1959.

The Shivers Cancer Foundation contributed $1 million to establish the Askew Chair in Oncology. The foundation commemorated the donation Friday, after Askew passed away in July. The gift represents one of the largest contributions associated with the foundation.

According to Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School, the chair will help the school maintain qualitative standards in treating patients and training doctors.  

“The gift will help ensure that the Dell Medical School has a top-flight physician providing cancer care to Travis County residents and training the next generation of doctors,” Johnston said in a statement.

Johnston also said the chair will be in charge of recruiting top faculty members to help maintain a high standard for the school.

“The Askew Chair in Oncology will also be a model for how we recruit and retain the best faculty members and shape the Dell Medical School into a world-class institution,” Johnston said.

This is the second chair to be established within the school — the first being the Chair for the Department of Medical Education, which Susan Cox currently holds. 

Edmund T. Gordon, chair of the African and African diaspora studies department, said he hopes being recognized with a Presidential Citation will further legitimize his goal of expanding the presence and acknowledgement of people of African descent at the University.

Issued earlier this month, the honor recognizes the extraordinary contributions of individuals who personify the University’s commitment to the task of transforming lives, according to the Office of the President. The Presidential Citation is awarded in the place of honorary degrees, which the University does not give out.

“It means, to me, the kind of work I’ve attempted to do over the past 25 years at the University is valued,” Gordon said. “I think the major work that I have done that is being recognized is trying to help institutionalize racial and gender equality in the University.”

Gordon said his work helped create the African diaspora program in the anthropology department, lead a push for the Center for African and African American studies to be named after former professor John Warfield and helped to create the African and African diaspora studies department.

Gordon was one of five to receive the recognition. Others recipients include Charles Matthews, president of the Texas Exes and former vice president and general counsel at ExxonMobil; James Mulva, former president, chairman and CEO of Conoco Phillips; his wife Miriam Mulva, director of the Mulva Family Foundation, which donated approximately $75 million for the new Liberal Arts Building and to support a new engineering building and graduate school of business; and Shannon Ratliff, former member of the UT System Board of Regents and owner of Ratliff Law Firm.

The African and African diaspora studies department is housed under the College of Liberal Arts. Randy Diehl, College of Liberal Arts dean, said Gordon is extremely deserving of the Presidential Citation.

“Over the past several decades, no one has worked more diligently — and more successfully — to recruit and retain a diverse faculty and to build black studies on this campus,” Diehl said.

Cherise Smith, art and art history associate professor and center for African and African American studies director, said Gordon’s advocacy for social justice extends past UT.

“I think of him as a very strong voice of reason and of advocacy for black people on campus — faculty and students,” Smith said. “He has been a very good mentor to students and faculty on campus, and that’s hard to come by.”

Mitchell Faust, African and African diaspora studies graduate student, whom Gordon mentored in the past, said Gordon continues to impact his life. 

“He has given me great advice,” Faust said. “He is a man of a great deal of knowledge. He wants to engage in the betterment of students and faculty, especially of color, and how they are progressing.”

Today, President William Powers Jr. was elected chair of the Association of American Universities. His term begins immediately and lasts for one year. Powers will continue to serve in his capacity as UT’s president.

Powers just finished his term as vice chair for the association, a collective of 62 research institutions, which includes both private and public universities.

As chair of the association, Powers will advocate for higher education and research initiatives at the top schools across the nation and explain the value of such issues to the public, said Hunter Rawlings, president of the AAU in a statement.

Powers will continue to lead the AAU in discussing issues facing these institutions’ graduate and undergraduate programs, working to create policy for effective change and emphasizing the role of research in higher education conversations.

“It’s a great honor and opportunity to lead the AAU at a time when higher education is confronting tremendous transformation in everything from funding to technology,” Powers said in a statement. “AAU schools are working to embrace changes while always remaining true to their core values of providing a world-class education and cultivating world-class research.”

Editor’s note: Daily Texan columnist Amil Malik sat down with Prabhudev Konana, chair of the Department of Information, Risk and Operations Management at the McCombs School of Business to ask about how HB 5, a bill that reduces the number of standardized tests, provides new measures to make schools more accountable and gives students more flexibility to focus on technical training through reduced math and science requirements in high school. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Amil Malik: The co-author of HB 5 [which potentially lowers the academic graduation requirements for Texas high school students by giving them a choice between the traditional path into college and a path directly into the workforce] Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, claims the bill will also make Texas students better prepared for the jobs that Texas employers are struggling to fill. Could giving students more technical-based training in high school improve their chances of getting a job? 

Prabhudev Konana: So we are going to partition that problem into three parts. If you look at the student body, there are the students who are cut out for higher education. They are very determined; they want to get college degrees. They take advanced math, science, so we have no problems with those folks. 

Then there are some students who are just not cut out to do advanced math, science. They have not much interest to go to college. So for them, I need to get into something more hands-on, technical work. I don’t care about advanced algebra or trigonometry. I want to get advanced skills in operating a machine ... so immediately I’m employable after high school. There is no point in trying to tell these students, “No, you need to do these advanced math and AP classes.” The probability of them succeeding is going to be very low. Instead, if you train them ... there are lots and lots of jobs like repairing cars, operating machines with applied material.

But then you have these in between students who have probably the potential to go to college. There is a risk that they may not do very well. But ... with small pushing, they could have gone into college and been very productive, creating higher value-added work than going into, say, maintenance work or technical work. 

But overall, the idea that you gauge high school students, people who don’t want to do advanced degree, towards ... where they are immediately employable is actually not a bad idea. It’s a bad idea when you have those students in between, who with a little bit of encouragement and push could have done a much higher level of work, maybe gravitated towards this easy path. ... The question is whether this particular rule will discourage those people in the in-between to go to the route where they could have been much more valuable elsewhere. That’s the question. I don’t have an answer. 

Malik: What do you see as some of the potential effects of beginning to tailor job-specific education or a job-specific mindset as early as high school?

Konana: That’s why I said we know who these students are who are not going to do very well in advanced math and science ... We can easily make out from their standardized tests — which I don’t like, by the way — but you have an indication about students who are not doing very well in class. You know it in ninth grade. On the other hand, there are students who get commended and get in the nineties in math and suddenly this person says I want to go the technical route — yes, maybe this person’s potential was so high going into college and now we are giving them the option of going the easy route ... Exceptions exist for everything. 

Malik: Why don’t you like standardized tests?

Konana: I come from India, where everything is based on test, test, test. So you don’t get a 100 in math — you got a 99 instead of a 100 in math — there are 20,000 people above you now. So there is this incredible pressure of studying for the exam’s sake. So your creativity, ability to think differently, is all gone. For example, I tell my nephews in India make sure you’re understanding everything you are studying, understand and then write. And my niece tells me — I’m not joking — she said, “Uncle, that’s all in America.” In India, the guy who is grading your exam isn’t a professor. It’s a local language guy who is given a cheat sheet to say this is the answer and they grade. So he will look at how many words are common and he will give you the grade. So if you memorize them, you are likely to get more grade than trying to understand and write. People prepare only for tests, not for learning. Teachers are preparing for the test, not for learning. Does it mean that there should be no standardized tests? No ... but you cannot have standardized tests every year so that the teachers are only worried about preparing you for the test. We didn’t create so many Nobel laureates in this country with standardized tests. So why bring it now? 

... Overall, I like [HB 5]. I like having less testing, giving an option for some of the students to go into areas where they can succeed rather than forcing them to go into advanced math. Of course, I can be very idealistic and say everybody should get a college degree, but then who is going to do your maintenance work? Who is going to operate your machines in applied material? They don’t need a PhD to do that. They just need a two-year college to do it. 

On the other hand, you want to have the critical number of people going to college. Right now I think the number is hovering around 22 or 23 percent who go to college. That number should go up because in the future, you’ll need the talent. If you don’t find the talent, the companies are going to other countries. 

Editor’s note: Texas State Rep. Dan Branch (R-Dallas) serves as chair of the House Higher Education Committee. He spoke with Daily Texan associate editor Pete Stroud about the diminished higher education budget, outcomes-based funding and how he hopes the 83rd Legislature will anticipate the outcome of the pending U.S. Supreme Court Fisher decision. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Daily Texan: How does this session’s planned budget for UT differ from recent years?

Dan Branch: If you look at just the general revenue appropriated funds, the base budget is a little bit less than two years ago. Because it’s a starting point, I think there are plenty of opportunities for changes to the base budget, so I think it would be premature to somehow predict that UT is going to do much better or much worse or even the same ... by the time we get to late May.

DT: Why have you pushed for outcomes-based funding?

DB: [We need] to put a little more incentive on completion rather than just enrollment. Now, we incentivize enrollment very much in the process, and my goal is to put a little more balance in that and have some incentives on the back end, where we need to do better ... In fact, I was really pleased that [UT President Bill] Powers sort of laid down the gauntlet for all of our four-year universities by making a bold prediction that the 2012 fall entering class would be held accountable to graduate at 70 percent in four years.

DT: You filed a bill that would require universities to offer fixed, four-year tuition plans. If passed, how would your bill make college more affordable?

DB: It gives certainty to students and parents, and any funders of higher ed — you know that if your student is one that’s interested in getting in and out in four years you’ve got a fixed price. My legislation doesn’t make it mandatory that that be the only price a school can offer. What it calls for is that each public university will give the option. So you can either buy higher education by the semester or year, as we price it today in most places, or you could buy it for eight semesters or four years at a fixed price. And obviously if you do that there’s going to be a bit of a premium built in on the front end because you know you’re going to likely get a discount on the back end because you’re getting a fixed price over four years. It’s also designed to encourage people to get in and get out ... and that’s the best way to keep your costs down ... And if you’re getting financial aid, you free up that financial aid for the next student.

DT: How will the Legislature as a whole and your committee specifically react if the state wins or loses Fisher v. UT?

DB:  We anticipate based on past history that the Supreme Court will rule probably in the late spring and therefore to be prudent, I anticipate introducing legislation to preserve the Top Ten Percent Reforms ... because in the reform package that we passed in 2009 ... was an amendment that got added to the bill that said that if there was a change in admissions policy as a result of a court ruling, all the reforms would go away. It was a sort of killer amendment. And my argument would be  that it would now be timely to remove that portion of the reform package from statute, because ... if [UT’s race-influenced admissions] were to be struck down by the Supreme Court, then all the Top Ten Percent reforms would fall and we would have chaos in 2014 before we come back into session ... To me it makes much more sense to take that piece out of the statute and anticipate that there could be a ruling that could affect UT’s admissions, and if it does, then we would have smoothed out any risk of this sort of chaos in 2014. And those who want to revisit the reforms, they would have the opportunity in the 2015 legislative session to [do so]... But we can do that in a way that’s orderly, and not somehow that would just sort of pull the rug out from under UT because we had a Supreme Court ruling that all of a sudden, because of this amendment from 2009, rips out all of the reforms — and there would be no governor at all on the Top Ten Percent rule, which is what we had in place before 2009. There was nothing in law to prevent 30,000 students from having an automatic right in the state of Texas to come to UT-Austin. And as you know, the UT-Austin entering class last year was a little over 8,000 students, and we would not have a way to take on that sort of capacity if all the reforms were to go away ... I think at a minimum, whether you’re rural, urban, right of center, left of center, we can all agree that we shouldn’t do something that would unintentionally harm UT and disrupt its admissions process while we weren’t in session and able to address it.

UT alumna and Texas State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) speaks at a ceremony held in her honor on Oct. 30, 2012. Her son, UT alumnus Carlos Zaffirini, named a scholarship after her to help fund future students’ educations.
Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, former chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, expressed support Tuesday for a Nov. 6 ballot initiative that would increase property taxes in order to help fund a proposed UT medical school and teaching hospital.

Zaffirini, a UT alumni whose district encompasses a portion of Travis County, told The Daily Texan that although she will not be voting in Travis County, she hopes her constituents will vote in favor of the ballot initiative. She said the proposed medical school would aid the University’s mission of providing comprehensive education and serving Texas citizens.

Proposition 1 would increase property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The increase would contribute $35 million toward operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services from students and faculty of the medical school for the general public.

“This is an opportunity to enhance education at UT in a new arena,” Zaffirini said.

She said she hopes those who oppose Proposition 1 will consider how establishing a UT medical school will improve medical services in Travis County.

Zaffirini served as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee from its establishment in 2009 until October, when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst replaced her with State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo. Zaffirini currently serves as a member of the committee with State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who has worked with the University for the past six years to establish a medical school.

In a phone interview, Watson said he is not surprised by Zaffirini’s endorsement because of her advocacy for higher education.

“It’s wonderful to have someone with her level of expertise supporting Proposition 1,” Watson said.

He said the University will not be able to establish a medical school without the revenue generated by the property tax increase.

“Without Prop. 1’s passage, UT will lose out on the ability to [establish a medical school],” Watson said.

During a press conference Tuesday, UT President William Powers Jr. said the University does not have an alternate stream of revenue to fund the medical school, making the passage of Proposition 1 essential to establishing the school.

“If there are other ways to get that done, we’re open to that,” Powers said.

If voters approve Proposition 1, it will not take effect until a U.S. district court conducts a hearing regarding the legality of the proposition’s ballot language. Last week Travis County Taxpayers Union, a political action committee that opposes Proposition 1, sued Central Health, alleging that the proposition’s ballot language violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 by misleading voters and expressing advocacy for the proposition. A hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14.

Zaffirini supports Prop 1

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, former chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, expressed support Tuesday for a ballot initiative that would increase property taxes in order to help fund a proposed UT medical school and teaching hospital.

Zaffirini, a UT alum whose district encompasses a portion of Travis County, said although she will not be voting in Travis County, she hopes her constituents will vote in favor of the ballot initiative. She said the proposed medical school would aid the University's mission of providing comprehensive education and serving Texas citizens.

Proposition 1 would increase property taxes collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district, from 7.89 cents to 12.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value. The increase would contribute $35 million toward operations at the teaching hospital and purchase medical services there.

"This is an opportunity to enhance education at UT in a new arena," Zaffirini said.

She said she hopes those who oppose Proposition 1 will consider how establishing a UT medical school will improve medical services in Travis County.