Students protest UT COVID-19 policies at Hartzell’s inauguration ceremony

Katy Nelson, News Reporter

UT students voiced concerns about COVID-19 safety policies, graduate student worker wages and health care, in addition to the Liberty Institute at President Jay Hartzell’s inauguration ceremony Friday.

Dozens of students from campus organizations such as Underpaid@UT, Young Democratic Socialists of America, Cops Off Campus, the Black Graduate Student Association at UT Austin and the Texas State Employees Union, lined up outside the steps of the Tower, saying Hartzell has not played a leadership role in ensuring students’ and workers’ safety or listened to student leaders’ requests.

Students held signs saying, “Hartzell, listen to science not Abbott” and, “Stop sacrificing Longhorn lives for profit.” Texas State Employees Union member Alice Kurima Newberry said the University’s current COVID-19 policies put students at risk.

“I strongly believe that President Hartzell has blood on his hands because of the policies that he’s not implementing to keep people safe,” said Newberry, a freshman socio-cultural anthropology graduate student.

Students also chanted, “Grad workers underpaid, Hartzell overpaid,” and, “Listen to workers, not donors,” after the ceremony.

“We have people who work at UT and don’t make a living wage, so we’re saying, first and foremost, everybody who works at or attends UT deserves some assistance, especially now during COVID,” said Sol Weiner, a UT organizer for the Union. “We can protect everyone from COVID, but also right now would be a really great time to use our really large endowment to assist workers and students at the University.”

Weiner said the Union held a demonstration with over 60 people a few weeks ago, but the University did not respond.

“We’re hoping that getting a little more confrontational and speaking straight to the donors and important people walking by will get them to pay attention,” Weiner said.

Students also lined up around the square and handed out flyers to passing students.

“There’s very little input from students and workers, even though we’re the people who provide value for this institution, especially our grad students,” said Cerena Ermitanio, UT Young Democratic Socialists of America co-chair. “It’s completely unacceptable to see news like Jay Hartzell collaborating with Greg Abbott on a pet project like the Liberty Institute.”

UT community members have criticized the Texas Legislature’s funding of the Liberty Institute, a right-wing political center on campus, saying it allows the University to be influenced by wealthy donors and takes away from students’ needs.

“President Hartzell has gone against the wishes of the students including the UT Senate by moving forward with the creation of the Liberty Institute, which we believe takes resources away from students and workers, and uses them to promote a right-wing ideological agenda,” said Annie Bares, co-president of Underpaid@UT.