• Texas Speaker of the House names House Higher Education Committee

    Texas House Speaker Joe Straus named committees of the Texas House of Representatives Thursday, including the nine members of the House Higher Education Committee.

    Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, will remain chairman of the committee and Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, will succeed former state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, as vice chair. Castro was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

    In addition to Branch and Patrick, returning members include state Reps. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, Donna Howard, D-Austin, and John Raney, R-College Station.

    New members are Reps. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, and Jim Murphy, R-Houston, and freshman Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches.

    In a statement accompanying the appointments, Straus said he considered members’ expertise and representative districts when making his decisions.

    “All of the committee appointments highlight the House’s strong mix of experienced leaders and newer members who are ready to take on greater responsibility,” Straus said. “After traveling around the state to visit with Members before the session and talking to them over the last few weeks, I am very encouraged that the House is ready to tackle the serious challenges our state faces.”

    In a statement following the committee announcement, Howard said she looks forward to working with Branch as the committee addresses the state’s higher education needs.

    "Our state's position as an economic leader depends on a well-educated workforce," Howard said. "We must ensure that our diverse population is prepared to meet tomorrow's challenges."

  • Powers touts potential costs savings and efficiencies in endorsement of report

    In a speech Tuesday, President William Powers Jr. endorsed a report that claims it would yield the University $490 million over 10 years.

    The report is the collection of findings by the Committee on Business Productivity, a group of 13 business leaders commissioned by Powers in April 2012 to find efficiencies in the University’s non-academic services.

    The report, titled “Smarter Systems for a Better UT,” proposes a series of reorganizations, rate increases and prioritizations to achieve its end goal.

    In his speech, Powers said that while universities are not “simply businesses,” they do exercise some business functions, such as supporting information technology, reimbursing travel and buying resources from outside vendors.

    “In these areas, they ought to be following the best business practices,” Powers said. “As a recipient of both tax dollars and tuition dollars, to do otherwise is to betray the public trust. For any public institution, efficiency is a moral imperative. But it also is the smart thing to do because it can free up much-needed resources we can redirect to our core missions of teaching and research.”

    Three primary areas are identified by the report: asset utilization, technology commercialization and administrative service transformation.

    The report outlines several proposals, such as raising dorm, food and parking rates; selling excess power produced by the University’s power plants in the open market; increasing the licensing volume of the Office of Technology Commercialization; and reorganizing the information technology, finance and human resources operations of the University.

    The authors of the report also argued the need for an “operations czar” or “project manager” that would oversee the implementation of the recommendations. In his speech, Powers appointed Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, to do so.

    In 2002, then-president Larry Faulkner commissioned a similar though much larger group of business leaders and citizens — mostly UT alumni — to produce a report that would outline an academic vision for the University. Known as the Commission of 125, the group’s 2004 report created a 25-year timeframe.

    Powers ended his speech with a story about the Pope’s decision in 1586 to create a 344-ton obelisk. Powers said the implementation of the proposal, like the obelisk, will need to be done “one logical step at a time.”

    “Because they were successful at this, many more obelisks were moved around Rome in the following years, one of which weighed 510 tons,” Powers said. “If we get this right, there’s no telling what else we’ll be able to accomplish, and there are other areas of our operations that will need our attention too.”

  • UT one step closer to getting a fall break

    UT students might be able to sleep in a couple of extra days during the fall semester after the Faculty Council voted Monday to approve a two-day fall break.

    The break would take place on Monday and Tuesday of the ninth week of the fall semester, pushing the start of school two days earlier. The proposed calendar change will need to be approved by the general faculty to be implemented.

    Diane Bailey, chairwoman of the council’s University Academic Calendar Committee, said after approving the motion, the committee will continue to look at potential problems the change may cause. Faculty members from the College of Natural Sciences and the Cockrell School of Engineering opposed a fall break, claiming it disrupts lab schedules. 

    Currently, the University has 12 full weeks of school for labs in the fall. If the fall break is implemented, the University would still have the same number of full weeks for labs, but one of those weeks would be the first week of school when many professors do not feel ready to start hosting labs.

    Michael Domjan, psychology professor and faculty council member, opposed the proposal for a fall break.

    “The committee feels that this issue with labs can easily be taken care of, but that doesn’t mean that the faculty of Natural Sciences or the faculty of Engineering share that view,” Domajn said.

    Bailey said the two-day break would provide a much-needed mental rest for students, especially freshmen who are still adapting to college-level coursework. 

    Andrew Clark, international relations and global studies senior and vice president for Senate of College Councils, said visits to University Health Services’ Mental Health Center to request crisis service increased from 496 in the 2007-2008 academic year to 786 in the 2011-2012 academic year.

    Bailey said the break would not solve the problem of low attendance the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, or balance the fall and spring semesters to have the same number of class days. The fall will continue to have 70 days, and the spring 74.

    “It would provide an opportunity for students, graduate students [and] faculty to have a break in the middle of the semester to recoup some of our energy so that we might progress in the second part of the semester with full strength,” Bailey said. “It is, in particular, something that is expected to be a benefit for freshmen who are adjusting to new workloads and new a pace and a new life.”

    Domjan, however, said if students want to face less stress, they could limit their activities outside the classroom.

    “I would like to suggest that the students would be less stressed if they didn’t attend ACL and they didn’t go to OU weekend and didn’t do all these other things.” Domjan said. “Then they wouldn’t have their work pile up.”

    Rebekah Thayer, business honors and finance senior and Student Government representative, helped write the Student Government legislation in the spring of 2012 and said she appreciates the council taking students’ concerns with the fall semester into account.

    “We feel that the faculty council understands where the students are coming from and they’re supporting something that many students truly need and is going to help the University going forward with retention rates for freshman and overall morale of the student body, as well as productivity,” Thayer said.

  • Projected budgets for UT-Austin medical school lend insight on potential salaries

    Administrators are taking the first steps to get a UT-Austin medical school off the ground with estimates of first-year expenses for hiring and construction.

    Budget projections for the new medical school, obtained by The Daily Texan through the Texas Public Information Act, show $1.2 million set aside for medical or surgery faculty salaries this year. The University announced plans to hire a dean in 2013 before hiring a teaching faculty.

    UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said she was unable to confirm how much will be spent to hire faculty this year. 

    “The April 2012 [budget projections] document is an estimate rather than an approved budget,” Doolittle said. “We and our partners are working very quickly to build a budget out and fine-tune those estimates.”

    The projected budget also includes $47 million set aside for the construction of a research building, an educational and administrative building and a vivarium, which will be built near University Medical Center Brackenridge. The vivarium will house live animals maintained for research. Funds to establish a resident program are listed as $21.8 million for the first year. 

    Doolittle said Steven Leslie, executive vice president and provost, and his office will oversee any funding that will go toward the new medical school, including the new dean’s salary, until the infrastructure of a dean’s office is put into place following the hiring of the dean. 

    The UT System Board of Regents voted last May to provide $25 million annually toward the medical school and an additional $5 million for the first eight years for equipment. The $30 million will flow through the provost’s office when funding is released in August. 

    UT spokesman Gary Susswein said a hiring committee, under Leslie’s leadership, will decide the new dean’s salary.

    Leslie oversees compensation of the University’s 17 deans whose salaries range from $183,333 to $541,500, according to a salary database published by The Texas Tribune.

    “The first step is finding a dean,” Susswein said. “The hiring committee would then determine appropriate compensation.”

    Doolittle said it is too early in the process to discuss a possible salary.

    The UT System currently has six health institutions and all of them operate independently from the system’s nine academic institutions. UT’s medical school will be the first to be developed as part of an academic institution rather than standing independently. 

    This raises questions about what the new medical school’s dean could receive as compensation. 

    It is unclear if the new dean’s salary will rival the salaries of presidents of the System’s other health institutions or will be similar to UT’s other deans. Deans at UT make significantly less than health institution presidents. For example, Ronald DePinho, president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, receives a base salary of $1.4 million per year, making him the fourth highest paid state employee and the highest paid president in the UT System. 

    In comparison, President William Powers Jr. received a base salary of $613,612 last year, which makes him the highest paid UT-Austin employee, behind a few UT-Austin coaches.

    Additionally, faculty members of the new medical school could receive salaries that surpass the compensation levels of Powers and the new dean. Most health institutions compensate a few professors more than the school’s president. For example, Rodney Rohrich, a professor at UT-Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, makes $1.75 million, which surpasses school president Daniel Podolsky’s base salary of $921,284. Rohrich is the third highest paid state employee.

    Overall, professors and administrators at UT System health institutions made up 21 of the state’s top 25 salaries for government employees last year.

    Susswein said the hiring committee will be put in place soon. Meanwhile, Dr. Robert Messing, the recently appointed vice provost for biomedical sciences, will co-chair a steering committee with Dr. Susan Cox, the Austin regional dean for UT-Southwestern, that will oversee the establishment of a curriculum and residency, research and training programs.

    “Messing will help with a number of steps that need to happen in addition to locating an inaugural dean,” Doolittle said. “We are already working on getting accreditation and set up a curriculum to get the M.D. degree approved. Messing will help coordinate those introductory steps as we set up agreements to pull academic units together.”

    Susswein said the new dean will be charged with hiring faculty members, establishing future budgetary procedures and leading fundraising efforts for the medical school.

    The University expects to enroll 50 students in the medical school’s inaugural class in 2015 or 2016.

  • Bexar County DA office says no charges will be filed against Case McCoy, Jordan Hicks

    No charges will be filed against junior quarterback Case McCoy or junior linebacker Jordan Hicks, who were accused of sexually assaulting a woman in San Antonio on Dec. 28, Catherine Babbitt, Bexar County chief assistant criminal district attorney, told The Daily Texan.

    "Where it stands now, the San Antonio Police Department is not going to file a criminal case with our office nor is my office going to conduct any additional investigation," Babbit told the Texan on Tuesday.

    Hicks and McCoy were suspended and sent home one day before Texas beat Oregon State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 for an undisclosed violation of team rules and reinstated to the team last Sunday. Hicks' attorney, Perry Minton, released a statement that day saying the "investigation is closed", but SAPD said its Special Victims Unit was "still reviewing the case."

    "I don't know the fellow," Babbitt said of Minton's statement. "I don't know why he would say that."

    Hicks missed the final 10 games last season and plans on applying for a medical redshirt, which would make him a junior again next season. McCoy, who started one game last year while backing up sophomore David Ash, will be a senior.