• UT to launch five free "massive open online courses" or MOOCs this fall

    UT will be offering free online courses available to anyone around the world starting this fall.

    Four courses will be offered in the fall, including "Ideas of the 20th Century," "Introduction to Globalization," "Bench to Bedside: Introduction to Drug Development and the Commercialization Process" and "Energy Technology & Policy." Next spring, another five courses will be offered including "Jazz Appreciation," "Foundations of Data Analysis," "Mathematics and Effective Thinking," "Introduction to Embedded Systems" and "Linear Algebra: Theory and Computation."

    Harrison Keller, vice provost for higher education policy and research senior lecturer, said the classes, created by UT professors, will offer students a certificate of mastery or completion at the end of the course but will not qualify for course credit for current UT students.

    “UT is one of the leading institutions in technology-enhanced learning education,” Keller said. “This is one of the most interesting frontiers we’re exploring. These courses are aimed at personal enrichment and lifelong learning.”

    The University recently joined the edX program, a not-for-profit organization providing free online learning that was started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The program also includes Wellesley College, Georgetown University and the University of California, Berkeley.

  • Provost Steven Leslie to step down at the end of the summer

    [Originally published Feb. 8 at 12 p.m.]

    Steven Leslie, executive vice president and provost, will be stepping down from his post to return to teaching at the end of August, according to a blog post from President William Powers Jr.

    “For the past six years, Provost Leslie has been an indispensable partner in transforming the academic life of The University of Texas,” Powers said in his blog. “He has guided our deans and vice provosts with a steady hand and a vision that encompasses all aspects of this vast university.”

    Powers appointed Leslie in 2007, who was then serving as the dean of the College of Pharmacy. Leslie joined the University in 1974 as an assistant professor in the division of pharmacology and toxicology.

    The provost is the top academic post at the University and reports directly to the president. All 18 college deans and more than a dozen other senior academic posts are all overseen by the provost.

    Michael Morton, president of the Senate of College Councils, said Leslie has been an advocate for students.

    “Throughout his tenure, Provost Leslie has been a strong supporter of students and has worked constantly to strengthen the university academically,” Morton said. “He’s been an absolute pleasure to work with, and I know he’ll continue to play an important role on campus.”

  • University launches new financial aid program to incentivize on-time graduation

    As part of an ongoing initiative to significantly increase four-year graduation rates, UT will commit $5 million to new financial aid programs, including one which provides loan forgiveness or a salary to students who undergo academic preparation programs or leadership training.

    The $5 million will be divided among four programs, including the Freshmen On-track Program, which will reward certain freshmen who achieve a minimum GPA with one-time $1,000 scholarships, and the Summer Bridging Program, which will support new students in part by replacing lost summer Pell Grant scholarships.

    The largest of the four initiatives is the “Job Success Program,” which will receive half of the total money allocated. The program will provide eligible students the chance to earn up to $20,000 over four years if they spend a certain number of hours each week fulfilling an assigned activity like on-campus service or specific leadership training.  

    David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said the job success program will operate somewhat like a work-study program.

    “This isn’t that much different than a student working off campus or student work study,” Laude said, “but in this particular case, participants getting paid to make the right decisions about their academic behaviors.”

    Laude said he anticipates that one of the greatest challenges he will face regarding the program will be spreading awareness about aid availability.

    “Students who financially supported themselves during high school didn’t go to their principals looking for jobs, so it might not occur to them to turn to on-campus resources now,” Laude said.

    The programs will be funded by one-time university discretionary financial aid, and if it is considered a success, the university will look to other sources of discretionary scholarship money to continue offering similar incentives.

  • Bills in Texas Legislature would consolidate UT System schools in Rio Grande Valley

    Bills filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature on Monday would bring the UT System to consolidating its institutions in the Rio Grande Valley into one entity.

    The bills would bring the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen under the administration of one institution and give that institution access to the Permanent University Fund, a fund established by the Texas Constitution to allocate money to the UT and Texas A&M systems.

    The bills would direct the board of regents to establish a temporary advisory group that would design, develop and choose a location for the proposed medical school.

    At their Dec. 6 meeting, the UT System Board of Regents voted to allow UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to work with the Texas Legislature to establish the school.

    “We believe the students of South Texas deserve access to a first-class education and that this new, PUF-eligible university will have a magnificent impact on the educational and economic opportunities in the region,” Regents Chairman Gene Powell said in a statement released Monday.

    It is unclear how much the initiative will cost, but the regents approved spending $100 million over ten years to help transform the Regional Academic Health Center into the proposed South Texas School of Medicine.

    In January, Cigarroa told the Senate Finance Committee that the System will seek $10 million per year in state general revenue funds to assist the consolidation and establishment of the medical school.

    This is unlike the arrangement that will fund the UT-Austin medical school, which will use revenue from the board of regents, Seton Family of Hospitals, a regional hospital network, and property tax revenue collected by Central Health, Travis County’s hospital district. At that meeting, Cigarroa said the Rio Grande Valley does not have the tax base necessary to support such an arrangement.

    According to each bill, students already enrolled at UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville before the bill takes effect would be allowed to enroll at the new university. The bills state that the new university will hire as many faculty and staff as possible from the abolished universities.

    The House bill is authored by five representatives including state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who filed the bill, and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee. The bill also has five co-authors.

    The Senate bill is authored by four senators including state Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville; Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

    For the System to establish the school, both houses of the Legislature must approve the measure by a two-thirds vote.

    In a statement, Branch said the bill gives the Legislature and UT System an opportunity to enhance education, research and business activity in the Rio Grande Valley.

    “It's our vision that the Rio Grande Valley will one day rival Silicon Valley as an intersection of education and innovation," Branch said.

    The initiative has support from outside of the legislative branch and the UT System.

    During his State of the State Address last week, Gov. Rick Perry said he supported allowing the schools to have access to the Permanent University Fund.

    “This area of the state is critical to our state's future, and our investment in the children of South Texas will be returned a thousand-fold,” Perry said.

  • UT System orders review of policy regarding employee-student relationships

    The UT System Board of Regents will begin a concentrated effort to review all policies concerning relationships between UT employees and students, according to a statement released by board chairman Gene Powell and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa on Sunday. 

    Paul Foster, board vice chairman, will lead the efforts to study the relationship policies at all 15 UT institutions. 

    “Our chief concern is and always will be the safety and welfare of the students at our 15 institutions,” Powell and Cigarroa said in the statement. “The No. 1 priority of all UT administrative leaders, faculty, staff and athletic personnel should be protecting our students and ensuring that their experience at any UT institution is a positive and safe one.”

    Current System policy, which went into effect November 2012, categorizes allegations of sexual misconduct  as “significant events” that must be reported to the system “in a timely fashion.” According to the statement, the rule will be reviewed for possible strengthening. 

    The regents met via telephone conference during a specially-scheduled meeting earlier Sunday to discuss legal issues related to individual athletics personnel and issues related to relationships between employees and students, generally. 

    Also present were Cigarroa and Daniel Sharphorn, associate vice chancellor and deputy general counsel for the System. The meeting, which was scheduled to last approximately one hour, ended up lasting two-and-a-half hours. The last time the Board of Regents scheduled a meeting on a Sunday was Aug. 17, 1958. 

    On Friday, Major Applewhite, offensive coordinator for the football team, and DeLoss Dodds, men’s head athletics director, released statements regarding a previously undisclosed incident of “inappropriate, consensual behavior” that occurred between Applewhite and an adult student during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl events. 

    Applewhite’s salary was suspended for the duration of the calendar year, and he was ordered to schedule a session with a licensed professional counselor.

    In January, former women’s track and field head coach Bev Kearney resigned, several months after admitting to an “intimate consensual relationship” with a student-athlete in the track and field program. The relationship began in 2002 and ended in 2005. 

    According to a policy in the University’s Handbook of Operating Procedures, instituted by UT in 2001, all relationships must be disclosed to appropriate members of the University.

    “The University strongly discourages consensual relationships between supervisors and subordinates, teachers and students and advisers and students,” the policy states. A failure to report the relationship will result in “disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”