• Alumni launch online campaign and video alleging Regent mismanagement

    A group of prominent University donors and involved alumni have launched an online campaign criticizing the recent behavior of the UT System Board of Regents.

    Alumni Charles Tate, Joe Jamail and Julius Glickman founded the campaign, entitled “Wake Up, Longhorns,” after two years of disturbing actions taken by the Regents, Glickman said. The campaign encourages concerned citizens to contact state representatives.

    “So many of the recent acts [by the Regents] can be categorized as taking us from excellence into mediocrity,” Glickman said. “That’s what this is really about.” 

    Glickman cited pressure from the board to increase enrollment while refusing a request to raise tuition as just one of several examples of mismanagement. 

    Jamail, Tate and Glickman are all members of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, an organization formed to “promote excellence, accountability and progress” in the state’s universities. Tate and Glickman also sit on the coalition’s executive committee. Jenifer Sarver, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said the two organizations have similar goals but are not connected. 

    “Concerns over the micromanagement of the University by the board are a shared concern,” Sarver said.

  • Colton Pitonyak's attorneys granted expedited appeal

    After citing an alleged Brady violation, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Colton Pitonyak's attorneys mandated oral argument and an expedited appeal process. 

    The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to review Pitonyak’s case based on claims that an investigatory arm of the state withheld the exculpatory evidence containing Hall’s confessions during his initial trial in 2007. Pitonyak’s attorneys were granted a hearing based on a subsequent Brady violation, which according to an official court document filed on March 12 is “perplexing and [deserving] of further review.” 

    Pitonyak, a former UT student, is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence for the 2005 murder and mutilation of then-21-year-old Jennifer Cave, who was found shot and dismembered in a bathtub at Pitonyak’s West Campus apartment. Former UT student Laura Ashley Hall, a friend of Pitonyak’s who is described as his jealous lover according to court documents, is currently serving a 10-year sentence for tampering with evidence. Both fled to Mexico following the murder and were apprehended by authorities during their attempt to cross the border back into the U.S. 

    Pitonyak's attorneys have long suspected Hall is responsible for Cave's murder, citing a slew of evidence suggesting Hall confessed to the murder on multiple occasions.

    Chris Perri, one of Pitonyak's legal representatives, said oral argument has been scheduled for August 27 in Austin. The opposing party's brief is due May 28. 

    "The [mandated] oral argument and expediting order [are] a positive step forward," Perri said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we're cautiously optimistic about these developments." 

  • President Barack Obama, officials promise recovery from West explosion

    WACO — President Barack Obama told mourners to remember the 12 first responders killed in the explosion in West last week that the country stands with them to help restore their town.

    “You are not alone, you are not forgotten,” Obama said speaking at Baylor University on Thursday. “We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors, too. We’re Americans, too. We’ll be there after the cameras leave and after the attention turns elsewhere. Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community.”

    The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. plant killed 14 people — including 12 first responders — injured over 200 and destroyed 142 homes and several buildings, including a nursing home and two schools.

    12 flag-draped caskets laid before the stage at a memorial service in Ferrell Center at Baylor University, each with an accompanying portrait. Before the service, a screen above the stage played a photo montage of the responders set to music, including John Williams’ score to the 1978 movie, “Superman.”

    Obama, who joined state and federal officials onstage at the memorial, said the volunteer responders showed courage and dedication to protecting their neighbors and community.

    “The call went out to farmers and car salesmen and welders, funeral home directors, the city secretary and the mayor,” Obama said. “It went out to folks who were tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day’s work and then be ready for more.”

    Video eulogies played during the ceremony with family members and friends telling stories about their loved ones.

    Gov. Rick Perry said he could offer no words to ease the pain the community has suffered but said the spirit that drove the first responders lives on.
    “First responders know better than anyone there’s no such as a thing as a routine emergency,” Perry said. “The firefighters and medical technicians who died last week in West certainly knew that, but it didn't slow them down as they raced toward that burning factory.”

    U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the responders left a legacy of selflessness and courage that allowed them to face “overwhelming danger on behalf of their community.”

    “When the call went out for help, these men — along with countless others in West — ran immediately toward the danger, not away from it,” Cornyn said. “They ran toward it looking for a way they might help. And though they were taken from us in a blast that shook the earth and shattered buildings, nothing will ever shake the memory of their heroism and their bravery.”

  • White powder found in Bellmont Hall tests negative for threat

    According to UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon, the "mysterious white powder" found strewn over the floor of an elevator in Bellmont hall tested negative for "any threat or concern."

    "Sometime around 11 this morning UTPD received a report that there was 'white powder' all over an elevator in Bellmont," Weldon said. 

    Weldon said there is an abundance of construction taking place around the area surrounding Bellmont, and said police believe this to be the source of the powder. 

    "Out of an abundance of caution, [police] secured the elevator and contacted Enviornmental, Health and Safety to come test the material," Weldon said. "There was no evacuation associated with the investigation. Bellmont was not closed despite a media rumor that it would be. Police just secured the elevators." 

    Weldon said the EHS tests came back negative. The elevator was cleaned and returned to normal operations at approximately 12:30 pm. 

    In an email, UTPD chief of police Robert Dahlstrom said "[UTPD] cleared the scene. The powder tested negative. It was tested by EH&S." 

    When asked if UTPD's response was in any way prompted by the recent Ricin scares in Washington, Weldon said UTPD has been accustomed to responding to "white powder" reports. 

    "Actually, we're used to dealing with these. We received a lot of them throughout the 2000s," Weldon said. 

  • Senate committee approves bill allowing guns in vehicles on college campuses

    Universities would not be able to prohibit students with concealed handgun licenses from storing handguns and ammunition in their vehicles on university property if a proposed law passes the Texas Legislature.

    The Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill by a 4-1 vote Wednesday. The bill, filed by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would prevent universities from adopting policies that would disallow licensed students from storing weapons in privately owned vehicles in parking garages, parking lots and streets located on university property.

    State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman, said he believed Hegar’s proposal was a reasonable alternative to separate legislation that would allow concealed carry license holders to carry concealed handguns inside campus buildings.

    Whitmire said he would not bring that legislation up for a hearing in his committee, citing the Dec. 15 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and law enforcement’s quick response to the Jan. 22 shooting at Lone Star College-North Harris near Houston.

    “Quite frankly, I think there’s probably people right at this moment on campus with illegal guns in their trunk and on their person, but they’re doing it illegally and that’s wrong,” Whitmire said. “For us, the state to allow it, sanction it, I think is wrong at this time.”

    State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, authored legislation in the Senate that would allow concealed carry licensees to carry on campus. Birdwell’s chief of staff Ben Stratmann told The Dallas Morning News that he believes the legislation is “still alive.”

    The situation is different in the House. A bill authored by state Rep. Allan Fletcher, R-Cypress, allowing concealed handgun license holders to carry those weapons on campus gained the approval of the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and is set to be heard before the full House.