• Money for campus construction projects still in limbo

    Higher education institutions across Texas are still no closer to finding out whether they will get money to fund construction on campus this year.

    Legislation to appropriate money for these projects failed in the regular session back in May. Although lawmakers can still appropriate money for these projects in the current special session, they can only do so if Gov. Rick Perry adds the items to the agenda.

    Perry has not responded to repeated requests from lawmakers to add the items to the agenda, despite claims that not doing so could affect recruitment and retention.

    In a press conference Tuesday, Perry did not elaborate on his decision.

    “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call,” Perry said, according to The Texas Tribune.

    UT-Austin is hoping to receive $95 million from the state to complete its $310 million Cockrell Engineering Education and Research Center. Officials have said the building, scheduled to be completed in 2015, would be delayed without state funds.

  • UT regent chairman defends Wallace Hall in letter to Jim Pitts

    As the House Transparency Committee took a step closer to possibly impeaching UT System Regent Wallace Hall yesterday, board Chairman Gene Powell wrote a letter to Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, in defense of Hall’s actions.

    In a recent opinion piece in the Austin American-Statesman, Pitts criticized Hall’s large open records requests for information from UT-Austin. Pitts also filed a resolution in the House to impeach Hall last month. In the letter obtained by Texas Monthly, Powell defends Hall’s actions.

    “Clearly, Regent Hall’s activities are misunderstood and I fear may have been intentionally mischaracterized to you,” Powell said in the letter.

    Powell states that Hall, as with any member of the public, has the right to view the documents he requested under the Texas Public Information Act. Hall did not seek information protected by FERPA or HIPAA. According to Powell, Hall has used the information to improve the UT System and UT-Austin.

    “Regent Hall’s reviews of records have resulted in suggestions for process improvement and better governance at the U.T. System and at U.T. institutions,” Powell wrote. “He has provided observations about U.T. System and institutional inefficiencies and compliance concerns to Chancellor Cigarroa and to me.”

    Powell added that Hall had not shared confidential information to individuals outside of the UT System.

    The House Transparency Committee will continue to investigate Hall and plans on holding its next public hearing near the end of August. The committee has stated that it plans to use its subpoena power going forward in its investigation.

    Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

  • Students now more invested in their writing because of social media

    Some professors may bemoan the impact of Twitter and texting on students’ writing when they arrive at UT, but a new study suggests young people may actually care more about what they are writing today than in the past.

    Most teachers of middle and high school students find that their students are now involved in the writing process because of the audiences they can reach and the ability to share their writing according to the report, which was released today by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

    Around 78 percent of 2,462 advanced placement and National Writing Project teachers surveyed by Pew said digital tools including cell phones and the Internet had encouraged more creativity among their students. Another 79 percent found that these mediums encouraged greater collaboration among students. 

    Still, teachers said their students' writing was more often “fair” or “good” than “excellent.” Also, students today are more likely to have trouble navigating issues of copyright, or “digesting long or complicated texts.”

  • Painter Hall evacuated because of wires in fire alarm panel

    T.S. Painter Hall was evacuated earlier this morning because of a report of a strange odor, but the building is now being reopened.

    Around 8 a.m. this morning, The University of Texas Police Department recieved a call about a strange odor in Painter Hall that was described as burning rubber, said UTPD Public Information Officer Cindy Posey. Emergency services, including UTPD and the Austin Fire Department, responded to the call.

    "After the invesitgation we discovered that is was wires in the fire alarm panel that had burned out, and the smell was coming from the insulation around the wires," Posey said.

    The building is being reopened, and any classes in the building are expected to resume.

    Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter @bobbycblanchard.

  • The Morning Texan: More rain, Ramadan and more

    According to the National Weather Service, Central Texas is in for more rain today. There is a 60 percent chance of rain today, and it is expected to rain for the rest of the week. The weather may finally clear up Friday.

    Here is some morning reading:

    Yesterday's most read story online: Ramadan started last week, and many students are visiting the Nueces Mosque, the oldest mosque in the city of Austin, which provides free food to Muslims and non-Muslims alike who come on the days of Ramadan.

    In case you missed it: The University of Texas has roughly 4,700 trees on campus that are tended to by a team of six people, who help the trees combat the drought, construction damages and squirrels. UT’s Facilities Services department is working on cataloging the trees on campus this summer to better understand how to care for them and learn more about their history.

    What you have to read: State legislators took a step closer to possibly impeaching UT System Regent Wallace Hall at a public hearing Monday, examining what precedents are at hand for the impeachment of appointed state officials.