• UT cancels regent's open records request

    A UT-Austin official informed the UT System that Regent Wallace Hall’s impending open records requests have been canceled, according to the Texas Tribune

    In a letter obtained by the Texas Tribune to UT System Interim Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Dan Sharphorn, UT Chief Financial Officer and Custodian of Records Kevin Hegarty explained that the request had been canceled in cooperation with the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations investigation of Hall. Committee Co-Chairs Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, sent a letter to Gene Powell, chairman of the board of regents, requesting that all documents relating to Hall be preserved for the investigation.

    “All or part of these files could relate to the investigation to be undertaken by the Committee of Regent Hall and therefore it is necessary to preserve all remaining records in their fully intact and unaltered form,” Hegarty wrote in the letter.

    Hegarty said all other open records requests would be carried out by the University.

    As part of its investigation into Hall, the House Transparency Committee could begin hearing witness testimony in August or September. Flynn stated at the committee’s July 29 meeting that Hall would likely be one of the first witnesses called to testify.

    Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.

  • UT public affairs professor dies in plane crash

    Public affairs associate professor Shama Gamkhar died in a plane crash on Sunday, according to a posting on the Lyndon B. Johnson school's website.

    Gamkhar, an expert in environmental economic policy, was 54 years old. According to the Austin American-Statesman, her husband died in the same crash of the single-engine plane. The two were the only ones on board. Memorial services are still to be announced, according to the LBJ school's website

    "We have lost a beloved colleague, devoted teacher and wonderful friend, whose memory and example we will carry with us,” LBJ dean Robert Hutchings said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Shama and Sid's family and friends.”

    Gamkhar started working at UT in 1996 as an associate professor. According to UT's course schedules, Gamkhar was scheduled to teach "Energy Issues: Climate Change" this fall. The school has opened a memorial page, where faculty and students can share their thoughts. 

    Follow Bobby Blanchard on Twitter @bobbycblanchard. 

  • UT issues safety alert for students studying abroad

    UT's International Office posted an alert on their website Friday afternoon informing students of a worldwide travel alert from the U.S. Department of State that warns U.S. citizens traveling abroad to be aware of potential terrorist attacks in the Middle East and North Africa.

    "UT travelers who are currently abroad are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness," the message says. "If you are currently abroad and find yourself in need of immediate assistance please contact International SOS anytime 24/7 at 1-215-942-8226(main line) or 1-215-942-8478 (dedicated scholastic hotline), or call UTPD at 512-471-4441."

    The travel alert from the U.S. Department of State says the attack could occur in or emanate from the Arabian Peninsula.

    "Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August," the alert says.

    The travel alert expires on Aug. 31, 2013.

  • Powers signs education letter addressed to Obama

    University President William Powers Jr. signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a greater focus on education spending from his administration and the United States Congress.

    The letter addressed a growing innovation deficit occurring in American schools because of decreasing federal investments in education and cuts caused by sequestration. The letter calls for Obama to reject budget cuts and emphasize substantial and long-term investments in research and education that can better secure the nation’s economic and academic future.

    "Because the innovation deficit undermines economic growth it harms our nation’s overall fiscal health, worsening long-term budget deficits and debt.  Investments in research and education are not inconsistent with long-term deficit reduction; they are vital to it," the letter says.

    The letter was signed by 193 University leaders, including UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and the presidents of other UT campuses, and the effort behind the letter is led by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. 

    Follow Christine Ayala on Twitter @christine_ayala.

  • Who is the Provost?

    President William Powers Jr. named Greg Fenves the University provost Thursday. Fenves was the dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering, and this is what he’ll be expected to do in his new position. 

    The provost is supposed to make sure the concerns and goals of deans, department chairs, faculty and staff reach Powers, and that information from Powers gets back to them.

    The provost is also to put into action recommendations on how to improve the University academically. The provost receives reports from the Commission of 125 that includes many former UT System Regents. Recommendations have included a focus to develop a new undergraduate core curriculum and to establish a more demanding standard for leadership of academic departments and research centers.

    Fenves is replacing Steven Leslie, who was provost for six years. Leslie has said he wants to return to teaching. During his term the responsibilities were expanded to not only oversee academics but also financial aid and. the registrar.