Texas State president condemns ‘vile acts,’ touts diversity and open debate

Denise Trauth has been president of Texas State University since 2002. But never before has she sent an open letter to the university community quite like the one that emerged from her reflections during the Thanksgiving break.

“I personally used much of the time to review and mull over the emails, resolutions and letters I have received during the last three weeks pertaining to the presidential election and the events that have transpired in its wake, both on and off our campuses,” Trauth wrote. “These communications include resolutions and letters from academic departments, an open letter to the editor in the University Star, a communication from the Coalition of Black Faculty and Staff, and hundreds of emails from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the university.”

The Texas State campus, like much of the nation, has been roiled by the presidential campaign and its aftermath, as my colleague Anna Herod writes in today’s editions. For example, fliers on campus touted “our man Trump” and threatened school leaders with attacks for spouting “diversity garbage.”

More than 750 students, faculty members, staffers and alumni have signed an online petition asking administrators to declare the university a “sanctuary” for students and staff members who are in the country illegally. The petition complained of fliers calling for “tar & feather vigilante squads” to “arrest and torture . . . university leaders.”

Trauth is troubled by some of the developments.”We will not tolerate vile acts of aggression such as the vigilante posters that appeared the day after the election,” she wrote. “In my role as the leader of Texas State University, I remain staunchly committed to our core values that include diversity, equality, and inclusion.  I have spoken plainly and forcefully on behalf of these values because they are fundamental to who we are.”

By the same token, she said, “many members of our campus community are pleased with the outcome of the election,” adding that a university president has a “duty not to speak out on controversial or societal issues that are beyond higher education, absent extraordinary circumstances.”

“This corollary duty not to speak allows me to be an impartial guardian of the sacred academic environment that we have on our campuses now that allows us — every member of our community — to engage in vibrant, unfettered discourse, discussion, debate, examination, and testing of ideas, thoughts, positions, theories, and concepts known and unknown,” she wrote.

Trauth outlined various initiatives intended to reassure those on campus who feel threatened and to spur intellectual debate, including stepped-up police patrols, public forums for “civil discourse” on controversial issues and a dialogue series on politics, freedom of expression and other topics.

She said university police had not received any reports in the three weeks since the election of  “an assault or a direct threat of an assault upon a Texas State student, faculty, or staff member.” Any threat or assault should be immediately reported to university police, she said.

As for the growing national movement to support immigrant students and the petition urging “sanctuary” status for the university, she wrote: “I am reviewing these initiatives and determining what the University’s role should be.”

UT’s Fenves: Heart surgeon Denton Cooley’s legacy lives on

Denton Cooley, the world-famous heart surgeon, died Friday at the age of 96. Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas, where Cooley majored in zoology and graduated in 1941 with honors, released the following statement:

“Denton Cooley created new standards of care and drove changes in medicine that improved and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients around the world. The University of Texas prepares leaders who can benefit society and improve the world — none more so than Dr. Cooley, who continued to give back throughout his life. His legacy on campus and throughout the world will be felt for generations.”

As the Houston Chronicle reported in this obituary, Cooley attended UT on a basketball scholarship. He lettered for three years and was a member of the team when it won the Southwest Conference in 1939.

UT’s basketball teams practice in the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion just south of the Erwin Center, where home games are played.

The Chronicle story recounts that Rick Barnes, when he was UT’s men’s basketball coach, once invited Cooley to address the team. The surgeon’s sense of humor and his lifetime achievements stood out for Barnes.

“There have been basketball players that have come through UT that have done more for the sport,” Barnes said. “But when you look at his contributions to society, it’s really quite astonishing.”

After graduating from UT, Cooley enrolled at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston and later transferred to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he earned his medical degree.

UT System could face uphill battle on campus carry, tuition, other legislative priorities

Barry McBee, the vice chancellor and chief governmental relations officer for the University of Texas System, was his usual crisp and efficient self when he rattled off the system’s priorities for the state legislative session that begins in January.

Some of the priorities he outlined at a meeting Thursday of the UT System Board of Regents could face considerable debate in the Legislature. Examples:

Campus carry. The system, which oversees 14 campuses, wants to retain a provision in the state’s concealed-handgun law that allows campus presidents to establish gun-exclusion zones. Some lawmakers say presidents have declared too many areas off-limits.

Tuition. The UT System wants to retain the authority, granted to boards of regents by lawmakers in 2003, to set tuition rates. The system also wants to preserve state-mandated tuition set-asides — the use of tuition revenue to provide student financial aid.

Unauthorized immigrants. The system wants to retain 2001 legislation that allows certain unauthorized immigrants residing in Texas to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities rather than the higher prices charged to out-of-state residents.

Veterans. The system wants lawmakers to either fund or scale back a tuition benefit for certain military veterans’ family members. The benefit costs the system nearly $50 million a year in tuition revenue.

 

For student who won seat on ACC’s board, a singular opportunity

Nicole Eversmann, a student at Austin Community College, broke a glass ceiling of sorts on Tuesday by narrowly winning a seat on the college’s Board of Trustees. College officials say students have run for the board in the past, but they were unaware of another student who had prevailed.

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“I am honored and humbled by all the support I received throughout my candidacy,” Eversmann, 21, told me in an email. “I am excited to bring the student voice to the table as a member of ACC’s Board of Trustees. ”

She received 134,684 votes, or 51 percent, in a three-way race for Place 5, based on final but unofficial results. Thomas Miranda, an engineer who operates an Austin-based technology and management consulting firm, got 79,019 votes, or 30 percent of the tally, while Anthony Schoggins, a legislative aide to a state senator, received 51,260 votes, or 19 percent.

The current occupant of Place 5, Victor H.P. Villarreal, decided not to run for re-election.

A student since 2013, Eversmann has taken classes at seven ACC campuses. She served on the college’s Futures Institute, a panel that helped shape a “guided pathways” initiative intended to provide stepped-up academic advising and other support to keep students on track to completing their studies.

Eversmann said during the run-up to the election that service on ACC’s board would allow her to counter a stereotype in some quarters that portrays community colleges as second-rate. She regards the quality of education at ACC as quite high. She will graduate in May with an associate degree and is confident, based on her academic record, of gaining admission to the University of Texas, where she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics.

Like many of those whose who ran for ACC’s board, Eversmann hopes to address parking shortages at a number of campuses, inadequate bus service and a pressing need for child care.  She sees no need to raise tuition or taxes.