In displaying his handgun, UT student triggered an investigation

When The New York Times wrote about campus carry at the University of Texas the other day, it included a vignette about a 21-year-old student who carries a concealed handgun.

Except it wasn’t concealed.

The student, identified as Huyler Marsh, a graduate student in accounting, “lifted the tail of his red plaid shirt to show a black .45-caliber pistol sticking from a holster wedged in the back of his waistband,” according to the article. This took place “on the fourth floor of a library on campus.”

The article included a photograph of the student in that pose, although it wasn’t clear whether the photo was taken on campus.

A UT spokesman noted that state law “is unequivocal that handguns must remain concealed on public university campuses” — presumably unless they are taken out of concealment for self-defense purposes.

“The University of Texas at Austin takes seriously any allegations that this law has been violated,” said the spokesman, J.B. Bird. “University police have begun a preliminary inquiry into this complaint to determine if the safety of UT community members, visitors or this student was compromised, and will ask the Texas Department of Public Safety, which grants the licenses to carry handguns, to review it. Additionally, the office of the Dean of Students is reviewing the incident and speaking with the student involved.”

Bird added: “University police will conduct similar inquiries into any other complaints about individuals possibly exposing a handgun on campus and the Dean of Students will participate in reviews involving UT students. Federal privacy laws will prevent us from publicly discussing any administrative actions the university may take concerning an individual student’s behavior.”

Lucy’s discoverer disputes UT researchers on cause of death

Anthropologists are famous for disputing each other’s interpretations of the fossil record. Reaction to a new study of Lucy, the fossil of an ancient human cousin, is no exception.

As the Statesman reported, researchers at the University of Texas suggest in a study published in the journal Nature that the celebrated specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, who lived 3.2 million years ago, probably died from a fall from a tall tree. The researchers studied thousands of CT scans of Lucy’s skeleton to conclude that numerous fractures were consistent with a catastrophic fall, with death following swiftly.

A number of anthropologists have applauded the study. But as The New York Times reports, some others aren’t so impressed.

Notably, Donald Johanson, the paleoanthropologist who discovered Lucy in 1974 in Ethiopia, said it was far more likely that the fractures UT anthropologist and geologist John Kappelman attributes to a fall actually occurred long after her death, as bones were buried under sand.

“Elephant bones and hippo ribs appear to have the same kind of breakage,” The Times quoted Johanson as saying. “It’s unlikely they fell out of a tree.”

Confederate groups deplore UT’s removal of inscription

The removal of an inscription at the University of Texas that pays tribute to the Confederacy doesn’t sit well with two groups representing descendants of those who fought for the South in the Civil War.

A resolution adopted by the Descendants of Confederate Veterans on Friday says its members “vehemently oppose and protest the willful removal” of the inscription “with no consideration for the memory and sacrifices of that group of men, women, and children” to whom the Littlefield Fountain was dedicated.

And Kirk Lyons, a lawyer for the Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the American-Statesman that UT’s action was “an outrage” akin to “ethnic cleansing” but without slayings.

As the Statesman reported this week, the inscription on a wall near the Littlefield Fountain was quietly removed last month on orders from UT President Gregory L. Fenves, who had announced last August that it would remain. Fenves said he concluded after much consideration that it was “inappropriate for our goal of diversity and inclusion on campus.”

The inscription pays tribute to “the men and women of the Confederacy who fought with valor and suffered with fortitude that states rights be maintained” and who were “not dismayed by defeat nor discouraged by misrule.” It makes no mention of slavery.

The resolution by the Descendants of Confederate Veterans notes that the memorial was given to UT by George Washington Littlefield, who was a major in the Confederate army, a university regent, a banker and a rancher. The resolution “deplores racism” and supports the university’s diversity efforts “so long as the cultural heritage as funded by Major George W. Littlefield is not forgotten, diminished or neglected.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued unsuccessfully last year in an effort to prevent the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, from UT’s Main Mall. The group is awaiting a decision from the Texas Supreme Court on whether it will take up the case, Lyons said.

UT-Austin grad leads university that was attacked in Afghanistan

The university in Afghanistan that was the scene of a deadly attack Wednesday has a significant Austin connection. The president of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul earned his Ph.D. in foreign language education in 1997 at the University of Texas.

Mark A. English is a fluent Arabic speaker and linguist who also holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a master’s in civil government from Campbell University.

The Associated Press, quoting Afghan authorities, said 13 people, including seven students and one teacher, were killed in the attack. Three police officers and two security guards were also killed.

English was an Army officer while studying at UT, said Elaine Horwitz, a professor of curriculum and instruction at UT and former director of the graduate program in foreign language education. He was “a very strong member of the foreign language education community” and a “ leader in the graduate student organization,” she said.

English became president of the American University in July 2015 after serving as acting president since January 2015, according to the website of the Friends of the American University of Afghanistan.

More than 4,000 sex toys doled out for UT campus carry protest

Some 5,000 adult toys go up for grabs for free to students at the University of Texas Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. The event was intended to protest Texas Senate Bill 11 allowing concealed handguns on public university campuses. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Thousands of adult toys go up for grabs for free to students at the University of Texas Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. The event was intended to protest Texas Senate Bill 11 allowing concealed handguns on public university campuses. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

It’s not every day that more than 4,000 sex toys get passed out on a college campus. Tuesday was such a day at the University of Texas, part of a protest against a new state law that allows handgun licensees to carry concealed weapons in classrooms and certain other areas of public universities.

Robaa Al-Najar, a sophomore double-majoring in psychology and neuroscience, picked up a couple of the toys that were shaped like an oversized male organ. How long will she be toting them around strapped to her backpack?

“Probably for just a day,” Al-Najar said. “Hopefully the message gets across.”

She added, “We know administration supports us.” That was a reference to UT President Gregory L. Fenves, who opposes guns on campus but is obliged to allow them, with some exceptions, under the campus carry law passed last year.

Distribution of the sex toys went off smoothly, said Ana López, vice president of Students Against Campus Carry. The toys were donated by various companies and given away for free, although students could buy T-shirts featuring a rooster and the movement’s slogan, “#CocksNotGlocks.”




UT’s Fenves, regents offer muted reaction to campus carry ruling

The president of the University of Texas and the university’s governing board won the first round in a lawsuit concerning concealed carrying of handguns on campus Monday. But because of the squishy politics of this issue, the president and a spokeswoman for the board were hardly gleeful in their reaction.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel denied a request by three UT professors for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed them to ban handguns in their classrooms. Campus carry rules adopted by UT President Gregory L. Fenves allow handgun license holders to carry such weapons in a concealed manner in classrooms, some offices, some labs and certain areas of dormitories.

But neither Fenves nor UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven wanted guns on campus in the first place. They lost that debate last year when the state Legislature passed a law allowing concealed carry in public college and university buildings, subject to limited restrictions by school presidents.

“Academic freedom and free speech are essential to the university’s core values and I am firmly committed to upholding them,” UT President Gregory L. Fenves said in a statement. “Many faculty members have concerns about campus carry and the university will continue to work closely with them as we implement and uphold the new law.”

Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, spokeswoman for the UT board, was similarly muted: “This is a difficult issue on which there are a variety of well-intentioned opinions, but our obligation at this point is to follow the law as written. We will continue to support UT presidents as they work with faculty, staff and students to keep our campuses safe and to ensure academic freedom and free speech are protected.”

In contrast, state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a defendant in the professors’ lawsuit along with Fenves and the UT regents, is a supporter of campus carry, and his reaction reflected that posture:

“I am pleased, but not surprised, that the Court denied the request to block Texas’ campus carry law. There is simply no legal justification to deny licensed, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas. The right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed for all Americans, including college students, and I will always stand ready to protect that right.”





UT’s Fenves: We’re not dumbing down courses to boost graduation rate

The four-year graduation rate at the University of Texas is on the rise. As my story the other day noted, it reached 57.8 percent last fall, the highest on record for a campus that had a slacker reputation for decades when it came to getting students out on time.

The goal, set by former President Bill Powers and embraced by his successor, Gregory L. Fenves, is to graduate 70 percent of entering freshmen in four years by fall 2017.

An alert reader posed the following question: “Are we pushing them through meaningless cream-puff  courses and awarding undeserved  passing grades, or does this represent increasing student  awareness and concentration in rigorous courses?”

I posed a similar question to Fenves recently when I spoke to him for a story about the controversies and other challenges he has faced since becoming the leader of Longhorn Nation in June of last year. Here’s what he said in a quote that didn’t make it into that story:

“No, we’re not dumbing down the curriculum. Standards aren’t going down. The student success is not built on remedial education. Students are rising to the standards, given the support systems, especially for students who are first in their family to go to college and don’t have that kind of family support necessarily. And they support each other; that’s been a key part of what we’ve done, especially for freshmen persistence. Students are much more successful if they have peers that are going through this tough challenge, making that transition from living at home, going from high school to college where there are high expectations, and that small network is very, very important for student success.”

Great to see ‘complexities and ambiguities’ of campus carry aired, professor says

Three University of Texas professors sat quietly at a table with their lawyers Thursday during a federal court hearing in Austin on the professor’s campus carry lawsuit. Afterward, one of the faculty members, Mia Carter, an associate professor of English, said that it was hard to read how the judge might rule.

“It was great to see the complexities and ambiguities of the case being aired,” Carter said.

Kind of like a classroom discussion, I suggested. She chuckled.

At the center of the professors’ case is their contention that actual classroom discussion would inevitably be chilled by the possible presence of concealed handguns. Renea Hicks, one of their lawyers, said the trio simply wouldn’t push students as hard and as far intellectually as they have in the past, for fear that someone with a weapon might snap.

The professors want the option of banning concealed handguns from their classrooms. The university and state Attorney General Ken Paxton say that option does not exist.

At one point during the hearing, it seemed that the professors might not face any disciplinary action if they went ahead and told their students guns would be a no-no. Lawyers for UT quickly tried to disabuse Judge Lee Yeakel of any such notion.

The judge set a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline for filings in the case and promised to rule quickly on the professors’ request for a preliminary injunction that would allow them to bar handguns.