UT regents approve pay raise for women’s basketball coach Karen Aston

A healthy boost in pay for Karen Aston, the women’s basketball coach at the University of Texas, was approved Friday by the UT System Board of Regents as expected.

Aston’s annual guaranteed compensation rose $156,187, or 25 percent, to $777,500. Nonguaranteed pay, based on how well the team does, could bump her earnings up by as much as $195,000 for a total of $972,500; that’s $130,687 more than her maximum possible compensation under the previous employment agreement.

The team has steadily improved under Aston, advancing last season to the Elite Eight before losing to the University of Connecticut, the eventual national champion.

“The market for women’s basketball coaches is higher than ever before,” said Chris Plonsky, women’s athletics director. “We wanted to make a statement that we’re committed to her.”

UT filmmaker Paul Stekler to step down from department chairmanship

Paul Stekler, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and chairman of the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas since 2010, will step down from leading the department after the current academic year.

‘”It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” said Stekler, who added that he and Jay Bernhardt, dean of the Moody College of Communication, agreed on the timetable jointly. “It seems like a good time. I’m not retiring.”

Paul Stekler is the chair of the Radio-Television-Film Department in the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin. “Postcards from the Great Divide” is viewable at www.politicalpostcards.org.

Stekler, who will continue teaching, came to UT in 1997 to head the RTF Department’s production area.

“The Department of Radio-Television-Film is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country — much of this owes to his leadership and dedication to students and faculty members,” said Nick Hundley, a UT spokesman.

A Harvard-trained political scientist, Stekler has produced an impressive body of work over the years, winning three Emmy Awards among other honors for his films. His latest project is “Postcards from the Great Divide,” nine short films about the dynamics of politics in nine different states.  The films have been launched online by The Washington Post and PBS Digital.

My colleague Jonathan Tilove blogged about “Postcards” today. Tilove took a deeper dive into Stekler’s films two years ago.

Citing campus carry, sociologist rescinds affiliation with UT lecture named for him

As my colleague Peter Blackstock has reported, singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne canceled his concert scheduled for Thursday at the University of Texas’ Bass Concert Hall. LaMontagne’s reason: the state law expanding the rights of handgun licensees to carry such weapons in a concealed manner on public college campuses.

LaMontagne is not the only prominent person to step away from UT on account of the law. Earlier, the sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards told the university to strip his name from a lecture series named in his honor. UT established the “Dr. Harry Edwards Lectures on Sport and Society” in 2014 in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act.

“My decision was an exceedingly difficult one, but silence is evil’s greatest and most consistently dependable ally,” Edwards, a professor emeritus of the University of California in Berkeley, wrote in a letter to officials of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at UT’s Moody College of Communication.

“The very fact of guns in the class room and on campus inevitably has a ‘chilling effect’ upon the higher education process,” Edwards wrote. “As a practical reality, guns within easy reach by college-aged young people, often living under personal and academic pressures, inevitably will give rise to greater problems of individual suicide, homicide, and accidental death and wounding than to any resolution of the theoretical possibility (not probability) of a mass murder shooter on campus.”




UT’s Fenves likes to mine Ransom Center’s holdings for pithy quotes

I’m beginning to sense a pattern. When University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves spoke last month at the dedication of a memorial to victims of 1966 Tower sniper Charles Whitman, he quoted the Colombian novelist and journalist Gabriel García Márquez, whose archives are housed at UT’s Harry Ransom Center and who wrote that “the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

On Tuesday, in his state of the university address, the UT president quoted T.S. Eliot, the American-born poet, dramatist and critic, noting that some of his papers are at the Harry Ransom Center. Fenves used this line from Eliot to underscore his interest in international collaborations: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

So, is the UT president favoring figures in arts and literature whose papers have been acquired by the university when it comes to extracting pithy quotes?

Perhaps a bit. And why not? The Ransom Center plays in the big leagues of humanities research libraries.

To be sure, Fenves on Tuesday also quoted Ani DiFranco, a singer-songwriter who doesn’t have any papers at the Ransom Center. And the UT president quoted Shakespeare at the Tower memorial; I’m pretty sure he didn’t sell or donate any papers to UT either.

A&M Chancellor John Sharp goes off script, as usual

By his own account, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is counseled by his staff to stay on script. Especially in Austin. But he just can’t help himself.

Case in point: A news conference at Austin Community College’s Highland campus Monday afternoon. A&M officials, ACC officials, officials of the Chevron Corp. and two state senators were on hand to announce a new program in which students admitted to A&M’s College of Engineering will complete the first two years of course work at ACC and finish their engineering degrees at College Station. The Statesman explained the program, which is partially underwritten by the oil giant, in a story Sunday.

ACC President and CEO Richard Rhodes, left, with his new Aggie shirt, and Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp with a Riverbats shirt.
ACC President and CEO Richard Rhodes, left, with his new Aggie shirt, and Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp with a Riverbats shirt.


As the officials were finishing up their thank you’s and congratulations, Sharp and ACC’s president and CEO, Richard Rhodes, exchanged school T-shirts.

“This is something you’ve needed for a hell of a long time,” Sharp told Rhodes, who earned his doctorate at the University of Texas, as they slipped their new T-shirts over their dress shirts.

The chancellor added: “Ordinarily it would be warm with all these clothes, but you’ve got that Big Ass Fan up there. You know, for 38 years I’ve wanted to use a word like that in a press conference, and now I can because that’s the name of that fan.”