Minor tweaks in the offing for UT’s concealed handgun policy

Rules regarding the carrying of concealed handguns at the University of Texas prompted considerable discussion by the university’s governing board as they were about to take effect last year.

On Wednesday, members of a UT System Board of Regents committee didn’t say a word about minor revisions expected to take effect in the coming days.

The changes to UT’s campus carry policy clarify some definitions but don’t materially change the policy, UT President Gregory L. Fenves told me.

“There are no changes to the exclusion zones,” Fenves said, referring to areas, like on-campus residence halls, that are largely off-limits to concealed handguns.


The clarifying definitions are written with lawyerly precision. Take, for example, the definition of a sole occupant office, which UT’s policy says can be declared off-limits to handguns only via oral notice to anyone who might enter:

“A sole occupant office is a room with at least one door and walls that extend to the ceiling that is assigned to a single person as his or her workspace. The occupant must give oral notice of exclusion.”

The revisions are scheduled to be discussed by the full UT board Thursday, but it’s extremely unlikely that the nine-member board will alter them. Under state law, a governing board must muster at least a two-thirds vote to change rules adopted by a campus president.

The UT board changed one of Fenves’ rules last year, voting 6-2 to eliminate a provision that would have prohibited chambered rounds in concealed semiautomatic handguns on campus.

Trophy symbolizes hope that Muny reaches the century mark

Amid the photos and other memorabilia occupying a corner of the pro shop at Lions Municipal Golf Course stands a new, slyly worded trophy.

“2024 MUNY OPEN,” reads the white lettering on glass. “Celebrating 100 years of great Austin Golfing.” Smaller print notes that it was “donated by the Walter Hopkins family.”

Last time I checked, we’re still in 2017. The wording, of course, is aspirational, and that’s the point. The course dates to 1924.

A trophy, with hopeful wording, donated to Lions Municipal Golf Course.

Relatives and friends of Hopkins, who died in June, donated the trophy to the pro shop as a way to memorialize him. Those relatives and friends, like Hopkins, don’t want the University of Texas, which owns the 141-acre, city-operated course in West Austin, to shut it down and lease the property to developers.

Jerry Frazee, a retired chemist, came up with the idea for the trophy. He and Hopkins were close friends and played golf for many years at Muny. “He came to love the game even though he only broke a hundred on good days,” Frazee said of Hopkins.

Frazee and his son, Don, who is married to Hopkins’ daughter, Teresa, presented the trophy recently to Erik Lopez, a pro at Lions. “My dad’s a lighthearted jokester,” Don said.

UT President Gregory L. Fenves has said he hopes to work out an arrangement with the city that would preserve Muny while perhaps giving the university additional development rights elsewhere on the Brackenridge Tract and on other UT-owned parcels, including those in the Montopolis neighborhood and North Austin.

The university’s governing board had long contemplated leasing Muny for development as a way to boost rental income, but that stance softened as a result of legislation that passed the state Senate — though not the House — to transfer Muny to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department without compensation to UT.

Don Frazee (left) and Jerry Frazee (right) presenting trophy to Lions pro Erik Lopez.

Austin getting $350,000 in ‘talent hub’ funding for degree completion

Austin’s got talent, and the potential to develop a lot more. Hence, it comes perhaps as no surprise that it was named Monday as one of 17 “talent hubs.”

Each of those communities is getting $350,000 to help boost education and training beyond high school. Funding comes from the Indiana-based Lumina Foundation in partnership with the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation.

A coalition led by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce plans to focus on 70,000 college stop-outs — students who have temporarily withdrawn from school or delayed the pursuit of their education. The grant will bolster ongoing efforts to increase postsecondary achievement, said Gilbert Zavala, the chamber’s vice president of education and talent development.

Richard Rhodes, president and CEO of Austin Community College, said workforce needs are especially high in the fields of health care and information technology.

The other talent hubs designated by the Lumina Foundation are Albuquerque, N.M.; Boston; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ind.; Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Fresno, Calif.; Los Angeles; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville, Tenn.; New York; Philadelphia; Racine, Wis.;
Richmond, Va.; Shasta County, Calif.; and Tulsa, Okla.

“These communities are the creative and entrepreneurial engines that power our nation,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation.

The communities will target 18- to 22-year-old students, older adults with college experience who stopped before finishing their studies and adults with no formal education beyond high school. The Lumina Foundation said the talent hubs are committed
to eliminating deep disparities in educational outcomes among African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians compared with white and Asian students.

Emergency grants available to preserve cultural materials damaged by hurricanes

Some museums, libraries, colleges and other cultural institutions in Texas and other states and territories sustained damage to their collections from recent hurricanes. It’s not widely known, but the National Endowment for the Humanities can help.

Emergency grants of up to $30,000 are available from the federal agency to preserve documents, books, photographs, art works, historical objects, sculptures and structures damaged by the hurricanes and subsequent flooding.

The endowment will award up to $1 million in such grants, according to acting Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. The agency has partnered with Humanities Texas and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to address those states’ needs. The endowment is providing about $250,000 in initial funding to the two state humanities councils to be re-granted according to their assessments of local needs.

UT taking on the faces behind latest lawsuit on use of race in admissions

Aerial view of the University of Texas campus and the Tower as seen on April 23, 2017. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This time, for the University of Texas, it’s personal. That’s the inevitable conclusion that springs from the pages of UT’s court papers submitted Monday in a lawsuit challenging its race-conscious admissions program.

The suit filed in June by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit group, contends that the use of racial and ethnic preferences in admissions violates state law and the Texas Constitution. UT’s response in Travis County state district court doesn’t say a whole lot about that claim aside from rejecting it out of hand.

Instead, the university through its lawyers takes on Edward Blum, Abigail Fisher and Richard Fisher. Blum is president of Students for Fair Admissions, while Abigail Fisher is secretary and Richard Fisher is treasurer. All three sit on the organization’s board of directors.

Blum, though not a lawyer, was the architect of a long-running lawsuit in federal court that sought to end affirmative action in admissions at UT. Abigail Fisher was the plaintiff in that case, and Richard Fisher is her father. The U.S. Supreme Court took up that case twice, ultimately finding that UT’s admissions program passed legal muster.

“Now, through their organization SFFA, Blum and the Fishers seek yet another opportunity to challenge UT’s admissions program,” UT’s court papers say. “They cannot accept that each court in their prior litigation ruled against them and determined that UT may lawfully consider race as one of many factors . . . in seeking to foster a diverse student body, which benefits the education of all students.

“Having lost the legal arguments that they asserted from 2008 through 2016, Blum and the Fishers now claim that this honorable Court should give them a new and different result. They apparently believe that their new second-choice, third-choice, and fourth-choice theories should be equally compelling to the unsuccessful arguments they pushed for eight years.”

UT goes on to say that the organization is seeking “a second bite at the apple for its officers and directors: Blum and the Fishers.” And with a parenthetical chip shot, UT makes it clear what it thinks of that strategy: “Blum and the Fishers had their day in court on this issue (indeed, many days in court), and lost.”

UT considers race and ethnicity for a relatively small fraction of its entering class. Under state law, the university reserves 90 percent of its freshman slots for Texas residents, with the remainder for out-of-state and international students. And at least three-fourths of its freshmen from Texas get in under a state law that grants automatic admission based on their high school class rank. Only the remaining applicants, including those from other states and abroad, are considered under a so-called holistic review that takes race and ethnicity into account along with grades, essays, leadership qualities and other matters.

UT study shows how your smartphone can reduce your brain power

Think you can focus completely on something when your smartphone is within reach? Even if it’s off? Think again.

A University of Texas researcher and colleagues at other institutions found otherwise after conducting experiments. It turns out that the mere presence of a smartphone significantly reduces cognitive capacity — in short, your brain power — as you work on certain tasks, according to a UT news release.

The findings have been published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

Study participants took a series of tests requiring full concentration to score well. Beforehand, they were randomly told to place their smartphones face down on the desk, in their pocket or bag, or in another room. All phones were set on silent.

Those with phones in another room significantly outperformed those with phones on the desk, and also slightly outperformed those with phones in a pocket or bag.

“We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” said Adrian Ward, an assistant professor of marketing at UT’s McCombs School of Business. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process — the process of requiring yourself to not think about something — uses up some of your limited cognitive resources. It’s a brain drain.”

Seventy-seven percent of American adults own smartphones, according to Pew Research Center findings cited by the researchers. Ward’s colleagues in the study were Kristen Duke and Ayelet Gneezy at the University of California, San Diego, and Maarten W. Bos at Disney Research in Pittsburgh.

Sen. Estes taking long view on failure of his Muny legislation

Sens. Craig Estes, left, and Royce West, author and co-author, respectively, of Senate Bill 822, converse on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2017.

State Sen. Craig Estes knows that, in legislating, you win some and you lose some. But even when you lose, there is sometimes a small measure of success coupled with an opportunity to try again.

Estes, a Republican from Witchita Falls, can take some satisfaction in his proposal — now dead — to preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course in West Austin. His Senate Bill 822 would have transferred Muny, as the city-operated course is known, from University of Texas ownership to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Much to UT’s surprise, the measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support. It failed, however, to emerge from a House committee.

There is little doubt that the proposal spurred UT to step up negotiations with the city, which wants Muny preserved. UT President Gregory L. Fenves says various options are on the table, inluding a land swap, a higher lease payment by the city and increased development rights for UT on adjacent land and other parcels it owns.

“My hope is that we have shined enough light on this issue that people are aware of the rich history of this place that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” Estes said Monday, referring to Muny’s distinction as perhaps the first municipal golf course in the former Confederate states to accommodate black golfers.

“I give the University of Texas and the city of Austin my best wishes for a successful negotiation,” the senator said. “If they’re able to come to a long-term solution, I’m very excited about (pro golfer) Ben Crenshaw and all of his friends raising the money privately to return that course to its historic grandeur. If negotiations should fall apart, I look forward to returning next session and working as hard as I can to save Muny.”

Beyond-the-grave argument advanced for Muny legislation


There’s been a fair amount of debate lately about George W. Brackenridge’s intent in donating land along the Colorado River in West Austin to the University of Texas in 1910. This week, a kind of back-from-the-dead argument emerged, tongue-in-cheek style.

The setting was Wednesday’s hearing on Senate Bill 822 before the House Land and Resource Management Committee. The measure would preserve Lions Municipal Golf Course, which occupies 141 acres of the 350-acre Brackenridge tract.

First, some background. In the deed transferring the tract to the university, Brackenridge, a banker and long-serving UT regent, wrote that his purpose was “advancing and promoting University education.” He said the donation was “to the State of Texas for the benefit of the University of Texas” and “with the request merely on my part that it be never disposed of but be held permanently for such educational purposes.”

Fast-forward 107 years. Does a golf course leased to the city at below-market rates meet Brackenridge’s intent? Would a mixed-used development generating lease revenue for the city? What about trading the city-operated Muny to Austin in exchange for some city-owned land and increased development rights on UT-owned properties? And what if Muny were transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for preservation as a golf course if UT failed to do so, as the proposed legislation contemplates?

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who is carrying SB 822 in the House, said he was confident the measure would meet with Brackenridge’s approval.

How does he know? “Two weeks ago,” Larson quipped, “I was in a seance and I talked to George Brackenridge.”

Longhorn Network to air commencement speech by former Dallas police chief

If you tune into the Longhorn Network on Saturday evening, don’t expect to watch sports. But you will see another spectacle: the spring commencement of the University of Texas, including an address by the main speaker, former Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown.

Brown was chief of the Dallas Police Department from 2010 to 2016 and rose to national prominence following the assassination of five of his officers in 2016.

His greater legacy is the transformation of the department into one focused on community policing, with an emphasis on shoring up public trust. His book, “Called to Rise,” will be published in June.

Former UT regent leads engineering firm raided by FBI

James Dannenbaum

A series of FBI raids in South Texas has put a former University of Texas System regent’s name in the news.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed that agents visited the offices of Dannenbaum Engineering Corp. in Laredo and San Antonio on Tuesday, along with city of Laredo and Webb county offices, according to a report in the Laredo Morning Times. The FBI’s Michelle Lee said there were no arrests, but she declined to provide additional details of the investigation. Dannenbaum Engineering has received contracts involving a highway extension and a water line in recent years.

Joel M. Androphy, of Berg & Androphy, counsel for Dannenbaum Engineering, released the following the statement Wednesday:

“Dannenbaum Engineering, one of the state’s premier firms for infrastructure planning and design, is cooperating with federal authorities regarding government requests for information. Company management is investigating the basis of the government requests. We are uncertain whether the inquiry is focused on the company’s activities or those of its business competitors. We intend to comment further when appropriate.”

James Dannenbaum earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UT-Austin and rose to become president and CEO of Dannenbaum Engineering, which was founded by his father. After then-Gov. Rick Perry appointed Dannenbaum to the UT System Board of Regents in 2007, it was no surprise that the new regent quickly applied his engineering chops to the position, asking insightful and, sometimes, highly detailed questions about campus construction projects and other engineering-related matters.

When the UT board became divided over various controversies involving the Austin flagship and its president at the time, Bill Powers, Dannenbaum often sided with the regents supporting Powers. For example, Dannenbaum was on the losing side when regents voted to hire outside experts to review the UT School of Law’s use of donated money — a vote that was later undone when the regents, under legislative pressure, decided to have the state attorney general’s office investigate.

Dannenbaum’s six-year term on the UT board included stints as a vice chairman of the board, chairman of its Technology Transfer and Research Committee and member of the Board for Lease of University Lands. His UT board service ended in February 2013. He currently serves on the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Board of Visitors and on the UT Health Science Center at Houston’s Development Board.