Semester in review

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Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

From President Donald Trump visiting Austin to the Speedway bricks being ripped up, here are some of the top moments during the fall. 

Hurricane Harvey

Many students’ semesters were stalled when Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast in August. For more than 17,000 students who came from hurricane-affected counties, the first week of classes were drenched with worry. Incoming freshmen had a particularly rocky start at UT. Gone to Texas and Horns Up Night were canceled, and when Mooov-In weekend fell during the heart of the hurricane rains, many students drove down early or moved in late. The Washington Post reported that after Hurricane Harvey, one of the most intense hurricanes to hit the Texas coast in years, at least 82 died and thousands lost their homes.

A&M Rivalry Game

Student Government scored a win this semester when they secured student support for bringing back the UT and Texas A&M University rivalry game. In a campus-wide vote in September, 97 percent of students voted in favor of the game. SG plans to move forward with the plans next semester, but both schools’ non-conference schedules are booked for several years, and the game might not become a reality until 2025.

Counseling Charges

Of the 10 largest public universities in Texas, UT is one of two schools that charge for counseling sessions, at $10 per session. English sophomore Hollie Cira launched a petition to make the services free for students in November, which has since received more than 4,000 signatures. Students expressed concern with the charges and Student Government declared a mental health crisis in hopes of making mental health care more accessible on campus.

Speedway Bricks

In October, several months worth of work on the Speedway Mall project was ripped up because the bricks laid down did not meet strength requirements. All of the bricks installed on Speedway from Jester Circle to 24th Street will be replaced before the spring, creating additional construction in the area until March. Students reacted strongly to the news and took their thoughts to the internet. Some of them took to pulling up bricks from the ground for a quirky souvenir.

Protesters on Main Mall

In October, a 30-year tradition ended when the Texas Exes eliminated the annual torchlight parade from the Texas Fight Rally because organizers felt the image would be too similar to the white nationalist march in August on the University of Virginia campus.

In early November a group of protesters, some masked and carrying torches, was removed from Main Mall by UT police. UT spokeswoman Cindy Posey said they left campus without conflict when asked. The group was found to belong to a white supremacist organization, and UT President Gregory Fenves condemned the act in a campus-wide email.

Women’s health exam cost tripled

The minimum cost for a woman’s annual health exam tripled for uninsured students in the past year, increasing from $36 last fall to $126 this August. The recent hike pushed UT to have one of the most expensive women’s exams offered by the state’s top 10 largest schools, second only to the University of Texas at Arlington. Jamie Shutter, Women’s Health Clinic director, said she will work in the coming months to bring the cost of the exam down.

Trump visits Austin

Days after Hurricane Harvey finished wreaking havoc along the Texas coast, President Donald Trump visited Austin for a briefing on the damage with Gov. Greg Abbott. A crowd of hundreds lined up around the Department of Public Safety’s Emergency Operations Center to await the president’s arrival. Most of the crowd was there to protest Trump’s presence, but a select few showed up to applaud the president for showing support during such a tumultuous time for the state.

DACA

On Sept. 5, Trump rescinded with a 6-month delay of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created by an Obama-era executive order to protect from deportation the 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. Trump then said Congress has until March 5 to sign its own version of the program into law. Since September, there has been little movement in Congress to create a new version of DACA.

The Tax Bill

House Republicans passed a tax bill in November that will remove tax exemptions for tuition waivers graduate students receive in exchange for teaching or research at universities. Graduate students around the country and at UT protested the bill, which could potentially double or triple their income taxes. The Senate also passed its own version of the bill, and it does not include this provision. Both houses of Congress must go through reconciliation and vote again on the bill before it makes its way to the president’s desk.

North Campus Rape

Austin Police Department is still searching for the man suspected of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a woman around the Hyde Park area on Nov. 29. According to the victim’s report, she was hit from behind and knocked unconscious near the 900 block of Duncan Lane. When she regained consciousness, she was inside an unknown person’s apartment where she was sexually assaulted, APD said. The victim told police she could only describe the suspect as a Hispanic male and did not get a good look at him.

Confederate statues

Just a few weeks before the start of the fall semester, President Gregory Fenves announced the four statues that lined the South Mall would come down in the middle of the night on Aug. 20. These monuments included depictions of three Confederate leaders — Robert E. Lee, John Reagan and Albert S. Johnston — as well as former Texas Gov. James Hogg, who had no ties to the Civil War. For some old and new black students alike, the statue removal represented the knocking down of a major piece of UT’s racist past — but there’s still work to be done.

Non-discrimination ordinances

Out of the 32 cases filed over the past five years, the city of Austin has not once taken the side of someone discriminated against under its nondiscrimination ordinance, according to an analysis of city data by The Daily Texan. One student we spoke with, a transgender woman who was kicked out of a bar for trying to use the restroom, called the city’s ordinance “toothless,” one that doesn’t protect those like her who face discrimination in public accommodations and the workplace.

Sexual Assault Lawsuit

In November, the University settled a lawsuit involving a student who was suspended for sexual misconduct. The settlement resulted in the suspension being lifted for the student, who claimed he did not experience due process in the University’s disciplinary process.

The details of the settlement are not known, but the lawsuit claimed Fenves was biased for political and financial reasons. It also claimed Fenves misapplied the school’s sexual misconduct policy. Questions still linger about the suit’s impact to University policy.

Presidential Power

An investigation by The Daily Texan found that Fenves has more power to decide the outcome of sexual misconduct cases than presidents at other universities. At UT, the president is the final appellate officer, whereas at other schools, the president is usually not involved at all. That responsibility frequently goes to a disciplinary official like the Vice President for Student Affairs or an appeals panel. At schools where the president is involved, there are usually multiple levels of appeal whereas at UT the president’s office is the first and final stop. University officials could not explain the reason for this policy other than the practice has been in place since the 1970s.

UT System Leadership

The UT System Board of Regents governs all 14 UT universities and health institutions and faced some leadership changes this year. Regent Sara Martinez Tucker replaced Regent Paul Foster as chairman in September. 

Chancellor William McRaven will continue leading the UT System as CEO in 2018. McRaven, a renowned former U.S. Navy admiral, became the first and only UT System chancellor to get hired on a contract three years ago. His contract’s expiration this month raised questions about his future, but he’s staying put without the contract. 

DeVos shakes up Title IX

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded former President Barack Obama’s Title IX guidelines for sexual misconduct cases on college campuses in September. Title IX guidelines prohibit gender-based discrimination, but Obama used Title IX to push universities to address college sexual assault under a lower standard of evidence in order to help victims. DeVos has put in place temporary guidelines, which allow universities to use a higher standard of evidence than Obama’s preponderance of evidence standard, and promised a complete overhaul in the next months.