Pennsylvania State University

The mobile phone app “Snapchat” launched a new feature called “Our Campus Story” on UT’s campus Friday.

According to a statement released by Snapchat on Oct. 17, Snapchat users on and around campus can view a regular feed of images and videos uploaded by users on the campus. For its first trial of this feature, Snapchat selected UT, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Southern California and Pennsylvania State University. Snapchat launched similar features at Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Electric Daisy Carnival, New York Fashion Week and college football games.

“Our Campus Story was the natural evolution of the Our Story product that we launched at [Electronic Daisy Carnival] this year,” Snapchat said in statement. “Our team heard tons of requests for Our Story at college campuses — so we just had to make it happen.” 

Mike Horn, director of digital strategy at UT, said Snapchat did not consult with or alert the University prior to the launch of the feature, but so far the University has reacted positively. 

“Our first reaction was kind of curiosity,” Horn said. “It’s so new to us that we haven’t developed a formal strategy around it, but it seems like a great tool for students to get a feel for whatever is going on on campus.” 

Officials from Penn State’s and USC’s social media teams said they had not been contacted by Snapchat about the new feature either. 

Horn said Snapchat may have selected the four campuses because of their large base of Snapchat users. 

The Snapchat team filters all uploaded content and removes inappropriate material. The recent feed has included videos of pranks inside University dorms, chemistry experiments, student yoga classes and football locker rooms.

Hugo Rojo, a public relations senior and “pretty consistent” Snapchat user, said he has not uploaded any content yet, but has enjoyed the feed. He said the new feature allows users to witness slices of daily life on campus that they would otherwise never see. 

“With the introduction of Our Campus Story, it’s really providing a lens to the greater campus community to people who normally wouldn’t be able to experience it,” Rojas said.

Snapchat is planning to expand its Our Campus Story to other campus locations around the world.

In July, UT garnered unwelcome attention when the Public Accountability Initiative, a Buffalo-based non-profit, reported that the Plains and Exploration Company (PXP), which extracts natural gas from Texas shale using hydraulic fracturing or fracking, had paid UT geology professor Charles “Chip” Groat $413,900 to serve on its board, more than twice his professor’s salary. This was problematic because Groat had led a UT Energy Institute research team that issued a study in February concluding no direct link exists between fracking and groundwater contamination.

The University reacted by publicly admonishing Groat—University Provost Steven Leslie told reporters, “Dr. Groat has been reminded of his obligations to report all outside employment per university policy,” and announcing in August a three-person panel of outsiders unaffiliated with UT to review the Energy Institute’s fracking study. But if the episode’s only takeaway message is that Groat misled the University, larger points have been missed:

Groat’s PXP board membership was one of several problems the PAI report identified in the UT fracking study. Both the Texan, in an editorial published prior to PAI’s report, and PAI in that report questioned the UT Energy Institute’s press release about its study, which oversimplified the findings by stating: “Study Shows No Evidence of Groundwater Contamination from Hydraulic Fracturing.” The study itself was a 400-page-long review of news coverage about fracking and previously reported scientific findings rather than new experimentation, along with numerous typos and editing marks, the study contained 54 sources, which were cited in the text but not found in the listed references. The PAI report declared a claim by Energy Institute Director Ray Orbach “that the report was peer reviewed” unfounded.

“[I]t doesn’t appear it was even edited,” the PAI report said about Groat’s study.

A university with so many ties to the oil and gas industry should have taken abundant cautions before endorsing a report so apparently favorable to that industry, particularly since questions about industry-funding conflicts related to fracking research had arisen previously when Pennsylvania State University researchers released a 2009 report. When easily identifiable and quite frankly embarrassing mistakes were pointed out, the University should have taken ownership of the problem instead of simply seeking to scapegoat Groat.

An August press release announced the three-person review panel and gave the reason for the inquiry: “Groat failed to disclose ties to the energy industry. That failure to disclose information has generated controversy about the reliability of the report.” The press release made no mention of the exaggerated, original press release, which both the PAI and the Texan noted was chiefly responsible for the propagation of a misrepresentative conclusion, or the study’s other errors such as the unfounded sourcing.

Unquestionably, Groat should have reported his potential conflict. But, as the UT ethics rules stood at the time, Groat was not required to fill out a financial disclosure conflict of interest form because the Energy Institute study was funded by the university. The UT Board of Regents recently expanded those disclosure requirements in an August 23 meeting. Kevin Connor, a PAI researcher, told The Texan he learned about Groat’s board membership and payment from PXP “by Googling his name.” If Connor could use Google to find Groat’s potentially conflicting PXP board position, why didn’t UT officials before giving Groat’s report the go-ahead at least check if he still had outside employment and if it was with an oil and gas company? That and the other errors PAI raised were ones a more scrutinizing employer could have found. The notion that Groat’s failure to disclose his PXP payment represents the whole or even crux of the problem with the UT Energy Institute study creates too convenient a rationalization for a university that aspires to be a leading authority on energy issues but has in recent months failed to show leadership or authority.

Printed on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 as: UT's scape 'Groat'

“First it giveth, then it taketh away.” The rock band Queens of the Stone Age lyrics sum up the situation at Pennsylvania State University.

On July 23, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced punitive measures against Penn State’s athletic program in response to the university’s internal investigation, which found administrators and coaches covered up the sexual abuse scandal surrounding former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The NCAA fined Penn State $60 million, banned the school from participating in post-season play for the next four years and scrubbed the Nittany Lions’ football wins from the past 14 years of NCAA records.

Many cheered, but the most outspoken critics questioned whether the NCAA overstepped its bounds with a too-harsh punishment.

More important and a less popular discussion was not the NCAA fine’s fairness, but how American universities have reached the point where athletic departments’ can cough up a $60 million fine.

At UT, $60 million quadruples the money allocated to the university library system in the 2011-12 budget, and further dwarfs the teaching budgets apportioned to many schools and colleges campus-wide.

As with Penn State’s, but few others nationwide, UT’s athletic department is self-sustaining and isn’t subsidized by the university. And while Penn State’s $53.2 million annual revenue from football – which, not coincidentally, is roughly the amount of the NCAA’s fine – may seem large, it’s $20 million short of UT’s football program revenue from the 2010-11 fiscal year, the most recent period for which data is available publicly.

For thousands of students and alumni, college athletics are central to the university experience. UT’s athletic program contributes funds to the university’s general budget. Eager fans purchase season tickets and officially licensed UT merchandise (the royalties from which contribute to the athletic department’s yearly budget surplus). It is difficult to advocate completely forsaking the department, which earns yearly revenues more than twice the nearly $78 million annual budget for the College of Liberal Arts, the school with the largest budget allocation on campus.

Robert Maynard Hutchins, the reform-minded chancellor of the University of Chicago from 1945-1951 famously said: “There are two ways for a university to be great: It must either have a great football team or a great president.”

Hutchins abolished the University of Chicago’s intercollegiate football program and built a world renowned institution of higher education.

At Penn State, the football program and its former head coach, Joe Paterno, provided the school with millions of dollars’ worth of scholarships and endowment funds and also gave the school a source of pride and identity. But with its role in the Sandusky scandal, the same football program, the main event in State College, PA or “Happy Valley,” took from the campus what it once gave—money and morale.

Penn State and the University of Chicago teach our university not to conflate the success of our athletic teams with the success of our academic departments. The health of one, financial or otherwise, is often confused with the health of the other ­, a mistake.

The Texas Constitution mandates the establishment of “a university of the first class ... for the promotion of literature, and the arts and sciences.”

Having a football program that solely perpetuates its own success without significantly contributing to UT’s stated larger mission sidesteps the original justification for the university’s existence.

Penn State also shows that college football, where the stakes and dollar figures are so high, developed a culture of loyalty so unyielding that the welfare of disadvantaged children became a secondary consideration. Few athletic programs operate under stakes as high as those that existed in pre-scandal Penn State, but UT’s is among the few that do. The cautionary tale of Happy Valley is one from which UT must learn.

International Relations and Global Studies senior Billy Yates is embraced by a friend as he prepares to speak out against the arrests of 18 students at the UT Sweatshop-Free CoalitionÂ’s protest Wednesday. The group gathered in front of the tower Thursday afternoon to demand that President Powers drop the charges against the students.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Howeth | Daily Texan Staff

All 18 protesters arrested Wednesday in the lobby of President William Powers Jr.’s office were released from Austin Police Department custody Thursday morning and gathered on the Tower steps at noon to reiterate their message and rally support.

The protesters, who are members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition, drew more than 50 people to the rally.

Coalition members including Asian studies senior William Yates, former UT student Bianca Hinz-Foley and Latin American studies junior Jessica Alvarenga addressed the crowd. Assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi and education professor Noah de Lissovoy also spoke on the steps in support of those arrested.

Shingavi said the Fair Labor Association, the labor monitoring organization with which UT affiliates, fails to ensure the basic rights of factory workers producing UT apparel because it is beholden to the corporations it ostensibly monitors.

“Asking the FLA to verify that there are no human rights abuses is like asking [former Pennsylvania State University football coach Jerry] Sandusky to make sure there is no pedophilia,” Shingavi said.

The University should instead join the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights organization that protects workers’ rights, Shingavi said.

Standing near the marble plaque where the University’s Core Value — to transform lives for the benefit of society — is engraved, de Lissovoy said the University should stand behind the arrested students.

“Instead of prosecution, the University should think about supporting these students,” de Lissovoy said. “They acted upon the principles that any decent liberal arts and sciences education should stand for. We as educators should support this.”

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, more than 20 UT faculty members had signed an online open letter to the administration requesting that the University drop all charges against the students.

The group has been protesting the University’s affiliation with the FLA for at least two years.

Speaking on behalf of the University’s administration, director of media relations Gary Susswein said Wednesday’s protest has not changed the University’s stance on the issue. UT will maintain its affiliation with the FLA and will not join the WRC, he said.

“Our position remains the same,” Susswein said. “The issue is closed.”

Yates said Wednesday’s acts of civil disobedience opened up a new period of opportunity for the movement to eliminate the production of UT trademarked apparel in sweatshop conditions. Yates serves as a regional coordinator for United Students Against Sweatshops, which broadly defines sweatshops as any place where the human rights of workers are abused, according to the USAS website.

“This is really a new beginning,” Yates said. “[Wednesday’s events] have really reinvigorated our campaign. Community members, donors and alumni are upset that students are being arrested for this. Now it’s a matter of mobilizing these people to take it to the next level.”

The coalition’s plan is to use its momentum to make President Powers aware that many members of the UT community support the University joining the WRC, Yates said.

“This whole next week we will have delegations of community supporters — from students, from nonprofits, from faculty — deliver letters to the president’s office,” Yates said. “It should be peaceful.”

Throughout his campaign, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has made countless outlandish remarks targeting dozens of groups in the nation. Among his targets is higher education, which he attacked for its “liberal indoctrination,” and called President Obama a “snob” for his efforts to make college tuition more affordable.

Santorum charged Obama’s hope for every “American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training,” as a means to impose liberal viewpoints on young, moldable minds. He argues that many Americans are more suited for vocational training or technical schools. Unfortunately, his charge of Obama’s snobbery falls flat as Obama indeed includes vocational training and technical schools in his educational goals for young Americans, not just university education. In a speech at the National Governor’s Association, Obama reiterates his belief: “We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a $1 million piece of equipment.”

Santorum’s woes with the “indoctrination mills” that are our country’s acclaimed higher education institutions come from challenging experiences he faced at Pennsylvania State University as a student. Santorum asserted, “I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views,” and further speculates the conservative witch hunt in universities could be worse today.

While the student body at UT is viewed as liberal, the professors and course content remain neutral. As a government major at the University, I must constantly address my political views in my coursework. My government professors have been both conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat. At no point have I felt that I’ve “been docked” for my personal political beliefs, but rather constantly encouraged to adequately support these beliefs in the framework of the class. While Santorum argues we have “some real problems at our colleges with political correctness,” I have found that in class, this culture of political correctness protects all students’ political views — from the extreme left to the extreme right. In my experiences, professors are careful to accommodate to everyone’s political views while teaching their course material in a neutral manner.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Santorum erroneously states, “62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.” According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, indeed 64 percent of students at traditional four-year institutions curb their church attendance habits. Strikingly, however, the study also shows, “76 percent of those who never enrolled in college report a decline in religious service attendance.” Furthermore, 20 percent of those not in college no longer identified with a religious affiliation, as opposed to 13 percent of those in college. Santorum’s views fail to account for the generally lower degree of religiosity among American youth, and instead, he attacks higher education institutions.

The University encourages a thriving and open religious community, sponsoring numerous religiously affiliated organizations. These include Christian fraternity organizations such as Brothers Under Christ, youth groups such as Young Life and religious centers such as Texas Hillel. Minority religious groups also have a place on the UT campus, with groups such as Ismaili Muslim Student Organization and Coptic Students of Texas. This past weekend, more than 3,000 UT students participated in the Hindu religious festival Holi. Religious studies sophomore Erica Deitzel recently founded an “Interfaith Prayer Breakfast” to give students a space to discuss college, life and diverse faiths.

While Santorum may have been ostracized during his college days, the University’s neutral teaching policies and vibrant religious life contradict his claims of indoctrination. Higher education gives students an opportunity to determine their political beliefs as they are exposed to new ways of thinking. Students also develop a sense of tolerance necessary for functioning in a country as diverse as the U.S., while still given the opportunity to cultivate their personal beliefs. Santorum’s anti-intellectualism disputes some of the most fundamental American values — tolerance and appreciation of diversity.

Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.