University of Wisconsin

Greg Nemete, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, speaks at the energy symposium hosted by the University of Texas Energy Institute on Thursday evening. Nemete’s presentation covered his research on alternative energy systems and the influences of energy policies on the public. 

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Students can measure their energy use through technological tools.

That’s what Greg Nemet, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin in the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, told students during an energy symposium Thursday in the Peter O’Donnell
Jr. Building.

Nemet, who studies models of alternative energy systems, explained how energy policies influence the lives of college students. His research shows students should be able to analyze their energy use with technological tools.

“Young people have more at stake on energy and climate issues than anyone else,” Nemet said. “My greatest source of optimism in addressing these profoundly difficult challenges is that we have lots of smart people setting out on careers and thinking about ways
to engage.”

The energy symposium discussed research methods that could explain the process of technological change in energy and its interaction with public policy. 

Nemet talked about the influences of past technological changes and the effects of energy policies on future technological outcomes. 

The talk was held by the UT Energy Institute, a body of scholars from multiple schools and research institutes within UT, whose members study a variety of energy issues. The Institute holds weekly energy symposiums with different speakers to introduce students and faculty to energy
policy questions.

Carson Stones, global policy studies graduate and teaching assistant for the symposium, explained how attendees benefit from the Institute’s events.

“Attendees can expect to get access to cutting-edge research, which is highly relevant to today’s most difficult energy questions,”
Stones said.

The Institute gives students the opportunity to broaden their educational experience by creating a community around energy issues of importance to the University. The talks are organized around four main pillars: policy, education, research and
commercialization.

International relations and global studies senior Alaina Heine said she attends the weekly events and explained how the insights of different speakers
influence students.

“Learning about a holistic look on energy, politics and economics gives a different view of every sector,” Heine said. “The level of speakers is incredible and allows students the opportunity to speak with graduate students with
different viewpoints.”

Despite a national unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, the University of Texas is hiring.

In the last two years, several administrators have stepped down or left for various reasons, including deans of law, natural sciences, social work, undergraduate studies and graduate schools.

Last week, Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance, announced she will be leaving the University for a deanship at Cornell University, while Steven Leslie, executive vice president and provost, announced he will be returning to teaching and research in the College of Pharmacy in February. 

At a Faculty Council meeting last month, UT President William Powers Jr. said filling at least one of those seats, the provost position, will be more complicated than usual, largely as a result of tensions between the University and the UT System Board of Regents

“We’re in a tricky situation,” Powers said.

Jeremi Suri, history and public affairs professor, said these departures and recruitment complications reflect a larger trend, as tensions surrounding the regents could make other options for faculty members and administrators more attractive. 

Suri, who joined the UT faculty in 2011, said he left his previous position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in part because of political controversy. He said the situation here is playing out in a similar, if not identical, fashion, and might have serious implications for the University’s recruitment efforts in the future.

“One difference — and it is a big difference — is that UT is far better run and has much more of an emphasis on maintaining excellence,” Suri said. “There is also stronger support from alumni across the state. But there are people who see the University as a sitting duck, as something they can attack to earn political points because they look tough ... and that makes it harder to retain people and harder to bring in the best minds.” 

Alan Friedman, English professor and a former Faculty Council chairman who has worked at the University since 1964, said he also feels the board’s actions have an impact on faculty and administrative decision-making.

“There is a good deal of talk about what is happening on campus as a result of the regents’ actions, and some if it does factor into faculty members who are not staying or who are not coming,” Friedman said. “I think a lot of faculty members feel the campus is under siege from the very people who are appointed to protect and support the quality of the educational experience on this campus.” 

Friedman cited the regents’ recent decision to tighten conflict of interest policies as an example of a point of tension.

“A lot of time is being wasted on these new requirements,” Friedman said. “Absolutely no justification was offered with regard to why the policies are being imposed on us, and there have been no studies done suggesting this will improve the situation on campus. We’re wasting time.”

Though some think the rate of administrative departure is a trend, others attribute it to natural turnover. Leslie, who will step down Aug. 31, said turnover in faculty and administrative roles is something he dealt with every year as provost and is not unnatural.

“I’ll admit these are difficult times right now, but we’ve recruited some of the top talent in the nation as leaders and deans and in other important posts,” Leslie said. “Under any circumstances, people who love higher education and want to lead will come here.” 

The Top Ten Percent Law, which was passed in its original form in 1997, guarantees automatic admission to any state-funded university to all Texas high school students graduating in the top 7-8 percent of their class. It was designed to increase minority enrollment in Texas universities as a “back door” approach to affirmative action — a circuit court ruling in 1996 had banned the overt use of race as a factor in university admissions — but the rule has had an unintended effect at UT: limiting out-of-state enrollment.

Within just a few years, the Top Ten Percent Law began to dominate university admissions; in 2009, 86 percent of the incoming freshman class were applicants granted automatic admission under the law. And as top ten percenters began to comprise more and more of each entering freshman class, there was less and less room for everyone else. The Texas Legislature did enact a cap, for UT-Austin only, during the spring 2009 legislative session that limited top ten percent applicants to 75 percent of the entering class. But that still left shockingly little room for other qualified applicants — Texans outside of the top ten percent and anyone from out of state. Much has been written in this publication and in many others about Texans excluded by the rule, but for now, let’s focus on students — like myself — from outside of Texas.

In these hard economic times, this University has a vested interest in attracting as many out-of-state students as possible. The reason is simple: We pay more in tuition. As the coffers start to run dry and universities begin to do what they can to cut costs — such as privatizing staff and cutting unpopular degree programs — the additional revenue that out-of-state students bring in is invaluable. And it’s obvious that other public universities across the country are hearing this message loud and clear. As the Chronicle of Higher Education has reported, public universities in states like Oregon, Arizona, South Carolina and Louisiana are focusing on attracting out-of-state students for the extra cash flow that nonresident tuition dollars can provide.

Texas is very much unlike those states. But across the nation, many institutions similar to UT in terms of size and influence attract and enroll significantly more out-of-state students. For example, in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is readily available), out-of-state students accounted for 15.7 percent of the entering freshman class at Ohio State University, 36.1 percent at Penn State University and 37.8 percent at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. UT, on the other hand, had an entering freshman class that was just 8.3 percent out-of-state.

But it isn’t just about money. Only by attracting the best and brightest students from around the nation (and not just from Texas, although the pickings are pretty good here) can UT become the elite public university that we all want it to be. Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, echoes this sentiment. “I believe the University has an interest in attracting well-qualified students from all over the place. Diversity of all kinds is important,” he told me. As it stands, UT is lagging far behind its public university rivals in attracting top-quality students from around the nation, and the Top Ten Percent Law is largely to blame. This is something that needs to change.

Seliger, who has opposed the Top Ten Percent Law in the past, was quick to point out that the policy has been successful in increasing minority enrollment. “It has increased diversity to an extent,” he explained, “but not to the extent that would justify dictating 75 to 100 percent of all admissions to the University. And so that’s the subject upon which the debate revolves.” He admitted that many universities would probably not care to see the complete repeal of the policy and that there is a substantial public interest in minority admissions to the University. While this is certainly true, the extent to which Top Ten Percent has prevented UT from dictating its own admissions policies and attracting top students is unacceptable.

Currently, there are plans in both the Texas House and Senate to revise the policy and account for whatever the U.S. Supreme Court might rule in Fisher v. University of Texas this spring, since a decision in Fisher’s favor would, under existing law, dismantle the entire non-top-ten admissions process. When lawmakers take up this issue once again, they should take into account the University’s vested interest in attracting talented out-of-state students as well as in-state ones.

Nikolaides is a Spanish and government senior from Cincinnati, Ohio.

After a three-year search, UT’s Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law announced Tuesday that an international history professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be the first to fill a global policy chairmanship this fall.

The research center appointed Jeremi Suri to serve as the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs. Suri will teach in the department of history and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, which houses the center.

Suri will lead a history and policy program that will bring the two fields together, Strauss Center director Francis Gavin said. He said the center wanted to take time to find someone who would perfectly fill the position.

“His work is policy-relevant and creative,” Gavin said. “He’s an award-winning teacher, and he’s been an institution-builder.”

The chairmanship, created in May 2008, honored Mack Brown for the qualities Gavin said he hopes students develop at the center.

“Mack, in his leadership, reflects some of the best aspects of the University — leadership, creativity and bringing different communities together,” he said. “In an age of globalization, those are the skills we want our students to have.”

Suri has visited the University and said he is excited to join the faculty at UT.

“I am attracted by the opportunity to collaborate with the best minds in the field and build innovative programs that will train the leaders of tomorrow,” he said in an email. “I am also very impressed with the quality and eagerness of undergraduate and graduate students that I have met at UT.”

Suri said he wants to expand international affairs research and create partnerships between the University and businesses, government offices and nonprofit organizations as the Mack Brown chair.

“I want to help build the very best teaching program for the future government, business, and intellectual leaders of our society,” he said.

Florencia Mallon, chair of the history department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Suri was active in the community during his time at the university and developed an online course taken by military members stationed around the world.

Mallon also said Suri personally impacted the students he taught.

“He also is a very dynamic and effective undergraduate teacher and developed a really strong following among undergraduates here,” she said. “He also leaves behind a number of graduate students here at Wisconsin who came to Wisconsin to work with him because of his national reputation.”

Travis County is one of Texas’s 10 healthiest counties, according to a study release by the University of Wisconsin.

In a study from the university’s Population Health Institute released Tuesday, Travis County ranked sixth in overall health outcomes and ninth in health factors among the 223 Texas counties surveyed.

The institute determined overall health outcomes by looking at levels of morbidity and mortality and assessed a number of health factors, including smoking, obesity, binge drinking and access to primary-care providers, said Kate Konkle, an outreach specialist with the institute.

“We really look at this as an opportunity to check up on communities,” she said. “That’s where people are affected by and can affect these health factors the most.”

Every two years, University Health Services assesses similar health factors using the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, said UHS coordinator Sherry Bell.

In the spring 2010 assessment, 62 percent of students self-reported their health as very good or excellent, and 91.7 percent self-reported their health as being good, very good or excellent. Despite the sometimes unhealthy lifestyle of a college student, it doesn’t often lead to sickness, said radio-television-film senior Lindsay Hejl.

“I live alone, and I don’t like to cook so I eat a lot of frozen meals,” she said. “I’ve only been sick once this semester, though. I got the flu, and that was it.”

According to the assessment, 65.7 percent of students reported never having smoked a cigarette, and 21.1 percent reported smoking, but not in the past 30 days. The assessment also showed that 21.9 percent reported they did not consume alcohol, only 6.4 percent of students were classified as obese in the survey results and 89.2 percent of students had health insurance, according to the UHS survey.

The Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services Department has ongoing campaigns to counter factors that affect health in Travis County, including tobacco use, sexually transmitted diseases, the student dropout rate and improved nutrition and education for pregnant women, said Carole Barasch, a spokeswoman for the department.

“In all of these areas, we are making significant progress and will continue to use these county rankings as a tool for further improvements,”
she said.

The department also takes socioeconomic and environmental factors into account when working to improve health trends in the county, Barasch said. “[The Health and Human Services Department’s] mission is to work in partnership with the community to promote health, safety and well-being.”


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After falling in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking survey for the past six years, the University chose not to participate in last year’s survey. At Monday’s faculty council meeting, classics professor Tom Palaima submitted a multi-part question to University President William Powers Jr. asking why UT opted out of the survey when other public research universities considered peer institutions participated and excelled. UT ranked 15th in the world in 2004, but fell each year to 76th in 2009 and did not participate in 2010. University of California Berkeley ranked 2nd in 2004, fell each year to 39th in 2009 and ranked 8th in 2010. The University of Wisconsin ranked between 55th and 79th from 2004 to 2009 and ranked 43rd in 2010. While addressing the question at the council meeting, Powers said concerns about the survey’s methodology came up after discussions with officials from other universities. He said UT and some schools who eventually participated in the survey initially decided not to do so. “Any survey that takes data and divides it by the number of students, as the U.S. News and World Report does with some financial data, we don’t do well on,” Powers said. “We’re okay if we are going to do poorly on academic rankings, we’ll let the chips fall where they may, but if the methodology is designed against a big state research university we often won’t participate.” He said the Times Higher Education reworked their survey methods and worked with other institutions who eventually decided to participate. He said the Times did not work with UT after it had made its initial decision. “I think with the new methodology it is likely we will participate in this survey next year,” Powers said. Palaima said he submitted the question to address claims by Powers about UT’s status as a world class institution and one of the top in the nation despite struggles with budget cuts and falling rankings. “The reason is to get something on record,” Palaima said. “When there is any kind of critical problem, you do best to sort of enunciate and address the problem.” During Monday’s meeting, the council also unanimously passed a resolution in support of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s letter to Gov. Rick Perry, which outlined disadvantages to allowing concealed carry on campus. The council also passed a resolution affirming the current ban on concealed carry on campus in January and plans to announce that it passed these resolutions at a state Senate hearing today on its bill that would lift the ban. Associate sociology professors Ben Carrington and Mary Rose announced the resolution to the council. Carrington said the resolution is meant as a symbolic step to communicate the sentiment most of the faculty hold. “The chancellor took a risk in writing this letter,” Carrington said. “[The resolution] is us in a sense standing behind him.”