Chelsea Adler

The UT System Student Advisory Council approved a recommendation to implement more student involvement in budgetary decision-making on Saturday. UT-Austin’s current system of college tuition budget advisory councils influenced the new recommendation. “Students really weren’t involved in the budget-making process, their role was basically reactionary,” said Michael Morton, UT-Austin Senate of College Councils communications director. “They didn’t really have any input into it. Since CTBACs were founded last semester at UT, it has put students in a proactive role and they can actually have a say and actually have their voice heard by administrators.” The councils will bring the resolution in front of the Board of Regents in May. If it is approved, every UT System school will either be encouraged or required to form college tuition advisory councils. Chelsea Adler, president of the UT Senate of College Councils, and UT Student Government President Scott Parks represented UT at the council meeting on Saturday. Each UT System school sends two representatives. Grace Bielawski, the UT-Dallas student body president, drafted the resolution. “Grace drafted the resolution based on research that she had done on different campuses,” said Dina Shahrokhi, UT-Dallas student body vice president. “A lot of it was based on what UT-Austin has done as well as comments from her committee members which included representatives from all the different UT system schools.” Shahrokhi said because of budget cuts, there will be a lot of changes, and a lack of student representation is unacceptable because it is the students’ educations that will be affected. “At UT-Dallas, currently, to my knowledge, we do not have any system in place to where the students have any institutional say in what will happen within the budgetary cycle,” Shahrokhi said. “So if this were to pass, of course it would still be up to the individual institutions, including UT-Dallas, to actually implement the plan even if it’s highly requested by the regents.” Adler said it is vital to have students informed about budget decisions and the administration needs to understand where students’ priorities are. “It’s been an idea for a while from past Senate leaders, and so when I got elected back in April, the Vietnamese language program had just been cut, and that was when a bunch of student leaders sat down and said we really need to have students to have a voice in this process,” Adler said.

A student coalition met with four Texas senators and two Texas House representatives on Monday to raise the Longhorn voice at the Capitol.

Students from groups such as Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly formed the Invest in Texas coalition, a group that will lobby for higher education issues such as opposing budget cuts to higher education, supporting competitive insurance benefits and gun control on campus.

Chelsea Adler, Senate of College Councils president, said she and students Jimmy Talarico and Daniel Spikes met with senators and representatives on Monday to talk about the coalition’s platform and gauge their responsiveness.
“The meetings today have gone really well. Everyone has been really receptive to our ideas,” said Alder, a government and social work senior.

The group’s main priority is to keep budget cuts to higher education proportionate to the total amount spent on higher education, she said. Gov. Rick Perry’s $182.3 billion two-year budget plan, which will last from Sept. 1, 2009 until Aug. 31, 2011, allots 12 percent of all spending to higher education, but in the last fiscal year higher education made up almost 42 percent of all budget cuts with a $75.5 billion deficit, she said. This session, the Legislative Budget Board, an agency that recommends potential cuts to state agencies, suggested a $93.2 million cut to UT, said University Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty.

The group will also lobby for competitive insurance benefits and work with other universities to gain the ability for public schools to choose their own individual safety policies, including the ability to choose to outlaw guns on campus, she said.

“This is such a pivotal time for our University, and we need as many students as we can to get involved with lobbying for these issues,” Adler said. “There’s lots of ways to get involved and make an impact, and the easiest one is lobbying.”

The coalition’s first lobbying day will be in March at the Capitol, she said.

Eventually, the group wants to work with other Texas schools and the rest of the UT System to gain the same benefits for all schools in the state, said Talarico, SG executive director and government senior.

“Students have seen the effects of budget cuts on our campus already with things like increased class sizes, entire programs cut, reduced facility hours and fees at the doctor’s office,” he said. “If we want to prevent that from happening again, students must become involved in the legislative process. These lawmakers are deciding the future of our campus.”

One of the group’s plans is to have members of its organizations send postcards to their hometown’s representatives explaining the Invest in Texas platform, Talarico said. Getting home districts on the side of the students is a good to reach out to the Capitol, said Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, who met with Adler, Talarico and Spikes.

“The Capitol has to hear your voice from all over the state before you really have an impact on these issues,” said Spikes, the legislative director of the Graduate Student Assembly and an educational administration graduate student.

The presidents of UT’s three student governance organizations selected U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison as the commencement speaker for the May 21 event on the Main Mall. The senator will speak at a UT graduation ceremony for the second time. Hutchison also addressed the graduating class of 1998. As an alumna of the class of 1962, law school graduate and former cheerleader, Hutchison agreed to speak to the University at no charge. “It is particularly gratifying to be able to speak to the graduates of my alma mater,” Hutchison said, in a statement. “Like so many generations of UT graduates, life’s challenges and potential awaits them.” Student Government President Scott Parks, Graduate Student Assembly President Manny Gonzalez and Senate of College Councils President Chelsea Adler decided that Hutchison should speak at the ceremony because of her UT background and her career. Adler said the trio attended meetings in President William Powers’s office starting last summer to come to a decision. “It was an informal consensus,” Adler said. “Hutchison was on the list from the beginning.” While Parks, Adler and Gonzalez had the final say, Adler said the bodies of students that each president led suggested other potential commencement speakers. Powers also had oversight of the decision. Adler said Powers met Hutchison and said he was sure that there was no chance of the senator turning the opportunity into a political situation. “We see her as a Longhorn first and a Republican second,” Adler said. “She’s not quite as polarizing as other politicians.” Notable speakers from past commencements include President Lyndon B. Johnson and computer pioneer Michael Dell. Actress Marcia Gay Harden spoke last year. College Republicans President Justin May said he thinks Hutchison is the best choice for speaker in his four years at UT. May said he thinks Hutchison is one of the more bipartisan politicians. University Democrats President Billy Calve said he looks forward to hearing Hutchison’s remarks. “Commencement is a time to celebrate the achievements of UT graduates and put partisan politics aside,” Calve said.

The Senate of College Councils and the Office of Academic Service Learning are working together to help students find courses that will combine academics with community outreach.

On Thursday night, the Senate passed a resolution in support of adding a service learning flag to the course schedule that would indicate classes with an emphasis on an outreach-oriented application of coursework. Senate will continue to work with the office to make the flag a reality, said Senate President Chelsea Adler.

“I went to Ghana the summer after my sophomore year for a month. The people I met and worked with opened my eyes,” Adler said. “There is so much potential for learning to take place outside the classroom, and service learning is the best way to take advantage of that.”

Rose Cahalan, the director of the office, said she and other administrators have been toying with the idea of adding the flag for some time and are glad to have found student allies in Senate leadership.

“The Office of Academic Service Learning fully supports the Senate resolution and enthusiastically welcomes student interest in this issue,” Cahalan said. “Adding a [service learning] flag would make it much easier for students to find out about our courses, and it would also improve our office’s record-keeping.”

Currently, the University has about 50 classes that qualify as service learning courses under the office’s support, Cahalan said. They are listed on the office’s website, but the new initiative would make their availability more apparent to all students registering.

Such a listing would encourage students with an interest in service learning to register for appropriate classes, while warning students who might not have service-related passions, said Alice Batt, a rhetoric and writing professor and the Undergraduate Writing Center coordinator. Batt teaches a class on writing for nonprofits, in which students write grants and promotional materials for local organizations.

“There are so many students who are really into volunteerism and wanting to be engaged in the community,” she said. “I developed the course in 2006 so we could talk about and actually do that kind of work. It fills every semester and there’s a huge waiting list, so I think I tapped into a niche.”

Cahalan warned that actually getting the flag in place could take several months, but Adler said she hopes to see it on the course schedule for fall 2011.