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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Free speech advocacy nonprofit Speech First Inc. is appealing a federal judge’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit the group filed against the University which claimed it violated students’ rights to free speech on campus.

Speech First originally sued the University in December, naming UT President Gregory Fenves as the defendant. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three anonymous students who said UT’s verbal harassment policies made them feel they could not express their opinions on certain issues, including abortion and immigration. 

In the lawsuit, Speech First claims UT has created an environment to “suppress, punish and deter speech that other students deem ‘offensive,’ ‘biased,’ ‘uncivil,’ or ‘rude’” through speech codes in its Institutional Rules, campus IT policies and the Handbook of Operating Procedures. The suit claims the Campus Climate Response Team, which investigates bias incidents, also contributes to this environment. 

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel dismissed the suit in early June, ruling that there was not enough evidence to prove anyone’s rights had been violated by campus policies. 

“Without any evidence of a credible threat of enforcement of the challenged policies … this court concludes that the students' self-censorship is not based on a well-founded threat of punishment under the University policies that is not 'imaginary or wholly speculative,'" Yeakel wrote in June.

Days after Yeakel’s dismissal, Speech First’s attorneys filed the case with the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals. If the appeals court overturns Yeakel’s decision, Speech First will be able to continue their case against the University. Speech First did not respond to The Daily Texan’s request for comment before publication.

Conservative organizations and think tanks, such as the Independent Women’s Forum and the Cato Institute, have filed supporting joint amicus curiae briefs with the appeals court after the dismissal, claiming students are being punished more often for expressing unpopular opinions. 

“College campuses should expand access to the marketplace of ideas, not stifle free speech,” Jennifer Braceras, the director of IWF’s Center for Law & Liberty, said in a statement. “A desire to encourage civility, however laudable, can never justify the enactment of overbroad policies and Orwellian punitive systems that can be used to deter the expression of unpopular political opinions."

University spokesperson J.B. Bird said UT agrees with the dismissal, citing Yeakel’s decision that there was no evidence to support any students had "been disciplined, sanctioned or investigated for their speech." 

“While we agree with the judge’s decision, we acknowledge a shared dedication with the plaintiffs to the importance of free speech on university campuses,” Bird said in a statement provided to The Daily Texan. “UT will continue to do all it can to support freedom of expression.”
 

Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

The two finalists in consideration to become UT’s new Title IX Coordinator met with students and faculty Monday and Tuesday to discuss the future of the Office of Compliance.

During the two meetings held at the Avaya Auditorium, about a dozen people heard candidates Donna Reddix and Adriana Alicea-Rodriguez each answer questions from the audience and present their plans for the Title IX Office, which oversees the University’s investigations and responses to reports of sex discrimination and sexual harrassment. 

Reddix is the associate director of the Office for Inclusion and Equity at UT and spoke on Monday. She said her plans for the Title IX Office include improving communication, Title IX training and education on campus, as well as gathering data on the history of the office.

Alicea-Rodriguez is the director of Title IX training and investigations at the Office of the Dean of Students at UT and spoke on Tuesday. She said she would base changes around student and staff feedback, and views Title IX as a “living” program that will continue to change and grow.
 
The main issue discussed at both meetings, which were livestreamed and are available for viewing until next Tuesday, was the student body’s lack of trust in the office. To address this problem, Reddix said she would work to “rebrand” the office and try to meet with students one-on-one and in large forums.

“It’s about telling people over and over again, ‘We’re here for you and this is why we’re here for you,’ and being visible,” Reddix said.

Alicea-Rodriguez also said she would meet with students and suggested creating a student task force to review the office’s performance.

“The program is only going to be successful if we have an accurate understanding of the experiences of the students who go through it,” Alicea-Rodriguez said. “That’s the only way that we can grow.” 

During both meetings, students asked if the candidates would expand no contact directives, which prevent both parties involved in a Title IX case from contacting each other, to include classrooms.

Reddix said she would support using alternatives, such as allowing the student to complete the class online. Alicea-Rodriguez also supported expanding the directive to classes, referencing House Bill 1735, which becomes law Sept. 1 and allows either party to drop a class without penalty.

Sara Ross, UT Student Government Interpersonal Violence Prevention policy co-director, came to the event to advocate for survivors and said faculty don’t understand the inefficiency of the current Title IX Office.

As The Daily Texan previously reported, Ross said she had to see the person who sexually assaulted her every week because they shared a class, despite having a no contact directive. She eventually switched out of the class.

"It's been really frustrating because it just genuinely feels like no one in the office really understands how bad (the Title IX Office) is,” said Ross, a social work and Plan II junior. 

Leo Barnes, the University’s chief compliance officer, said he does not know when the final decision would be made. 
 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bill Powers

The Student Activity Center, one of the most popular student spots on campus, will be renamed after former UT President Bill Powers.

The UT System Board of Regents approved renaming the building as the William C. Powers Jr. Student Activity Center during a meeting Aug. 14. The formal dedication ceremony of the building will be held on campus in the fall, according to a press release.

“There could be no greater tribute than ... to have thousands of students pass through the halls of the Powers Student Activity Center,” UT President Gregory Fenves said during the board meeting. “The Powers Student Activity Center will be a daily reminder to our campus that the success of the University of Texas is the success of our students.”

President William J. Powers died in March at the age of 72. He served as UT’s president from 2006 to 2015 and was a faculty member at the UT School of Law for over 40 years. 

During his time as president, he oversaw Campaign for Texas, once the largest public university fundraising campaign in Texas history, the founding of Dell Medical School and the creation of the School of Undergraduate Studies.

Powers was also involved with the construction of 13 campus buildings during his tenure, including the SAC. During Powers’ first year as president, plans were approved for the SAC after decades of students lobbying for another student social site on campus.

“It’s very fitting that he is the person who established the student hub on campus, the SAC, because more than anything else, Bill dedicated his life and his career to UT students,” Fenves said. 

During the meeting, many regents spoke of their time with Powers on a personal and professional level and emphasized his dedication to his students. 

“He was all about the students, and when you walk that campus with Bill Powers, with his jeans and his good-lookin’ belt, he was like a magnet to those kids,” Regent Jodie Jiles said. “They were just all over him.” 

Janiece Longoria, vice chairman of the board, said Powers had an impact on those close to him. Longoria said she knew Powers when she was a student at the UT School of Law and he was a professor.

“Aside from all of those accolades, Bill Powers was an exceptional human being, and for anybody who had the privilege to know him, he was a loyal and true friend, a great husband, a wonderful father and a mentor to all his students,” Longoria said. 

Photo Credit: Emma Overholt | Daily Texan Staff

Students often question how the University of Texas’ $31 billion endowment — the second largest in the country — is spent, which is often unclear.

A common student misconception depicts UT sitting on a giant pile of money they refuse to spend. The Permanent University Fund, which is shared with Texas A&M, supports part of the school’s annual operating budget, and after a decade of especially good investment returns, funnels into a “special distribution” that is now being used to greatly expand tuition assistance for low-income undergraduate students. 

The UT System’s endowment also supports nearly 20 times as many students as Yale, whose endowment hovers close to $30 billion. On a per-student basis, UT isn’t even the richest school in the state.

“Rice and Texas A&M have us beat,” UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said. 

However, UT still has a lot of money.

The endowment funds are controlled by the UT System Board of Regents and invested by an adjacent nonprofit, the University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Company, or UTIMCO. UT draws from the returns of those investments annually. 

Finance professor Keith Brown said the purpose of a university endowment is to ensure both current and future students are financially supported. The endowment must also keep pace with inflation to support students as the economy changes.

“Humans have an expiration date, but the University of Texas doesn’t,” Brown said.

The Permanent University Fund, or PUF, makes up the most substantial part of the funds generally referred to as “the endowment.”

The PUF, worth about $22.6 billion, generates revenue by leasing 2.1 million acres of land in West Texas. Mark Houser, CEO of University Lands, said 1.4 million acres of it is leased to oil and gas developers and about 110,000 acres are leased to renewable energy generation such as solar and wind. The income collected from the land is then invested by UTIMCO. 

Compared with schools such as Yale or Harvard, funding from the University of Texas’ endowment makes up a relatively small portion of its operating budget. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, only 12% of UT Austin’s budget came from endowment funds. 

Thirty-five percent of Harvard’s and 34% of Yale’s budgets came from endowment funds. There are two reasons for the substantial difference, Brown said. Unlike Harvard and Yale, UT’s endowment supports current and future students in the entire 14-institution system, and UT is publicly funded and typically gets another 12% of its funding from the state budget.

Beyond that, the state stipulates how money from the PUF can and can’t be spent. The Available University Fund is first used to pay off the UT System’s debt, and then the rest is allocated to UT for expenses such as new construction, salaries, scholarships and library support.

However, the state does not allow the Available University Fund to be used for operational expenses for the other UT System institutions. 

The rules don’t stop there.

“The constitution expressly prohibits the use of PUF bond proceeds for student housing, intercollegiate athletics or auxiliary enterprises,” said Melissa Loe, UT-Austin’s director of communications, Financial and Administrative Services, in an email. “The AUF is appropriated by the legislature and is subject to details, limits and restrictions imposed by appropriation.”

Traditionally, these have been the reasons students don’t really see this money. Now, they are starting to in a much more concrete way. 

In early July, the Board of Regents called a special meeting and approved a one-time $250 million supplemental distribution from the Permanent University Fund to the Available University Fund. 

This distribution will establish a separate $160 million endowment to provide tuition assistance for low-income undergraduate students at UT-Austin. 

While the Board of Regents makes the final decisions on the use of the PUF and other endowment funds, it is UTIMCO’s jurisdiction to make investment decisions which are later approved by the board. Brown said UTIMCO uses an external management system, which means the actual decisions about which investments are made are contracted out. 

“(UTIMCO picks) the people who pick the stocks,” Brown said.

The way UTIMCO has invested funds is outlined in a 100-plus page document that lists all of the securities that UTIMCO holds and all of the investments it has made. 

These securities are varied and range from domestic and international holdings in tech companies such as Facebook and Microsoft, renewable energy corporations such as CS Wind, banks such as Bank of America, and oil and gas corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell, commonly known as Shell. The PUF investment portfolio also holds debt securities from Chevron, ExxonMobil, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and more. 

But some of the investments are completely hidden from public view.

Brown said companies like UTIMCO take advantage of finance laws allowing them to keep certain investments confidential for competitive purposes. 

UT, Harvard, Yale and Stanford all want to have the nation’s largest endowment; it’s a competition, Brown said. As a result, there are investments in the report that are simply labeled “Direct Investment #01-74” with no other details.

“If people know what’s in your portfolio, then they can reverse engineer your strategy,” Brown said. 

Many of UTIMCO’s investments are public, however, and the fossil fuel industry makes up the largest portion of it.

Investing in fossil fuels and leasing land for oil and gas operations are practices many students have been critical of. 

In 2013, Harvard students called for the university to divest from fossil fuels. In response, Harvard Management Company, UTIMCO’s counterpart at Harvard, hired a vice president for sustainable investing and would later go on to adopt a sustainable investment policy. But it did not divest from fossil fuels completely. 

Now, Harvard takes environmental, social and corporate governance factors into consideration when making investment decisions. These factors include energy consumption, employee diversity and nondiscrimination policies. In 2014, Harvard Management Company was also the first university endowment company in the United States to sign the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment.

UTIMCO does not have a policy parallel to Harvard’s but said it does work with many firms that do consider environmental, social and governance factors in their investments.

“For example, these firms may recognize that by implementing business practices that are environmentally sustainable, they can also improve the profitability and long-term competitiveness of a business,” UTIMCO said in a statement. “By working with these firms, UTIMCO is supporting (environmental, social and governance) initiatives.”

Sustainability studies senior Andrew Jones, who serves as the director of learning for the student organization Sustainable Investment Group, said there should be a greater emphasis on sustainability in funds such as UT’s endowment because it’s being invested on an “infinite time horizon.” 

“It will take 1 trillion dollars of sustainably invested capital each year to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030, and it will potentially take more money invested in low-carbon assets each year to prevent a global warming scenario that exceeds two degrees Celsius,” Jones said. “We are talking about a massive shift in the way that financial markets are operating in order to secure the world that we want to live in.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

After venturing from campus for the first time her sophomore year, Hannah Burbank quickly realized she was sitting on a bus that was taking her anywhere but where she wanted to go. For those new to navigating Austin, it’s not uncommon to experience similar issues while learning to traverse the city efficiently. 

“I remember it was right before classes started, and I wanted to make sure I knew what bus to take,” journalism junior Burbank said. “I took the right bus, but I took it in the wrong direction. I didn’t have a car. I didn’t know where I was going … It was disastrous.”

Even for those who are used to Austin’s infrastructure, understanding its more than 70 bus routes, inconsistent bike lanes and limited parking can be complicated.

Despite now having a car, Burbank said she will continue to walk or take the bus to class because on-campus parking passes are so expensive. According to the UT Parking and Transporation Services website, on-campus parking passes can cost anywhere from $150 to $861 for the 2019-’20 school year.

Other car-owning students, such as religious studies junior Gerard Apruzzese, also doesn’t park on campus due to the expense of UT passes. To get to class, Apruzzese said he drives into West Campus and from his home near 38th Street, then parks in the garage of a friend’s apartment building.

“I think that UT’s parking passes … should be more accessible,” Apruzzese said. “People usually live farther off campus because it’s cheaper. It doesn’t make sense that UT would make the prices so expensive knowing that the people who need it are more likely to be economically disadvantaged.”

Instead of parking on campus, students can ride a bike or scooter, call an Uber or Lyft or take various bus routes around campus, including Route 640, which loops around campus. Students can ride city buses for free by swiping their UT ID. Between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., students can order a free Lyft ride home from campus through the Night Rides program.

Robert Quigley, journalism associate professor of practice, said he prefers to walk and take bus routes around town. He said he recommends downloading the CapMetro app because the bus is cheaper than other options and is also a great way to catch up on work, reading or video games.

“It’s a nice thing that UT does for faculty, (staff and students),” Quigley said. “I’m so glad UT pays for the metro.”

Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

In July, Pearson announced its plan to become the first education publishing company to focus its energy on digital — not print — textbooks and course materials.

According to a company press release, the decision was based on making higher education more accessible and increasing textbook affordability for students in the United States. College students access over 10 million digital courses and e-books each year from Pearson, according to the release.

“We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient and personalized digital materials to students,” Pearson CEO John Fallon wrote in the release. “Our digital courseware makes learning more active, engaging and immersive, improving outcomes for students and their teachers.”

Going digital will provide reduced costs and an improved experience for students, according to the press release. Compared to renting a print textbook for $60 from Pearson, the press release said students can now pay an average price of $40 for e-books.

Michael Kiely, director of course materials for the University Co-op, said the Co-op regularly provides students with course materials and supplies. Kiely said he did not believe Pearson made a good decision because students still prefer physical copies of textbooks when they shop.

“What Pearson is doing is no longer providing the students with a choice,” Kiely said. “I believe what Pearson is trying to do is change the consumer behavior. It’s way too early to do that.”

At the Co-op, e-books and online courseware make up around 5-6% of total revenues, and e-books alone make up 3-4% of revenue, Kiely said. Students will sometimes choose digital textbooks because they’re cheaper,
Kiely said.

“We want you to have what you want and what you need,” Kiely said. “I just don’t like the fact that they are forcing the consumer into something they don’t want.” 

However, some students, such as English junior Caroline McDonald, said they support the change. Pearson’s decision makes textbooks more accessible to those who couldn’t afford the physical and more expensive copies, McDonald said.

“I think it’s a great thing (that) Pearson is going digital,” McDonald said. “It uses less paper and is better for the environment.”

While she does prefer physical books for her English courses, McDonald said she sees Pearson’s new strategy as a more environmentally and socially conscious move.

“E-books seem like a logical next step for the future of textbooks,” McDonald said.

Former UT Los Angeles executive director Phil Nemy has been the subject of four sexual misconduct and sexual harassment investigations since December 2018, when The Daily Texan first reported he violated the University’s sexual misconduct and sexual harassment policies but still kept his job.

Nemy, who was fired from his position in May for “unacceptable conduct,” did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In a December 2018 statement, Nemy said he “never made an inappropriate comment or joke towards any of the women attending the program.”

“The University takes all allegations of wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct, seriously and strives to investigate complaints thoroughly and quickly while respecting the confidentiality of all involved parties,” University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said. “UT is strongly committed to fostering a safe campus environment and to providing needed support and resources.”

The Office of Inclusion and Equity investigated four complaints against Nemy, which were made by four different individuals, according to the investigation obtained by the Texan through a Public Information Act request. 

In the first complaint, a former student said Nemy made inappropriate jokes and touched students without asking, according to the investigation. The student said “that during a class bowling trip, Mr. Nemy placed his hands around her waist in a manner that made her extremely uncomfortable,” according to the investigation.

OIE said it interviewed several students who attended UTLA in previous semesters. One student indicated that, in a different semester from that complainant, she also went on a class bowling trip, and Nemy “grabbed her by her hips and pulled her toward him,” making her feel “embarrassed and extremely uncomfortable,” according to the investigation. 

OIE concluded that these interactions constituted “unwelcome intentional touching” and violated the University’s prohibition on sexual misconduct.

The students OIE interviewed said the “inappropriate jokes” included instances in which Nemy told students never to live on the beach because “you’ll just be watching girls in
bathing suits all day long,” spoke of women as sex objects, commented on a “hell of a blow job” when walking past a fan and joked about a “Texas Hoe” while on a class field trip, according to
the investigation.

“Mr. Nemy denied making inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature and described his humor as ‘dad humor,’” the investigation reads. “Mr. Nemy also categorically denied touching any
student inappropriately.

OIE concluded that Nemy “repeatedly engaged in sexually oriented conversations, comments and horseplay, including the use of language and the telling of jokes and anecdotes of a sexual nature in the classroom and other educational settings,” according to the investigation.

In the second complaint, a former student said Nemy called her a “slag,” which OIE interpreted to mean “slut” or “promiscuous woman,” according to the investigation. 

 

Other students witnessed the incident and confirmed it with OIE, but Nemy denied referring to the student as a “slag” and said “that he only learned of the term in connection with OIE’s investigation,” according to the investigation. OIE concluded that Nemy more likely than not referred to the student as a “slag.”

“OIE cannot imagine a circumstance in which it would be appropriate for an educator to refer to a student in such a manner,” the investigation reads. “The witness accounts … provide sufficient context to conclude that (Nemy) failed to observe the appropriate boundaries of the educator/student relationship.”  

Complaints three and four, by two other individuals, were entirely redacted.

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Throughout the last month, several students have received fake emailed job offers from someone claiming to work for the University.

Since University Career Services notified the UT Police Department about the email scam last week, 13 students have reported receiving emails, said Norma Guerra Gaier, University Career Services executive director. This type of email scam has been around for a few years and occurs across the country, Gaier said.

“We found out about its resurgence through student reports that they had been offered this ‘too good to be true’ opportunity, and they wanted to check with our office to see if it was a real opportunity,” Gaier said. “Our office had created a ‘how to identify and avoid a job scam’ posting here that went on our website to address the scam from years ago.”

According to the University Career Services website, the scam emails come from a utexas.edu email account from someone claiming to be with Handshake, an online career network for college students. The scammer offers a position to work with a clinical counselor in the office of “Students with Disabilities,” and in most cases, students are asked to purchase gift cards and later, to print checks.

“Some students have lost hundreds of dollars,” UTPD spokesperson Noelle Newton said in an email. “However, scams like these can total into the thousands. We are unaware of how the scammers got access to a utexas.edu email address.”

 

To avoid being scammed, Newton said students should ask for the name of the agency and a phone number of the business providing a job offer.

“You can then research the number to see if it matches with the agency,” Newton said. “Contact the agency using the phone number you identified through an independent source to verify the information. A legitimate agency will never deal in gift cards or overpay you with a check.”

There are more red flags students can look for, Gaier said.

“Typically the communication has typos and grammatical errors,” Gaier said. “The message might come from a UTexas email address, but in some cases, they will later use a general email account.”

Calleigh Stewart, a rhetoric and writing junior, said she learned about her current job with Texas Parents Association after receiving an email last year.

“When I got the job last year, there wasn’t this scam going on, and when I reapplied this year I was confident it was legitimate,” Stewart said. “It is scary knowing there is a scam is going on because I’ll have to look for a job next semester.”

Gaier said she encourages students to look for job opportunities through HireUTexas, HireALonghorn and other UT-approved job banks.

“If you go through that system, more than likely you’re going to be safer than when you get a random email of somebody saying, ‘Oh I’ve got this job for you,’” Gaier said. “If a student finds themselves in a position where they are not sure if it’s a legitimate opportunity, they can contact University Career Services, and we are happy to work with them to verify the legitimacy of it.”

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

UT Los Angeles executive director Phil Nemy was fired on May 13 as a result of “unacceptable conduct,” according to a University spokesperson.

Nemy was placed on an “alternative work assignment” in December 2018 following new allegations that arose after the Texan published a 2013 investigation by the Office of Inclusion and Equity that found Nemy to be guilty of sexual misconduct.

A new Office of Inclusion and Equity investigation began as a result of the new allegations, but the findings have yet to be made public. 

University spokesperson Shilpa Bakre said Nemy had no oversight of students while on an alternative work assignment, but he continued performing other duties of his job and maintained his salary of $7,921 per month. Nemy, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, had directed the UTLA program since 2005.

“It was in the best interests of the University and the Moody College that Mr. Nemy’s position be terminated and that the UTLA program be taken in a different direction,” Bakre said in an email. “The University of Texas takes all allegations of wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct, seriously and strives to investigate complaints thoroughly and quickly while respecting the confidentiality of all involved parties.”

Mira Lippold-Johnson, a radio-television-film faculty member, was appointed interim director of the UTLA program for the coming year. A search for a permanent director will begin in the fall, Bakre said. 

In the 2013 Office of Institutional Equity investigation, originally reported on by the Texan, allegations against Nemy included inappropriate comments and unwanted touching directed at female students. Nemy was “reprimanded and received counseling consistent with the University’s approach at the time,” UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said in an email. 

One former female student said she avoided Nemy because he flirted with students and made them uncomfortable, according to the report. 

At a beach party for UTLA students, Nemy made several lewd comments to female students, according to the report. One former female student said Nemy approached another student who was adjusting her shirt and said, “Are you looking at your boobs because everyone else is doing that for you.”

“I would never, under any circumstance, intentionally cause anyone distress, and I most sincerely apologize if my attempt at humor offended anyone,” Nemy said in an emailed response to the Texan’s initial coverage. “I am deeply saddened and sorry that I may have caused some students to feel harassed.”

Following the allegations of sexual misconduct, Stephen Reese, Moody’s associate dean for academic affairs in 2013, said in a 2014 performance appraisal obtained by the Texan through an open records request that Nemy was not meeting expectations for professionalism. In the annual evaluation, Reese also said Nemy had not reviewed University trainings on sexual misconduct, which were assigned to him following the investigation, for four months.

Reese concluded the evaluation by commending Nemy’s work at UTLA. 

“I know you have worked hard on behalf of the center, and students for the most part have responded with great appreciation for that work,” Reese wrote. “We want to make sure we preserve the positive contributions you have made and the great potential you have for shaping these young lives in rewarding directions.”

In June 2018, Nemy’s performance appraisal said he had a reputation for being difficult to work with, and those in the Moody College found him to be “combative and defiant.”

“Phil repeatedly offers excuses and points fingers to deflect attention to his own performance,” Michael Wilson, Moody College’s assistant dean of external relations, wrote about Nemy. “Phil might cite reasons for this, and some may hold true. He might also disagree with this assessment, but reality trumps all protests.”

Nemy responded to Wilson’s evaluation, and both documents were sent to the head of the department, Dean Jay Bernhardt. 

“It is not fair to say that I offer excuses or point fingers to deflect attention,” Nemy wrote in response to the performance appraisal. “I have and continue to passionately fight for what I believe the UTLA Program needs to best serve the students who have and continue to enroll in the program. This is what I was hired to do — serve them to the best of my ability. I will continue to do so as long as I am allowed the privilege of doing it.” 

Black and Latinx students pursuing careers in STEM face obstacles their white peers do not, making them more likely to leave those majors without receiving a degree, UT researchers say.

“Individuals that are employed in STEM occupations tend to have relatively high levels of income and social status,” said Catherine Riegle-Crumb, lead author of the study. “There’s reason to believe that racial ethnic minorities, particularly black and Latino students in this country, face obstacles in these fields that are not faced by their white peers.”

The study, published in February, found that STEM graduation rates are lower for black and Latinx students than those same students in other non STEM fields, said Riegle-Crumb, a STEM education and sociology professor.

“What we find is that (black and Latinx youth) are much less likely to actually attain a degree than their white peers,” Riegle-Crumb said. “They’re more likely to switch majors...and they're also more likely to just leave college altogether.”

Researchers studied black and Latinx students with socio-economic and educational backgrounds similar to that of their white peers, and found that neither of those variables explain the differences in graduation rates, Riegle-Crumb said.

While the researchers did not find conclusive evidence suggesting why this disparity exists, Kevin Cokley, an educational psychology and African and African diaspora studies professor, said students’ unconscious biases can contribute to the disparity by creating an unwelcoming nature in STEM classrooms. 

“(Students) probably aren’t thinking, ‘Well, okay, I’m going to intentionally exclude black students.’ I’m not suggesting that takes place,” Cokley said. “But, it’s sort of implicit. You gravitate to the people that you feel would be a good person to include in a group.”

Faculty can play a part in this exclusion as well, said Katherine Muenks, an educational psychology assistant professor.

“If a professor is giving a message that some people are naturally talented or intelligent and these people are the ones who are going to succeed, this can be particularly frightening if your identity doesn’t match that classic stereotype of what that person would look like,” Muenks said.

Riegle-Crumb said teachers and students should make an effort to include more minority students, especially because diversity and new ideas are important for scientific advancement.

“We have a ton of research that suggests that the best decision making and problem-solving comes from having diversity amongst people,” Cokley said. “When you have people from different backgrounds working on human problems then there’s more creativity in their ability to problem solve.”