January 23, 2012


C. Task Force on Graduation Rates.

Chair Friedman reported that the FCEC met with Dean Randy Diehl (liberal arts), the chair of the UT Austin task force on graduation rates. Associate Dean Mark Musick (liberal arts), who is responsible for collecting and analyzing statistics about graduation rates, also attended the meeting. Chair Friedman said this task force is considering a number of recommendations and rationales it believes can have a positive impact on graduation rates. Although the FCEC members expressed support for some of the ideas and concern about others, Chair Friedman said the members thought it was too early to formally share information from the task force with the Faculty Council due to its unofficial status. The outcome of the meeting was the FCEC requested that the task force submit any recommendations that are relevant to faculty issues and concerns to the Council for its consideration and input.

Professor Alan Cline (computer science) asked if the MyEdu and graduation rate task forces were both specific to the UT Austin campus. When Chair Friedman said they were, Professor Cline replied that he thought the Council had expressed concern in the past about the formation of task forces that were independent of the Faculty Council. He asked Chair Friedman if he were concerned that the University administration continues to appoint task forces rather than asking the Faculty Council to deal with important issues such as these? Chair Friedman affirmed that he was concerned. He said he had objected to the appointment of special task forces on a number of occasions, but the practice has continued to occur.

When Professor Pauline Strong (anthropology) said she could not find the proposal on the Faculty Council website, Chair Friedman responded that he thought the posting had just occurred earlier that day. Secretary Greninger said she did not think the Council office had received the proposed policy in time to include it on the Council website; however, she reported that she had just found the document on the University website by typing in the title of the policy.

Professor Snehal Shingavi (English) asked Chair Friedman to again show the language of the camping ban on the screen and to scroll down through the wording. After noting that the policy appeared to have been previously in force, Professor Shingavi indicated he thought the current re-introduction corresponded to the “occupy” protests occurring nationally and asked what parts of the new proposal had been modified in expectation that such a protest might happen on the UT campus. When Chair Friedman responded he did not think a prohibition of camping had been included previously in the HOP, Professor Shingavi asked if the language were new? Chair Friedman said he thought that were true although he had not fully researched the matter. Professor Shingavi then asked if it would be a fair to say the camping ban policy had been a proactive response to the recent protests occurring across the country? Chair Friedman affirmed that was his understanding of the situation.

Professor Douglas Bruster (English) noted that individuals were allowed to stay overnight on campus for certain activities, such as to secure tickets for events or to tailgate prior to football games. He said it appeared to him that “selective enforcement” might result with exceptions allowed for activities that were preferred or at least perceived as normal and not allowed for those that were not, especially those regarding political protests. Chair Friedman agreed, saying this point had been previously raised with the UT Austin administration.

Vice President Patti Ohlendorf (legal affairs) said the Dean of Students’ policy and documents had previously forbidden camping on campus, other than under exceptional or special circumstances. She explained there had been overnight registered student group activities that the Dean of Students’ office had helped to set up, but nothing in the new policy changed the existing rules about exhibits. For example, she said there have been tents set up on campus as part of protests, but the tents had come down overnight in keeping with the standard practice regarding certain exhibits. There was also a shanty put up on the West Mall, but no one was allowed to sleep in it. The purpose of the new policy, according to the vice president, was to clarify that individuals are not normally allowed to camp on the campus, which has been the practice for many years

Vice President Ohlendorf said the policy was not developed “in response to concerns about protests.” Instead, she said it was developed “in response to our long-time discussions with the Dean of Students’ office and others on the campus about different events.” As an example, she mentioned the Keystone pipeline event at the LBJ auditorium this past fall, which dealt with whether or not the pipeline should be allowed to come through Texas. She said there had been concerns that individuals might camp out over night to queue up to speak at the Keystone event. One of the complexities that arose was the Keystone event was actually the federal government’s and not UT Austin’s. The vice president said the clarification of rules was initiated in response to that event as well as others that have arisen during recent years. She said the camping policy in “no way prohibits the ability to protest or make expressive comments.” It is similar, but not exactly the same, as the type of rules UT Austin has about amplified sound, which is restricted to certain hours of the day in order to protect classroom and other activities. The vice president said she would be happy to answer any other questions. When Professor Cline asked if section “c” of the policy prohibiting sleeping in or under parked vehicles on campus pertained to the parking lots being taken over prior to football games, Vice President Ohlendorf said one of the exceptions in the policy applied to tailgating, which occurs only six times a year in certain parking lots on campus. However, she said the policy places some restrictions of tailgating, such as prohibiting individuals from barbequing in the parking garages.

Past Chair Dean Neikirk (electrical and computer engineering) indicated to Professor Cline that section “VII.a.2” of the policy spelled out explicit exceptions. However, he added that he supported Professor Cline’s comments regarding the disruption on campus caused by tailgating, especially for employees who have to work in their offices or laboratories on football weekends and cannot park in their normal prepaid parking lots. He thought it was interesting that the University was suddenly banning overnight camping but allowing it for those “here drinking on our campus,” who pay rent ahead of time for the space to tailgate for up to forty-eight hours. He summarized his position by saying, “It just bothers me that we have such a nice exemption for one group and such a complete ban on other groups.”

Professor Shingavi said it seemed “disingenuous to make this about security, safety, and the aesthetic visibility of the University, given what the ESPN soundstage does every time it’s set up.” He explained that his office was right next to the soundstage, making it impossible for him to work in his office on particular Saturdays. He felt it was also disingenuous to claim that this was an unofficial policy that needed to be made official right when protests were occurring on political issues on campuses and other locations throughout the country. He added he would like to find a way to register opposition to what he perceived as the political motivation and bias of what was occurring here on the UT Austin campus.

Professor Strong noted that there were exceptions for artists and actors; tailgating; and extraordinary circumstances, such as a natural disaster. She said she wondered if natural disasters might be one example of extraordinary circumstances and political demonstrations might be another? In general, she wanted to know how restrictive the natural disaster clause would be interpreted. Since Chair Friedman was uncertain to whom the question was directed, he asked Vice President Ohlendorf or President Powers to respond. President Powers said a hurricane on campus might require evacuation of the dorms; in such a situation, it might be necessary to place students in some sort of camped situation for a period of time. He said the disruption of tailgating or football games largely involved parking, but other events, such as Explore UT, also disrupted parking. He said parking disruption was an important issue that needed to be balanced with the significance of the event or activity being held. He added it was important to realize how disruptive it could be just trying to do one’s ordinary work, like holding classes, conducting business, or even walking or driving through a congested area, where large numbers of people are camping. He explained that is why tailgating is not allowed on the Main Mall and restrictions and regulations existed to cover such situations. He added if there were a disruptive noise issue, for example, with the Longhorn Network, the situation needed to be addressed.

President Powers said the administration had worked with students who had expressed an interest in protesting, and the administration would remain in a position to assist them with their activities. If the symbolism of putting up tents were important, then the administration was prepared to work with the student groups, but he believed there was an important non-political aspect to this policy about camping on campus. He said he did not think many individuals would want to come onto the campus if people were camping out for political or other reasons for extensive periods of time. This aspect, according to the president, was what the policy was trying to clarify, and he felt it was essential to make the understanding of the University’s position clear to individuals in advance. However, the president said the situation was different in the case of tailgating or lining up to secure popular event tickets, where he did not think claims regarding underlying political motivations were legitimate. He reiterated that individuals seeking to set up tents on the West Mall as symbolic expressions of protest could do so under existing Universities rules regarding exhibits. With regard to Professor Strong’s question regarding “in a time of emergency,” President Powers explained there could be a situation when National Guard troops needed to deal with a tornado or hurricane that resulted in their bivouacking on campus in order to help those in need.

Professor Shingavi explained he had been working with students who are part of the “Occupy UT” group. The students had received word that they would be permitted to set up tents under certain conditions, such as on the West Mall between 8:00 and 5:00. The problem, according to Professor Shingavi, was the permitted time period fell exactly when the students’ actions would most disruptive to the University; if the action were permitted overnight, he said there would be considerably less disruption on campus. It made little sense, according to the professor, to stress the disruption aspect if what the students were being permitted to do is register for space and treat it as a symbolic exhibit only during business hours.

Professor Shingavi said no one was surprised about the timing of the camping ban, with its close proximity to when university presidents were holding discussions and raising concerns about how to regulate student protests in the aftermath of the UC Davis situation. He said he thought the Faculty Council should consider the camping policy as politically motivated and presented in a way to intimidate and deter students from participating in protest actions. At UC Berkeley, he pointed out that the students had to float their tent above Sproul Plaza in order to express themselves symbolically because this method would reduce problematic circumstances from developing. He said it was clear to him that efforts were undertaken to frighten students seeking to participate in the “occupy” movement, and he was still unsatisfied by the reasons and explanations being provided thus far for the policy and its timing.

Chair Friedman said anyone on the Faculty Council was free to introduce a motion about any issue. If a member wanted to draft a resolution or legislation expressing concern or support about these issues, he asked that the document be sent to his attention or to the Faculty Council office. He said the draft would be considered and put on the agenda for further debate or discussion.

Professor Mark Alpert (marketing administration) said he wanted to address the comments from Professor Shingavi as a faculty member with a different perspective, who is not an administrator. He said he believed the UT Austin administration was trying to foster an environment of openness to student protest and had said so publicly. However, he thought the administration preferred that protests not become focal points for other off campus groups. He said he did not like to lose his parking lot on football weekends but realized that most tailgaters were here for no more than one night whereas he believed some of the protestors did not want to camp on campus for just one night. He added he could appreciate that those working with student groups were trying to find a safe places for protest to occur, and he did not object as long as the protests did not disturb too many classes. His impression was that many people on campus, including the police, Dean of Students, and others, were willing to provide a practical way for free speech to occur without turning the campus into a tent city and having outsiders come in large numbers to occupy our space. As a result, Professor Alpert said he believed there were real rational reasons why limitations and rules were needed in the current environment that had nothing to do with the suppression of speech.

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