April 23, 2012


B. Questions to the President.

From Michael Domjan, Chair, Committee on Financial Aid to Students:

 I would like to inquire about the range of issues to be considered by the newly formed Committee on Business Productivity. The University Committee on Financial Aid to Students has been discussing the considerable benefits to students of including campus employment opportunities as a part of offers of financial aid. The Report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates also recommended that the University "offer more on-campus employment that both fulfills the financial needs of the students and helps keep them connected to the campus." I would like to inquire whether Committee on Business Productivity will consider ways in which various vendors that operate on campus (e.g., Wendy's, Taco Bell, Quiznos) and campus service units could employ more students as a part of their standard operating procedures.

President Powers said he thought the evidence was clear that employment on campus benefitted students financially as well as academically in terms of higher graduation rates and grade point averages. He added the report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates indicated that students, who become better connected to the campus during their freshman and sophomore years, experience greater student success than those who are less connected. The Commission of 125 emphasized the need for more on-campus and nearby private dorms in the West Campus to encourage student  participation in events and extracurricular activities on campus. National studies have indicated that students who work twenty hours or less on campus perform better academically than students who do not work, and the president believed this was likely to be true of UT Austin students. Furthermore, he mentioned that the Committee on Financial Aid to Students had focused on work-study opportunities as a means of financially assisting students in meeting the costs of attending the University.

In answer to Professor Domjan’s question as to whether on-campus employment opportunities for students had been put on the agenda of the Committee on Business Productivity, President Powers said it had not because other committees and the Commission of 125 had focused on student success factors. He said the Committee on Business Practices was a group of UT Austin alumni and friends that are sharing advice regarding traditional business practices. Given the Committee on Financial Aid to Students’ interest, President Powers said he would address the matter to see what might be done. Although the business practices group might make recommendations, he suggested the Committee on Financial Aid to Students move forward with their ideas. Although added resources are of importance to students no matter where they are employed, he thought it would be interesting from a social science perspective to see if working in a campus office, such as in registrar’s office, resulted in greater involvement on campus than working for a vendor, such as Taco Bell, Wendy’s, or Starbucks. He perceived that a large portion of the positive involvement on campus just came from working on campus. Although he did not know the percentage of student employees hired by private vendors on campus, he said he expected there would be a high percentage of student employees, indicating some of what the committee had suggested was already being accomplished.  If the percentage of student workers turned out to be low, he saw no problem with emphasizing preferential hiring of students in future vendor negotiations. He said the committee’s question actually provided a useful implicit suggestion in which he expected there to be follow-up.

President Powers said he had gone over budgetary and related issues at the last couple of Council meetings so he did not see a need to give comments on those topics. He had received the following question from a faculty member, which he thought was worth sharing at the meeting. 

UTSA and ACC and many other educational, retailing, and government entities in Austin and elsewhere have charging stations for the faculty, staff, and students that drive green electric cars. Does UT Austin have a plan to follow suit?

President Powers said he had noticed that all the plugs in the parking garages were covered, but he wanted to report that talks were underway with possible vendors. Because these negotiations were in the early stages, the potential vendors could not be publicly disclosed.  The president called providing banks of charging stations in prime parking garage locations “a win/win” from his perspective and an action that would signal to students, faculty, and staff that the University is collectively encouraging movement in that direction.

Chair Alan Friedman (English) asked if there were any other questions for the president. Professor Snehai Shingavi (English) asked what disciplinary action the University planned to pursue against the nineteen students arrested for protesting the University’s affiliation with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) during a sit-in at the president’s office? He asked if the president could be convinced not to pursue criminal charges against the students?  President Powers responded he did not know specifically what the plans were but would like to provide a bit of context for the Council. After indicating he admired the students and others who express their opinions, he said their claim that he would not meet with them was unfounded because he had met with representatives of the group this past fall and looked into the issues they had raised. He emphasized that the University is committed to fair labor standards and insists that its vendors share that commitment. The vendors in this situation were Russell and Nike, who were not the actual apparel manufacturers; however, the president assured the Council that the University does police its vendors and insists that they utilize fair labor practices.

President Powers explained that there are two groups—the FLA and the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC)—that provide monitoring and oversight of vendors. The University has been a long-time member of the FLA, an organization, he described, as “robust” and successful in achieving substantial changes in Chinese labor practices. The student protestors, however, disagree with this assessment and are insisting that the University switch to the WRC. Following a review of the materials presented by the students, President Powers said he informed them of his decision, and they asked for another follow-on meeting. The president said he agreed to a meeting of four to five individuals and to a review of any new data the students had not presented in their initial report, but he requested that the follow-on meeting not involve a press conference or demonstration. Although the students agreed to these ground rules, twenty-five individuals accompanied by news reporters showed up. At the end of the meeting, the president said he would need to think about the information and consult with others. The students insisted he make an immediate decision and refused to leave his office. Although the president perceived this action to be trespassing, he went to the Stark Library to continue his workday. At 5:00 P.M., the students were told they had to leave because the office was closing, and their action would be considered as trespassing if they continued to stay. Although the students did at first leave, they returned as a group and “stormed the office, pushed a police officer aside, and finally were persuaded to leave the office and sit out in the front area.” During the time the students sat there, the president said they were “peaceful and well-behaved.” However, he said the students were told repeatedly that they would need to leave, and they said they would rather be arrested than leave. The president explained to the Council that the administration could not allow the students to stay in offices that were either non-public areas or closed after 5:00 P.M. so the students were arrested. He could not say at the present time what further action the University would decide to take. He asked if there were other questions, and there were none. Chair Friedman thanked President Powers for his report.

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