Written by Frances Molina.
Photo courtesy Marsha Miller, UT News.
1. President Fenves inaugurated into office as the 29th University of Texas President
During the fall of 2015, the University of Texas welcomed its 29th president, Gregory L. Fenves. Fenves began his presidency in June and celebrated his inauguration with an audience of over 1,800 faculty, students, and staff in mid-September. President Fenves shares a long history with the university, having served as the executive vice president and provost as well as the eighth dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering in 2008. In his first State of the University address, Fenves recognized that he had some large shoes to fill, referring to the nine-year tenure of previous President Bill Powers. His first semester with UT, however, has been impressive to say the least as he has worked closely with Chancellor McRaven and Student Government President Rotnofsky to improve academics, campus climate, and student life at the university. In only a matter of months, Fenves has brought serious changes to the university including the removal of the infamous Jefferson Davis statue and the organization of several working groups to address the Campus Carry legislation.
Photo courtesy Xavier Rotnofsky, Orange Magazine.
2. Rotnofsky and Mandalapu elected to Student Government
Early in the spring of 2015, Xavier Rotnosfky and Rohit Mandalapu won the Student Government executive alliance race with 59.2% of the vote. The pair captured campus-wide attention for their primarily satirical campaign, becoming one of the most successful humor campaigns in the university’s history. Their humorous platform included proposals such as requesting that student government officials wear cellophane suits (to increase transparency) and a tempting promise to open an on-campus Chili’s. Jokes aside, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu proved to the student body and administration that they were ahead of the curve when it came to campus-wide issues. They also included the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue in their platform and since the start of their first term, have made it clear that they intend to communicate closely with President Fenves in order to represent the concerns of the student body. Since their time in office, Rotnosfky and Mandalapu have carried on in the face of doubt and criticism and have devoted their time and attention to numerous student issues including the tuition increase, the continued prevalence of sexual assault on campus, and the Fisher vs. UT case – all while maintaining their winning wit and sense of humor that endeared us to them in the first place.
Their Campaign Info and Twitter Link: http://interactives.dailytexanonline.com/student-elections-explorer/candidates/Xavier_Rotnofsky_and_Rohit_MandalapuPlan_II_and_Linguistics_Plan_II_and_EconomicsJunior_Senior.html
Photo courtesy Calily Bien, KXAN.com.
3. Defacement and Removal of the Jefferson Davis statue
The statue of Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War, was an icon of controversy in 2015 as many students and faculty believed its presence served only to “marginalize” populations of already “underrepresented minorities” on campus (Sebastian Herrera, The Daily Texan). Starting early in the spring semester, the Jefferson Davis statue on the Main Mall was routinely defaced. The first incident occurred in February and occurrences would only escalate throughout the course of the semester. The statue was repeatedly vandalized, first with chalk and then with spray paint, with phrases such as “chump,” “Emancipate UT,” and “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned at its base. Student Government seemed to share the sentiment expressed by students and faculty, as they voted almost unanimously to remove the statue from its lofty perch in front of the tower, with Rotnofsky and Mandalapu leading the charge. In the wake of such a passionate and resounding response from its student population, University officials working in tandem with Student Government decided to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from the campus just before the start of the fall semester. The statue has since been relocated to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Photo courtesy Associated Press, CBS7.com.
4. Our Beloved Bevo Dies
This year the University of Texas lost its beloved mascot. Bevo XIV, who died shortly after his diagnosis of bovine leukemia in early October, had served as the university’s mascot for over eleven years and 147 games (Jori Epstein, The Daily Texan). His sudden death shocked the campus and he will be fondly remembered by the Longhorn community. The Silver Spurs Alumni Association are still currently conducting a search for Bevo XV. The criteria for applicants: long horns.
5. Issues of Diversity on Campus Come to the Forefront
The University of Texas is no stranger to controversy or conflict but the tension seemed especially high in 2015. In October, President Fenves sat down with the Daily Texan and an audience of students to address the issues much of the student body were eager to address, including the campus carry legislation and diversity on campus. Fenves was prompted by the panel of Daily Texan staff to state the administration’s strategy for creating a “more diverse learning environment”. He responded that the University of Texas had seen an increase of admitted Hispanic and African American students and that the university was in the process of forming an ethnic diversity council. However, this answer was not satisfactory for some members of the audience. Once the floor was opened up for audience questions, student and activist Loyce Gayo insisted that Fenves’ statistics did not mirror the reality of campus life, stating that with few to none black tenured professors on staff and an embarrassingly low percentage of Black and Hispanic students, the University of Texas was not living up to its promise of diversity. Gayo insisted that Fenves could use his position of power and privilege to yield greater, more visible changes and to increase minority representation on campus. Gayo’s powerful comments were met with warnings and accusations of disrespect from the Daily Texan panel. Unbeknownst to Gayo and her friends, UTPD had been called shortly after she had begun questioning Fenves in what one can only assume was an attempt to deescalate the situation. (Sarah Neal, The Liberator).
Photo courtesy Ralph Barrera, The Statesman.
6. Campus Carry
SB 11 also known as “The Campus Carry Law” is arguably the most controversial piece of legislation to impact the University of Texas. In the summer of 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB11 which would allow license holders to carry concealed handgun(s) on Texas state university campuses. SB11 would also give public universities a small degree of discretion to regulate and implement the bill. Campus carry was met with predictable outrage from students and faculty at the University of Texas, and since the start of the fall semester, both President Fenves and Chancellor McRaven have openly admitted their opposition to the campus carry bill in solidarity. There have been numerous demonstrations held by students and faculty with the majority protesting in opposition of the bill for a “gun-free UT”. Those against campus carry argue that the presence of guns on campus present a threat to both students and faculty, inhibit free speech in the classroom, and do little to lessen the already anxious university environment. Those in favor argue that allowing license holders to carry on campus will increase security and serve as a preventative measure against the possibility of campus shooting. In mid-December, pro-gun group DontComply.com went so far as to stage a mock shooting on the Drag as a part of their “Life and Liberty Walk to End Gun-Free Zones” rally. Members of the group marched with American flags and assault rifles in tow down Guadalupe and were confronted by groups of students who gathered with signs and fart guns to conduct their own counter-protest of the event. SB 11 is scheduled to go into effect August 2016, but the issue is far from settled.
For more information: https://campuscarry.utexas.edu/
Photo courtesy Jonathan Ernst, Slate Magazine.
7. The Return of Fisher vs. the University of Texas
As of December 2015, Abigail Fisher and her attorneys are back in the ring to take another swing at the University of Texas’ affirmative action policies. Abigail Fisher, a white applicant who was denied admission into UT in 2008, first sued the university in 2012, arguing that she had been denied admission on the basis of her race. The case was heard by the Supreme Court the following year and in 2014, the Court ruled that there was nothing unconstitutional about UT’s system that would sanction Fisher’s claims. In December 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a second argument. University officials have maintained since 2013 that affirmative action is helpful, if not necessary, to building a diverse student body and to providing opportunities of higher education for minority students lacking adequate resources. Fisher and her attorneys, however, continue to question the necessity and benefit of these policies. Following the hearing in December, Abigail Fisher stated that she hoped the second case would conclusively resolve affirmative action. “Like most Americans, I don’t believe students should be treated differently because of their race,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, this case will end racial classifications and preferences at the University of Texas.” (Matthew Adams, The Daily Texan). The statements from Fisher and her lawyers as well as the breathtakingly racist comments made by Justice Anthony Scalia do not seem to assure anyone following the case of a positive outcome. The ruling on this second hearing is crucial and could determine the future of affirmative action policies used at the University of Texas and at colleges across the country, potentially jeopardizing the academic futures of millions of minority and out-of-state applicants to the University of Texas. A decision from the Court is expected in late June.