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The Harvey effect on marine research

It’s tough being on the coast sometimes.

Jagged splinters of wood stick out of the shoreline – all that’s left of a pier that once stretched 100 yards into the Gulf of Mexico.

White plastic tarps flap in the whipping December wind atop dozens of roofs that failed to withstand the brutal force of a hurricane. Small buildings nearby are caved in, while sturdier ones are stripped to the studs to prevent the spread of mold.

The 72-acre plot looks like an abandoned town from the 1970s.

Only it’s not an abandoned town. It’s the University of Texas at Austin’s once-thriving Marine Science Institute, the first of its kind on the Gulf. It’s been four months since Hurricane Harvey decimated the coastal town of Port Aransas – where the institute calls home – and officials still are months from bringing research efforts back online.

Faculty and students have been displaced, many to Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus, millions of dollars of equipment has been destroyed and decades of research that cannot be replicated has been lost.

Institute leaders still are assessing the damage, which already has filled a 3,500-line spreadsheet, but the cost to rebuild will be in the “many tens of millions of dollars,” said Robert Dickey, institute director.

But they will rebuild, Dickey said. And they will be better prepared for the next hurricane.

“We want it done as quickly as possible, but it has to be done right,” Dickey said. “We’ll apply what we learned from this storm to our redesign.”

[…]

Dickey plans to use Harvey’s destruction on the institute as an opportunity to rebuild stronger and safer.

When all the damage is assessed and the insurance money rolls in, Dickey plans to “harden” the buildings against hurricanes by installing polycarbonate windows, bitumen roofs – rated against wind, fire and hail – and resistant materials for doors.

“We need to make everything more resilient,” he said.

The structures need to withstand a Category 4 storm. They need to fare as well as the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s center on Summerland Key did during Hurricane Irma.

You can click over and read the rest. In the grand scheme of things, there are higher priority items than a marine research facility, and with UT’s fundraising muscle behind it the institute should be back and more prepared for big storms in the future. I post this mostly because there can’t be too many illustrations of the damage that Harvey caused or how high the stakes are as we try to prepare for when – not if – another storm like it strikes.

Tracking earthquakes

It’s a thing.

Texas, home to two of the nation’s busiest oilfields, now has a new way for the public to track in real time how many earthquakes are rattling the Lone Star State since the expanded use of new drilling techniques.

TexNet, which the University of Texas said is the nation’s most advanced state-run seismic monitoring system, includes 22 permanent monitoring stations and another 40 that are portable. The system was formed in 2015 thanks to $4.47 million in state funding.

The Permian Basin in west Texas and New Mexico and the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas continue to see some of the nation’s strongest drilling activity. Those regions, along with the Dallas-Fort Worth area, have all seen an increase in earthquakes, according to a statement earlier this month from the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology.

“Small earthquake events have become more common in Texas recently,” Scott Tinker, director of the bureau, said in the statement. “We are now positioned to learn more about them and, hopefully, to understand how to mitigate their impacts in the future.”

The UT Bureau of Economic Geology press release about this is here, and the official TexNet webpage, at which you can get all the data, is here. It would be nice to live in a world where this wasn’t needed, but it is so you may as well be aware of it. Texas Monthly has more.

Campus carry lawsuit tossed

No surprise.

A federal judge has dismissed a longshot lawsuit filed by three University of Texas at Austin professors seeking to overturn the state’s 2015 campus carry law, which allows people to carry concealed handguns inside most public university buildings.

District Judge Lee Yeakel wrote in his decision that the professors — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — couldn’t present any “concrete evidence to substantiate their fears” that campus carry would have a chilling effect on free speech.

The professors claimed that the law violated their First Amendment rights, since the possibility of a gun being in their classrooms might make them hesitant to discuss controversial issues. In dismissing the suit, Yeakel said the professors didn’t have standing to sue.

The ruling was issued late Thursday, exactly one year after the original lawsuit was filed.

See here, here, and here for the background. I was skeptical of this when it was filed – you would think that if the “well-regulated militia” argument were going to work, someone would have used it successfully by now – so this is what I expected. I don’t care for campus carry and would like to see it thrown out, but that’s going to take a political solution. We will need to have a government that is very different from the one we have now for that to happen.

No injunction for campus carry

So much for that.

A federal judge has denied three University of Texas at Austin professors’ initial attempt to keep guns out of their classrooms under the state’s campus carry law.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the professors, who had sought a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the law, had failed to establish their likelihood for success. UT students resume classes on Wednesday, and the professors’ case will continue to work its way through the court while the law remains in effect.

The professors, Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter, filed their lawsuit against the university and the attorney general’s office. In the suit, the professors said the possibility of guns on campus could stifle class discussion in their courses, which touch on emotional issues like gay rights and abortion. They argued that was a violation of students’ First Amendment right to free speech.

[…]

In an e-mail, Renea Hicks, the lawyer for the professors, said he was “disappointed” by the decision.

“We’ll just have to pull together more facts for trial and hope things go smoothly on campus in the meantime,” he said. “Sometimes, public policies are so terrible and extreme that it takes the law and courts a little while to catch up.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the judge’s order. On the bright side, the lawsuit wasn’t dismissed, at least not yet. As I’ve said before, I would not bet my own money on the plaintiffs ultimately prevailing on this one.

UT and AG ask for campus carry lawsuit to be dismissed

Pretty standard procedure.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office and University of Texas at Austin on Monday asked a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by three UT-Austin professors seeking to keep guns out of their classrooms despite the state’s new campus carry law.

In two separate court filings, lawyers for the university and the state argue that the professors’ claims that the law violates their First Amendment rights are unfounded. They also argue that the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction to rule on the state law.

[…]

UT-Austin, however, argues that “incidental impact” on free speech does not violate the First Amendment.

“Even if the … policy had some incidental impact on Plaintiffs’ speech, that impact does not implicate any interest that the First Amendment protects,” the university argues.

See here and here for the background, and here and here for the dismissal motions. More filings are due Monday, with rebuttals due Wednesday, and a ruling will follow, expected to be before the term starts. I still think the plaintiffs are underdogs in this, but we’ll see. The Current has more.

Paxton responds to campus carry lawsuit

It’s about what you’d expect.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday called a lawsuit brought by three University of Texas at Austin professors against the state’s campus carry law “frivolous” and said the professors have no valid reasons for opposing guns on campus.

Paxton filed a brief in response to the lawsuit Monday, saying the professors’ request to block the law — which went into effect Monday — before the first day of fall classes is unconstitutional.

“It is a frivolous lawsuit, and I’m confident it will be dismissed because the Legislature passed a constitutionally-sound law,” Paxton said in a statement. “There is no legal justification to deny licensed, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas.”

[…]

In his response, Paxton says the professors’ arguments do not justify banning concealed carry on campus. They have no individual right to academic freedom under the First Amendment, the brief says. It goes on to say that it is irrational to claim the state cannot treat public and private institutions differently, as it does this in countless other areas of the law.

“Plaintiffs will not be irreparably harmed if a preliminary injunction is issued, but Defendants will be,” the brief says. “The citizens of this state — and in particular the students who wish to take the classes offered by Plaintiffs — will be denied both their statutory and constitutional rights.”

UT also filed a brief responding to the professors’ lawsuit, in which it claims there is no evidence to support banning guns in classrooms.

When it comes to limiting robust discussion in the classroom, “plaintiffs do not allege more than subjective chill,” the brief says.

Since the law is already in effect, the professors would have to present a very strong argument to make an exception for them, the brief adds.

See here for the background, here for Paxton’s response, and here for UT’s. I hate to be on the same side of an issue as Ken Paxton, and I think campus carry is dumb policy, but I remain skeptical of this lawsuit. I have a hard time seeing a court buying the First and Second Amendment claims the plaintiffs raise, and even if a district court does, I have an even harder time seeing such a ruling survive the appeals process. But as they say in baseball, this is why they play the games, so we’ll see what happens in court. And what happened yesterday was no ruling yet.

A federal judge took no action Thursday on a request by three University of Texas at Austin professors to temporarily block Texas’ campus carry law, saying he won’t give his initial ruling until at least next week.

But the case against gained a new wrinkle at a hearing Thursday, with the professors’ lawyers now adding a claim that UT-Austin’s gun policies are too vague to be enforced.

It remains to be seen whether the challenge will go anywhere. Lawyers on the professors’ side admitted in court that their claims wade into uncharted legal waters.

“It goes without saying that this is an interesting case,” said U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel. “Both sides, I thought, did an exceptional job.”

[…]

The state law, which went into effect Monday, orders public universities to allow guns. But it doesn’t specifically mention professors’ role. And lawyers on both sides couldn’t point to written UT-Austin policies that describe what would happen to a professor if he or she chooses to ban guns anyway.

Still, the state’s lawyers stressed that public university professors are required to uphold state law and that the law prohibits schools from banning guns in classrooms.

The judge said he wanted to hear more about that argument and asked attorneys on both sides to submit filings detailing their positions. Those are due Monday, and rebuttals can be filed until Wednesday.

This is all for a preliminary injunction, so whatever does get ruled will be temporary. And appealed, but that goes without saying. The Current, the Observer, and the Press have more.

Behind The Tower

Fifty years have passed since Charles Whitman went on an infamous killing spree at the University of Texas. Now a group of historians at UT have taken an in depth look at Whitman and his actions, and tried to answer questions we still don’t fully understand today.

By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

What happens to events that historians ignore, events that are recorded primarily as scattered patches of memory? What kind of history is told by novelists and journalists?

We all know what happened, right?

On August 1, 1966, a twenty-five year old University of Texas student named Charles Whitman went up to the observation deck of the UT tower armed with guns, ammunition, and canned food. For 96 minutes he held the campus in a state of terror. Whitman killed 14 people that day and wounded more than 30. One of the wounded died a week later and one died decades later of injuries connected with his bullet wounds. Austin Police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez (and two other men) made their way to the top of the tower, without knowing who or what they would find. They cornered Whitman and then shot and killed him. Later it was discovered that Whitman had murdered his mother and his wife in the early hours of the morning before his rampage. The shooting was broadcast on the radio and on television and it became a major national and even international news story.

This is arguably the most important event to take place in modern Austin history. There were thousands of eyewitnesses and dozens of survivors. The local archives contain police reports, records of a high-profile Governor’s Commission, medical records, military records, and university records. We have dozens of interviews with survivors: with people who remember and people who have been trying to forget.

It took 30 years for a journalist, Gary Lavergne, to write A Sniper in the Tower, a well-researched and thoughtful narrative. A few oral histories appeared over the years in Texas Monthly and local newspapers. It was only in 2006, that Texas Monthly Senior Editor Pam Colloff spent three months tracking down survivors and recording their memories. In 2014, Elizabeth Crook published a novel about that day called Monday, Monday. Movies, TV shows, novels and even songs refer to the shooting in passing.

But where are the historians?

Bullet holes remained in the concrete and balustrades around the tower when I arrived at UT as an Assistant Professor in 1990, but no visible commemorative marker of the events of that day existed on the UT campus. In 1999 the garden behind the tower was dedicated to the memory of those killed, wounded, or touched by the shooting, but then it took another 8 years to add a plaque that publicly acknowledged that commemoration for the first time. The History tab on the UT webpage devoted to the tower still doesn’t even mention the shooting.

These are events that cry out to be studied. They are also events that raise important questions about commemoration, about public remembering and forgetting, and about the uses of public history.

In Spring 2016, graduate students in the UT History Department’s Public History Seminar set out to construct a website for writing a history of … and immediately we ran into our first problem. What are we studying? The events of August 1, 1966? Charles Whitman himself? The victims and survivors? The immediate responses, or the aftermath, or the public memories? Do people have a right to forget? What do we want to know? What questions do we have and what questions to we want to answer?

Link via Slate. There’s a lot there to read, and a lot we’re still learning even after all these years. I for one did not know that Whitman had a serious addiction to amphetamines, which no one made a big deal about because amphetamines were so common at the time. Check it out.

UT will not push UIL on transgender athletes

Unfortunate.

Despite objections from LGBT advocates, UIL’s longstanding informal policy is set to become official August 1 — when it takes effect as an amendment to the league’s constitution.

The amendment, initially approved by UIL’s Legislative Council last year, wasoverwhelmingly ratified by representatives from member districts in February.

However, LGBT advocates hoped officials at the University of Texas at Austin, which oversees UIL, would veto the amendment since it appears to conflict with the school’s policy against discrimination based on gender identity.

UT-Austin officials confirmed they were reviewing the proposed UIL amendment in April, but university spokesman J.B. Bird indicated this month they have no plans to halt its implementation because underlying legal questions about accommodations for trans students remain unsettled.

Bird noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed suit against the Obama administration over federal guidance saying public schools must allow trans students to use restrooms and other facilities “consistent with their gender identity.”

“I think that’s definitely causing the university to look very carefully at what’s happening around us … since we’re a state agency, and we have the state pursuing these actions ” Bird said.

Paul Castillo, a Dallas-based staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said that by allowing the UIL amendment to take effect, the university is violating Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly said Title IX protects trans students.

“They are violating Title IX by sitting on their hands and waiting for litigation to play itself out,” Castillo said of UT. “They’re putting their own funds at risk, but beyond that, as a university system, they should take a stand.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. All that is needed here is for UT, and by extension the UIL, the follow the guidelines of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, and thus not violate Title IX. Clearly, we are going to have to do this the hard way.

Lawsuit filed over campus carry

This ought to be interesting.

Three University of Texas at Austin professors sued their university and the state on Wednesday, claiming Texas’ new campus carry law is forcing the school to impose “overly-solicitous, dangerously-experimental gun policies” that violate the First and Second Amendments.

The professors — Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter — are asking a federal judge to grant an injunction that would block the law before it goes into effect on Aug. 1. In the suit, professors say they teach courses that touch emotional issues like gay rights and abortion. The possibility of guns on campus could stifle class discussion, which is a violation of the First Amendment, the suit says.

“Compelling professors at a public university to allow, without any limitation or restriction, students to carry concealed guns in their classrooms chills their First Amendment rights to academic freedom,” the lawsuit says.

The suit also cites the Second Amendment, which is usually cited by gun-rights supporters to bolster ideas like campus carry.

“The Second Amendment is not a one-way street,” the suit says. “It starts with the proposition that a ‘well-regulated militia,’ (emphasis added), is necessary to the security of a free state. The Supreme Court has explained that ‘well-regulated’ means ‘imposition of proper discipline and training.'”

The suit adds: “If the state is to force them to admit guns into their classrooms, then the officials responsible for the compulsory policy must establish that there is a substantial reason for the policy and that their regulation of the concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses is ‘well-regulated.’ Current facts indicate that they cannot do so.”

The professors also claim that the law violates the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under the law.

A copy of the lawsuit is here; Ken Paxton’s response to it is about what you’d expect. I Am Not A Lawyer, but this seems like a stretch to me. Has any court ever bought that argument in litigation? Maybe it hasn’t really been tried before, which would not be particularly encouraging if true. I mean, anything can happen and I don’t suppose it can hurt to try, but I would not bet money on a favorable outcome for the plaintiffs. The Press and the Austin Chronicle have more.

The Scalia effect on current cases

The Trib highlights a few cases pending before the Supreme Court that could be affected by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Antonin Scalia

Texas abortion law

On March 2, the court will hear oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges Texas’ 2013 abortion law. Beyond deciding the constitutionality of a law that could shut down about half of the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics, the Texas abortion case gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to clarify how far states can go in restricting abortion.

In 1992, the court ruled that states can impose abortion restrictions as long as they do not place an undue burden on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

Lower courts across the country have disagreed, however, on what constitutes an “undue burden.” Activists on all sides are hoping the high court will provide a clearer definition in its decision in the Texas case. That case centers on the state’s requirement that abortion clinics meet hospital-like ambulatory surgical center standards — which include minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia and other modifications. In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld the new abortion restrictions, saying the new law does not impose an undue burden on a majority of Texas women seeking abortions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy could be the swing vote. If he sides with the conservatives on the court, the resulting 4-4 tie would affirm the lower court ruling.

The lower court also granted the relatively remote Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen an exemption to some narrow elements of the ambulatory surgical center requirements and from a separate provision of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

Barring a tied vote, a decision in the Texas case could also determine the constitutionality of restrictions in place in other areas of the country. As of November, 10 states had adopted admitting privileges requirements, but courts blocked enforcement in six of those states, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Six states had enacted ambulatory surgical center standards on abortion facilities. Those restrictions were not in effect in two of those states.

Immigration

The high court also agreed to hear the state’s case against the Obama administration’s controversial executive action on immigration that was announced in November 2014.

Known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, the action would shield more than 4 million undocumented immigrants in the country from deportation proceedings and allow them to apply for three-year work permits. Lower courts have ruled to halt the policy three separate times.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in January but has yet to schedule arguments.

[…]

UT-Austin’s affirmative action policy

The death of Scalia cast uncertainty on many important cases before the Supreme Court, but probably won’t have a major impact on the decision in Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, which is a case about the constitutionality of affirmative action.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is still the likely swing vote, just as he was before Scalia died.

Abigail Fisher, who is white, contends she was unconstitutionally denied admission into UT-Austin in 2008 because of her race. UT-Austin considers the race of a small portion of its applicants, and black and Hispanic students often get a slight advantage in that pool of admissions. If Fisher wins her case, UT-Austin might be unable to consider the race of its applicants in the future. A broad ruling against UT-Austin could even end affirmative action nationwide.

Scalia, a longtime opponent of affirmative action, was almost certain to vote against UT-Austin. He was in the dissent in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, when the Supreme Court upheld the practice of affirmative action in a limited way.

[…]

Redistricting

Finally, the justices heard arguments last year on a Texas case that questions a basic idea in American election law. In Evenwel v. Abbott, the plaintiffs argue that their voting power is diluted by the way Texas draws its state legislative districts, saying those lines should be based on the number of eligible voters in each district and not on population.

Congressional districts are based on population, as directed in the Constitution. The Evenwel case challenges Texas Senate district lines; a decision allowing states to use eligible voters as a base could shatter current lines here and in other states that want to make the change, remaking the distribution of power in state legislatures. That decision is pending.

The court has already accepted those four cases, among others, but doesn’t have to do anything this term if the justices decide to change course.

If the justices don’t want to rule on a case they’ve already accepted, they can announce it was “improvidently granted,” which means lower court ruling holds, [Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law expert at the University of Texas at Austin] said. They can hold over any unheard cases they want until they have a ninth colleague, and they can rehear oral arguments with a ninth colleague if they want to wait or they think a ruling with a four-person majority would be too controversial.

“It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they hold over some stuff where time really isn’t of the essence,” Levinson said. “You can make this argument of the election case [Evenwel]. If they hold it over, the world won’t come to an end.”

There’s a lot of good commentary out there about What This All Means, at least in the short term – see Think Progress, SCOTUSBlog, and Rick Hasen, for example. The main point to keep in mind is that in any case where SCOTUS winds up splitting 4-4, the ruling of the lower court would stand. From my perspective, that’s a good thing in some cases – Friedrichs being one example, Evenwel being another – and not so good in others, specifically Whole Woman’s Health and the DAPA case. In addition, in some cases that kind of result could also mean a split in the appeals courts. There are plenty of abortion restriction lawsuits out there, over laws similar to what Texas passed, and a number of other federal courts have struck them down. It’s not hard to imagine at least one appeals court upholding the lower court on those rulings, thus making laws like Texas’ legal in some states but not in others. Texas’ law is currently on hold thanks to SCOTUS, so one way to avoid this problem would be for the Court to delay hearing the appeal until they’re back at full strength. Or maybe the good Anthony Kennedy will show up and Texas’ law will get struck down on a 5-3 vote. Let’s just say that John Roberts has a lot to think about and leave it at that.

One other thing: Justice Scalia’s death has revived the idea of term limits for Supreme Court justices, an idea that has fairly broad support. Ted Cruz is a proponent of the idea, though as is always the case with Cruz, he has bad reasons for doing so. I’m perfectly fine with the idea of limiting Justices to 18 years on the bench. It’ll take a Constitutional amendment, so the odds of it happening are infinitesimal. but if it gains momentum that will be okay by me. For what it’s worth, prior to Scalia’s death, there were five Justices who had already served more than 18 years, and three of them were appointed by Republican Presidents: Scalia, Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas, along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Make of that what you will.

On to the benefits

Now that same sex marriage is the law of the land, Texas employers need to make sure that the spousal benefits they offer apply to all spouses.

RedEquality

“If an employer provides benefits to anyone who is currently married, they must now treat gay and lesbian employees the same and offer them the exact same benefits,” said Neel Lane, a San Antonio lawyer at corporate law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

“The ruling has an enormous impact on employers and employees in Texas,” said Lane, who represents on a pro bono basis a gay couple in Texas who have challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

[…]

Lawyers said they have been inundated with calls – mainly from small- and medium-sized business owners – seeking legal advice on updating employment and benefits forms but also asking if there are ways under Texas law to avoid having to make changes.

James Griffin, an expert on employment benefits and federal tax law at Jackson Walker in Dallas, said the legal advice he is giving his business clients is simple.

“Don’t waste your time looking for ways to defeat this,” Griffin said. “The Supreme Court decision is very broad. This issue is done. Make the changes and move on.”

Griffin and other lawyers say most large corporations implemented policies years ago that extend benefits to same-sex couples.

But they say some Texas-based companies that operate exclusively within the state have not addressed the issue because they have never had employees come forward and say they are gay and want benefits for their partners. Lawyers say that because Texas political leaders have been adamantly anti-same-sex marriage and benefits, many workers were afraid to step forward.

“Now, because of the Supreme Court ruling, a lot of people who have been reluctant are going to raise their hand for the benefits and the companies have to address it,” said Mark Shank, an employment law partner at Gruber Hurst Elrod Johansen Hail Shank in Dallas.

Among the employers who have already taken action is the state of Texas.

The state’s bureaucracy is moving forward to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision, even as state elected officials – including Gov. Greg Abbott – have lambasted the landmark ruling.

Starting Wednesday – less than a week after the decision – the Employees Retirement System of Texas, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System will extend benefits to spouses of gay and lesbian employees.

That means the state’s largest employer, the State of Texas, will join the list of those providing equal benefits to same-sex partners.

The decision is latest sign that state government is accepting the ruling, which struck down gay marriage bans in Texas and other states. And that bureaucratic churn provides a notable counterbalance to the saber-rattling by Abbott and other top Republicans.

“This is all kind of new for us,” said Catherine Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Employees Retirement System of Texas. “We’re just looking at what other employers have seen.”

The state employees some 311,000 people, according to the state auditor’s office. Terrell said ERS, which handles benefits for most state employees, was anticipating that about 1,500 spouses of gay employees would now enroll for benefits.

A “notable counterbalance to the saber-rattling”. I like that. When you consider all the county clerks who ignored Ken Paxton’s legal “advice”, it’s quite clear who’s really out of touch here. That doesn’t mean they’re going to acknowledge it any time soon.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is also providing these benefits now; they weren’t included in the Trail Blazers post. Regarding the UT and A&M systems, I like the quote in this Trib story about that:

Professors at Texas’ public universities celebrated the extension of benefits, saying the policy change will offer relief for many gay and lesbian employees and reduce the rate at which they leave Texas institutions in search of schools that accommodate same-sex couples.

Patrick Burkart, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, said extending benefits for same-sex couples will put the university on the “same competitive footing” as other research universities across the country because it will help retain and recruit top faculty and staffers.

“What we’re going to find out is how expensive it’s been to keep a discriminatory policy on the books as we have,” said Burkart, the secretary and treasurer of the A&M chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which has pushed for the benefits for years.

Burkart, who has served on several faculty search committees, indicated that the previous policy denying benefits to same-sex spouses or partners kept potential candidates from applying for posts at the school.

Hundreds of colleges across the country offer benefits to same-sex spouses or same-sex domestic partners.

”I think our university has suffered for it, and now is a great time to catch up and gather our strengths,” Burkart said.

I’m willing to bet none of our “saber-rattling” state leaders ever considered that, and if any of them did, I seriously doubt they cared. It is of course one big reason why so many private employers have been doing this for so long – you’ve got to keep up with the competition. Burying your head in the sand never works.

Let’s go back to the first story for a minute to see an example of another place where they can demonstrate that:

Legal experts also say the first major domino likely to fall will occur in federal court in Wichita Falls, where a federal judge in March, at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Paxton, issued an injunction that prevented the federal Family and Medical Leave Act from applying to same-sex couples in Texas.

Because of the ruling, Texas was one of four states in the U.S. where FMLA benefits have been denied to gay couples involved in civil unions.

“That decision will almost certainly be reversed right away,” said David Coale, a partner at Lynn Tillotson Pinker & Cox. “State political leaders may try to fight it, but they are going to lose, and then they are going to have to pay a lot of money to lawyers for pursuing frivolous legal claims.”

See here and here for the background. The lawsuit involved federal employees in Texas, who were covered by an Obama executive order extending employment benefits to same-sex spouses. In the face of Obergfell v. Hodges, the injunction that was granted is clearly out of order. I presume a motion to lift the injunction will be filed shortly, and will be granted right away. Any other outcome is unfathomable.

Moving on, all the newly-married couples in Texas can now sign up for health insurance if they need to.

Same-sex couples who marry have had what the Affordable Care Act considers a “qualifying life event.” And that triggers a special 60-day enrollment period to purchase health insurance from Texas’ federally run, online marketplace, a group promoting enrollment said Tuesday.

Enroll America, a nonprofit supporting Obamacare, said in a release that under the health law, marriage is one of the unusual phenomena that allow consumers a mid-year bite at the apple. The others are having a baby, moving to a different coverage area, getting divorced and experiencing certain changes of income that would affect tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.

“People don’t know that the special enrollment period exists,” Enroll America spokeswoman Annette Raveneau said in an interview.

[…]

Newly married same-sex couples and others with qualifying life events can sign up all by themselves, using HealthCare.gov.

Raveneau, though, strongly recommends that shoppers meet in person with a certified assistance counselor or Obamacare navigator. They can schedule appointments using Enroll America’s “Get Covered Connector.”

“The people who use an in-person assister, which are free, are twice as likely to finish the enrollment process and actually get a plan,” she said.

How many people might be able to do this? We can only guess, in part because the state has no plans to count how many same-sex couples get hitched.

Though Texas collects detailed data on marriages by county and age, getting better information on same-sex marriage rates in Texas could take years since the state has no plans to separately track those unions. Following Friday’s ruling, the Department of State Health Services released a new gender-neutral marriage application for counties to use. The application does not ask for the sex of either of the applicants.

“We are not specifically tracking those at this time,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the department. “The application asks for Applicant One and Applicant Two and currently does not ask for gender.”

States in which same-sex marriage was legal before Friday have taken different record-keeping approaches. Oregon, Vermont and Washington track marriage licenses specifically issued to same-sex couples. California and Florida simply track all marriages, and do not differentiate between same-sex and opposite-sex unions.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated in 2013 that there were 252,000 married same-sex couples in the country, but later said that was likely an overestimate, citing flawed data. A recent paper from a census researcher put the figure at closer to 170,000.

The patchwork of data collection means reliable numbers on how many same-sex couples are getting married in different states may not be available until the next census in 2020, said Drew DeSilver, a senior writer with the Pew Research Center who has researched the issue.

I guess I’m not too bothered by this, since there doesn’t seem to be a single standard practice nationwide. It would be nice to know, but given the way the updated form is worded, I understand the reasoning. I’m sure there will be a million ways to come up with reasonably accurate estimates – new Obamacare enrollments will be one data point – and we’ll have Census data soon enough.

Moving on to the benefits issue

And as we move on to other fights, the terrain changes.

RedEquality

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opened the door for state agencies to withhold benefits from same-sex couples Friday, hours after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

In a letter released Friday afternoon, Abbott ordered heads of state agencies to prioritize religious freedom, writing that no adverse action should be taken against a state official “on account of the person’s act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief.”

“This order applies to any agency decision, including but not limited to granting or denying benefits, managing agency employees, entering or enforcing agency contracts, licensing and permitting decisions, or enforcing state laws and regulations,” Abbott wrote.

In anticipation of this response, a lawsuit has already been filed for force the state to recognize the same-sex unions of its employees and grant them the same benefits. I have no idea what legal justification Abbott thinks he has for this, but we already knew he was a crappy lawyer.

The Trib makes it clear that this is little more than saber-rattling on Abbott’s part.

Public employers including Texas agencies, universities and schools may now be required to extend benefits to spouses of married gay employees in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Friday that marriages between same-sex couples are constitutional.

But when those benefits will be extended is unclear as state officials examine the high court’s ruling and consider new policies.

“At this point, all I can say is we’re aware of the ruling and we’re examining it,” said Catherine Terrell, director of governmental affairs for the state Employee Retirement System, which oversees retirement and health benefits for state employees and those of most public universities and community colleges.

A spokeswoman for the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, which serves public education employees, echoed that sentiment, saying it was also “analyzing” the ruling’s impact on the programs it administers.

The ruling is likely to have little impact on state employees’ retirement benefits, because employees can already assign any person as a beneficiary, Terrell said. But “the major benefit issue” could be with employees’ health insurance plans.

[…]

Legal experts agreed that when it comes to extending benefits for same-sex couples, the state is now bound by the Supreme Court ruling to recognize all marriages.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston, said the state has no legal basis to exclude same-sex couples from the benefits it offers married couples.

“If you’re legally married by the law, no agency or government can restrict you,” Rottinghaus said. “Exactly how this is applied in Texas is going to be a bit shaky.”

But he added that extending benefits to same-sex couples is inevitable. “It’s not a question of when, but how,” Rottinghaus said.

That’s true of county clerks, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s a straight line to get there. There’s already been a lawsuit filed to push the issue, in anticipation of this reaction from Abbott. It would be nice to think that we could avoid doing this the hard way, but of course we won’t. We will get where we need to be, We’re just gonna be mulish about it.

Houston’s transit deserts

From the Kinder Institute’s Urban Edge blog:

HoustonMetro

A new study suggests that despite METRO’s launch of several highly-touted and publicized improvements, the agency is still struggling to address the needs of some communities that depend heavily on transit.

With operations beginning on METRO’s two new light rail lines and the reimagined bus system set to begin service in August 2015, the Houston region’s transit system is undergoing drastic changes.

There is no denying the merits of these new elements. On the whole, the new rail lines and the streamlined bus system will benefit many riders. The agency said that its bus system changes will double the number of potential riders who live within a half-mile of a frequent bus route to 1 million people. Meanwhile, the new light rails are providing faster, consistent service to two areas of town with high transit demand.

But, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin who have mapped what the changes mean for Houstonians’ access to transit, the results of the new systems offer more of a mixed bag.

Junfeng Jiao, an assistant professor of community and regional planning at UT-Austin, and Aaron Nichols, a graduate student in the same department, have studied and mapped the “transit deserts” of major Texas cities.

Their concept is adapted from the more widely-known idea of food deserts, or areas where residents lack access to fresh, nutritious food. By tracking transit deserts,

Jiao and Nichols can highlight the parts of cities that have greater demand for transit than supply.

The researchers released their findings for Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio in January.

To find out where the gaps in transit service exist, Jiao and Nichols collected two types of information about every census block group in a city: the transit demand and transit supply.

Transit demand is based on the percentage of people in an area that depend on public transit. Researchers arrived at that figure by subtracting the number of cars at a household from the number of eligible drivers living there and extrapolating it across the wider area. From that, the researchers determined the percentage of transit dependent people per acre.

They calculated transit supply by determining the number of transit stops and routes within each block group, as well as the frequency of transit service. They also considered the length of sidewalks, bike routes and low-speed roads as well as the density of intersections. The numbers were aggregated into a transit-supply per acre measurement.

Transit demand was then subtracted from transit supply. If the number is negative, the area is considered a transit desert.

The researchers acknowledge that the approach isn’t perfect. The number of cars per household is certainly not the sole factor that determines use of transit. For example, a household of five in which all members are over the age of 16 is unlikely to own five cars. By the study’s mechanisms, such a household would be considered transit dependent. In reality, though, this car-to-person gap does not automatically make a household transit dependent. Indeed a household might get along fine with three or even two family vehicles.

Despite this shortcoming, as a basic measure, the transit gap analysis offers a baseline for isolating transit-needy areas, evaluating existing service and helping planners and policymakers direct future transit investment to places that desperately need it.

The study is here. It was done using the existing bus map, not the new one that is coming in August, and only counts on rail line for Houston. The Urban Edge blog notes that the authors did produce an updated map for the (still being tweaked) reimagined bus lines, though for some reason they still didn’t account for the Harrisburg and Southeast rail lines. I’m not sure where they got that map, but it’s included in the blog post, and it does clearly show the effect of the new bus lines in that there’s far less oversupply of transit in the downtown area.

One key factor of this study is that it wasn’t just about where transit stops are. From their “Conclusions and Limitations” section at the end:

This main difference between this study and previous studies is that more emphasis was placed on access to public transportation, and not just the actual transit service. Factors that are typically associated with walkable landscapes, such as small block lengths and low speed roads were taken into consideration for transit supply. Essentially every transit trip is going to begin and end with walking. If someone is not willing, or unable to walk to or from a transit stop, then a transit trip will not likely be made. This is why the physical characteristics of the built environment that might contribute to or discourage walkability are vitally important when considering access to or from a transit stop at the beginning or end of a transit trip.

Total sidewalk length for each Texas city studied was one of the data points they used. That figure is apparently unknown for Houston, which may add some uncertainty to the results for our fair city. Better and more ubiquitous sidewalks – a point made by some at the latest system reimagining public meetings – would make transit more available, with an accompanying boost to ridership.

A few other thoughts…

– The maps for Houston are literally for Houston – there are big blank spaces where Bellaire and West U would be. I find that odd, since they (and many other small cities withing Houston’s borders) are also served by Metro. I doubt there are any transit-deficient areas within them, but still. It would have been nice to see a more filled-in map.

– Another improvement I’d like to see would be more detail in the data itself, so that one can tell which factor or factors led a particular area to be transit-deficient. Was it a lower rate of auto ownership for over-16 household residents, a lack of sidewalks, distance from the nearest bus stop, something else? Just looking at these maps, I have no idea what policy prescription if any might improve matters.

– Comparing the present and future gap maps for Houston, you can see how system reimagining will benefit outlying areas in the west, southeast, and northeast. The bulk of the areas with the largest deficiencies are in the southwest in both maps, though it’s a little better with the new bus routes. Again, it would be nice to know more about the specifics. I will note that one place named on the list of five most deficient areas is Gulfton, which would be on the western end of the Universities Line, if we ever do build it. Another reason to hope that the Culberson peace accord bears fruit.

– If these researchers would like to be more ambitious, I suggest expanding the study to something more like the Houston metro area. You don’t need to go full ten-county HGAC region, but including Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston Counties in addition to all of Harris would give a much more complete picture of how people in greater Houston can get around. I would recommend including household income as a factor, as the authors have suggested they might in the future, as otherwise there would likely be a large transit gap in and around the Woodlands, when in reality you have a bunch of people who only ever drive. Doing this might also help pinpoint holes in connectivity between disparate transit systems and how many people are affected by them. May as well get a regional planning benefit out of this, right?

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What are yours? Link via Gray Matters.

How will campuses handle campus carry?

Good question.

When it comes to guns on campus, University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven is in a bit of an awkward position.

A month ago, the former Navy admiral was one of the most vocal opponents of legislation allowing people to carry guns into university buildings. Now, the campus carry bill has become law, and McRaven must help determine exactly where guns will be allowed at the nine universities he oversees.

But he can’t simply ban guns altogether. Instead, he’ll walk a fine line between his views on safety and his job upholding the spirit of a law passed by a Legislature with strong views on gun rights. And he’ll try to do it with passionate advocates on both sides closely watching.

Similar scenarios will play out at schools across the state. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has signed Senate Bill 11 into law, each four-year state school has 14 months to come up with its own policy on where concealed handguns may be carried by students or others with a state license. The new law provides few specifics on where those guns can or cannot be banned, leaving the process open to passionate debate.

“We are going to figure out how to make sure we do everything we can to protect the faculty and the students and the visitors and not impact academic freedom in any way,” McRaven said in an interview soon after SB 11 passed. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure we’re meeting the full intent of this bill.”

[…]

For the most part, the schools have offered few hints about how they will interpret the law. A few university presidents have sent out campus-wide emails saying they will consult students, faculty and staff before any decisions are made. Most discussions won’t start until fall, when more people are on campus.

“We are already aware that this is going to be one of the biggest issues that we are going to have next year,” said Adam Alattry, student body president at the University of North Texas for the 2015-16 year.

Alattry was opposed to campus carry, joining 12 other student body presidents in writing a letter to Abbott asking him not to sign the bill. But he acknowledged that some groups on his campus strongly favor campus carry. Reaching a compromise acceptable to everyone will be difficult, he said.

Chuck Hemptsead, executive director of the Texas Association of College Teachers, agreed. He said that an “overwhelming majority” of his members are opposed to allowing guns in classrooms.

“I think it will be an emotional thing,” he said.

Imposing too many restrictions would risk pushback from pro-gun groups and lawmakers, and legislators might be tempted to repeal the campuses’ autonomy in 2017 if that happens. And gun rights activists say they’ll be closely watching to make sure the schools don’t go too far.

“We know that is a possibility and we are prepared to take the necessary measures to protect students, faculty and staff,” said Michael Newbern, communications director for Students for Concealed Carry.

See here and here for some background. My guess is that private schools, with the possible exception of some smaller religious schools, will maintain their current no-guns-on-campus rules, as they are allowed to do under this law. Public schools like UT will have to walk a very fine line, with a lot of people watching them closely and a lot of very strong feelings involved. The law is fairly vague on how they can restrict guns, which gives them some leeway but will also invite a lot of scrutiny and criticism if they are perceived as going “too far”. Which, for some people, is any restrictions at all. There is no way to make everyone happy – hell, there’s probably no way to make most people anything less than disgruntled – and anything less than an “all guns all the time anywhere” policy will ensure that at least the fanatics will be back to push for complete victory in 2017. I don’t envy Chancellor McRaven or anyone else their task.

Austin B-Cycle coming

Took ’em long enough.

Service will launch Dec. 21 with 110 bikes and 11 stations, including one sponsored by the Chronicle. The full project will be completed by March 1, 2014, with expanded stations planned to service the UT-Austin campus, Riverside Drive, Zilker Park, and East Austin.

These first locations were whittled down from the suggestions provided by Austinites over the summer. Voters were also able to choose the bicycle color, ultimately settling on red. The adjustable bikes will each be outfitted with front and rear lights, bells, and baskets. Day-to-day operation and maintenance will be handled by the Bike Share of Austin nonprofit.

Annual memberships for the service will be offered at $80, weekly passes at $25, and day passes at $8. Less frequent users can check out a bike for free for the first 30 minutes, but will be charged $4 for every half hour thereafter.

Huh. You get an hour for free in Houston. Not sure why the shorter time limit in Austin. Anyway, the Daily Texan adds some further detail.

“There are many top 10 lists we like being on, but being a top ranked city for traffic problems is a real concern,” city councilman Chris Riley said. “Traffic issues have a direct impact on the livability of our city, and it has become clear that to protect our quality of life, we need to provide more transportation options for our community.”

The program, which will include 400 bikes at 40 stations by March, does not currently offer a discount for University students, said Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle executive director.

“We have not had any further discussion yet with the University of Texas about student pricing, so we won’t have anything on that for a while,” McFadden said.

Because the system’s stations are focused on the downtown area, Riley said he wants to increase its accessibility to students.

“I’d love to find ways to make the system more convenient for UT students,” Riley said. “We’ll be continuing to explore those possibilities, but in the meantime, for any UT student who wants to connect with the network, there will be stations not too far from [the University].”

[…]

The first 11 stations will be downtown along Congress as well as around the Convention Center and Whole Foods, McFadden said. The additional 29 stations are scheduled to be installed by March 1.

None of the initial 40 stations will be on campus, but there will be some stations on the Drag and possibly one near the Blanton Museum of Art, McFadden said.

This was announced in January. Integrating UT campus locations into their network should be a near-term goal. Unlike Houston, that campus is pretty close to downtown, so that should be doable. They may be able to install UT stations before Houston’s B-cycle gets stations at Rice or UH. Be that as it may, welcome aboard, Austin. Via Houston Tomorrow.

The “illegal immigrant” hunt

Who could have ever predicted that this would be a bad idea?

A conservative student group at the University of Texas announced Monday that it plans to organize a mock immigration roundup on campus this week as a way to start a conversation about illegal immigration.

The event, dubbed “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game,” by the UT Chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, ignited a blaze of controversy on social media that quickly spilled into the state’s gubernatorial race.

The group, which caused a stir in September by holding an affirmative action bake sale, said it will have up to five of its members spread out on campus Wednesday wearing name tags that say “illegal immigrant.”

Students who catch one of them and take that person to the YCT recruiting table will be rewarded with $25 gift cards. Organizers said the purpose, while clearly provocative, is to drum up a campuswide conversation on the hot-button topic of illegal immigration.

“If we held a forum or a public debate, no one would show up,” said Lorenzo Garcia, YCT chairman of the UT chapter. “But if we have an event like this, it gets people talking about it, and if it gets people talking about it, then we’ve succeeded.”

Announced early Monday via Facebook, the game drew almost instant condemnation from Democrats, pro-immigration groups, university officials and even Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose gubernatorial campaign was pulled into the controversy.

Yes, that’s Greg Abbott getting hugged by “hunt” organizer Lorenzo Garcia. You know what they say, your enemies can hurt you but your friends can kill you. As unsurprising as the reaction to this event was to anyone with more self-awareness than Garcia, it was just as unsurprisingly cancelled shortly thereafter.

The UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas has canceled a mock immigration sting on campus scheduled for Wednesday. YCT campus chairman Lorenzo Garcia said in a statement that organizers feared UT officials would retaliate against them.

Garcia also cited safety concerns, but conceded that the event, where students were to be rewarded with $25 gift cards for “catching” undocumented immigrants, was “over the top.” He nonetheless took issue with the backlash he received on Monday and said he hoped the controversy would stir debate on the issue of immigration.

“I have been called an ‘Uncle Tom.’ I have received emails and comments via social media filled with obscenity,” Garcia said in the statement. “The reactions of some who claim that YCT is creating a demeaning or degrading environment on campus have been truly disgraceful.”

Garcia also took a swipe at the university, saying he thought it a place where “students could express their opinions — whether or not they were popular.”

In a brief statement, university officials said they were pleased with the decision and said the school “honors the right of free speech for all students.”

Garcia and the YCT’s whiny and self-pitying statement is here. The YCT did of course express their opinion in this matter. And then everyone else expressed their opinions, and the YCT got all confused and sad when they realized that an awful lot of people thought their opinion was horrible and offensive. But don’t cry for them, because the YCT got exactly what they wanted out of this: A lot of attention, and the opportunity to indulge in the kind of persecuted victimhood that only the truly privileged can achieve. PDiddie, BOR (twice), and AzulTX have more.

Perry goes on a veto spree

NO

Here’s the full list. Among the victims are the omnibus ethics bill HB217, thus giving Allen Blakemore his fondest wish; two bills aimed at reducing the number of standardized tests some students must take, one of which will make William McKenzie happy; SB15, which would have placed new limits on the power of the University of Texas System Board of Regents to fire campus presidents; a Dan Patrick gun bill (!); the Lilly Ledbetter bill as previously noted; a bill that would have allowed voters to pick an interpreter of their choice, within certain limits, while voting, a bill that Perry either misread or misrepresented; and quite a few others, not to mention the funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

Here are some reactions to the vetoes from the Chron:

Friday, the Austin-based Texans for Public Justice filed a legal complaint that Perry’s threat amounted to official coercion so he could win an appointment and short-circuit the unit’s investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“No surprise Perry would act to de-fang the state’s corruption watchdog. It’s a watchdog that might bite him and his cronies,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ director. “Our legal complaint against his bullying tactics remains in play, however.”

McDonald and Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, also faulted Perry’s veto of a bill reforming the Texas Ethics Commission. “Perry’s office is an ethical black hole,” said McDonald. “Reforms go in. Nothing comes out.”

Smith pointed out that the bill would have required Railroad Commission Barry Smitherman, a Perry appointee, to resign his office before running for attorney general. “It is stunning that the governor is so intent on protecting one ambitious politician that he would veto a bill that drastically improved enforcement at the Texas Ethics Commission.”
Whether any of this represents Perry reasserting himself (again) in preparation for his next election or just a last middle finger to the rest of us before he rides off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon I couldn’t say. Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill, and I’m sure there will be plenty of other reactions, just in time for Perry to gallivant off to New York. What bills on the veto list – or not on the veto list – surprised you, one way or the other?

[…]

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee, filed Senate Bill 15 after a February dust-up over whether University of Texas System regents had micromanaged or maligned the character of UT Austin President Bill Powers. UT Regents Chairman Gene Powell has denied those allegations.

“Limiting oversight authority of a board of regents … is a step in the wrong direction,” Perry wrote in his veto. “History has taught us that the lack of board oversight in both the corporate and university settings diminishes accountability and provides fertile ground for organizational malfeasance.”

Seliger expressed frustration that Perry vetoed the bill, saying he had accepted all changes suggested by the governor’s staff.

“It is duplicitous,” he said.

In vetoing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, Perry wrote that “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel that have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

“I thought Gov. Perry always wanted us to do things the Texas way and not the federal way, but apparently not in this case,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said in a statement. “Now, Texas women will have no choice but to rely on the federal government to protect their rights. The governor took office at the dawn of the 21st Century, but you wouldn’t know it from his actions today.”

Rick Perry does what is best for Rick Perry. There are no other considerations. Whether all this is a sign of him asserting his power in preparation for his next campaign or just a parting middle finger to the rest of us as he prepares to ride off into the sunset on the wingnut welfare wagon, I couldn’t say.

Other reactions to Friday: Texas Vox bemoans the veto of the omnibus ethics bill. Grits is bewildered by the veto of one de-incarceration bill, and games out the ploy to defund the Public Integrity Unit. Burka is relieved that things weren’t any worse. Texas Watch applauds the signing of three bills designed to improve transparency for Texas home and auto insurance customers. Juanita is spitting mad at the veto of the Lilly Ledbetter bill. Texpatriate summarizes the whole day’s activity. Egberto Willies talks to Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the author of the Lilly Ledbetter bill, about Perry’s veto. She vows to bring the bill back next session. What vetoes and signatures surprised or didn’t surprise you?

Why not a university?

Tory Gattis has an interesting suggestion for that 136 acre tract of land east of downtown.

This parcel of land could be the last opportunity for Houston to add a major college campus to the city.  We should consider something similar to what NYC just did with Roosevelt Island, where after a long evaluation process they awarded it to Cornell for a technology campus.  That is likely to eventually be a huge economic development boon for New York.  Of course the City of Houston doesn’t own the land, but it could be a facilitator (along with the GHP) to open discussions with the landowner and various universities to explore interest.

There are a lot of potential options.

He lays out a number of possibilities, which I encourage you to examine. I have no idea how feasible any of this is, but it’s worth thinking about. Tory’s right that there may not be another opportunity for a university campus to be built inside the city limits. Such a development would also be a good fit for a streetcar extension when and if one gets built. I still lean towards something mixed use, but I could be persuaded otherwise. What do you think?

The UT admissions lawsuit

I haven’t paid much attention to the latest lawsuit over the University of Texas’ admissions standards and practices – as with school finance lawsuits, I’ve lost count of how many there have been in my lifetime – but there are some interesting issues in this one to be decided.

On its surface, the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas revolves around whether the school’s consideration of race in admissions led to the rejection of a white student.

But as the case nears the Supreme Court’s fall docket, it is also stirring a debate about the impact of affirmative action policies on Asian-American students and casting a spotlight on the stereotype of Asian-Americans as “the model minority.”

On one side, Fisher and her supporters, including the 80-20 National Asian American Educational Foundation, argue that the race-conscious admissions policies discriminate against qualified Asian-American students in favor of less-qualified African-American and Latino students.

On the other side, a coalition of more than 100 Asian-American groups has filed briefs backing the UT-Austin policy, saying it benefits Asian-American students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“UT’s process of individualized review advances its compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of student diversity, increases the likelihood of admission for those who do not have the same social mobility and capital as others, and has the potential to benefit all Asian-American and Pacific Islander applicants,” a brief filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) states.

[…]

Asian-American supporters of the UT policy point out that the bulk of students admitted under the holistic criteria are Asian-Americans and whites.

In 2011, 60 percent of incoming freshmen admitted based on the holistic criteria rather than the top 10 percent rule were white and 16 percent were Asian-American.

By comparison, 10 percent were Hispanic and 3 percent were African American, according to UT enrollment statistics.

“It seems to me that the system works,” said Madeline Y. Hsu, director of the Center for Asian American Studies at UT-Austin.

The lawsuit stems from the fact that Fisher was not admitted to UT in 2008 and was instead forced to attend LSU. I can’t honestly say that I see such a fate as being genuinely injurious to her, but we’ll have to leave that up to the Supremes. The “holistic” policy mentioned came about as a result of the last lawsuit, and it seems like a reasonable approach to me, one that I daresay is employed by numerous private universities. We’ll see what SCOTUS thinks.

Fighting identity theft

The U of Texas is studying it.

Identity theft is a cradle-to-grave problem that costs U.S. businesses $50 billion and affects at least 10 million consumers each year.

At least 1 million children’s identities are stolen over the course of a year — often misused by their parents, said Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer at ID Analytics. Adults are victimized, online and offline. Companies are compromised when unwitting employees use their company log-ins and passwords surfing the Internet.

Even death offers no respite: One study by Coggeshall showed that the identities of 800,000 dead Americans are being used for illegal purposes.

The Center for Identity at the University of Texas on Monday convened a two-day conference to discuss the scope of the problem and what can be done.

Peter Tippett, who helped create the first anti-virus software, is now with Verizon, which compiles the annual Data Breach Investigative Report.

“We do more computer crime cases than all other companies combined,” Tippett said.

Criminal organizations in the United States, Russia and Brazil are targeting consumers and businesses, Tippett said. He cited a Federal Trade Commission study for the $50 billion a year cost to businesses and the 10 million affected consumers.

Tippett said that 82 percent “of all data stolen by anybody on the planet was stolen because of your password.”

In a world where 123456 remains the most popular password, Tippett said making passwords longer and changing them more often isn’t the answer, with so much hacking and malware.

“If bad guys see what you type, it doesn’t matter how strong your password is,” Tippett said.

He likened the problem with passwords to seat belts in cars. He said seat belts were only 50 percent effective in saving lives, but making them stronger was not the answer. Adding air bags made cars safer.

A second identifying factor needs to be added to the passwords, Tippett said.

Two-factor authentication has a lot going for it, but it’s also another point of failure. One common way of delivering this without having to provide some kind of gadget that contains a personal certificate is to arrange to send an authorization code via text or voice to your phone, which is a great idea as long as you’re never without your phone. I suppose it or something like it is inevitable, though, so there’s no point complaining about it.

One thing this story doesn’t touch on is that a significant factor in identity theft isn’t just careless people with easily-cracked passwords, it’s also the many corporate and government entities that have all your data and which have become lucrative targets for evildoers, or in some cases have screwed up and let supposedly secure data out into the public, as Texas Comptroller Susan Combs did last year. Seems to me there needs to be greater incentive for the keepers of these databases to prevent their theft. One model I often hear discussed is to put the financial onus for this data loss on the entity that loses it and not the individuals who are affected by it. It’s the model we use for credit cards and ATMs, where your liability is limited and the financial institution bears the risk. Those transactions are pretty darned safe nowadays because of that. That takes legislation, which is clearly a tougher row to hoe than convincing millions of people to use better passwords. As the man said, there’s only so much benefit to be gained by strengthening passwords. The back end needs to be shored up as well.

The other elephant in the room

Patti Kilday Hart writes about the Supreme Court taking up the issue once again of UT’s admissions policies.

The Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the case signals that it may once again weigh in on how university admissions officers do their jobs. Over the years, in cases known as Bakke, Hopwood and Grutter, the court has rewritten the rules for how race can be used in selecting students.

Fisher is only asking the Supreme Court to review the admissions screening of students who don’t qualify automatically by virtue of class rank.

When the case was before the Fifth Circuit, however, Justice Patrick Higginbotham pointed out the elephant in the room: that the top 10 percent law is a “proxy for race” with a scattershot method for admission to UT that treats students from high-achieving high schools unfairly.

[…]

Fisher’s case has been underwritten by a legal defense fund directed by former Houstonian Edward Blum, a longtime opponent of racial preferences who favors the top 10 percent law because it produces diversity without directly using race as a factor in admissions.

“It’s not popular in places like Bellaire High School, where I graduated,” he acknowledged, mentioning one of Houston’s most rigorous high schools. “But it’s working.”

Instead, Blum’s group hopes the court will overturn the 2003 Grutter case, which allowed university admissions officers to “narrowly” use race to review applications so long as they took a “holistic” approach to its review and avoided quota systems. That’s what UT has been doing.

There’s another elephant in the room that goes unmentioned in this article. Why is it that some schools produce far more students that qualify for UT than others? And why is it that if those schools were allowed to dominate UT’s annual admissions, UT would wind up looking a lot less representative of the state as a whole than it is now? It’s no coincidence that these schools tend to be in wealthy, suburban, predominantly white parts of the state. If every public high school were like Bellaire and Sugar Land’s Austin, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation over and over again. But they’re not, and these facts remain. It’s a lot harder (read: more expensive) to educate children who live in poverty. It’s a lot harder (read: more expensive) to educate children whose parents do not speak English. It’s a lot harder (read: more expensive) to educate children whose home lives are unstable. We have a lot of these children in Texas. We do a poor job of even getting them through high school, much less prepared for college. (Yes, I know, college isn’t everything, vocational skills matter, the whole push for college preparedness is just another commie plot to indoctrinate our youth, etc etc etc. That’s for another discussion.) The Republicans in this state have absolutely no interest in dealing with these problems. Thus we have this litigation and that litigation and we’re nowhere closer to a solution than we were when the first lawsuits were filed. When will we finally make it a priority to improve all of the schools in Texas to the point where the children in any high school in the state can have a truly equal shot at getting into their college of choice?

From the “More things you need to be slightly paranoid about” department

Nothing like a new domain suffix to remind you of the potential for creative malfeasance.

The University of Kansas is buying up website names such as www.KUgirls.xxx and www.KUnurses.xxx. But not because it’s planning a Hot Babes of Kansas site or an X-rated gallery of the Nude Girls of the Land of Aaahs.

Instead, the university and countless other schools and businesses are rushing to prevent their good names from falling into the hands of the pornography industry. Over the past two months, they have snapped up tens of thousands of “.xxx” website names that could be exploited by the adult entertainment business.

“Down the road there’s no way we can predict what some unscrupulous entrepreneur might come up with,” said Paul Vander Tuig, trademark licensing director at the Lawrence, Kan., school.

The university spent nearly $3,000 in all. It plans to sit on the .xxx names and do nothing with them.

The brand-new .xxx suffix is an adults-only variation on .com. The .xxx name went on sale to the public for the first time this week, promoted as a way to enable porn sites to distinguish themselves and a means of making it easier for Internet filters to screen out things parents don’t want their children to see.

The Bryan-College Station Eagle notes that UT and A&M have also been taking this precaution. I guarantee you, it’s just a matter of time before this becomes an unwanted news story for a politician. Hijacking a rival’s domain name is a sport of longstanding, and even today campaigns that should have had more on the ball get caught flatfooted – go click on rickperry.com for an example of what I mean. It won’t just be politicians who get snared by this, but when one does it will result in some embarrassing news cycles. If you’re a domain owner, now is a good time to see if your “.xxx” counterpart is still available or if it’s already too late.

You may now be wondering if I have done this for myself. I have checked and verified that as of this moment, offthekuff.xxx is unclaimed. Turns out that the cost of this particular insurance policy – the protection money, if you will – is $100 a year. That’s a tad bit more than I want to spend, so I’m taking my chances until the registry fee becomes a bit less extortionate. I think I can afford that risk as a non-candidate, but those of you who aren’t ought to look into it.

From the “And I wish for a pony, too” department

Hey, you know that annual UT-A&M game that’s not going to be played again any time in the near future? Let’s bring it to Reliant Stadium!

Why not have Texas and Texas A&M meet at Reliant Stadium every Thanksgiving? It would be a bigger draw than the bowl game played here each December. While many of the fans would be local alumni from both schools, a good number would travel to Houston for the big game. Depending on how the ticket draw is managed by the schools, one plausible scenario could have the schools’ top athletic donors, along with the students of both universities, receiving top priority for tickets, similar to how the Texas-Oklahoma game operates. This almost certainly would mean a huge chunk of the fans would come from outside the Houston area.

Think of the added revenue for hotels, restaurants and retailers around the week of the game. And the national television coverage wouldn’t hurt, either. The eyes of Texas, indeed America, would be ours for three-plus hours. While New York City has the nation’s attention every year with its famous Thanksgiving parade, there’s no reason Houston couldn’t capitalize on the football passions of Longhorns and Aggies. We could revitalize a tradition, and have an annual national television audience all to ourselves.

I view this as an almost-bowl game for our city, with each school’s band taking part in the city’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and perhaps even the Uptown holiday celebration. (Are you paying attention, area merchants?) The upside is huge, and has many potential local tie-ins.

Yes, I agree that if UT ever decides that it wants to play A&M in football again that it would be a boon for the city of Houston if you could convince them to play it here. Why they would want to give up a home game every other year, and what benefit they would derive from that arrangement, is apparently left as an exercise for the reader. But hey, wishes are free, so knock yourself out. I trust you’ll forgive me if I don’t mark any dates on my calendar just yet.

Shunning A&M

It’s not just the UT-A&M football game that’s on the endangered list.

The SEC-bound Aggies have said they’d love to keep playing UT as a non-conference foe, but Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds has said the school’s football schedule is full at least through 2018. That isn’t the case for all sports, but so far A&M has come up dry in scheduling future contests of any sort with UT.

“There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much interest from the other side,” A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said Monday.

[…]

Byrne has instructed his coaches to contact their UT counterparts about scheduling future non-conference games – with no luck to date.

“I reached out about four weeks ago to Texas and emailed and said we’d love to keep the series going,” A&M soccer coach G. Guerrieri said. “I haven’t heard back.”

A&M baseball coach Rob Childress said he and UT counterpart Augie Garrido have yet to discuss whether to continue playing as non-conference foes.

I’d speculated about this before, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see UT give A&M a cold shoulder. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise. The question now is whether any other Texas-based school will follow the Longhorns’ lead. At least one so far seems to be doing so.

As for the Aggies perhaps playing another soon-to-be former Big 12 mate in Baylor, Bears athletic director Ian McCaw said via email Monday, “At this time, our future non-conference football schedules are filled through 2020. With regard to scheduling Texas A&M in other sports, it will be considered on a sport-by-sport basis.”

Anyone know what the status of future games between A&M and Texas Tech is? How about TCU, SMU, and UH? Rice has played A&M fairly regularly in baseball lately, and occasionally in basketball, but has not played them in football since the demise of the SWC. I don’t expect any changes there. Looks to me like the Aggies will be racking up the frequent flyer miles in the coming years.

RIP, UT-A&M

Tradition, schmadition.

This Thanksgiving one of college football’s oldest and most storied rivalries will be put on indefinite hold when Texas and Texas A&M meet for the last time as Big 12 foes.

The Aggies wanted to continue the series when they left for the Southeastern Conference in July, but the Longhorns told the Aggies that their non-conference schedule is full through 2018.

[…]

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin, who led the charge for the Aggies to move to the SEC, has been vocal about his desire to continue playing Texas throughout the conference realignment process.

“We’re able to accommodate them anytime they want to make that happen,” he said of the rivalry. “It’s their choice, obviously, if they don’t want to do that, and I have to respect that choice, but it will be a loss to both of us and the state of Texas.”

Loftin pointed out that most states have key instate rivalry games that take place each season despite conference boundaries.

Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds emailed Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne late last week to tell him the Longhorns couldn’t fit A&M into their schedule through 2018.

“What we have right now is a full schedule, but if any future options are available, the decision will not be made by just one person,” Dodds said in a statement.

Loftin hopes they can renew the rivalry when Texas has room on its schedule.

“It’s open at any time,” Loftin said. “There’s no doubt in our minds to accommodate this kind of game at any time now or in the future.”

My sense, as someone who is neither a Longhorn nor and Aggie and who doesn’t really care one way or the other about this is that A&M is more interested in continuing this rivalry than UT is. From A&M’s perspective, their income will increase in the SEC, but so will their travel costs. Being able to play a few non-conference games in any sport in Texas will ease that a bit. I’ve mentioned before that if UT wanted to be a bit vindictive towards the Aggies, they’d refuse to play them at all, and would encourage other Texas schools to do the same. (Kim Mulkey, for one, does not need to be convinced of this.) The Horns can always offer games against themselves, with perhaps some exposure on the Longhorn Network (to the six homes that receive it, anyway) as incentive. I’m just spinning a scenario here, so don’t take any of this too seriously, but I will be interested to see what A&M’s nonconference schedule in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and volleyball look like next year and in 2013.

Who’s number 14?

As the SEC welcomed Texas A&M as its 13th member, commissioner Mike Slive says they have no immediate plans to invite a 14th.

Slive said the SEC wasn’t looking to expand, but that A&M was too attractive of an option to ignore.

“We were very happy at 12,” Slive said. “When Texas A&M came to us and indicated their interest in joining the SEC, we said to ourselves: ‘That is a great institution, academically, athletically, culturally and in every way, and a real fit.’ So we decided even though we were content with 12, that we had the opportunity to have Texas A&M as part of the SEC was something that we just did not want to give up.”

Slive acknowledged that scheduling a 13-team league will be difficult but said it wouldn’t expand just to make things easier.

They won’t expand for 2012, but I cannot believe they won’t expand shortly thereafter to balance the conference. Thirteen is just an unwieldy number to deal with, and while making the scheduler’s life easier may not be a top priority, I’m sure it’s on the to do list. I also figure that the schools that will be in a seven team division will be thinking that their mates in the six team division have it easier than they do, and will want to rectify that. If they don’t add a 14th team by the start of the 2013 season, I’ll be surprised.

Meanwhile, there’s angst about the future of the UT-A&M game.

College football needs Texas-Texas A&M just like it needs rivalries like Ohio State-Michigan and Auburn-Alabama and Texas-OU and Lane Kiffin-NCAA. They’re as much a part of the fabric of college sporting life as Beano Cook, the Rose Bowl parade and Lee Corso’s costumes. Take ‘em away, and college football isn’t nearly as compelling.

And a lot of people are sad now that A&M’s gone to the SEC, and Texas-A&M is probably dead.

But John Sharp’s beyond sad. He’s borderline mad. Or he at least halfway sounded like it. Good for him.

“We want to make it abundantly clear we will play the game anywhere, any time,” the new Texas A&M chancellor told me Monday morning. “If that game dies, it will not be on us. That game is bigger than Texas and bigger than A&M. That game belongs to the people of Texas, and if it goes away, it’s not going to be on our watch.”

The Aggies are on record as saying they want to continue the series, come rain, shine or the Longhorn Network. A&M’s president and chancellor both say they want to play Texas every year.

[…]

Both sides are talking about how difficult it will be to fit in that game with conference schedules and all. Poppycock. Isn’t A&M in the third year of a 10-year series with Arkansas? Well, that will become an SEC game, which opens up a spot for Texas. Weren’t the Aggies and Longhorns supposed to play every year until the end of time or Joe Paterno’s next birthday? So now it’s a non-conference gig like all those pre-Big 12 Texas-OU shootouts in Dallas, no problem.

You see how easy it is.

Do not let pride and ego and raw emotion get in the way of the best thing in sports since the State Fair corny dog.

But DeLoss Dodds doesn’t sound as if he’ll budge either.

“As we have said before, scheduling them would be problematic,” the Texas athletic director said. “We have contracts for three non-conference games each year that run until 2018. We also don’t know what the configuration of the Big 12 will be.”

Then, DeLoss adds this for a zinger:

“We didn’t leave the conference. They did,” he said. “We’ll make a decision that’s best for Texas.”

The irony is that while A&M bolted for the SEC in large part to escape UT’s shadow, keeping this game probably means more to them at this point than it does to UT. The Longhorns still have a signature rivalry game with Oklahoma every year. They also now have an incentive, as do other schools in Texas, to minimize A&M’s presence within the state. I’m neither an Aggie nor a Longhorn, so the loss of this game would have no special meaning to me, but I do think that having severed conference ties with Texas, A&M is in no position to blame them for the end of this tradition if that happens. (For that matter, if either school actually cared about tradition, the Southwest Conference would still be a going concern.) The Aggies shouldn’t be surprised or offended that as they have moved on, so has UT.

Well, assuming the Legislature lets them move on, of course.

Texas has a long-standing tradition of creating odd laws to fit nearly every circumstance. Hell, we have an official song for our state flower. But one has to wonder if State Senator Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) may be taking things a bit too far with his proposal to draft legislation that would require the University of Texas and Texas A&M University to play an annual football game every Thanksgiving as they have for many years.

With A&M moving to the Southeastern Conference and the future of the Big 12 very much in doubt, Williams and State Rep. John Otto, who will sponsor the bill in the House, have decided this is a tradition that must be preserved and the best way to go about doing that is making it law.

We’re a long way out from the next legislative session, and for all we know neither Williams nor Otto may be in the next Lege, so to say this is all a bit premature is to understate. I’m not surprised someone has taken this up, but neither will I be surprised if it winds up going nowhere.

And finally, just because it’s such a weird story, we have the possibility of a merger between Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference.

A football-only federation – involving 22 to 24 schools – would offer C-USA and Mountain West a “strength in numbers” response to recent conference realignment.

“It’s an intriguing concept,” Rice athletic director Rick Greenspan said. “It’s one that is probably a bit unique in college athletics.”

A C-USA-Mountain West merger would involve the two leagues remaining separate. At the end of the season, the two champions would meet in a championship game with the hope the winner receives a BCS bid.

No timetable has been set for when a decision could be made. C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday that the possibility of a merger for 2012 is premature but “the following year is something that is possible.” The current BCS contract runs through January 2014.

I guess the idea is that the winner of this mega-conference championship game would be seen as BCS-worthy? Or maybe that they figure either the Big XII or the Big East will implode between now and then, and they would like to be first in line to fill that slot? Seems to me there’s a bit of an underpants gnomes problem here, but maybe they’ve put more thought into this than I’m giving them credit for. All things considered, it’s not the craziest thing I’ve heard this week.

UT will start conference shopping

More dominoes.

University of Texas President William Powers Jr. was given the authority Monday to explore changing conferences, and Texas will seriously consider trying to join the Pacific-12 and the Atlantic Coast conferences if not other possibilities, sources close to the realignment discussions told the American-Statesman and business partner Hookem.com.

Powers was given the charge of leading Texas’ realignment search following an hour-plus long executive session meeting of the UT regents. Powers has the authority to keep Texas in the Big 12, but any recommendations to move to another conference would have to be approved by regents.

That regents authorized Powers was not a surprise in a month that has already been full of them in college athletics. The landscape there appears to be shifting to super conferences, raising the question of whether the already-diminished Big 12 can survive even with the continued support of the Longhorns.

Oklahoma gave its president even more authority to act on realignment during its regents’ meeting Monday, and Oklahoma State regents will meet Wednesday. OU could be the school that petitions the Pac-12 for membership soon and possibly lead Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State on the path to join as well, sources said.

[…]

All sources say the process could still be an extended one and take anywhere from one to three weeks because of the sensitivity of the talks and the complexity of the issues. Texas remains keenly interested in preserving its Longhorn Network , but conference membership elsewhere will make that a thorny problem.

On Monday, Powers called the conference consideration an “ongoing process” and then quickly ducked into an elevator without answering questions from reporters.

OU president David Boren was more talkative. He acknowledged that if OU left the Big 12, it would focus mainly on the Pac-12 and said the school has had “very warm, very receptive,” conversations with that conference.

Boren, however, said, the OU board’s directive “is not a Texas A&M-like situation.” He added, “This is not an announcement that we are leaving for the Pac-12. … No one should read into today that we have made a decision.”

But you’re sure as heck thinking about it. Whatever UT and OU may be thinking about, the PAC 12 is not on the menu at this time.

The Pacific 12 Conference released a statement Tuesday night saying it was not pursuing expansion plans at this time.

“After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference,” Commissioner Larry Scott said in the statement.

The decision came after Scott met with conference presidents.

Of course, as we know with the SEC and Texas A&M, “not at this time” does not mean “forever”. Word was that not all PAC 12 schools were on board with further expansion, which most likely means they didn’t think they were getting enough out of what had been proposed so far. I’m sure not ready to say that the wheels have stopped spinning just yet.

Be that as it may, if the PAC-12 doesn’t work out, another possible landing spot for UT could be the increasingly-misnamed Atlantic Coast Conference, which added Syracuse and Pittsburgh to its roster for the 2014 season. Why the ACC? There would be no obstacle to UT keeping the Longhorn Network under its existing rules. The ACC is now up to 14 members, so one presumes they only have two more slots available, if they are still looking to expand.

The potential shuffling at the top has those not at the top considering their options as well.

The Big East and Big 12 might join together in their fight for survival.

School and conference officials from the two leagues have been discussing ways to merge what’s left of them if Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12, a person involved in the discussions told The Associated Press.

[…]

If the Big 12 loses Texas, OU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, it would leave Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State scrambling.

Without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Big East still has six football members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida, Rutgers, Louisville and West Virginia. Plus, TCU is slated to join in 2012, giving the Big East a presence in Big 12 country.

[…]

Also talking about a merger is the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA. Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson told the Idaho Statesmen that he and CUSA Commissioner Britton Banowsky “resurrected this consolidation concept with Conference USA from a football-only standpoint.”

A union between those schools could create one BCS automatic qualifying league, but there’s no guarantee some of those schools won’t also look elsewhere.

There’s no guarantees of anything except more chaos and the pursuit of the almighty dollar. It’s even possible that the Big XII could remain intact, if the right terms are met.

Texas has never wavered in its hopes to keep the Big 12 afloat, but is equally determined to keep its lucrative Longhorn Network.

But on Tuesday, a high-ranking Oklahoma school administrator said the school would consider staying put in the Big 12 if Texas agrees to a “reformed” version of the conference that includes changes to the Longhorn Network and if Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe was removed, The Oklahoman newspaper reported.

“It’s going to take major, major reforms,” the source told The Oklahoman as conditions for staying put. “We’d have to have an interim commissioner.”

Tune in tomorrow when everything you know today may prove to be wrong.

UPDATE: Long live the Big XII! Until something better comes along, anyway.

Can this conference be saved?

Here’s your latest Big XII speculation.

Several reports indicate that Texas would be willing to share its Tier I revenue provided through the Big 12’s television contracts for football to help preserve the conference. That would not affect the $15 million provided each year to the school by the Longhorn Network.

But the key to keeping the Big 12 together still appears to be convincing Oklahoma to stay. The Sooners appeared ready to bolt to the Pac-12 with Oklahoma State in tow for most of the last week.

Even with the recent comments of OU president David Boren saying his school wouldn’t be “a wallflower” in a possible realignment scenario, the Sooners may be convinced to stay put after some initial apprehension.

“We just have to tap on the brakes and try to slow down,” a person familiar with the negotiations said. “There is still value in this conference. We all just have to realize that.”

This may already be obsolete, of course; indeed, it may be too little, too late. To be honest, I really don’t understand the mad rush towards 16-team super conferences. Speaking as a survivor of the WAC 16, there are many issues when there are that many schools. But then I’m also pretty sure that logic isn’t the driving factor here. Tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode of As The Conference Turns.

Are you ready for the Sooner Network?

Sure, why not?

Reporters were given a tour Tuesday of the university’s SoonerVision HD production rooms that have been expanded through $5 million in improvements in recent years. With fiber-optic cables connecting the school’s athletic venues to side-by-side control rooms, Oklahoma plans to broadcast and webcast dozens more sporting events this year in high definition.

“It allows us to do broadcast quality. That’s the thing I don’t think a lot of people realize is that five years ago our webcasts were one camera at a game, at a volleyball match, and we’re still doing some of that,” said Brandon Meier, the executive director of video production.

“Now more of our webcasts are going to look like broadcasts that you’re going to see at home with all of the bells and whistles and the replays and the score bug. We’ve gone from the one-camera setup to the 32-person broadcast setup to make that happen.”

The expansion is another step toward the school’s ultimate goal of launching its own around-the-clock network in a quickly expanding television marketplace for college sports.

The Big Ten’s lucrative network is being joined by a series of Pac-12 channels and the Longhorn Network, created through a $300 million deal between Texas and ESPN.

As compared to those endeavors, Oklahoma has a part-time network. It produces and broadcasts dozens of live basketball games and events from Olympic sports on television, and offers other live sporting events through an online All-Access package that charges subscribers about $10 a month or $100 a year.

Spokesman Kenny Mossman said eventually the university hopes to “dovetail” its online offerings into its own TV channel.

I’m sure they do. They’re probably making a few bucks from those All Access packages in the meantime, too. Say what you want about the Longhorn Network, I do agree with their assertion that everyone will be doing something like this sooner or later.

Why not start the Aggie Network?

Kirk Bohls raises an interesting point.

It’s hard to blame Texas for having the wherewithal and desire to start its own network and reap $15 million a year off it for the next 20 years. It’s not the Longhorns’ fault they’ve won four national championships in football and two Heisman trophies, and are one of the most recognizable brands from Rome, Italy to Paris, Texas.

And Texas isn’t alone in this. Kansas State just announced it’s starting its own digital network. Oklahoma wants to. Magnus said Missouri’s looking into it.

So is Notre Dame, which is interesting since that could facilitate it joining the Big 12, no matter what A&M does, because the Big Ten Network supposedly would preclude it from taking Notre Dame with a Notre Dame network. The Big 12 could accept the Irish.

Texas A&M should start its own network, too. Lots of Aggies out there.

“The opportunities are just huge for each (Big 12) institution,” Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. “I think as time goes by, we’ll all learn how to better those opportunities and get past somebody having a network. I think in 30 years, the Big 12 will look smart for doing it this way.”

I think that’s probably right. I also think that if, say, LSU or Alabama or Florida gets an offer from ESPN to start their own network, they’ll jump on it with both feet. What will A&M do if that happens? Better to look for opportunities than whine about threats. Go for it, Aggies.

NCAA officially nixes high school programming on the Longhorn Network

So much for that.

The NCAA made official Thursday what most suspected would happen: It won’t allow programming involving high school athletics on university- or conference-affiliated television networks.

That means the new Longhorn Network’s plans to carry about 18 high school football games on Thursdays and Saturdays have been scuttled.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Thursday that the NCAA staff had made the recommendation and it was approved by the governing body’s board of directors. An NCAA spokesman said that an Aug. 22 summit in Indianapolis to discuss the issue will go on as scheduled, with the topic now devoted to how to keep the new university or conference networks operating within NCAA rules.

Earlier, the Big XII had voluntarily put the kibosh on high school sports for at least a year. All of this may well be too little, too late.

Texas A&M intends to bolt the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, multiple insiders said Friday, in abruptly ending its nearly century-old league affiliation with rival Texas, and 15-year union with the Big 12, which includes longtime in-state rivals Baylor and Texas Tech. A&M has called for a telephonic regents meeting for 3 p.m. Monday to discuss “conference alignment.”

Agenda item 15 reads in part, “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment.” An A&M official said Friday night that the Aggies hope to begin play in the SEC in 2012, but it’s too early in the complex process to determine if that will happen.

A&M pushed up its regularly scheduled regents meeting from Aug. 22 apparently to stay in front of a hastily called Tuesday hearing by the Texas House Committee on Higher Education on potential league realignment. SEC school leaders also intend to meet Sunday to essentially rubber stamp A&M’s admittance, according to a Big 12 school official.

Earlier Friday, an A&M official said Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe had told A&M president R. Bowen Loftin that the Big 12 would survive without the Aggies and that UT holds the key to the long-term future of the Big 12. The A&M official added that the Big 12 believes Houston would be a viable candidate to replace the Aggies.

The Big XII says it ain’t happening, but you know how that goes. Mentioning UH in this context gets the wish machine working. Hey, you never know, maybe this year is finally the year for them. In the meantime, I’ll just watch and see if there are more dominoes to fall.

No high school games on the Longhorn Network

For now, anyway.

The Big 12’s athletic directors unanimously agreed to a moratorium on high school content delivered on institutional or conference media platforms for a minimum of one year, the league announced in a release Monday. League athletic directors converged in Dallas for a meeting specifically designed to address questions other schools had about the Longhorn Network (LHN), the 24-hour Texas-themed cable channel set to be launched by ESPN on Aug. 26.

[…]

According to the release, no distribution of high school content will be allowed even after the one-year moratorium unless the NCAA rules it is acceptable. UT is sending representatives to an NCAA summit on the issue Aug. 22, but it might take months for the NCAA to rule on the subject.

“The ADs recognize that this issue is complex and involves a detailed analysis of the recruiting model in many areas, including existing NCAA legislation related to the publicity of prospective student-athletes and the rapidly evolving world of technology,” the Big 12’s statement read. “This process will take an extended period of analysis.”

As with many other issues we’ve seen in the news these days, this doesn’t actually resolve anything. It just pushes the day of reckoning down the road, with the possibility that some external entity will render the need to take action moot. Hey, why should the Big XII be any different? See this ESPN story for more.

It’s “The Longhorn Network” for a reason

Branding, y’all. It’s called branding. And I don’t mean what they do to cattle. Though I suppose that is sort of what’s happening here, now that I think about it.

Opponents’ views of Texas’ new cable network venture with ESPN have quickly escalated from concern to apprehension to resentment. Texas A&M’s board of regents will be discussing the Longhorn Network in executive session Thursday. Unconfirmed rumors suggested A&M and Oklahoma were eyeing the Southeastern Conference.

Texas officials tried to reassure the Big 12 and its conference rivals about the 24/7 cable network this week. UT participated in conference calls with conference athletic directors Monday and presidents Wednesday to allay fears about the network’s scope.

Commissioner Dan Beebe announced a temporary compromise Wednesday. Telecasts of high school football games on the Longhorn Network are now on hold, pending decisions by the NCAA and the Big 12 about how to handle school and conference networks. The Big 12 also delayed the possibility of a conference game on the Longhorn Network, announced earlier this month as part of a side deal with Fox.

“It’s not going to happen until and unless the conference can make it happen with benefit to all and detriment to none,” Beebe said.

[…]

Anxiety skyrocketed in early June after Austin’s 104.9 FM interviewed Dave Brown, the Longhorn Network’s vice president for programming and acquisitions. His responses seemed to confirm the worst fears that the Longhorn Network would zoom from zero to overkill with 18 high school games on Thursdays and Saturdays. Brown specifically mentioned star Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, who has orally committed to Texas but not signed a letter of intent.

“I know people are going to want to see Johnathan Gray. I can’t wait to see Johnathan Gray,” Brown told the station. “Feedback we got from our audience is they just want to see Johnathan Gray run — whether it’s 45-0 or not, they want to see more Johnathan Gray.”

I don’t know about those “unconfirmed rumors” regarding A&M, OU, and the SEC, but A&M President Loftin Bowin was quite clear about their school’s unhappiness with this.

Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin used the term “uncertainty” time and again Thursday in describing the state of the league, thanks to the start of the ESPN-owned Longhorn Network in Austin next month.

“The (recent) announcement by ESPN that the Longhorn Network might carry a conference (football) game in addition to a nonconference game was troubling, and then following right after that was ESPN’s announcement regarding high school games would be televised as well,” Loftin said. “Both of those we believe provide a great deal of uncertainty right now for us and the conference.”

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Loftin said the LHN has no business showing Big 12 football games, and especially high school games that might target top recruits.

“If (they show) one conference game, then maybe we have two or three,” Loftin said. “High school games are very problematic. … If we have an unequal playing field for various schools (concerning recruiting), we think that is a problem. That creates uncertainty.”

Meanwhile ESPN and A&M athletic director Bill Byrne chimed in on the suddenly touchy subject Thursday.

“We recognize more discussions need to take place to properly address the questions raised by the conference,” ESPN said in a statement. “This is uncharted territory for all involved, so it’s logical for everyone to proceed carefully.”

What I don’t understand is why this is “suddenly” a touchy subject. The UIL has had its eyes on the Longhorn Network from the beginning. Was nobody else thinking about the implications of this at that time? Good luck cramming that genie back into the lamp now, that’s all I can say.

News flash: Rick Perry fails to tell the truth

I’m as shocked as you are.

Contrary to his public statements distancing himself from a brewing controversy in higher education, Gov. Rick Perry continually pressed his appointees to university boards of regents to promptly adopt “reforms” that critics say are simplistic and harmful to research institutions, according to emails obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

I haven’t followed this story of Rick Perry’s attempt to do to higher education what he’s done to the rest of the state very closely. Go do Google News searches on Rick O’Donnell and Jeff Sandefer for details. Frankly, I’m just amazed that any of Rick Perry’s emails were obtainable by the press. I mean, those emails were from 2008 and 2009. How it it they hadn’t been purged already? The fact that these emails prove Perry has been lying isn’t particularly remarkable – I mean, what did you expect? It’s the fact that they were allowed to remain in existence that’s truly notable.