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Campus student body presidents call for veto of campus carry bill

From the Rice Thresher:

In a letter signed by 12 other Texas university presidents, Student Association President Jazz Silva called for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to not sign Senate Bill 11, which would allow licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns on college campuses statewide, including at Rice. Abbott has previously said he will sign the measure into law.

“I know that it is quite atypical of a Rice SA president to behave ‘politically’,” Silva said. “However, I feel that the letter is not only reasonable, but I trust that it is something Rice students would stand for.”

The law, if signed, would take effect on Aug 1, 2016 and allow those age 21 or above to carry a concealed handgun at Rice, unless the university opts out. A provision in the bill allows private institutions to do so if they first consult their faculty, staff and students, Rice President David Leebron said in staff-wide email.

“Should the governor sign the bill, we would engage in such consultation in the near future,” Leebron said. “Rest assured that, after those consultations, our expectation is to maintain [Rice’s current no-weapons policy] … In the coming months, we will take the steps needed to maintain [our] welcoming and secure campus.”

Silva’s letter states all Texas schools, not just private institutions, should be able to opt out should they desire.

“Not all university campuses are identical; they have different cultures, needs and beliefs,” the letter reads. “We trust that our administrators, students, and elected student representatives know how to create a safe educational environment. We should not only be enabled, but empowered to make these decisions on our own based on our individual needs, as universities.”

Silva said she and University of Texas at San Antonio Student Government Association President Ileana Gonzalez drafted the opposition letter together and gathered support from other Texas university presidents, who altogether represent over 300,000 students.

“I don’t speak directly to whether or not guns should be allowed on campus; I only ask that public universities be given the right to choose for themselves – the same right that private institutions currently have,” Silva said.

[…]

The letter is also signed by the student body presidents of Angelo State University, Trinity University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas, Texas Tech University, the UH Clear Lake, UT Austin, UH Downtown, San Jacinto College, Houston Community College and UT Dallas.

Good for them. Abbott will still sign the bill, but at least they’re making themselves heard. I’m glad to hear what Rice President Leebron has to say on the issue, and I suspect that at least the non-religiously-oriented private schools will follow that same path; I certainly expect my alma mater to do so. I hope someone follows up on this in a year or two – I’ll be very interested to see what direction the different schools take. The Chron and the Current have more.

Another reason why marriage equality matters

This was bad.

RedEquality

A graduate anthropology student, the wife of an active duty Air Force captain, said the University of Texas at San Antonio denied her an in-state tuition waiver — a decision she thinks came about because she’s married to another woman.

The student said she applied for the cheaper tuition by filling out a form that refers to the active duty member as either a spouse or a parent, and had it signed by her wife’s commander.

There was a problem with it, she was told a few weeks later. Then came a Sept. 27 email from a UTSA admissions supervisor, she said.

A copy she provided said simply, “We regret to inform you that per our Legal Department we are unable to process your in-state tuition waiver. Your tuition will remain out-state.”

The issue is complex and still under review, UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand said in an email Thursday.

On Friday, UTSA reversed its decision. That’s good, but it’s not adequate.

State and federal laws grant in-state tuition at public institutions to the spouses and dependents of military personnel. But federal law now defines spouses differently from the Texas Constitution in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that rejected parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The student, 28, has asked not to be identified for fear that publicity would affect her work as a midwife and the career of her wife, 29, stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

“After carefully reviewing this matter, it has been determined that the student will be charged resident tuition,” UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand said in an email. “Our university is enriched through inclusiveness and diversity. We honor the service of our military personnel and recognize the sacrifices made by their families.”

The student said Friday that the university awarded her a $1,000 merit-based graduate anthropology scholarship, which qualified her for resident tuition.

[…]

While Friday’s reversal “fixed my problem,” she said, “it didn’t fix the problem” with the policy.

“I get to be excited that I don’t have a financial burden, but the policy hasn’t changed,” the student said. “If anybody else applies in the future, they are not necessarily protected.”

Legal experts said this week the conflict between state and federal definitions of marriage would likely produce more such cases, likely unable to be resolved except by eventual litigation.

Izbrand’s statement said, “Because of the complexities involved and the potential conflict between the federal statute and state law, the university will seek additional legal guidance on this issue.”

I’m sure we can all guess what an opinion from AG Greg Abbott will look like. Kudos to UTSA for solving this one student’s problem, but she is quite correct to say that it is not an actual solution since it does nothing for the next person in her shoes. The underlying problem is the disconnect between federal law and our unjust, backward, discriminatory state law. This disconnect is causing an increasing number of problems with divorce cases and benefits for military spouses, and I’m sure that list will keep growing. The state’s response, as articulated by Greg Abbott, is that all these people should just leave their marriage licenses at the border and forget about all the rights and economic benefits that come with them because the state of Texas has closed its eyes and stuck its fingers in its ears and is busy chanting “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”. The possibility that this well-thought out legal strategy might cause actual harm to real people is of no concern to Greg Abbott.

Well, that’s what needs to change first, and the person in the best position to make that happen in Wendy Davis. Put Greg Abbott on the spot and make him explain why he favors harming military families like this. Point out, over and over again, that he is responsible for harming them. Then tie it to his smug utterance about how all he does every day is “wake up, sue the Obama administration, and go home” and hammer home the fact that every one of his self-indulgent exercises in litigation has been about pursuing narrow partisan interests at the expense of everyday, hard-working, tax-paying Texans. Press on from there to showcase how increasingly out of touch the state and Greg Abbott are with public opinion – even ExxonMobil, in response to the change in federal policy, will now offer domestic partner benefits to its employees, for crying out loud – and how being out of touch like this will cost Texas in the long run as people and businesses will stop wanting to locate here. Just as the moment was right for Davis to run for Governor in the first place, the time is right to turn the old culture war arguments around and take the fight to turf we used to run away from. It’s on Wendy Davis and anyone who joins her on the ticket to recognize this opportunity and grab it. This is a good start, but we’ll need more than that. It’s there for the taking if we want it.

UTSA to C-USA

According to reports.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source confirmed that the Roadrunners would be among a group of schools joining C-USA. The same source said UTSA had also received invitations from the Mountain West and Sun Belt conferences.

The Mountain West and C-USA are in the process of joining their 16 existing members in some fashion after losing multiple schools.

Several sources have identified North Texas, Florida International and Louisiana Tech as leading candidates to join C-USA, which will lose SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Memphis to the Big East.

There is also strong speculation that Utah State is the top choice to join the MWC.

UTSA is slated to join the Western Athletic Conference on July 1 for its second season of football. But it will be an unexpectedly short stay now that C-USA, which UTSA identified as its dream destination when the football program was approved in December 2008, has warmed up to the Roadrunners.

They had received a cool reception initially, when Hickey first approached commissioner Britton Banowsky in 2009 about the possibility of joining.

Then came last winter, when the two rekindled informal talks after the Big East gutted C-USA. But multiple sources said it wasn’t until recently, when C-USA began its evaluation process in earnest, that UTSA’s stock began to rise.

A C-USA athletic director, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Roadrunners stood out largely because of their location in a major Texas market and their long-term potential after averaging 35,521 fans at the Alamodome last season to set a start-up record.

Said a MWC athletic director, also speaking anonymously: “It’s Texas football. You can’t go wrong, especially with that market.”

I thought C-USA was the better fit for UTSA from the beginning. The C-USA they’ll be joining is different than it was when I first said that, but it’s still a good fit for them. I expect these guys to have a pretty solid program overall in a few years’ time.

Division I wannabes are popping up all over

And they’re all interested in the same conference.

The Southland Conference likely holds the key to Incarnate Word’s dreams of moving its athletic program into NCAA Division I.

[…]

UIW students participating in a survey would support by nearly a 2-1 margin the school’s planned transition to Division I, according to results published Wednesday afternoon.

But according to the Student Government Association survey, a majority of students would not support proposed fee increases to fund the move.

The survey said 63 percent supported the push for Division I status, but 56 percent did not support a fee increase of $100 per semester.

A university official said there were 401 respondents, approximately 10 percent of the full-time undergraduate student body.

Other schools in the Division II Lone Star Conference contemplating the move up to Division I include Abilene Christian and Angelo State, SLC commissioner Tom Burnett said Wednesday.

“We’ve heard from those folks and a few others,” he said. “It’s an interesting time with the interest in Division I from some longstanding Division II members.”

We heard about UIW a couple of months ago. HBU has already taken the plunge. UTSA started out in the SLC before moving up to the WAC. I wonder at what point it will cease to make sense to be a Div II program in Texas because there aren’t enough nearby peer institutions to schedule. Which is good for the SLC, and presumably for the conferences that pick up the schools that feel like they’re getting too big for it.

UH to get Big East invitation

Change is coming, one way or another.

UH’s hope of joining an automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference may soon come to fruition after the Big East Conference extended an invitation to UH on Monday evening.

The league extended an invitation to UH after a conference call on expansion with the Big East’s presidents and chancellors according to a person familiar with the Big East’s expansion discussions.

UH chancellor Renu Khator and athletic director Mack Rhoades will head to New York later this week to meet with Big East officials. UH officials declined comment.

If UH makes the move and leaves Conference USA, it could take effect as early as the 2013 football season and it would be for all sports.

The report that UH has already received an invitation is a bit premature, but the plan is for them to get one. There are a number of “howevers” that come with this. The first is the biggest:

The University of Missouri is heading down a path to join the Southeastern Conference, said a university official with direct knowledge of the situation.

The person said that Missouri’s decision to apply for membership to the SEC was “inevitable and imminent,” although a specific timeframe has yet to be set. Missouri’s Board of Curators will meet on Thursday and Friday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where the process of withdrawing from the Big 12 and applying to the SEC is expected to begin. Expansion is not listed on the agenda, but there is a private session scheduled Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

After it applies, the person said that Missouri expected “no problems” with gathering enough votes among SEC presidents for it to become a member.

What does that have to do with UH and the Big East? This:

A source with direct knowledge of the Big 12’s expansion panel’s plans told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that if Missouri departs, the Big 12 still must decide if it wants to go to 10 or 12 members. The source said Louisville and West Virginia are two of the top candidates to replace Missouri if it leaves.

Needless to say, if the Big East winds up being the raided instead of the raider, their attempt to expand is likely to fall apart. The Big East did vote to double its exit fee, from $5 million to $10 million, which was supposed to be a sign that the remaining schools were committed to staying. However:

The increase is contingent on Navy and Air Force joining, said another official in the Big East who also asked to not be named because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Not clear who’s the chicken and who’s the egg here. It should be noted that the Big XII is also targeting BYU as a replacement for Missouri, and that if they get BYU and stop at ten teams, that might be the end of the domino tumbling for now. But there’s still another factor in play.

If Louisville and West Virginia leave, Big East basketball members also could decide that the proposed football additions wouldn’t add enough value on the basketball side and look to split from the remaining football schools.

Notre Dame also will be watching these moves closely since it could decide it’s time to move to a conference, either the ACC or the Big Ten. The ACC, at 14 schools, is believed to be holding a couple of spots open in case Notre Dame decides it’s time to join a conference. Connecticut already has expressed its interest in the ACC.

All these possibilities have been out there for weeks. However, Missouri’s potential move has been viewed all along as a trigger – a much-feared one in Big East circles.

Isn’t this fun? We ought to know in a couple of days what Missouri will do. Raise your hand if you ever believed that Mizzou would someday be the linchpin for all of college football. And finally, as a reminder that the fallout from all of this extends well beyond the schools at the epicenter, UTSA will be sitting by the phone waiting for a call from C-USA in the likely but not yet inevitable event that it needs to refill its membership.

Starting with a bang

Congratulations to the UTSA Roadrunners for winning their first-ever football game. Now please inform your fans that storming the field afterward is maybe not such a hot idea.

The arrests of a small group of University of Texas at San Antonio football fans who were among hundreds of others that rushed the game field after Saturday’s historic victory has sparked a campus controversy and stoked calls for police to drop the charges.

The game, which marked UTSA’s inaugural match and drew an NCAA record-breaking 56, 743 people to the Alamodome, was free of disruption until the moments after the home team clinched a 31-3 win over Oklahoma’s Northeastern State Riverhawks.

[…]

“We’re not saying the police department did anything excessive or weren’t following protocol,” said Derek Trimm, who served as the university’s student body president last year. “It’s just we would like to see a different type of solution than to tackle the students and put them in prison.”

San Antonio Police Department spokesman Chris Benavides said he had not yet reviewed the reports, but said officers were acting in the interest of safety.

“I can tell you we don’t single any one individual out,” he said. “If there were arrests, it’s because the officers felt there was probable cause for them to make the arrests.”

Normally, rushing onto the field after a big win is a time-honored tradition. I’ve seen my share of such celebrations at Rice Stadium over the years. It’s just that usually the field in question is in a stadium owned by the school that just won the game, and is located on their campus. When the stadium is owned by someone else, and the security is being provided by non-campus police, well, discretion is the better part of celebratory hijinks. The good news for those who were arrested is that the Bexar County DA has decided to go easy on them. One hopes this will be all straightened out by the time they win their next home game.

The first drum majors

We know that UTSA is debuting a football team this weekend. Well, you can’t have football without halftime entertainment, and you can’t have a marching band without drum majors.

Alana Urbano, Annie Moras and Sydney Corbin know they have a big responsibility. They’re UTSA’s first-ever drum majors, leading the Roadrunner marching band in its first season.

“Can you imagine watching football without hearing a band? Watching football and (having) music go hand in hand. They are paired. You can’t have one without the other,” Urbano said.

The band was expecting to recruit about 150 members, but instead had more than 200 students show up.

“I’m excited and proud and I feel very privileged,” Corbin said. “Not anyone else is going to get to do this.”

We don’t march in the MOB, but we do have drum majors and drum minors, and in my observation every last one of them has worked his or her rear end off to make each halftime be the best it can be. I’m sure Ms. Moras, Urbano, and Corbin will do the same at UTSA. Congratulations and best of luck to you, y’all.

UTA and UTSA

UT Arlington is moving up in the collegiate athletic world.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents [Thursday] approved UTA joining the Western Athletic Conference beginning July 1, 2012.

UTA has been a charter member of the Southland Conference since 1963, but it is leaving the Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas based league for a conference with a much broader geographical reach and that is a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).

UTA disbanded its football program after the 1985 season and its admittance into the WAC was not conditioned on restarting the sport, but the WAC’s membership in the FBS will mean higher conference revenues UTA can draw from.

There’s been talk about UTA reviving its football program for some time now. I haven’t seen any updates lately, but certainly a conference upgrade could help spur things on. Whether that turns out to be a good thing for them or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, UTA’s fellow Southland Conference-to-WAC school UTSA will be starting up football this fall, and they have grand plans to draw crowds.

Always careful to avoid painting herself into a corner, UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey repeatedly demurred when asked to predict what kind of crowd the Roadrunners might draw for their inaugural football game on Sept. 3 at the Alamodome.

Finally, however, her guard slipped when asked if luring 30,000 fans was a reasonable expectation.

“At least,” Hickey said. “I think we’ll have more. I think we’ll have an outstanding first crowd.”

And then the real challenge will begin.

As the story notes, every new entrant into the world of college football started out with a much bigger crowd than it finished its first season with. I expect UTSA will have similar issues – Lord knows, their home schedule lacks anything resembling a big name – but in the end I do expect them to do well. San Antonio is an enormous underserved market for football, and the Alamodome is a fine facility. It may take them awhile, but UTSA should have all the ingredients they need to make their mark on the sport.

Charge your cellphone wirelessly

Cool.

San Antonio-based Pree Corp. is developing multiple technologies, including one that would pluck wireless transmissions from the air and convert the energy to power mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and MP3 players.

Rudy De La Garza, the company’s CEO, said they are trying to raise about $437,000 from accredited investors. When Pree goes public later this year, he said he expects to raise about $2 million.

Pree, which stands for Providing Reliable Energy Everywhere, started as an idea for a business and engineering design class at UTSA. That’s when business students Matthew Jackson, 23, and Amanda De Kay, 30, met with Matthew Ellison, 23, the engineering student who had the idea for the wireless technology. The team entered the idea in an annual competition at the UTSA Center for Innovation Technology and Entrepreneurship and won second place.

With help from the university, the group has utilized lab space to work on their devices and had help with a patent application, which was filed last September. The company was launched after they partnered with De La Garza, who runs the Idea Finishing School, an organization that helps early-stage companies find investors and take their ideas to market.

Neat. Just imagine what we could achieve if we lived in a state that valued academic research.

UTSA and TSU officially join the WAC

Welcome to the FBS, y’all.

Separated by roughly 35 miles of I-35, UTSA and Texas State have long been adversaries — for victories, for attention, for prestige.
Heated enough as it is, their rivalry became even more contentious on Thursday, with both schools accepting invitations to join the Western Athletic Conference.

“This is a great first step for us,” UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey said. “We know there are going to be challenges for all our sports, building our program, but this is the right thing to do.”

“It’s surreal,” Texas State athletic director Dr. Larry Teis said. “Everybody wanted this, and the fact that it’s happened, and happened this fast, is great. You just feel an air of confidence.”

The University of Denver will also be added, in all sports but football, forming a motley cavalry to relieve the impending departures of Boise State (after this school year), Fresno State and Nevada (after 2011-12).

[…]

The three schools’ memberships will be effective on July 1, 2012, with one significant issue to be resolved — the date of inclusion for UTSA’s football program.

Hickey and head coach Larry Coker said their preference is to delay joining until at least 2013.

But Benson has said his league must add two football programs by 2012, just one year after the Roadrunners are scheduled to begin play in 2011.

Yes, UTSA hasn’t actually played a down of football yet. They’re not wasting any time in the shallower end of the pool, that’s for sure. Given that San Antonio is currently the largest city in America without an FBS program, and that the Roadrunners will play their home games at the Alamodome, UTSA is arguably already the biggest fish in the WAC. No pressure, none at all.

More from the Statesman:

For Texas State and UT-San Antonio, the jump to the WAC should mean more national exposure, along with more travel, more expenses and some competitive challenges.

“The campus is very excited ,” said UT-San Antonio’s president, Ricardo Romo. Romo said San Antonio is the largest city in America without a Football Bowl Subdivision football program, “so the city is excited.”

[…]

Texas State has never quite been able to recapture its football magic of the early 1980s, when Wacker’s teams won back-to-back NCAA Division II championships. But the school’s teams have been improving recently as Texas State also expands Bobcat Stadium, which could soon seat 30,000.

Instead of traveling in state and to Louisiana and Arkansas for conference games, UT-San Antonio and Texas State, once they join the WAC, will fly to far-flung locations . The WAC will stretch from Moscow, Idaho, to San Antonio and from Ruston, La., to Honolulu.

“Flying to Hawaii is a little different than busing to Huntsville,” [Texas State athletic director Larry] Teis said. “I’ve already told our coaches that for our nonconference games, we need to stay grounded. There’s enough competition around here.”

Teis mentioned UT as a possible opponent — even in football. “I’d love to (play Texas), down the road,” he said .

When you’re ready to reduce that travel schedule a bit, just remember that Conference USA actually has Texas-based universities in it. Assuming that the Big East hasn’t caused it to break apart by that time, of course. Be that as it may, best of luck to both schools.

Conference realignment isn’t just for the big boys

Expect to see a lot of smaller fish moving around now that the dust in the big conferences has mostly settled.

[Southland Conference] commissioner Tom Burnett told the San Antonio Express News last week that he expected Texas State and UTSA to eventually leave the Football Championship Subdivision and bolt for the WAC, which is scrambling for survival in the aftermath of losing Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference.

His position remains unchanged.

“When you look at what the WAC is faced with and what they need to do to essentially ensure their existence in the future, they need football programs, and they need them right now,” Burnett said. “Texas State and UTSA have made it very clear that this is something that they want in their future, and they have not only said that but have acted on it.

“They have put money or soon will into tremendous growth in their athletic departments, facilities, scholarships, staffing, all of that which will lead them to have the ability to play in the Football Bowl Subdivision.”

Here’s that Express-News story, which has a lot more detail. The SLC is an FCS conference, so this will be a step up in more ways than one for UTSA and Texas State. UTSA hasn’t even played a game yet, which in addition to the bump in conference level means the timeline is uncertain. As I’ve said before, as things stand now I think C-USA is the best geographic fit for these schools, but who knows what C-USA may look like in a few years’ time.

TAMU-SA groundbreaking

We know that UTSA is growing rapidly, but they’re not the only state school in San Antonio any more, as ground was broken for the Texas A&M-San Antonio campus this past Friday.

Born in May 2009 after a drawn-out political battle, the university has grown to 2,600 students from a tiny seed campus operated by Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Housed in two old elementary schools on the South Side, students and faculty will move into their permanent home sometime after July 2011.

Located on nearly 700 acres between Zarzamora Street and Moursund Boulevard south of Loop 410, the first building is funded by $40 million in state tuition revenue bonds. Designed by Kell Muñoz Architects, it must pack all the basics into 91,000 square feet: classrooms, office space, computer labs, a library, bookstore and a food-service area.

Workers are nearly finished with University Way, the road leading into the campus, funded with $15 million approved in the city’s last bond election. Verano Land Group, which donated the land for the campus, is moving forward with plans to build a pedestrian-friendly urban village around A&M-San Antonio.

In October, students and faculty chose the jaguar as a mascot for the new university, and are already calling themselves “Jaggies,” a reference to the Aggies mascot at the flagship campus in College Station.

Hard to believe that a mere 40 years ago there was nothing but private schools and community colleges in San Antonio, but look where they are now. I hope that soon it will join UTSA in striving for Tier I status. Best of luck, TAMU-SA.

UTSA’s growing pains

This story about UTSA and the issues it faces as it tries to accommodate its mostly non-residential student population as it grows is so reminiscent of Houston I had to keep reminding myself as I read it that it wasn’t about something happening here.

Over the past few years, UTSA’s explosive growth and lack of on-campus housing has driven students into surrounding neighborhoods and fueled the development of towering apartment complexes, activity that likely will intensify as the university strives to become a Tier One research institution.

Nearby residents are quick to applaud UTSA’s success but complain of worsening traffic jams, rising crime and falling home values.

[…]

Manuel Pelaez-Prada, a local lawyer hired by Campus Crest [a Charlotte, N.C.-based company trying to build a student housing complex nearby] to lobby for the project, said the company is taking steps to assuage neighbors’ concerns, including providing shuttle service to cut down on car traffic. But the problem is bigger than one project.

“This is a failure on the city’s part to plan adequately,” Pelaez-Prada said.

Boy, where have we heard that before? Look, when I was a student at Trinity in the 80s, UTSA may as well have been in Kerrville as far as we were concerned. We seldom ventured farther west on I-10 than Wurzbach, which was approximately where civilization seemed to end, but it was still another five miles or so to the UTSA campus. But even 25 years ago, you could see some of this coming. Development was moving steadily outward, where the land was cheap and plentiful and still not all that far from downtown. UTSA was at that time just starting to fulfill the need for an accessible public university for San Antonio. Sooner or later, the two were going to start to overlap.

At Auburn Ridge, gates and strict covenants have kept students out of the subdivision. But the Episcopal church next door sold to a developer and now a towering apartment complex called Avalon Place is going up right next to the property line.

Nelson Harborth, president of the homeowners association, said they hired a lobbyist to try and stop Avalon Place, to no avail. Williams stepped in and persuaded the developer to at least build an 8-foot wall between the two properties, he said.

“When you have a four-story tower in your backyard, you don’t have a backyard anymore,” Harborth said.

Clearly, what they need is some good graphics.

Above all other annoyances, residents complain most vigorously about traffic.

“I’m all for education, but that traffic is horrendous. We need help,” said Stephanie Dwyer, a liaison for the Ridgehaven Homeowners Association and mother of a UTSA graduate.

UTSA Boulevard, Hausman Road and Babcock Road, which border the area and connect residents to Interstate 10 and Loop 1604, must be widened before cramming in any more apartment complexes, homeowners say.

Well, as with the suburbs around here, when you eschew building a grid in favor of numerous individual subdivisions each with one viable route to the nearest freeway, that’s what you get. Which kind of goes back to the whole lack of planning thing.

Despite complaints, homeowners say they are not blind to reality.

“We can’t stop UTSA. The students need to go somewhere,” said Melissa Lauer, owner of Hill Country Homeowners Association Management, an umbrella organization representing 580 area homeowners.

“We are not against development; we just want the right development,” she said. To Lauer, that means duplexes or town homes that don’t look cheap and developers who don’t mow down trees.

Of course, that suggests the need for denser development; in other words, apartment complexes. But clearly the existing street grid can’t handle that, and the overall area isn’t dense enough or walkable enough to support transit. If it were up to me, I’d probably push for UTSA to build more student housing on or as close to campus as possible. I have no idea if this is workable or not. All I can say is “good luck” to those who do have to try to figure out a solution.

UTSA football update

The Trib has a nice story about the state of UTSA’s fledgling football program.

Next fall, UTSA will spend millions to field a football team it hopes will someday compete with cross-state rivals like the University of Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. But the plan goes far beyond athletics. As the college makes a push to become one of the next Tier One research universities in Texas, campus leaders say the school’s academic and athletic goals are closely linked.

Students and administrators, led by UTSA President Ricardo Romo, hope the team will foster school pride and capture the attention of alumni, who they believe will be more likely to support university financially. They also hope a team will transform the university from a commuter school to one where students live and play. “The whole campus is kind of buzzing about it,” says Travis Goodrich, a UTSA sophomore. “We need school spirit. We don’t really have that right now.”

But there are skeptics. While many faculty have enthusiastically supported the creation of the football program, others have wondered whether the university has its priorities straight. Mansour El-Kikhia, president of UTSA’s faculty senate, says faculty support is mixed for the project. The major fear, he says, is that the team will distract from the university’s academic mission or divert dollars from the institutional budget. The university has pledged “that no funds will be taken away from the institution to finance this football team,” El-Kikhia says. “Of course, there’s always the fear that UTSA will become a diploma mill for athletes and so forth.”

UTSA had dreams for a football team long before Romo’s tenure as president began. But when he took the job, he was skeptical himself. “When I got here I didn’t think we had the resources to pull it off,” he says. “I needed to see some things happen.”

I’ve blogged about this before here and here; the Trib also has a sidebar story. As I’ve said, I think they’re in a strong position to be successful, in that they essentially have no local competition for fans’ attention and dollars. Having a team, especially one that does well on the field, can only enhance their visibility, which will be a benefit. Given the nature of college sports, the administration is more than a little too optimistic about what the costs will be, and those on the faculty who worry about it are right to do so. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pursue their plan, just that they ought to be a bit more realistic about it. As long as everyone’s expectations are properly set, I think they’ll look back on this and be glad they did it.

UTSA-UT Health Science Center merger moves forward

I noted last month that the University of Texas-San Antonio and the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio were discussing the possibility of a merger as a way for UTSA to become a Tier 1 university. That idea has picked up some steam.

A group of experts dubbed “academic rock stars” by one observer will study the pros and cons of merging the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio with UTSA.

The move, announced Monday to the UT System Board of Regents, comes after lawmakers this year approved a bill that gives a path to elite status — and the potential for millions in funding — for emerging research institutions, including UTSA.

[…]

The advisory group is headed by Peter Flawn, former president of UT Austin and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Its members include prominent academic and health institution experts, one of whom has experience with two California universities’ decision to form a partnership, then separate.

“I’m very excited that it’s something that’s going to be taken very seriously,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “These people are like academic rock stars.”

Van de Putte spurred a merger study years ago in which a consultant recommended against such an action. But this panel takes the matter to a new level, she said.

Regents Chairman James Huffines, announcing the creation of the group Monday, said it “very well may be the most prestigious advisory panel that has ever served” the UT System.

He wants it to report to the regents by June 1, 2010, months before the 2011 regular legislative session convenes.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said the subject deserves study because of community and state leaders’ interest.

Seems to me that when an advisory panel like this gets put together, you can pretty much tell what they’re eventually going to say. Which makes me that much more interested in the details of the original study, and the reasons why that consultant advised against a merger. Have conditions actually changed, or is this more about politics and opportunity? As I said before, this move makes intuitive sense to me, at least as far as the Tier 1 goal goes. But I claim no expertise in the matter, and Kent’s comment on that earlier post about this meaning another layer of bureaucracy for UT-HSC while likely not having any effect on the lives of UTSA’s students makes sense to me as well. We’ll see what they have to say.

Another way to become Tier One

There’s more than one way to achieve Tier One status, at least for some universities.

When Ricardo Romo became president of the University of Texas at San Antonio a decade ago, he resolved to transform the sleepy commuter campus into a premier research university.

Today, the university is one of Texas’ fastest growing. While it is shedding its commuter campus label by attracting top students and professors, the goal of joining the ranks of top-notch research universities remains decades away.

That reality has prompted San Antonio lawmakers and community leaders to float the idea of merging UTSA with the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, a move that could catapult the combined institution to the top of the heap among Texas universities vying for the distinction.

After years of urging, state lawmakers passed a bill this spring that lays out a pathway to flagship status and a pot of money for seven emerging research institutions, including UTSA, UT-El Paso and the University of Houston.

But in keeping with the history of higher education in Texas, the terms of competition seem to favor wealthier schools, once again short-changing South Texas and borderland institutions that serve a large population of minority students.

But merging UTSA with the health science center would give the combined institution significant firepower. UTSA’s federal research spending would jump from $22 million per year to a combined $117 million, marching the institution to the front of the line for receiving money under the state’s flagship bill. It would also help San Antonio compete outside of Texas, where most top research universities include a medical school.

“We would be the next Tier One. No question about that,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The decision, however, rests with UT regents. At the moment, it’s not on their radar, said Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System and former president of the UT Health Science Center.

On the surface, this makes a lot of sense. It would be better if the legislation that authorized more Tier One funding were more equitable, but even putting that aside, I don’t see any obvious reason why UTSA and the UT-HSC in San Antonio shouldn’t merge. If you know of a good reason why not, please leave a comment and say so.

More Tier One schools

Here’s some genuine good news from Sunday night’s chaos.

Legislation intended to lift some of the state’s public universities to top-tier status has passed the House and Senate and now goes to Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to sign it.

The measure, House Bill 51, also includes authorization for a $150 million bond issue for the hurricane-damaged University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, part of a $1.3 billion package of funding for that campus, and $5 million for Texas A&M University-Galveston.

Seven so-called emerging research universities would compete for extra funding in hopes of joining the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University as nationally recognized research institutions. Rice University, which is private, is also a top-tier school.

The 2010-11 budget approved by the Legislature includes $50 million for the emerging universities in addition to their normal appropriations. The $50 million would be parceled out based on which schools raise the most money from private donations for enhancing research and recruiting faculty members.

Officials of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board say it could take 20 years and considerably more funding for even one of the seven emerging institutions — UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio, UT-El Paso, the University of North Texas, the University of Houston and Texas Tech University — to rise into the big leagues

Still, lawmakers and higher education leaders said passage of the legislation represents a commitment that, in time, should lead to the development of more high-demand universities, reducing pressure on UT-Austin under the state’s automatic-admission law.

“This is one of those real privileges to carry this legislation,” said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

That is good news. You may recall a report from the Legislative Study Group, which I blogged about a year ago, that highlighted the need for more Tier I schools. I think this represents a major step forward, and I’m glad to see it got done. Kudos to all for that. Statements about HB51 from Reps. Ellen Cohen and Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold.

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Algae in our future

This is cool.

When San Antonio researcher Kyle Murray peers into the future, he sees the land of black gold turning bright green. Algae green.

Murray, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, thinks the city is perfectly poised to become a research and production hotbed for literally one of the greenest fuels around, mined from the slippery marine life that thrives in the shallow ponds and warm, sunny weather that are hallmarks of this region.

Rather than punching holes into the ground to find petroleum, Murray envisions a shift to commercial production of native algae species and processing that harvest into biodiesel, which then would power the massive trucks that roar through San Antonio along the NAFTA corridor from Mexico.

Most species of algae are very efficient at producing oil. Unlike corn or other feedstocks for biofuel, algae can be grown year-round in warm climates, and an abundant crop can be produced on a relatively small amount of land, Murray noted.

“I think the potential is huge for San Antonio to get into this, and everybody would benefit,” Murray said. “Biofuel is something we should be studying in San Antonio.”

Makes more sense than corn, that’s for sure. Hope it works out.