in Houston, Texas
UH professor’s high-flying expenses include $500 pens, luxury rental cars, thousands of dollars for booze
Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012, 02:05PM CST
By Steve Miller
Audi

The Cadillac tastes of a University of Houston professor are fine when he’s spending his $198,954 salary on his own. But a KHOU report uncovers physics professor Arthur Weglein’s fancy tastes even when the money he spends is the public’s.

Think $500 pens, and nightly rates of $535 at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, and $567 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.

He even rents Land Rovers and Audis when he has business in San Francisco, a city where a car is a liability.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the story is his utter lack of regard for the perceived overspending.

“I do things that are appropriate and serve this university,” Weglein said. Weglein told the news station that he needed the luxury cars to “navigate the steep hills.” Flying first class? Weglein has a doctor’s note saying “he suffers from back pain.”

In an interview with KHOU, Weglein clams up when it comes to his alcohol bills, $17,000 worth, funded by the Cullen Foundation, according to the report.

In fact, Weglein claims that most of the money he spends comes from the private sector, donations to Weglein’s research program at the university.

But if that’s the case, why is it that the pens - $8,000 worth of the finest MontBlanc over the past few years – have prompted an “ongoing investigation,” according to UH Provost John Antel.

Antel also said the days of the $500+ hotel stays are over for Weglein. Thanks to this report, there will be someone watching to make sure.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of an Audi by flickr user FotoSleuth, used via a Creative Commons license.

In hushed tones, A&M grapples with proposed privatization of food services
Monday, Jun 11, 2012, 12:28PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
cafeteria

Chastened last year by an unseemly questioning of the value of its ivory tower, Texas A&M University officials have reverted to education reforms in the traditional manner.

By contraction and secrecy.

Word has for a couple of weeks been dribbling out of College Station that a private company is promising the university could make $125 million over 10 years if it turned over all of its dining services on campus to the company.

Which would be a considerable improvement over the $1 million the university’s dining services has been losing every year, John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, told Texas Tribune this spring.

At least some of the dining services committee members considering the offer have warmed to the idea, the Bryan-College Station Eagle is reporting.

Which company is making the offer and how it plans to revolutionize Aggie mealtime is apparently too much for the public to process at this time. An anonymous source was generous enough to provide some reporters with the general picture of this one particular company.

Whether the two other private companies the university says are also bidding for the contract can match it, no one has so far anonymously leaked.

Encouraged by the source’s effectiveness, committee members, too, concluded they might speak more freely if their names weren’t attached to their comments.

One supposedly skeptical committee member told the Eagle the company converted him with an amazing insight into the free market.

“The projections, when I first saw them blew me off because I thought, ‘How on Earth can they make that kind of money?’ he clandestinely told the Eagle. “Then it became clear. This is a business they mean to grow.”

Whether or not that insight comes as a surprise to the professors of economics on campus was also not disclosed. But it was up to Rex Janne, chairman of the committee, to disabuse the public of the notion that the $125 million figure or any of the other leaked information came from the committee.

Little wonder the university is reacting as if dining services reform were tectonic. A report challenging the productivity of the most tenured professors at A&M and the University of Texas, made very public more than a year ago, very nearly rended the entire university system.

The bitterly debated report gained academic and political currency. Its author, Rick O’Donnell, said university officials reacted predictably to his inquiries, withholding, evading and obfuscating.

The University of Texas System, which had hired O’Donnell as a special advisor, reacted even more predictably, letting O’Donnell go after less than two months.

Sharp told the Tribune reformers had gone about it all wrong, by striking at the very heart of higher education, its teachers and researchers.

Better to stick to something like dining services and this time do it in private.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of a cafeteria serving line by flickr user cubby_t_bear, used via a Creative Commons license.

Texas public college chiefs among most highly paid in nation
Friday, Jun 01, 2012, 09:09AM CST
By Steve Miller
graduation cap

The chief administrators at the University of Texas, Texas A & M and Texas Tech were among the highest paid public college presidents in the U.S. for fiscal year 2011, a new study from the Chronicle for Higher Education reports.

And all three university systems have both talked of/executed layoffs and enacted tuition increases in the past year, often complaining about a decrease in federal and state funding while doing so.

The UT Board of Regents in May increased tuition at the Austin campus by 2.1 percent for out-of-state undergrad students and 3.6 percent for grad students.

U-T Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was paid $751,680 last year.

The UT–Pan American campus at Edinburg in South Texas laid off 26 staffers last year, citing budget cuts of $17 million.

At Texas Tech University, where Chancellor Kent Hance is paid $757,740, 800 layoffs were proposed and may still be coming.

“All the black ink is gone,” Hance said. “It’s all red, which is the color of blood.”  

In March, the university approved a tuition increase of 1.95 percent, generating $3.4 million in revenue.

Texas A&M Chancellor Michael McKinney retired last July with some financial security. But not before pulling in $1.966 million in 2011, making him the highest paid university head in the state and the second highest in the nation. Here’s his parting statement.

It was only February when new chief John Sharp  - who makes a paltry $507,300 - not-so-eloquently tried to quiet layoff rumors in the lower ranks: "When you are losing a million bucks a year, I would say that the chances are greater that employees will be laid off," Sharp said of the dining services operation.

And then there’s the tuition hikes approved in May for several A&M campuses. What’s a thinking high school grad to think of all this?

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of graduation cap by flickr user K. Sawyer Photography, used via a Creative Commons license.

Supreme Court to weigh affirmative action case challenging UT admissions policies
Tuesday, Feb 21, 2012, 04:02PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
UT tower

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of two white, female students who sued the University of Texas arguing they were denied admission because of their race, Politico is reporting.

Lower courts here in Texas have found the admissions policies of the university constitutional, rejecting the suit by Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz filed on May 29, 2008. You can find the suit and track the case in those courts here.

Fisher and Michalewicz graduated just outside of the top 10 percent of their respective high school graduating classes, the legal threshold for automatic admission to UT in Austin. The suit argues, however, the school made unfair minority preferences when considering its unfilled openings.

The university contends it was allowed to use race to diversify its student population based on an unusual 2003 Supreme Court ruling on admissions policies at the University of Michigan.

The ruling came in two votes leaving room for interpretation about the role of race in choosing who can and cannot attend a school. Justices voted 5-4 to uphold the admissions policy of the Michigan law school and 6-3 to overturn the school’s undergraduate policy.

The high court followed those votes with a 5-4 decision in 2007 rejecting plans by the Seattle and Louisville public school systems to desegregate their classrooms by use of racial formulas.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of the University of Texas Tower by flickr user Niyantha, used via a Creative Commons license.

Univ. of Texas professor wants creationist group off charities list
Thursday, Dec 01, 2011, 11:57AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Earth

Please take a little time out of your day today to privately thank University of Texas Prof. David Hillis for blowing the lid off of this whole sordid business of state employees contributing to questionable charities through payroll deductions.

Hillis, in a fit of high academic dudgeon, is demanding the State Policy Committee demand the State Employee Charitable Campaign drop the Institute for Creation Research from its donations list, according to a story today by the Austin American-Statesman.

Seems Hillis was browsing the Charitable Campaign website when he happened upon the Dallas non-profit, which boasts on the site that “Science strongly supports the Bible’s authority and accuracy.”

A professor of integrative biology, Hillis told the paper the institute is anti-science and, by extension, anti-university. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2008 refused to include a master’s degree program proposed by the institute, which then sued the state in federal court and lost.

But what Hillis is asking the policy committee to rule on is not the highly questionable biblical interpretations of science but whether the institute provides “direct or indirect health and human services” as required by state law to be considered a charity.

Texas Watchdog did some browsing of our own on the Charitable Campaign website, 77 pages with 1,524 organizations in all. State employees can donate to dozens of charities with Catholic or Jewish in the names and, presumably, in their outlook on the earth’s creation. For those who want to delve a little deeper you can donate to Biblica, formerly the International Bible Society.

The Institute for Creation Research isn’t alone on the list in promoting a particular world view. There is Planned Parenthood and the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund and even something called Population Connection, working to stabilize population growth to “achieve a sustainable balance of people.”

A state employee can further the high-profile advocacy work of the ACLU, PETA and Austin’s Save Our Springs Alliance. Or he can give a boost to lesser lights like the Herbal Medicine Institute touting its “reliable scientific information about herbal medicine,” or Vegan Outreach, whose health and human services are decidedly indirect, given its dedication to “exposing and ending the suffering of farmed animals.”

Then there are those reliably subversive charities, the Texas 4-H Foundation, the YM and YW CAs and the Alice Counseling Center espousing the outrageous “development of wholesome family life.”

It appears the State Policy Committee has its work cut out for it.
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Satellite mosaic of Earth by NASA.
$74 million spent on Texas community college students who dropped out; view the study and see state-by-state spreadsheet of taxpayer spending here
Thursday, Oct 20, 2011, 11:45AM CST
By Mark Lisheron
graduation cap

Texas community colleges spent 74 million federal and state tax dollars educating students who dropped out in the 2008-09 school year, according to a study by the American Institutes of Research.

In that year taxpayers footed a nearly $1 billion bill for community college dropouts across the country, a story about the study today by the Houston Chronicle says.

Houston Community College System spent an estimated $4.1 million for first-year dropouts. The Lone Star College System in The Woodlands spent $3.8 million, and San Jacinto College in Pasadena $3.6 million, according to the story.

Officials for the research institute say the study is meant to illustrate the cost of too few community college students getting degrees. Roughly 12 percent of the students who enroll in  community colleges in Texas get their degrees in at least three years and just a third of them within six years.

During a five-year period ending in 2009 federal and state taxpayers pumped $46.8 million into the Tarrant County College District in Fort Worth; $33.5 million into Houston Community College; $24.8 million into San Jacinto; $23 million into Collin County Community College in Plano; and $22.3 million into Lone Star College.

An Excel spreadsheet showing all of the federal and state tax funding for Texas and American community colleges can be found here.

Texas is second among all of the states in the amount of tax funding lost on dropout students. In the 2008-09 school year California spent $154 million; New York $59 million; Wisconsin $35 million; and Florida $33.9 million.
 
***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of graduation cap by flickr user Shoshanah, used via a Creative Commons license.
Experts go head-to-head on university tenure: Featured video
Monday, Jul 11, 2011, 11:14AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots

Higher education -- how much it costs and whether taxpayers are getting the most bang for their buck -- has been a hot topic in Texas politics lately.

It's also the topic of today's featured video on the Texas Watchdog home page, in which the Texas Tribune has two experts duke it out on the topic of tenure.

Going head to head in this clip are Naomi Schaefer Riley, former Wall Street Journal editor and author of the book The Faculty Lounges: And Other Reasons Why You Won't Get the College Education You Pay For, and Daniel Hamermesh, Sue Killam professor in the foundations of economics at the University of Texas at Austin.


***

Seen a good video? Shoot a note to jennifer@texaswatchdog.org.

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Bill requires state to collect more data on for-profit schools
Friday, Jun 10, 2011, 02:34PM CST
By Kevin Lee
graduation cap

For-profit and career colleges located in Texas would be subject to the same data collection and transparency standards that state universities and colleges are held to under Senate Bill 1534 awaiting the governor’s signature, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

SB 1534 would require the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to include those trade schools on its online accountability system, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which reported on the legislation this Thursday. Currently, the system records information like graduation rates and research spending for state universities, state health institutions, state colleges, state technical colleges and community colleges. The bill also requires for-profit schools to post to their websites the names of any regulatory agencies that oversee them, and the process for filing complaints.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the new rules would help protect students:

Students "were getting stuck between a rock and hard place," Shapiro said, explaining how she was moved to act after watching a news report about investigations into for-profit schools. "There was nobody paying attention."

WFAA-TV in Dallas reported last year about a chain of for-profit trade colleges called ATI, whose students complained that they were promised well-paying jobs in fields such as welding and maintenance but were left with thousands of dollars in debt and dim job prospects. The Texas Workforce Commission later announced it had found ATI to be in violation of state rules governing job placement, the station reported this April. The state cut off a stream of state funding to the school and required the for-profit college system to submit records electronically and hire a third-party auditor to verify job placement numbers.

ATI and other trade schools and for-profits lobby Austin through their Career Colleges and Schools of Texas PAC, which has donated $12,000 to Gov. Rick Perry since 2000, as well as a number of mostly Republican lawmakers.

The federal government has clamped down on for-profit schools, which siphon off billions of dollars in taxpayer money through federal grants.

Institutions that provide career training programs would have to comply with new rules aimed at keeping student debt in check and finalized by the U.S. Department of Education last week or lose federal funding.

While the regulations would be applied to certificate programs across-the-board, the federal agency noted that while students at for-profit schools represent 12 percent of all higher education students, they represent 46 percent of all student loan dollars in default.

In 2009, for-profit college systems received $24 billion in federal support while their admission rates continue to swell, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last summer.

The GAO sent undercover applicants to 15 for-profit college systems to study admission standards. At four schools, school staff encouraged undercover applicants to provide false information in order to qualify for financial aid, the GAO said. The applicants also observed school personnel providing unclear information on fundamental matters such as tuition costs, program duration and graduation rates.

***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or news@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of graduation cap by flickr user Shoshanah, used via a Creative Commons license.

Public officials' emails shed light on wrangling over University of Houston-Victoria
Monday, May 09, 2011, 01:33PM CST
By Steve Miller
UH banner

Using emails obtained through a public information request, the Victoria Advocate this weekend revealed the political wrangling over an affiliate campus of the University of Houston System, which is beating back an attempt by Texas A&M to take over its Victoria campus.

 

Rep. Geanie Morrison filed a bill in March that would allow for the transfer of the campus to A&M, including UH's school in Sugar Land. The emails show UH leaders maneuvering for the support of Sugar Land officials, who could make the move difficult.

 

In particular, the emails show UH System Chancellor Renu Khator asking a subordinate for talking points as she headed into a meeting with state Sen. Glenn Hegar, whose district includes Sugar Land.

"What should I be asking him/alerting him under various scenarios?" Khator wrote.

 

The talking points she then received from a system staffer included this paragraph:

 

"After careful review by outside consultants, we are proposing to transition UH Sugar Land from a system center to a branch of UH. We believe this is consistent with the community's vision and will provide the best model for delivery of academic programs."

Morrison, who tells the Advocate she was "extremely irritated" by the e-mails, has received contributions from Texas A&M's political action committee over the years, including separate donations of $1,500 in 2006 and 2007.

 

The Advocate story puts on display the competitive nature - and financial value – of affiliate campuses and also documents politics at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a taxpayer-supported panel with a $46 million proposed operating budget for 2011.

 

Board member Dennis Golden, also a former UH System regent, e-mailed UH official Grover Campbell in March to say he was worried about the idea of UH losing Victoria.

Golden then wrote he was working to get a former Cougar - presumably a former University of Houston Cougar - on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

 

If issues arose regarding Morrison's bill and the transfer of UHV, the coordinating board would be charged with settling disputes.

 

"Outstanding," Campbell told Golden.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of UH banner by flickr user Onilad, used via a Creative Commons license.

University of Houston chief Renu Khator says teaching, research go together: Featured video
Thursday, Apr 28, 2011, 12:53PM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Test tubes

There's been a lot of talk lately in Texas about universities and whether they should be focused more on research or on teaching.

But to University of Houston chief Renu Khator, they go together.

As president of the university and chancellor of the U of H system, Khator is the head of Cougar Nation. And as a political scientist by training -- her area of expertise is global environmental policy -- she says she brought her own research projects directly into the classroom to use as a teaching tool for her students.

And her number one goal, she tells the Texas Tribune's Reeve Hamilton in today's featured video on the Texas Watchdog home page, is to put U of H on the "very top list of top American research universities."

"What I keep saying all the time (is), the goal is nonnegotiable," she said. "How we accomplish that, I'm happy to have a conversation about it. But as far as I'm considered, once we set the goal, we're gonna get that."

But she says teaching is very important, too, and that research can help teach students.

"I think a committment to students is absolutely essential. ... There is just no 'if's and 'but's about it. -- because, if you do not have students at your point of gravity in a university, then why are you called a university?"

She sys she's "absolutely, passionately, with no excuses" committed to teaching, and wants to "involve (students) in the creation of knowledge ... So, there is a value we bring from research to the classroom and to students. But if that loop is broken, then, I think there's something to be fixed."

As for U of H-Victoria's recently stated desire to secede and become part of the Texas A&M system: "Sometimes, in families, you do have differences of opinion ... Any member's success ought to strengthen all others, and that's what we're trying."

***

Spotted a good video? Shoot a note to jennifer@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo by flickr user NJ Tech Teacher, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Democrats actually thought Wendy Davis was a serious candidate? Hat tip to Willisms: VIDEO- Wendy Davis being Wendy Davis: https://t.co/SHq3ACGVDJ #txlege— Will Franklin (@WILLisms) January 24,...
Update:2 years 7 months
Rick Perry vs The World
Luke Bryan to sing National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI on FOX ​ Country music superstar LUKE BRYAN will sing the National Anthem as part of Super Bowl LI pregame festivities at NRG Stadium in Houston...
Update:2 years 7 months
Mike McGuff
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 7 years 3 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 7 years 3 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 7 years 3 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 7 years 3 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 7 years 3 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 7 years 3 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 7 years 3 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 7 years 3 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
San Antonio Current | 7 years 3 months
Go ahead, chalk it up http://t.co/YMWpC5wM #satx #chalkitup
Caller.com | 7 years 3 months
Scanner: Bathroom on fire in 600 block of Virginia, CC fire dept. on the way
Ballotpedia | 7 years 3 months
Does your state offer early voting? Do you qualify? Find out! #election2012 http://t.co/eodxBYVD
Dallas Morning News | 7 years 3 months
Why a Dallas-area cycling coach believed Lance Armstrong was drug-free (video) http://t.co/gURdYkj1
Caller.com | 7 years 3 months
Dozens of illegal waste dumpers sentenced in Jim Wells Co.; others on the run: http://t.co/NgerCdsQ
Karen Townsend | 7 years 3 months
Consistently impressed w/raullabrador when I listen to him in Congressional hearings. #Libya
Cory Crow | 7 years 3 months
Diigo: United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip - Business - http://t.co/kWY8gwPV http://t.co/bw25JP5R
News 4 WOAI | 7 years 3 months
If you see news in or around San Antonio 'SEND IT' to @NEWS4WOAI here: http://t.co/uMqbMXQv OR email us at: NEWSDESK@WOAITV.COM
swamplot | 7 years 3 months
Mining Houston Garbage for Recycling and Compost Gold http://t.co/HMMBArMX
swamplot | 7 years 3 months
Daily Demolition Report: Tulane Highway http://t.co/JXmkSx11
KFDA NewsChannel10 | 7 years 3 months
Obama and Romney: Where they stand on the issues http://t.co/y3VrPfkM
Williamson County | 7 years 3 months
Mental Health Awareness Week FREE Webinar:"Understanding Depression-How to Help You or a Loved One" Thurs,Oct 11@1pm-https://t.co/YUWi19WY
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