When we were in Dallas on a recruiting visit last week as word of the first Ebola patient in the United States hit the news, we reacted as many other people did — we told jokes.
Every cough or sneeze was greeted with a comment about whether it was time to call an ambulance or head to the emergency room. We walked by that large statue of an eyeball in downtown and stood around it checking to make sure it was not bleeding.
Why is it so natural to greet serious news about a potential public health nightmare with humor? Because it lets us think about it.
A stream of research in social psychology says that our ability to think about death holds the key to understanding this reaction. Something called terror management theory starts with the assumption that humans are most likely the only species on Earth that can contemplate mortality. Because we can think about the fact that some day we will die, each of us needs to find strategies to deal with the fear that comes along with that knowledge.
So why does gallows humor work with so many people?
First, it creates a little bit of positive feeling. Lots of research demonstrates that your mood influences the memories you recall and the interpretation of events around you. If you are sad, you remember sad things, and you find the saddest way to understand events.
When you are anxious, you think about other times in your life when you were afraid, and you focus on the scary elements of the world. These negative moods will perpetuate themselves.
By joking about death, you lighten the mood. It allows you to remember positive times in your life and to experience hope. Humor breaks the potentially vicious cycle of fear that can ultimately be paralyzing.
Second, the fear of death is rooted in the knowledge that death is bad. After death, we will cease to exist. By joking about death, we minimize its importance. Death could not possibly be that important if we can ridicule it. By making death seem less important, at least in the moment, we lessen its impact as a source of anxiety.
There are many ways people react to thoughts about death. Some people cling more tightly to their culture or their religious beliefs, because of the knowledge that the culture will outlive them as individuals. Those people who react by focusing on culture and religion also increase their sense of moral outrage when people do things that violate their cultural or religious beliefs.
This also explains why some people get so offended by gallows humor. In the face of an event like the Ebola outbreak, everyone is forced to think about his or her own death. Some people react by telling jokes.
Those people whose reaction to threats is to take refuge in culture, however, can interpret jokes as a sign that people are not recognizing the seriousness of the situation. They react with outrage that someone would even contemplate joking at such an important time.
So is it “right” that we make jokes about situations like an Ebola outbreak? Maybe, maybe not. But we all must recognize that there are many ways that people deal with the knowledge that someday each of us will die. Laughing in the face of death is just one way that we feel alive even in the worst of circumstances.
Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the Human Dimensions of Organizations program. He is author of “Smart Thinking and Smart Change.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News.
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Clapper, Hadley, McRaven to Address Intelligence Reform at Event Hosted by Clements Center and Strauss Center
EVENT: “Intelligence Reform and Counterterrorism after a Decade: Are We Smarter and Safer?” featuring addresses by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former commander of the United States Special Operations Command Adm. William McRaven. Adm. McRaven will open the conference on Thursday, Oct. 16, at 4 p.m. at the Blanton Museum of Art Auditorium, followed by remarks by Director Clapper at 5 p.m. The conference is hosted by the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin.
WHEN: Oct. 16-18 (Thursday-Saturday)
WHO MAY ATTEND: The conference is open to the public, but seating is limited. The full list of conference participants, schedule and registration information can be found here.
MEDIA: The conference is open to the media. Media check-in and set-up will begin on Thursday, Oct. 16, at 3 p.m. at the Blanton Museum of Art Auditorium. Please register for media credentials here.
A livestream of the conference can be viewed at
BACKGROUND: It has been a decade since the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 ushered in a sweeping reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community, creating the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center. In partnership with the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the Clements Center and Strauss Center will host the multiday conference to examine lessons that have been learned and the challenges that lie ahead.
Other participants include prominent practitioners, policymakers and scholars, including
- U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security
- U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Amarillo), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
- John McLaughlin, former acting director of Central Intelligence
- John Negroponte and Michael McConnell, former directors of National Intelligence
- Matt Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center
- Adm. Bob Inman, former director of the National Security Agency
- David Shedd, acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency
This conference is an initiative of the Intelligence Studies Project, a collaboration of the Clements Center and Strauss Center to bring together scholars, policymakers and intelligence officials to explore the past, present and future of intelligence work. This includes workshops conducted with the National Security Agency, the National Intelligence Council and senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
AUSTIN, Texas — Retired state District Judge Harley Clark of Austin, a venerated Texas Ex who became a part of Longhorn lore by introducing the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign at a University of Texas pep rally during the 1950s, died Thursday at the age of 78.
He passed away at his beloved farm near Dripping Springs, Texas, where he was able to spend the last months of his life surrounded by books, dogs, family and friends.
“Apart from Judge Clark’s role in helping establish a UT tradition, he was a longtime supporter of the university in other important ways, including contributing to our legal defense in the Hopwood case and volunteering his time. We’ll miss his good-natured presence on our campus,” said Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin.
The Hopwood v. Texas case involved the university’s use of race as one of several factors in its admissions process.
"Today, Texas Exes mourn the passing of a man who embodied the spirit of our beloved university," said former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, president of the Texas Exes, the university’s alumni organization. “Harley Clark introduced the Hook 'em Horns hand sign, a symbol of Longhorn pride that is recognized and shared around the globe. His love and dedication to UT Austin will never be forgotten.”
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. at The Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on campus. The center is located at 2110 San Jacinto Boulevard. The services, open to the public, will be followed by a burial at the Texas State Cemetery, located at 909 Navasota Street.
Clark earned a bachelor of arts degree from the university in 1957, a master of arts degree in 1960 and a law degree in 1962.
He became a successful trial lawyer in the 1960s and 1970s before Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed him to be a judge for the state’s 250th Judicial District Court in 1977. His most notable decision was in the Edgewood lndependent School District case in 1987. He ruled that the state’s system of financing public schools violated the Texas Constitution because of its funding disparities between property rich and property poor school districts. The decision was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court, 9-0.
After resigning from the court in 1989, Clark spent 10 years working in the Austin office of the law firm Vinson & Elkins.
He then took up gardening a 40-acre organic plot near Dripping Springs. The garden produced gourmet-quality vegetables and herbs for area restaurants.
In a 2007 interview for Texas Gardener, Clark noted a similarity between the size of the farm and the original acreage of the university, saying, “I figure if 40 acres is big enough to start a university, it’s big enough to start a farm!”
Through the years, Clark maintained close ties to The University of Texas at Austin. Since about 1998, he was a special guest nearly every year at Gone To Texas celebrations in front of the Tower. The ceremony is held the night before the first day of each fall semester to welcome new students and share the history of Longhorn traditions. Students always listened intently and responded with enthusiastic applause as they joined him in proudly waving the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign toward the heavens.
Clark, who was the university’s head cheerleader in 1955 and student body president in 1957-58, publicly introduced the now-famous “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign at the suggestion of classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who had noticed that, as a shadow figure, it resembled a longhorn, the university’s mascot.
The introduction came during a rally in Gregory Gym the day before the big University of Texas vs. Texas Christian University game in 1955. Clark demonstrated the sign to the crowd and declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.”
Clark often related that after the rally, Arno Nowotny, the dean of student life, was very upset and asked Clark whether he was aware of what that sign might mean in another part of the world such as Sicily.
Clark said his response was, “Dean, you need to look on the bright side of things. Instead of our mascot being a longhorn, it could’ve been a unicorn.”
The day after the rally, Clark went to the football field before kickoff and saw that many of the students were flashing the hand gesture. By the end of the game, other people in the stands, nonstudents, also were doing it. A tradition was born.
Clark is survived by his wife Patti Clark; daughter Cari Clark and her husband, Mike Valigura; daughter Paige Suffredini and her husband, John Suffredini; daughter Jeneffer Allen and her husband, Cal Allen; and his youngest daughter, Teel Mayo Clark. Harley had five grandchildren: Clark Schwab, Thomas Schwab, Hannah Valigura, Abbey Allen and Sophia Suffredini.
Gaming apps. Educational apps. Book apps. Parents have lots of categories to choose from when picking apps for kids these days, but none of these categories focuses on what parents should pay attention to most when letting their kids play and learn online: privacy.
A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission showed that close to 60 percent of apps designed for children collect and share personal information — and only 11 percent tell you they are doing so.
Apps collect information about online behavior, log purchase preferences, track locations and link to social media. Mobile apps and the information they gather help define our children’s virtual selves.
These personas are permanent and useful to all kinds of companies, including advertising agencies, credit reporting agencies, insurance companies and future employers. But at the Center for Identity at The University of Texas at Austin, we see every day that in the hands of an identity thief or other real-world criminal, apps can be a powerful tool to gain sensitive information about your child and family, including your child’s physical location, date of birth, your own usernames and passwords, and, once you link a credit card to an app, your financial information.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) provides some measure of protection against invasion of privacy for kids under the age of 13. Under the law, mobile apps must get parental permission to collect, use or disclose a child’s information. The FTC and state consumer protection agencies bring suits and leverage fines against app developers that fail to live up to the law’s requirements.
However, those protections disappear when children turn 13 despite the fact that the threats to their privacy, and their interest in mobile apps and social media, are growing quickly at that age.
So what should we do? First and foremost, we must demand transparency from app developers and distributors. It is imperative that those who are collecting — and profiting from — the data our children provide be honest and up-front about how, when and why they are collecting data, and how they plan to protect it.
Lawmakers should pass the recently filed Do Not Track Kids Act, which would extend the protections that COPPA offers to include children through the age of 16. The legislation also includes requirements for an “eraser button,” allowing teens to remove information they have posted from the online world.
But while all of this will help, it falls at the parents’ feet to teach their kids common sense rules about app use. Parents should talk to their kids about general privacy protection for any online interaction. Remind them that any time they choose to share information, that choice is permanent.
Parents should monitor downloaded apps to make sure they are from trusted sources, and update apps regularly to ensure the most secure versions. This reduces the risk that apps will contain malware, reducing the threat to kids private information and their parents’ wallets.
Parents should also use the devices’ settings to limit the data that apps can access, and clear their devices of all apps and personal information before they get rid of them.
Communication and education are key. By providing reasonable guidelines for app use to kids, parents can help teach their children the awareness and skills they will need to protect their privacy throughout their digital lifetimes.
Katie Stephens is the education program manager at the Center for Identity at the University of Texas at Austin. She develops education programs, classroom curriculum and interactive learning tools for the Center for Identity’s public resource center on identity theft, management and privacy.
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New op-ed on TP: Apps, kids and privacy. You should read this before downloading your next app for your kids. http://t.co/emKZQOQe0j— Texas Perspectives (@TexPerspectives) October 9, 2014
New inductees clockwise from top-left, Thomas Edgar, Greg Fenves, Yale Patt, and Bob Schutz. With them are, left, C.D. Mote Jr., President, National Academy of Engineering, and right, Charles O. Holliday Jr., Chairman, National Academy of Engineering.
Last week, four professors from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering traveled to Washington, D.C., for their induction into the National Academy of Engineering. UT Austin had the most new members of any university this year. The academy inducted 67 new members and 11 foreign associates. I’m especially proud that among them is our executive vice president and provost, Greg Fenves. They are:
- Thomas Edgar, director of the Energy Institute at UT Austin and the George T. and Gladys H. Abell Chair in Engineering, who is recognized for contributions to mathematical modeling, optimization and automatic control of chemical and microelectronics processes, and for professional leadership.
- Greg Fenves, executive vice president and provost of UT Austin, who is recognized for contributions to computational modeling, creation of open-source software for earthquake engineering analysis, and for academic leadership. Prior to becoming provost, Fenves served as the eighth dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.
- Yale Patt, the Ernest Cockrell Jr. Centennial Chair in Engineering in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who was elected for contributions to high-performance microprocessor architecture.
- Bob Schutz, the Joe J. King Chair of Engineering in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, who was elected for his contribution to the use of satellite laser ranging and GPS tracking to study Earth system dynamics.
Provost Fenves and Professors Edgar, Patt, and Schutz make us all proud.
Optical imaging, brain plasticity, planet formation and human trafficking are just a few areas of research to be explored by the winners of this year's Donald D. Harrington Fellows Program, the most prestigious fellowship program at The University of Texas at Austin.
The recipients are two visiting faculty fellows and 15 graduate fellows who will work with UT Austin colleagues to delve into topics covering a broad spectrum of research and exploration.
“I’m so proud of this program and these incredible scholars. Through their pursuits in education and research that benefit society, the Harrington Fellows truly embody our mission at The University of Texas at Austin,” said President Bill Powers, chairman of the Harrington Fellows Program.
Visiting from Princeton University, Professor Brian Herrera will be on campus to pursue his work on the history of performance art in the United States. Professor Patrick Jagoda from the University of Chicago will continue his research about new media, film, and game design.
The 2014 group includes 15 graduate fellows with specialties such as brain circuitry, astronomy, cognitive science and many others. The graduate fellows and their areas of expertise are:
- Sarah Barfield, UT Austin — Ecology of reef-building corals
- Cynthia Blanco, University of North Carolina — Role of accents in linguistics
- Brian Bondy, Georgia State — Brain plasticity and the ability to process information
- Emily Bragg, Georgia Institute of Technology — Increasing performance in mobile devices
- Daniel Briley, Pepperdine — Cognitive development in children
- Jacqueline DiBiasie, Washington & Lee — Viewing urban space through graffiti
- Laurie Heffron, Georgetown — Human trafficking and violence against women
- Natalie Henninger, Vanderbilt — Dynamics of groups and organizations
- Raquel Martinez, California Institute of Technology — Star and planet formation
- Joshua Moon, Alabama — Polymer construction for environmental & energy uses
- Natalie Poulos, UT Austin — Dietary patterns and outcomes in youth
- Nandini Ramani, Visvesvaraya Technological — Economic impact of digital marketing
- Lisa Richards, Duke — Optical imaging to measure blood flow during surgery
- Ethan Shlachter, Missouri — Growth of India during the late-colonial period
- Mary Stitt, Carleton College — Privatization of New Orleans public schools
The Donald D. Harrington Fellows Program is one of the best visiting scholar and graduate fellow programs in the nation. The fellowships support young faculty members and graduate students who have extraordinary academic records and a broad range of distinctive achievements. Sybil Harrington, the granddaughter of one of the first families to settle Amarillo, established the program as a tribute to her husband.
In order to create brand ambassadors who can sell a certain look, clothing stores have been known to screen prospective employees based on appearance. In addition to creating ethical concerns, this practice may be alienating customers, according to research from the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin.
In a study published in the August online issue of the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, researchers found that customers tend to enjoy the shopping experience less and make fewer purchases when faced with similar-looking store employees.
Researchers say that "aesthetic labor practices" such as hiring homogeneous-looking employees can decrease customers' perceptions of employee empathy – the sense that employees are friendly and relatable. The study, based on a survey of 457 female members of a consumer research panel, was authored by Moody College Advertising Assistant Professors Kate Pounders and Angeline Close and Louisiana Tech University Professor Barry Babin.
"Findings from this work suggest that service managers should hire employees that fit together organically and aren't similar based solely on management directives to create a certain look," Pounders said.
Aesthetic labor practices have become common in image-oriented sectors related to fashion, beauty and other industries.
Retailers have gone as far as sending mug shots of prospective employees to company headquarters for approval. Store "look policies" have dictated how customer-facing staffers can wear their hair, makeup and nails. And fashion retailers have been accused of discriminating based on religious attire, race and weight.
The study also examined other aesthetic labor practices, including consumers' perceptions of how airline employees seemed to belong together beyond physical appearance. Researchers found that airline service providers who look alike are also perceived as belonging together, sharing similar personalities and values. When customers sense that employees belong together, this improves perceptions of employee empathy, customer experience and sales, researchers found.
"In a context closely related to self-concept, such as fashion retailing, customers are more likely to compare their own appearances with employees' appearances," Pounders said. "If employees have a similar look, customers may feel self-conscious. But in a context less associated with self-concept, such as an airline, similar-looking employees have a more positive effect."
Researchers also gauged consumer perceptions of uniformed employees across multiple service categories – a clothing store, airline and home-goods store. They found that when employees already look alike, uniforms could negatively affect customer perception. Researchers say this could lead consumers to feel the environment is overly contrived, questioning whether the common appearance is natural. However, when employees do not look alike, researchers found that uniforms increase consumers' perceptions of employee belonging.
While this study addressed customers' perceptions of aesthetic labor practices, Pounders said future studies could focus on the ethical implications.
"How both service employees and customers view the ethicality of aesthetic labor practices is a critical issue that should be examined," Pounders said. "We've seen companies like Abercrombie & Fitch come under intense scrutiny and criticism for some of their policies, and I believe it has had a negative effect on their brand image and played a role in declining sales. From an organizational perspective, if employees see the policies as unethical, it could also damage the morale of employees."
This story is part of our series “In Pursuit of Health,” covering medical news and research happening across the university.
Abby Bassett was only four weeks old when what seemed to be a mild cold turned into a much harsher reality.
The newborn was diagnosed with pertussis, or whooping cough, a disease that claims the lives of 195,000 children across the globe annually.Quick Facts About Pertussis
- Pertussis causes coughing fits that last longer than 10 weeks, earning it the nickname “100-day cough.”
- Approximately half of infants younger than one year old who get pertussis are hospitalized.
- Worldwide, an estimated 195,000 children die from pertussis annually, and another 16 million pertussis cases are reported.
- In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S., the most since 1977 when nearly 63,000 cases were reported.
- Texas reported more than 3,400 cases of pertussis in 2013, giving the state the 12th highest per capita incidence rate with 13.2 cases per 100,000 residents.
- In 2012, 22.6 million infants around the world were not immunized against pertussis.
“As Abby was clinging to life in the intensive care unit, I just couldn’t believe that even after decades of research, there were no treatments that were specific for pertussis,” says Suzanne Bassett, Abby’s mother. “I knew that we could lose her at any moment. It was such a hopeless feeling. All I could do was pray.”
Now, a University of Texas at Austin researcher is working on a better way to treat whooping cough.
Jennifer Maynard, an associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, is on the cusp of a therapeutic injection to treat the symptoms of pertussis and the painful coughing fits that come with the illness.
Maynard’s passive immunization techniques gives babies who’ve had exposure to pertussis “instant immunity” using a mixture of two antibodies. The first binds to the whooping cough toxin, preventing it from attaching to healthy cells. The second stops the toxin from reaching its target within a healthy cell.
“It gives this one-two punch to deal with the toxin,” says Maynard, who is a scientific colleague of Bassett’s. The therapeutic can also help babies who’ve contracted the disease by alleviating their symptoms, which are caused by toxin, in conjunction with antibiotics that eliminate the bacteria that causes the illness.
Maynard is working with Synthetic Biologics to bring her solution to the market, and she hopes to start clinical trials in 2015, paving the way for public use in only a few years. With support from that company and The University of Texas at Austin’s Office of Technology Commercialization, Maynard is optimistic her vaccine will soon reach the people who need it most, possibly even being distributed for free in developing counties. (As for baby Abby, her mother says she’s a happy, healthy 3-year-old today.)
“We want to make sure that whatever we come up with at the end is really going to have impact,” Maynard says.
While working on her Ph.D. research to create an antibody to neutralize anthrax toxins, Maynard realized the passive immunization technique could be used to fight pertussis. And the work she’s now done on pertussis may be the stepping-stone to combat the next sickness on which she sets her sights.
“Everything we’ve learned how to do with anthrax and with pertussis,” Maynard says, “we can apply to other diseases.”Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Center for Identity at The University of Texas at Austin (UTCID) has launched IDWise, a state-funded online resource and one-stop-shop for consumer-friendly tips, articles, games and videos on how to manage and secure personal information for individuals, businesses and families.
Completely free, IDWise is a resource designed to educate those most at risk for identity theft: children and parents, older adults, small businesses, veterans and active-duty service members. Fueled by innovative research, support from the Texas Legislature and contributions from UTCID’s partners, IDWise takes a novel approach to identity theft prevention, uniting practical advice with entertaining and relevant content tailored to address the top concerns of these at-risk audiences.
“We are working to reduce instances of identity theft and data breach around the world by educating organizations and consumers about what they can do to protect themselves,” said Suzanne Barber, director of the Center for Identity. “Smarter citizens and businesses can help prevent millions of dollars in lost income, fraudulent costs, wasted time and reputation damage.”
“I’m proud to be a part of UTCID’s efforts and the launch of IDWise,” said Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, a member of UTCID’s advisory board and head of the Child ID Task Force. “As Texas’ CFO, I can tell you that this is a daily concern to many Texans, and this unique resource is crucial to helping folks in Texas and all over the country who face the threat of identity theft every day.”
The Center for Identity hosted a public launch of IDWise on Oct. 7, 2014, on campus at The University of Texas at Austin.
Learn more at identity.utexas.edu or use #IDWise on social media.
Building a better future for American children lies in creating effective policies today. One of the more effective policy changes that must happen is raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 and then indexing it to inflation so that American families can keep up with the rising prices of gas, food and housing.
While the minimum wage needs to be raised across the nation, the lack of effective movement at the federal level leaves it up to the states to step up and lead this movement. Texas should be one of the states leading the change.
The current minimum wage was established in 2009 at $7.25 per hour, only $7 more than at its inception in 1930 at 25 cents. While the current minimum wage has remained stagnant, the price of food, housing, gas and college tuition has not. As a result, purchasing power among low-wage families has decreased, and the gap between the poor and the middle class has widened. It has also increased dependence on government services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid.
For the 20 states that have raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum, positive results are being seen. According to the Washington Labor Council, it is important to a state’s economy for low-wage earners to maintain their purchasing power beyond the ability to meet their basic needs.
In addition, several cities have also increased their minimum wages. For example, Seattle ($15), San Francisco ($10.74), Santa Fe, New Mexico ($10.66), New York City ($8), and San Jose, California ($10.15). To date, Santa Fe has seen no effect on employment and is doing economically better than Albuquerque, its sister city, which did not raise its minimum wage past the federal minimum.
When take-home pay is increased for low-income families, they tend to spend more within their local communities, which helps local businesses. This cycle creates better economic conditions locally and statewide. For business who employ minimum wage to low-wage workers, studies have shown higher productivity, decreased turnover, lower recruiting and training costs, decreased absenteeism, and increased worker morale for these businesses with increased minimum wages.
Those opposed to raising the minimum wage offer a number of arguments that suggest any increase would be detrimental to the economy. Unfortunately, when scrutinized these arguments fall apart.
First, several economists have indicated job loss as a consequence of raising the minimum wage. This argument is based in the theoretical premise that when price increases, demand will go down. This simple supply-demand construct essentially says that if the cost of paying low-wage workers increases, then the demand for low-wage workers will decrease. These authors state that the supply-demand premise only holds true when the critical condition of “all else equal” is met.
Considering the country’s ever changing economy and the changes increasing the minimum wage would inspire, the critical condition of all else equal is not maintained — essentially invalidating the increase in unemployment argument.
Opponents often state that raising the minimum wage would actually harm the people it is intended to help. However, a report this year from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office states that for families living below the poverty threshold, a raise in minimum wage to $10.10 would increase real income, on net, by $5 billion and pull about 900,000 families above the poverty threshold.
Opponents also say that the only way to offset the wage increase is to lay off workers or relocate. Again, rigorous studies show businesses absorb the costs by other means such as slightly raising prices, initially accepting small profit reductions, or improving productivity.
With the highest number of hourly-wage workers of any state at about 3 million, Texas could set a strong precedent for the rest of the nation if state policymakers raise the minimum wage. Texas’ low-wage families would see an aggregate increase of $5.9 million to $8 million in additional income. This additional millions of dollars would go straight into the local and state economies.
Our state policymakers should take notice and raise the wage for the betterment of society and enable economic growth.
Shetal Vohra-Gupta is a research scientist for the Institute of Urban Policy Research and Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin.
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I’m proud to report that once again the London-based publication Times Higher Education has ranked The University of Texas at Austin among the best universities in the world. This year, UT came in at No. 28. This is the fourth consecutive year we have ranked in the top 29. Among public universities in the United States, UT Austin ranked sixth on the list. The full list of universities can be found here.
Times Higher Education examines 13 factors in five separate areas to determine excellence — teaching, research, influence of research, innovation, and international outlook. UT Austin’s highest marks were in its influence of research, as measured by the number of times faculty members’ studies are cited by peers; overall research, which includes funding, number of articles published and quality; and teaching, which is based largely on the university’s reputation among scholars.
All Texans can take great pride in the fact that UT Austin keeps company with the world’s very best universities.
AUSTIN, Texas — Lorraine J. Haricombe has been selected as the new vice provost and director of libraries at The University of Texas at Austin. Haricombe currently serves as the dean of libraries at the University of Kansas. She begins her new position Feb. 1, 2015.
“Dr. Haricombe brings to UT Austin critical expertise on the evolving role of libraries in advancing teaching and research at top universities. She also is an international leader in improving access to scholarly publications. I’m proud she’s coming to UT Austin,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers.
During her tenure at KU, Haricombe oversaw the enhancement of several library facilities across campus. She was instrumental in implementing a faculty-led open access policy at KU, the first public institution in the U.S. with such a policy, ensuring increased visibility for KU research and scholarship. Open access reduces barriers to scholarly output to create faster, wider sharing of knowledge and increases the return on research investment.
"I am honored and humbled by this appointment to lead the libraries at a world-class research university,” said Haricombe. “The University of Texas Libraries provides an exciting opportunity to elevate the role of libraries as an integral partner in the higher education ecosystem, while advancing new strategic directions in support of teaching, learning and research.”
Haricombe was selected through a national search to fill the position.
“Given her extensive experience as a director of a major research library system at an institution that is a member of Association of American Universities, Lorraine has much to offer UT,” said UT Provost Gregory L. Fenves. “She has a vision for how to enhance learning communities for students and scholars and understands the importance of creating better digital access to original materials.”
Haricombe earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology and library and information science at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, and her master’s degree and Ph.D. in library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In her new role at UT Austin, Haricombe will oversee one of the nation’s largest academic research library systems, which annually serves more than 2.5 million visitors and 11 million online visitors with collections in excess of 10 million volumes. The library system includes the flagship Perry-Castañeda Library, nine specialized branch libraries and world-class special collections (Alexander Architectural Archive, Benson Latin American Collection and the PCL Map Collection).
Along with those core units, the library system also maintains numerous digital-native collections, including the Human Rights Documentation Initiative and the University of Texas Digital Repository. UT Libraries are founding members and hosts of the statewide Texas Digital Library.
Haricombe will replace Fred Heath, who retired this year after 11 years in the position.
In addition to her university experience, Haricombe is a co-founder of the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions in North America, an international advocacy group for institutions with open access policies. She also has served for the past seven years as a mentor to junior librarians from underrepresented areas as part of the Association of Research Libraries Leadership Career Development Program.
Given the utter lack of competition in Texas, political observers in the state are forced to examine characteristics other than competition to find “interesting” races this year. The state’s 27th Congressional District is in the running simply for its location in the state, its demographic makeup, and its incumbent.
Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold is running against Wesley Reed, a Democrat who has never sought political office. Farenthold was part of the tea party class of 2010, when he won by just 775 votes over 14-term incumbent Solomon Ortiz.
According to the latest Cook Report ratings for U.S. House races, Montana, which elects one person to the House, has as many “competitive” races as the state of Texas, which has 36 seats. Cook, incidentally, rates Texas’ 27th District race as “Solid Republican.” In 2012, Mitt Romney got 61 percent of the vote in the district to Barack Obama’s 38 percent. At the same time, Farenthold won by 18 points.
If the electorate in 2014 is supposed to be even more Republican, and Barack Obama is supposed to be even less popular in the district, how is it possible that Texas’ 27th District is “interesting”? At least four factors make this race one of the most interesting races in Texas.
First, the competition for “interesting” in Texas isn’t particularly strong. Only one of 36 incumbents opted to give up his House seat. Steve Stockman chose to run against Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican primary rather than run for re-election to his House seat. One other Texas incumbent, Ralph Hall, was defeated in his primary. Romney did even better in both of those districts.
Although most political scientists would consider Farenthold’s 18-point victory margin fairly substantial, it was the third lowest in the state. The other Republicans in the state won their districts by an average of 40 points.
Second, if it wasn’t for the adoption of a Republican redistricting map, this race very well could have been the most interesting race in the state. The district where Farenthold beat Ortiz was 73 percent Hispanic. After the 2010 redistricting cycle, the district is now just 51 percent Hispanic.
Farenthold is the closest Texas House Republican to the Texas-Mexico border and has been an opponent of immigration reform, suggesting that the Senate-passed bill (that had 14 Republican votes) “doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell in the House of Representatives.”
Third, Farenthold isn’t what you would call a formidable incumbent. While Reed, according to a June 30 campaign finance report, had only $114,484 in cash on hand, the incumbent had only $419,900. Although six of his fellow Texas Republican incumbents have even less cash on hand, their opponents have a combined total of $18,175. Furthermore, in his four-year career, he has only sponsored one successful bill. Having flirted both with “birtherism” and with a scantily dressed woman while wearing pajamas during his initial run, Farenthold has recently been targeted by comedian Bill Maher in his effort to “Flip a District,” though he “lost” in the semifinals to Congressman John Kline of Minnesota.
Finally, the voters in the 27th District do not have an easy job. They must balance their ethnicity, their ideology, and their partisanship in choosing between a “colorful” incumbent and a challenger who will be tied to the unpopular policies of the Obama administration. Furthermore, they will have to balance their distaste for Obamacare, even while more than 20 percent of them lack health insurance, and the complications of a stalled immigration reform bill while a crisis festers at a border fewer than 200 miles away.
Perhaps if it weren’t the midterm of a second-term president who is unpopular in the district; perhaps if it weren’t the currently configured, but rather, the pre-redistricted district; perhaps if the economy were doing better or if foreign crises dissipated, Reed would have a chance. As it is, the only reason that the race is interesting at all is because of Farenthold, who under a different set of circumstances could very well be running to save his political life.
Sean Theriault is a professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin. He is an expert in party polarization in elections and voter retribution.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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Share this story on Twitter:September 17, 2014
Stop. Go. Red light. Green light. Blaring car horns, exasperated hand gestures and the frustrating gridlock of your daily commute. There has to be a better way of getting from here to there, right?
As one of the leading university-based transportation research centers in the world, the center has created a place where researchers, faculty members and students work together to promote cutting-edge developments in transportation science and technology.
Bhat is widely recognized as an expert in the area of travel-demand modeling and travel behavior analysis, examining the ways people move through urban environments on a day-to-day basis and finding solutions to the transportation challenges facing communities.
According to Bhat, “a good understanding and prediction of the activity and travel behavior of individuals is critical to evaluating the effects of alternative traffic congestion-alleviation strategies, such as work rearrangement measures, transit service improvements, congestion pricing schemes and real-time traveler information systems.”
“My research is particularly relevant to long-term transportation planning in today’s rapidly changing demographic profile of the U.S. and world populations,” Bhat says. “For instance, the population is aging and the mobility needs of such an aging population have to be anticipated in advance for good infrastructure investment decisions.”
Bhat has received countless awards over the years for his groundbreaking work. Yet his proudest moments can be traced to his work mentoring students, many of whom have gone on to make massive strides in the transportation field themselves.
“I have been fortunate to receive several research and teaching awards during my career. While I am humbled at receiving these awards, it makes me particularly happy when I’m appreciated for teaching,” Bhat says.
“It certainly is gratifying when I receive notes from students indicating how much they enjoyed a course I taught or how much their future career aspirations have been influenced through interactions with me,” he adds. “However, my proudest moments are when my graduate students receive awards for their master’s or Ph.D. research under my guidance.”
Chandra Bhat, he’s a Longhorn Game Changer. That’s how we change the world.
This story is part of our “Finding Solutions” series, which explores how UT Austin faculty, staff and students are putting their big ideas to work.
The Department of Defense has awarded $17 million to 11 U.S. public and private institutions — including The University of Texas at Austin — to support advances in traumatic brain injury research.
This unprecedented public-private partnership aims to drive the development of better-run clinical trials, with the goal of developing the first successful treatments for traumatic brain injury. The condition affects athletes and combat veterans, as well as millions of other people.
The five-year award, officially launched Oct. 1, brings together leading academic clinician-scientists with innovative industry leaders in biotechnology and imaging technology, with patient advocacy organizations, and with philanthropies.
UT Austin psychology professors Alex Valadka and David Schnyer will join the national team of researchers in collecting a broad range of long-term data from existing studies and databases, and integrating these into a dataset that can be analyzed for traumatic brain injury associations and causes in a way that has never before been possible. The principal investigator overseeing the project is Dr. Geoffrey Manley, chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital.
The funding will support Valadka and Schnyer’s participation in a multisite longitudinal study (TRACK-TBI) designed to collect clinical, advanced imaging, genetic, proteomic and neuropsychological data on traumatic brain injury. The collaboration demonstrates the ground-breaking research partnerships that UT Austin frequently develops with the private sector.
“It is an honor to be a part of this critical endeavor lead by Dr. Geoffrey Manley and his team at UCSF and supported by the Defense Department, National institutes of Health, General Electric and Seattle’s One Mind,” says Schnyer.
The research collaborators will work directly with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come up with better methods for selecting patients for clinical trials and better ways to measure patient outcomes that may lead to the identification of effective traumatic brain injury treatments.
Each year more than 2.5 million people in the United States seek medical care for traumatic brain injuries that arise when blows to the body or nearby explosions cause the brain to collide with the inside of the skull. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population lives with disabilities caused by traumatic brain injuries, at an annual cost of about $77 billion. No treatment has proved to be effective.
The new research initiative, called the TBI Endpoints Development (TED) Award, is designed to overcome the difficulty in demonstrating the effectiveness of drugs and medical devices by actively involving the FDA in clinical-trial design from the outset.
Quarterly earning calls that receive zero questions or a very low number of questions during the question-and-answer session of the call lead to a significant decrease in stock price according to new research from the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.
McCombs Associate Professor Shuping Chen and her co-authors analyzed nearly 50,000 earnings conference calls from 2002-2012 and identified 9,434 calls that either received zero or a low number of questions during an open-response Q&A session. They found that those companies’ stock prices then dropped significantly following the call, resulting in a $4.3-6.1 million decrease in market capitalization.
Their findings reveal that a typical earnings call carries with it unintended consequences when those calls fail to elicit questions. An increase in information asymmetry, concluded the researchers, leads to an immediate, negative market reaction that is predictable, significant, and avoidable.
Information asymmetry occurs when one person has more information than someone else, such as a corporate executive who has more information about a company than an investor. This is measured by tracking the changes in intraday trading numbers. By taking the midpoint of the daily ask high and the daily bid low, researchers can chart a decrease in stock price surrounding the date of the earnings call. Calls that received zero or a low number of questions exhibited more negative returns in the five days following the calls — up to 135 basis points lower than peer firms similar in size and analyst coverage.
Chen and her co-authors ruled out other variables to confirm their findings, such as company size, day of the week, time of the year, or even whether the call occurred at the same time as a major national news event.
“All things being equal,” says Chen, “the fact that these earnings calls received so few questions is, by itself, the catalyst for the significant, negative market reaction we observed.”
According to the study, the lack of interaction between managers and call participants can be detrimental both to investors and managers: the lack of questions deprives managers of a valuable opportunity to benefit from immediate feedback from market participants, and investors can interpret the lack of questions as a signal to sell.
Chen and her co-authors’ findings call for follow-up research that takes a deeper look at investor relations programs and how they can avoid hosting quarterly earnings calls that don’t generate questions. Initial suggestions include paid-for analyst research or face-to-face meetings with investors to improve firms’ visibility and information dissemination.
Co-authors of the study are Stephan Hollander and Kelvin Law of Tilburg University.
Can we use plants for energy instead of oil? That’s the question one group of intrepid students is trying to answer as part of an innovative program that plugs first-year students into real-world research projects with top faculty and research scientists.
Students in the Biology of Biofuels stream — one of 25 “research streams” in the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) — investigate the physiology, genetics, breeding and ecology of Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a promising biofuel species, and compare it with other potential biofuel sources.
Almost seven billion humans live on Earth, supported by finite planetary resources that are being affected by global climate change. Biofuels are an alternative energy source that could be both sustainable and help minimize climate change. But the benefits of growing plants for fuel will depend on both natural limits to plant productivity and competition for space between biofuel crops, food crops and natural ecosystems.
“We’re just trying to understand this plant that no one has actually studied,” says Maria Villalpando, a biology sophomore, about the work she did as a FRI participant.
“One of my personal motivations is to get students excited about doing research,” says Brandon Campitelli, research educator in the College of Natural Sciences for the Biology of Biofuels research stream. (Support for this research stream was provided by a National Science Foundation Plant Genome grant.) Campitelli manages the day-to-day work of the students.
Each year around 800 first-year students work on research projects in faculty labs while earning traditional class credit through FRI. Students in the research streams — cohorts with 30 students each — work under the guidance of faculty, graduate students and peer mentors. Projects include robotics, plant ecology and climate change, infectious disease, white dwarf stars, cancer, drug discovery and more.
“Witnessing as freshmen go from learning basic scientific skills to designing and executing independent research projects with real publication potential is enormously satisfying,” Campitelli says. “There is certainly something special about learning how to do science, in addition to learning the science itself.”First-Year Researchers Find Early Success Compared to their non-FRI peers, students who participate in FRI have higher GPAs, are more likely to graduate and are more likely to go to graduate school. Students emerging from FRI have experience with experimental techniques, lab work and a deep understanding of the scientific process. In his State of the University address on Sep. 22, President Bill Powers said that traditional classroom lectures give students “the product of research.” “[Lectures] don’t expose our students to the process of research, with all of its dead-ends, failures and frustrations,” said Powers. “The Freshman Research Initiative does. So we get more bang for our buck by designing the FRI the way we do.”
This story is part of our “Finding Solutions” series, which explores how UT Austin faculty, staff and students are putting their big ideas to work.
As summer turns to fall, the gubernatorial campaigns of Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis have ritualistically taken to the airwaves in an effort to shape the outcome of the upcoming election. While much attention has focused on whether a particular ad has “hit the mark,” little attention has been paid to how the separate emotional tones of these ads reflect the strategic plan of each campaign. So far it has been a classic contest between fear and anxiety, and hope and stability, and these rhetorical choices do a lot to tell us about what the candidates really think about the current state of the race.
The impact of emotion on voters’ cognitive processes — and in some cases, their behavior — has been well documented by several prominent scholars. An emotion like hope signals that all is well and that we can rely on our habits, such as in the case of politics with partisanship or ideology. So if you feel hopeful and consider yourself a Republican, even loosely, you’re likely to vote Republican. On the other hand, anxiety signals to those experiencing it that they need to stop and gather new information. Relying on a habitual approach in the face of anxiety — an uncomfortable emotion defined by its uncertainty about a given situation — may be harmful to one’s interests, so anxious people feel compelled to stop and learn more.
Davis kicked off her fall advertising campaign with “A Texas Story,” an ad that outlines the brutal rape of a woman by a vacuum cleaner salesman. There is scary music, grainy footage and an ominous, foreboding tone. These cues are intended to induce anxiety. As the viewer is in this induced state of fear, Davis then presents the information she wants you to learn: Abbott’s minority opinion as a member of the Texas Supreme Court that the vacuum cleaner company was not liable for the salesman’s actions. An anxious viewer might then ask friends or family about the accusation, or turn to a quick online search. The anxiety-inducing ad is an obvious contrast to Abbott’s hopeful message, and Davis’ other recent ads maintain the same tone.
For Davis to have any chance in November, she will need to shake up, or at least loosen, the fundamental partisan dynamics underlying the electorate, the same dynamics that Abbott is looking to maintain. Her use of scary music and intense subject matters are tools for this purpose. This anxiety is beneficial to Davis, just as Abbott’s reliance on hope is beneficial to him. It’s not that either candidate is running a positive or negative campaign per se. It is that each candidate is running the campaign that gives him or her the best chance to win given the electoral context each faces.
There are other elements of Davis’ campaign, in particular the release of her memoir, that provide plenty of hope and resolve for her supporters, but nonetheless, she has chosen to begin the public phase of the election season with a slate of ads that are clearly intended to induce anxiety with the hope of shaking Texans from their reflexively Republican positions. Given this reflexive orientation, Abbott will find success assuming this election proceeds on a business-as-usual track. Producing a hopeful electorate gives Abbott the strategic advantage of reinforcing Republican voters’ partisan predispositions.
By paying attention to the emotional dynamics underlying these prominent campaign ads for each candidate, one can get a clearer sense of how each campaign really views this race, regardless of what you may read in their fundraising emails. In the end, an emotional electorate will pick the next governor of Texas, and the campaigns wouldn’t have it any other way
Bethany Albertson is an assistant professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin and researches in areas related to political attitudes and persuasion. Joshua Blank is manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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Share this story on Twitter:September 29, 2014
Producing oil through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses similar amounts of water on average as producing oil by conventional means, according to a new study by The University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology.
Bridget Scanlon, a senior research scientist at the bureau and lead researcher on the study, said the findings are important because of the current debate about the amount of water used to produce energy.
“This analysis of water demand for hydraulic fracturing is critical for assessing the adequacy of water resources to support unconventional energy production,” Scanlon said. “Results of this study can be used in future economic and policy studies about environmental impacts of unconventional energy production.”
The study, which has been posted on the website of the Environmental Science & Technology Journal, compared water use in hydraulic fracturing operations in the Eagle Ford and Bakken formations with previous estimates of water use in conventional operations throughout the country. The Eagle Ford play in Texas and Bakken play in Montana and North Dakota account for about two-thirds of the oil produced by hydraulic fracturing in the United States.
Water use for hydraulic fracturing varied significantly between the Eagle Ford and Bakken plays, primarily due to variations in geology, but in both formations the proportion of water used per unit of energy gained was comparable to conventional oil production. The ratio of water used for hydraulic fracturing to oil produced ranged from 0.2 to 0.4 gallons of water for each gallon of oil produced over the lifetime of a well for both the Eagle Ford and the Bakken. This translates to 0.03 to 0.06 gallons of water used per million British thermal unit (Btu) of energy gained. That is in the lower end of the ratio for conventional production in the U.S. from previous studies, which ranges from 0.1 to 5 gallons of water for each gallon of oil produced over the lifetime of a well (corresponding to 0.01 to 0.7 gallons of water per million Btu).
Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which liquid is injected into geological formations at high pressure to extract oil or natural gas. Because of economics, in recent years production has shifted from predominantly dry gas plays, such as the Barnett and Marcellus formations, to more oil-rich plays in the Eagle Ford, Permian and Bakken formations.
The public perception, Scanlon said, is that hydraulic fracturing uses extremely large quantities of mostly fresh water. This underscores the importance of quantifying water use. The study found that increases in water use for oil production are due to increased energy production and not a higher intensity of water use.
The oil and gas industry is using more water because they have increased the rate of production in the United States and are producing more domestic energy,” Scanlon said.
Research scientist associate Robert Reedy and research scientist Jean-Philippe Nicot, both with the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, also contributed to the study.
Funding for this research was provided by the Jackson School of Geosciences and the Shell-University of Texas Unconventional Research program.
To read the study, go to http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es502506v.
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All UT investigators involved with this research have filed their required financial disclosure forms with the university. All three of the researchers have received research funding for past projects from major government science and environmental agencies — including the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Texas Water Resources Institute — and from Shell. Reedy and Nicot have received past funding from Statoil. Scanlon has received research funding to examine global water supplies from BP America.
They comb through documents, cover important meetings, live-blog breaking news and even chase runners preparing for big races to get an interview.
Students in the Moody College of Communication’s School of Journalism are getting hands-on reporting experience by covering assignments in the field, exploring new technology and taking pointers from some of journalism’s biggest names — like the iconic Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal leading to President Nixon’s resignation.Students gather around Washington Post legend Bob Woodward, who spoke at the Belo Center for New Media on Sept. 24. [Photo by journalism senior Cassandra Jaramillo]
These young reporters document their experiences online, including on Twitter, using #ReportingUT.
That hashtag is part of the “J310F Reporting: Words” course, in which students use Twitter “as a learning component in the syllabus.”
Robert Quigley, a senior lecturer in the School of Journalism, says the course helps students develop the skills necessary to be a reporter, from newsgathering and writing to journalistic values and beyond. (Check out Quigley’s Tumblr for the class.) The course also helps students meet cross-curriculum requirements to be “exposed to a set of skills and experiences in preparation for a complex world” by carrying two Flags: Writing and Cultural Diversity.
“It’s fun, and our students love it,” says Wanda Garner Cash, a clinical professor in the School of Journalism who teaches the #ReportingUT students. “Over the past four semesters, we have regular Twitter users who follow our class tweets. Responses have come from NPR, The Associated Press, Reuters and scores of journalists.”
Cash says professors encourage students to live tweet class lectures as a way both to take notes and interact with classmates and faculty by sharing links, asking questions and commenting on the topics.
At the many in-the-field reporting assignments students attend — like covering City Council meetings, attending keynote lectures and capturing culture at events like the Keep Austin Weird Festival and the Capitol 10K race — students are required to use the #ReportingUT hashtag as a way to tie together all of the pictures, videos and interviews the class members produce.
Katey Psencik, a digital journalist for KVUE in Austin who also graduated from the School of Journalism, says even though she took the #ReportingUT course more than a year ago, she looks at content under the hashtag as a way to “never stop learning.”
Here’s a look at some of the Tweets from #ReportingUT students, professors and lecturers:
I took the class more than a year ago, but the start of another semester means re-adding #ReportingUT to Tweetdeck. Never stop learning!— Katey Psencik (@psencikk) September 2, 2014 September 24, 2014 June 28, 2014 June 28, 2014 November 21, 2013 June 12, 2014 April 28, 2014 March 3, 2014
Attention newsmakers & gov't agencies: Student journalists are 'real' journalists. #reportingut— Wanda Cash (@cashUT) February 28, 2014 January 27, 2014