AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have devised a new method for enriching a group of the world’s most expensive chemical commodities, stable isotopes, which are vital to medical imaging and nuclear power, as reported this week in the journal Nature Physics. For many isotopes, the new method is cheaper than existing methods. For others, it is more environmentally friendly.
A less expensive, domestic source of stable isotopes could ensure continuation of current applications while opening up opportunities for new medical therapies and fundamental scientific research.
Chemical elements often exist in nature as a blend of different variants called isotopes. To be useful in most applications, a single isotope has to be enriched, or separated out from the rest.
A combination of factors has created a looming shortage of some of the world’s most expensive but useful stable isotopes.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office released a report warning that there may soon be a shortage of lithium-7, a critical component of many nuclear power reactors. Production of lithium-7 was banned in the U.S. because of environmental concerns, and it's unclear whether the current sources, in China and Russia, will continue meeting global demand.
One of the major sources of molybdenum-99, essential for medical imaging in tens of millions of heart, kidney and breast procedures each year, is an aging nuclear reactor in Canada that's expected to cease operations in 2016.Other valuable isotopes are produced by Cold War era machines known as calutrons operating in Russia. Their extreme age, high operating costs and regional concentration further threaten global supply.
“Isotopes are among the most expensive commodities on Earth,” says Mark Raizen, professor of physics in The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences and author on the study. “One ounce of a stable isotope that needs the calutron to separate it can run around $3 million. That’s roughly 2,000 times the price of gold. And that has held back certain medical therapies.”
Unlike the calutron, which requires huge amounts of energy to maintain a magnetic field with electromagnets, the new method for enriching stable isotopes, called MAGIS (magnetically activated and guided isotope separation), needs little energy due to its use of low-powered lasers and permanent magnets. It also has less potential for environmental effects than the chemical process used in producing lithium-7, which has been linked to mercury contamination.
Nuclear medicine in particular could benefit from the new method, the researchers say. Many stable isotopes are precursors to the short-lived radioisotopes used in medical imaging, cancer therapies and nutritional diagnostics.
The new method also has the potential to enhance our national security. The researchers used the method to enrich lithium-7, crucial to the operation of most nuclear reactors. The U.S. depends on the supply of lithium-7 from Russia and China, and a disruption could cause the shutdown of reactors. Other isotopes can be used to detect dangerous nuclear materials arriving at U.S. ports.
Raizen's co-authors on the paper are Tom Mazur, a Ph.D. student at the university; and Bruce Klappauf, a software developer at Enthought and a former senior research scientist at UT Austin.
Now, Raizen's top goal is getting this technology out of the lab and into the world. The MAGIS invention has been issued a U.S. patent, which is owned by The University of Texas at Austin, with Raizen and Klappauf as inventors.
Raizen plans to create a nonprofit foundation to license the technology.
“I believe this is world-changing in a way that is unique among all the projects that I have done. And I do feel passionately about it,” said Raizen. “There are many potential uses of isotopes that we don't even know yet. But they've been held back because the price has been so high, or it's been unavailable. That will be one of the missions of the foundation — to explore and develop isotopes to benefit humanity.”
Some critics have raised concerns about the potential for terrorists or rogue states to use MAGIS to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Raizen believes these concerns are unfounded given uranium's unique chemical characteristics. Read an online debate between Raizen and Francis Slakey, a physicist and associate director of public affairs for the American Physical Society.
This research was funded by The University of Texas at Austin.
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest of its researchers. Dr. Raizen has submitted required financial disclosure forms with the university. He has received research funding for other projects from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Welch Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. Klappauf and Mazur have no financial ties to the isotope industry or isotope consumers.
For a global map showing where molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) is enriched, the steps to produce it and the challenges to the global supply, go to: http://www.mallinckrodt.com/Nuclear_Imaging/Global_Mo-99_Supply_Chain.aspx
Summertime is world tour season for big-time musicians: Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.
That’s right, our own 62-student symphonic band just wrapped an epic four-week around-the-world tour that took them to three continents, performing to adoring crowds in Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing and London, among other stops.
The trip took three years to plan and was unprecedented in scope. “It was my third time overseas in 26 years here,” says Professor Jerry Junkin, the director of the ensemble.
Flying to Hawaii the day after providing the rousing soundtrack for Spring Commencement in May, the group visited Pearl Harbor, taught master classes with schoolchildren, and explored cities in Japan and China before finishing with a final show in London. (In September the members will reunite to make a recording of their tour program. Look for it in stores sometime in 2015.)
Watch a video produced by the Longhorn Network about the UT Wind Ensemble, as they prepared for their Around the World Tour. Then read on for a travelogue, adapted from their tour blog, and relive some of the highlights from the Summer 2014 Around the World Tour.
Arrival in Honolulu followed a sleepless night, a four-hour plane ride, a five-hour layover and another six-hour plane ride. After sightseeing at Pearl Harbor, rehearsal began at Pearl City High School.
For clarinet master’s student Pam Wilkinson, learning that military musicians perished in the bombing at Pearl Harbor was a surprise. “I have been reflecting since our visit on the purpose of those musicians,” she wrote on the tour blog. “The various military branches employ hundreds, possibly thousands, of musicians…. I doubt their presence is merely for entertainment…. Music can revive our spirit, give us hope, and heal brokenness in the face of tragedy. This is what I took from the musicians on the USS Arizona.”
While most of the complex travel logistics — it’s not easy moving 70 musicians, their luggage and all the instruments across the Pacific Ocean — went smoothly, one of the flights from Honolulu to Japan was diverted to Wake Island in the Pacific due to a mechanical problem. Everyone arrived safely a few hours later, but the luggage — including some instruments and concert dress — did not make it for the concert in Okazaki City, Japan.
No worries: their Japanese hosts rounded up instruments, and dark tee shirts and pants filled the bill for one engagement. “Half the group looked like they were on their way to the gym, the other half looked like they were playing at a concert,” Junkin says. “It all worked out.”Dark tee shirts made for modified “concert dress” after luggage arrived too late for the concert in Okazaki City, Japan. Fortunately, the group’s Japanese hosts rounded up instruments to replace those stuck in transit.
“It’s worth mentioning what a long day any one concert date entails for the band,” wrote College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster on the tour blog. He traveled with the group through parts of China. “The entire company is over 70 strong. All need to be transported by bus, or train, or ferry. A large variety of instruments need to be shipped by truck or scavenged from the local musical countryside. (The program repertoire calls for harp, piano, celeste, double bass, bass clarinets, contra bassoons, and a huge variety of percussion instruments from tympani to a vibraphone.”
The second concert in Japan was at the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music. It was held in beautiful Madea Hall, where the ensemble shared the concert with the White Tie Wind Ensemble, the premiere wind ensemble in the Japanese college of 1,600 music majors.At the conclusion of the concert at Senzoku Gakuen, the Wind Ensemble was visited on stage by the college’s vice president (pictured in the gray jacket) who shared his gratitude for the performance.
Junkin had put together an ambitious concert program of four contemporary pieces for the tour. Frank Ticheli’s clarinet concerto completed the first half, which began with two compositions by UT composers Dan Welcher and Donald Grantham. Clarinetist and Butler School of Music faculty member Nathan Williams was a featured performer during the tour. A number of encores were performed at the end of each program from the 12 or so pieces that made up the repertoire, including “Stars and Stripes” and “The Eyes of Texas.”Taiwanese Texas Exes got their horns up during “The Eyes of Texas.”
“In the audience were many of our Texas Exes that live in Taiwan. It was exciting to see so much burnt orange in the audience at this performance, and our encore of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ was very well received!” wrote Ryan Kelly, an assistant conductor of the UTWE, who managed the tour blog.
The brief stay in Taipei was highlighted by a concert at Soochow University, presented in conjunction with the 90th Anniversary of the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture.Before their concert in Shenzhen, China, the UT ensemble members gave master classes with young musicians from area bands.
The afternoon in Shenzhen started with master classes, where the UT students worked with students from the area bands. After the concert it was time for a dumpling party. During the meal, area musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments treated the ensemble members to performances.
In Beijing, Sergeant Zhang, a local composer and commander of the People’s Liberation Army Band, guest-conducted the rehearsal. Some unique percussion instruments, including Chinese drums, were used for the concert held at the beautiful PLA Band Concert Hall.A member of the UT Wind Ensemble rehearses with a traditional Chinese drum before their concert in Beijing at the People’s Liberation Army Band Concert Hall.
Several days later, after a flight over seven time zones, ensemble members landed in the British Isles with just one night to recover from jet lag before they performed the grand finale of the tour at beautiful Cadogan Hall in the London borough of Chelsea. As in every city the ensemble visited, the audience had been warm, welcoming and appreciative.On stage at London’s beautiful Cadogan Hall.
“While our performances have been special, played for large appreciative audiences, it has been countless other moments that have helped us to understand other cultures and allowed them to know us in ways that they might not have imagined before,” Junkin reflected in a blog post. “Whether it was the simple wave back at the local citizens of Okazaki City who came out of their houses to see who the young Americans were walking down their residential street, or the joining of an in-progress soccer game with young children in Tokyo, or letting our Taiwanese students proudly show their colleagues their wonderful city, or the opportunity to perform alongside Chinese students in Shenzhen as well as to work with those students for an hour before the performance, somehow all of these things have combined to make the world a better, and smaller, place.”The enthusiastic audience in Shenzhen showed its appreciation for their American guests, waving Chinese and American flags.
“This tour and everything surrounding it is inspiring,” wrote Corey Pompey, doctoral student in conducting. “How can one not be inspired by this incredible experience?”
Covering 33 centuries of art, the exhibit includes works by well-known and influential artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, Edward Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, Jan Weenix and Andrew Wyeth. And when you’ve had enough of the masters, you’ll find a handful of YouTube cat clips on display — because what’s a 21st-century feline event without a video of Nora the Piano Cat?
Curator Francesca Consagra gave us the story behind the exhibit.What can visitors expect when they view the exhibition?
The works cover ancient Egypt to the present and are divided into themes: religion, mythology, hunting, herding, literature, morality, abandonment, aggression and domesticity. I hope that we may surprise our visitors, so I won’t reveal too much about how the experience will unfold for them.Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. “L’Artisan moderne, 1896.” Crayon brush and spatter lithograph with scraper, printed in four colors, 35 7/16 in. x 25 in. Blanton Museum of Art Gift of John S. and Patricia A. Corcoran, 2000. John Tenniel, English (1820-1914) and text by Lewis Carroll. Cheshire cat, p. 91, from “Alice in Wonderland,” 1865. Wood engraving. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Can you shed light on the role of pets in art? It’s not just about cute furry faces.
Artists are superb observers of life, and they have been depicting our relationships with cats and dogs for millennia.
The exhibition offers a glimpse into social changes that have occurred over time. For instance, while cats and dogs were prominent in ancient Egypt and in Greco-Roman culture as hunters and pets, the rise of Christianity ushered in an era of unusual suspicion and maltreatment of these two animals, especially cats. By the 14th century, due to new Christian teachings and the revival of classical texts, dogs began to appear more frequently and favorably in art. They are seen as loyal companions, healers and signifiers of a person’s high moral and social status. Cats, on the other hand, remained mostly symbols of evil, cruelty and sin in European art well into the 18th century.
The cat’s rise in status evolved partially because pet-keeping became increasingly common in European households during the Enlightenment, a cultural movement that emphasized reason and individualism over tradition. People made room for pets in households, allowing them to connect with nature and to teach children about kindness and responsibility.Marco Benefial. “Portrait of a Lady with a Dog,” 1730s. Oil on canvas, 45 1/2 x 33 7/8 in. Blanton Museum of Art. The Suida-Manning Collection, 41.1999 Takahashi Hiroaki (Shotei), Published by Fusui Gabo. “Cat Prowling Around a Staked Tomato Plant,” 1931. Woodblock print, 20 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Gift of Stephanie Hamilton in memory of Leslie A. Hamilton
The current Internet obsession with cats seems somewhat frivolous, but could it be seen as a modern-day version of this centuries-old tradition that was embraced by master artists?
We have five cat videos near the entrance of the exhibition, presenting the cat’s role in contemporary culture. Some people think that cat videos provide a space for cat owners to share their cats’ personalities and temperaments with other cat lovers for the first time. It’s been suggested that the Internet is the cat owner’s version of the dog park.Lewis Carroll. “Wilfred Dodgson’s dog- Dido,” 1856-1857. Albumen print. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Did any UT faculty participate in the making of this exhibition?
I started the project by contacting Sam Gosling, a psychology professor who researches personality and temperament in non-human animals. He not only recommended the exhibition’s title, but an influential book by Hal Herzog, a renowned anthrozoologist, whose writings helped me better understand human-animal relations. Two of Gosling’s graduate students, Stephen DeBono and Jamie Fratkin, were especially helpful and provided further readings and insights.
Janet M. Davis, an associate professor of American studies who is writing a book on the growth of the animal welfare movement in the United States, informed our approach to the American works in the exhibition. She assigned students in her Signature Course to research and write about these works.
Other faculty (including Edward Chambers, art history; Philippa Levine, history; and Amon Burton, law) kindly recorded their thoughts about particular works of art for our audio guide.Sandy Skoglund. “Radioactive Cats,” 1980. Cibachrome print, 29 11/16 x 37 3/16 in. Radioactive Cats © 1980 Sandy Skoglund. John Sargent Noble. “Otter Hunting (“On the Scent”),” 1881. Oil on Canvas, 41 x 60 in. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Funded by “One Great Night in November, 2006.” While You’re There
Check out the Blanton’s new WorkLAB Satellites – art-making stations that double as contemporary art installation (read about them in the Austin American-Statesman).
Searing heat and suffocating humidity levels are upon us here in the Southern states. In Texas, residents know that summers are brutal, but while we may be proud of our ability to withstand such extreme conditions, that cold blast of air conditioning when we walk indoors is a welcome respite from the heat outside. In fact, prolonged exposure to temperatures as low as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, when combined with high humidity levels, can put even the healthiest individuals in extreme danger. Despite knowing of these dangers, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has declined to provide air conditioners in most inmate housing areas, or even to set maximum temperature standards in these areas. This needs to change.
Every summer, the TDCJ subjects its prisoners to deadly temperature and humidity levels, and violates prisoners’ human and constitutional rights and their rights to health, life and dignity. Some note that many law abiding Texans do not have air conditioning in their homes. However, these individuals have the freedom and capability to escape deadly summer heat by entering air-conditioned buildings such as libraries or movie theaters. They can take showers and drink water as many times as they want. TDCJ inmates, on the other hand, spend much of their time locked in enclosed concrete and metal structures, where temperatures often exceed 100 degrees during the summer months.
As we noted in our report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons,” at least 14 heat-related deaths have been documented at TDCJ facilities since 2007. Many of these inmates had pre-existing health conditions or were taking medications that rendered them heat-sensitive, yet the TDCJ did not properly provide cooled living areas. While the TDCJ uses ventilation and fans indoors, these measures do not protect against heat illnesses in high temperatures and humidity. To the contrary, fans can accelerate heat-related illnesses in such conditions.
The TDCJ’s failure to address the extreme heat conditions in its prisons is a violation of the law, both from a constitutional and international perspective. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and courts have repeatedly held, as recently as December in Louisiana, that failure to mitigate the South’s extreme summer temperatures is a violation of the Constitution. A federal lawsuit filed last week in Houston is the latest to seek relief for certain prisoners. Additionally, all the major human rights bodies affirm the rights of prisoners to have their dignity respected and to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment such as exposure of prisoners to temperature extremes, and many international human rights court decisions have found that extreme heat similar to situations in Texas contributes to a finding of inhuman or degrading prison conditions.
The TDCJ’s practices to combat extreme heat in its prisons are also woefully inadequate, especially compared with the practices of many other states. For example, the Arkansas Department of Corrections has provided air conditioning for its inmates since the 1970s and has set a formal maximum allowable temperature of 78 degrees for its inmate housing areas. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections requires that temperatures in that state be maintained at appropriate levels. Texas’ own Texas Commission on Jail Standards requires Texas county and privately operated municipal jails to keep temperatures in inmate housing areas below 85 degrees. Even detainees at Guantanamo Bay are provided with air-conditioned cells.
It is important to remember that, despite their incarceration, inmates retain an inviolable set of rights: the rights to dignity, health, life, and freedom from cruel, unusual, inhuman or degrading treatment. The heat in Texas prisons continues to violate all of these rights, and there is no excuse for this blatant disregard for fundamental human rights. The TDCJ should take immediate action to better protect its more than 150,000 prisoners from extreme and deadly heat. Otherwise, we will almost certainly see even more preventable, heat-related deaths this summer.
Ariel Dulitzky is the director of the Human Rights Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law. Alex Goeman and Samantha Chen are students of the Human Rights Clinic.
Researchers Reveal How Electric Fish Evolved Their Shocking Skills Independently at Six Different Times
AUSTIN, Texas — New research demonstrates that the six electric fish lineages, all of which evolved independently, used essentially the same genes and developmental and cellular pathways to make an electricity-generating organ for defense, predation, navigation and communication.
The work will be published June 27 in the journal Science. The research was led by Michael Sussman of The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harold Zakon of The University of Texas at Austin and Manoj Samanta of the Systemix Institute in Redmond, Wash.
Fish evolved an electric organ independently half a dozen times in environments ranging from the flooded forests of the Amazon to murky marine environments. Charles Darwin himself cited electric fish as prime examples of convergent evolution, where unrelated animals independently evolve similar traits to adapt to a particular environment or ecological niche.
“The surprising result of our study is that electric fish seem to use the same ‘genetic toolbox’ to build their electric organ,” despite the fact that they evolved independently, says Jason Gallant, an assistant professor at Michigan State University and co-lead author of the study.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers assembled the complete genome of the most potent electric fish, the electric eel, and the genetic sequences involved in constructing electric organs and skeletal muscles from three fish lineages that have independently evolved electric organs.
Zakon, professor of biology and neuroscience in The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences, identified some of the genes that, depending on how they are regulated, can turn simple muscle tissue into an electric organ. Zakon and Gallant also identified some of the key molecular pathways used by multiple electric fish lineages to converge on similar electric organs
"An exciting result of this work is that it pinpoints steps in various cellular pathways that are the most likely to evolve in other animals as well," says Zakon. "For example, the pathways that transmit electrical pulses in the vertebrate heart, including our own heart, derive from muscles. We find that electric organs in fish and these pathways in our hearts share some of the same regulatory genes.”
The electric organ is used by fish in murky environments to communicate with mates, navigate, stun prey and as a shocking defense, probably a reason the muddy Amazon and its tributaries teem with electric fish, including the electric eel. Not really an eel but a fish more closely related to the catfish, the electric eel produces a jolting electric field of up to 600 volts, about 100 volts per foot of fish.
All muscle cells have electrical potential. Simple contraction of a muscle will release a small amount of current. But at least 100 million years ago some fish began to amplify that potential by evolving from muscle cells another type of cell called an electrocyte, larger cells organized in sequence and capable of generating much higher voltages than those used to make muscles work.
The “in-series" alignment of the electrocytes and unique polarity of each cell allow for the “summation of voltages, much like batteries stacked in series in a flashlight,” says Sussman. An electric eel body contains many millions of such “flashlights” working together and firing their electrical discharge simultaneously
“Our study demonstrates nature’s creative powers and its parsimony, using the same genetic and developmental tools to invent an adaptive trait time and again in widely disparate environments," says Susmann, a professor of biochemistry and director of the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center, who first undertook the exploration of the electric organ almost a decade ago. "By learning how nature does this, we may be able to manipulate the process with muscle in other organisms, and in the near future, perhaps use the tools of synthetic biology to create electrocytes for generating electrical power in bionic devices within the human body or for uses we have not thought of yet.”
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the W.M. Keck Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
This was adapted from a University of Wisconsin-Madison press release.
Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas and Spanish Theater Available for Research and in Online Database
The Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas and Spanish Theater is available for research at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. Individual records for each suelta are also available in an online database, providing extensive information about the collection.
This news is also available in Spanish.
The collection includes more than 15,000 “comedias sueltas,” a generic term for plays published in small pamphlet format in Spain from the early 17th century through the early 20th century. The materials at the Ransom Center have been described as one of the major collections of Spanish dramatic literature in suelta form in North America.
Within the collection, more than 2,500 authors were identified, publishing sueltas and related works from 1603 to the late 1930s. Nearly 600 sueltas at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University were also cataloged as part of the project.
The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) funded the cataloging project “Revealing Texas Collections of Comedias Sueltas” under its “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” initiative. CLIR is a nonprofit organization that works with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning to enhance research and teaching.
The funding allowed for the creation of a database with individual records for each suelta, making extensive information about the collection available on the Ransom Center’s website.
Within the database, works are searchable by author, title, composer, place of publication, publisher, printer, keyword and date. Dimensions of the works, stamps or markings, handwritten notations, added text and the presence of musical and illustrative content are also noted.
Researchers will discover the vast chronological scope and depth of the Texas sueltas holdings. Many provide a glimpse into popular Spanish theatrical and musical entertainment genres, and some of the works overlap with the better known genre of “zarzuela,” a type of Spanish operetta.
The majority of these plays were published after the mid-19th century, originating in Madrid or Barcelona. Several hundred were published in smaller cities throughout Spain and Latin America. The collection’s more than 2,000 translations into Spanish originate predominantly from French, Italian and English, with some from German and Catalan.
Within the collection are the 1,119 sueltas described in Mildred Boyer’s bibliography “Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas” (1978), covering the second half of the 17th century until 1833.
“The collection and database will be excellent resources for scholars interested in the history of the Spanish book,” said Richard Oram, Ransom Center associate director and Hobby Foundation Librarian. “Literary and bibliographical scholars will find scores of unique but previously invisible titles, performing arts historians will discover arcane titles in all manner of theatrical genres, and students of music history will find what are effectively libretti of musical works. Cross-disciplinary projects using the sueltas can certainly be foreseen.”
Among the represented dramatists in the earlier sueltas is Pedro Calderón de la Barca, regarded as one of Spain's foremost dramatists and one of the finest playwrights of world literature. The works of Lope de Vega, Matos Fragoso, Mira de Amescua, Rojas Zorilla, Vélez de Guevara, Tirso de Molina, Leandro Fernández de Moratín and Ramón de la Cruz are also in the collection.
Sept. 29-30, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas at Austin, the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University and the Ransom Center will host the conference “The State of the Comedia Suelta: Celebrating the Texas Collections.” Held at the Ransom Center, the conference will highlight writers and/or works represented in the collection. Researchers from a variety of fields — including Hispanic literature and culture, history of the book, music, theater, bibliography, conservation and library science — are expected to attend.
High-resolution press images are available.
If you live in the South and have trouble exercising during the muggy summer months, you’re not alone. New research by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin has found that adults are less physically active — and more obese — in counties where summers are hot, especially if they are also humid or rainy.
The new study, which appears in the American Journal of Public Health, also found that adults are less active and more obese in counties where winters are especially cold, cloudy and dark.
Summer weather helps to explain why some parts of the U.S. have more obesity than others. As shown in the study’s maps, many of the counties with the people who are least active and most obese are in the Southeast, where the summers are hot and wet, while many of the most active, least obese counties are in the mountain West, where summers are cool and dry.
“Living in Texas as I do, the results really resonated for me,” said Paul von Hippel, an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs who wrote the study with doctoral student Rebecca Benson. “Around June or July here, it starts getting hard to think about going outside for a jog — or even a brisk walk — after work, which is close to the hottest part of the day. You have to come up with a strategy for staying active in the summer. Are you going to get out in the early morning, which is the coolest part of the day? Are you going to swim? Or are you going to do something indoors, like basketball or ice skating or just walking on a treadmill?”
Developers and planners who want to encourage physical activity should think about what people will and won’t do in summer heat, von Hippel said.
“Some planners are more thoughtful about that than others,” he said. “A great example of thoughtful planning is the hike-and-bike trail along Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. It’s shady, it’s next to water and it attracts thousands of walkers, runners and bikers on the hottest summer days.”
On the other hand, says von Hippel, there are parts of Austin where the city has just painted a bicycle lane stripe on a sun-blasted asphalt road. “That will not encourage summer activity,” von Hippel said, “except among the truly hard core.”.
There are other influences on obesity, such as demographics, sprawl, parks, stores and restaurants. The study controlled for all those influences, however, summer heat and rain or humidity still mattered.
“In a sense, the importance of weather is obvious, but we looked at some other ‘obvious’ things, and they didn’t pan out,” von Hippel said. “For example, going in we knew that Coloradans were exceptionally thin and active, so we expected to find that hills and mountains encourage physical activity. But it turns out that terrain matters very little for activity or obesity. In some mountainous areas, like Colorado, people are very active, but in others, such as West Virginia, they aren’t.”
For a high resolution version of the map, click here.
100 years ago, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated by a Bosnian-Serb student. One month later Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia in retaliation, launching World War I. The fighting continued for four years and killed 10 million servicemen.
While industrialized weapons like machine guns, tanks and poison gas fought on the battlefields, the war back home for civilians’ hearts, minds and money was waged with dramatic propaganda posters appealing to patriotism and emotion.
UT’s Harry Ransom Center maintains an enormous collection of these iconic posters, some of which are on display in the exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918, which runs through Aug. 3. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Even more of the posters can be viewed on the Ransom Center’s digital collection website.
“The posters document geo-political events and the social and economic transformations set in motion by the war,” writes Ransom Center graduate research assistant Elizabeth Lovero in a blog post about the posters. “The role of women, new technologies, international aid, wartime economy, and food supply all feature prominently in the collection.”Below, explore the posters and watch a Longhorn Network segment highlighting The World at War exhibit and why it was “the door-opener to all our woes in the 20th century.” William P. King. “Hold up your end!” ca. 1914–1918. Lithograph. 70 x 51.5 cm. Harry R. Hopps (1869–1937). “Destroy This Mad Brute. Enlist – U.S. Army.” 1917. Lithograph. 106 x 71 cm. Z. P. Nikolaki. “Hello! This is Liberty speaking.” 1918. Lithograph. 30.5 x 22.5 cm. Lucille Patterson. “Service. National League for Women’s Service. Fall In!” ca. 1914–1918. Lithograph. 63.5 x 44 cm. James Allen St. John (1872–1957). “The Hun. His mark. Blot it out with Liberty Bonds.” 1917. Lithograph. 76.5 x 50 cm. James Allen St. John (1872–1957). August William Hutaf (1879–1942). “Treat ‘em rough. Join the tanks.” 1917. Lithograph. 104 x 70 cm. Unknown artist. “The Hun is still watching!” 1917. Lithograph. 28 x 53.5 cm. Sem (1863–1934). “Pour la liberté du monde. Souscrivez á l’Emprunt National á la Banque Nationale de Crédit.” [For the freedom of the world. Subscribe to the National Loan at the Banque Nationale de Crédit.] 1917. Lithograph. 119 x 77 cm.
Rich students usually graduate from college. Poor students usually don’t.
That’s the theory The New York Times Magazine put forward in a recent article that highlighted my efforts at the University of Texas at Austin to improve graduation rates among economically disadvantaged students by addressing the psychological obstacles they face.
What the article did not address directly is the underlying reason why many students don’t graduate: the grading curve — the venerable measure that instructors use to separate the best students from the worst. End up too far to the left on the bell curve too often and your chances of graduating fall sharply. And historically, that has applied disproportionately to the disadvantaged.
The success of the strategies being developed at UT-Austin to help at-risk students raise another question about the curve: If more disadvantaged students are now passing, will instructors need to find other students to fail?
The idea of education as competition — in which instructors select for the best and in some cases forget the rest — often hurts students, especially freshmen, who are finding their footing. In fact, the first exams students take a month after starting college tell us what we already know: that a student with a high SAT score is less likely to fail than a student with a lower SAT score.
It is a vital mission of higher education institutions to identify the next Nobel laureate among our students. But that is only one of our responsibilities, and ranking students when they should still be on the practice field does little to identify the next laureate and, worse, potentially discards them before the game begins.
The good news is that innovations in technology and teaching are giving us better ways to educate our new students. I began to see this firsthand a few years ago and decided to stop using the grading curve I’d once embraced. These days, I walk into class on the first day of the semester and tell my 500 freshman chemistry students that every one of them can earn an A. Armed with clear expectations for my students and a more positive perspective on student success, I do everything I can to help them master the material. In the process, I have changed my course (which combines lectures and online instruction) to provide students with 24/7 access to the content they need. This gives me more time to motivate students and help them develop study skills. I also use a more flexible grading structure that incentivizes students to study harder rather than give up after that first exam.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m getting better. This spring, more than half of my students earned A’s, twice as many as a decade ago. To those who are quick to argue grade inflation, I can assure you my course material has only gotten more challenging through the years, and more importantly, far more learning is going on now than before.
As I make these improvements, I realize I have some serious competition in my effort to help students succeed. I see this new competition every time my children and their friends are playing video games, which familiarize our children with learning and adapting quickly in a low-stakes digital environment. Video games may sound antithetical to learning, but the ability to lose several times while steadily improving —without being locked out of the game — can be transferred to the classroom.
Online educators understand very well the potential of gamification — the use of game elements in everyday settings, like school and work — in breaking the grading curve. On campus, we need to understand that the traditional brick-and-mortar approach to teaching, despite all its advantages, puts physical and temporal constraints on student success.
In the coming years, I imagine that the most successful teaching models will effectively blend the very best of what technology has to offer with the value that only comes with face-to-face learning. What should disappear in the process is the grading curve. New strategies will be needed for ranking our students and guiding them toward professional schools and into the workforce, but there will also be a lot more educated talent to spread around — and Texas will be much the better for it.
David Laude is the senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management and a professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin.
One little-known benefit of the Longhorn Network to the University is the opportunity for our students to work as interns at the network. The recent success of many interns suggests we have tapped into a valuable feeder system for the ESPN family of networks.
Since the ESPN-run network launched, the experience gained at LHN has helped eight students get entry-level positions inside the ESPN family. Ten others have gone on to secure full-time positions in video production, marketing, sports journalism, and business operations at companies such as NBC, the Texas Rangers, and Yeti.
I’m proud of the Longhorn Network and all it has brought to the University, from its great sports and academic programming to its financial support for numerous faculty chairs. And we’re just getting started.
Hook ’em Horns,
As the world’s attention focuses on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, The University of Texas at Austin offers the following faculty experts working in areas related to Brazil. All of these faculty members are affiliated with the university’s Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, one of the leading centers in the world for the study of Latin America.Media and Culture
Professor and Knight Chair in Journalism, School of Journalism
Research Areas: Media and freedom of the press
Associate Professor, Department of Spanish & Portuguese
Research Areas: Film and culture
Professor of Communication, Department of Radio-Television-Film
Research Areas: Film and TV
Professor, Department of Government
Research Areas: Social policy issues in Latin America, politics of education and health reform
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Research Area: Social inequality
Professor, Department of Sociology and Population Research Center
Research Areas: Health and reproductive rights
Associate Professor, School of Architecture
Research Areas: Latin American architecture, Latin American urbanism, favelas (Brazilian slums) and sustainability
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography & the Environment
Research Areas: Land use, land use change, sociopolitics of land use
Leonidas T. Barrow Centennial Chair in Mineral Resources, Department of Geological Sciences
Research Areas: Petroleum exploration and assessment
Associate Professor, College of Education
Research Areas: Access and persistence in Brazilian higher education; affirmative action and admissions in Brazil
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and Center for African and African American Studies
Research Areas: Racial formation, black liberation and resistance in Brazil
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology and Department of African and African Diaspora Studies
Research Areas: Race, social inequality and cultural studies
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded The University of Texas at Austin a $12 million grant to fund carbon storage research aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The four-year DOE grant will fund a carbon storage research project at the university’s Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security, which is led by Larry W. Lake, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering. This grant is a renewal of the department’s five-year, $15.5 million research grant to the center in 2009.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced that UT Austin’s center is one of 32 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) across the nation that will receive a total of $100 million in funding to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build the 21st-century energy economy.
UT Austin is the only university in Texas to receive the grant.
“UT Austin is ground zero for addressing critical carbon storage challenges, including sustaining large carbon dioxide storage rates for decades, better using storage space and improving carbon containment,” said Lake, who holds the Shahid and Sharon Ullah Endowed Chair in Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the Cockrell School. “This research has the potential to create a healthier environment and economy.”
Carbon storage is a major focus for the White House, which announced earlier this month its proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, compared with the level in 2005.
The goal of UT Austin’s research is to improve geologic CO2 storage, which is a key technology for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption — especially from coal and natural gas used to generate electricity. A multidisciplinary team from the Cockrell School, UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will collaborate on the project.
UT Austin’s research project, which includes 20 faculty members from across the university, will begin this fall.
“Today, we are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation’s energy future,” Moniz said. “The funding will help fuel scientific and technological innovation.”
Since the EFRC program was established in 2009, the centers have produced 5,400 peer-reviewed scientific publications and hundreds of inventions at various stages of the patent process.
Additional information about the EFRCs can be found on the DOE website.
Analysis of the surprising defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor included the notion, as one county GOP chair told the Washington Post, that voters “hadn’t seen him”- that Cantor had lost touch with his constituency after a long tenure in office and a greater focus on inside-the-Beltway politics than on his district. Cantor would not be the first to face accusations of being “out of touch” with his electorate, and his defeat raises important questions about how elected officials at all levels should engage their constituents after elections.
It is never much trouble, after all, for a voter to get a candidate’s attention during a campaign—candidates aspire to connect personally with as many voters as possible, to act concerned about the issues that concern those voters, and to promise to work hard for them while in office. But the “radio silence” that many officeholders adopt after taking office—particularly at the state and national levels—can leave many voters feeling unrepresented.
At the local level, mayors and public administrators in cities across America have begun to realize that those affected by a City Council’s decision should be able to affect those decisions. Many of these cities have moved past a bygone era in which citizens are asked to wait around for hours to speak for a mere three minutes on a topic of great concern to them, the fate of which was likely decided much earlier. The mere opportunity to deliver a speech publicly appeals to an infinitesimally small portion of the public, and an even smaller percentage can give up the time needed to do so—or sees any value in it.
So, many cities have chosen to take innovative approaches to engaging the public in dialogue well before making any decisions about policy or budgeting. In cities like New York and Chicago, the public has been invited to “participatory budgeting” processes in which they propose and then vote on specific projects to receive city funding. In cities like Austin, citizens can attend a meeting in person or watch the same meeting on television or online and participate via phone, text message, or social media, producing an audience of several thousand that represents a broader cross-section of the public than would otherwise be possible. Cities like Philadelphia have even hosted games to get citizens to help with community planning. Youth councils have sprung up all across the country, from Oregon to Virginia, to give official voice to an often ignored pre-voting or newly-voting population.
Meanwhile, few members of Congress deviate from the “town hall” medium of engagement—positioning themselves in front of a verbal firing squad at the front of an auditorium only to face a barrage of often hostile questions that leave them defensive and silence those who want to have a serious conversation. The shortcomings of this format became clear in the lead-up to the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, in which many members of Congress came home to angry crowds, some of which they simply ignored or evaded and others of which they counter-attacked.
Given Congress’s recess schedule and its use of social media, politically advantageous opportunities exist for more robust engagement between members and their constituents—both in-person and online. Members of Congress could ask their constituents directly how to handle issues at hand. Certainly, constituents could call or write, but in the absence of any invitation to provide input or personalized response, the exercise could seem futile. Beyond that, it limits opportunities for dialogue—both between an elected official and constituents and among those same constituents—to move beyond talking points into a deeper understanding of viewpoints and an exploration of possible areas for compromise.
In its “core values,” the International Association for Public Participation argues that governments should “provide participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way,” and “communicate to participants how their input affected the decision.” In the absence of an invitation to participate after casting a ballot, or the means to do so, or a sense of why it would matter, incumbent officeholders could increasingly face a fate like House Majority Leader Cantor’s—tossed from office for being unengaged with voters.
Larry Schooler is a senior fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas.
“Surf Texas,” published by The University of Texas Press, is an evocative and nostalgic photo essay that presents an insider’s portrait of the surf culture of Texas.
The urge to ride a wave, the search for the next perfect swell, is an enduring preoccupation that draws people to coastlines around the world.
In “Surf Texas,” a new title published by The University of Texas Press, photographer and Texan surfer Kenny Braun reveals the essence of the surfers’ world from Galveston to South Padre, presenting an alternative perspective than what traditional surf photography has offered from surfing meccas like Hawaii and California.
“Perfect sets of waves are few and far between on the Texas coast, but Texas surfers know that and have made the necessary psychic adjustments,” writes novelist Stephen Harrigan in the book’s foreword. “And, in observing them, Kenny Braun has the advantage of being one of them. He knows what they’re looking for, he knows what they’ll settle for, and he knows what they dream about.”
Harrigan adds, “The relative absence of towering, perfectly formed waves may have had a liberating impact on Braun’s work, allowing him to forgo the spectacular nature shots we’ve come to expect from surf photography and introduce us to something altogether different, a somewhat journalistic black-and-white chronicle that presents surfing not as high adventure but as dogged pastime.”Below, catch a wave and browse a selection of Braun’s work from “Surf Texas.” Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com.
EVENT: State Sen. Royce West and University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers will join researchers from The University of Texas at Austin as they issue a report, prepared in collaboration with the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce, on the state of black-owned businesses in Texas. The event is open to the public.
WHEN: 10:30 a.m., Thursday, June 19.
WHERE: Texas Capitol, south steps, facing Congress Avenue
BACKGROUND: The Bureau of Business Research, part of the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, will report on the state of black-owned businesses in Texas, based on demographic data and a statewide survey of black business owners. Bruce Kellison, associate director of the bureau, and members of the research team will comment on the findings after handing over an official copy of the report to leaders from the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce (TAAACC). Speakers at the event will include:
- Charles O’Neal, Executive Consultant, TAAACC
- State Sen. Royce West
- Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin
- Bruce Kellison, co-author of the study and associate director of the Bureau of Business Research
The report will address metrics of black-owned businesses in Texas and obstacles perceived by business owners. The complete report will be available at the website of the IC2 Institute immediately after the event June 19 at http://ic2.utexas.edu/.
You will see a lot of Brazil during the next few weeks while the FIFA World Cup happens in 12 cities. And beyond soccer matches you will see both good and bad images, parties and protests. People there are asking hard questions about the legacy of mega-events such as World Cup, and we should too.
Overall, the Brazilian people are shouting out that mega-events can be quite profitable for organizers, sponsors and contractors, but extremely disruptive where they happen.
For the soccer World Cup, four new stadiums were built and eight were drastically renovated at a cost of $4 billion. In addition, several infrastructure projects to expand and improve airports, rapid transit bus routes and light rail were built, along with incentives for hotels, which increased the hosting capacity of some cities by as much as 50 percent, costing another $10 billion. For the Summer Olympics of 2016, another $15 billion will be invested.
However, there is an overall feeling in Brazil that such mega-events are a missed opportunity at best, and that the billions would be better spent on hospitals and schools. Add to that the fact that many of the transportation projects are behind schedule or have been canceled.
In the hurry to build the hosting and transportation infrastructure for the World Cup, thousands of people were displaced from their homes or saw their communities deeply transformed by the construction. In Rio de Janeiro, where the World Cup final will be played July 13, the problems are exacerbated by the preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics that are going full force. No wonder Brazilians took to the streets to protest last year and will surely do so again, using the World Cup as a publicity tool to pressure the local government.
This conversation should resonate in Texas, especially in cities such as Austin and San Antonio, which are increasingly becoming mega-event kinds of cities. Austin already hosts two large music festivals and the Circuit of the Americas race track with its many events every year. In San Antonio, the city is building more event space to attract Las Vegas–style shows and conventions. But what is the legacy of those mega-events for the entire city, beyond organizers, sponsors and contractors? In short, not much beyond the traditional talk of tourism and tax revenue.
Fifty years ago, French theorist Guy Debord warned us that our society was moving toward a dictatorship of spectacles, with little concern for individual expression and rights. Cities are now franticly competing for those events with little thought as to why exactly they should do this. We should not spend precious resources to showcase our cities to the world 20 days per year when what should matter is the well-being of our sidewalks and parks during the other 345 days.
It is easy to look at Brazil and blame governmental inefficiency for the delayed mass-transit projects, but what do we have to show in Texas? Austin doesn’t get a better Zilker Park after the Austin City Limits Music Festival. We are not planning a transit system out to the airport and the Circuit of the Americas, which we should. Think about Atlanta after the 1996 Summer Olympics or Salt Lake City after the Winter Games of 2002. Are they better off? Many people would say that the outcome is uncertain. I would argue that it has been profitable for a few and added nothing for the large majority of residents.
I applaud my fellow Brazilians for asking tough questions about the legacy of such mega-events, and I urge my fellow Texans to do the same in their cities. For decades we got used to the discourse that cities need such events as branding and investment opportunities, but we never ask who is really benefiting.
I hope that we do not wait for yet another mega-event in order to start building the long-overdue projects that would improve life for the majority. Or perhaps we should indeed wait for another mega-event to trigger strong street protests or an Occupy-type movement as we see in Brazil, waking us up to the fact that our 20th-century car-oriented city is way past its expiration date.
Fernando Luiz Lara is an associate professor of architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, where he serves also as chair of the Brazil Center at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.
Attorney General Greg Abbott continues to hold an edge over gubernatorial challenger state Sen. Wendy Davis in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, with Republicans maintaining double-digit advantages in other major races.
If the election for Texas governor were held today, Abbott would have a 12-point lead over Davis, 44 to 32 percent, with 17 percent undecided. A February poll gave Abbott an 11-point lead over Davis.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Patrick leads Democrat Leticia Van de Putte by 15 points, 41 to 26 percent, with 23 percent undecided.
The statewide poll, conducted May 30 to June 8, surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters and had a margin of error of 3.28 percentage points.
“Republican candidates continue to benefit from an advantage in party identification in the electorate,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin and a co-director of the poll. “The Democratic ticket headed by Wendy Davis will need to pull off some combination of increasing turnout among Democratic voters and persuading Republicans and independents to vote for them to overcome the Republican advantage that is evident in this poll and in previous polling in the 2014 election cycle.”
In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton holds a 13-point lead over Democrat Sam Houston, 40 to 27 percent, with 27 percent undecided. In the race for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn leads Democrat David Alameel 36 to 25 percent. In other races:
- Comptroller: Republican Glenn Hegar leads Democrat Mike Collier 32 to 25 percent.
- Land Commissioner: Republican George P. Bush leads Democrat John Cook 36 to 25 percent.
- Commissioner of Agriculture: Republican Sid Miller leads Democrat Jim Hogan 32 to 24 percent.
- Railroad Commissioner: Republican Ryan Sitton leads Democrat Steve Brown 32 to 24 percent.
“The numbers for all of the statewide races reflect the fact that Texas remains a solidly Republican state,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin. “The fact that most voters have not yet engaged with the 2014 election is about the only positive note for Democrats.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was a strong favorite among Republican voters for the 2016 Republican primary election for president. Thirty-three percent of respondents tapped Cruz, with the nearest challenger, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, received 9 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry received 7 percent. The numbers echoed the strong showing by Cruz in last Saturday’s straw poll at the Texas GOP convention.
“Whatever Beltway pundits and journalists say about Ted Cruz, he remains the dominant personality in Texas politics,” said Shaw.
Among Texas Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outpolled her nearest challenger, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 64 to 15 percent.
This is the latest in a series of online polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project and The Texas Tribune. Comprehensive poll results, information about methodology and the survey dataset will be available at the Texas Politics Project website next week after the publication of questions on education, immigration and other policy issues at the Tribune website.
AUSTIN, Texas — A $1.5 million gift from the Foundation for Biblical Studies will support graduate students and faculty research in the study of Christian origins and related fields at The University of Texas at Austin.
The gift will be used to create the Foundation for Biblical Studies Excellence Fund in the College of Liberal Arts for the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins (ISAC) and the Department of Religious Studies.
“The Foundation for Biblical Studies has a long history of supporting early Christian studies, both teaching and research, and it has been instrumental in helping establish the Department of Religious Studies and see it grow to include a graduate degree program,” said Max Miller, foundation president. “The members of the foundation board feel that this excellence fund can ensure that religious studies will to be taught and researched for a long time at The University of Texas. We feel that we have succeeded beyond our hopes, and now establishing this excellence fund is the right thing for us to do.”
The foundation’s contributions to the study of Christian origins commenced with the late William Shive, professor of chemistry at UT Austin, who worked to establish the foundation and the religious studies program.
“Through its continued support, the Foundation for Biblical Studies has helped to ensure that UT Austin will long be a center of academic excellence for the study of the biblical world, early Judaism, and Christian origins,” said L. Michael White, chair in Classics and Religious Studies and ISAC director.
He said the new gift specifically targets graduate education and research, and will thereby promote many areas of interdisciplinary study for undergraduates and graduates alike.
“It is nearly impossible to overstate how significant the financial support of the foundation has been for us in ISAC and Religious Studies,” White said. “We are extremely grateful to the members of the foundation for their commitment both to UT and to this important area of scholarship and education.”
A fundamental lesson of the government classes that I teach at The University of Texas at Austin is that we get the government we deserve. As the primary season came to a close recently, I am sorry to say that the campaigns thus far showcased our government, and the candidates who want to be a part of it, in the worst possible light. Name-calling, playing loose and fast with the facts, and the politics of personal destruction dominated the airwaves. Offering solutions to the problems we face as Texans and Americans has not even been part of the dialogue. If we as citizens continue to fall for the slick television commercials or allow candidates to distract us with half untruths about their opponents, we will have to accept that we are no better than our government.
I have one of the best jobs in the world. Every year, 500 of the best and brightest young adults sit in the seats of my classrooms. I also have one of hardest jobs in the world. Current state law requires every graduate of every public college and university in Texas to take — and pass — two government courses. In two semesters, my colleagues and I have to educate our students on the basics of our government and to instill in them the virtues of civic participation in our government. If we don’t do this, we leave the future of our government in the hands of ignorant and uninspired citizens who are therefore incapable of exercising their fundamental democratic responsibilities.
At the beginning of this latest semester, these students, who aim to be future attorneys, artists and astronauts, viewed American government with the same sort of disdain that all Americans view government these days. Veterans who have to wait too long to receive basic care, government shutdowns that plague our economy and politicians who would rather grandstand than solve problems have provided proof to my students that learning about their government is a waste of their time — and mine. But as the semester continues, I teach them that the system that James Madison and the other founders devised did not prize efficiency. Exercising the levers of government is supposed to be difficult. Passing new bills requires effort. Compromise is difficult. But without it, our Constitution and the very principles of government of, by, and for the people cannot possibly succeed.
That the primaries degenerated into mud-slinging contests is to be expected. When the candidates’ views are relatively similar, we would expect the campaigns to distinguish themselves on the personal attributes of their candidates and the shortcomings of their opposition. But now that the parties have chosen their candidates, and given the serious disagreement between those candidates, this should be the time for a serious discussion of what our future should look like.
I would like to see all of the candidates running for office in this year’s general election — especially Greg Abbott, Wendy Davis, Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte — make their campaigns worthy of my students’ efforts. Texas should lead the way for showing America what is good about politics and what is admirable about public service.
While Texas is blessed with a vibrant economy and a diverse and industrious workforce, it also has real problems that need solutions. Too many of our fellow citizens do not have access to basic health care. Our education leaders spend too much time managing budgets rather than innovating for future challenges. Our water, where it exists, is increasingly polluted. Traffic is getting worse, and the budgets to manage it are shrinking.
Rather than questioning one another’s motives and personal stories, I implore today’s and tomorrow’s candidates to remember what it is that the voters should want you to do: focus on outlining your solutions to these great problems and challenges.
We must hold our candidates to high standards, and we must force them to outline real solutions to real problems. If we do this, we very well may have a campaign worthy of my students’ time and something I can use in the classroom as a positive example rather than another negative one.
Sean Theriault is an associate professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin. He is an expert in party polarization in elections and voter retribution.
Robert Schenkkan, BA’75, and Kevin Adams, BFA ’84
Longhorns are celebrating the two alumni who won Tony Awards on Sunday.
Robert Schenkkan won for Best Play of the Year for “All the Way,” his play about LBJ starring Bryan Cranston. Schenkkan, who lives in Seattle, has been commissioned to write a sequel, which will be “The Great Society.” In 1992, Robert won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work “The Kentucky Cycle.” Robert was a Plan II student who graduated with a B.A. in drama in 1975.
Kevin Adams, B.F.A. ’84, won for Best Lighting Design for a Musical for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” This is Kevin’s fourth Tony Award.
The Longhorn Family is proud of these two Texas Exes who have reached the pinnacle of their profession.
What starts here changes the world.