Our readers talk back.
From the ACC President
Your article of March 8, 2002 on Austin Community College (ACC) focused on the management of the college. As president of ACC, I would like to respond. First, it is important to recognize that any large organization will have its challenges, but the key question is whether an organization is able to address the challenges it faces. Overall, I believe that ACC has addressed its challenges.
Upon my arrival at ACC in spring of 1997, I found ACC organized in a very dysfunctional manner in which each of its separate campuses was a rival for resources and programs. Leadership at the campus and college-wide level were in constant conflict. Courses were scheduled in competition with each other and even attempts to develop entire new programs were done through rivalry.
Because of this lack of communication, real quality differences existed between some of our university transfer courses, especially in the sciences, and the University of Texas had real concerns over the consistency of what was taught in a course by the same name. There also was inconsistency in the evaluation of faculty, both full-time and part-time who taught these classes. In some cases, evaluation was quite good, while in other cases, the evaluation system was virtually nonexistent. There was also inconsistency on who was hired to teach the many course sections taught by adjuncts. There was no consistent system to hire adjuncts and the potential for abusive employment practices existed. Hiring and continued employment of adjuncts was entirely dependent on the personal relationship an adjunct developed with a campus discipline leader. there were many cases where an adjunct could be easily hired at one campus and not able to be hired at another campus. In addition, compensation for these adjuncts was extremely low.
The situation at ACC has now been entirely changed through the implementation of what has been called the "One-College" concept. We now have, for example, a single Mathematics Department for all the campuses. All program planning, faculty evaluation, and adjunct faculty hiring are done through a consistent set of college-wide standards. The questions regarding transfer of course credit with the University of Texas have been eliminated. All workforce Education programs are now under a single leader for the entire college. We have expanded many key workforce programs, including Nursing and Child Development. We have premier programs in high tech, including Semiconductor, and now offer many specialized IT certificates.
Our system of adjunct hiring is now done under consistent standards and the appointment of adjuncts to teach classes is under a fair, computer-enabled system developed in close cooperation with the Adjunct Faculty Association. Moreover, adjuncts have received significant raises during the last several years putting them above the situation at other community colleges. In fact, long-term serving adjuncts now receive special, multiple semester term appointments. The abusive hiring practices regarding adjuncts have been replaced with a fair, consistent, and dignified system.
Yes, we have had our growing pains. Two years ago we installed a new computer information system and the first two payrolls, several years ago, had errors. But, we immediately addressed the issue and now have a well-functioning computer system and accurate payrolls. We overcame that challenge.
Yes, we have tried to do too much, and ran more class sections than we had resources to underwrite. Clearly, we could not continue this practice, although I think a case could be made that during last year's recession, the college needed to run more sections that normal for the community.
We have now addressed the financial challenge at ACC. We will return to a balanced budget during this fiscal year. Yes, we needed to exercise restraint. However, despite all of our actions we were able to continue to run more classes for ACC students than ever before. Yes, that's right, we are running more classes this year and would propose more classes, next year, than we offered and ran in 2000.
We will need to tighten our belts next year to get there, but I think we will get there. I have formed a college-wide committee composed of faculty, staff, and administrators to identify cost-savings that will allow us to move forward. I also welcome community input on this matter.
I have great confidence in ACC, and pledge that the institution will continue to meet the needs of this community within the confines of the resources we have. Yes, we will need to ask the voters to invest more in ACC. I think the community can rest assured that we will carefully manage whatever resources we receive and expand access to higher education for our area. We will overcome the challenges we face.
Richard W. Fonté
President, Austin Community College
Let the People Support Oversight
I don't understand why the City Council won't let citizens vote on police oversight. Jackie Goodman herself first proposed a charter amendment for an independent Police Monitor last year. Then she asked the City Charter Review Commission to consider it. Now she's postponed the vote, citing "significant legal problems," although the city attorney told her there was "no legal impediment" to letting voters consider the amendment.
Why is Jackie balking at her own proposal? Is she intimidated by the police union's bellicose posturing and misleading radio attack ads? What else could it be?
The City Council needs to stand up to police union bullying and support making police oversight open, independent, and permanent.
Oversight an Issue
Normally, police oversight wouldn't be considered part of "police working conditions" ["Austin@Large," March 15]. In Austin's literally unique case, the only reason oversight was done through meet and confer was because Mike Sheffield on the POFG agreed to opening some misconduct records, which required changing the civil service code. Once they pulled their bait and switch, all records were still closed and all incentive, from an accountability advocate's perspective, to do the deal under the auspices of meet and confer vanished. Police oversight in Houston, Dallas, NYC, San Jose (where our auditor is modeled from), and elsewhere do not consider police oversight a working conditions issue to be negotiated. Given that the Austin union leadership negotiated the POFG in bad faith then torpedoed it in a secret deal with the city manager, one can see why. I'm very sorry if you have the impression I think it's okay to violate somebody's labor rights if they're a cop, but not if they're in AFSCME, etc. That's false. I do think, as have Texas jurists interpreting the open records act, that police should be extra accountable because they carry guns and clubs and are allowed under certain circumstances to use violence in the course of their job. But instead, because of various civil service loopholes there is virtually no accountability. In Austin, one-paragraph summaries are available on about one-third of sustained complaints. By comparison, complete records of all complaints and disciplinary outcomes are available (with personal privacy, Fifth Amendment and other restrictions) from files about other Austin municipal employees, not to mention about officers at 90%-plus of Texas law enforcement agencies starting with the Travis County Sheriff. When Austin voted to "opt in" to civil service, the closed-records provisions didn't exist; they were added by C.L.E.A.T. at the Legislature in 1987. Austin voters never got the opportunity to approve that change. All the records amendment does is put APD officers on par with all other city of Austin employees and police officers at most agencies in the state, most of whom don't routinely complain that their rights are being violated. Finally, I wish you'd paid a bit more attention to the Independent Monitor amendment. The records amendment is drawing all the fire, but the other is equally or actually more important, and even city legal has said there's "no legal impediment" to approving it. Politically, that's where all the action is. I know APA wants to attach both amendments at the hips and hope shooting down one gets the other, but there's no reason the Council couldn't "split the baby" -- i.e., kill the records deal and let voters decide about an independent monitor.
'Bigoted and Tasteless'
I read your paper for its excellent arts coverage, but the recent column on "Who was the worst Catholic saint?" ["Straight Dope," March 15] was just plain bigoted and tasteless.
Anti-Catholicism is perhaps the last acceptable prejudice in America, and by running such offensive pieces, the Chronicle shows just how much it believes in "tolerance." Mocking the very notion of sainthood spits in the face of the millions of Catholics who have yet to convert to your brand of secular nihilism.
Sure, some of the Catholic saints might have been mythical, but the meaning and power is in the sense of story. (Any artist understands that.) Were the ancient Greeks concerned with rational explanations for the world they knew? Their mythology is what has mainly survived to this day.
Given the choice between a world where saints are at least possible is a much more beautiful option than your author's cynical alternative.
Finally, your columnist recommending John Cornwell's book Hitler's Pope as a balanced look at World War II and the Holocaust is irresponsible at best. The majority of Cornwell's critics aren't Catholic, but are fellow World War II historians who don't even like Pius XII. Despite the book's title, Cornwell (nor anybody else for that matter) can even document a single meeting between Hitler and Pope Pius XII.
It's a shame avenues like your paper become purveyors for division among different groups in society. Papal encyclicals dating back to the Industrial Revolution are critical of the savage capitalism your columnists often complain about. Maybe if your writers took the time to expose themselves to these aspects of Catholicism rather than put their energy into revisionist history blaming Popes for the holocaust and everything else, we could work together for a brighter future.
Morales the Man
Establishment pols really, really hate Victor Morales, precisely because he is a teacher!, i.e., because he never "paid dues" in the political ranks. But I don't see why The Austin Chronicle should side with them ["Endorsements," Feb. 22]. I thought y'all were journalists (or media promoters, at the very least), and not politicians, or are y'all, each and every one of you, hoping to follow some day in Slusher's footsteps?
When y'all issue your runoff endorsements I'd really like to hear more about where Victor and Ron stand on issues ... not just blather about how one's more "experienced" than the other.
David L. Humphreys
Save the Night Sky
Sitting out on my Central Austin back deck last night, watching the lovely stars I can fortunately see above, and the still-active traffic of MoPac whizzing by in the soft yellow glow of the highway lights, I realized something really alarming. The stars could be drowned out by light, and my yard could be lit up like a parking lot in the not so distant future.
The MoPac "improvements" and possible "expansion" could mean something other than just the added noise and pollution -- it could mean the end to our ability to see nature at night. I may no longer be able to see the first lights of Orion's belt, or the big owl who sometimes perches in the old tree out back. Even the wonderful glow of the rising moon could be reduced to something much less spectacular.
I urge anyone along the entire MoPac corridor to consider the change of our night sky should Campo and TxDOT make the choice to "improve" what was promised to us many years ago to be a "boulevard" through Central Austin.
I don't have concrete proof that lighting "improvements" are in order, but I have a pretty good hunch that this is in the works. I've been in enough high-growth cities to watch the stars disappear under the guise of "safety" to motorists.
We may not be able to stop all improvements, but we can band together to at least try -- and if nothing else, stop the unnecessary ruin of our night sky.
Please write to CAMPO, write to the City Council, write to TXDOT and tell your neighbors to write as well. Take the time to do it now, don't assume someone like me will stop it alone because it's not possible to do it alone.
Energy Reform Needed
I would like to pose a challenge to Americans. I would like us to become world leaders in the energy field; not the traditional energy that we have come to know and depend upon, but renewable energy. We have the technology. I've seen it in West Texas: row upon row of wind turbines, generating electricity from a renewable energy source. I've seen it again in California, driving into Marin County -- sleek, beautiful wings moving gracefully with our earth's natural power.
We need to displace petroleum with renewable fuels, through the use of ethanol and biodiesel. We are a nation of great wealth in farmland and have the potential to grow our own fuel. We have always had the power and the potential. What we need is the will to move into tomorrow, and for there to still be a tomorrow. We don't need to look to the Alaskan wilderness to remain independent, but only to our own farmlands. Now more than ever, independence from foreign oil and homegrown technology should appeal to us.
The Bush Administration believes that we are unconcerned about our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and dirty energy sources. I do not believe this. I challenge you to prove this. I challenge Senators Hutchinson and Gramm to support Senator Daschle's energy plan S.1766 this week. The Energy Policy Act of 2002 will ban MTBE and replace the oxygen requirement with a national renewable fuels standard requiring a 40-mile per gallon standard for both cars and light trucks. If Toyota and Honda have found a way to meet this goal, certainly American auto makers can meet the challenge.
I have spent the last 20 years working in the chemical industry, and I certainly would not "bite the hand that feed me," but I feel all of our industries -- including petrochemicals -- will ultimately benefit from a stronger, more secure energy plan.
Austin's Big Heart
I had a wonderful, totally "Austin" experience today. A bunch of really nice people got together to help a friend in need, and it gave me such a warm feeling I had to share it.
Sweet little Aimee works at the Continental Club. She broke her leg badly on February 6, and faces time out of work and a bunch of unexpected medical expenses. So a few friends there decided that maybe a little benefit was in order, and some very cool musicians like Toni Price, Chaparral (with little Victor -- a 9-year-old drumming sensation!), the Damnations, James McMurtry, and the Weary Boys agreed to play on Sunday for nothing. And all the money collected at the door, plus the big "Aimee Fund" tip jars on the bar went directly to Aimee to help. A lot of good Austin music fans, friends of Aimee and friends of the Continental Club came down and plunked down some cash to help.
And some great restaurants like Chuy's, Shady Grove, Kenichi, Vespaio, El Sol y la Luna, Güeros, and others donated food gift certificates to feed the nice bands, who were playing gratis, after all.
And me? I got to drink some beer, listen to some great live music, help out a friend, and be reminded that Austin still blows away any place I have ever lived. Wow. I feel so good, and so happy to live here, where people help people who need a hand.
I'm sure if you visit the Continental Club you can still drop some much-needed cash in the jar for Aimee. Or you can just say thanks to the gang there for helping to make Austin what it is -- a small town with a big heart and the best soundtrack life has to offer.
Austin's Many-Colored Screens
Can we just go ahead and stop calling Austin the "Live Music Capital" and commit to the more accurate "Righteous Film Capital of the World"? You got your Arbor, your Dobie, your Alamo, SXSW, Cinematexas, Austin Film Society, Cinemaker Co-op, the bygone Funhouse Cinema, and now the Blue Screen series at the Blue Theater. (And I'm sure there are 10 more I've forgotten.)
Anyway, just wanted to send along thanks to y'all for the ongoing effort to keep us all informed and excited about this stuff, and especially to Marc Savlov for the article kicking off the Blue Screen series a couple issues ago. Let me also send word back from the front that the series continues to freak and jam. Last night: a bunch of films by Matt McCormick and Johnne Eschelman who came down from Portland to show them in person -- and they were brain-zippers every one. (Unfortunately, very few folks showed up to check them out, so please keep after the shirkers if you can. It's for their own damned good.)
Anyway, keep up the good work, and mas, mas, mas!
The Name Fame Game
Ethan, Uma. Uma, Ethan! Ethan, Louis. Louis, Ethan. Uma, Louis. Louis, Uma.
Margaret! Margaret, Ethan. Ethan, Margaret. Uma, Margaret, Louis, Ethan.
Stephen. Stephen Ethan Uma Margaret Louis. Russell, Ethan, Uma, Margaret,
Louis, Stephen. Stephen, Russell. Russell, Stephen, Margaret, Sissy! Sissy, Margaret, Stephen, Louis, Uma, Ethan, Russell.
P.S. Uma, Oprah. Oprah, Uma
America's Evil Empire
Are the aggressive policies of the United States in supporting every heinous evil under the sun around the world leading to another world war and possibly the destruction of humanity? With the United States and Russia each possessing the potential to destroy humanity many times over, this isn't a remote reality. So wake up, you slumbering giant, the American people, before we are all slumbering in our graves.
That grandmother of eleven angels,
Mary Margaret Imhoff
Dear Editor Black,
I am perusing this week's Chronicle, the online, and not coincidentally, the paperless version, which I have to do on Friday, because while I can wipe my ass with this week's edition on Thursday, I cannot see it on my computer until Friday. Please note that I said, "can wipe my ass" because I have never nor do I plan to ever wipe my ass with the Chronicle, but if I am out of toilet paper on Thursday, I have a solution at several locations in my neighborhood. Back to my searching for a movie to see. You see, I noticed that the movie section is quite annoyingly called the "Screens" section. I must respectfully request that you stop calling the movie section "Screens." It implies that there is more than movies going on in the "Screens" section. Will you be listing the filmstrips being viewed in our public school classrooms? Is there a slide show of Aunt Mabelle's daughter's wedding that I can catch down at the Alamo? No and no. The only listings in "Screens" are movies. So please, and I am asking nicely, call the movie section "Movies."
To further my argument, as I was looking for your e-mail address I noticed that on the contact page Marjorie Baumgarten is listed as the Film editor. Since there is no film section, only a "Screens" section, what does Ms. Baumgarten do? Did you know that you are paying an editor for a section that does not exist? I am very happy that I can be of service. I also noticed that the "Screens" section has no editor. Maybe Ms. Baumgarten will not mind a change of duties. It seems only fair since she has been pulling down a salary while she is in charge of a section of the Chronicle that does not exist. I hope this can all get straightened out soon. I am thinking that easiest thing for you to do is merely change Ms. Baumgarten's job title to "Screens" editor. Unless she will be reviewing "Paul Revere: Man of Action, Silversmith to the Stars," the latest filmstrip over at Brentwood Elementary School, please change the masthead. I reference my above comments in that regard.
[Ed note: The Screens section contains film, television, and interactive entertainment features and columns. Film reviews, edited by Marjorie Baumgarten, are in a different section in the back of the paper.]
SWT Deserves Better
Had the powers-that-be been as timid in 1918, 1923, 1959, and 1969 (when other name changes occurred), the university in San Marcos would still be called by its original name, Southwest Texas Normal School. Name changes have become almost a tradition as it evolved from a minor teachers' college into a major university. When Lyndon Johson succeeded John Kennedy as president, snobs snickered at the contrast between presidential alma maters Harvard and Southwest Texas State Teacher's College. Why not something bolder in the 21st century? Southwest Texas deserves a less provincial moniker. Besides, is San Marcos really in Southwest Texas?
Thanks for your consideration.
Peter Flagg Maxson
Gramm Against Finance Reform
Campaign finance reform looks as if it is finally going to happen, but a recent New York Times article hints that there is one lone Republican who is bent on a filibuster: our very own Phil Gramm.
The bills passed by both House and Senate would ban soft money, i.e., the huge unlimited contributions which large corporations, the wealthy, and unions give to the parties. Anyone who thinks a congress person will remain totally objective when considering legislation pertaining to these special interests is living in a fantasy world.
What Mr. Gramm and other opponents are calling "free speech" is nothing more than the sale of democracy to the highest bidder. If a corporation wants to express an opinion about public policy, let them write a letter to the editor, like the rest of us.
Requiem for Huffstickler
(On attending Albert Huffstickler's Memorial Service at the Hyde Park Theatre, March 4):
Here was a man.
All the faces spoke smiles at once, all the chairs were warmed
those who couldn't get in huddled outside, exchanging poems--
Here was a man
unafraid to go searching in and around the tricky spots
we normally leave alone
an asker of questions many of us wouldn't even realize were questions,
but upon hearing the answers, think, why didn't I think of that?
I didn't know him, he wouldn't know my name,
but he knew who I am, I can read it in his refrain
"remember the Goddess when she passes ..."
I don't know the exact words but his meaning for me was clear--
you ARE your neighbor
your person at the bus stop
your fellow traveller
not afraid, aware
Beware of yourself becoming numb to another's need
beware of the rut you call yourself
beware of normalcy creeping in like kudzu and naming itself you
beware of not doing what you think you might want to
beware of yourself
and the actions you do
Here was a man, aware of you.
For the last time your writers have failed to find some obvious truth in a story. I am speaking, of course, about the somewhat touching story regarding St. Michael's Academy ["St. Michael's Passion," Dec. 14, 2001]. As a graduate from this now "hotly debated" Catholic school, I regret to inform the public of the many misconceptions made in this article. In short, the assumption is that this institution is falling apart is far from the truth. If only the research was more extensive, the obvious truth would have been revealed: Former head of school, Jack Kennedy, was, in fact, not human.
One time a group of us were all sneaking out of class, you know, like kids do, to play our daily game of kick the can against the wall, and that's when we saw it: Jack Kennedy undressing his skin only to reveal his true robotic exterior. The five of us guys will never forget that day and that is why we all made a pact never to say a word about it, unless, of course, people were ready for the truth. After reading this article, I knew just what I had to do, so I am now proclaiming this tragedy to be the result of our society's growing dependency upon robots.
When robots are running schools, negative things will happen. When Kennedy would pass through the halls he would demand that we "smiled like chrome Christmas ornaments," and every Wednesday and Friday he ordered the school to attend what he called, "town meetings" where we were supposed to sing "like household applications." For he loved the simple droning of electric current, especially coming from the mouths of 400 confused students. I can recall many instances where students witnessed Kennedy breaking down in the highways, falling to his knees and grabbing bystanders desperately, asking them what it's like to feel human emotion and saying his only wish in life was "to cry like a real human."
How did St. Michael's fall apart? By hiring an incompetent robot whose programming was obviously out of whack. Will this school or the students and faculty members who encountered this fearless robot ever be the same again? Yes, because robots are like terrorism and terrorism is bad, very bad, like robots.
Arthur Andersen a Scapegoat
Clearly, child molestation is a crime, and there are an extraordinary number of priests, former priests and ministers who are charged, convicted and/or serving time for molesting adolescents from their congregations. I am appalled that the same civil authorities who have charged and prosecuted these clergy for their crimes are not also prosecuting those church officials who failed to report those crimes, or worse, who ensured there would be other victims by reassigning the criminal clergy. Under criminal law, these church officials should be prosecuted for abetting, accessory and/or obstruction of justice for the actions they took in protecting criminal clergy from prosecution and enabling them to create additional victims.
Where is justice?
At the other extreme, our U.S. Justice Department effectively killed the accounting firm Arthur Andersen by indicting the firm, and in doing so effectively destroyed the company, and along with it the jobs of thousand of innocent workers. Moreover, negotiations to sell the firm all but ended on Wednesday, and clients have been withdrawing their business, placing Andersen in poor position to generate profits to pay any judgments awarded to Enron investors.
Why not indict those employees directly responsible for their criminal actions, rather than throw out the baby with the bath water? The answer in part lies in the need for a quick scapegoat, and the Justice Department is taking a political shortcut rather than the more arduous route of investigating and prosecuting those at Arthur Andersen who actually committed crimes. Authorities throughout government are trying to catch up to a situation brought on in part by regulatory negligence, and in doing so are killing the jobs of innocent workers with shotguns because it is easier, rather than with rifle shots to target only the criminals which requires more skill and effort. Where is justice?
So on one hand, authorities fail to prosecute those who abet and/or enable criminals, while the U.S. Justice Department takes the easy way out and destroys the lives of thousands of innocent workers.
Where is the justice in these matters?
Charles O'Dell, Ph.D.