Report: UT, A&M stack up to peers

Schools need to bol­ster grad rate, en­roll­ment of African-amer­i­cans. Christ­mas Bureau must dis­able web­site, stop all busi­ness deal­ings.

Austin American-Statesman - - B METRO & STATE - By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz rhau­r­witz@states­man.com Univer­si­ties UT report: Re­duce stu­dent debt with fo­cus on grad­u­a­tion, B B Bytony Plo­het­ski tplo­het­ski@states­man.com PHO­TOS BY RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN Char­ity B states­man.com.

Un­der­grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Texas and Texas A&M Univer­sity gen­er­ally com­pares fa­vor­ably with that at other pub­lic re­search univer­si­ties, but the state’s two flag­ships need to im­prove their four-year grad­u­a­tion rates and do a bet­ter job of re­cruit­ing and grad­u­at­ing African-Amer­i­can stu­dents.

Those con­clu­sions emerge from a 104-page study com­mis­sioned by the Texas Coali­tion for Ex­cel­lence in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, a group of civic, busi­ness, phil­an­thropic and higher ed­u­ca­tion lead­ers.

The coali­tion formed last year to de­fend UT and A&M against crit­ics, in­clud­ing some with close ties to Gov. Rick Perry, who con­tend that good teach­ing is un­der­em­pha­sized, that too many fac­ulty mem­bers are un­pro­duc­tive and that much univer­sity-based re­search lacks value.

The tim­ing of the report — it is be­ing widely re­leased Thurs­day — is no co­in­ci­dence.

The Texas Leg­is­la­ture con­venes next month for its ev­eryother-year reg­u­lar ses­sion, and higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, tuition rates, con­struc­tion projects, grad­u­a­tion rates and other mat­ters will all be de­bated. The coali­tion hopes that the report will help law­mak­ers un­der­stand the im­por­tant role of the state’s two pub­lic flag­ships, said Jenifer Sarver, a spokes­woman for the group.

A Travis County judge Wed­nes­day or­dered a lo­cal non­profit that has helped pro­vide Christ­mas gifts to needy fam­i­lies and is the tar­get of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion to im­me­di­ately close.

Pro­bate Judge Guy Her­man, act­ing on a law­suit filed by the Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice, said in a rul­ing that the Christ­mas Bureau of Austin and Travis County must dis­able its web­site and PayPal ac­count and stop any other busi­ness deal­ings.

“Be­cause we had se­ri­ous con­cerns about this or­ga­ni­za­tion and its lead­er­ship, we moved quickly to cut off ac­cess to money that was do­nated by well-in­ten­tioned Tex­ans,” said Jerry Strick­land, spokesman for Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Ab­bott.

The law­suit against the or­ga­ni­za­tion, filed Wed­nes­day, names Christ­mas Bureau Pres­i­dent Shon Washington and sev­eral former of­fi­cials of the non­profit. They are ac­cused of il­le­gally so­lic­it­ing char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions and mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing those funds.

The move comes af­ter Austin po­lice of­fi­cials last week an­nounced a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Christ­mas Bureau, which has helped the Po­lice De­part­ment’s Op­er­a­tion Blue Santa pro­gram col­lect toys for 25 years.

“In­ves­ti­ga­tors dis­cov­ered that the bank ac­counts of the See more pho­tos from Op­er­a­tion Blue Santa with this story at

SChrist­mas Bureau have been de­pleted and that the group has no re­main­ing funds to sup­port its char­i­ta­ble mis­sion,” the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice said in a state­ment.

Court doc­u­ments also in­di­cated that the Christ­mas Bureau in Austin is not open in the mid­dle of the hol­i­day sea­son and that its doors on Burleson Road in South Austin are locked, the state­ment said.

Un­der a long-stand­ing part­ner­ship with the Christ­mas Bureau, Blue Santa pro­vided gifts to fam­i­lies with two or more chil­dren, while the bureau served smaller fam­i­lies, fam­i­lies with sin­gle par­ents and el­derly peo­ple.

The Christ­mas Bureau had been re­spon­si­ble for print­ing all ap­pli­ca­tions for the Blue Santa pro­gram, and of­fi­cials said they be­came sus­pi­cious

The Blue Santa pro­gram hopes to give gifts to 15,000 needy chil­dren on Dec. 15.

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