The University of Texas-Austin continued its march toward a new normal on Friday, as university President Gregory Fenves marked his last day of leadership after five years in office—the final two months of it dominated by sweeping pandemic-era changes on campus.
As he heads to Atlanta to lead Emory University, Fenves passes the torch on Monday to Interim President Jay Hartzell, dean of the McCombs School of Business, who takes the helm just three months before classes start on Aug. 26.
Greg Fenves(Marsha Miller/University of Texas)
Hartzell faces a term marked by new protocols aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff on campus. University officials said that the transition, even in such uncertain times, is expected to be smooth.
"Even though this is a challenging time for higher education nationally, UT-Austin has prepared well for the transition in leadership to President ad interim Hartzell," Kevin P. Eltife, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, told Austonia on Thursday, saying he has "full support" of the university leadership.
Depending on his own plans and how long it takes university officials to name a permanent replacement, Hartzell will almost certainly also be called upon to play the roles of politician and advocate in the Texas Capitol, just two miles away, when UT faces budget cuts during the Legislature next year.
But officials say Hartzell's immediate mission is to ensure the campus is ready for its approximately 40,000 students to return to a safe, productive learning environment that is as valuable as it was before the pandemic caused so many changes.
Jay Hartzell(University of Texas)
"Our number-one goal at this time is to ensure that UT institutions are prepared to educate students, serve patients and conduct critical research in environments safe for students, faculty and staff," UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken told Austonia on Thursday. "[Hartzell] has very successfully led one of the largest colleges on campus, and for the last couple of months, he has been involved in all major decisions as the institution navigates the challenges of the pandemic and budget reductions. We need this kind of experienced leadership in the months ahead."
Neither Fenves nor Hartzell were available to comment this week.
The news that Fenves was leaving came less than two weeks after the university officially closed to contain the spread of coronavirus. It capped a term marked by success in financial aid and graduation rates, and no headline-grabbing scandals or damaging public infighting.
His announcement was a surprise to many because Fenves' candidacy at Emory, whose president vacated the role late last year, was not made public until both universities made official announcements on April 7.
It was not long after Maurie McInnis, then the provost, said she would leave at the end of the semester to become president of Stony Brook University.
Even Hartzell expressed surprise at his new role, joking last month that he was hurrying to organize his office so the new dean of McCombs, Lillian Mills, could easily take over when he moves to the tower leadership offices.
Fenves wasn't specific about his reasons for the move, but given the nature of the two vastly different jobs, Fenves likely heads to higher pay, better decision-making control, more privacy, less meddling by politicians and an overall less-public role at the prominent private research university in Georgia.
Former UT Chancellor Mark Yudof describes the post as "a great job," but one that is highly accountable to taxpayers, lawmakers, and the media in several ways—particularly as it comes to campus policies and budgeting.
Testifying before the state Legislature and fighting for funding, for example, is a vital part of the role—one Yudof relished, as a lawyer who spent his career at public institutions. By contrast, the focus of private school leadership tends to more "inward" on education and internal campus issues, he said.
"It's very different," said Yudof, who served as president of the University of California after UT. "I've never held a high post in a private school, but I did for a time think about whether I should make the move."
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Austin and the Cybertruck: Tesla eyes Texas, home of the pickup, for Elon Musk's latest unique creation
Cybertruck<p>The vehicle features "a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton" made of stainless steel, "vault-like storage" and an "ability to pull near infinite mass," according to the company's website.<br></p><p>Now available for preorder, production of the Cybertruck is expected to begin in late 2022. The price ranges from $39,900 to $69,900, depending on the motor type, with a self-driving add-on available for $8,000.</p><p>When Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Cybertruck on Nov. 21 at an event in Los Angeles, it prompted much feedback on its design.</p>
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Austin's COVID-19 fatality drops as treatment improves, testing expands, cases among young people rise
The mortality rate for COVID-19 patients—defined as reported deaths per confirmed cases—in Austin has dropped from 3.6% at the end of April to 1.8% on June 22, a decrease that the city attributes both to better treatments and to a rising number of cases among young people, who are more likely to recover.
Travis County COVID-19 mortality by age<div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2950699" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2950699/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div><p>Austin Public Health began offering its free service to residents regardless of symptoms on June 5, following mass protests against police brutality, and many residents have taken advantage of the opportunity.</p><p>Between June 15-21, more than 3,000 people were tested by APH, up from 2,400 the week prior.</p><p>More testing means the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is closer to the actual number—and the death toll is proportionally smaller.</p><p>Dr. DeVry Anderson, chief medical officer of St. David's South Austin Medical Center, said the falling mortality rate is also due to <a href="https://austonia.com/Coronavirus/austin-coronavirus-hospitals/higher-exposure-for-health-care-workers" target="_self"><u>better treatment options</u></a> for COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized.</p><p><span></span>These treatments include:</p><ul><li>convalescent plasma therapy</li><li>the antiviral drug remdesivir</li><li>improved ventilator management</li></ul><p>Another development is that doctors are more familiar with how to treat COVID-19 patients than they were in early March.</p><p>"Having physicians and staff that have gotten, not comfortable, but now understand how to treat and care for these patients, I think it's seamless in the way we transition those [patients] to higher levels of care," Dr. Anderson said.</p>
Travis County COVID-19 mortality by race<div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2950719" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2950719/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div><p>Deaths also vary by race and ethnicity, with a larger proportion of Black and Hispanic residents who contract COVID-19 dying from it.</p>
Travis County COVID-19 mortality by ethnicity<div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2950729" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2950729/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div>
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Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a "Stay Home, Mask, and Otherwise Be Safe" order, effective from noon today until Aug. 15, requiring all individuals to wear masks and social distance. The order prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
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The surge in Austin's COVID-19 cases is overwhelming the public health system trying to fight community spread.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday requiring all Texans to wear masks "over the nose and mouth" in public spaces. It applies to counties with at least 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases and reverses the governor's previous policies.
Exceptions<p>The governor's order provides some exceptions to the mask mandate, including:</p><ul><li>People who are under 10 years old or have a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask.</li><li>While eating, exercising outside, swimming, voting or driving alone or with a member of the same household.</li></ul><div>See a full list of the exceptions <a href="https://open.texas.gov/uploads/files/organization/opentexas/EO-GA-29-use-of-face-coverings-during-COVID-19-IMAGE-07-02-2020.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>.</div>
A reversal<p>This order represents a reversal for Abbott, who previously refused local jurisdictions the right to mandate masks and limit gatherings despite repeated pleas that he do so.</p><p>Earlier this week, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe <a href="https://austonia.com/Coronavirus/austin-surge-" target="_self">sent Abbott a letter</a> asking the state to enforce mandatory masking, prohibit social gatherings of more than 10 people, roll back business occupancy and allow local officials to issue stay-home orders as needed.</p><p>"In summary, the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure and mitigate the spread of disease," he wrote.</p><p>Austin Mayor Steve Adler, along with the mayors of eight other large Texas cities, also sent Abbott a letter, <a href="https://austonia.com/Coronavirus/texas-face-masks" target="_self">on June 16</a>, asking for the authority to impose a mask requirement.</p><p>The next day, Abbott allowed local jurisdictions to require businesses to mandate masks among employees and customers.</p><p><em>This story is developing and has been updated.</em></p>
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