Student affairs posts Cactus Cafe/KUT FAQ

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Just posted on the UT office for Student Affairs “Cactus Comments” blog:


Keep the Cactus crew together by transferring Griff Luneberg to KUT as the Cactus KUT manager. Then rehire Susan and Chris for the Bar and the student employees. Not only is it great publicity and UT/Austin community goodwill, it's no brainier and will help with fund-raising. This team is a recipe for KUT/Cactus success and then KUT can say that they truly saved the Cactus.

Score Another One for the Emperor Eel!

Despite the firestorm Andy Smith ignited with his proposal to shut down the Cactus Café—resulting in renewed focus on both Mr. Smith’s long-term chicanery ramming through his decisions over vehement student objections and Mr. Smith’s greed in carving himself a generous hunk of a raise from a merit pool sufficient to provide everyone in the Texas Union a 2% raise—it appears that our esteemed University Unions Executive Director has once again managed to slip away unscathed.

Mr. Smith is the problem. Mr. Smith needs to go. But don’t hold your breath.

Instead, Mr. Smith’s erstwhile protégé David Puntch (who now holds the title of Texas Union Director, which belonged to Mr. Smith for more than a dozen years before ascending to his Executiveship) is set to retire effective August 31. This marks one of the briefest tenures of any Union Director since the Texas Union’s creation as a result of a massive campaign of ex-students in the 1930s. (Funny. . .aren’t ex-students among those who raised the loudest clamor about the Smith agenda to close the Cactus, only to be snubbed as not central to the Union’s “core mission” in the same manner that sub-drinking-age undergraduates are? Just consider the implicit ironies: Ex-students are okay for gathering money and creating the Texas Union, but not having a role in its future? Is there any logic in that?)

Not that Mr. Puntch ever had power commensurate with his six-figure-plus salary. . .no, not with Andy Smith’s lavish office suite just a few feet away. Poor Dave never actually had the helm at the Texas Union, not any more than Captain Crane determined the next mission for the submarine Seaview on “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” what with Admiral Nelson always leaning over his shoulder.

As the stream of emails from last fall and early this spring brought to light by the Texas Observer illustrates, Mr. Puntch was excluded from the Cactusgate decision-making loop. All the nut-cutting and fancy truthiness-spinning happened at Andy Smith’s level and above.

To date Mr. Puntch’s most prominent role in the entire Cactus Café fiasco has been standing guard with Andy Smith outside the Texas Union Board of Directors Room on May 19, barring student access to the press conference at which Juan Gonzalez announced KUT’s takeover of the musical half of the Cactus in what he calls “a Union run by students.”

Over the years with Mr. Smith as his benefactor, Mr. Puntch had risen rapidly through the Texas Union’s hierarchy. But the Emperor. . .um, that is, the Executive Director. . . giveth, and he also taketh away. Now, apparently, Mr. Puntch falls on the sword for Mr. Smith’s sins. Count on UT Administrators remaining mum thereto; when anybody asks a question such as whether the person who established the Cactus Café as an internationally-renowned listening space will be included in the future of the Cactus, the standard answer is that they don’t talk about people—as if Administration purports to protect the privacy of the very staffers whom they are ganging up on and screwing. Soncia Reagins-Lily recently coined that little truthiesque one: “At this time, it is not our policy to discuss personnel matters.”

UT President Bill Powers announced in his Tower Talk blog (which he and his people have really gotten under control; instead of 30-70 comments and questions on divergent and troublesome subjects such as expensive executive perks at UT which we used to see, now it’s all watered down to two or three comments such as “Atta boy, Bill! Bravo!”):

“The Budget Council concluded that we can prudently implement a one-time, merit-based salary payment program for both faculty and staff. The raise pool amounts to approximately 2% of total current compensation for faculty and staff. . . . These merit-based, one-time salary increases will be administered in the form of a single payment, probably in November of this year. All employees are eligible for consideration, but not all employees will receive this one-time merit payment.”

Translation: Although the poor little University is about to go bust (meaning all classified staff members had better fear for their jobs, and some of them will be released in targeted layoffs), there will be a 2% overall merit-raise pool this fall.

Does that mean everybody at UT will get a 2% raise (which would actually not even keep pace with inflation)?

Hell, no!

Keep watching the salaries at the Texas Union and elsewhere at UT to see how the pie actually gets sliced. (The pertinent websites to track those salaries courtesy of the University of Virginia and the Texas Tribune appear below.)

A pool of money sufficient to give every UT employee a 2% raise is a good chunk of cash. Shoot, the last time such a raise pool existed (from 2008-2009), Mr. Smith merrily grabbed himself a 7.99925% increase.

Why 7.99925%? Because it takes special permission to get a raise of 8% or more. That’s how Mr. Smith’s salary has more than doubled since 1997.

But let’s not single out our beloved Andy. That would be unfair. Just wait and see how many other department heads do the same damned thing—because they can!

Except hey, everybody! This year (in violation of Texas State law, which dictates that the salaries of all state employees are public information), those raises may be secret! Our pal Bill says "These merit-based, one-time salary increases will be administered in the form of a single payment, probably in November." If the fat cats have raked it in before when their salaries were on the record, how well do you think they will make out at the public trough with no oversight at all?

Send a note to KUT and tell them why they should save the Cactus Staff:

NEWS FLASH!! Cut $138,00 from the UT budget and FIRE ANDY SMITH!! Texas Union Director Andy Smith's yearly appointment (starting Sept 1) will soon sit before the Texas Union Board on June 1. During Smiths tenure the Board voted to FIRE ANDY SMITH on three separate occasions. Unfortunately, UT's president overturned those recommendations which led to the killings of the Texas Union's Cactus Cafe, Informal Classes (and the Film program before). Regardless of the Boards recommendation, President Powers now has the authority to FIRE ANDY SMITH. Please contact President Powers to tell him that it's finally time to FIRE ANDY SMITH @

According to the Texas Tribune, for 2009 the highest-paid 15 employees at the Texas Union under the Smith regime earned $1,146,999. That's an average of well over $76,000 apiece.

Of course, if you look at the Tribune's website (below), you'll see that even among this lavishly rewarded group of Smith sycophants, things are skewed heavily toward the top, with a whopping $138,603 for the emperor himself. That's what happens when the guy can cut himself a 7.99925% raise from 2008 to 2009; that's how he has more than doubled his income since 1997.

As a microcosm for UT under all of President Powers' dire "The sky is falling!" budgetary pronouncements, it will be interesting to stay tuned, watch those raises, and see exactly how the Union staff fares. Precedent suggests that the ones at the top will get richer as the ones who actually work for a living get screwed.

Administration is kind of funny as to how they portray state funding (which by UT's own figures amount to just 16% of UT's total budget): When they want to raise tuition or it's time to encourage rich donors to make gifts, Admin plays up the 84% that has to come from sources other than the state, because they call that 16% such a miserable pittance. But when they have to cut 5% of that 16% (which equals exactly eight-tenths of one percent--.008--of the budget), damn, it's like they have to cut 5% of the whole budget. Which (to put it politely) is balderdash.

Now Powers is whining about how tough things are with the possibility of a 10% cut in state funding. Let's run those numbers: 10% of 16% equals 1.6% overall. So, golly gee: worst-case, UT will have to get by with 98.4% of what it had before.

Think of it in real terms: Could you make it on 98.4% of your present salary? You know, most people could. You might not be able to afford that second Beemer convertible just for weekends, but you could probably handle the mortgage okay. You wouldn't have to sell the ranch & the jeep & the helicopter and move into a dingy efficiency apartment. You wouldn't even have to give up your country-club membership (wait--sorry--I know that one comes free for most UT executives) or cut off the cable tv or anything. You'd be all right. You could get the gold Rolex instead of the platinum job.

But hell, if UT has to get by on 98.4% of what it had before, the bells toll, Admin dresses in funeral black, and honest working people like custodians and groundskeepers and administrative assistants and clerks lose their jobs. The fat cats are fine--in fact, it's probably time to hire a new raft of feel-good VPs, doo-dah, doo-dah--but real life-changing hurt comes to people who actually work for a living, because they are out of their jobs.

So just for fun, let's keep close tabs on how it goes at the Union over the next few months. That should be enlightening. If they follow the UT tradition over there (and why would they not?), a bunch of people making $20,000-$30,000 will get laid off, but Andy Smith and his pals will do just great. If they cannot finagle a raise any other way, they'll employ that slick HR sleight-of-hand of reclassification. Andy Smith used to be the Union Director. Now he's the University Unions' Executive Director (gotta have more money!). Hang some more gold braid on somebody and they have to get a raise. What next--perhaps "Special Imperial Executive Director?" Guy who hangs a title like that on himself has to make at least $180K--right?

No, just make it an even 200 grand!

First let's parse a few phrases from the official UT press release about the glorious KUT takeover of the Cactus.

Then let's see what UT students actually say.

Here is are the URLs for President Bill Powers' "Tower Talk" trumpeting the wonderful KUT solution, and that of the press release, too. (Of course, the documents obtained by the Texas Observer show us exactly how UT press releases spin truthiness, don't they?)


1. From the press release: "In late January, the Texas Union advisory board supported a recommendation to restructure the venue, which was underused by students and had been losing money for several years."

Oh, man. . .there's a dandy!

Um, by "the Texas Union advisory board," do they mean the select subset of the now-defunct 2009-2010 Texas Union Board of Directors whom Union Director Andy Smith convinced to follow his plan in Executive Session (which was called contrary to the Handbook of Operating Procedures, and for which there are no minutes, but during which Soncia Reagins-Lily quipped "We are protecting you from the truth"), in an action never ratified by the 2009-2010 Board as a whole (as mandated by the HOP), and never submitted to the present 2010-2011 Board?

And this "underused by students". . . . Ah, yes, there they go again. As the Texas-Observer-obtained documents also prove in statements from Andy Smith, no data have ever been collected on student patronage of the Cactus Cafe, either during its daily hours as a coffee house, or at the paid musical shows. But I guess saying something is "underused by students" is real slick (even if unsupportable) if you want to say you're killing something to benefit the student body.

Is the Cactus "underused by" the 12-15 students who hold much-coveted part-time jobs there?

And if Administration really wanted to increase student business at the Cactus, why hasn't Administration permitted promotion of the Cactus on campus?


2. Also from the press release: "The partnership has strong student support."

"Strong student support." There's that phrase again. Administration just loves that whopper.

"Strong student support" from a couple of vocal cherry-picked students, although the Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly passed unanimous resolutions to keep the Cactus functioning essentially as it has for thirty years, although only a select few students supporting the KUT plan were allowed into Juan Gonzalez's May 19 press conference while many others (including Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe founding member Hayley Gillespie) were barred, although not even Daily Texan reporters were admitted to that press conference until UT VP for Public Information Don Hale intervened.

Strong student support. Yeah, sure.

Here is part of what student John Woods (an elected member of Student Government) said about this nifty press release:

"I think this release is incredibly misleading.

The 09/10 SG Assembly voted unanimously to support the Student Friends plan -- not the KUT plan. The 10/11 Assembly did not debate the issue at all. Graduate Student Assembly supported the Student Friends plan. . . .

This statement that administration had support from a majority of student leaders cannot possibly be true. SG was surveyed -- informally, with a guarantee of confidentiality -- but only 12 people responded. That's only about one-third or fewer.

Many of those were not supportive of the KUT plan. The administration needs to check its calculations again.

As an SG representative, I'm tired of being scapegoated on the Cactus issue by an administration that practices extremely selective hearing."

(If you'd like to see more of what students who will actually go on the record are saying, look at the entirety of Mr. Woods' statement and those of UT Student Government member Matt Portillo, appended below.)


3. Also from the press release: "KUT has set up an e-mail address,, where people can express their ideas."

If the object is truly to foster input from the entire UT community, why is this not a public forum? Isn't it better to discuss this in an open format, to allow a free interchange of ideas? If you just email comments to an address, they virtually vanish. . .unless the recipient chooses to highlight something they like, as when Juan Gonzalez gave special attention to the comments of 2010 J.J. "Jake" Pickle Citizenship Award Winner Andrew Nash in support of the KUT plan.

This parallels the creation of President Powers' "Ideas of Texas," after "Tower Talk" generated a much livelier and more wide-ranging discussion than Powers found palatable. Time was that "Tower Talk" entries drew upwards of 60 responses. . .but man, now they have a lid on things, with no (count 'em, zero) responses to some of his entries and basically "Way to go, Bill! Hook 'em!" on most others.


4. Also from the press release: "'KUT is honored by the opportunity to carry on the great tradition of the Cactus Cafe,' said Stewart Vanderwilt, director and general manager of KUT Radio."

Is this the same Stewart Vanderwilt of KUT Radio who previously made quite clear in public comments his disdain for involving students?

When Mr. Vanderwilt says "the opportunity to carry on the great tradition of the Cactus Cafe," can we have some details, please? Will preserving the "great tradition of the Cactus Cafe" entail retaining and supporting the established successful management of the Cactus? Is anyone better suited than that established management to help KUT learn how to run a club?


Real student voices (posted at

----------------> John Woods said on May 21, 2010

I'm a member of Student Government (SG). And I think this release is incredibly misleading.

The 09/10 SG Assembly voted unanimously to support the Student Friends plan -- not the KUT plan. The 10/11 Assembly did not debate the issue at all. Graduate Student Assembly supported the Student Friends plan, if I remember correctly.

This statement that administration had support from a majority of student leaders cannot possibly be true. SG was surveyed -- informally, with a guarantee of confidentiality -- but only 12 people responded. That's only about one-third or fewer.

Many of those were not supportive of the KUT plan. The administration needs to check its calculations again.

As an SG representative. I'm tired of being scapegoated on the Cactus issue by an administration that practices extremely selective hearing.

The worst part is that the Assembly won't meet again until fall, and thus cannot possibly respond formally to these misleading statements by the Dean of Students.

Students do NOT support this plan. We are pleased we get to keep the Cactus, but tired of being manipulated for the purpose of press releases.

John Woods
Graduate School Representative
UT Student Government

----------------> Matt Portillo said on May 21, 2010

I had an interesting conversation with Dr. González yesterday evening at commencement rehearsal. He expressed to me that, in one year, he believes we'll be looking at a robust, prosperous Cactus Cafe and applauding the decision announced on May 19. Dr. G is a great guy, and I truly hope he's right.

However, the fact remains there are countless loose ends and unanswered questions looming in the foreground of this issue. This KUT plan is vague at best and this is evident to anyone who has read the two-and-a-half page proposal describing KUT management. I appreciate the administration's optimism and I want to share the sentiment, but I really can't until the public learns what exactly is entailed in this new plan. As a student leader, I'm concerned about the ramifications of this new plan on UT's relationship with the community, but I'm far MORE concerned with the issue of student involvement. A couple weeks ago, I was quick to throw my support behind a detailed proposal put forth by the organization Friends of the Cactus Cafe because it proposed maintaining some continuity with the past Cactus tradition while at the same initiating about half a dozen well-described student initiatives, including student artists-in-residence and for-credit internships...and the whole operation would have run about $38,000 in the black. The KUT plan, as far as I know, maintains questionable continuity with the past, creates a few more intern positions over at the station, and suggests working with unnamed "student programming committees" business plan or numbers attached.

I'm not trying to be the pessimist here. Really, I'm not. I'm just concerned. I'd love some answers and some more details, but I don't know if they exist right now. I devoted my entire spring semester to developing an informed perspective on this issue by way of conversations with almost everyone involved in making this decision, and I truly want the best for our dear university and the Cactus Cafe (which is as much a community of people as it is a performance space). I hope that administrator and student leader decision-makers will follow the lead of Andrew Nash and make significant efforts to better understand the the venue (i.e. attend a few performances, chat with current management).

Please know that I am not simply resistant to any type of change. However, I do realize that there is good change and there is bad change, and sudden, sweeping, heavy-handed changes typically fall into the category of the latter. Careful and gradual changes, on the other hand, have great potential to see broad success, and THESE are the types of changes I hope that the administration will begin to implement.

My hand remains extended, as it has been for the past three and a half months. However, the pessimist in me can't help but worry that this is a runaway train bound for who-knows-what. I welcome input and discussion, and I welcome the administration to involve me in their efforts to move forward.

And then there's the statement about the plan having "strong student support," including from the Student Government assembly, which is a whole other conversation that I don't have time to address right now. Maybe someone else will take that one...

Hook 'em!

-Matt Portillo

University-wide representative, UT Student Government

Well, if this plan stands up, unless the KUT management is foolhardy (or if the real intent of this entire fiasco has been some weird petty vendetta against Griff Luneberg):

1. Based on 30 years of solid success, establishing the Cactus as a unique world-renowned venue, Mr. Luneberg will be named the Cactus Manager;

2. Management will capitalize on the outpouring of community support--including the collection of substantial funding earmarked expressly for the Cactus as Mr. Luneberg has managed it--by embracing that support from such organizations as Student Friends of the Cactus Cafe and Save the Cactus Cafe;

3. Unlike the past, the Cactus will be advertised on campus.

Let's hope that Juan Gonzalez means what he said about preserving the Cactus and making it the hottest ticket in town. How could that pledge be made good under the aegis of KUT unless all 3 of the above come true?

To date UT Administration's role in this entire affair has hardly been a demonstration of good faith. Are those sorry days over? If KUT indeed takes over the Cactus and the radio station makes a real sustained and cooperative commitment to helping the Cactus thrive, they have a chance to heal some wounds.

Juan Gonzalez prefers to call the Texas Union "a Union run by students."

How well does that assertion withstand these facts?

1. Just as from the beginning of this entire fiasco last fall--entirely as a means of setting up a 2% merit-raise pool for the Union staff (presumably to be divided by Andy Smith at his discretion, as has occurred in the past)--the decision Dr. Gonzalez handed down on May 19 was an Administration fiat. The press conference at which Dr. Gonzalez issued his ruling barred most students; only through the intervention of UT Vice President for Public Affairs Don Hale were student media representatives from the Daily Texan and The Horn admitted.

2. To date the Texas Union Board of Directors as a whole has not voted on *any* recommendation relating to either the Cactus Cafe or Informal Classes. Instead, in a secret Executive Session last January, Andy Smith seems to have persuaded a select group of students on the 2009-2010 Board to endorse his plan. Thereafter--contrary to the Handbook of Operating Procedures relating to the Board--the Board as a whole neither considered nor endorsed the Smith plan. In fact, at the Board's February 26 meeting, such consideration (and examination of how the Smith plan was conceived) was categorically ruled out of order.

3. At some point, in a secret vote 2010 J.J. "Jake" Pickle Citizenship Award Winner Andrew Nash seems to have been elected the Board of Directors' 2010-2011 Chair. This raises additional questions:
a. Who elected Mr. Nash, when did that vote take place, what was the vote count, and did all 2010-2011 Board members get to vote?
b. Did the entire Board even know that such an election would occur?
c. Besides Mr. Nash, who are the Board members whose terms began May 1, as mandated by the HOP?
d. For that matter, what are the names of those who now sit on the 2010-2011 Board?

4. Did the 2010-2011 Board as a whole receive the annual report from Andy Smith reviewing all Texas Union activities for 2009-2010 on May 1, as mandated by the HOP?

5. Since the HOP stipulates that the Board shall make its annual recommendation as to the appointment, re-appointment or lack of re-appointment of Andy Smith on June 1, when will the Board meet to make that recommendation, and will it be the Board as a whole or a select subset of the Board (perhaps one chosen by Administration?)?

If Administration disputes any of the numbered points above, can we please see concrete evidence (as opposed to airy general statements) to support such a rebuttal?