Money, Money, Money: the U’s Lobbying Efforts in Washington D.C.

It’s no secret that money has a large sway in politics, especially on the national level. Students may be surprised, though, to learn that the U participates in the process.

In 2014, the U spent $350,000 out of its total operating expenditures of $3.3 million dollars for lobbying (attempting to influence government leaders to promote legislation) in Washington D.C. The money went toward regulations related to federal budget and appropriations, health issues, land use and education, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.

Jason Perry, vice president for the U’s Government Relations, said it’s important for the U to participate in this process, as national laws can have serious impacts on the university.

“Changes in certain tables in reimbursements on federal programming can have an immediate impact on the bottom line at the U,” he said, “and we have to make sure that we’re connected to what’s happening there.”

Perry also said having lobbyists in Washington D.C. allows the U to connect the school’s researchers to federal grants.

The U has strict policies against using any federal funding in order to lobby, and Perry said none of the money comes from student fees. All money given to politicians came from individuals associated with the school and not the U itself.

According to the Center for Responsible Politics, the U has spent $190,000 so far this year in lobbying. Perry said each university in the state has someone working in Washington D.C. to monitor the issues that impact them.

Perry said while many people may believe that lobbying is bad, he believes it depends on who a firm is representing.

“No one would say that representing the U is a bad thing,” Perry said. “Everything we do helps the students here.”

Leadership at the U, such as the Board of Trustees, determines the university’s lobbying priorities.

Perry said students who would like to get involved with this process can contact the Hinckley Institute of Politics or work with ASUU’s government relations branch.

Matt Kirkegaard, a senior in political science and environmental and sustainability studies who works at the institute, thinks students should get involved in politics, especially on the local level.

“It’s important for students to be involved because they can make a real difference,” he said. “Politics will touch your life whether you care for it or not, and it is in your interest to involve yourself in public policy in whatever way, big or small.”


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Finding the “Sweet Spot” for Marriage


If you don’t want your marriage to end in divorce, you might want to reconsider how old you are when you tie the knot.

But what is the right age?

It’s a been rumored for decades that the older you are when you get married the less likely you are to get divorced. According to Nicholas Wolfinger, however, professor of family and consumer science and adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology at the U, that trend is changing.

Wolfinger conducted research to examine the correlation between marriage age and divorce rates. What he found was, instead of a steady decline of the rate as people get older, the relationship is now more of a U shape. If you marry too young or too old, your chance for divorce increases, but there’s a sweet spot in the middle.

Specifically, the odds of divorce decline from the teenage years to your late twenties. But once a person reaches their early thirties, every year they wait to tie the knot the chances of splitting with a partner increase by five percent.

Wolfinger said there are many possible explanations for the change, but the exact reason has yet to be determined. When the research was conducted, different control groups were taken into account such as age, gender, education level, religion, whether participants were from families of divorce and so forth, but there are other factors to consider. Wolfinger theorizes that perhaps people who are older may have more emotional baggage that influences their relationships.

“At that age, you could have had more previous relationships or children from previous relationships, which could make your marriage harder,” he said.

The average marriage age in the U.S. right now is about 30 years old — “the highest it’s ever been,” Wolfinger said.

Jasmine Bishop, a senior in physics, said even though she hasn’t been married for long, she can see why getting married later in life can be difficult.

“When you’re young you haven’t been on your own for that long so you build habits together,” she said. “But I think when you hit your 30s, you have a life and you have your job and your friends, and it’s difficult when you get married because you’re with someone who has [already] solidified their personality.”

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report, the divorce rate in Utah sits at about 3.6 percent, slightly higher than the national average of 3.4 percent. Wolfinger believes marrying young may not be the problem.

“There is a culture of youthful marriage here,” Wolfinger said. “In Utah, you’re less likely to hear someone tell you you’ll regret marrying young because everyone marries young.

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U Chamber Choir Wins International Competition in Europe

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Competing in an international collegiate singing competition wasn’t just the plot of this summer’s “Pitch Perfect 2 — the U’s Chamber Choir also brought home a win from the European Choral Grand Prix.

The Prix, which hosted choirs from around the world and had a jury composed of judges from six countries, is one of the most prestigious chamber choir competitions. The U’s win marked the third time an American team has won.

Eric Schmidt, who is getting his DMA at the U’s School of Music, has been a member of the choir for three years. He said winning the competition “was a really, really good feeling.”

“It’s a very prestigious competition,” he said. “We worked really hard over the entire year to win this competition, and it was a big treat to see all the work has paid off.”

Barlow Bradford, director of the choir, said coaching can be difficult, given that each year some members graduate and leave. This past year he said he had 12 new members out of the 28 singers.

“The reason that we went to this competition this year is because we won the regional competition last year,” Bradford said. “It’s tricky because you don’t know what your choir is going to sound like and whether they’ll be able to rise to the level of what you had produced in the initial competition.”

Bradford said many of the members who joined this past year were inexperienced in working on an ensemble at the collegiate level. After a year of daily practice and working to perfect the smallest of details, Bradford said the group “transformed into a choir that was just unbeatable.”

Schmidt said he enjoys seeing how new members of the choir grow each year, both musically and socially.

“It takes some weeks or months to grow together,” he said. “We pretty much want to continue to keep singing on a really high level and represent the school on a really high level.”

Bradford is proud of his choir for winning the international competition.

“We had this mountain we had to climb, and they sang their best at competition and that was exciting to have this progression over the months and have that one moment be their top moment,” he said.

The choir also went on a European tour and performed in cathedrals in Paris, Normandy and Barcelona.


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    Utah Fights Chronic Homelessness with Housing Programs

    What’s the best way to end homelessness? Give them housing.

    That’s the way Utah is helping homeless individuals in a program called Housing First. This ten-year state plan was implemented in 2005 and after a decade, the state has decreased its chronic homeless population by 91 percent.

    Kelli Bowers, director of supporter services for the Road Home, oversees volunteers and coordinates partnerships at Palmer Court, the organization’s supportive housing development. She said that what makes the program in Utah so unique is how it provides housing to those who were previously turned away.

    “It used to be you couldn’t get housing until you completed all these tasks. You had to be sober, you had to be taking your medication, it’s almost like you had to earn it rather than it being a basic right,” she said. “[We are] helping people get housing and then working with them and being supportive in overcoming the barriers once they are no longer in survival mode.”

    When the idea was first presented, Bowers said there was a lot of doubt it would actually work. Now, with only 178 chronic homeless people in Utah, the program seems to be effective.

    Chronic homelessness is defined as being homeless for more than one year or four times in three years and having a disability, Bowers said. Palmer Court accepts only those who are chronically homeless. Grace Mary Manor, Sunrise Metro Apartments and Kelly Benson Apartments have also aided in providing housing for the homeless.

    Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson, Research Associate Professor in the College of Social Work, performed research on the effectiveness of the Housing First Initiative by looking at employment outcomes of the residents.

    Since the chronically homeless suffer from disabilities, it can be a challenge to find work opportunities. Still, of the 112 Palmer Court residents, 55 percent had at least one episode of employment after participating in workshops and other groups.

    This 10-year plan houses the homeless while providing workshops in day-to-day tasks such as budgeting and computer skills. The Department of Workforce Services and LDS Employment Services help to provide jobs for those living in Palmer Court and many do janitorial work at the organization itself.

    The U’s College of Social Work has connections with the Road Home and sends many of its students to work as interns. Hana Germann, a masters student in social work, recently completed her case manager internship at Palmer Court. Like most people, Germann said she used to see the homeless and wonder why they could not pick themselves up and get their lives together.

    “Going there and seeing what these people are dealing with and what they struggle with…It’s not just something that can be pushed away and forgotten about,” she said.

    She saw countless individuals take advantage of the programs and start their lives over; however, the success rate isn’t always 100 percent. Housing First runs risks by accepting everyone, including those with addictions or serious mental health issues.

    Housing is not free. Residents are expected to pay rent and the center works closely with those that cannot, Bowers said.

    “Ultimately, we want folks to be successful if they choose to move out of here … if they can know and do the things that will help them not return to homelessness,” Bowers said.

    Collaboration between rehabilitation, medical, employment and behavioral support centers has helped Housing First make big strides in Utah, but, Bowers said, “There are still great strides that need to be made.”




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    College of Education Seeks to Diversify its Gender Ratio

    Think back on all the teachers you’ve ever had—from preschool to college—and odds are many, if not most, were women.

    The National Center for Education Information reported in 2011 that women made up 84 percent of teachers from kindergarten through high school in the United States. The U’s College of Education reflects these numbers, with the enrollment for male undergraduates hovering just above 15 percent, according to the Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis.

    Mary Burbank, Assistant Dean for the College of Education says the school is working to correct this gender imbalance.

    “It’s critical that teachers represent the communities they serve,” she said, “both in the race and ethnicity of their students, but also in gender.”

    Burbank said the college has started “A Few Good Men,” a program which identifies male teachers going into elementary education and discusses with them ways to recruit more men into the field.

    Burbank also mentioned the Teachers Recruitment Scholars Program, which identifies recent high school graduates from underrepresented communities and first-generation college families who want to be teachers. It starts them in Salt Lake Community College and then brings them to the U in order to encourage diversity.

    Efforts to diminish the gender imbalance in teaching is a recent phenomenon. Women have dominated the field in America since the Industrial Revolution, when men left academia for lucrative factory jobs. Administrations began an effort to fill teaching positions in America’s growing public school system with women as they could pay them less and public belief held them to be morally suited to the profession. When men did pursue careers in education, they tended to enter administration positions, as they were higher paying positions — a dynamic that hasn’t yet shifted.

    “While teaching brings an important salary, it’s not competitive with other professions,” Burbank said.

    Teacher income varies depending on state and grade-level taught, but the National Association of Colleges and Employers found the average starting salary for a teacher is around $30,000. A report by the Economic Policy Institute found teacher’s wages, adjusted for inflation, have risen just 0.8 percent since 1996.

    Men who enter educational fields tend to do so through nontraditional means, such as Aaron Dembe, a doctorate student in counseling psychology.

    Dembe earned his bachelor’s in music 13 years ago and spent time performing, doing audio engineering and teaching guitar. He said he felt unfulfilled and wanted to contribute to the world “in a way that playing guitar in a funk band at a brewpub just didn’t quite do.”

    After trying a few career paths in music and law, he eventually came to the U’s counseling psychology program.

    “I really like it,” Dembe said. “I learn a lot, which is exciting. I get to help people, which feels righteous. I often get a modicum of respect from various people, which is a wonderful stroke for my ego.”

    Dembe said he has been one of the few men in his classes—both at the U and in his prerequisites at Austin Community College. He said while he is numerically a minority, he hasn’t felt marginalized.

    Burbank said due to teaching’s traditional association with childcare and nurturing, many view it as an inherently feminine occupation and Dembe agrees.

    “Education is much more a part of this female-child construction than it is a male-adult construction,” he said.

    Dembe does see some hope for change in the near future.

    “Perhaps when women begin to reach pay equity and equal representation in government and business, that will affect family roles, and family roles will reach gender equity, and this will affect attitudes regarding education, caregiving, feelings and psychology,” Dembe said. “We should all live so long as to see that day.”





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    Celebrate the Pluto Flyby at the U

    The Department of Physics and Astronomy is hosting a “Pluto Palooza” in honor of the New Horizons spacecraft sending an image of Pluto to Earth.

    On Tuesday, the department will broadcast NASA’s live TV feed of the spacecraft from 6 to 8 p.m. in LNCO 1100. Before going to the event, Paul Ricketts, the South Physics Observatory manager and an AstronomUr Outreach staff member, and Benjamin Bromley, a U professor in theoretical astrophysics and planet environments, said it’s important to know a little bit about Pluto and New Horizons.

    “Pluto is the furthest world and the furthest distance we’ve ever studied an object with a probe,” Ricketts said.

    In nine years, New Horizons has traveled nearly 3 billion miles. The spacecraft will pass by Pluto, and the neighboring dwarf-planet Charon, at over 30,000 mph. New Horizons is meant to help researchers study Pluto — what it is made of and how it correlates with its moons.

    “Pluto is cool, whether or not you think it is a planet,” Bromley said. “This is a great step for NASA and space exploration in general.”

    Bromely, who has conducted research on Pluto, Charon and other planets in relation to binary stars at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said after New Horizons has collected its data during the Pluto flyby, NASA intends for it to aim further away from the sun, into a region called the Kuiper Belt to learn more about the outer solar system.

    For more information on the data New Horizons will collect and its passing-by of Pluto, go to: For more details on Tuesday night’s event, visit:



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    U Study Explores Mortality Rates for Readmitted Hospital Patients

    When it comes to post-operative care, the hospital where you are treated is really a matter of life or death.

    A study conducted by the U’s School of Medicine found that the risk of dying from post-surgical complications is substantially reduced when patients are readmitted to the same hospital where they were initially treated. This means going to the closest hospital when problems arise may not be the best choice.

    Benjamin Brooke, a lead author in the study, said the research is somewhat obvious.

    “It makes sense that if you have complications after a major surgery you have to go back to the same doctors that know you,” he said.

    In order to conduct the study, researchers used Medicare data (looking primarily at patients over the age of 65). The group looked at patients who were readmitted within 30 days of discharge. Their analysis shows that those who were readmitted at a different hospital were more likely to die from post-surgery complications than those who returned to the initial hospital.

    Senior author Samuel Finlayson said the study makes it clear that surgery patients should choose hospitals that they will be near to, just in case complications following a procedure arise.



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    Dalai Lama Will Make Second Appearance at the U this Fall

    The Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and an advocate for global peace, will speak this fall at the Huntsman Center.


    (FILES) File photo taken on August 4, 2009 shows exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama during a press conference near Lausanne, Switzerland. The Dalai Lama is on a five-day visit to Switzerland. The Dalai Lama announced March 10, 2011 his plan to retire as political head of the exiled Tibetan movement, saying the time had come for his replacement by a “freely elected” leader. AFP PHOTO / FILES / Fabrice COFFRINI


    His talk, scheduled for Oct. 18, marks his second visit to the U, with the first occurring in 2001.

    Maeera Shreiber, director of the U’s Religious Studies program, said the Dalai Lama’s visit is important because his “commitment to cross cultural and interfaith dialogue is central to the kind of work that our students acquire deep knowledge of.”

    Students can buy two tickets, for $10 dollars apiece, at or by calling 801.581.8849, starting July 13. Seats are $20 for faculty and staff and $35 dollars for the community (with a limit of six per purchase). There are about 7,000 spots available, according to Cheri Daily, director of development and external relations for the U’s Office of Global Engagement.

    Attendees can submit questions for a Q&A session to follow the speech at the same website where tickets are available.

    “We have already received some very thoughtful questions for his Holiness during the Q&A session regarding how young people can help mitigate the violence that is happening in the name of religion,” Daily said.

    The Dalai Lama’s speech is an extension of his participation in the World’s Parliament of Religions, where he is delivering the keynote speech. The five-day event this fall will draw global religious leaders, activists and authors to Salt Lake City to discuss global issues, such as climate change, income inequality and war.

    “The Dalai Lama is a wonderful spiritual leader and is bringing a thoughtfulness to humanity,” Daily said. “This is something that is important to all of us, but especially to students who are this upcoming generation of leaders.”

    Shreiber said in addition to being a religious figure on par with the Pope, the Dalai Lama “continuously urges us to act with compassion in the name of long-lasting peace” even in the face of his more than 60-year exile from his home nation in Tibet.

    Following a Tibetan uprising against the occupying Chinese army, the Dalai Lama moved to India, where he currently resides and works with refugees from Tibet. He advocates for the culture of his country, as well as human rights and inter-religious harmony. In 1989, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent advocacy work to free Tibet from China.

    “I think this is a great opportunity,” Daily said. “It’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity visit from someone who has really been a tremendous influence on peaceful thought on humanity. We’re all really excited about it.”

    No weapons of any kind are allowed at the Huntsman Center during the Dalai Lama’s visit, in compliance with federal security guidelines.

    Proceeds from the event will both cover the expense of the Dalai Lama’s visit and go to the Utah Tibetan Association to help with for the Tibetan Community Center.



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    Crews Respond to Fires in Two Frat. Houses

    Kevin Shields woke up to a blaring noise overhead. It was 4:20 a.m., and the sound was not the alarm clock he had set.

    Still tired, he walked downstairs, where he smelled smoke. When he got to the basement, he saw several small fires in the laundry room and at the back door. Sprinklers were showering the flames, so he ran back upstairs to call 9-1-1.

    This was the scene at Beta Theta Pi on Friday morning at the second of two fires started in separate U fraternity houses. The first fire began in Pi Kappa Alpha around 4:13 a.m. All occupants were evacuated at both houses.

    No one was injured in either incident, but the Salt Lake City Fire Department is investigating the fires as “intentionally set” arson attacks, according to Jasen Asay, the department’s spokesperson. Crews determined that an accelerant, such as gasoline, was used to start both fires.

    There are currently no suspects, but crews are looking at neighborhood surveillance videos for evidence. Investigators are unsure whether the two incidents are connected, but they are looking into that possibility.

    Asay said whoever started the fires entered the houses. In Pi Kappa Alpha, the arsonist likely entered the structure through an unlocked door near the fire escape. Crews were able to contain the flames to a third-floor game room, but there was “heavy damage.” Fraternity members will not be able to stay in the house overnight.

    In the Beta Theta Pi house, Asay said the arsonist probably came in through an unlocked door leading to the basement. There was mostly water damage from the sprinklers in the room, which Utah Disaster Clean-Up helped clear later in the day.

    Shields, president of the Beta fraternity, said the basement fire was about six inches away from the water heater and gas line, which could have caused more damage, had they caught.

    “If the sprinklers didn’t get to it, we wouldn’t have much of a house left,” he said.

    Shields considers the fraternity lucky because all of the residents who typically sleep in the basement rooms at Beta Theta Pi were out on vacation. Now he’s feeling a mix of emotions, but mainly “shock that somebody would do that,” referring to the arson suspicion.

    Chase Fratto, president of Pi Kappa Alpha, could not be reached for comment. A cost estimate to the damage is unknown at this time.

    If you have any information, the fire department is asking that you call (801) 799-3000.

    The Utah Chronicle will update this story when more information is available.


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    U Faculty Get Involved in Clean Water Project in Pakistan

    The U is partnering with Mehran University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan to provide clean water solutions for one of the most water-stressed countries in the world.

    Water is one of the most treasured resources on this planet, and clean water is even more valuable. The U.S. Agency for International Development is funding this five-year project to improve water security and quality, while also teaching Pakistani engineers about sustainable development.

    Mike Hardman, chief global officer at the U, said that the venture is both a research project and a teaching project.

    “Improving the quality of life in Pakistan is the ultimate goal,” Hardman said.

    USAID sent out a call to universities for proposals on how to improve access to water, energy and food. Tariq Banuri, professor of Economics and Associate Director of the USAID Partner Center for Advanced Studies in Water, is from Pakistan and helped provide cultural knowledge. U professors provided the skills and the U was chosen to receive the grant. The U will be helping with the water aspect of the three-part program to improve Pakistan.

    Water-borne diseases account for about 60 percent of child deaths in Pakistan and 15.9 million people do not have access to safe water. Banuri said climate change has worsened the problem with increased frequency and length of droughts and more recurrent floods. These effects have made it difficult to find clean water in a low-cost way.

    To combat these problems, professors will improve flood forecasting methods and groundwater retrieval while keeping energy use and costs low. Professors from various disciplines are involved in the project and the U is also collaborating with professors from Colorado State University, City College of New York, Stockholm Environment Institute and the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, Netherlands.

    Climate change will eventually affect Utah as well, so any techniques learned in the desert climate of Pakistan can later be applied here, Banuri said.

    The project will not only benefit Utah, but benefit the entire globe. This is part of the reason U President David Pershing has put emphasis on creating more international ties, Hardman said.

    Students and professors from Mehran University will be working side-by-side with U professors in Pakistan as well as coming to Utah to continue their education. While the U hopes to send students to Pakistan, Banuri said current security standards limit this possibility. As the political state of Pakistan improves, the U will be sending students over as well.

    While the primary goal is to provide cheaper, cleaner and more reliable water, USAID is also hoping to increase gender equality in Pakistan by working with high school students and hiring more female faculty in the area.

    Female engineer numbers are low around the world and are especially low in Pakistan. USAID wants to increase the percentage of female engineer students at Mehran University to 50 percent.



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