The nearly century-old School of Social Work building is in danger of collapse, but instead of informing the campus, the university announced it to state lawmakers.
President Vistasp Karbhari spoke to the 86th Texas Legislature on Feb. 14 to advocate for the funding for a new social work building, stating the current building is “failing.”
“We will have to move [people] out very shortly,” Karbhari said during his testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III.
These aren’t just the claims of a layman — Karbhari’s background in structural engineering makes him qualified to make these kinds of bold assertions. He referenced these qualifications himself during his testimony, saying he was doubly concerned because of his experience.
This issue is one of transparency. Students have the right to know if the classrooms in which they are studying may be unsafe. Faculty and staff have the right to know if their offices or classrooms could be uprooted soon because of safety concerns.
Karbhari said the bands which hold the building together are coming apart, making it “highly likely that the building will fall down.”
During the Feb. 18 Pizza with the President event, Karbhari clarified that the building is still safe for current operations.
“We wouldn’t have it open right now if it were unsafe,” he said during the event.
“We are concerned if we have to wait another three or four years — which is what it takes to actually get the money and then design and then build the building — by that point in time it will not be safe,” he said. “So we are already making those steps.”
UTA does a structural assessment every year and will not allow students or faculty to use the building once it becomes unsafe, he said.
In addition to the problems that come with an aging facility, the building has “facility code deficiencies as well as fire and life safety issues that are not feasible to address,” according to a Sept. 6 UT System Board of Regents agenda.
Meanwhile, hundreds of students, faculty and staff members learn and work inside the building every day. But the only public mention of the seriousness of its structural shortcomings was made in Austin and later at Pizza with the President — and only in response to questions he said he received after his testimony in Austin.
The university should address the students, faculty and staff who frequent the building first. And now that the problem is out in the open, students deserve to know the details of the situation.
When did the university realize the problem was dire? What is the plan to move people out of the building? What is the backup plan if legislative funding is not secured?
These questions must be addressed by the university to the community directly, and any details about the danger of the building should be released. Students, faculty and staff should hold the university accountable to provide updates of this kind and to give the appropriate details.
We need to know we can trust our school to give us the information necessary to stay safe.
The Shorthorn Editorial Board is made up of opinion editor Jacob Reyes; Editor-in-Chief Reese Oxner; associate news editor Amanda Padilla; Carmina Tiscareño, life and entertainment editor; social media editor Narda Pérez; Shay Cohen, copy editor and multimedia journalist; and Zaria Turner, life and entertainment reporter.
Turner, Pérez and Cohen were not present, and multimedia editor Duy Vu and sports reporter R.J. Coyle filled in.