Informal Asses: UT Decides to Shut Down Cactus Cafe and Community Learning Programs

A few weekends ago, after a hard deep freeze that kicked off the beginning of January in Austin, I drove home along 12th Street and noticed that one of the older, thornless prickly pears, the height of a man and adorning a Clarksville resident's yard, had fallen victim to the cold. Its gray, platter-sized branches drooped down, the top of the plant looking like a stooped elderly, resigning himself to the winter's wrath.

This weekend, amid another blast of cold, Austin lost another cactus.

The deflated feeling I had driving by that old, dead cactus hit me the same way upon hearing of the University of Texas's decision to shut down both the Cactus Cafe and their Informal Classes program. The Cactus Cafe is an Austin institution and one of the few remaining places in Austin where, on a good night, you can park on the street, grab a seat and actually hear the music. The last time I went, on a rainy, cold night probably about a year ago, The Shake Russell band was milling around with the audience before the show. There were no wristbands, no bathroom lines and no Dillo Dirt. Simply put, the Cactus Cafe was what live music in Austin should be like all of the time.

Like the City of Austin's decision to "scale back" the Trail of Lights, the Texas Union board (which, notably, is comprised mostly of students) cited the fact that the Cactus Cafe and the Informal Classes have not been profitable or, like the UT football program, "self-sufficient," meaning that they rely on funds from the University budget to subsidize their expenses. The two programs have an operating cost of around $1.3M, and the decision to shut them down will save around $120,000 annually, an amount that presumably has been taken from the UT budget in the past.

Governor Rick Perry had called earlier this month for state agencies, including higher education establishments, to submit budget reduction plans (read Perry's letter to the agencies here [PDF]. For UT, this means that they will cut 5 percent, or $29 million, from the state-funded portion of their two-year budget. However, in his Tower Talk blog on January 15 ("The Recession Catches Up with Texas"), UT President Bill Powers wrote that "The governor does not call for cuts at this time, only that we prepare a plan that prioritizes reductions." This leads me to wonder, why is the decision to shut down two popular community programs happening right now?

Whatever the answer, I'm disappointed in the near-sightedness of the Texas Union board. If it is in fact mostly made up of students, then I'm ashamed of this generation that UT is preparing for the real world. Slashing programs in an effort to save a (relatively) small amount of money is only one of the options that I could see someone bring to the table. What about finding a way to have the programs generate more revenue? By this afternoon, nearly 3000 people had joined a new Facebook group to "Save the Cactus Cafe." If each one of them gave $50 to become sustaining members, you would have a $150,000 to help cover the operating costs.

With all of the bright minds at UT, you'd think someone could have come up with a better solution and a better business plan to keep these two parts of Austin's history and culture alive. After all, isn't that what all of those MBA's are for?

How You Can Help:

-Write a letter to the Texas Union Director and the VP of Student Affairs expressing your support of keeping the Cactus Cafe and Informal Classes. Letters from students and alumni are especially helpful.

Andy Smith

The University of Texas at Austin
Texas Union Director
PO Box 7338

Austin, TX 78713

Juan Gonzalez

The University of Texas at Austin
VP Student Affairs
PO Box 7699
Austin, TX 78713

-Attend President Powers's town hall meeting on Tuesday.
This is a meeting for students, faculty, and staff to present their ideas, but it is also open to the public. Facebook event here.

Y'know, I thought you might like to watch this.

So, y'know, the video of my presentation at the Austin Social Media Breakfast is, y'know, up. I ended up talking about "Why Your Pet is a Social Media Expert" because, y'know, pets are smart.

Enjoy the video and let me know what you, y'know, think. Personally, y'know, I realized I say "y'know" way too much. Y'know, I'm gonna to need to fix that.


"Why Your Pet is a Social Media Expert" - Austin Social Media Breakfast from Pet Relocation on Vimeo.

Our CEO's presentation and also the live tweets that went by are up as well.


Be Social

Some of you may know that in my spare time, when I'm not ranting about politics, I'm proselytizing about pets.

If you're curious about the social media work I do for, be sure to tune into the Austin Social Media Breakfast tomorrow at 8:15 AM CST. Our CEO, Kevin O'Brien, will be presenting first and I will be following him. The entire presentation will last about an hour. While tickets have sold out, you can watch the live UStream of the event.

Be sure to let me know what you think by tweeting at me and using the hashtag #smbaustin.

Be gentle.

Change You Won't Be Seeing for a While

A spending freeze?

That's right. Rumor has it, after we just tried to stimulate the economy, we're now going to, well, freeze it. Because that makes sense. If our economy was a libido, it would be frustrated.

Really, when it comes to President Obama, I've tried to stay loyal. And, to a certain extent, I still am. But a spending freeze has got to be the worst idea he's come up with since naming his new dog something that sounds like "No" (how's that training coming along?).

We'll find out the gory details about the freeze on Wednesday's State of the Union so until then, we're left to speculate as to what, exactly, our POTUS has decided to limit. In the meantime, we get to be wowed by a message so terrible that it's hard to believe it's coming from the same President who campaigned on famously air-tight rhetoric.

"We need a smarter government," President Obama said in an interview with ABC News today. "Not a bigger government, not a smaller government, we need a smarter government. And we don’t have one right now."

I'd say we don't, if our government is so stupid that they're admitting they're not smart. Public Relations 101: Don't admit you don't know what you're doing.

More frustrating than Obama's lack of backbone is that one of the places a spending freeze could likely pinch pockets will be social programs designed to help all of those minority and disadvantaged voters who...I don't know...helped get Obama elected? Good call. That'll get them back out to the polls in 2012. And you can forget about this move helping any Democrats running in the state of Texas - our candidates will spend the next ten months explaining why they're for job creation but against the stimulus, and for a spending freeze but against cutting off funds to those in need.

Remember during one of those debates when Obama told McCain his spending freeze proposal was a terrible idea? I sure do. I was sitting at Scholz drinking a Dos Equis, soaking up history. Candidate Obama said, "The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel." The Scholz crowd cheered.

Well, let's see it, Obama. The only difference I can see between you and McCain these days is that Sarah Palin isn't standing next to you. Wink, wink.

Republican Party...FTW?

Social media might be changing the way Democrats win and compete in elections, but its also quickly becoming the handgun of choice for the Republican party as well.

Just over a year ago, in the heady wake of Obama's socially-driven upset, Republican National Committee Chair Mike Duncan was publicly stumbling over social vernacular. "We have to do it in the Facebook," Duncan said, "with the Twittering, the different technology that young people are using today."

This weekend, the Washington Post ran an opinion piece called "How Republicans won the Internet," a victory gallop for Mindy Finn and Patrick Ruffini who handled online fundraising for Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race. In it, they declare that "the online-organizing playing field is more even than it's ever been in the past 10 years of American politics."

Oh goody.

What a Paper Airplane Contest Can Teach You About Business

Tonight, Austin was privy to the inaugural Ignite Austin, an ideas summit (can I call it that or will you forsake me?) that was kicked off with a paper airplane contest. One of the event coordinators, Joshua Baer from the successful Austin company Other Inbox, said the contest's purpose was to be a mixer to get the crowd loosened up. As we dodged flying objects coming from the direction of the stage, I started chatting with Kyle Simpson from Getify. "They need to plan for obstacles," Simpson said as another plane crashed and burned -- figuratively, of course -- in the rafters of The Phoenix nightclub. Obstacles. That got me thinking: What else is there to be learned about business from a paper airplane careening through a bar?

1) Stop being different for the sake of being different.
A cube just isn't meant to fly. If you think hurtling something the size of a toaster into the air is not only going to create a product that will work but also differentiate you from the Wright Brothers, you're just plain wrong. Orville and Wilbur Wright are famous because they created something original that functioned, not merely different.

2) Breaking the rules may not get you in trouble but it also doesn't always get you very far.
If you're going to push the boundaries of what is acceptable, you might want to consider what it will do for you in the long run. Is sacrificing your reputation (and your airplane-throwing ability) worth it? How far will the risk take you or your business?

3) Plan for and work around obstacles in your marketplace or environment.
Airplane after airplane went soaring in a beautiful arc, only to crash into the chandeliers or nosedive into a support beam. Adapt to your environment and (please excuse the aviation pun, it's hereditary) you'll soar.

4) Be careful of always sitting in the front row.
You do the math.

5) People may not notice what it was but they will notice what it did.
Rarely did viewers pay attention to the pinstripes or paper stylings of the best gliders of the evening. The ones that went the furthest were simply the ones that stayed in the air long enough for people to look up from their iPhones and say "Holy cow, that went far," or "How did he get it to do that?" Do people say that about your business without ever having seen your website or marketing materials? What does your product or service do that makes it so different? Focus on those aspects of your creation. Promote them and nurture them.

6) Eventually, every good idea hits rock bottom. Then what?
Businesses rise and businesses fall. The good ones rise again. What will you do when someone picks your paper airplane off the ground and asks you to try again? Your little creation might fly higher or further than it ever did before. But it takes a certain kind of person to stand up on stage, with a handful of hopes folded into the creases of a paper airplane and an even bigger audience watching, and toss it out into the stratosphere once again. And while you're celebrating another record-breaking zenith, don't forget to ask yourself: What happens when it hits the ground?

Something to Smile About

Yeah, there's a lot I could say.

Like how I'm glad I have another reason to not watch Fox News.

Or how outrageous it is that a Party whose only aim last session (like most every session) was to disenfranchise minority voters has suddenly decided to become the authority on racism.

I could even talk about how laughable it is that a certain Democratic gubernatorial candidate is, apparently, allowing his campaign to dictate this religion. I suppose anyone who's religious gets their religion dictated from someone -- I just never thought I'd hear that "someone" was their campaign manager.

But I don't really feel like talking about any of that.

Instead, I want you to watch this fun stop-motion animation, hum along to the catchy tune and just enjoy the fact that there is so much ridiculousness floating around in this world.