College of Natural Sciences

Every semester, the Department of Computer Science offers a three-hour seminar on mobile computing. It is considered to be one of the best and most interesting classes to take while at UT by aspiring computer science students.

As a result, it has become one of the most difficult classes in which to secure a seat. It’s not the only popular class in the department, either. By the end of the first week of registration for this semester, 25 out of 31 classes, many of which had multiple sections to accommodate higher levels of student interest, were either completely filled or waitlisted, including multiple classes required for graduation. If you were unlucky enough to have second-week registration, getting into an upper-division computer science class was close to impossible.

According to the UT Statistical Handbook, the department currently houses close to 1,900 computer science majors, a number that has jumped by 128 percent in the last eight years.

This surge in enrollment reflects a significant change in the nature of the global economy; the Labor Department estimates that nearly 140,000 new software engineering jobs will be added by 2018. More tellingly, the student-to-faculty ratio has jumped from 14.1 in 2006 to 26.7 this year. The College of Natural Sciences, under which the department is housed, has maintained a roughly constant ratio over the same period (24.6 in 2006 to 23.8 this year). Meanwhile, the department has gone from awarding degrees to close to 27 percent of its enrolled population (252 out of 935 students) in 2005 to awarding degrees to just 14.5 percent (255 out of 1762 students) last year.

The University of Texas is a world-class institution. Its department of computer science has been consistently ranked in the top 10 programs for graduate study and is sought after for the quality of its faculty and the caliber of its students. The University must both accommodate the increasing number of students who are interested in computer science and simultaneously maintain a standard of excellence. However, given the current resources made available to the Department of Computer Science, it has become virtually impossible for the department to accomplish its mission.

One of two things must happen. One option is for the department to reduce enrollment, and given the current student-to-faculty ratio, the department must cut 500 students to continue to deliver the quality for which it is known. However, reducing enrollment in computer science discourages applicants from trying to study computer science in the first place and would affect growth of a discipline that is becoming increasingly important in the marketplace.

There is another solution. UT took an unusual route in marrying computer science with mathematics in the very early years of its existence. This environment was perfect for researchers like Edsger Dijkstra and Alan Emerson, both of whom ended up winning the Turing Award, the Nobel Prize of computer science. Now, however, the department is branching out into new fields, such as computer vision and natural language processing, as it continues to make theoretical advances in algorithms and formal verification.

This is the perfect storm in which the University must rise to create a new college: the College of Computer Sciences. We have the intellectual rigor, we have the student interest, but above all, we have a mission to serve the people of the state of Texas.

There are some immediate advantages of such a solution. As it stands right now, there are five programs at UT whose missions are related to computer science: the Department of Computer Science, which is within the College of Natural Sciences; the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, which is within the College of Engineering; the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and the Texas Advanced Computing Center, both of which are under the Office of the Vice President for Research; and the School of Information, which is a separate school altogether. It makes little sense to keep these programs separate when there is much to be gained from joining forces to achieve the goals they share. Moreover, whereas currently the department receives funding through the college, an independent college would support itself.

Such a transition is not without precedent. The Jackson School of Geosciences, which for more than a century was a department in the College of Natural Sciences, split off in 2005 to become a separate college. As a result of its strategic plan, Jackson has, since 2007, been able to hire more than 25 new faculty members. Just as the prospects of a specialized school like Jackson attracted philanthropy — the School was created by a $322 million gift — a clear plan for a college of computer science could have the same effect. Even in the field, the department would not stand alone: In 1968, realizing that computer science would help define the following century of science, Carnegie Mellon University elected to create its School of Computer Sciences from existing programs in its natural sciences division. Today, the SCS is consistently ranked among the top five computer science programs in the world and has attracted funding from the likes of Bill Gates and businessman Henry Hillman.

It is time for the University to ask itself a fundamental question: whether it wants to respond to trends and wait for other schools to elevate computer science before following suit, or whether it wants to take the lead in investing in what is quickly becoming a highly sought-after area of study around the world. We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in an area in which we have demonstrated ourselves to be so clearly and undeniably capable of greatness. To do anything less is to sacrifice the incredible progress the University has made in the field of computer science. It is time for us, as we have so many times in the past, to take the lead and define the next era of scientific progress. We must act as we believe: that what starts here changes the world.

Ramchand is a computer science and mathematics sophomore. He is a Turing scholar in the Department of Computer Science.

The College of Natural Sciences will be offering about one-third fewer courses in summer 2015, according to the college's dean, Linda Hicke.

Last week, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost announced that it is cutting the Summer Enhancement Program, which was designed to expand and improve summer course offerings of colleges at the University.

“After several years it became clear that the program did not have the desired campus-wide impact and it has been discontinued,” Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost, said in a statement. “We are looking into alternative solutions to enhancing the instructional budget that better meet the needs of our students and achieving our goals for graduation rates.”

Fenves said colleges may still continue to fund their own summer courses necessary to support their degree plans, but budget constraints may make this a challenge. Hicke said enrollment in the College of Natural Sciences has increased about 25 percent over the last six or seven years, while the amount of money in the college’s budget has remained the same.

“It is a challenge to change those budgets when enrollment increases significantly,” Hicke said.

She said shifts in college budgets usually occur when there are significant changes in population, but it takes time to receive more funding to reflect the population growth. Hicke said cutting the amount of summer courses should not impact graduation rates.

“We are being as efficient as possible across the entire college; we make every effort to have classes available for students to graduate on time,” Hicke said.

Arturo De Lozanne, molecular biosciences associate professor, said he thinks decreasing the number of courses offered during the summer semester will make it harder for students to graduate on time.

“Some students have to take courses in the summer in order to be able to complete their degrees,” De Lozanne said. “That means, if a student cannot take those courses, they will have to wait and register for the long semester and therefore delay their graduation.”

Biochemistry senior Kathryn McElhinney said she thinks many students use the summer as an opportunity to take fewer, more difficult courses.

“A lot of students take those more difficult courses over the summer so they don’t have to try and balance five courses along with this really hard subject,” McElhinney said. “Instead, they can dedicate all their time trying to study it.”

The cuts could potentially decrease the number of teaching assistant positions, according to De Lozanne.

“I was very puzzled by it because it seems very clear that it will affect many students — not only undergraduate students but also graduate students — because that means fewer graduate students will have TA positions in the summer,” De Lozanne said.

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the College of Natural Sciences are working toward their goal of landscape sustainability with the use of a new landscape construction rating system that prioritizes the environment.

SITES v2, developed by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, is a collaboration between the center, the United States Botanical Garden and the American Society of Landscape Architects for implementation in building projects that allows engineers, architects and landscapers to work efficiently without sacrificing the sustainability of the environment.

The program is completely voluntary, and so far more than 100 sites across the nation have taken up the initiative, 30 of which have qualified for a rating, including a site at UT Arlington.

“If projects follow and implement SITES v2, these built landscapes create ecologically resilient communities better able to withstand and recover from episodic floods, droughts, wildfires and other catastrophic events,” said Danielle Pieranunzi, Sustainable Sites Initiative program director. “They benefit the environment, property owners, and local and regional communities and economies.”

SITES offers a reference guide, which provides information about environmentally friendly building practices, to project developers who wish to qualify for a SITES rating. The provided guide includes tips on water resources, soil and vegetation, building materials and human health.

SITES consulted technical experts in fields such as hydrology, botany, engineering and landscaping to design the v2 rating system, said Susan Rieff, Wildflower Center executive director.

Modeled after LEED, a rating system used for the construction of environmentally safe buildings, SITES v2 is intended to ensure that landscapes — in places such as natural parks, corporate campuses, residences and waterways — are environmentally sound as well.  This is done by first evaluating the natural ecosystem of a particular site, to check for the presence of local flora and fauna, sources of naturally occurring water and possible soil erosion, Rieff said.

“[After evaluating the site,] you can design, so nature’s working with you and not against you,” Rieff said.

Under the SITES v2 system, projects receive points based on the sustainability and ability to protect and restore ecosystems, Pieranunzi said. If the project reaches the minimum number of points and meets specific prerequisites, SITES will give it a “Certified,” “Silver,” “Gold” or “Platinum” certification based on the number of points received. The Sustainability Sites Initiative is currently negotiating with the Green Building Certification Institute to provide SITES v2 certifications.

Aesthetic form and beauty are no longer the only criteria that are considered in the construction of landscapes, said architecture professor Steven Moore.  Environmental and social conditions have played an increasingly important role for architects and landscape designers in recent years as well, according to Moore.

“SITES v2 is enormously important in helping our ‘building culture’ to transform design and construction practices that do harm to those that might actually contribute to the urban ecosystem,” Moore said in an email.

Phillips 66 donated $500,000 to the University to support programs within the Cockrell School of Engineering, McCombs School of Business and College of Natural Sciences, the University announced Friday.

A large portion of the gift, which will be split between the three schools, will help fund the Phillips 66 SHIELD Scholar program, which provides a number of resources, including scholarships, professional development and community service opportunities, for students pursuing careers in the energy industry.

According to Donnell Roy, corporate and foundation relations director at McCombs, the business school received $156,000. Roy said Phillips 66, which is an energy and manufacturing company, has been involved in many key programs within the school, and the two help each other succeed in different ways.

“It’s very symbiotic — these relationships with these companies are definitely two-way streets,” Roy said. “They also support programs such as information management that is strategic to building a talented pipeline of students that can be potentially recruited into Phillips 66.”

Phillips 66 works with different methods of refining gasoline and oil and has approximately 13,500 employees. Rex Bennett, Phillips 66 president of specialties and business development, said the company is constantly looking for new, young employees.

“Phillips 66 is always looking for new voices with unique thoughts and different perspectives to help our company succeed,” Bennett said. “We’ve built a strong pipeline at the University of Texas that will enable us to recruit those who will help us all prosper — both now and in the future.”

According to Kelsey Evans, College of Natural Sciences spokeswoman, Phillips 66 donated between $5,000 and $10,000 to the computer science department. Evans said the University and Phillips 66 have developed a connection over the years as the company has become more involved with different schools within the University.

“Since Phillips 66 split off from ConocoPhillips and became a separate company [in 2012], they’ve done a remarkable job investing in our students and in building a relationship with UT-Austin,” Evans said.

Evans said, while these companies do recruit students through these programs, they also donate to the University for more generous reasons.

“Across the board, all the companies that support UT … do it because they’re philanthropic,” Evans said.

So, basically Hall asked for public records. People didn’t like it. They are making him look like a criminal. Shame on them, not Hall. He may be a jerk, but he appears to be the only one concerned about corruption at UT. 

— Online commenter Delahaya in response to the editorial “In fight over UT Regent Wallace Hall, students were forgotten”


In effect, this Horns Down waves a flag that says, “we can’t trust our law enforcement with TASER weapons in schools but we can trust them with OC spray, batons AND firearms.”

Law enforcement in schools isn’t there to enforce punishment - that would be a civil rights violation. They are there to enforce law, serve and protect students and staff from outside threats. Sometimes that does include juveniles -- some more than 6 feet, 200+ pounds fighting students and even police. You are also not mentioning the success that SROs have had in stopping these very same threats in schools -- not just “children.” When TASER controversy strikes, it’s easy to focus on an individual event instead of the totality. It’s akin to banning planes because they crash and not realizing that 10,000 planes land safely every hour. Is there a problem? Perhaps. So you address the problem in a thoughtful manner -- not a moratorium. Moratoriums based on individual incidents are bad precedents. You correct it with enhanced and well understood policies and procedures, strict oversight, and recurrent extensive training. 

— Online commenter stevetuttle in response to the April 17 horns down against the use of a Taser on another local high school student


Thanks for covering the town hall meeting of students in the College of Natural Sciences which introduced CNS101, a new small community cohort initiative for students in CNS. A couple of clarifications and elaborations seemed useful.  

While the program will be new, UT has had Freshman Interest Group (FIG) programs for many years, and the College of Natural Sciences in particular has long worked to include many of our students in small learning communities such as TIP, FIGs, ESP, BSP, FRI, etc. We view CNS101 as our college’s effort to make a meaningful contribution to the provost office’s 360 Connections challenge to include every incoming freshman in a small academic community.  

CNS101 will borrow from some of the best practices found in our current programs and translate that best practice to all sections for all students. Our initiative was spurred by student comments that not all of our current communities offered the same opportunities for students. What we learned from students is that there are many great ideas already out there, but we needed to get that set of ideas in front of every community.

What is pleasing to me about CNS101 is that it is anchored in what students told us is most important. We heard that students want to be supported in a community of peers when they first arrive on campus, and they want academic support and advice on how to be successful. These are themes addressed in FIGs now. But what we also heard is that students wanted greater connection with academic and faculty advisers, and they wanted opportunity to talk about careers and majors. So we extended CNS101 to be a full year and built on the existing ideas of small communities to include these new considerations. Other universities have also found that community building, academic success, advising and careers/majors really helped their students.

Your article rightly points out that there is much to be done, and this program is new. Our hope is that with a solid foundation of student input, as well as continued advice and participation by the student body, CNS101 will provide a valuable service to new students in the College of Natural Sciences.

— Sacha Kopp, associate dean of the College of Natural Sciences, submitted via email in response to Francisco Dominguez’s column “CNS101 program will unite College of Natural Sciences” 



College of Natural Sciences Associate Dean Sacha Kopp addresses students at a town hall meeting on April 7. 

Photo Credit: Jamie Lee | Daily Texan Staff

On April 7, College of Natural Sciences Associate Dean Sacha Kopp unveiled a new initiative meant to promote diversity, improve pedagogy and ensure overall success for incoming freshmen. 

After months of gathering student input, Kopp understood there was a resounding issue with how students were acclimating to the college. At a town hall meeting, students gave similar testimonials of isolation and frustration their freshman year that persist years thereafter. Many of the students also shared ways they overcame their feelings of desperation. Kopp aggregated these different solutions into an all-access program called CNS101. 

CNS101 is a non-credit course that will divide the incoming Fall 2014 freshman class into 100 cohorts of 25 students for a year. It is intended to help CNS students form a sense of community, build relationships with faculty and achieve academic success in the college. As a transfer student, I’ve realized that these essentials were missing from my personal experience during my first year on the 40 Acres. I could only wish this was implemented sooner. 

According to Kopp, “These small learning communities are observed to increase rates of graduation by 40-70 percent relative to other students in the college even when controlling for all other factors. … In some sense, this is not a new initiative. This is a scale-up of an existing collection of ideas and adding some features which we heard from students as important.”

Natural Sciences Council President Juan Herrejon highlighted some of the problems addressed in CNS101 a year-and-a-half ago during a meeting with the Minority Student Advisory Council.  A lack of community within the college, low graduation rates and underrepresentation of minority students alarmed the council. That there should be a system in place to smooth, and standardize, the transition to the University no matter the student’s background was the impetus for CNS101.

Unfortunately, because CNS101 will be a non-credit course — like First-Year Interest Groups — retention rates may continue to present a problem. Herrejon believes a mechanism must be in place to assure accountability of it’s members. One way he believes CNS101 could better incentivize students is by making it a course that students may receive credit in. “Putting in a system that works on modules would help,” Herrejon said. “For example, if students have an assignment to network with ‘x’ number of faculty, which will enrich their university experience while earning a grade in the class, they are earning double the reward.”

It is not a perfect system and hasn’t even been proven to work yet. But, like in science, a constant effort to push the boundaries is what CNS101 will attempt to accomplish.  

The effort for Kopp, and all those supporting him, is far from over, although this is a step in the right direction. A bright future undoubtedly awaits the College of Natural Sciences. 

Dominguez is a biology sophomore from San Antonio.

The Texas Memorial Museum is the main exhibit hall of the Texas Natural Sciences Center. Faculty Council met Feb. 17 to addressed concerns regarding new ways to fund the museum.

Photo Credit: Zoe Davis | Daily Texan Staff

A recent budget cutting decision by the College of Natural Sciences would not only impact the budget of the Texas Memorial Museum but are instead targeted at the entire Texas Natural Science Center, which the museum is a part of.

According to its website, the Center works to create awareness and appreciation of biological diversity, especially in Texas. In addition to the museum, the Center oversees both vertebrate and non-vertebrate paleontology labs, as well as the Texas Natural History Collections. 

Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and director of the Texas Memorial Museum, said the Center will be organized out of existence starting next fall. 

Theriot said different parts of the Center’s collection have already started moving to other colleges, including the paleontological collection, which moved to the Jackson School of Geosciences last fall. 

“What I have been told about the collections is as of the last discussion I had with [Linda Hicke, dean of the College of Natural Sciences], there was no plan at this time to cut the
operational funding for the collections,” Theriot said. “Technical, web and administrative support will become the responsibility of existing resources at the other entities.” 

Theriot said, as of right now, more than $600,000 will be cut from the Center’s budget starting next semester. Theriot said the center had an operational budget of over $1 million before the paleontological collection was moved. 

At the Faculty Council meeting last week, a resolution was passed that encourages the museum to find independent funding for its community outreach programs. 

William Beckner, mathematics professor and chair-elect of the Faculty Council, worked with the Faculty Council executive council to write the resolution. He said they wrote the resolution after Mona Medhy, cell and molecular biology associate professor, emailed him and asked Faculty Council to consider the museum’s situation.

Beckner said the goal of the resolution was to encourage the museum to look elsewhere for funding. 

“I recognize the financial constraints on the University’s operating budget,” Beckner said. “The goal was to support the museum but not to tell the University how to fund it.”

Medhy said she reached out to Beckner in order to promote discussion about potential solutions to the museum’s position. 

“My point was: Is there any way to help this museum financially, at least in the short term?” Medhy said. “I felt that it was important for our faculty, or anybody who is interested in this topic, to see what the University could provide besides relying simply on the College of Natural Sciences.”

Theriot said he appreciates support from the faculty, but the resolution did not change the museum’s financial situation. 

“Honestly, it puzzles me,” Theriot said. “It doesn’t mean anything to us because that’s what we’ve been working toward since October, when [Hicke] told me that we were being cut. My life and the museum’s life was the same the day before the Faculty Council resolution and the same the day after. It has had no effect whatsoever.”

Theriot said he is currently working on developing a business model to establish a new source of revenue for the museum. He said the museum’s general infrastructure will have to be adjusted to remain fiscally solvent.

“I think the museum and what it does and the services it provides are going to have to be rethought from the bottom up in order to get a good grasp on what sort of recurring funding we’ll have, which should come from admissions,” Theriot said. “The first thing we need to do is get it off of life support and get through this admissions phase, [and] then see where we can go from there.”

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

This past September, there was a palpable change in the air during the latter part of McCombs’ signature Undergraduate Career Expo. All seemed ordinary — there was the usual mass of black suits and the familiar buzz of elevator pitches — but there were hundreds of new, non-business faces in the crowd. It was the attendance of these students that had much of McCombs engaged in critical discussion about the implications of opening the Career Expo to all majors for two of the five operating hours, between 3 to 5 p.m. Now that McCombs’ heaviest on-campus recruiting season is primarily over for the year, the chatter has quieted. Though there’s no denying that many business students were concerned about opening their beloved Expo doors, there now seems to be a stigma against business majors for expressing those concerns in the first place. But that’s not a justified judgment.

At first glance, it’s difficult to understand why McCombs’ Career Expo was ever closed at all. After all, the career fairs of every other college have always been open to all majors, including business students. The Expo’s exclusivity barred non-McCombs students from accessing valuable career opportunities. In short, the exclusivity seemed plainly unfair. We’re all Longhorns after all, right?

That’s a lovely sentiment, but it also reveals a shallow understanding of the implications of opening the Expo. When you get to the heart of the argument from the business perspective, it boils down to two main points: money and McCombs’ rankings. All colleges at UT have certain tuitions they ask of their students, and most of those dollars go toward investment in resources specific to that college, such as a top-notch laboratory for the College of Natural Sciences. That laboratory, in turn, goes into CNS’ rankings, which affect a whole list of other things, including the caliber of students and professors it attracts. Similarly, the fact that McCombs is a business school means it invests in Career Services, which include its Career Expo.

Michael Daehne, a 2012 graduate of McCombs, former Undergraduate Business Council president and current Expo recruiter, told the Texan, “I don’t think it would be fair of me to go use the labs Natural Sciences chose to invest in, and the same holds true for liberal arts or communication students wanting to use McCombs’ career services.”

On the topic of money, Daehne also noted, “When this conversation comes up, many tend to ignore the fact that a) McCombs students pay higher tuition than others across campus — specifically for things like top-flight career services — and that b) McCombs itself chooses to invest more in career services programs than most other colleges on the campus. Beyond that, McCombs has historically invested more dollars in career services than the other colleges, meaning the current career programming — like the McCombs Career Expo — is the result of decades of investment by BBA students.”

The second reason opening the Expo doors was so complicated? Rankings. Top high school graduates choose which business school they want to apply to by looking at national rankings in publications such as Bloomberg Businessweek and US News, and Career Services is a huge factor in determining McCombs’ magic number. In theory, it’s a great idea to let all Longhorns have access to a Career Services as developed and talented as the one offered at McCombs. The fact is, however, that McCombs’ rankings are determined by how well Career Services serve business students, not the University.

Another major reason that business students were so concerned about reopening the Expo: When it was open in the past, recruiter feedback was poor and rankings fell. Career Services wanted to do something to improve McCombs’ rank, so they decided to close the Expo to non-business majors beginning in the spring of 2008. It stayed closed until this past spring.

Despite all the concerns, the University has seen two re-opened Expos in 2013. And as it turns out, both Expos have gone remarkably well. The Expo served 26 more employers and 794 more business students than last year, in addition to 442 non-business students. Career Services also made sure to create new workshops with the College of Liberal Arts and College of Natural Sciences that specifically addressed how to navigate the McCombs Expo.

The question remains: How did the Expo recruiters feel about non-business majors being present again?

“They notice,” BBA Career Services director Velma Arney said. “The reaction is extremely polar — 50/50 survey responses. Some employers love it, and some don’t want anything to do with it and are packing up and leaving. It tends to be companies with large recruiting teams that dislike it because they go to each college’s respective fairs already, but companies with smaller teams [that don’t attend other colleges’ career fairs] favor it because it gives them a wider reach.”

Though the arguments for why the Expo should or should not have opened were extremely compelling on both sides, BBA Career Services turned out to be well prepared and developed enough to serve the entire university’s demand. The numbers say it all. Not only are the initial concerns about Career Services being unable to serve McCombs a non-issue, but Career Services was actually able to serve more business students, and they did it even better than before.

“That’s our goal,” Arney said. “It’s more than just dropping your resume and employers selecting from all the names without a face. We want you to go to the events, go to the programs, and make those connections. While we are involved in the university-wide career services process in a way that we weren’t last year, [McCombs Undergraduate Programs] Dean Platt and I are still going to make sure the McCombs voice is heard.”

Huynh is a Plan II and Business Honors sophomore from Laredo.

Exhibit designer John Maisano presents the halted design plans for the Texas Memorial Museum’s fourth floor exhibit on Monday afternoon. Maisano not only lost his plans, but may also lose his 14 year long employment at the museum due to severe budget cuts in University funds.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Memorial Museum will lose nearly $400,000 in University funds and experience a staff reduction from 11 employees to three as a result of budget cuts, which will be implemented on Sept. 1 of next year.

The on-campus museum, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, currently operates on an annual budget of $600,000. Without University funding, that budget will shrink by more than two-thirds. 

The Museum will continue to receive $108,000 in state funding and $50,000 from gift shop sales, and raises roughly $50,000 in donations annually, though museum administrators hope that number will increase. The three remaining positions will include a security guard, gift shop operator and one other employee. 

“I’m still not entirely sure what the best skill-set will be for the remaining staff member or members to have,” said Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and museum director. “The security guard’s job will be security, the gift shop operator’s job is going to be the gift shop and it will fall upon that third person to take care of everything else that the museum does. That’s the hardest piece the puzzle — to figure out what’s going to be the best solution there.” 

The Texas Memorial Museum is a part of the Texas Natural Science Center, an organized research unit within the College of Natural Sciences. The center was established to promote research and educational activities surrounding biodiversity. 

Lee Clippard, College of Natural Sciences spokesman, said the decision to cut the Museum’s funding comes from the College of Natural Sciences dean’s office. 

“The [museum] has long been an important fixture on the UT campus and is a wonderful resource for our community and visitors to campus,” Clippard said. “Unfortunately, the budget situation at the University and in the College of Natural Sciences is such that we must make difficult decisions.”

Natural Sciences Dean Linda Hicke was not available for comment.

Theriot, who will also lose his job at the museum, has been tasked with finding alternative sources of revenue and deciding the best strategy for a museum with dramatically reduced staff.

“I don’t doubt that the decision was made with some anguish and difficulty,” Theriot said. “I’m not complaining — my job is to try to find a solution and for the last two weeks that’s what I’ve been out there trying to do. I’ve met with a dozen stakeholders within and outside the University. In some ways we’ve been anticipating this [but] I do wish it was coming two or three more years down the road where we’d be in a much better position with the things we’re trying to do.”

Theriot said a museum program that employs students may not survive the budget cut.

Holly Hansel, a studio art senior and work-study student for the museum, said eliminating the student docent program would be taking away a rare opportunity. 

“As docents, we lead tours and do a lot of intern-type help and it would be a shame to see the opportunity to be an actual tour leader to be taken away,” Hansel said.

Theriot said the museum, which receives more than 90,000 visitors every year, had been working towards a more stable income involving more outside funding over the past several years.

Hansel, who assisted at the museum’s annual Halloween festival last weekend, said the event was bittersweet. The event was one of several the museum hosts throughout the year to educate and connect with the community.

“[There] was a great turnout, we had over 2,000 kids there,” Hansel said. “I’m glad we got to do that but some of the workers were a bit misty-eyed because this may be their last Halloween even at the museum.” 

John Maisano, museum exhibits designer for nearly 14 years, said he is unsure about what the future holds. 

“I would love to continue [working] in the museum world of course, but museum jobs are just not easy to come by,” Maisano said. “We’re all just in a really scary place, but I don’t feel like I’m finished here. There’s so much I wanted to do.”

On March 17, Sacha Kopp, an associate dean in the College of Natural Sciences, sent out an email to all CNS students asking them to give their opinion on the creation of a new degree a Bachelor of Science and Arts (abbreviated BSA). The proposed degree would allow students to join “a core experience in math/science” with a certificate program or minor from another college. “The idea is to put together a proposal that allows students to marry a math/science discipline with something else of their choosing,” Kopp said. 

Kopp, who has led the initiative, said conversations with students inspired him to propose the new degree plan. He remembers in particular a young woman who had majored in physics and realized close to graduation that she’d rather pursue a career in industry than in academic research. She believed she lacked the necessary business skills, yet she didn’t have the time to complete both her physics-major degree plan and the courses required for a Business Foundations certificate. 

“At the same time, it wasn’t the case that every last aspect of her physics degree was vital to her career plan. Lots of aspects of physics are useful in a technology world … but maybe not all the coursework in physics is absolutely essential for a Bachelors of Science degree,” Kopp explained. 

Had the student had available the option of completing a BSA degree, however, she would have been able to earn her degree in physics by completing a core science and math “component” that consisted of 48 hours of credit in math and science determined by the physics department. The rest of her degree would consist of 30 hours of non-science core requirements, 24 hours of electives and 15-18 hours of a minor or a certificate program. Those are a lot of numbers, but they add up to one thing: more flexibility to pursue her other interests while earning her physics degree. 

Why is this proposed new degree in the College of Natural Sciences a big deal? Because if the effort succeeds, it could inspire other colleges to make their degrees (and their minors and certificate programs) less confusing and more suitable for students’ needs and desires. The proposed BSA degree would require 15-18 hours in a minor or certificate program. Right now, the definition of “minor” varies widely across the campus, with individual colleges determining what constitutes a minor. A biology minor in the College of Engineering is not the same as a biology minor in the College of Liberal Arts or a biology minor in the College of Communication. A biology minor doesn’t even exist in the College of Natural Sciences, where students are not allowed to have minors at all, although they do have a wide range of certificate programs available to them. 

To add insult to injury, because of the variation in minor requirements across UT, minors don’t even appear on transcripts. The Biological Sciences Advising Center does, however, note on its website, “If you want to take enough courses to have the equivalent of a minor (typically 12 hours, six of which are upper division), you can do that and claim to have the equivalent of a minor on your resume, but your UT transcript will ONLY state that you had a major in biology.” Great. If I take the equivalent of a Spanish major (liberal arts classes are open to all students, after all), can I claim that on my resume too?

The new BSA degree doesn’t deal specifically with the standardization of minors, but it does encourage degrees that are modular, or that have a core curriculum component, a major component and a minor component. Kopp also stated that the minors students would complete as part of a BSA degree then appear on transcripts.

Though the BSA would only be offered to students inside the College of Natural Sciences, I hope that the effort Kopp has made in proposing the degree influences other colleges to look at similar measures. Not only has Kopp put forth a great proposal, he’s also been proactive in seeking student input. He has held focus groups and encouraged the Natural Sciences Council to host a town hall on the issue (which will be held next Monday, March 25).  

Before the degree is added to the catalog, it must be approved by a University-wide curriculum council, faculty council and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That’s plenty of levels at which to start a University-wide conversation about how we can make our degree plans less byzantine and more flexible. 

Wright is a Plan II and biology junior from San Antonio.