Southwestern University

Zachary Foust wants to teach high school history after he graduates from UT. From his outer-aisle seat in Hogg Auditorium, Zachary looked wide-eyed at the name-tagged, incoming-freshman masses all waiting for President William Powers Jr. to deliver a welcoming speech. Zachary was among the 1,200 who attended an orientation session last week, the first of six such events scheduled this summer for one of the largest incoming freshman classes in recent memory. The class of 2016 — to which Zachary belongs — could be as large as 8,500 students, roughly 1,000 students more than the university administrators initially predicted.

An unexpectedly high number of acceptances reversed historical trends and led to a bump in the size of this class. UT officials say the increase reflects a broadened recruiting effort, which proved more successful than they had expected. Although the tuition debate between the current UT administration and the Governor’s office remains heated, the price of a UT education is still a good deal for most families.

The uptick in class size will strain university resources and make increasing four-year graduation rates an uphill battle as more students struggle to find spots in the classes they need to graduate on time. This is problematic since one of Powers’ top priorities is to increase four-year graduation rates for Zachary’s cohorts to 70 percent, when current four-year graduation rates only hover around 50.

Calculating acceptance rates requires lots of guesswork by an admissions office already hamstrung by the top ten-percent rule, so the oversized class, while unexpected, does not constitute an “oops” by the administration. Nor, by all accounts, do the extra 1,000 freshman, betray a Board of Regents’ secret agenda to increase matriculation in order to gain more financial support from a state funding model that demands an increase in admissions in order to get more funds.

But, if the administration wants to improve four-year graduation rates while refuting the reputation that UT, with its packed introductory classes, is the sort of place where 18-year-olds come to get lost, it must either get serious about reducing class size, or accept greater responsibility in helping students navigate their journey through the university.

Fourth in his class of 250 students at Tivy High School in Kerrville, Texas, Zachary would seem to be exactly the sort of incoming student UT administrators targeted with increased recruitment efforts. He’s only been to Austin twice before, once on a school field trip to see the State Capitol and veterans’ graveyard, and then, more recently, on Longhorn Saturday when he made the decision to attend UT. Originally, he planned to go to Southwestern University, but a UT representative who visited his high school told him about UTeach, a program that gives students the opportunity to student-teach and acquire teaching certification.

In his remarks to Zachary and the others, Powers dropped not-so-subtle hints about the urgency that they graduate in 2016, not after. He told the students a story about a law school application essay he read 35 years ago as dean of UT Law School. The applicant had grown up in the city but spent a summer as a shepherd in Montana. “When she came home, her parents asked her what the most important thing she accomplished was,” Powers said. Her answer: “Not losing any of the sheep.”

“I hope you’ll take the attitude,” Powers instructed “that it is a job planning out your academic career ... and while we do everything we can to keep that cost [of higher education] as low as we can, there is no greater way to save than making an expeditious well-thought out way through the university.”

However, in his speech, Powers did not place the responsibility for four-year graduation entirely on the shoulders of UT’s 8,500, wide-eyed incoming freshman. He said the University is improving advising opportunities and expanding course offerings to help incoming students meet its four-year graduation rate objective.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Powers addressed the bump in class size and the administration’s intention to increase four-year graduation rates. He answered an inquiry about his own five children’s success at graduating in four years (three did, one took five years, and one’s still in college — so “about 70 percent,” Powers calculated).

“We fully recognize that there are things that happen during four years. People change their minds, they want to pursue something else. It is not our philosophy that there is only one way through this university. But for most students, [the four-year route] is a cost savings for taxpayers and families.”

Facing pressure from students and politicians to make UT more affordable, university administrators must walk a fine line between making UT accessible to more students and not compromising the quality of education it provides. Adding a thousand additional students to campus when current students already struggle to find space in required classes threatens UT’s academic reputation and makes the recent emphasis on four-year graduation appear half-hearted, especially when it has not been made entirely clear how increasing four-year graduation rates or class size is in the best interest of the students.

Zachary and his classmates did not choose to be part of an oversized class. Nor did they decide to enter college at a time of strained resources, when the priorities of both the legislature and the university seem to undermine the university’s previously-stated mission of becoming one of the world’s top public research universities.

We recognize the university administrators did not single-handedly create our overcrowded and underfunded campus. But as Powers and other administrators negotiate the maze of more students, less money and a legislature and governor fixated on bottom-line results, they will need to try hard to do as they instruct the students and “not lose the sheep.”

— The Daily Texan Editorial Board

Les RAV’s Lauren Bruno performing at The Parish in September of 2011. Les RAV and many other groups will be performing at the OH SNAP! music festival this weekend.

Photo Credit: Elijah Watson | Daily Texan Staff

This weekend, OH SNAP! a music, food and variety festival, will be celebrating its third year, featuring local acts Les RAV, Ume, Mother Falcon, Freshmillions and many others.

The festival debuted in 2009 in memory of Southwestern University student Sergio Machado. Originally from Mozambique, Machado graduated from Southwestern University with honors. After returning to Mozambique after graduating, Machado was struck by a drunk driver while heading to work, killing him instantly.

Machado has a profound impact on the Southwestern community, so his death did not go unnoticed. Seven friends and classmates came together to celebrate Machado’s influence, the result being the first ever OH SNAP! Festival, named after a phrase that Machado was well known for. The OH SNAP! board, including Dave Winter, Austen Ross, Adam Bates, Travis Newman and others, have kept the celebration going annually, honoring Machado while also highlighting some of Austin’s talented musicians.

“Sergio was a free spirit who celebrated all of those around him and made people feel comfortable and at ease,” Winter said. ”We built this festival under that same spirit, and our goal is to celebrate all of the best music and culture of Austin.”

The festival has grown significantly since its inception. Originally featuring only 12 bands, and 18 in 2010, this year’s OH SNAP! will have 50 bands.

One of those bands is up-and-coming Les RAV, whose leading lady Lauren Bruno is familiar with bringing people together for a good cause. Besides fronting Les RAV, she is the director of the non-profit organization $2 Shows Austin.

“For me, being a director of a non-profit, I know how hard it is to get events together and raise money in creative ways,” Bruno said. “But once it comes together, the amount of positive energy and light that is put towards the event is visible. It makes me extremely proud and honored to be apart of the Austin community.”

Bruno is also very excited to see some of the bands performing. “I’m pretty excited to see the Bus Stop Stallions,” Bruno said. “My former trumpet player and friend Nixon Guerrero is in it, and he is incredibly talented. I also look forward to seeing Mother Falcon, Burgess Meredith and Noise Revival Orchestra.”

The festival is not the only thing honoring the late Machado. The OH SNAP! crew also established a scholarship in Machado’s name, which raised $12,000 last year; this year, they hope to double that. The scholarship will aid future international students that plan to study in Texas.

OH SNAP! hopes to inspire and influence others like the individual that inspired it, one festival at a time.

Printed on Friday, January 27 as: Non-profit celebrates fallen friend

The Department of Rhetoric and Writing at UT will help revamp Southwestern University’s writing program, thanks to a $720,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The grant will allow Southwestern, a liberal arts college in Georgetown with 1,300 students, to hire two postdoctoral fellows from UT each year, starting in fall 2011, for four years to focus on disciplinary writing with the faculty. All faculty will learn how to teach writing instead of just English faculty, said John McCann, Southwestern assistant dean for faculty development.

“For years, the model for teaching students how to write has been housed in college composition classes in English departments, and increasingly, people have been pushing for a ‘writing-in-the-disciplines’ approach, which means focusing on writing in all departments,” McCann said.

College faculty learn how to teach by doing it in their first job, McCann said. He said Southwestern faculty really wanted some kind of help on how to approach writing in their disciplines.

“When we switched to [writing in the disciplines], a lot of anxiety emerged from faculty, that they felt uncomfortable teaching writing, as it was not in what they were trained in,” McCann said.

Southwestern sociology professor Edward Kain said students have to take a research methods class leading up to their senior year “capstone project” courses in which they write a graduate-like research paper. He said these courses help students develop skills for the corporate world.

“This grant will hopefully help us think about it more across the curriculum, more than just those two courses that will help us fine-tune what we do in those courses but help us think about building it in systematically in all of our courses,” Kain said.

Rhetoric and writing associate professor Mark Longaker, who will mentor the fellows, said one aspect that challenges students when writing is mastering the content and being able to communicate it in a particular genre.

“Students have to learn about the culture in that discipline by understanding how people in that discipline communicate with one another,” Longaker said. “They also have to learn whatever writing style is peculiar to that discipline.”

Longaker said UT has a unique opportunity to help another university — the Department of Rhetoric and Writing at UT is rare, since there are not many colleges with a whole department dedicated to writing instruction.

“They have a dedicated faculty and do a good job, but since we have the faculty that is particularly interested in writing instruction, I think this partnership gives us a chance to help them in an area where they might not be as strong as they would like to be,” Longaker said.