Dean Randy Diehl

UT students received an email from President William Powers Jr. on Wednesday afternoon announcing the culminating report of the Undergraduate Graduation Task Force. The report, authored by Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl, outlines dozens of recommendations aimed at reaching a 70 percent four-year graduation rate by 2016.

Many of the task force’s recommendations are commendable and would undoubtedly create positive changes in students’ lives. Online advising, improvements to the interactive degree audit system and identification of “bottleneck” courses that impede registration are among various policy alterations that would drastically ameliorate common student frustrations. In particular, enhancing the first-year experience with improvements to advising and orientation would help create an atmosphere of freshman success.

But despite its positive recommendations, the report dwells negatively on students who, for whatever reason, take longer than four years to graduate. The report offers a disquieting lack of insight into why students do not graduate on time and prescribes negative reinforcement for those who deviate from the path.

It depicts those who take longer than four years to graduate as students who have “become too attached to the University” or who have “become too afraid to enter the job market.” This bizarre characterization of the fifth-year student as a happy-go-lucky deadbeat is emphasized in the recommendation to enforce the so-called “slacker” rule that would impose out-of-state tuition on students who stay at UT beyond four years.

That an official report would even characterize students who don’t fit the four-year model as “slackers” demonstrates an appalling lack of consideration for the myriad reasons students need extra time before graduating. Internships, double majors, study abroad and, increasingly, an inability to register for the sheer volume of required core classes are all legitimate reasons of hard-working students to postpone graduation. And as tuition steadily rises, some students will be forced to take part-time jobs and decrease their course load to compensate. Imposing additional costs on students who need more than the traditional four years seems counterproductive.

Ultimately, the punishment structures for students who do not graduate in four years comprise almost half the pages of the actual report, overshadowing its numerous positive recommendations. The University has an obligation to ensure its students graduate on time. Likewise, the University has the responsibility of ensuring its own policies don’t inadvertently hold students behind. However, many students stay extra semesters of their own volition, and the punishment structures will restrict their ambition.

This raises questions as to how these punitive measures could even help students. In his email, Powers gave the explanation: rankings. He said that if UT “want[s] to become the best public university in America, [it] must target” four-year graduation rates.

Graduation rates are one of the “widely accepted indicators of excellence” that controls college rankings, including the highly influential US News & World Report list. Rising in the rankings with only minimal costs would please more than just Powers and administrators. The UT System Board of Regents has demanded greater emphasis on efficiency, putting pressure on administrators to hustle as many graduates across the stage as possible for as little money as possible, creating a virtual assembly line of hapless, helpless students.

And, thus, what is administrators’ first priority will become the students’ as well; get your degree in four years or pay the consequences. According to the report, “students are … not made aware of the importance of graduating in four years.” But what exactly is that importance to students? Is it to help the student make career-based, beneficial decisions for himself or herself? Or is it to pad the statistics of bureaucratic administrators, lost in dreams of the University as a degree factory?

Though not all the recommendations will be enacted, the rhetoric in the report is cause for concern. Unfortunately, in creating its recommendations, Diehl and the Undergraduate Task Force lost sight of the very group it was tasked with helping — the students.

The incoming freshman class has not yet received their acceptance letters, but the University already has a mighty goal for them: to increase four-year graduation rates by about 20 percent.

The current graduation rate for undergraduates who earn a diploma in four years is 51 percent. President William Powers Jr. asked that a University task force make recommendations aimed at increasing that rate to 70 percent by 2016. Powers formed the task force, which includes eight faculty members, five undergraduate students and Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl as chair. Diehl said implementation of the recommendations will reduce financial burdens on students, families and taxpayers.

The University task force on undergraduate graduation rates released the 114-page report of recommendations on Wednesday. Report recommendations include making freshman orientation attendance mandatory, increasing personal and online advising and creating a temporary, three-to-five-year administrative position to focus solely on decreasing time for degrees.

Diehl said the University’s interactive degree audit is awkward and confusing. The report recommends changing the audit so planning degrees online can be easier.

However, the report does not tackle similar questions regarding the interactive website MyEdu. The UT System entered a $10 million partnership with the company to improve graduation rates through online advising. University administration has distanced itself somewhat from the tool, but the UT System plans for MyEdu to coincide with recommendations to change the degree audit.

The report suggests establishing an advising center in the Undergraduate Studies Department for incoming freshmen to cycle through, along with an adviser for their major if they have declared one. Freshmen in their second semester “who have demonstrated certainty about their major will be allowed to transition fully into their departments for academic advising,” according to the report.

Journalism junior Matthew Reese switched from aerospace engineering after two years in the major. He said he enjoys math and science, so he looked into engineering.

“It turned out to be a lot math and sitting at a desk. I knew I didn’t want to do that as a career,” Reese said.

Reese said journalism was his backup plan and journalism internships helped him make the choice to change majors. Reese said better advising would have eased his transition, his outlook on the University’s overall push to improve four-year graduation rates is negative.

“It’s better to get a degree in something you want to do instead of just getting in and getting out,” Reese said. “It just seems like they’re trying to get more students in because they’ll get more money.”

The report includes another recommendation to implement the state’s “slacker law,” in which tuition is increased for students who have not yet graduated, but exceed the number of hours it takes to earn a degree.

“We have to have a system that looks at individual cases,” Deihl said. “I would not recommend implementing the slacker law across the board.”

Diehl said taking on a second major outside of one’s primary college can slow down time, but he said the task force has no intention of barring students from adding a major.

The report also focuses on altering freshman orientation to better foster social connections that can extend into academic support when the school year begins.

In an email sent out Wednesday, Powers said some recommendations, like orientation changes, will be implemented immediately and others will take time to develop. “It will require the focused effort of both administrators and students to make it happen,” Powers said. “But I’m convinced the benefits will repay the effort many times over.”
 

The College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committees proposed by the Senate of College Councils for all 16 University colleges are scheduled to be fully formed by the end of September, said Senate president Carisa Nietsche.

The Senate of College Councils began developing plans for advisory committees in April 2010, Nietsche said. She said they developed in response to the state-mandated budget cuts to allow students to become directly involved in the allocation of their college’s budget.

Nietsche said last spring, six college advisory committees were formed including the colleges of natural sciences, liberal arts, business, fine arts, public affairs and the information school. She said the remaining 10 colleges will form their advisory committees by September.

“We are waiting to see what the other CTBACs’ relationships with deans will be like,” Nietsche said.

Nietsche said the Senate of College Councils is forming an advisory committee roundtable next semester that will bring together the chairs of every advisory committee in one meeting to encourage more Universitywide trends. She said the roundtable will help new committees get fully formed and ease them into the process of working directly with administrators.

“As of now we have a designated chair for almost every CTBAC at the University,” Nietsche said. “I think it’ll be surprising to see how many commonalities there are between colleges. I want to see if they are prioritizing research or merit increases for faculty members.”

Former College of Natural Sciences advisory committee chair Justin Price said the importance of an advisory committee is both to advise administrators on how students decipher budget spending and to provide transparency to students on how the budget is spent.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about how funds are being used,” Price said. “Students don’t understand how we can build new buildings but can’t pay faculty. We need to educate students on the fact that we have state building funds that are separate from academic funds. The same goes for athletic funds.”

Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl said the advisory committee for the college was an extremely helpful asset to the budget process last spring despite being newly formed. He said he supported the forming of a CTBAC from the beginning.
“I had very good discussions with the Liberal Arts Council and Student Government about the role the CTBAC could play,” Diehl said. “I found the committee to be particularly helpful. Their approach was thorough.”

Diehl said the committee gave detailed recommendations about the proposed budget cuts and reallocation, especially with the discussions about how to allocate money to ethnic and identity studies centers, a controversial challenge last academic year.

Diehl said it is important for administrators to embrace the work of advisory committees and to provide newly formed advisory committees with the background information needed to be informed on the budget process specific to their college.

College of Natural Sciences advisory committee chair Houdah Abualtin said the most important part of forming an advisory committee is focusing on recruiting dedicated members and creating a strong team unity.

Abualtin said once an advisory committee is formed and functioning, it is crucial that all members of the committee begin making connections with the college deans and administrators. She said in order to do this, committee members must play off of the personalities of the people they are trying to meet with.

“What gets done always depends on the administrators,” Abualtin said. “Some are already willing to work with students and others have to be eased into it. You have to be humble when working with them and show them you’re serious about what you want.”

The College of Liberal Arts released a report today in which Dean Randy Diehl said suggestions in “The Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education” could significantly undermine the quality of education and research at the University.

Diehl said he agrees with the “The Solutions’” goals to improve productivity and excellence at the University by evaluating faculty and increasing scholarships and grant programs for students.

“This is just an honest disagreement in terms of how to achieve those goals,” Diehl said.

The solutions, written by Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer, are supported by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, as well as Ohio State University economics professor Richard Vedder and Gov. Rick Perry.

“Some state leaders are advocating a business-style, market-driven approach under which colleges and universities would treat students as customers, de-emphasize research that isn’t immediately lucrative and evaluate individual faculty by the tuition revenue they generate,” Diehl’s report says.

The UT System released data requested by the Board of Regents including faculty names, salaries and class enrollment sizes two months ago with cautionary statements saying the data is premature and cannot yield accurate results. Vedder responded to the release of data in op-ed articles saying if professors increased their class sizes, tuition could be reduced significantly.

“Professors are getting relief time from the classrooms to produce articles that are not worth anything, aren’t read or aren’t cited by other researchers,” Vedder said to The Daily Texan two weeks ago.

The College of Liberal Arts report addresses some proposals for improving higher education which are based on data that was not properly filtered, Diehl said.

The report also highlights the importance of research in humanities and arts and addresses class sizes and student rankings.

It makes a distinction between the roles of tenured track faculty members and assistant professors and administrators, who are considered the “least productive” members of the University, according to a press release sent out last week by the Texas Coalition for Higher Education.

When the cranes clear out, the East Mall fountain turns on and students move into the new College of Liberal Arts building in spring 2013, the end result will be $10 million cheaper and have 16,000 more usable square feet than originally planned.

By designing the building with a simple rectangular shape, in the same way architects traditionally design commercial or industrial buildings, the college’s administration and steering committee cut costs and increased square footage.

Liberal arts Dean Randy Diehl said these cost-saving measures go hand in hand with the College’s efforts to cut its budget along with the rest of the University.

“This can and really should serve as a standard for how we build on campus,” Diehl said.

Since the UT System Board of Regents approved the building, the expected cost has decreased from $100 million to slightly less than $90 million, and total usable square feet footage has increased from 120,000 to 136,000.

The original expectations and approvals by the Board of Regents were based on the traditional style for academic buildings: long and narrow with a main hallway and classrooms and offices on both sides, said Joe TenBarge, director of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services and an assistant dean.

At the urging of the Diehl and President William Powers Jr., TenBarge said efficiency has driven many decisions on the building, and not just on materials choices.

“We’ve made the quality choices without gold-plating things,” TenBarge said. “We’ve really saved on process and planning and design, and that’s actually harder.”

While the industrial design uses space more efficiently and allows for more efficient construction methods, natural light can’t reach a large portion of the interior space, TenBarge said. Since the beginning of the design process, the architects focused on finding ways to get light into the building’s interior, he said.

TenBarge said glass interior walls and open staircases with skylights and reflective surfaces to bounce light into the interior will address the light problem. Cutouts into the exterior walls will create indentations in the rectangular shape and bring light closer to the center of the building.

He said the collaboration between designers and construction foremen has driven the cost down even more than specific design choices.

“They are basically building the building virtually a few months ahead of the actual physical construction schedule,” TenBarge said.

The 3-D digital drawings with which architects and contractors designed and planned the building are not completely standard fare at every construction site, but are not totally new, said Bryan Lofton, project manager for SpawGlass Contractors, the company managing construction.

He said the innovative part on this project is including the people who will actually build the structure in parts of the design processes. He said this allows foremen to address problems with construction designs by changing the three dimensional drawings, rather than adjusting on-site, which costs time
and money.

He said this collaboration speeds up the process of installing systems, including plumbing and air ducting, allowing builders to see where exactly pipes intersect and plan out the most efficient process to put them in place.

“It’s still concrete and steel, and at the end of the day you put 200 men in a hole and come out with a building,” Lofton said. “It’s still cutting-edge technology, but we have to use it and get something out of it or it’s just show-and-tell.”  

When making budget cuts, there is a habit of whittling departments down to only what we deem necessary — what we could not live without. To that end, we tend to look inward during tough times and take stock: What makes us Americans? What makes us Texans? What makes us us?

In his recent cuts to the College of Liberal Arts budget, Dean Randy Diehl ended 100 percent of University funding for three centers, including the Center for East Asian Studies. As a former Daily Texan reporter who covered the University budget crisis from its early rumblings in 2009 to the grim fallout faced today, I understand that these cuts were not an easy choice. I do not envy him.

But I have also walked the streets of Beijing among migrant workers who labor for pitiful wages in baby-blue construction helmets. I have spoken with young women in Shanghai who hope to capitalize on the city’s rising real-estate values and listened to young men worry about scrounging ever more money for a house — a must for any middle-class bachelor in China looking for a fiancée. I have peered through the morning fog of the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on the 38th parallel, smiling back at the Southern soldiers standing guard nearby. I have spoken with a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as an assistant at the BBC’s Tokyo news bureau.

At each step I understood more about my own country’s inextricable connections to the rest of the world, and to East Asia in particular.

I could not have done any of these things — and would not be returning to Beijing in May for language study — without the patience and encouragement of the faculty and staff at the Center for East Asian Studies. To pull all funding from the center now, when China’s rise is featured more prominently (and often, hysterically) in the news than ever before, strikes me as a grave misstep.

After teaching English for a year in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, poet and curmudgeon Bill Holm wrote of how different America looked upon his return. Despite America’s short, 200-odd-year history, he recognized its myriad connections to the rest of humanity and the importance of acknowledging this fact: “We gain nothing by playing ostrich except, conceivably, our own extinction. Either we remember and make conscious connections to the moral and physical lives of others, or we die.”

That is reason enough, I think, to continue supporting the men and women at UT who serve as bridges between the East and West.
 

Students gave their input on proposed budget shortfalls facing the College of Liberal Arts during an open meeting the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committee hosted Monday.

CTBAC invited liberal arts students to give recommendations and feedback before the committee submits a formal recommendation plan to Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl before spring break, said CTBAC president Carl Thorne-Thomsen.

According to an e-mail the dean sent to liberal arts students on Friday, the college is expected to face millions of dollars in cuts over the next three years. Diehl wrote that the cuts are necessary because of an estimated $27 billion state budget shortfall.

“These are difficult times for all of us and we don’t yet know how deep the cuts will be,” Diehl wrote. “I strive to be as methodical, equitable and transparent as possible during this process and to minimize the damaging effects of the cuts on our core research and teaching missions.”

The college will most likely cut $1 million from area studies centers later this semester, according to the e-mail.
These centers include Asian American studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, Humanities Institute, Texas Language Technology Center and more, according to a recommendation plan by the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee. No center will receive increased funding while the others are being cut.

Members of Liberal Arts Council have been reaching professors and students who are voicing their opinions against these measures, said Shakshi Kshatriya, international relations and global studies junior and a member of
the council.

“Many people feel very passionately about the centers and they are concerned about their decrease,” Kshatriya said.
The committee is focusing on creating more qualitative data to present to the dean by conducting online surveys and soliciting opinions of students across campus, said committee member Yaman Desai.

“We are looking at what services students really value and what services they use more than others,” Desai said.
The formal recommendations will include student feedback and other things that the committee views as high priority issues for the College of Liberal Arts.

Students recommended to the committee that it should ask the centers to look into more options for funding outside the University.

Many guest lectures that are organized through these centers are paid by student tuitions. As much as students might enjoy these guest lectures, the college should be willing to cut down on these costs if push comes to shove,
Kshatriya said.

Government and history junior Philip Wiseman said students are here to get a degree. Things that pertain to graduating on time and getting quality education should be prioritized over other expenses, he said.

CTBAC researched different departments and programs on campus to see how the budget cuts are impacting the University as a whole, Thorne-Thomsen said.

A Students Speak forum on Tuesday focused on planning and agenda setting because administrators declined to attend the meeting. The organization formed to counter a $1 million proposed cut to ethnic and identity studies centers such as the Center for Mexican American Studies. The student group met Tuesday with more than 100 students and community members, with the goal of creating a working foundation for what they will press the administration to do in regards to the ethnic centers and how they will go about getting their demands met. At the meeting, the group created a list of demands in addition to eliminating the proposed budget cuts. The list includes more direct communication between the administration and students and a more democratic university. Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl said he will continue to meet with registered student organizations for their input about the budget cut proposal. This excludes Students Speak because they have decided not to become a university-registered group. A registered student organization must have at least three officers, including a president and vice president, which Students Speak is opposed to, said Tatiana Young, a women’s and gender studies graduate student. Young said they are trying to maintain a space where everyone has an equal voice that is “mutually respected” by all members. She also said the group wants to have complete freedom of speech and registering would limit that. “You can’t hold [the administration’s] feet to the fire if you get registered,” Young told The Texan on Monday. “It forces you to their hierarchal structure and determines how and what you can say.” Recent contention within Students Speak stems from a flier that members of the Chicano activist group and Students Speak supporters Ella Pelea made. The flier depicts Diehl and President William Powers Jr. in Ku Klux Klan robes. Ella Pelea distributed it without permission from other Students Speak members. Latin American studies senior Carina Souflee, spokeswoman for the Students Speak, told those with concerns about dissension within the group that the members’ array of opinions makes the organization unique. “The beauty of Students Speak is that there is a diversity of opinion in the room, and we don’t come together to try to prove each other wrong or right,” Souflee said. “We are working together to form a movement.” The group decided to be active in influencing the administration by hosting large flash mobs, lobbying and marching to the Capitol, and by creating a testimonial video of students directly affected by the ethnic centers. Former UT Latin American Studies student Candace Lopez added “respect, space, and integrity” to Students Speak’s proposed list of demands because she believes all three would be lost with budget cuts. “You need respect as a student who deserves the right to learn and explore your history, space to do that constructively and integrity because when you start slashing marginalized programs you lose integrity as a university that alleges to be a progressive institution,” she said.

A controversial flier depicting President William Powers Jr., and College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl as members of the Ku Klux Klan created a rift within student activist group The Students Speak. Several members of the organization created the flier last week without consent of the group in response to proposed cuts to the specialized ethnic and identity studies centers. There will be no administrative representation Tuesday at The Students Speak open forum to discuss the cuts because of insufficient notice and the flier passed out at last week’s question-and-answer session, the liberal arts deans said. Caitlin Eaves, a group member and religious studies senior, said the flier made her feel uncomfortable because it was inaccurate and did not represent the majority opinion. “For one, institutional racism and KKK terrorizing aren’t synonymous struggles, but the biggest problem was that there wasn’t consensus about the flier,” she said. Eaves said the group’s diversity of ideas are much needed and appreciated, but members must be able to understand each other and their beliefs. “We need the organizers who will create a mission statement, but we also need the sit-ins and the walk-outs,” she said. “Most importantly, we need mutual respect for each other within our movement.” The group’s Facebook page, intended to be a public channel of conversation for members and interested students, was the medium for a series of heated exchanges between group members. The flier was one of many issues concerning activism the group disagreed on, including means of protest and communication. Tatiana Young, a women’s and gender studies graduate student and member of the organization, said the Facebook disagreement was a teachable moment that everyone in the organization could learn from. “It has made us sit down and hammer out some organizational stuff and to be mindful of the challenges of organizing,” Young said. “We’ve restructured TSS to work more as a community assembly and to work on a modified consensus.” Young said although the flier was divisive, she does not believe that is the sole reason the liberal arts deans are refusing to attend the forum. Young said even if there was no flier, she doesn’t think Associate Dean Richard Flores would have attended. Leticia Silva, a Latin American studies senior and member of the organization, said she did not feel the cartoon was as controversial as it was made out to be because it was intended to make students think. “It’s a political cartoon, it’s supposed to be thought-provoking,” Silva said. “Maybe they don’t go out in the streets wearing white hoods, but they are still affecting people of color in a real way.” Although College of Liberal Arts administrators will not be present at the forum Tuesday, Diehl said he is committed to having student input as he considers the budget cut proposal. “As I make my decisions about the college budget, I will continue to meet with registered student organizations and leaders who have demonstrated a willingness to have a serious and respectful discussion,” Diehl said. “They are an important part of this consultative process.” Diehl did not mention the flier, and Powers could not be reached for comment.

Both polite questions and angry accusations marked a College of Liberal Arts open forum Tuesday night, when students and college deans met to discuss a $1 million recommended cut to various ethnic and identity studies centers. The Liberal Arts Council and the Senate of College Councils co-sponsored the COLA State of the College Address for students to exchange dialogue with the college’s administration regarding last November’s budget cuts proposal. Many Student Government and Senate representatives attended, as well as members of The Students Speak, a group formed in November in reaction to the cuts that they say will negatively impact students. “It’s outrageous that we have to fight to keep ethnic studies alive, something that we had to fight to get here in the first place,” said Leticia Silva, a Latin American studies senior. The Academic Planning and Advisory Committee proposed the cuts to 14 centers and institutes, with the Centers for African and African American, Middle Eastern, Mexican American and Latin American studies receiving the largest blows. The proposal is the first of a series of steps that Dean Randy Diehl said will be complete later in the semester after the deans have taken input from students and faculty. Diehl said at the time the cuts were initially proposed, administrators had just learned that a proposed $90 million liberal arts building would not receive funding from the Board of Regents and the state. The college had to choose between the building or a budget re-evaluation. “We could scuttle the building project or develop an alternative way to fund the building, and we decided to go with the latter,” he said. Diehl said the new building is “critical to the future” of the College of Liberal Arts, and it is important to build it now because costs are low. Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Richard Flores said in December that without the pending 10-percent cut from the State Legislature, the $3.5 million cut that includes the centers’ cuts would be unnecessary. The college is still trying to determine how to cut the other $2.5 million. A recent evaluation determined the Center for European Studies, which got increased funding in the first proposal, will also have its budget reduced. Liberal Arts Council President Carl Thorne-Thomsen said he thought the forum was a success because it allowed students to give input to the deans. “We certainly understand how students might have felt that they haven’t had a say in some in these decisions, [so] it’s pretty reassuring to know that they are coming out to listen,” Thorne-Thomsen said. The Students Speak spokesperson Bernardino Villasenor said the forum was great in terms of getting students to come out, and he is hoping the student input will have more of an impact. The Students Speak invited the deans to come to its public forum Feb. 1 to hear from more concerned students. Villasenor said their forum will be the beginning of actions they will take this legislative session. “We are completely against these cuts and we are going to try to keep them from happening here,” he said. “That means we are going to have to evolve our fight and go to the Legislature, and we will do that.”