Associate Dean

(Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Brace yourselves — the freshmen are coming.

University officials have spent the summer months preparing for what might be its largest incoming freshman class on record and what could be the second largest overall enrollment in UT history. By adding more sections, lecturers, advisors and First-Year Interest Group programs, or programs that place freshmen into small groups to support their academic performance, University officials said they are confident that the school is ready for the freshmen class.

Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions, said estimates for the incoming freshman class are currently around 8,000 students. This is an approximate 900-student increase from last year’s 7,149 students. Currently, the year 2002 holds the title for most first-time enrolled freshmen with 7,935 students enrolled as first-time freshmen and 8,419 students classified as freshmen. The University will not know if it broke its past records until the twelfth class day, when enrollment is officially counted.

“It’s too close to call,” Ishop said in an email, speculating whether this entering freshman class would be the University’s largest. “Our largest prior class was just over 7,900. So it could be.”

Although the University says it is ready for this incoming freshman class, the increased enrollment will place a strain on the University for years to come. Professor William Cunningham, who was president of the University from 1985 to 1992, faced similar issues because of enrollment growth in 1988 when enrollment reached an all-time high. Cunningham compared the problem to a bubble.

“If you have a problem in freshman courses this year, then next year you will have a problem in sophomore courses,” Cunningham said. “So you will have to put some more resources into sophomore courses, but UT officials know that. It’s not rocket science.”

David Laude, senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management, said the University will have to add sections and redirect resources for years to come. This means for returning students and for all students going forward, officials will continue to add sections and lecturers to various colleges and schools as this freshman class moves through the University.

“The reason you don’t make decisions right now about where to put them is because students generally tend to migrate in lots of general directions,” Laude said.

Laude said he has been involved in conversations with the deans across all of the schools, particularly in the professional schools like business, engineering and communication, about the possibility of expanding.

“As that happens and as they take on those additional students, it will be required that we take the money we have available associated with the increased enrollment and create additional sections in the majors they end up populating,” Laude said.

Among the incoming freshmen, certain colleges and schools have been more heavily impacted. Marc Musick, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said he noticed the largest increases in the School of Undergraduate Studies, the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.

“I handled orientation for the University, so I can see the numbers we’re experiencing across all the colleges,” Musick said. He was appointed to oversee New Student Services and the large changes made in the orientation program by UT President William Powers Jr. in April.

The School of Undergraduate Studies faces more than a 50 percent increase in enrollment — from 900 students last year to approximately 1,400 this year. Initial numbers in the beginning of the summer indicated 1,574 students were planning on attending UGS in the fall, but since then almost 200 students have decided to not attend.

Incoming UGS interim dean Larry Abraham said when the school first heard about the number of incoming students, their initial concern was actually not about the number of classes offered but whether the school had enough advisors. Assistant UGS dean David Spight said the school has hired three new advisors, who will start the second week of August, a few weeks before students arrive.

Abraham said the school was also concerned about whether there would be enough seats in classes.

“There was a panic mode where students were saying there won’t be enough seats. We’ve never had this many students try to take freshman courses, whether they are signature courses or introduction to biology or whatever,” Abraham said. “The University has responded to that.”

In order to respond to both its increased enrollment and the entire school’s increased enrollment, UGS has added more than a total of 1,300 seats in signature courses to the 2012-2013 school year, bringing the total to 11,300. Signature courses, introduced in 2008, are each assigned a unique topic and aim to introduce the student to the University and its resources. The 1,300 additional seats includes the fall, spring and summer semesters. Patricia Micks, UGS senior program coordinator, said about 8,000 of those seats are the fall semester, when UGS hopes a majority of freshmen will take their signature course.

Micks said UGS did a combination of adding new signature courses and increasing the class size of some already-existing signature courses.

“We were very careful. If we’re going to bump any class sizes, we were sure to strategically select professors who really shine in these large classes,” Micks said.

UGS also increased the number of academic FIGs offered within the school from 15 to 24.

In order to pay for this, Abraham said the provost’s office gave UGS approximately $300,000.

Thanks to the funding provided by the Provost’s office, Abraham said UGS has dealt with advising and seating concerns. Spight said the school is now focusing to ensure students can make a smooth transition to their desired school after UGS.

“Our job is to help them find all the options and set them up for success, but in the end the student has to be successful in their courses and the programs have to be willing to say they will take those students,” Spight said. “That concern is going to be a little bit bigger for us this year simply because there are more students that we are worrying about.”

Spight said there has been increased collaboration between UGS and other colleges. For example, of the nine additional FIGs added to UGS, Spight said a few Natural-Sciences-oriented FIGS were added because a large number of students in UGS had selected the College of Natural Sciences as their first choice.

“We tried to make sure the FIGs that we added addressed those areas of interests,” Spight said. “The courses that were associated with those FIGs, whether it be the signature course topics or the other courses in the FIG clusters, we made sure they were along those lines in the sciences.”

In the College of Natural Sciences, freshman enrollment is expected to rise by about 15 percent. Last year, the college had about 1,835 students enroll, and this year it is expecting 2,152 students. Sacha Kopp, associate professor and natural sciences assistant dean, said the college has seen an increase in freshman enrollment in the past three years and this will be the largest class the college has ever seen.

The College of Natural Sciences has added sections and additional seats to prepare for this class, but Kopp said he could not say how many sections and seats were added since the college is still watching the enrollment numbers and is adjusting accordingly. Kopp said the college is not adding these classes just for students in that college.

And in the College of Fine Arts, which houses many of the courses required to fulfill the visual and performing arts undergraduate degree requirements, enrollment is expected to increase by 400 students, or 20 percent. The college has responded by adding several hundred seats to these courses to accommodate non-majors, said Andrew Dell-Antonio, College of Fine Arts associate dean.

Officials from other colleges are on board to prepare the University for this large incoming freshman class, even if their college is not seeing an enrollment increase. For example, Musick said COLA was adding additional sections.

“We serve students in other colleges as well,” Musick said. “Even though it’s not technically liberal arts students, they are UT students and they do need our classes.”

Senior associate dean for academic affairs Richard Flores said the University added 16 new sections in the College of Liberal Arts. The college is in the process of hiring a combination of nine additional lecturers and assistant instructors. The provost’s office provided the College of Liberal Arts with $306,000 in funding for this increase.

The first day of class is Aug. 29. The official enrollment count will be conducted Sept. 14.

Updated 11:24 a.m.: 1,300 seats, not 13,000 seats, were added to the number of signature courses.

Although the hunt for a permanent dean for the School of Undergraduate Studies continues, Associate Dean Lawrence Abraham will take over as interim dean beginning Sept. 1.

Abraham was appointed by President William Powers Jr. and University Provost Steven Leslie June 29 to take over for outgoing dean Paul Woodruff. Woodruff announced in early June he was stepping down that month to return to teaching philosophy full-time. UT spokesman Robert Meckel said Abraham was familiar with the School of Undergraduate Studies because he worked with Woodruff. It is not clear how long Abraham will serve as interim dean or when a permanent dean will be hired.

“Just as Provost Leslie phrased it, he will provide ‘stability, continuity and vision for the school.’”

Abraham began his career at UT in 1975 and made a name for himself by becoming an active member of the faculty. He started out teaching in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and became an associate dean in the College of Education from 1998 to 2002. He then went on to become the associate dean of Undergraduate Studies in 2009.

Abraham said he is looking forward to holding the title of dean during this transition period. He said it will be helpful for the school to have an experienced leadership to coordinate activities and decisions involving staff members and UGS programs. The School of Undergraduate Studies is anticipating a 66 percent increase of incoming students next fall.

“I am excited about this opportunity to help assure that the work of the school continues as smoothly as possible during the leadership transition period until a new permanent dean is on board,” Abraham said.

Woodruff served as the first dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies and served a six-year term. He was originally only expected to serve four years, but agreed to take on two more. Powers started the UGS program as a way for students to experience the taste of a classroom in a different major, according to a statement on the UT website. Since 2009, the number of students changing from UGS to another major decreased from 65 percent to 7 percent. In a June interview with The Daily Texan, Woodruff said he did not think there would be any problems during the transition, even though the school is expecting a large increase of students.

“The preparations that we are making for the increase we are making now,” Woodruff said in the interview. “We got the additional funding that we need. We’ve been able to continue with a pretty favorable ratio of students to advisors, so I don’t think that is going to be a problem at all.”

Woodruff said he believes Abraham will be a good interim dean because he believes in the school’s mission and has experience as an administrator.

“He understands the School of Undergraduate Studies very well,” Woodruff said. “He will be an active interim dean, not merely a caretaker.” 

Marc Musick, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, listens to a student’s question during the graduation rates open forum Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

[Corrected Sept. 29: Corrected third quote.]

Editor’s note: In his State of the University Address, President William Powers Jr. said he wants to increase the current 52-percent four-year graduate rate to 70 percent in five years. Liberal arts Dean Randy Diehl, chair of the task force charged with providing recommendations to achieve this goal, and liberal arts Associate Dean Marc Musick met with students Tuesday evening to gather student input on the graduation rates. The following quotes are from Tuesday’s open forum.

“The task force members are committed to providing recommendations that have enough impact [to] achieve that goal, but I will tell you it is not going to be easy. There are a number of built-in impediments.”
— Diehl addressing the task force’s objective

“We’re going to have to do things that have not been done for the most part at other universities. We’re going to have to be innovative.”
— Diehl, of what must be done to achieve Powers’ goal

“We don’t want to in any way dumb down or lower the quality of the educational experience in the pursuit of reducing time to degrees.”
— Diehl on whether the quality of education would be diminished in an attempt to increase graduation rates

“What we have to do is not just increase engagement levels ... but also change people’s perceptions so they believe they are an important part of the academic culture. ... At a place like UT, that could be a formidable task because of its size.”
— Musick complementing Diehl’s claim that students who are well integrated in the campus graduate in less time

“We are currently in discussions about maybe actually creating a brand new peer mentorship [center] in the new [liberal arts] building.”
— Musick emphasizing the impact of peer mentorship on student success rates

RTF freshman Sean Arthur looks through the telescope on the roof of the RLM during the Star Party. Star Parties are hosted every Wednesday night while school is in session as an outreach program from the Astronomy department.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Anybody who watched the 2009 feature film “2012” was exposed to many scientific inaccuracies about how the world may end, according to a College of Natural Sciences presentation.

Students gathered Wednesday evening for a lecture and celebration in honor of Natural Sciences Week at UT. College of Natural Sciences associate dean Sacha Kopp kicked off the night by discussing the film’s exaggeration.

Kopp said the 11-year solar cycle in which the sun goes through periods of magnetic storms and periods of quiet activity is a key reason why the world will not be destroyed in 2012. However, he did qualify that some parts of the movie were almost true.

“Yellowstone is featured in the movie as the beginning point at which the end of world will start because it’s a hotspot,” Kopp said. “In these hotspots are places where you would find things like volcanic activity, and Yellowstone is such a place.”

Yellowstone, however, hasn’t seen any active volcanoes for at least 1,000,000 years and Kopp assured students it was not a prominent concern.

“Neutrinos will not cause the end of the earth,” Kopp said. “You should not worry. You must study for your final exams.”

Kopp began his work at UT as a physicals professor in 1999 and was appointed associate dean in 2009. He handles undergraduate curriculum, creating outside research opportunities for students and advising students toward their career goals.

“Natural Sciences Week allows students to get involved and see what’s out there,” Kopp said. “I decided to use ‘2012’ because a lot of people have seen it and it’s something to talk about.”

The Natural Sciences Council organizes and hosts the annual event, inviting faculty and staff to participate in the social and informational activities throughout the week.

Fine arts freshman Ashley Miller came to the event after an astronomy class sparked her interest.

“I like how he explained it, especially for non-science majors,” Miller said.

A Star Party, held on the rooftop of the Robert Lee Moore Hall, followed the lecture. The RLM rooftop provides one of the best views of Austin and is home to the telescope.

Students such as math freshman Kyle Crop came to enjoy the liquid nitrogen ice cream and an opportunity to stargaze through the telescope.

“I’m enjoying myself,” Crop said. “It’s like a support group for nerdiness.”

The Star Party and lecture were one of many events offered to students during Natural Sciences week. On Thursday, the Natural Sciences Council will host The Look to Land a Job, and on Friday the Dean’s Scholars luncheon and a discussion titled The Importance of Funding Research will be held. 

Printed on Thursday, September 29, 2011 as: Natural Sciences Week hosts discussion, Star Party

One hundred and fifty students stormed the halls of the Gebauer liberal arts building on Wednesday and fired questions at Senior Associate Dean Richard Flores about $1 million in suggested cuts to 15 UT centers and institutes announced in November.

They had already marched across the West Mall and into the Main Building, the message of their signs and chants ranging from cries for relief to accusations of racism. The Centers for Latin American, Mexican American, Middle Eastern and African American studies bear the brunt of the proposed cuts. Many students at the rally said the centers attracted them to the University and offered a primary outlet for research, scholarships and identity exploration.

“Ultimately my decision to go to graduate school was linked to the experiences that I had as an undergraduate and the support I received from the Center for African and African American Studies,” said Courtney Morris, an anthropology graduate student. “I was exposed to opportunities that I wouldn’t have had without a center like that.”

Morris was one of several students who spoke at the rally, hosted by campus activist organization ¡ella pelea! and The Students Speak, an activist group formed in response to the recommendations. She said she was there to protest a recommendation to reduce college funds by 40 percent in the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, among other ethnic studies centers. She said she received guidance from African-American faculty, traveled to Nicaragua, learned Spanish and conducted undergraduate research with help from the center.

Flores and other college administrators said the proposal is directly linked to state-mandated budget reductions, especially a planned 10-percent cut that will require the college to cut $3.75 million in recurring spending over the next two years. The recommendation to the centers is the first step in a process that may also impact funding for graduate programs and departments.

Liberal arts departments lost $4.6 million in soft money to fund teaching assistant salaries in the spring and also had to make a state-mandated 5-percent cut that they met by laying off administrators or leaving positions vacant.

After the soft money loss, which came because of an unexpected loss of allocated tuition money, the college formed the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee, a group of nine faculty members who would complete the first phase of discussions. They based their recommendations for the center cuts on a set of 42 objective metrics.

“This is not the final resting place for any of the cuts,” Flores said. “We’re beginning a consultative process with all the centers so we can hear from faculty and students.”

College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl won’t sign a final proposal until some time in the spring semester, Flores said. He added that Diehl and President William Powers Jr. agreed the centers are priorities for the University. The cuts to the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies and the Center for Mexican American studies will most likely shrink because they represent major demographics in Texas and help draw many students to UT, he said.

However, administrators are forced to consider the good of the college as a whole when they determine how to answer the planned 10-percent cut, Flores said. Students said the centers should receive special consideration because of the demographics they represent.

“It was a fight to even bring these departments here and validate them academically both at UT and larger academia, to say that the stories of queer people and people of color are valuable,” American Studies graduate student Jacqueline Smith said. “It’s about understanding the fabric of our nation and the nations around us.”

Others went as far as to state they believe the cuts and administrators considering them are racist. Flores denied the accusation and said the committee weighed all centers — whether related to ethnic studies or not — on the same metrics. He was the associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies twice in the early 2000s.

Many students called for the funding to come from cuts to athletics or construction. However, private donors contribute most funding for new buildings, and athletics not only pays for itself but contributes millions back to the academic side of the University.

Several Liberal Arts Council and Student Government representatives attended the rally, although other students accused them of not serving as the official student voice. Council President Carl Thorne-Thomsen said the group will actively seek students involved with the centers to get their feedback on budget measures.

“The most important thing is that we get the student opinion and convey that to administrators who can make changes,” Thorne-Thomsen said. “But we also have to organize this student sentiment and present a solid front to the Texas Legislature. When we take those concerns down to the Legislature, we will have our voices heard.”

In the meantime, students will continue to rally to the administration on behalf of the centers, Students Speak leaders said. They are planning a meeting for Feb. 1 and urging students, faculty and administrators to come for an open dialogue. As they stood around Flores in Gebauer, rounding into their third hour of protesting, they asked him pointedly if he would attend. In the face of the most complicated budget crisis the college has ever faced, his answer was simple.

“If you invite me to a meeting, I’ll be there,” Flores said.