College of Liberal Arts

Earlier this month, professors in the College of Liberal Arts and School of Information received $763,000 from the Mellon Foundation to help fund research about Virginia's first mental institution designated for African-Americans.

King Davis, School of Information research professor and professor emeritus in African and African Diaspora Studies, and School of Information professors Patricia Galloway and Unmil Karadkar started developing a system in 2008 to preserve and analyze the records from the Central Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane in Petersburg, Virginia.

The Asylum opened in 1868 and was later renamed Central State Hospital. Before being integrated in 1970, it was the only mental institution for just for African-Americans in Virginia. Central State Hospital is still open today.

Davis said his background with mental health programs has informed his research over the course of the entire project. Between 1972 and 1999, Davis was the commissioner of health for the Commonwealth of Virginia, served as director of community mental health programs and was a Galt Visiting Scholar in Public Mental Health.

“[I had] lots of familiarity with the system because I operated 17 hospitals there,” Davis said.

Galloway’s role on the project is working to digitize the Asylum’s records and create methods to make the information public. She said the team relies on hospital workers’ original accounts to get a better picture of what conditions were like at the when the Asylum operated.

“As ways to gather more information, we are trying to look into accounts by hospital workers,” Galloway said. “We want to see what their job [was] and how they felt about it. This is important because this gives a group of people a voice they did not have.”

Karadkar’s role is analyzing the documents and finding patterns in the information’s content. According to Karadkar, the way historic documents were formatted, differently than they are today, can make research difficult.

“We have well-recognized font type faces, and we have well recognized conventions for printing on paper,” Karadkar said. “When we have hand-written documents, these conventions are not always followed especially when cursive was the normal. The handwriting is tilted, and tilted words are hard to make out because they blend together.”

Karadkar said he and his fellow researchers have received support from the University and inquiries from people who believe they might have personal connections to the Asylum.

“We have already received a tremendous outpouring of support,” Karadkar said. “Every so often, we get emails saying ‘We have ‘so and so, rumored to have been in this hospital.’ What can you tell us?’ So far, there has not been any backlash but a lot of encouragement and hope from people.”

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Randy L. Diehl is dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He assumed the position in 2007.

The Daily Texan: Can you tell us what the most exciting projects are in the college right now? 

Randy Diehl: Right now we are working on an initiative that will take about five years to recruit truly outstanding faculty. This is an initiative that has been made possible by funding, from the provost and the president, and it’s targeted at a relatively small number of departments that are considered priorities — history, English, philosophy, government, economics and psychology. Our entire mission, the main components of our mission — teaching, research and community engagement — really depend on attracting top faculty. By attracting great faculty, you can attract other great faculty, great students. It’s what allows us to provide really high-quality graduate and undergraduate teaching. 

DT: As some of us are students of the college ourselves, we are sometimes a little overwhelmed by the size of the administration and how many different people there are that you have to communicate with. Can you explain to us what you do as dean? 

Diehl: Well, to be honest, I spend a lot of my time with people. I spend the better part of my day in meetings. These are individual meetings with my top staff, ad hoc meetings that are requested by department chairs or groups of people. I meet with each of my associate deans…I also spend a lot of time in the provost’s office or the president’s office. I meet with other deans. A big chunk of my time is devoted to development, and that is talking to friends of the college, alumni, prospective donors. 

I spend a lot of time on the road meeting folks who are friends of the college. I would estimate that about 30 to 40 percent of my time is devoted to development — raising the kind of funds we need to build excellence in the college. My job, really, is to work with my colleagues, both in the college and in the Tower, to build excellence in every aspect of our mission. It is what I think of when I wake up. I do very little that is purely bureaucratic. Mostly what I’m doing is working on major strategic issues.  

DT: Is it likely at this point that future cohorts of TAs and AIs will be smaller? [Editor’s Note: Since this interview was conducted, a special task force has released its report on the state of TAs and AIs in the college.] 

Diehl: They may be a bit smaller. I will be honest: We reduced our cohort size starting at the beginning of the downturn. For us, that was in 2009. Our cohort sizes and our total number of graduate students have gone down by around 21 percent since 2009. I think we can’t go too much further in terms of reducing graduate cohort size. In some programs, if we were to go further, it would actually damage the program. They would be below the critical mass they need to actually have a viable graduate program. In the longer term, as new money becomes available, we may be looking toward an infusion of new, recurring money. That money will be used in a number of ways. It will be used to hire great faculty, to restore the size of our faculty to earlier numbers.

DT: On the issue of graduate student stipends: One of the ways to increase those would be to decrease the size of future cohorts, right?  

 

Diehl: Yeah. And in 2009 we were already experiencing a loss of competitiveness in the size of our graduate stipends. I came up with a plan right before the downturn. To help pay for that, we reduced the size of what is called our soft money budget, which helps to pay TAs, AIs and lecturers. We had no choice. But before that, I had come up with a plan to enhance the competitiveness of our stipend by modestly reducing our cohort size. We see the reduction in graduate cohort size as temporary, or at least a component of it as temporary. And then we’ll come back when we have some new money.  

DT: Will you talk a little bit about how the shared services model works? 

Diehl: It works extremely well. The idea was we aren’t forcing anyone to go to shared services, it was voluntary. I have never gotten a complaint from anybody about the quality of the shared services operation. Instead, I’ve gotten nothing but, “Wow, this is so much better than when we had so and so doing this.” The turnaround time on reimbursements, the reduction in simple errors that required the paperwork be reprocessed... it’s really helped the department. 

The way we do it is when we save money — and we do save money — we divide that money between the college and the unit. Typically, the college gets more of the savings than the unit does. It varies a little bit. We’ve done 50-50 divisions in a couple of cases where it was warranted. Otherwise, one-third goes to the unit or the center or the department, and two-thirds goes to the college to pay for the staff that are required for the central business office, or go to pay for other aspects of the college mission. What we’ve found is that the quality of service is higher than it was before, and we are saving money.  

DT: Will you talk about the new geography building and what will be happening there? 

Diehl: The building will have a different name. Right now it’s black studies and Mexican-American studies. That’s what’s going to be housed there. Both black studies and Latino studies would not have happened, either as departments or as research institutes, without the incredible support of Bill Powers, with full support from the dean and the faculty. He made the funds available to go out and get a new faculty and support research. This campus now would be viewed nationally, internationally, as one of the centers for ethnic studies, particularly black studies and Latino studies. 

DT: How do you respond to critics’ claims that the College of Liberal Arts here, and its counterparts at other universities, don’t adequately prepare students for today’s workforce?  

Diehl: It’s nonsense. The marketable skills we provide our students are at the very core of a liberal arts education. I am talking about critical thinking, the ability to write coherently, the ability to speak, the ability to understand how we got to where we are as a society; in other words, to understand enough history, enough of the humanities to understand our culture, to understand our international culture. It is no surprise that a majority of CEOs, when surveyed, will say they are looking for, in terms of hiring, not so much technical skills but the kind of skills that liberal art majors bring to the table. 

The TA Task Force, a group of 22 teaching assistants and academic instructors from the College of Liberal Arts, decided Wednesday to extend its research time for about two months longer than originally anticipated.

With this decision, the task force will postpone the delivery of its final recommendations to COLA administrators so they can continue researching issues related to graduate students in the college. The task force was previously planning to make its final recommendations at the beginning of the spring 2015 semester but will now continue their research until Jan. 28.

“We’ve basically given ourselves an extra two months over the break to finish up our research and make our recommendations,” said Justin Doran, task force member and spokesman.

Since September, the students have been meeting to examine issues related to COLA TAs and AIs. The task force is divided into five committees that work to establish guidelines with professors, define TA responsibilities, examine job security and assignments, work to make sure employment and degree plans align and set standards for TA workload and compensation.

According to Doran, they are determining this information through extensive surveys that will be sent to administrators and faculty members. He said they are also conducting student surveys, for which responses have been collected. The task force will then report their findings to administrators for consideration.

“We want to function as mediators between the COLA administration and the department chairs,” Doran said. “So, [we want to be] both fact-finders and then mediators who are looking out primarily for the interests of graduate students and to kind of negotiate between higher level administrators and department administrators so we can all work together on improving graduate student life.”

COLA executive assistant Lauren Apter Bairnsfather said Esther Raizen, COLA associate dean for research and graduate studies, supports the task force’s decision to delay its final recommendations.

“They have approached their research with an ambitious agenda, and they need the time to complete the research and analysis before making
final recommendations,” Bairnsfather said in an email. “We are grateful for their commitment to the work and for their willingness to continue working into the spring semester.”

Since September, the task force has been formatting and sending out surveys to share with students, faculty and administrators. According to Doran, the first round of surveys was sent to all COLA grad students and looks at how students perceive COLA and its administrators. Doran said the task force received responses from over 50 percent of the students. Doran said the responses are still being analyzed.

“Because of research restrictions, we won’t be able to give anyone access to raw data about that, but probably in our preliminary report you will see executive summaries of that data,” Doran said.

Doran said the second round of surveys will go to administrators and faculty members to get an idea of how particular departments are being run.

“The final report will include how administrators see things are going on,” Doran said. “So we will be able to compare how graduate students perceive what is going on and how administrators are intending things to be happening.”

Additionally, Doran said the task force plans to work with Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services to format digital tools that allow administrators to share information about their departments’ policies. The collaboration is still in the preliminary phase.

“It turns out that nobody has really pinpointed the fact that this is really an information sharing program,” Doran said. “Since our task forces goal was basically to uncover all of this information, what we have discovered is that this information isn’t just out there, and since it isn’t just out there, nobody can be analyzing it.”

Vance Roper, Graduate Student Assembly vice president, said he thinks TA and IA positions are important for graduate students because the jobs provide a source of income and educational opportunities. He said students, faculty and administrators should be represented in the research done by the TA Task Force.

“It’s definitely something that should be researched from all angles and that the research should be fully vetted out before any decisions are made,” Roper said.

C.J. Alvarez, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies assistant professor, leads an “Introduction to Mexican American Culture Studies” class.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

The University will announce the establishment of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies on Wednesday, creating an interdisciplinary program to educate students on Hispanic culture.

Under the College of Liberal Arts, MALS will educate students about working with the increasing Hispanic population, according to incoming MALS chair Nicole Guidotti-Hernández.

“Our goal is to prepare young people to be Latino-serving professionals in light of the changing demographics in the state of Texas and the nation,” Guidotti-Hernández said.

According to Guidotti-Hernández, students from different educational backgrounds can study in the program.

“If you want a professional edge in the market, you might want to do business and Mexican-American and Latino studies because those are the people you are going to be serving, working with and managing,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “We think there is a tremendous academic advantage in having cultural knowledge to be a better professional.”

The program will offer coursework in Hispanic studies as a whole.

“Even though Mexican-Americans are the majority population in the state of Texas, there are also large Central American and Latino indigenous in the state,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “And, in some way, the program allows us to better account for those populations.”

The department will offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees this fall and — if approved by state higher education officials — doctorate degrees for the 2016-2017 school year.

“This department will be an invaluable asset to the state and nation, as they face future challenges and opportunities that come with demographic change,” said Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts in a statement.

Guidotti-Hernández said the University has offered Mexican-American studies courses for 44 years. The new department will include the current Center for Mexican American Studies, or CMAS, and a planned Borderlands Research Institute.

CMAS director Domino Perez said the center will host social and academic programs, while the department will offer degrees and coursework. She said the departmentalization benefits both groups, since they will be able to have their own programs and faculty.

“Now that they’ve moved over into the department, that means that we can have our own faculty,” Perez said. “The center never really had its own faculty in its history, and, so, we would have to work cooperatively with them to get our courses taught. It’s a tremendous opportunity for both our students and the faculty.”

The program has 25 students and six professors, but faculty and staff in the department hope to double enrollment.

“The major things that departmentalization does for students is it provides them with faculty that are 100 percent dedicated to teaching in the field,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “Before, we relied on our gracious faculty, [and] now we have six faculty members, whose sole purpose is to teach in Mexican-American and Latino studies — it means more classes, [and] it means more variety.”

According to Guidotti-Hernández, the major will have three tracks — language and cognition, cultural studies, and policy — which can be combined to suit the student’s particular interests and needs. Guidotti-Hernández also said the department is also looking to develop a minor program by the end of the year.

Psychology professors James Pennebaker (left) and Samuel Gosling deliver a video lecture for an online psychology course. Students who took the online course were found to perform better on tests than past students who were taught using a conventional approach.

Photo Credit: Marsha Miller | Daily Texan Staff

The College of Liberal Arts has expanded its synchronous massive online course offerings for the fall semester by an additional course for fall semester.
 
The SMOC format was launched in fall 2013 by psychology professors Samuel Gosling and James Pennebaker. Gosling and Pennebaker co-taught an “Introduction to Psychology” SMOC, which they named “Psychology LIVE.” The college also offered an “American Government” course in the SMOC format the fall 2013 and spring 2014 semesters.
 
SMOCs, or synchronous massive online courses, are live-streamed online-courses that require students to log in at specific times to watch live lectures, take quizzes and exercises, and participate in chat room discussions.
 
According to Pennebaker, students participating in SMOCs are able to engage in more social online interaction than they would be able to in massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which do not require live participation from students.
 
“Online education is revolutionizing education as we know it. The benefits far outweigh the downsides,” Pennebaker said. “Depending on the quality of the online course, students can learn more efficiently at a fraction of the price compared to traditional classes.”
 
In addition to offering “Psychology LIVE” and “American Government” again for the fall semester, the College of Liberal Arts is including “U.S. Foreign Policy.”
 
While UT students can sign up for the courses during registration, non-admitted students can also take the classes for credit through University Extension. However, only Gosling and Pennebaker’s psychology course is being offered to non-admitted students as a SMOC. The government courses will only be available to non-admitted students in an “on-demand” format similar to that of a MOOC.
 
The college is also offering four other for-credit courses exclusively through University Extension with the “on-demand” model.
 
Government professor Robert Moser, who will be co-teaching his first SMOC, “U.S. Foreign Policy,” believes that the format can provide an attractive and valuable alternative for students planning on taking introductory courses.
 
“As an instructor, the online format provides opportunities to introduce technologies such as video clips, online surveys, live chat, and simulations that I could not easily integrate in a traditional in-person course,” said Moser, who is also the chair of the government department. “Since I was going to ask my colleagues in the government department to consider this new technology in their introductory courses, I thought I better try it myself.”
 
Government professor Eric McDaniel, who will be co-teaching the “American Government” SMOC, said there are both pros and cons to the format, like any other type of class.
 
“A significant gain in these online courses is that I have more time to deliver more content material. I spend less time repeating myself in the SMOC than I do in the traditional lecture setting,” McDaniel said. “Of course, with online courses, I lose the ability to assess students’ understandings with eye contact.”
 
The SMOCs are priced for non-admitted students at either $200 or $350, with an additional $10 library fee to access online material. Registration closes for the courses on Sept. 15, but a $60 late fee will be charged to those who sign up after Aug. 15.
 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

A recent column in the Daily Texan by Nicholas Holterman (June 19) is the latest example in the Texan of rumors and conjecture that fuel unnecessary anxiety among graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts and belittle efforts to streamline graduate programs and increase TA and AI stipends.

We invite Daily Texan readers to study the publicly available working paper on our plans for student funding and time to degree, as well as the milestone agreements compiled and published by individual departments in response to the 2011 call by the UT System to reduce time to degree.

The current plan is neither sudden nor secretive, nor does it require departments to hastily adjust degree plans, as most of them have done so already. It also does not present a challenge to the quality of our programs and training, and is anything but "one size fits all.” Rather, the plan demonstrates a clear, long-term understanding of the diverse nature of doctoral degrees and student research. Our continuing commitment to this diversity has been confirmed time and again in the course of recent conversations with department chairs, graduate advisors and coordinators, student representatives and Daily Texan reporters.

The funding piece of our plan is in response to ongoing conversations with departments on the low stipends offered to TAs and AIs, a major weakness confirmed by every external review committee that has visited our campus. In 2013-14 we increased our fellowships to a competitive level, and with our plan to ultimately limit funding to six years we are taking a major step toward increasing TA/AI stipends to cover, at minimum, the cost of attendance. This is not to save the college money, but rather to invest in increased stipends for TAs and AIs and decrease the amounts that doctoral students must borrow. Shorter time to degree and higher stipends are both critical components of any plan we put in place while pursuing these goals.

Because we are honoring all funding plans made for 2014-15, we are not in a position to increase TA/AI stipends next year. We have taken a small step by covering the difference between the centrally funded tuition reduction benefit and actual tuition for 2014-15. With no new money coming our way, however, it is impossible to increase TA/AI stipends and continue to fund individual students for more than six years. That is why we have encouraged departments to streamline degree requirements and why we provide support for dissertation writing and external grant applications, the latter critical for students who foresee the need for a seventh year of funding.  

These and other steps began in the mid-2000s with college-wide discussions on time to degree and student funding. With the economic downturn in 2008, discussions broadened to consider strategic uses of all resources that go into student training. Yearly strategic planning meetings with department leaders—a college practice for more than a decade—were our main forum for consultation. With the exception of a 2013 meeting dedicated to undergraduate education, meetings since 2007 have focused entirely or primarily on graduate student training and success. For these meetings departments were asked to provide detailed reports addressing common indicators of program strength (such as graduate student support, time to degree, placement, national rankings, selectivity in admission and faculty to student ratio), and to offer strategies for maintaining excellence in training and placement. We invite Daily Texan readers to examine the summary of our 2012 strategic planning meetings, shared with all departments and hope that students engage departments in conversations about past and present strategic plans.

The college is close to meeting its goals for time to degree. In analyzing outcomes for graduate students who first enrolled between fall 2002 and fall 2007, 748 students from those cohorts completed PhDs, with an average time to degree of 6.7 years, and a median of 6.5 years. Our goal is to stay near the 6.5-year mark. These numbers demonstrate that some programs take fewer than six years to PhD while others often take longer. Students may complete their degrees in seven or more years, but should not expect funding from the college for the full duration of their time on campus as a matter of course.  

Widespread ignorance of our gender-neutral parental accommodation policy is troubling. Our college has led the university in supporting graduate student parents. In 2012 Dean Randy Diehl announced that new parents among our graduate students would be granted an additional semester in expected time to degree, an offshoot of a Provost Office policy that stops the tenure clock for junior faculty in cases of childbirth or adoption. To date, an academic accommodation plan for graduate student parents has also been adopted by the College of Natural Sciences and the Cockrell School of Engineering.

An excellent graduate program is one that gives students every opportunity to engage in meaningful scholarship and training leading to successful career placement. It is our responsibility to work with departments to determine how to achieve that success in the context of dwindling resources. This fall we will convene a student task force on TA/AI duties that we hope will become a platform for ongoing and productive discussions between graduate students and the college.

The insistence on repeating and propagating rumor and conjecture does not serve the interests of graduate students. We encourage students to learn more about past discussions that have led to our current plan and to work with us and with their departments to determine the best strategies for future success.

 

Esther Raizen is the associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Liberal Arts.

 

The Liberal Arts Building.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

A proposed policy change in the College of Liberal Arts that is expected to be implemented during the 2014-2015 academic year will stop funding for graduate students in the college after their sixth year.

Currently, a graduate student may be employed as assistant instructors, graduate research assistants, academic assistants, assistants, teaching assistants and tutors for a maximum of 14 semesters. According to Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, a liberal arts college executive assistant, the college began pushing for quicker degree completion several years ago because there isn't any money coming into the college and the cost of attendance keeps rising.

“This would have the benefit of limiting the amount students have to borrow to attend graduate school and allow us to recruit more successfully and improve degree completion rates,” Bairnsfather said.

Along with stopping funding for graduate students after six years, Bairnsfather said the proposal would increase stipends for teaching assistants and assistant instructors.

“Some of our students are funded for seven and more years with amounts that, spread over a shorter time period, could provide for better stipends,” Bairnsfather said.

David Ochsner, liberal arts college spokesman, said the change would get graduate students out faster.

“I think more students finishing their terms on time will give us more resources to spend on more students and increase the level of stipends,” Ochsner said.

Sean Cashbaugh, an assistant instructor in the American studies department, said the department was informed of the changes through an email from department heads, but he has not seen an official change by the University.

“One of our major concerns is the lack of transparency,” Cashbaugh said. “This is a major change to policy as it currently stands.”

Cashbaugh said the policy change did not consider the unique situations of each student.

“Everybody does different types of work, and the College of Liberal Arts should be attune to that,” Cashbaugh said. “How much time we take to complete our degrees and write our dissertations is best judged by our advisers.”

Although the goal of the policy is to increase stipends for graduate students, Cashbaugh said an increase in the amount of money students are paid wouldn’t always help.

“Paying graduate students more over a short amount of time doesn’t necessarily guarantee they’ll finish faster,” Cashbaugh said.

 
David Villarreal, Graduate Student Assembly president, said GSA will be working all summer to help students fight the policy change.

"This is a pretty serious thing, at least for graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts, because it affects our livelihood," Villarreal said. "It affects whether we can afford to stay and study at the University."

Writing graduate student Mark Hitz received the Keene Prize for Literature from the College of Liberal Arts on Monday for his short stories “Shadehill” and “The Laws of Motion.” 

“Uncertainty is just always in the air,” Hitz said. “So an award like this is both a shock and a profound honor. It’s hard to feel like you deserve something so wildly generous.” 

The Keene Prize is awarded to a UT student each year. As this year’s winner, Hitz will be awarded $50,000. Four other finalists will equally share a separate $50,000 prize. Hitz said he will use the majority of the prize money for future writing projects.

“I wish I had some magical plans for the money, but really I’ll be using it mostly for the activities of writing-, research, travel and time,” Hitz said. “Also, probably, to buy drinks.” 

English professor Elizabeth Cullingford, who served as one of the judges, said creativity is a major factor the judges evaluate in selecting the finalists.

“The judges are looking for works that capture their imaginations, usually by a combination of original subject matter or a new perspective on familiar subject matter with skillful literary technique,” Cullingford said. 

Along with Hitz, the other four finalists are all writing graduate students in the James A. Michener Center for Writers. Finalist Rachel Kondo said she was surprised to hear that she was a finalist for the award because she is new to writing. 

“The news was shocking and a little bit confusing even,” Kondo said. “You know when you write something it’s such a private endeavor and even when you submit it to somebody, I didn’t have a consciousness that somebody else is taking this work in. It’s a strange scenario. I have read a lot since I was a child, but I had come to writing fairly late. I haven’t been writing all that long, to be honest.” 

Kondo said she is honored to share the prize winnings with her peers Alen Hamza and Corey Miller. 

“[Hitz] is a phenomenal voice, a phenomenal talent, and I couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be luckier to be in his cohort,” Kondo said. “[Hamza] and [Miller] are third years in my program, so I’ve had the privilege of being in class with them. To me, these are the voices of the next generation. These men are so sharp and so bright, it’s painful to think about. I couldn’t be more honored to even be mentioned in the same breath as them.” 

Miller said he plans to continue work on his poetry manuscript “Onyxed Eden” and enter in other poetry competitions. 

“I’m going to start sending it out to poetry contests,” Miller said. “There are no agents, really, in poetry, so the beginning feels a little too much like a constant competition for my liking.”

Victoria Vlach, a course scheduler for the Asian Studies department, lost her job as a result of Shared Services. Through the creation of Centralized Business Services Office and the Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services in the College of Liberal Arts, 500 jobs are being eliminated.

Photo Credit: Miriam Rousseau | Daily Texan Staff

Though Kevin Hegarty, UT executive vice president and chief financial officer, said no layoffs will occur in UT’s move toward shared services, centralization within the College of Liberal Arts has led to the elimination of multiple positions.

The centralized offices within the College of Liberal Arts are in no way affiliated with the University-wide move to shared services, but the Shared Services Steering Committee reviewed the college’s centralization before producing its report and recommendations. 

In February, Victoria Vlach, the course scheduler in the department of Asian studies, was told her position was being eliminated “because of restructuring for improved efficiency,” according to documents obtained by The Daily Texan.

Over the course of the last two years, the College of Liberal Arts has worked to centralize its administrative and technological services by creating offices meant to work with multiple departments in the college. Of the 44 departments and centers in the college, 14 now work through the Centralized Business Services office. 

The Shared Services Steering Committee considered the success of the College of Liberal Arts’ centralization when drafting their own plan to cut University spending through the centralization of human resources, information technology, finance and procurement services. Hegarty said approximately 500 jobs must be eliminated in the consolidation through natural attrition and retirement. 

Vlach, who has worked at UT for 18 years, said she had heard about layoffs happening in other centers and departments in the college, but, because of the size and complexity of her department, she did not think her own job would be affected.

“It was like being sucker punched, having the wind knocked out of you, being hit with a ton of bricks — pick a metaphor, and it applied,” Vlach said.

Christine Williams, sociology department chair, said she thinks the College of Liberal Arts has handled centralization incredibly well, but she is not
comfortable with a University-wide effort.

“I’m completely terrified of the possibility of it going to a University level,” Williams said. “Keeping it at the college level is very important, both in terms of the ability to communicate needs to the college and [the college’s] understanding of the kind of operation we’re running here. I think it would be really different if it was kicked up two levels of administration.”

William Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department, said the college laid off four IT staff members when his department consolidated IT services. He said centralization efforts could potentially ease the financial strain in a department.

“We’re under all sorts of pressure to reduce costs,” Pennebaker said. “If there’s a way to do something that will get the job done and it turns out it’s cheaper, you have to at least give it a try.” 

Vlach said the people who make the decisions about layoffs underestimate the human consequences of their actions.

“I think they forget,” Vlach said. “I really think they forget the human piece of it. Numbers are fine, but they cannot hold the value of an individual human action.” 

Vlach said she worries that small steps towards centralization will escalate to larger levels.

“You’re playing Jenga, only you’re only pulling out pieces from the bottom layers,” Vlach said. “How long is that going to last before the whole thing comes crumbling down?”