Firing Line from Dean Iverson: UGS courses are meant to challenge students


Brent Iverson, chemistry professor and former chairman of the department of chemistry and biochemistry, currently serves as the Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: On occasion, the Daily Texan editorial board will publish a selection of tweets and online comments culled from the Daily Texan website and the various Daily Texan Twitter accounts, along with direct submissions from readers. Our intention is to continue the tradition of the Firing Line, a column first started in the Texan in 1909, in which readers share their opinions “concerning any matter of general interest they choose.” Submissions can be sent to Submissions are edited for length and clarity. 

Here’s a harsh reality faced by many students: college is much harder than high school was. 

The Signature Course, the UGS class required for every UT-Austin undergraduate, is designed to push entering students out of their comfort zones. This challenge can take a variety of forms, and of course it is slightly different for every student. UT is made up of a diverse entering class of students from all over Texas and beyond who have one thing in common: they were good enough to get into the university.

We created UGS 302s and 303s to address that diversity and to do a few other important things as well. Suchi Sundaram, whose recent Texan column you might have read, is partially correct: Signature Courses were developed to help transition students from a wide variety of high schools to college. But introducing them to the resources the campus offers is only one small portion of what the Signature Course aims to achieve. More importantly, the course is intended to be academically rigorous; our top faculty are trying to expand students’ horizons.

Sundaram asserts that “The diverse structures of the courses have led to a knowledge disparity among students.” Although each course is indeed distinct in its content and approach, here are the things every single Signature Course must incorporate:

•Distinguished faculty who have been recommended by their department chairs

•Interdisciplinary and contemporary content 

•Assignments that build a solid platform of writing skills

•An oral presentation requirement

•Information literacy content

•Organized use of unique campus resources

The advisory committee charged with making sure Signature Courses all meet those requirements and for ensuring the high quality of the courses overall is made up of faculty from a variety of disciplines, along with a student representative. 

Andrew Clark, the outgoing Senate president and the student voice on the committee, had this to say: “While it is true there is an incredible diversity of course offerings, I believe that’s what makes Signature Courses so valuable. They provide a chance to see what college has to offer. Mine remains one of the best courses I took at UT because it challenged me academically, personally, and ultimately expanded my worldview.”

Signature Courses and the faculty who teach them are focused on imparting to students what they believe will prove most valuable in a college education. According to top CEOs, medical school admissions officers and my own observations as my daughters leave college and enter graduate school or the work force, UT graduates need the following skills most of all: the ability to think critically about complex ideas, the ability to communicate effectively, and, above all, the ability to write persuasively.

Some students think the path of least resistance is the best one. As we enter the registration period, I hope that students opt for the classes that offer them the greatest opportunity for intellectual growth. 

Hook ‘em,

Brent Iverson

Dean, School of Undergraduate Studies