College of Liberal Arts

Photo Credit: Alec Blair | Daily Texan Staff

Eavesdropping at an airport gate before a flight, Australian author Fiona McFarlane overheard a middle-aged couple nervously admit to each other they were terrified of the holiday they were about to embark on.

“It was so deeply touching and vulnerable but so silly at the same time,” McFarlane said.

The incident spawned a story in McFarlane’s latest book, a short story collection titled “The High Places.” The award-winning Australian writer and 2012 graduate of UT’s Michener Center for Writers gave a reading from the collection Monday night. The event was sponsored by Plan II and College of Liberal Arts Joynes Reading Series.

McFarlane said the book took her 10 years to write and was inspired by moments of inexplicable human behavior or oddities she observed around her.

“None of the stories in this book were written with the other stories in mind,” McFarlane said. “I hope that each story creates a different world. It’s about just the interesting or strange ways we engage in the artificial, that’s the thread that sort of binds the book together.”

The book won the Dylan Thomas Prize, an accomplishment that comes with $50,000 and is only given to authors under 40. McFarlane’s 2014 debut novel, “The Night Guest,” was also well-received by critics, chosen for the Voss Literary Prize and shortlisted for Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin.

When citing the accomplishments of McFarlane, who was born in 1978, English professor Kurt Heinzelman pointed out McFarlane’s youth. 

“She’s one of our local prizes, but she’s also a global prize,” Heinzelman said. “Not bad for a kid.”

“Buttony,” one of two stories McFarlane read from the collection, was an O. Henry Award winner, a distinction given annually to 20 short stories published in American and Canadian magazines. 

“I think ‘Buttony’ fits into the undercurrents of strangeness that I hope are in the book, of people behaving in ways that are sort of mysterious to them and the people around them,” McFarlane said.

Madison Schulz, a Plan II and business freshman, said she was almost transported by the stories McFarlane shared.

“The stories were really beautiful and poignant,” Schulz said. “The feel of the characters and of the situations going on were thrust on the listener. It’s something where each story is distinctive, but you feel like you’re there in each one.”

Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

A group of students and faculty members are currently building a case to add UT’s first law-focused certificate to the course schedule.

UT-Austin currently does not offer a minor or certificate program for pre-law students. Students from the Senate of College Councils and administrators in the College of Liberal Arts are working to change that by developing a certificate to offer students the chance to take law-related courses as an introduction to similar classes they may encounter in law school.

Current pre-law students often have difficulties receiving college credit for law classes, because they do not always fit into their degree plans, Senate policy director David Jenkins said.

“Because pre-law students come from a lot of different colleges and backgrounds, taking those classes is often difficult because they don’t contribute directly to your degree,” Jenkins, an English honors junior, said. “You have to take them as elective hours, and the University only really allots for so many of those."

Work on the certificate started about two years ago when students brought the need for a pre-law degree program to the attention of the Senate. After a series of roadblocks on both student and administrative sides, the organization is finally bringing the initiative back to the table, Jenkins said.

Government professor Raul Madrid is working with the team to get the project started, and they are currently in the process of working with members of the liberal arts college to form a committee and develop a proposal. He said the certificate would probably not be available to students for at least two to three years.

“We’re just in the process of forming a committee to try to study what it would consist of and what it would be called and the gist of what would be the requirements,” Madrid said. “We’re in the very early stages.”

Although the certificate will draw across departments for law and the criminal justice system classes, it will likely not be advertised as a pre-law certificate, so that students do not interpret it to be preparatory in any way for law school applications, Madrid said.

Madrid said he would like to dissuade students from thinking graduating with the certificate will tip the scales in their favor in regards to law school applications.

“Law schools themselves are not particularly interested in recruiting students that have a pre-law certificate,” Madrid said. “This has never been a priority for law schools.”

Senate vice president Lu Barraza said he does not expect the certificate to be a contentious proposal to pass, and that adding the certificate would be beneficial for students who want to take the first steps towards law school without the jump of taking the LSAT and applying.

The certificate might also have an affect on the number of applicants for the UT School of Law, Barraza said.

“One of the things that the law school brought up to us was that law schools across the country are experiencing a decline in applicants overall,” Barraza said. “We hope that this certificate will allow UT’s law school, as well as law schools around the country, to tap into the incredible students that we have here on campus and hopefully motivate them to pursue a career in law as well.”

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.”

Because safety concerns, temporary barricades have been placed around the perimeter of the College of Liberal Arts building. Some students have had to take alternate routes to classes because of the barricades.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Temporary barricades will remain around the perimeter of the College of Liberal Arts building until UT Facilities Services staff can determine what is causing the building’s large glass windows to break.

Facility workers identified the first broken glass pane March 27 and then set up construction barricades around the building and blocked off the patios and three entrances, said Laurie Lentz, Campus Planning & Facilities Management communications manager. 

While the construction barricades are temporary, Lentz said she is working on putting up better temporary barricades and coverings over the doors.

“We want to make sure people don’t get hit by falling glass,” Lentz said. 

Approximately five windows have cracked, but glass from those windows is not raining down on people entering the building, so the barricades are more of a precaution, according to Lentz

Stephanie Sebastian, international relations and global studies senior, said the barricades have forced her to take different paths to her classes. 

“Usually I go from the bus stop near the stadium and go to the bottom floor where my classes are, but, since that’s blocked off, I have to go on the right side of the fountain and go up and cross over,” Sebastian said. “I’m annoyed that I can’t get to the CLA as easily as I could before, but, at the same time, you can’t help if glass is breaking.”

Vandalism did not cause the cracks in the windows, Lentz said. The windows cracked naturally, but the glass is being tested to determine why it is breaking.

“The construction manager is overseeing inspection by the glass subcontractor, and UT System … is having the glass break analyzed by a testing lab,” Lentz said. “These windows contain safety glass, but all glass is subject
to breakage.”

Beause the glass is safety glass, Lentz said if it were to fall and break, it would not have sharp edges. Safety glass is used in multiple buildings across campus.

The CLA building opened in spring 2013, making it one of the newest buildings on campus. The building, which has a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, was designed to maximize natural lighting throughout the day.

“I think that’s weird because I would assume that newer buildings would be stronger,” Sebastian said. “I don’t know why it’s happening because I think since it’s newer, they should have been more prepared for it and used the right materials and glass to make sure that it doesn’t break.”

It is unclear as to when the barricades will go down and access to the patios and entrances will be reinstated.

“The barriers will remain in place until the window glass break issue has been fully resolved to the satisfaction of campus administration,” Lentz said. “The campus administration is taking these steps — inspection and analysis of the glass as well as installation of safety barriers — to ensure the safety of the campus community.”

Government senior D’Wahn Kelley said he did not know why the barricades were placed around the building, but it does not affect his access to the building.

“As long as students are safe and it does not create a great burden, I am fine with the barricades,” Kelley said.

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. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

The College of Liberal Arts’ TA Task Force released its official report last week. The document addresses issues facing teaching assistants and assistant instructors in the Graduate School including murky definitions of TA responsibilities, excessive grading requirements and fears of poor job security.

The report does a decent job of formulating solutions to these problems, but it is more remarkable for what it leaves out: a thoroughgoing discussion of the problems with the current stipend structure for TAs and AIs.

Yes, the report, which is based on a survey completed by 681 current and former TAs and AIs, indicates that 64 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with their compensation based on their typical workload. However, the solutions it proposes to this problem are like Band-Aids on a gushing wound. The report suggests “creat[ing] a ‘clearinghouse’ web portal to expedite interdepartmental hiring,” “offer[ing] TAs the option to receive stipends over 9 or 12 months,” “offer[ing] additional TAships over the summer” and “accelerat[ing] receipt of 1st paycheck,” this last referring to the current University accounting practice of paying employees in arrears.

These are all fine, but they miss the key funding issue that is causing so many of the problems for teaching assistants.

As task force spokesman Justin Doran told the Texan, “As I understand it, there is a set budget for teaching assistants and assistant instructors, and that money hasn’t increased for many years.”

We understand the task force was ultimately not charged with offering budget proposals to increase TA funding, but at the very least it could have proposed a robust discussion about the funding problems and the reasons the college wanted to cut 10 percent of TA positions from future cohorts, for instance.

We hope, then, that the college and University administration will be amenable to a town hall discussion open to all students, perhaps facilitated by the Graduate Student Assembly, to discuss the real, underlying issues leading to TA dissatisfaction. We have continually heard from people as high up as Esther Raizen, the college’s associate dean for research and graduate studies, that the college simply “[doesn’t] have money,” but the entire student body deserves to hear more about why.

And to make it easier for the administration, the Texan will gladly host.

COLA TA Task Force

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.

It’s like Shared Services all over again.

It’s even being brought before students at the same time of year, in the warm, bonhomous glow of the early fall. Former animus has supposedly been washed away, or at least papered over, and replaced with a clean slate. 

When Shared Services was brought before students last year, administrators feigned interest in their opinions about the elimination of staff jobs.

This time around, though, their indifference will likely hit much closer to home as most of the jobs likely to be cut will be students’.

The College of Liberal Arts’ TA Task Force, which has been charged with examining issues that affect graduate students, including compensation, workload and assignment, will be meeting throughout the semester, having done so twice already. 

Among the many topics under consideration will be the reduction of the total cohort of TAs and assistant instructors across the college.

Underlying these initiatives is a well-founded concern among administrators that the college is struggling to remain competitive with peer institutions with its low stipends. And because funding for the college hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, that means cuts to the student workforce. As it stands, the college pays most of its TAs with bachelor’s degrees around $5,500 less (if one looks at the total amount they receive rather than the base stipend) than the $26,500 the University recognizes as the annual combined tuition and living expenses for an in-state graduate student. (It’s more expensive for out-of-state students, but many of those get in-state tuition as part of their benefit packages, which can many times include a benefit to defray that cost as well.) 

This is a serious issue. If enacted, the cuts could eliminate a large number of jobs. But at this point we don’t know how many or how quickly those jobs will be slashed — for a number of reasons. First, the college has been inconsistent in its own numbers. In an email sent out Aug. 6, Esther Raizen, the college’s associate dean for research, said that “we will need to decrease the number of our TA/AI appointments by 10 percent or so by 2016-17.” In a more recent email, however, dated Sept. 9, Raizen’s assistant, Lauren Bairnsfather, said the reductions would need to be made by next year. Second, the college’s stated goal of decreasing appointments by 10 percent doesn’t match the target of 700 appointments that one member of the task force said was being aimed for. (The college currently has more than 800 teaching assistants and assistant instructors.) And third, after last week’s meeting, which was open to the public, the college has decided to close all future proceedings to potentially prying eyes. 

Those meetings, which will lead to the creation of a draft report to be presented to Raizen, will likely determine much of the future course of events for the college. However, I fear that much of the course may already be set. 

At last week’s meeting, several non-members of the task force raised concerns about a number of issues, including how the college would be able to afford to increase TA/AI stipends to the necessary minimum by cutting appointments by 10 percent. 

Dean Randy Diehl, who led that meeting, admitted quite plainly that it wouldn’t. 

In other words, if the college truly wants to remain competitive with peer institutions, it will almost certainly have to make further cuts at a later date given that its funding has been stagnant in recent years. 

These are issues that deserve the full attention and access of the University community. While I understand the need for changes to the funding structure for TAs and AIs, these cuts could potentially yank away the livelihoods of more than 100 graduate students, people who already don’t get paid enough for the work they do. As the task force continues to meet, I hope administrators truly listen to what the student task force members tell them.

Brands is a linguistics senior from Austin. 

The College of Liberal Arts established a task force to meet this semester and discuss issues directly affecting teaching assistants and assistant instructors, such as compensation and workload.

At its second meeting Tuesday, the TA Task Force talked about the potential reduction of TA and assistant instructor positions and an increase of stipends.

The task force is composed of 22 students with TA experience in the college’s doctorate granting units and two undergraduate representatives. The group was created to give graduate students a say in administrative affairs such as workload, training, professionalization of graduate students and compensation of TAs, according to Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, executive assistant in the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies.

In an email sent to the task force on Aug. 6, Esther Raizen, associate dean for the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, said the college needs to decrease the number of TAs and assistant instructors by about 10 percent in order make its stipend competitive with other institutions. Currently, the college hosts approximately 832 TAs and assistant instructors.

Bairnsfather said all solutions mentioned thus far are preliminary. She said the college is encouraging the task force to address and research the issues most important to them in order to increase student involvement in University decisions.

“The task force is here so they can be involved in defining what their role looks like at the University,” Bairnsfather said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Tammi Stout, a linguistics representative on the task force and an associate instructor, said graduate students expressed concern about the increased workload this may entail.

“There’s concern that with less graduate students, less professors would have TAs, and, for right now, there are a lot of questions that are unanswered, and it is really preliminary,” Stout said. “They haven’t figured it all out, and that’s going to take time, to figure out how do this without increasing the workload for anyone.“

Additionally, as noted on the University website, the average pay for TAs, including tuition reduction benefits, is about $23,000 compared to the approximately $26,500 living cost for student with no dependents.

According to Bairnsfather, the task force was implemented to give students a say in addressing this gap and increasing stipends.

“We really want to try to get closer to addressing that difference between how much money they make and how much money they need to live,” Bairnsfather said.

Brian Wilkey, Graduate Student Assembly president, said the assembly has no opinion on the task force at this time.

“Obviously, protecting graduate students’ opportunities is something that the Graduate Student Assembly cares about, but we also want to work within the frame of the administration,” Wilkey said.

Throughout the semester, Bairnsfather said students will meet and research whatever student issues they deem most important.

“They will have a couple of months to do research and come up with a report for us and give recommendations,” Bairnsfather said. “At that point, we will have recommendations and will have suggestions. At this point, we’re just studying the situation of TAs across the college.” 

According to Stout, being on the task force has given her the opportunity to better understand the administration’s work and its intricacies.

“I think the reality is, it’s really complicated,” Stout said. “For graduate students, from my perspective, one of the benefits is seeing how all of this works. As a graduate student, I kind of get an inside look to ask questions and see how complicated it is.”