Cornell University

Correction: An earlier version of this column erred on multiple points regarding the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the sourcing of the University's apparel from VF Corporation.

On Oct. 29, the halls of the Tower echoed with chants, yells and finally a banner drop calling on students and faculty to join United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) in their demand that the University cut ties with VF Corporation, the company that supplies our school with imagewear and garments sold at the Co-Op and various stores on The Drag. While the VF goods made in Bangladesh don’t go directly to UT, the workers who are part of any corporation we’re associated with deserve respect. The University needs to terminate its contract and look elsewhere for suppliers, specifically for ones that care about the conditions their workers must face.

Unfortunately, mass production, while convenient for consumers, often comes with a steep price paid in human lives. Following the devastating Bangladesh garment factory collapse in 2013 that killed 1,135 workers and injured 2,500 more, more than 150 companies with ties to that country’s garment industry signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which ensures the protection of workers from accidents in hundreds of buildings. In a nutshell, this agreement would ensure regular inspections and safety training to prevent another horrific incident from happening. Unlike the many signatories, however, VF Corporation refused to comply with the terms for their Bangladeshi factories and associate with the Accord. While the company may be trying to protect its bottom line, it’s unconscionable that impoverished men and women working excessive hours to make ends meet have to fear for their lives during their shifts.

The garment workers in Bangladesh are paid the lowest wage in the world, hardly enough for a reasonable standard of living. These same factories that VF Corporation uses to produce their garments have come under fire as even children as young as nine are employed in the shocking conditions. The high demand for cheap apparel forces many children into the business for life, leaving them illiterate as they cannot attend school if they want a roof over their heads.

While VF Corporation claims to care about worker safety, little is done until outsiders cause a scene. While VF is a member of the Alliance For Bangladesh Worker Safety, this group is operationally weak in comparison with the Accord and has performed only mediocre inspections, leading to yet another factory collapse in June which left 29 workers injured. The Alliance does training and inspections but forces the local factories, also under financial pressures, to take out loans to pay for the necessary remodeling of unsafe buildings. In stark contrast, the Accord legally binds parent companies to pay for remodeling, permanently employs local engineers and inspectors to check 50 factories a week and even performs regular checks on the work of the inspectors for an added measure of accountability.

According to USAS, the Worker Rights Consortium achieved victory earlier this year after a 14-month campaign to convince UT to affiliate humanitarian group. But the fight isn’t over. Now, USAS emphasizes the desperate need to advocate for foreign workers by simply switching to another, safer garment provider. So far, student-led labor rights groups have found victory in the same request at 14 other universities — most recently at Cornell University, which saw a similar protest against that school’s involvement with JanSport just this fall.

To aid in the solution beyond merely elucidating the problem, USAS suggests an alternative to VF: Alta Gracia, a Central American company that makes campus gear while paying salario digno – a wage with dignity. While President William Powers Jr. has yet to respond, weeks later, to the letter requesting a contract termination, the group patiently waits while continuing to spread word of their cause.

It’s unsettling to see such a request for change in a humanitarian effort be denied in the recent response from Powers. The apparel industry has no shortage of suppliers. If the University is truly committed to their core value of responsibility, they can seek out another apparel provider. It is not a question of whether it is right to make garment workers work in conditions where they constantly fear for their lives. Rather it is a question of what we can do to change it. UT can start here by terminating their contract with VF Corporation and change the lives of people half a world away. “What starts here changes the world” is plastered all over campus to inspire students, but it means nothing if the University as an institution is not willing to do something so fundamental as end their direct support of human rights violations.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.

 

Gretchen Ritter

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance, is excited to spend the coming fall in Ithaca — because, for all she will miss about the University, one thing she is not sad to leave behind is Texas weather. 

Ritter, also a government professor, is leaving UT to be the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. A Cornell alumna herself, she will be the school’s first female dean.

“It was actually a little surprising to me that I’ll be the first woman in the position,” Ritter said. “I don’t think it will feel like a big deal to anyone there.”

Ritter, who has been on UT’s faculty since 1992, was instrumental in the creation of the Course Transformation Program, an initiative designed to improve large, lower division gateway courses by promoting student and faculty engagement. Steve Leslie, outgoing executive vice president and provost, said the Course Transformation Program was one of Ritter’s greatest accomplishments. 

“UT was one of the first places in the country to launch these blended and online learning initiatives, and Gretchen built that,” Leslie said. “She had the strength and persistent focus on cutting edge ways of transforming courses to set the stage for the methods we use today.”

Ritter also mentioned the program as one of her proudest achievements. 

“I’m proud of having supported an experiment that uses educational technology in positive and thoughtful ways, and in ways that were faculty led and designed,” Ritter said.

Ritter said her decision to leave is based on a variety of factors, including her appreciation of Cornell and a desire to return to the region of the country where she grow up. But in making her decision, Ritter said she also reflected on more recent concerns she has had about the state of Texas public higher education.

“I’m going because this is a great opportunity for me,” Ritter said. “But of course, I did reflect on the fact that it sometimes feels as though there is not as strong a commitment to supporting public higher education in the state as there used to be. That worries and concerns me.” 

Last week, history professor David Oshinsky announced his resignation from UT in favor of working full-time at New York University. Though he cited family connections and personal opportunities as reasons for his departure, he told the Austin-American Statesman that recent conflicts between UT and the UT System Board of Regents made the choice easier. 

“I do leave with sort of a bittersweet taste ... I see the University under fire now,” Oshinsky told the Statesman. “It does disturb me.”

Ritter said if trends like a lack of public commitment and support for public higher education continue, the University will suffer.

“I think we will be paying the price a decade from now,” Ritter said.

Still, Ritter said, she will miss many things about the University, including her colleagues and certain things that make UT a distinctly Texan university. 

“I’ll definitely miss salsa and tortilla chips,” Ritter said. 

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost and government professor, leaving UT, heading to Cornell

Gretchen Ritter, UT government professor and vice provost for undergraduate education, is leaving the University for a new position at Cornell University.

According to a press release from Cornell University, Ritter will serve as the school's 21st dean of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Ritter is the latest administrator to leave an open leadership position, following Provost and Executive Vice President Steven Leslie's announcement to step down in February. Leslie is staying at UT, however, while Ritter is not.

Ritter will be the first woman dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

At UT, Ritter is known for directing UT's Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and more recently steering the Course Transformation Program, an initative that aims to improve large, entry level classes. She also co-authored the final report of a Gender Equity Task Force from 2008, which identified nine categories of gender equity issues on campus.

In a press release from Cornell University, Ritter said she is excited for her new position.

"I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve as the next dean of this great college. Cornell is a special place – as I know from my years of having been a student there," Ritter said. "I look forward to working with the college's extraordinary students, faculty and alumni in making a great college even stronger in the years to come."

 

The unintended messages portrayed by the media play a larger role in an audience member’s memory than the intended ones, according to a Cornell University assistant professor.

The Department of Radio-Television-Film Colloquium Series presented a discussion Thursday led by Cornell University assistant professor Sahara Byrne called “The Boomerang Effect.” Byrne’s research shows that people resist persuasive arguments that intend to change attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. She focuses on the way messages are perceived based on the conditions under which they are presented.
 

Byrne said her first recognition of the boomerang effect was during a lecture when she was in middle school. She said the lecture focused on a beautiful 16-year-old girl named Vanessa who had been addicted to heroin. After leaving the talk, Byrne said despite Vanessa’s addiction to heroin, her friends were attracted to her physical appearance and wanted to be like her.

“I started to wonder what kinds of effects did sexual messages have on society and what kind of psychological effects would the way women are seen over time have on individuals,” Byrne said. “So I decided to get a Ph.D. to answer some of these questions.”

Byrne’s study on the boomerang effect began with an experiment aiming to prevent negative effects of violent media on children by conducting an intervention to help children use less aggression after watching violent films, she said. Byrne said she concluded that the only children able to avoid aggression were children with a high cognitive ability who also received a media lesson helping to instill morals. Byrne said the children at risk are those with a low cognitive ability, and steps need to be taken to help these children avoid the boomerang effect.
 

“We need to think about how to help people focus on resisting the negative effects of advertising,” Byrne said.

Byrne derived an experiment using a mobile device to test the boomerang effect. She said she distributed cell phones to a group of younger students, who used the phone to take pictures of their breakfasts each morning. The pictures were sent to virtual pets who would either approve or disapprove of the meal based on nutritional value, Bryne said. She said there are major advantages of using the mobile study, because it allowed her to tailor the experiment by giving the students a device to connect to the study.
 

Communications studies graduate student Ashley Muddiman said she thinks the boomerang effect applies to everyday life because of the prevalence of advertising.

“The boomerang effect is important because advertisements are everywhere,” Muddiman said. “I question if I resist something being advertised because of the messages being thrown at me.”

Radio-television-film graduate student Rui Wu said she has experienced an urge to buy something regardless of the negative advertisements presented.

“I have seen the boomerang effect in action many times,” Wu said. “I have been out with my boyfriend, and he will see an advertisement that warns the public about the negative effects of smoking and then he will proceed to buy a pack of cigarettes.”

The efforts of Professor Larry Speck and his colleagues have contributed to the School of Architecture undergraduate program ranking second nationally for 2012, according to professional journal DesignIntelligence. Nonetheless, Dean Frederick Steiner voices concerns whether decreased funding will jeopardize the prestigious ranking.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

Competitive tuition and faculty accomplishments within the School of Architecture were likely factors in the school’s undergraduate program being ranked second in the nation for 2012. Budget cuts could threaten to bring that ranking down in the future, architecture dean Frederick Steiner said.

UT’s ranking, compiled by DesignIntelligence, a journal that produces the only national rankings for accredited bachelor’s and master’s architecture programs in the United States, was second only to Cornell University.

“Students definitely look to rankings, so it’s better to be ranked high,” Steiner said. “I actually believe at the undergraduate level, we’re the best in the country. I think we’re stronger than Cornell who is ranked ahead of us. We are certainly the top public university in the nation at the undergraduate level.”

DesignIntelligence did not respond to requests to disclose their ranking system on Monday, but Steiner said cost was a significant factor. Of the top 10 universities, UT was the least expensive in 2010 for in-state tuition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, according to information compiled by the School of Architecture.

“We are by far and away the cheapest, most inexpensive school,” Steiner said. “What keeps me up at night is if we will be able to continue to keep that ranking when obviously our budget is not increasing.”

Steiner said the School of Architecture has filled faculty vacancies with lower ranking titles than their outgoing predecessors to save $52,000 in the past year. He said support from the university president and provost have helped navigate through budget cuts, but he said he knows maintaining the quality of the program with less money is unsustainable.

As Steiner and other administrators dealt with the logistics of funding, he said the fantastic work during 2011 by faculty contributed to the school’s 2012 ranking, which rose from seventh place last year.

“Larry Speck won the Topaz medallion which is the highest honor for an architectural educator,” Steiner said. “The faculty also won quite a few awards and published several books that year, so we were quite productive.”

DesignIntelligence added architecture professor Larry Speck and associate professor Hope Hasbrouck to its list of “top 25 most admired educators of 2012.” These designations, released in conjunction with program rankings, are achieved through recommendation from architecture students and academics, which makes the accomplishment more rewarding, Speck said.

“It’s the sort of thing you can’t campaign for or apply for, which is great,” Speck said. “I love it when you don’t apply and people say ‘Yeah, that’s someone I admire.’”

Architecture graduate student Nelly Fuentes expressed her admiration for Hasbrouck.

“She’ll be the last one to brag about herself, but her wealth of knowledge and experience in the profession is quite impressive,” Fuentes said. “As a professor she is invested and insightful, particularly with regards to the making of place and representing landscape.”

Architecture senior James Spence said he took a class with Speck freshman year and said talented instructors like him had to have benefited UT’s ranking.

“UT’s strengths are the sure-fire reasons the school was ranked No. 2 in the nation,” Spence said. “Most of these strengths come from our staff. Not only are our professors very well versed in their respective fields of architecture, but they are deeply involved with the progress of their students.”