Graduate School

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

After months campaigning for increased graduate student housing, members of the Graduate Student Assembly said they are hopeful administrators will approve housing plans in the near future.

GSA’s Graduate Student housing committee began administering a housing survey to graduate students in February at the request of the UT administration, and more than 2,300 students responded. GSA president Brian Wilkey said the University administration has responded positively to the results of the survey.

“Our data was presented to the Graduate School and President [William Powers Jr.] has come to address at the GSA saying that the likelihood of the housing being approved is high,” said Wilkey, human development and family sciences graduate student, in an email. “This means we’re simply in a holding pattern until approval is given.”

Joy Wyckoff, psychology graduate student and committee chair, said most graduate students who responded to the survey said they felt affordable housing should be provided by the University.

“The majority [of] graduate students felt that it was important for UT to provide graduate student housing,” Wyckoff said in an email. “One reason is because many people found it difficult to find off-[campus] housing when they first came to UT.” 

Once the Graduate School drafts a plan that is approved by the University, Wilkey said they will send the plan to the UT System Board of Regents for approval.

GSA Vice President Vance Roper said he believes implementing new housing off campus seems fairly feasible, although finances are always an issue. 

“The challenges are less [about] getting approved … because the University is behind this,” said Roper, public affairs graduate student. “The biggest challenge is detailing what kind of housing do you get. That’s a big bulk of the problem … the nuts and bolts.”

The survey also asked students about their housing preferences, including room size, price and location. The committee and Graduate School have looked at placing the housing in nearby neighborhoods, Roper said. 

Wyckoff said affordability is one of the main issues graduate students face when looking for housing.  

“This is an important issue for graduate students, especially as rent prices are increasing in Austin,” Wyckoff said in an email. “Students also are moving from far away (only 11% of survey respondents were already living in Texas), so having graduate student housing option would make the transition to Austin smoother.”

Although the University does not have graduate-student-only housing, it currently operates three off-campus University apartment complexes, each approximately six miles south of campus. According to the Division of Housing and Food Services, the apartments are traditionally reserved for graduate students, student families and undergraduates.

Earlier this month, the GSA renewed the committee for another year so that they can continue to address the issue, Wilkey said.

Photo courtesy of the School of Information.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Andrew Dillon has served as dean of the School of Information, formerly the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, since 2002. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

The Daily Texan: The majority of people probably are not familiar with what this School of Information actually does. In your own words, can you explain what the school does and what it is centered around?

Andrew Dillon: We are centered around understanding the role of information in all human endeavors, but we are particularly concerned with examining that from a human and social aspect…We are very concerned with what’s being created in terms of a world infrastructure built around practices, orientation, behaviors, habits, people in effect and what they’re doing to the world in creating this new infrastructure. 

DT: What are the most exciting things going on at the iSchool right now?

Dillon: I would say generally it’s the faculty. We’ve assembled a very diverse intellectual group. There’s 22 faculty. You’ve got 13 different Ph.D.s. We’ve got people from anthropology, psychology, computer science, engineering, library information sciences, the humanities, philosophy. So you put all these people together and it’s a very unusual mix of talent…

DT: You were formerly dean of what was then called the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Since then, obviously, the school has undergone a number of transformations in terms of its focus. How have you managed that transition?

Dillon: Gently, I’d like to think. It’s part of a broader, now international sweep that you saw happen in the late ‘90s and early part of the century. Professional schools, particularly in the librarianship and information science area, traditionally understood and recognized that the world was changing rapidly… Schools started to recognize that there was a potential for thinking about information differently, so Michigan, ourselves and Washington all changed our names to School of Information and we have traditionally [been called] graduate schools of library information sciences… It’s grown now to more than 50 of us around the world under the Information School banner.

DT: What sort of careers do graduates go into?

Dillon: Historically, it would have been librarianship, archives, museum education. That percentage has dropped considerably. Looking at our current employment information, less than 50 percent is in the more traditional, what we call the collection agencies. That employment sector is still there but it’s a smaller space for our students now. Industry, the commercial sector, the research organizations, the other 50 percent… we have this incredibly long tail. Lots of people have these odd job titles that are unique to them… these sorts of titles were created by the organization that’s hired them in. In essence, what most of those people are doing is serving as some sort of information broker and organizer within a company.

DT: What benefits come from being the smallest school on campus? And then also, what challenges arise?

Dillon: There are some advantages to small, which are very tangible. We have faculty meetings once a month… I have tea with the students every semester. I know all of the students… In that sense, the camaraderie and the sense of community is great. There is an informality that comes with the size that is tremendously advantageous…When you ask for the other side of it… by being small, we feel that we are not as well known… student recognition of us as an entity on campus is a lot lower because there are fewer of us going around. Budgetarily, especially as a specialized graduate program, we don’t have a role to play in the predominantly undergraduate-driven agenda.

DT: How do you keep students from feeling isolated from the rest of the University?

Dillon: If you come to the iSchool, you are physically present with people regularly in a confined space. If we were distributed around campus, I’m not sure we would have the same sense of identity in that way…We bring a lot of professionals in, we have a lot of open forums. There’s a commitment generally to creating that sense of partnership and community.

DT: Can you explain the importance of the capstone project here?

Dillon: Aye! That’s part of our master’s program requirements. The goal of the capstone is to say to employers and to allow students to say to employers, “Look, I’ve got a workable, real-world example of what I can do.” The idea of the capstone is to culminate the coursework you’ve done to date in a project… It becomes a very tangible, demonstrable quality to their education.

DT: Is there anything else you would like students to know about the iSchool?

Dillon: Know that if you have a skill set in the humanities or liberal arts and you feel overwhelmed by technology but are interested in it at the same time, this is absolutely the program for you. We take people with almost zero computational skill and turn them into information professionals. If you are willing to work, we can do it.

Vice Provost Judith Langlois will serve as the permanent dean of the UT Graduate School. Langlois, who was appointed Thursday, has served as interim dean of graduate studies since January 2012 and will retain her post as vice provost in addition to her new appointment.

The UT Graduate School is home to more than 100 programs and more than 11,000 graduate students. It is one of the largest Ph.D.-producing institutions in the country, and is frequently ranked as the largest Hispanic Ph.D.-producing graduate school.

Langlois received her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University and went on to join the UT faculty in 1973. She was appointed vice provost in 2007, and then interim dean of the graduate school after former dean Victoria Rodriguez stepped down 18 months ago. Before her time as interim dean of graduate studies, Langlois served once as associate dean and twice as interim dean for the College of Liberal Arts.

“I never learned how to behave like an interim,” Langlois said. “I always approached interim jobs as if we’re [going to] move full steam ahead. In that sense, I don’t think anything will be different in terms of my attitude about moving things forward.”

Langlois was appointed by Provost Gregory Fenves, who said he has received immediate positive feedback from almost every dean at the University about the appointment.

“She has a vision for graduate students,” Fenves said. “She is very caring and approachable … She also worked exceptionally well with the deans of the graduate schools and colleges.”

Both Fenves and Langlois said they are excited to work together in continuing to make the graduate school competitive enough to attract the best graduate students.

“I very much look forward to working with Provost Fenves,” Langlois said. “I think he has a great vision for the University, as does President Powers. Being a part of their leadership team is very exciting, and I really look forward to working with them.”

Columbia Mishra, president of Graduate Student Assembly, has worked with Langlois since she began her tenure as assembly president last year. She said she considers Langlois a very important collaborator with the assembly.

“She definitely cares for graduate student needs,” Mishra said. “She’s a very good coach. She gives good feedback to us as we reach toward different goals … She has a good vision and passion for graduate students and graduate studies.”

Langlois said she is looking forward to taking graduate programs to the next level of excellence. Her plans to move forward include enhancing graduate school career services and creating more informative benchmarking measures. Langlois said that by providing professional development workshops and career counseling to graduate students, she hopes to inform corporate America about the wealth of talent she believes UT graduate students have. According to Langlois, creating better benchmarking measures will involve implementing external reviews to assess strengths and weaknesses of graduate programs.

“I’m excited,” Langlois said. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

Vice Provost Judith Langlois has been appointed permanent dean of UT Graduate School, as announced today. Langlois has served as interim dean of graduate studies since January 2012.

Langlois, who is executive vice president and provost Gregory Fenves' first appointment, will continue to serve as vice provost as well as permanent dean.

In addition to her experience as interim dean of graduate studies, Langlois once served as associate dean and twice as interim dean for the College of Liberal Arts.

“I never learned how to behave like an interim,” Langlois said. “I always approached interim jobs as if we’re gonna move full steam ahead. In that sense, I don’t think anything will be different in terms of my attitude about moving things forward.”

Langlois said she is looking forward to taking graduate programs to the next level of excellence. Plans to move forward include enhancing graduate school career services and creating more informative benchmarking measures.

“I’m excited,” Langlois said. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

A new private loan company is set to lend more to UT students and alumni than the total amount of private loans the University’s financial aid office certified last academic year if the company is successful in obtaining alumni investment.

SoFi Student Loans claims it brings an innovative solution to financing education, but a national financial aid expert is critical of the company’s sustainability. At the end of last month, the company filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to create a UT-specific fund.

Since April 2012, the company has expanded and lent more than $90 million to students at 79 universities with zero defaults. The company is currently focusing on re-financing student loans of business students at a 5.99 percent interest rate but also extends credit to undergraduate alumni who have secured high-paying jobs, company spokeswoman Arden Grady said. The company cannot make new loans because it has run out of money, Grady said.

“All loans are on waitlist status,” Grady said.  “We expected there to be a high demand, but we’ve had to turn those loans off temporarily while we raise more capital to fund those loans.”

Grady said the company hopes to start lending again in March, after a fundraising campaign. SoFi has lent $1.3 million to 14 UT students and alumni so far, Grady said. Another 96 students were on a list to borrow more than $7.2 million as of Feb. 19, she said. 

If SoFi were to loan to everyone on the waitlist, the amount borrowed from the company by those affiliated with UT would surpass the amount of private loans the University certified last year. From summer 2011 to spring 2012, the UT financial aid office certified $7.8 million in private loans to 623 students, said Tom Melecki, director of Student Financial Services. Of those borrowing, 80 students were graduate students, who borrowed more than $1.6 million.

SoFi Loans was founded in 2011 by graduates of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The company’s goal was to make loans to 100 graduate business students at Stanford with an interest rate lower than federal loans. In addition to seed capital, the company raised funds by offering long-term investment opportunities to alumni.

“The founders saw that students around them were burdened with a lot of debt, and not a lot of great options to pay them off,” Grady said. “Typically with business school debt you’re looking at $100,000 and in most cases the federal government is going to charge you 7.9 percent interest on most of that.”

UT MBA student Michael Sciortino said he would welcome an alternative to the federal loan program.

“Right now the federal interest rates aren’t great,” Sciortino said. “I’d be totally open to something that had lower rates.”

UT alumnus Zac Zeitlin is now a venture capitalist and decided to invest in SoFi more than a year ago, and in the UT-specific SoFi fund in the past two months. 

“I think it’s a great way to support students at any school, but in this case where I went to school,” Zeitlin said. “I think it’s a very creative form of impact investing allowing those who want to help others get an education and give back. This way of doing it makes good sense from an investor’s perspective by investing in great students with a great credit profile.”

Grady said investors can expect a return comparable to those seen from other long-term investments.

Mark Kantrowitz, financial aid expert and founder of fastweb.com, isn’t convinced the company is sustainable for a long period of time because interest rates will rise higher than federal rates. 

“I would expect that their loan terms on new loans will evolve each year as the interest rate changes,” Kantrowitz said. “So you might take advantage of them this year, but next year the loan won’t be so good. In a few years from now the deal will clearly be worse than the federal loans.”

Kantrowitz also questions SoFi’s marketing strategy for alumni investors.

When SoFi announced it had raised $77 million in September 2012, it stated in a press release that Chinese social network company Renren, capital firm Baseline Ventures and venture capital firm DCM were lead investors. Grady said SoFi cannot release details of how many alumni investors the company has or how much venture capital the company has raised. 

“My concerns are more for the sustainability of the organization than for the students,” Kantrowitz said.“The reality is not the same as the marketing. I mean, they do have some alumni investors, but it looks like the bulk of their funding is coming from outside capital. Having some sort of social network involved probably has some sort of minimal benefit for decreasing default rates.”

Kantrowitz said his concerns about the company should not keep students from taking a loan with a better interest rate. 

“I don’t see any reason a student who qualifies for their loans shouldn’t take advantage of it if it means they can get a lower interest rate,” Kantrowitz said. “The main reason for caution is if a student is going into public service and expect to qualify for public service loan forgiveness then they should stick with the federal loans.”

UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said in a statement that the university is unfamiliar with SoFi, but does not anticipate that the company’s fundraising will interfere with UT’s fundraising.

“We continue to be grateful for the generosity of our donors and alumni as they support this institution and our students,” Doolittle said. “Business opportunities and charitable giving often work hand in hand, so at first glance we don’t see any reason why a private business enterprise such as this would conflict with our charitable fundraising efforts.”

Grady said the program shouldn’t take away from money that would go to scholarships or endowments.

“It’s a different way of giving back to the school,” Grady said. “This is something beyond if you were to donate to an endowment. You can still do that. This is a way to invest money you were already planning on investing while having a direct, positive impact on students at the University.”

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Loan company offers new way to borrow". 

Graduate students who work as teaching assistants or assistant instructors are seeing a temporary increase in their tuition assistance benefits to cover last year’s permanent increase in their tuition.

Last week, the Graduate School sent an email to all TAs and AIs, informing them that students who work for more than 20 hours a week will see their semester tuition assistance increase from $3,784 to $4,000, which is about a 5.7 percent increase. Students who work more than 10 hours, but less than 19, will see their pay increase from $1,415 to $2,000, which is about a 6 percent increase. The increase brings tuition assistance benefits closer to the cost of tuition, which differs from college to college. Tuition for full-time graduate students enrolled for 9 hours residing in Texas attending the College of Liberal Arts is $4,040.

John Dalton, assistant dean of Graduate Studies, said the increase in graduate students’ tuition assistance benefits will help this year, but as it stands these increases will not be around next fall.

“We are happy we could do it, but we wish we could do it more,” Dalton said.

The UT System Board of Regents froze undergraduate tuition at the University this year, but graduate students face a 3.6 percent increase. Michael Redding, president of the Graduate Student Assembly and Texas Student Media contract employee, said it is important to keep the tuition assistance benefits close to the cost of tuition.

“With the regents raising tuition, it became very obvious that we were not competitive in our assistance,“ Redding said. “It fundamentally boils down to ‘Are we able to recruit good graduate students and are we able to retain them?’”

“The budget picture is uncertain — we can only guarantee this supplement to increase tuition assistant benefits for the 2012-2013 academic year,” Marvin Hackert, associate dean of Graduate Studies said. “However, we are always looking for funds to help support our graduate students.”

Hackert said the gap between the tuition for full-time graduate students with teaching jobs and their tuition benefits has increased in recent years. This one-time increase temporarily shortens the gap.

Dalton said the Graduate School is also working on making the tuition assistance benefits tax-free. Since the tuition assistance benefits first started in 1997, they have still been taxable.

“We are pleased to be able to move forward and remove some of that tax liability. Our hope is to be in place with that sometime next summer,” Dalton said. “Every student’s tax situation is different.”

Correction at 9:19 a.m. on September 12: This story was updated to show that the tuition for full-time enrolled graduate students in the College of Liberal Arts is $4,040.

 President William Powers Jr. spent a good portion of Monday’s Faculty Council meeting explaining the University’s recent decision to move certain funding decisions from the Graduate School to individual colleges and departments.

Previously, graduate students applying for fellowships would do so through the Graduate School. The Graduate School was also in charge of administering Faculty Research Awards, which give tenured professors funding for a semester to conduct research only, and Summer Research Awards, which give tenure-track professors funding for the summer.

The new structure transfers the decision-making power to colleges and departments. Powers said the change was in order to make the University more competitive in faculty and graduate student recruitment. He said UT lags behind its peer institutions in financial support packages it offers and that those resources will be better targeted by the colleges and departments at the ground level.

The change can yield several benefits. For one, guaranteed fellowships and research awards can be incorporated into the recruitment pitch the University makes to potential faculty and graduate students. And restructuring the process at a departmental level allows the funding to be catered in a way that best captures the nuances of the different colleges.

But this move signals the continuing shift of power to the deans, and while the change may be framed in the context of reduced budgets and resources, the decision is in line with the war against centralization that Powers — a former School of Law dean — advocates.

As the University moves toward more decentralized decision-making under Powers, students, faculty and staff need to make sure they exercise every opportunity to provide input on major issues to ensure that power isn’t simply shifted from the top of the University to the top of the college.

The Graduate School released the names of the Dobie Paisano Writing Fellowship winners Friday, and expects to announce the winners for the William C. Powers, Jr. Graduate Fellowship soon.

The Powers Fellowship selects its fellows from students nominated by their departments, while the Dobie Paisano Fellowship requires each applicant to either be a native Texan who has spent three years in the state, or someone who has published significant work with a Texas subject.

Dobie Paisano Fellowship

The two winners of the Dobie Paisano Fellowship will stay at a ranch outside Austin for four or six months to focus on their work.

One winner of the Dobie Paisano Fellowship was Manuel Luis Martinez, a novelist from San Antonio. Martinez left Texas in 1989 after completing his undergraduate work at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Since then he has published several books and taught at Indiana University and Ohio State University.

“I’ll be using the Dobie Paisano fellowship to write my next novel which is about a family that lives in San Antonio, Texas,” Martinez said.

Martinez heard about the fellowship from friends and fellow writers Catherine Bowman and David Wright who are both past recipients of the fellowship.

Martinez said he is primarily a “cultural” writer, and he is excited for the opportunity to do his work on the historical 254-acre retreat that housed notable Austin writer and folklorist J. Frank Dobie.

“I’m always interested in the people that made up a place and what stories hide behind the story that is written,” Martinez said.

He will live at the ranch from September until December, and will leave the ranch to the fellowship’s second recipient, Stefan Merrill Block. Block will live at the ranch for six months starting next February.

Block has authored two novels and hopes to complete his draft for a third, set mostly in 19th century Texas.

“It’s a coming-of-age story about a young writer of fantastic tales, sort of an American H.G. Wells,” Block said.

He said this novel will be more expansive than his previously “borderline-autobiographical” work and more a product of his imagination.

He mostly looks forward to the time to work and the quiet that the ranch will provide.

“The biggest anxiety a fiction writer has is time,” Block said. “The fact there is six months devoted writing time and I don’t have to worry about paying bills or meeting anyone else’s schedule seems like the greatest gift you could have as a fiction writer.”

William C. Powers, Jr. Graduate Fellowship

The fellows for the William C. Powers, Jr. Graduate Fellowship have not been named, but the program received a $250,000 challenge grant at the end of last week. Kathleen Mabley, marketing manager for the Office of Graduate Studies, said the private donor will match dollar-for-dollar if the University raises $250,000 from other donors, for a total of an additional $500,000 to the program.

Mabley said the fellowship provides new or returning graduate students in all disciplines with tuition for spring and fall semesters, a medical stipend and a financial stipend to aid in their research.

There have been five recipients in the past in fields ranging from anthropology to mechanical engineering. It has not been decided how many will receive the fellowship, but the announcement should be expected soon.

The program started in 2009 with a $1 million donation from Dr. Steven Ungerleider, an alumnus and renowned sports psychologist in Oregon.

UT President William Powers Jr. said he is extremely appreciative of the donation that created the program that is his namesake.

“Stephen Ungerleider has been a very generous benefactor on a lot of issues around campus, but [the Graduate School] is one of his areas of concentration, and [these fellowships] just happen to be named after me,” Powers said.

Powers said he is confident that the University’s fundraising will be able to match the challenge grant, which means good things for the University as a whole.

“In our graduate programs, we’re competing with Princeton, Yale, University of Virginia and several others in a very competitive market,” Powers said. “We are somewhat behind those schools in the stipends that we can offer to graduate students, and we never want to pass up great graduate students.”

Powers said the previous recipients are doing fantastic work.

“The individuals that hold these scholarships are highly sought after and it’s great to have them on campus,” Powers said. 

Abhijit Joshi, an alumnus of the Michener Center for Writers, has been distinguished as the Graduate School’s Outstanding Graduate Alumnus of the year.

Graduate studies spokeswoman Kathleen Mabley said the annual outstanding graduate award is given to students who get their master’s or doctoral degrees at UT and display exceptional achievements in their careers.

“What we do then is we give a $5,000 fellowship in the name of the outstanding alumnus. It is awarded to a graduate student in the same program for which the award winner graduated,” Mabley said.

Joshi has written some of the highest-grossing films in Bollywood, a term commonly used for the Hindi-language Indian film industry.

Joshi continues to work with highly successful Bollywood screenwriters, filmmaker and producers such as Yash Chopra, who is hailed as one of the most distinguished directors in the Indian film industry, said Michener Center program coordinator Marla Akin.

“We are really proud because this is the first time a graduate student from a creative program has won an outstanding alumnus award,” Akin said.

UT’s Graduate School celebrated its 100th anniversary with steel drums and sheet cakes on the West Mall on Wednesday.

More than 600 graduate students from diverse programs and their coordinators and advisers stopped by for the event.

Victoria Rodriguez, dean and vice provost of the graduate school, said the school has awarded about 125,000 master’s and doctoral degrees over the course of its history. According to the University’s website, the number of students enrolled in the school has increased from 32 in the first class to more than 11,500 this year. The school currently offers about 100 graduate programs.

“We’re very happy with our birthday celebration,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an important milestone.”

Many success stories punctuate the history of UT’s graduate school, said spokeswoman Kathleen Mabley. She said she recently edited “Changing the World,” a reference book that chronicles 100 stories of notable alumni.

J.M. Coetzee, who received his doctorate in English from UT and went on to win the Nobel prize in literature in 2003, is featured in the book. Other famous graduate school alumni include former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, Mabley said.

“Some names [in the book] you will recognize and others not,” she said. “All of these people, in their own ways, are changing the world.”

One less familiar name in “Changing the World” is Yohannes Gebregeorgis, who received his master’s in library science from the University. Gebregeorgis immigrated to the United States and eventually obtained a job as a children’s librarian in California, Mabley said. When he realized his native language, Amharic, did not have any children’s books, he decided to write one. The proceeds from his book went to improving literacy in Ethiopia.

“Changing the World” will be available in the University Co-op starting Nov. 12.

While remembering past successes was a part of recognizing the anniversary, the current students were not overlooked.

“In this day and age a graduate degree has become much more important to advance in your career,” Mabley said.

Many of the graduate students at the celebration, including landscape architecture student Britta Johanson, said in some fields the master’s degree is the new bachelor’s.

“I felt that my bachelor’s was pretty much worthless in getting me the career that I wanted,” she said.

Johanson, originally from Minnesota, also considered the University of California, Berkeley when selecting a program but settled on Texas because of two faculty members she wanted the opportunity to work with, she said.