David Brooks

Artistin-residence David Brooks started exhibiting his artwork at the Vaulted Gallery on Sept 19.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Visual Arts Center | Daily Texan Staff

When walking into the Visual Arts Center Vaulted Gallery, it looks a little like the room is under repair. Building scaffolding holds up a 70-foot long core sample. The sample stretches diagonally from one corner of the ceiling to the opposite ground side of the gallery, where it exits through a hole in the gallery window and reenters the earth.

David Brooks, who has a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia University and works out of Brooklyn, is the Vault Gallery artist-in-residence. His exhibition, “Repositioned Core,” which opened Sept. 19, blends his knowledge of science and art. His artwork highlights the dynamics between individuals and nature and often the disconnection that exists between the two. For example, he placed a section of the tropical rainforest in the Museum of Modern Art in New York to represent his perspective on humans and nature.

Each year, the Visual Arts Center invites working artists to show their artwork at the gallery. During the selection process, faculty determine which artist is invited to work at the University based on their need for resources and desire for collaboration.  

“As this is one of the country’s great research universities, this was certainly an opportunity I was delighted to take,” Brooks said. 

At the beginning of the process, Brooks explored the Jackson School of Geosciences for inspiration. As he toured the facilities, he realized geological material resembled sculpture. Along with the physical nature of core samples, he drew inspiration from Texas oil culture.

“As a Northerner. when I think of Texas — for better or for worse — I think of oil,” Brooks said. “I wanted to think about another way to build relationships to an industry that is very much a part of our lives and also very much a destructive one.”

In addition to the 70-foot sculpture, Brooks published photographs of articles in pamphlets given to visitors. The articles he and a team of UT students came across were used by field workers to date sediments. By placing a daily newspaper with the core sample, the samples were chronologically archived. The articles cover everything from national events, like the Red Scare, to old advertisements indicative of the era. 

“It takes a serious team to do these kinds of projects, and everyone involved had an enthusiastic spirit about them, and I think the project succeeded with a perfection only possible with this kind of community spirit,” Brooks said. 

A little over a year ago, Jade Walker, the director of the Visual Arts Center, asked Brooks to be an artist-in-residence at UT. 

“David is a perfect fit for this project as his artistic practice spans disciplines and in a collaborative nature,” Walker said. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock far, far away from campus, you’re aware that the University of Texas favors four-year graduation rates. President William Powers, Jr. mentions the subject in many of his public addresses, and UT administrators collectively chime in to echo the sentiment at any given opportunity.

A common rationale in support of increasing four-year graduation rates is that the University has enrollment limits it cannot exceed. So, theoretically, for every two UT students who take six years to graduate, a total of four years of education gets wasted. In other words, the University must turn away one applicant to make up for these two students’ delays. Examples like these make me, an elective 5-year student, feel quite criminal.

The University’s primary objective is to raise the current four-year graduation rate of just over 50 percent. Last year, the University established the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates to develop strategies for achieving a new goal of a 70 percent four-year graduation rate by 2016. The University appointed Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts as task force chair, and in February, the task force published its findings.

The more than 100-page report hasn’t garnered much student attention, but the task force also released a more readable, two-page overview. It includes seven concrete recommendations to provide incentive for students to graduate in four years. Still, many of the full report’s findings failed to make it into the brief overview. One finding in particular stands out: men are the problem.

Female students at UT have a four-year graduation rate of 57.2 percent, while male students lag at 46.7 percent. That hefty gap is difficult to explain. Equally tough to interpret is the fact that male students have both a higher attrition rate and significantly higher rate of five-and six-year graduations than girls do. Have the University’s female students enjoyed more advantageous upbringings than their male counterparts? Or, more believably, do men enter college with a lower degree of maturity and a less effective and pragmatic attitude toward academics?

David Brooks of the New York Times embraces this explanation. He cites woeful male employment trends across America, and, puncturing men’s egos further, lists the professional fields in which men fall behind women. That list, as it turns out, is quite long. Although men maintain better representation at the very top of corporate ladders, women dominate nearly every other encouraging employment trend. This achievement gap may be the first of its kind, in that the men, the underachieving group, enjoy just as many societal advantages as the achievers. The crux of the issue, according to Brooks, lies in an antiquated male attitude toward personal success that renders us out-matched in the ever-evolving 21st-century job market. It is women’s natural adaptability that gives them the edge.

Still, an inequitable degree-earning system exists. And with men earning only 40 percent of the undergraduate degrees in America, UT actually has greater gender equality than the national average. So what should be done?

The short answer: nothing.

Nothing should be done to attempt to teach male students adaptability. No public effort to retool women made them superior adapters. Instead, women learned flexibility as a means of coping with the environment. The historically unfair social climate that imposed certain roles for  women rewarded achievement by adaptation. Today those skill sets allow women to outpace men in earning undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The achievement gap at UT fits as part of an emerging trend in the working world and the classroom. If men wish to close the degree-earning gap, they may just have to better adapt to college life.

St. Pierre is an English and philosophy junior from Austin.