James Vick

Mathematics professor Dr. James Vick was one of the inspirations behind “Pancakes for Parkinson’s” when he was diagnosed with degenerative muscular disease. 

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

The wafting aroma of pancakes will guide students and faculty through a gauntlet of spatulas, griddles and pancake mix Wednesday in the Gregory Gym Plaza. Pancakes for Parkinson’s, an annual fundraising event put on by the Texas Round Table, will donate all of its proceeds to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which researches cures and treatments for Parkinson’s disease. 

The Texas Round Table, a group of current and former presidents from 14 campus spirit organizations, first introduced the event on campus in 2011 in honor of James Vick, a UT mathematics professor who was diagnosed with the degenerative muscular disease. Pancakes for Parkinson’s represents a collective school effort to procure donations and raise awareness. 

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that manifests itself in painful motor dysfunction in its later stages. Because the disease is so difficult to identify early in its progression, victims often remain undiagnosed until a severe decrease in muscular coordination occurs. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, a leading research organization that studies the pathology of Parkinson’s, claims that nearly 1 million people in the United States currently live with the disease.

Over the last three years, Texas Round Table has succeeded in raising $140,000, according to Katie Koehler, the committee’s treasurer. The organization aims to collect at least $20,000 this year by selling more than 4,000 pancakes.

“From the initial event in 2011, we have pledged that 100 percent of the money raised will go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation to further its goals in finding a cure for Parkinson’s and generating awareness about the disease,” Koehler said in an email.

Supplies for the event, including pancake mix, griddles and syrup, are contributed by a number of local businesses and organizations including H-E-B and the Division of Housing and Food Service. Because all of these supplies will be returned or recycled, Pancakes for Parkinson’s is a low-cost, green event.     

In previous years, Texas Round Table volunteers relied heavily on Batter Blaster, a pressurized can filled with pancake mix. Dominic Ferrario, a Texas Round Table co-committee chair, explained that Batter Blaster is similar in style to Cheez Wiz, allowing student chefs to cook hundreds of pancakes in a short period of time. But the Batter Blaster company has since gone out of business.

This time around, student volunteers will be improvising with the help of H-E-B, which offered to pick up the program’s batter costs. Instead of Batter Blaster, chefs will use a combination of empty ketchup bottles and Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

“We have never run out of pancakes yet, but doing so would not necessarily be a bad thing,” Ferrario said. “I hope that people, through pancakes, realize how powerful student organizations can be when they work collectively for a common cause.”

Popularity and support for the program, which Ferarrio said he hopes will become more of a tradition, has grown tremendously over the last few years.

“There aren’t many events like this that bring so many different student groups on campus together,” Ferrario said. “From all of those supporting organizations we are able to gather literally hundreds of volunteers who help with everything from mixing pancake batter to collecting donations from supporters.”

Along with his wife and daughter, Vick has been involved in the event since it first began. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2008, he has been profoundly inspired by the excitement and dedication that underlies events like Pancakes for Parkinson’s on campus.

“I always appreciate student efforts that go beyond the classroom that serve the community and bring people together for a good cause,” Vick said. “I believe that the work the students have done in the past has been quite successful and it’s been fun to have my family involved.”

Printed on Thursday, April 25, 2013 as Students sell pancakes to fund Parkinson's disease research 

Last week, UT mathematics professor James Vick was awarded the 2012 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship, one of the most prestigious teaching awards on campus. This award recognizes Vick’s ability to personally care for each student and engage him or her with the subject matter.

University teaching awards distinguish and recognize the work of great professors and also encourage other professors to strive for such excellence. Teaching awards are awarded based on two major categories: professional research achievements and teaching excellence. It would seem logical that a teaching award is chosen and selected by students, yet oftentimes this is not the case.

The majority of University-wide awards are selected by a faculty committee or board. Many awards try to include student input but only through a selected student who sits on a faculty-led committee. This seems to reflect a lack of value that administrators place on the student voice.

The Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship is the only University-wide accolade that is awarded exclusively by students. Similarly, departmental teaching awards are usually given based on student opinion. Of course, it is easier to collect the opinions of students from within a single department than to do so across the entire University. However, there has to be a way to achieve this same level of student involvement in University-wide awards.

One way to do this might be to use course evaluations as criteria for an award’s selection committee. The Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award, a UT System-wide award, uses the past three-year period of course evaluations as a measure to judge the validity of a professor’s nomination. This is a great way to see a student perspective.

Carisa Nietsche, former president of Senate of College Councils, sat on a University-wide award selection committee. According to Nietsche, “It is important that the selections are based on more than just a professor’s popularity and personality. It is important to include pedagogy, research and teaching ability.” To prevent these awards from turning into a popularity contest, the faculty voice should still be present in order to help distinguish personality from merit.

Research is a critical aspect of teaching awards, especially for a Tier One research institution. The average student is typically unaware of the impact that the professor’s research is making in their field. Faculty have a different vantage point when determining the research achievements of a nominated professor and can therefore play a crucial role in determining teaching prizes.

Nevertheless, faculty should not neglect the opinions of students, and choosing one student to sit on the committee does not adequately gather those opinions. The process of choosing teaching awards should be more representative in this regard, possibly by including an equal number of students and faculty on awards committees. These students should represent a variety of disciplines and have a strong connection to other students.

Teaching awards encourage professors to turn their classrooms into engaging experiences for students. Allowing students more influence when awarding them will further motivate professors to focus on student academic development in addition to professional research achievements.

Dafashy is a Plan II senior. 

Roundup, an annual event that draws thousands of people to a weekend of West Campus parties, began eight decades ago as the highlight of the University’s spring social season — but it has also been a source of controversy over the years.

During the most recent Roundup in late March, a female student claimed she was assaulted at a fraternity party. She said a male fraternity member threw food at her and spit in her face, which she believes was a racially motivated attack, although no one used racial slurs.

Choquette Hamilton, the director of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said racial tension between fraternity members and minority students ultimately transformed Roundup from a University-sanctioned celebration into a series of individual Greek parties.

Roundup began in 1930 as a spring celebration for students and alumni. The annual parade featured dozens of floats bearing 20-foot-tall decorations and the year’s Texas Sweetheart. The parade ran through the heart of campus and attracted the local community. Greek organizations always decorated floats for the Roundup parade and hosted parties during the weekend.

In 1990, 60 years after the inaugural Roundup, the event evolved mostly into fraternity parties, and the parade became less of a community event, Hamilton said. She completed her thesis on the history of African-Americans at UT and interviewed former UT students and administrators extensively about race relations during Roundup.

Based on her research, she said aspects of the parades often included racist and homophobic undertones, and at least five parades between 1980 and 1990 openly mocked and harassed minorities and the LGBTQ community.

Marcus Brown was the president of the Black Student Alliance in 1990. Brown said he has always known Roundup to have a history of racial intolerance, but in 1990, more people noticed, according to an interview Brown conducted with Hamilton.

“This just happened to be the year that they caught the stuff in pictures, which led to a bunch of activism, and it all kind of spiraled out of control,” Hamilton said.

After the annual parade on April 6, 1990, a fraternity decorated one of the floats with inflammatory racial slurs. Another fraternity sold T-shirts for a basketball tournament with an image of Michael Jordan’s body and a Sambo character’s head, said James Vick, former UT vice president for student affairs. The Sambo character portrayed African-Americans as lazy and with ape-like facial features.

The incidents took place three days after the student body elected Toni Luckett to be its first black president, Hamilton said.

Vick said racial tensions were already high that year because students were disappointed in the low minority enrollment. Although UT was desegregated in 1959, by 1990 only 3.7 percent of UT’s approximately 48,000 students were black.

Not much has changed in terms of current enrollment figures, as only 4.3 percent or 1,800 of UT’s approximately 50,000 students are black.

“I think all of us were aware that there was a lot of tension before that weekend. I don’t know how you measure that, but I think we had all been concerned about hard feelings about racial issues in various parts of the University,” Vick said.

Following the events, about 20 minority student leaders met with Vick and then-Dean of Students Sharon Justice to demand the fraternities be reprimanded for their offensive Roundup behavior. The student leaders also wanted the University to require all students to take a course in African-American studies.

Protesters used Roundup as a means to try and implement Project PRIDE, Proposed Reforms to Institute Diversity in Education.

More than 1,500 students rallied on campus and in front of the offending houses to fight racial inequity following the Roundup incidents.

“They brought the T-shirts, and they brought very strong feelings,” Vick said. “There followed day after day of marches and demonstrations and protests and very unfortunate confrontations.”

Vick said the protests drew the attention of then-UT President William Cunningham, who attempted to address students’ concerns in a speech on April 13. Protesters shouted so loudly he could not finish.

Two weeks after Cunningham’s speech, both offending fraternities received a yearlong suspension and 1,500 hours of community service in a predominantly black community.

In July 1990, Cunningham asked the UT alumni group Texas Exes to re-evaluate its participation in Roundup. The group provided little funding but a substantial number of volunteers and later opted out of the event, according to a April 17, 1990, Daily Texan article. Vick said Cunningham later announced Roundup would no longer be recognized as a University event.

“I think it was a combination of the negative impact that year’s Roundup had on the lives of all of us on campus, our community spirit and our relationships with various communities around us,” he said. “It was also the realization that we’d had problems with Roundup in the past that weren’t necessarily racial but were there nonetheless.”

Today, Roundup takes place mostly in West Campus, and individual fraternities host parties. Students outraged by the alleged assault on the black female student at a fraternity party this March formed a coalition to address what they call racial discrimination in the modern incarnation of Roundup. The Austin Police Department is currently conducting an investigation to determine the validity of the student’s claims.

The Interfraternity Council and other University groups are not affiliated with the event, said council executive officer Houston Berger. The IFC does not recognize it as an official event, although most of the fraternities that participate fall under the council.

“Whereas it used to be a type of homecoming event, fraternities now just hold social events on their own, and it’s their decision whether or not they want to hold one,” Berger said.

He said contrary to popular belief, the weekend is not a time for rounding up potential members for the individual fraternities and that high school students are not supposed to attend.

Stephen Sibley, a former president of an IFC fraternity, said for college students, Roundup is like a “Greek Christmas” where everyone takes the weekend off to celebrate and is relatively harmless.

“Anything that happens during Roundup weekend could happen anytime, and I think it’s one of those things where when alcohol is involved there is a higher risk for unfortunate things to happen,” he said.

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article contained a vague caption, which has been changed to clarify the date of incident shown in the photo.