Larry Speck

As students walk down the stairs in the East Mall every day, they may fail to notice they are walking over the Computation Center, an underground building built in the 1970s to house the University’s mainframe computer. 

The University built the center underground so it would not interfere with the historic buildings surrounding the tower, according to architecture professor Larry Speck.

“In some ways, people may have really thought it was a brilliant solution because they needed a computation center that was near the center of the campus,” Speck said. “But the center of the campus was all built out, so they thought, ‘Let’s put it underground, and put a terrace on the top and it will be invisible.’”

Speck said while the building’s placement seemed like a solution to architects, it actually created more problems.

“I don’t think they foresaw the fact that computation was going to be huge, so that wasn’t going to be the only computation center,” Speck said. “And it had no way to grow at all.” 

The University Data Center, completed in 2010 and located on the east side of I-35, now holds the University’s mainframe computer. Rabindra Kar, a senior software engineer at the Computation Center, said the Computation Center still stores sensitive computers and fiber optic links to other key areas on campus, including the data center. Kar said these computers are important in case the data center ever shuts down.

“If the mainframe goes down, it would still be a disaster for the University,” Kar said. “The data is at least backed up, so when the mainframe goes out, the backed-up data could be restored.”

According to Kar, the inability to expand the size of the Computation Center to include the data center is not an issue for the University.

“There’s a good reason to keep the University Data Center isolated from the rest of the people,” Kar said. “You don’t want people coming and snooping around. Any university our size, especially with our high amount of research, is constantly under cyberattack.”

Kar said despite the central location of the center, students still remain oblivious to its purpose. Thoa Pham, a biochemistry sophomore, said she uses the East Mall steps twice a day and has never noticed walking over the Computation Center.

“I feel like I should pay more attention to the UT campus,” Pham said. “I pass by this every day, and I don’t even know the place.”

The bridge by San Jacinto dorm is a example of the 2013 master plan’s hope to feature Waller Creek more around the university and downtown. Many renovations, such as new bike trails and a possibly rail line, will take place in the next 20-30 years.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Just as surveyor and Austin mayor Edwin Waller considered Waller Creek a beautiful resource in his original 1838 plan for the city, recent University and city master plans are beginning to feature the creek more prominently as an important ecological asset, resulting in drastic changes both on campus and in downtown Austin.

While Waller Creek has always figured prominently in UT’s history, only in recent decades did the University begin to embrace the creek’s ecological value. The University’s 2013 Campus Master Plan, which outlines goals for how campus will develop in the next 30 years, set in motion the construction of the Dell Medical School and launched a plan to make the creek a more centralized feature of campus. Meanwhile, construction projects downtown will redirect the southernmost part of the creek in order to increase area safety and foster economic growth.

Architecture professor Larry Speck, who helped develop the master plan, said the geographical and psychological center of the University has moved east over the past 25 years, as UT has constructed new buildings on the east side of campus.

Speck said the new center of campus may begin to shift away from the Student Activities Center and Liberal Arts Building and toward San Jacinto Boulevard, where Waller Creek runs and where the city may develop a rail line. The University is also working with the city on plans to create a continuous hike-and-bike trail that connects Lady Bird Lake to the city and campus, perhaps as far north as Dean Keeton Street. 

“The center of gravity is definitely moving east once again,” Speck said. “The light rail is supposed to go up San Jacinto, and so if you have students coming and going to the campus and getting off at San Jacinto and right there, there’s a beautiful creek, oasis, green space and a place to hang out and recreation there. Then that really becomes a kind of center to campus, say, 20 or 30 years from now.”

Speck said the University has not always viewed the creek as an asset or incorporated the creek into architectural designs. In the 1950s and 1960s, the University neglected the creek’s ecosystem, at times constructing buildings with loading docks directly on the creekside.

“If you go back and look at the master plan and how they were planning it, the car is freaking God,” Speck said. “I mean, it’s all about as many parking spaces as close to the buildings as possible. Honestly, it was nasty.”

The University has moved away from being the car-obsessed campus it was in the 1950s, Speck said.

“The whole east side over there was just full of parking lots, and that’s what people thought was important,” Speck said. “At a certain point people said, you know, ‘that doesn’t make much of a campus, there’s no sense of community here.’”

According to Speck, the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, or the Texas Exes building, was one of the few buildings constructed during the 1960s that incorporated the creek into its design, displaying it in the window of the ballroom. Speck said the building demonstrated the creek’s potential as an ecological asset.

“You know, it’s just phenomenal just how quickly cultural attitudes change,” Speck said. “You could see [the creek] not as an edge but as a green space that is a positive, you know, pleasant place to be in the middle of campus.”

With the development of the 1996 Campus Master Plan, University administrators decided to improve mobility for pedestrians and bikers and orient buildings toward the creek, Speck said.

The Dell Medical School, which will accept its first class in 2016, will have all its buildings oriented toward the creek — and as a result, University efforts to improve the creek will target this area first.

“[When] you walk into the front door of the teaching hospital, you [will] look through a big, glassy lobby,” Speck said. “You will look right out into the creek, front and center.”

Speck said he thinks the University’s improvements to the creek may be done piece-by-piece, as new buildings are constructed and existing buildings are renovated.

“I think that human beings and ecosystems can be compatible if they’re designed properly,” Speck said. “It’s just dumbass stupid to leave it like a ditch.”

Farther south along the creek, city planners are constructing the Waller Creek Tunnel, which will reclaim 28 acres, or 11 percent, of the downtown floodplain in order to allow for area redevelopment. Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, who is leading the project, said she would often visit Waller Creek to reflect when she was a UT student and could not pass up the opportunity to spearhead the project.

“It’s just my passion,” Cole said. “I was captivated by it. I love being down there, and once I had it as a project, it is hard to resist thinking about it — what could be here, what could go there.”

Cole said the development will include adding housing and shops, will improve the water quality in Waller Creek and prevent future erosion. The project is scheduled to be completed in fall 2014 at a total cost of $146.5 million.

The Waller Creek Conservancy is responsible for surface-level improvements in the area. After hosting a design competition in 2011 and securing initial funding in a 2012 bond election, the conservancy began work on a park in early 2013. Executive Director Stephanie McDonald said as the conservancy implements the park design, securing additional funding from public and private sources will remain a challenge. 

In addition to cleaning up the creek and adding amenities, McDonald said a major challenge is changing people’s perceptions of the creek so they realize investing in it is a worthwhile endeavor.

“I think that [for] most people, if they even know where it is, [the creek is] largely ignored, or they don’t see it as an asset,” McDonald said. “People see it as an area where only unsafe things happen.”

Cole said she thinks the Waller Creek Tunnel Project and subsequent projects, such as the conservancy’s, will improve connectivity between different parts of Austin.

“As the area is revitalized and you have more people, including housing and students and pedestrians, it’s not so isolated … the safety issues will just kind of melt away,” Cole said. “Activity brings more livelihood and less interest in criminal events.”

But the creek’s future could be impacted by future development of large offices and apartment complexes that may detract from the historic feel the area offers. Philip Fry, co-author of a book about Waller Creek, said he is concerned private area development will conflict with the conservancy’s design of the park.

“[The park areas are] tied together by the creek, of course, and you can travel from one to the other,” Fry said. “It’ll be different. It’ll try to incorporate the public space with the private commercial development.”

Fry, a longtime Austin resident, said he thinks preserving some of the old bars and buildings downtown is important.

“If you go down to Rainey Street right now, you will see some of the foundation work for fairly large condominiums and hotels,” Fry said. “As you go from Waterloo Park along down you’re gonna have open spaces and then sheer walls of buildings, open spaces, more canyons of tall condominiums, and some of those are already in the works.”

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

On game day, the stands of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium are filled with cheering fans, many of whom left the UT campus years ago but keep coming back for Longhorn football. Attending games becomes a family pastime for some alumni who continue to renew their season tickets year after year, saving their seats for a lifetime. Combined with ticketing policies, this has made it unlikely for recent graduates to obtain the quality seats that alumni who purchased their tickets decades ago at lower prices can keep. 

Previously, alumni would purchase tickets to football games through Texas Exes, UT’s alumni association, and would have first priority to the best seats in the stadium. The Longhorn Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fundraising for UT Athletics, took over ticket operations in the 80s and restructured ticketing policies to create a three-tier priority system, according to Mark Harrison, UT Athletics assistant athletics director for ticket operations. Foundation members who pay a $150 yearly membership fee and make additional donations acquire the best available seats. Texas Exes members have second priority, and individuals who purchase general admission tickets have the final priority.

Harrison said 70 percent of season ticket holders are Longhorn Foundation donors.

“There is not a set amount [of tickets] in each area. It’s just based on how much you paid, based on priority at the time you got the tickets,” Harrison said. “You could have two fans sitting next to each other and one could be paying quite a bit in donation for those seats, and someone else, if they’ve had them for a long time, may not be paying anything [in donations].”

Alumnus Warren Chancellor and his wife Suzy have been attending football games together since 1946 — as long as they have been married. The Chancellors, both 85-years-old, have witnessed the changes in ticketing policies. Even though they’ve held season tickets since 1955, they sat at the 20-yard line for years. It was not until seven years ago that the priority system allowed them to move to the 40-yard line on the stadium’s ninth floor.

“We married and our honeymoon was coming down [to Austin] and getting enrolled, finding a job, and we have been coming to the games since then, pretty much,” Suzy Chancellor said. “It’s very much a family tradition.”

The couple introduced their children and grandchildren — all Longhorn fans — to Texas sports over the years. 

While the Chancellors have only passed down their school spirit, some alumni transfer on their season tickets. Architecture professor Larry Speck grew up watching the Longhorns with his family. 

“I can remember going to football games when I was five-years-old,” Speck said. “I remember being [in] the stands and not being able to see anything, basically just people’s butts when they stood up.”

His family’s seats were secured for years through season tickets renewed every year under his father’s name. When Speck’s father died, his family was able to keep their seats after their season tickets were transferred to his mother’s name.

Speck’s parents were UT alumni who first bought season tickets in 1943 and attended home games in Austin for as long as they physically could. Speck said football became a very central part of the family, which usually had four to six season tickets. Because Speck’s parents bought their tickets before the current ticketing policies were implemented, the annual price they had to pay was lower than some of the fans around them.

Aside from the priority system, alumni have also faced rising ticket prices. Three decades ago, a general admission season ticket was available for $60. Now, the price ranges from $325 to $405.

“They were paying a whole lot less than the people in front of us who were just buying in as 30-somethings,” Speck said. “They were paying a lot more for those seats than my parents who were grandfathered in with a lower price.”

Following his mother’s death three years ago, Speck lost his parents’ seats. Speck said he and his sister could not justify paying the current season ticket price for the seats. Instead, he now purchases faculty tickets at a discounted rate.

“My sister and I looked into if we could get those tickets now that my parents are gone. The price is way more,” Speck said. “I think for more middle class people, it’s very hard for them to afford four tickets for them to bring their kids.”

The influx of fans and graduating students spurs the competition for good seats with new customers every year. Still, some ticket-seekers look for the game-day experience.

Beyond the challenge to obtain good seats, Texas Exes spokesman Tim Taliaferro said the hype around game day is about more than just the plays on the field and includes the atmosphere created on San Jacinto Street by fans who not only love football but also like to visit campus.

“There are people who start near the history museum and work their way toward the stadium, and the alumni center is right across the street. So, for a lot of people, we’re the last stop before going into the stadium,” Taliaferro said. “Since we’re open during the game, people who don’t have tickets will often stay and watch the game.”

Gage Paine, UT’s vice president for student affairs, has attended Longhorn games since 1986 when she was a graduate student. Paine said the demand for tickets has been a long-standing concern throughout her time on campus and when she returned to work in the Office of Student Affairs last year.

“We moved family weekend off of a football weekend years ago because we couldn’t get tickets for parents who would come to family weekend, and [they] couldn’t get seats with their kids,” Paine said. “That is one of our challenges here. People get mad that they can’t get tickets, and they feel like they should [be able to.]”

The weekend event was moved to a non-football weekend in October.

Without a change on the horizon to the priority system and an increasing demand for season seats, recent graduates will have to wait to obtain the seats that longtime alumni, like the Chancellors, will enjoy near the middle of the field for seasons to come.

“We thoroughly enjoy the game,” Warren Chancellor said. “We just enjoy the whole thing. We have a wonderful huge band and love to see them come into the stadium. We’re big sports fans — period — but [we’re] real big Longhorn fans.”

Correction: This article has been corrected seen its original posting. A source talking about the timing of Family Weekend was misquoted. Family Weekend takes place in October.

For Paul Woodruff, stepping down as dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies to return to teaching means changing jobs, but for the school it means an international search for a new dean that could take more than six months.

More than 10 faculty members and students will lead a search committee to find Woodruff’s replacement. These committees are the groups that seek out and hire the University’s president, provost, vice presidents and deans. Architecture professor Larry Speck, who has served as the chair of three vice president search committees in the past decade, sat down with The Daily Texan to talk about his past experience on search committees and explain the process of picking a new dean.

Speck most recently served as the chair on the search committee for the Vice President of Student Affairs, a hunt that started in October 2011 and ended in May 2012 when Powers selected one of three recommended applicants, Gage Paine of UT-San Antonio.

Before the search, Speck said search committees for deans are typically composed of appointed students and faculty members. Speck said the college in question gets to elect around five members and President William Powers Jr. will appoint several more. Among the appointees, Speck said usually one dean from another college or school is included. In the case of the new dean for the School of Undergraduate Studies, which does not have professors in its department, it is not clear what faculty will serve on the committee and if they will be involved.

Once the members are appointed, the committee for a new dean appoints a chair and receives advice.

“They get some advice from the president and whoever else is relevant about what the criteria is for this position and what we are looking for,” Speck said.

Speck said the search committee will then start posting job descriptions and waiting for applications.

In the search for the vice president of student affairs, Speck said the committee had about 100 applications before the winter break.

“We first made one quick cut of people who just weren’t qualified,” Speck said. We said ‘Here is the criteria, and theses candidates just don’t match it.’”

After that, Speck said the search committee read all the other applications and scored them over winter break. Speck said the committee had come up with almost a dozen criteria points that each candidate was scored on.

“We saw which ones came to the top and we had a discussion of those people,” Speck said. “Then we narrowed it down to about nine people to invite to what we call airport interviews.”

Airport interviews are a secretive part of the process. In the search for the vice president of student affairs, Speck said the search committee invited all nine candidates to Austin for a weekend. The committee met with each candidate in secret. The meetings were held at hotels close to the airport and not on campus.

“They don’t have to tell their University or their employer, ‘I’m thinking about taking another job,” Speck said. “That’s why we keep it completely confidential and the interview out at the hotel and not on campus, so somebody doesn’t see them and say ‘What are you doing on campus?’ and make it a very awkward position.”

Speck said one of the challenging parts of the search committee is organizing the schedules of all nine candidates and the entire committee to be available for one weekend of interviewing. While arranging this around busy schedules was challenging, Speck said it is a useful strategy.

“What was really good about it actually is that you saw everybody in close proximity,” Speck said. “So you were able to make those comparisons pretty easily.”

After that point, in the search for vice president of student affairs, Speck said the committee was able to narrow it down to four people.

“We brought them into the campus and they go through a two or three day thing where they talk to everybody and their brother that might have anything to do with their job,” Speck said.

From this, Speck said the committee gets feedback from the faculty, the students and the president. The final step is to submit three unranked recommendations to Powers, who makes the final decision.

The road ahead Speck said the long and intense process is taken very seriously.

“All of these would be international searches,” Speck said. “You’re trying to get the very best from anywhere in the world. They take a long time. This is true at most Universities, this is just the way it is in academia when you are hiring people at this level.”

Woodruff, who announced he was returning to teaching on Wednesday, said he expected an interim dean to be announced sometime within the next week. Speck said sometimes the interim dean becomes the next dean, but that is not always the case.

“All this committee stuff, it is a clean slate,” Speck said. “The committee does what the committee does. The President appoints an interim, but that person may have intentionally been appointed because they weren’t a candidate.”

Woodruff’s announcement comes at a time when the school is expecting a 66 percent increase in student enrollment. Despite this, Speck said the transition from Woodruff, to interim dean and back to a new permanent dean will be seamless.

“The University does this all the time,” Speck said. “We have one person who is really good at their job and very responsible and then they decide they’re going to move on and do something else, so we replace them and it happens all the time.”

Larry Speck, professor in the School of Architecture, speaks about the importance of universities teaching creative thinking in his talk titled "Teaching Creative Problem Solving," Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

When architecture professor Larry Speck helped design Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, he tried to prevent the crowded feeling he often felt walking through ordinary airports, he said.

“I hated the feeling of being a rat in a small, confined space,” he said. “I thought, ‘How can we make an airport with open spaces, without linear tunnels and crowding?’”

Speck discussed the airport design, and how to approach creative problems in Monday’s lecture on teaching problem-solving, hosted by the Office of the Provost, Discovery Learning and the Center for Teaching and Learning.

He said he used the techniques of addressing a problem creatively to design an innovative airport that was traveler-friendly. Now travelers at the Austin airport walk through open spaces to pick up their bags and catch their flights.

Speck said anyone can become a more creatively inclined person by finding the right inspiration.

“I’m not talking about creativity in a way that it’s used frequently,” Speck said. “The kind of creativity I’m talking about exists everywhere, not just in some fields. It’s the kind of creativity that’s broadly applicable.”

Speck discussed creativity and the ways it applies to society and said we’ve ramped up the need for creativity through the ages, bringing us to today’s current “creative age.”

Creative people can be musicians or painters but can also be engineers and nurses, he said.

These creative people, he said, generally have eight common characteristics: They have the ability to synthesize and to take risks, self-assurance, subversion and sense of rebellion, ordinary abilities at a very high level, a four-step process of how to get an idea, diverse experiences and the drive to work hard.

His four-step process of getting an idea involves preparation, incubation, illumination and verification or revision.

Speck said he employs these strategies in his teaching and moves away from the podium to be more engaging with his students.

“I think you approach teaching creatively just like you approach everything else creatively,” he said. “I’ve realized that it’s all about telling stories — if they can understand the story, then all the material sticks to that pretty easily.”

One of Speck’s classes, Architecture and Society, approaches the concepts of architecture in uncanny ways using storytelling as a way to keep material memorable, said advertising freshman Meagan Vanderhill.

“He tells a lot of stories,” Vanderhill said. “He talked about the ways a room can be used in ways it isn’t normally used for. The stories are what stick with you.”

An important part of his four-step process is involved with fostering creativity, Speck said, and getting an idea is an essential part of that process.

“It’s teaching people to get an idea, of how you get that moment of discovery,” Speck said. “A significant part of that is getting outside of the problem — brushing your teeth, working out at the gym. Creativity happens at odd times.”