Penne Restad

I have a love-hate relationship with UT’s core curriculum requirements. On the one hand, I’ve learned a lot in all of those classes that I never thought a government major would have to take.  At the very least, when I finally find myself in one of those mythical, real-world adult social situations, hopefully I can come across as well-rounded and educated when I quip about the life cycle of stars or offer insight into the process of language acquisition. But on the other hand, I am a graduating senior and I still haven’t taken English 316K — the dreaded literature requirement. 

Granted, very few graduating seniors would look forward to having to take a freshman class. But the decision to put off that English requirement for so many semesters points to a broader problem: Many students fail to see the value in the core curriculum requirements at UT. In fact, a poll conducted by the Senate of College Councils in 2012 revealed that 77 percent of students think that it is either only slightly important or not important at all to take core curriculum courses on campus instead of testing out or taking them elsewhere. And it’s easy to understand why. College students during their first semester are finally cut free from the limitations of high school curriculums and, for the first time, they can take classes about whatever their interests are. As a result, the problem is particularly serious for students with majors in the College of Natural Sciences who just don’t want to take those pesky humanities classes anymore. According to that same survey, 81 percent of CNS students think that American history courses are either only slightly important or not important at all. For American government, it’s 78 percent, 67 percent for English and 80 percent for visual and performing arts.

But maybe it’s just that UT students aren’t quite ready to understand the value of these classes yet. According to Penne Restad, who teaches core curriculum survey courses in American history, it can be hard for students who are still in school to engage in the courses that aren’t directly relevant to them. “The engagement will show up later on,” she explained. To Restad, graduating seniors have so much on their minds — from paying back student loans to finding a job and a place in the world — that it can be hard to appreciate why, as an engineering student, you would have to take an English class. 

Restad conceded that faculty could probably do more to break it down for students and explain to them exactly why these courses matter.

Brent Iverson, the dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, had a slightly different take on why the core curriculum matters. “There’s a lot of talk these days about the return of investment for an undergraduate education,” Iverson said. And according to how a student pursues his or her education, that student will get different things out of it. “Some students might have the idea that the easiest thing to do is look for the path of least resistance,” he continued. “But when you get out and start looking for jobs, you realize that it’s all the different things that you’ve learned that help you define which path you’re going to take.” To Iverson, these classes help students figure out exactly what they will become, and for that, they are invaluable.  “When you look at it that way,” Iverson concluded, “the goal would be to see how much you can take … and how you can enrich yourself to the maximum possible.” According to Iverson, this essentially becomes a value question: Are you getting the most enrichment out of your tuition dollars?

The trickiest part of this question of core curriculum engagement, however, is figuring out where the responsibility lies.  Is it up to us, as students, to find some sort of rationale for engaging in a course that seems like it doesn’t matter? Or is it up to the faculty to make their courses seem relevant and to push their students in the right direction?  Interestingly, the same survey that showed how few students valued taking core curriculum courses at UT also showed that 75 percent of students thought that the courses they’ve already taken at UT — in striking contrast to the survey results for classes they haven’t taken — did add some value to their education. So maybe the instructors of these courses are doing something right.

Perhaps, then, there is nothing that we can do. The best solution to this problem might just be to bite the bullet when we’re in these classes, trust that there is a good reason for the core curriculum, and take solace in the fact that we’ll be able to appreciate its value later.

Nikolaides is a government and Spanish senior from Cincinnati.

Cheating and plagiarism rates on the 40 Acres may actually be on the rise despite reports that plagiarism violations are declining. 

Student Judicial Services releases reports for disciplinary cases each academic year. From the 2007-08 report up to the last released report in 2010-11 the number of plagiarism violations decreased from 164 to 85.

However, the decrease in the number of plagiarism violations at UT contradicts many reports, including a Pew Institute study in which a survey of college presidents said that plagiarism in students’ papers increased to high levels over the past 10 years. 

Jason Thibodeaux, assistant director and coordinator of student outreach, said contrary to the reported rates for UT, he is unsure if there has been an actual decrease in plagiarism violations on campus.

“I think it’s just more of a matter that we’ve changed how we classify things a little bit,” Thibodeaux said. “I think a lot of them have been shifted to the cheating category because we do see a lot more of the copying of other students work or other students’ prior work as opposed to just copying from published resources.”

In the four-year time span from 2007 to 2011, the number of cheating violations reported by Student Judicial Services rose from 87 to 191, while the number of reported plagiarism violations decreased.

“There is some overlap with those two things. That might be why the numbers might look a little misleading,” Thibodeaux said. “Basically it is a reflection of the kind of cases that we’re seeing, but it also, I think, can be misleading because it gets caught up in the nuance of how things are classified.” 

Management senior Reggie Walker said students who violate academic integrity regulations affect professors, administrators and others in the classroom.

“Plagiarism is immoral and unethical overall,” Walker said. “It not only [keeps] an individual from earning a valuable education, but can become a bad habit. It affects the learning process and inconveniences the professor by requiring time from their schedule to file documents and reports on the student who is plagiarizing.”

In an attempt to decrease cheating and plagiarism violations, some professors, including history lecturer Penne Restad, create assignments for their students that have not previously been assigned. 

“There wouldn’t be an assignment of a 10-page paper on the Battle of Bunker Hill because someone else has already written 10 pages on the Battle of Bunker Hill,” Restad said. “I’m increasingly more interested in how students analyze things. I’m looking for certain qualities that we’ve been talking about in class that have to do with analysis.”

Even with the assignments Restad produces, she has still encountered students under pressure who cheated or plagiarized.

“From the students I talked to and the reports I read, it seems like there is so much pressure to succeed and that there is competition coming from every angle,” Restad said. “So I think probably students sometimes have greater moments of panic. What I am trying to do is find assignments where the temptation is not there to cheat or plagiarize, or the temptation is certainly lowered.”

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Cheating and plariarism may be on the rise at UT". 

Photo Credit: Cody Bubenik | Daily Texan Staff

Big Bird has now joined the ranks of Disney Princesses, nurses and pirates; he has been made into a “sexy Halloween costume” for women. After Mitt Romney notably remarked in the first presidential debate that he was going to fire the famous children’s character, the website Yandy.com launched a sexed-up costume of Sesame Street’s favorite bird.

The trend toward sexualizing Halloween costumes and marketing them toward women is nothing new to this generation of UT students, who have become increasingly accustomed to seeing photos on Facebook or Twitter of friends dressed in varying degrees of provocative costuming around late October.

In “Mean Girls,” arguably the bible for early 2000s’ popular culture, Lindsay Lohan says, “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” Her point may not be child friendly, but it is certainly proved by the array of four-inch skirt options available from any pop-up costume shop.

Susan Mickey, head of the design and technology area at UT, sees the shift in costumes from traditional Halloween garb to sexy getups as “a contemporary cultural comment that the holiday has become more for adults than for children.”

Halloween costumes began as a method to deceive the spirits of the dead that were thought to roam the earth on the night before Celtic holiday of Samhain. During these pre-Christian times, pagans dressed up in animal heads and skins. However, when Christianity transformed the night before Samhain into All Hallows’ Eve, costuming changed from animal heads to outfits of angels, devils and saints.

According to Dr. Penne Restad, a senior history lecturer at UT, Halloween did not catch on in the same way in America due to Puritanical culture. To early American colonizers, the celebration of a holiday so blatantly pagan contradicted the city on a hill they hoped America would become. Instead of celebrations the early colonial men, usually drunk, called mummers, knocked on doors dressed as Samhain spirits and demanded money or whiskey. Their costumes were strange, scary and often in drag. It is from this practice that the modern day practice of trick-or-treating evolved.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s Halloween became more about children,” Restad said. “It’s a holiday for adults, and little children took it over for a while. It was a way to celebrate innocence and childhood and American wholesomeness.”

She notes that associating children with Halloween was almost a way to deny the evil associated with a holiday that originally revolved around death.

Janet Davis, associate professor of American Studies, says that sexy Halloween costumes are a way in which adults transition a holiday that, for many years, centered around accompanying children as they went trick-or-treating door to door into a day (or weekend) celebrated in every bar on Sixth Street.

Davis notes that there is a “cultural nostalgia” for childhood that conflicts with increasing sexuality in society and this is reflected when Halloween costumes that recast childhood characters, such as Disney princesses, in a burlesque fashion. Because of the ingrained perception of Halloween created during childhood, adults often recreate costumes they wore decades ago into sexier apparel.

According to Restad, provocative Halloween costumes may have more in common with the beginning of Halloween traditions as a time when adults fought off evil spirits. While a sexy bunny may not be intimidating, Restad said, “There is nothing scarier than a sexy woman.”

Printed on Monday, October 29, 2012 as: Childhood characters get sexy for holidays