Randy Diehl

Photo Credit: Alex Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

‚ÄčEditor's Note: This editorial has been updated with a copy of the letter sent to Crosnoe.

As another gay marriage case goes before the Supreme Court, Mark Regnerus has once again been spared further university scrutiny for his New Family Structures Study.

Since 2012, the associate sociology professor has courted controversy for publishing observed differences between the children of parents who had a same-sex relationship and children living with both biological parents that suggested that the latter do better than the former in life. The criticisms have focused mainly on flaws in the study’s methodology, which established no causal link between the parents’ sexuality and the observed outcomes. Ethical concerns also include Regnerus’ alleged misuse of his findings in court and failure to stop misuse and misrepresentation of his findings by conservative groups such as Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation.

In early March, College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl wrote a letter, obtained by the Texan through an open records request, to Robert Crosnoe, chair of the sociology department. In the letter, it is revealed that despite objections from key figures in the college, no action will be taken on the ethical concerns raised about the NFSS, and Regnerus’ post-tenure, or six-year performance, review rating will remain “exceeds expectations.”

The twists and turns this story has taken are sometimes convoluted, but the potted history, at least as it pertains to this letter, is thus: 

When Regnerus’ post-tenure review committee met in 2013-2014, it determined that his performance “exceeded expectations” based on his publication record. However, then-department chair Christine Williams disagreed, citing the controversy surrounding the methodology and conclusions of the NFSS. 

This disagreement triggered a college-level review, which in this case involved seeking “expert guidance” from Marc Musick, the college’s senior associate dean for student affairs as well as a noted sociologist himself. Diehl asked Musick to prepare a report, which addressed both methodological and ethical issues, including Regnerus’ use of his study in legal briefs and testimony against gay marriage and his half-hearted attempts to correct the public record on his findings.

Because Diehl felt that the post-tenure review committee was not an appropriate venue to discuss ethical concerns, he deferred to Robert Peterson, associate vice president for research, and his supervisor, Juan Sanchez, vice president for research. They did not believe that the charges leveled met the standards of scientific misconduct and declined to investigate.

The post-tenure review committee met again in January of this year and was tasked by Diehl with considering only methodological problems. Based on this charge, the committee found the following, as summarized and endorsed by Diehl: “Valid methodological concerns have been raised. … A key one is this: Because the design of the study ensured that the parental same-sex relationship variable was confounded with the family structure stability variable, it is not possible to conclude that the different life outcomes between the two groups were caused by the parental relationship variable.” Diehl, citing this finding and Regnerus’ original caution that the article did not deal with same-sex marriage legal rights, agreed that “no policy implications about same-sex parenting should be drawn from the study.” But the fact is Regnerus did use those findings in court.

While we are cheered by the committee’s findings and Diehl’s endorsement, we are disappointed that he didn’t act on the serious ethical dilemmas caused by Regnerus’ reckless misuse of his study, not only because they don’t even give Regnerus a slap on the wrist, but also because his assertion that post-tenure review committees should not concern themselves with ethical issues sets a dangerous precedent and is also inconsistent with the University’s Comprehensive Periodic Review Guidelines. Section 10 of the guidelines states that “incompetence, neglect of duty, or other good cause” may be used to to initiate “appropriate disciplinary action.”

That is to say that Diehl could have seized on the opportunity to review Regnerus’ ethical standards.

But he shamefully chose not to.

Instead he chose the path of least resistance. Diehl sees it differently, of course. He wants to close this chapter of the college’s history so that it can move on. He closes the letter by saying, “I am concerned that recent events and the strong feelings they have evoked have tended to disrupt the strong level of collegiality that has characterized the Department of Sociology over the years. Accordingly, I hope that you will take steps to restore harmonious working relations among all of your faculty and, in particular, to re-engage Professor Regnerus in the life and work of the department.”

We don’t fault Diehl for having the impulse to keep the peace, but it should have been outweighed by the blinding  scientific errors and ethical lapses demonstrated by Regnerus.

Regnerus’ post-tenure review decision is final. However, for years now, Regnerus has turned a blind eye, and contributed directly, to the perversion of his findings by right-leaning activists. Diehl shouldn’t repeat his mistake. Instead of sitting idly by, he should take real action and more forcefully condemn not just the methodological, but also the ethical, shortcomings of Regnerus’ work.

‚ÄčDiehl's letter:

Musick's report:

Regnerus' response:

Psychology professor James Pennebaker was listed among the top-200 most influential psychologists of the post-World War II era. Pennebaker ranked 153 on the list, while psychology professor David Buss ranked 143.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

Two psychology professors at the University were listed among the top-200 most influential psychologists of the post-World War II era, according to a University of Virginia study.

David Buss was ranked number 143 on the list, and James Pennebaker was ranked number 153. 

The study, published in late September, ranked psychologists according to their work’s eminence, or the long-lasting impacts of their work in the psychology community. This was determined by the impact of research citations, the number of textbook citations and scientific awards received. According to a statement issued by the University of Virginia, the study serves as a reference point for people interested in influential psychologists and understanding what types of ideas are valued. 

Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and a former psychology professor, said the rankings reflected the University’s commitment to research. 

“[These rankings] confirm what we have been saying all along: that The University of Texas at Austin is home to some of the world’s top researchers in the field of psychology, and that our department is among the best in the nation,” Diehl said in an email. “These rankings are also important because they help us attract the very best faculty and graduate students to the department, and that benefits all students who take psychology courses.”

Diehl said he was pleased, but not surprised, to discover Buss and Pennebaker had made the list.

“Both … are longtime colleagues of mine in the Department of Psychology, and for many years I have admired the creativity and innovation they have brought to the field,” Diehl said.

For more than 40 years, Buss has researched evolutionary psychology, specifically focusing on mating strategies among humans. Buss said he did not know the long-term value of the study, but appreciated
the recognition.

“Science is an ongoing process,” Buss said. “Scientific theories are overturned and replaced by new theories, and you hope that, as a scientist, you make some contribution that will stand the test of time.”

Pennebaker has researched how people perceive symptoms of illness and the use of writing as post-traumatic stress treatment and language use. He said the list represented the impact of ideas — not researchers.

“I don’t want to sound jaded, but you can’t take these things seriously,” Pennebaker said. “They’re flattering and they’re nice, but they’re one of many different types of beauty pageants. … It’s flattering for both [Buss] and for me because it means the ideas that we are driving are having an impact on the culture.” 

A newly formed student committee submitted recommendations to decrease tuition and increase the quality of UT’s liberal arts education to the college’s dean on Wednesday.

The College Tuition and Budget Advisory Committee for liberal arts compiled information from a survey of more than 400 liberal arts students and urged the college to improve faculty, career services and advising and guarantee smaller classes. According to the recommendations, 65 percent of students are against any kind of increase in tuition, but if a hike is unavoidable, the money should first go toward the resources students feel the most strongly about.

Once approved by the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, the committee’s suggestions must be approved by Tuition Policy Advisory Committee. TPAC is a nine-member committee made up of four UT students and five faculty and staff members, including vice provost Steve Leslie and chief financial officer Kevin Hegarty. If TPAC approves the recommendations, they will be reviewed by President William Powers Jr. before going to the Board of Regents, which ultimately sets tuition.

The college will implement CTBAC’s recommendations, which also include funding a summer enrollment program for incoming freshmen and hiring more lecturers for courses that might delay a student’s graduation time, said Randy Diehl, the College of Liberal Art’s dean.

“It’s been key to have [CTBAC] involved in the discussion early on,” he said. “They’ve provided thoughtful and well-organized recommendations.”

The college plans to accept the committee’s recommendations with the addition of extending increased support for study abroad programs in the college, Diehl said.

The letter of recommendation coincided with TPAC’s first open forum, as the Committee has traditionally held closed meetings. The $92 million state cut for UT’s budget over two years will not be made up by tuition increases, Leslie said at the forum.

“We will try to cover the necessary costs to keep the University strong,” he said.

TPAC members will state their official opinion on the Liberal Arts CTBAC’s recommendations on Friday, after reviewing the committee’s letter to Diehl, said Carisa Nietsche, president of the Senate of College Councils and a TPAC member.

“In terms of personal thoughts, I was really impressed with their recommendations,” she said. “They did a really fine job of combining student opinion from the survey with what’s most feasible.”

Although ideally tuition would not go up, the college’s CTBAC took into account a tuition hike may be necessary and stated what they wanted to focus on should there be an increas, Nietsche said.

“It’s a nice balance, saying we recognize we aren’t the only college involved so we might not get what we want, but here are our priorities should tuition raise,” she said.

Printed on Thursday, October 13, 2011 as: Students offer input about tuition changes: Liberal arts college survey finds support for allocating funds to student resources

Randi Diehl, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, speaks at the forum for Liberal Arts Studies. Diehl discussed different ways to increase percentage of students that graduate in the recommended four year time frame.

Photo Credit: Kiersten Holms | Daily Texan Staff

[Updated on Sep. 28 at 12:58 a.m., corrected graduation percentages]

In order to obtain student input for the task force working to increase the four-year graduation rate, the Liberal Arts Council and Senate of College Councils hosted an open forum at the University Teaching Center on Tuesday evening.

Using discussions and various polls of those who attended, the videotaped forum invited students to offer their opinions on what should be done to raise the four-year graduation rate, currently at 52 percent, to associate dean Marc Musick and dean Randy Diehl, the task force chair.

“Student support is imperative for increasing four-year graduation rates,” Diehl said. “Any successful initiative begins with listening, and that’s what this forum is about. I hope students will share their ideas about what motivates them to achieve a four-year degree and the barriers that may be standing in their way.”

Several topics were discussed at the event, particularly how to balance the ‘cultivation of the mind’ desired by President William Powers Jr. in reaching the four-year goal. Some were surprised, then, when many of the activities often associated with more time spent in college correlated with earlier graduation, such as the fact that students who studied abroad were statistically seven times more likely to graduate in four years, Diehl said.

“A lot of what they were talking about was about being innovative, and I’m really interested in getting a follow up of Musick’s research,” said international relations sophomore Kolby Lee. “What stood out to me was the correlation between study abroad and less time spent in college.”

The task force, which has been meeting twice a week since the summer, is composed of 10 faculty members from various colleges and five student representatives. Up until this point, the task force has been meeting with expert witnesses and student leaders to obtain a better understanding of the problem of graduation, Diehl said.

Ultimately, the task force hopes to develop a plan that will work for Powers’ goal to have an 70 percent four-year graduation rate in five years, Diehl said. The deadline for their proposal is currently set for December.

“The conclusions are that students that are integrated in their university socially and academically will do better,” Musick said. “What we want to do is change people’s minds about how they view the campus.” 

“The higher education experience is not akin to shopping on iTunes or visiting Banana Republic.”
— Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and the college’s executive leadership team, in a response published online Wednesday.  The administrators recently launched 7solutionsresponse.org to rebut the controversial seven “breakthrough solutions” to higher education in Texas authored and advocated by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Research shows that when student ratings play a major role in evaluations, instructors tend to be more concerned with managing student impressions of them than with quality teaching and resort to easy grading, course work deflation and grade inflation.”
— The administrators, criticizing a proposal to put greater emphasis on student evaluations when allocating bonus pay for faculty.

“Teaching is evaluated using multiple methods including students’ Course Instructor Survey (CIS) ratings. All written comments submitted by students about a faculty member’s teaching over the prior three years are reviewed.”
— The administrators, explaining how student evaluations are a valid indicator of teaching quality when evaluating professors for tenure.

“Everyone seems to be portraying the seven breakthrough solutions as tablets we carried down from Mount Sinai. They are ideas on paper. We think they are very good ideas, but if other people have better ways to accomplish those objectives, we are open to having a conversation.”
— David Guenthner, spokesman for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, in an interview with The Texas Tribune last month, in response to criticism of the organization’s proposals.

“The report and website were produced by faculty and staff in the dean’s office and Liberal Arts ITS in addition to our regular duties and without any extra compensation.”
College of Liberal Arts spokesman Gary Susswein, responding to concerns about the costs and time to produce the report and launch the website, according to the Austin American-Statesman.