Tom Palaima

Classics professor Tom Palaima speaks at a lecture in the Belo Center for New Media on Tuesday morning. Palaima presented stories and songs that provide insight into the feelings and circumstances surrounding war.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

War stories and songs from ancient times to present day are useful for understanding what happens to people living under dire circumstances, according to classics professor Tom Palaima, who gave a talk at the Belo Center for New Media on Tuesday.

Palaima’s lecture, part of the Moody College of Communications’ Senior Fellows Honors Program, focused on the mental and physical state of soldiers returning from war. He shared stories and songs of soldiers’ homecomings that have common motifs like trauma and neglect.

The public’s general nonchalance towards traumatic war stories, although they form a major, recurring part of the cultural narrative, is concerning, according to Palaima.

“I worry about all this,” Palaima said. “I worry that this literature and these songs are so beautiful, that we experience them and emote and think that’s enough. I don’t know how to make people get up and want to do something.”

Tuesday’s lecture started a dialogue about music’s societal importance and the role of music as a catalyst for action, according to Dave Junker, director of the program.

“We don’t talk about music enough,” Junker said. “It’s a part of our lives in an emotional landscape, and this [lecture] gives us the chance to do it.”

Communication studies junior Ed Hunt, who attended the lecture, said the element of the lecture that interested him the most was when Palaima played “Jimmy’s Road,” by Willie Nelson. The song is about a young man being drafted into the military.

“Tom Palaima started crying even though he’s studied it,” Hunt said. “Stories have the power to make you feel emotions over and over again.”

Palaima’s concern about societal apathy is valid, communications studies senior Kaileen Paige said.

“We have so many things we think about on a daily basis,” Paige said. “I don’t think war is as present in our lives like in the media for World War I and World War II.” The current generation is less exposed to stories about war because of media censorship, Palaima said

“This generation has it much tougher than my generation,” Palaima said. “We could go out on the streets and protest — we saw the war graphically on television, and it was the last mistake the government made.”

Because people can personalize the news they consume, topics such as war never make it on some people’s feeds, Palaima said. 

“People are so consumed with everything else that’s happening [in their lives],” Paige said. “Call to action doesn’t work as well nowadays.”

Gov. Rick Perry has backed the Seven Breakthrough Solutions for Higher Education, but the plan from a conservative think tank could prove to be a breaking point between Perry and members of the higher education community even as Perry may be seeking support for a presidential run.

UT President William Powers Jr., Student Government President Natalie Butler and UT alumni organization Texas Exes went on alert after interest grew in proposals from groups such as the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation that suggest rewarding professors based on student evaluations, splitting the budget for teaching and research and increasing class enrollments to halve tuition. Perry’s endorsement of such policies in speeches stirred further controversy among leaders of the University.

“We don’t want to see the de-emphasis of research because that’s what made our state so great,” said outgoing Texas Exes President Richard Leshin.

Leshin said he thinks Perry has had a lot to do with setting the agenda for the UT System Board of Regents and it’s something the administrators, students and other members of the higher education community have seen for a long time. A UT spokesperson said nobody from the University administration would want to speak publicly about the matter, but several administrators expressed discomfort with Perry’s ideas off the record.

“I think it’s very difficult for them to speak up because they are state employees, and it makes it very difficult to oppose anything like that,” Leshin said.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said Perry’s constituents have questioned his position on higher education in the form of letters to the Texas Ethics Commission. Perry and others, including the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the UT System Board of Regents are pursuing proposals that would damage higher education’s quality without seeking input from university students, professors and administrators, Zaffirini said. She said Perry and those who support his views on education have the right to make suggestions and be heard, but they must also consider competing proposals.

“When we deal with higher education, we must deal with the educators,” Zaffirini said.

Liberal arts professor Tom Palaima said education cannot be treated like a manufactured automobile. Rather, you have to create a balance between big and small classrooms and continue to engage in research that proves essential for the future of students and citizens of the country, he said.

“Education is designed to create something absolutely new,” Palaima said.

Perry and supporters say they don’t want to dilute the quality of higher education — instead, they’re trying to increase efficiency and improve educational experiences. Prominent advocates of this idea include Perry, Ohio State University economics professor Richard Vedder and Texas Public Policy Foundation members.

In his Center for College Affordability and Productivity report, Vedder encourages institutions to use fewer resources, eliminate excessive academic research and cut unnecessary programs. This research includes studies done by university professors and students that don’t improve society, said Texas Public Policy Foundation spokesman David Guethner.

“Professors are getting relief time from the classroom to produce articles that are not worth anything, aren’t read or aren’t cited by other researchers,” he said.

Guethner said Vedder’s analysis suggests institutions should increase the number of classes being taught by each professor. When professors are engaged in research and cannot teach full time during a semester, the universities have to hire people who can make up the work load, he said. One way the universities can deal with this problem is by getting rid of less productive professors, he said.

The bipartisan Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education formed last week to oppose an attitude that devalues research and emphasizes quantifiable efficiency measures such as those that Perry and the Foundation support.

“We have not been on [Perry’s side] when we first discovered what he was doing,” said Gordon Appleman, a UT alumnus and member of the coalition’s executive committee.

He said the coalition disagrees with the proposal to halve tuition by eliminating research in favor of immediate, easily quantifiable results. Some research has quick payoffs but other forms can take a long time to yield results and benefits, Appleman said.

As Perry’s profile grows nationally, so does discontent among some educators and education advocates. They said they will continue to address concerns about Perry’s attitudes toward higher education.

Printed on 6/23/2011 as: Perry endorses controversial educational reforms that face resistance from UT leaders, student body

After falling in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking survey for the past six years, the University chose not to participate in last year’s survey. At Monday’s faculty council meeting, classics professor Tom Palaima submitted a multi-part question to University President William Powers Jr. asking why UT opted out of the survey when other public research universities considered peer institutions participated and excelled. UT ranked 15th in the world in 2004, but fell each year to 76th in 2009 and did not participate in 2010. University of California Berkeley ranked 2nd in 2004, fell each year to 39th in 2009 and ranked 8th in 2010. The University of Wisconsin ranked between 55th and 79th from 2004 to 2009 and ranked 43rd in 2010. While addressing the question at the council meeting, Powers said concerns about the survey’s methodology came up after discussions with officials from other universities. He said UT and some schools who eventually participated in the survey initially decided not to do so. “Any survey that takes data and divides it by the number of students, as the U.S. News and World Report does with some financial data, we don’t do well on,” Powers said. “We’re okay if we are going to do poorly on academic rankings, we’ll let the chips fall where they may, but if the methodology is designed against a big state research university we often won’t participate.” He said the Times Higher Education reworked their survey methods and worked with other institutions who eventually decided to participate. He said the Times did not work with UT after it had made its initial decision. “I think with the new methodology it is likely we will participate in this survey next year,” Powers said. Palaima said he submitted the question to address claims by Powers about UT’s status as a world class institution and one of the top in the nation despite struggles with budget cuts and falling rankings. “The reason is to get something on record,” Palaima said. “When there is any kind of critical problem, you do best to sort of enunciate and address the problem.” During Monday’s meeting, the council also unanimously passed a resolution in support of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s letter to Gov. Rick Perry, which outlined disadvantages to allowing concealed carry on campus. The council also passed a resolution affirming the current ban on concealed carry on campus in January and plans to announce that it passed these resolutions at a state Senate hearing today on its bill that would lift the ban. Associate sociology professors Ben Carrington and Mary Rose announced the resolution to the council. Carrington said the resolution is meant as a symbolic step to communicate the sentiment most of the faculty hold. “The chancellor took a risk in writing this letter,” Carrington said. “[The resolution] is us in a sense standing behind him.”

UT has the largest athletic, academic and administrative budgets in the Big 12 and UT’s athletic spending has grown faster than instructional spending, according to a new study from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

The authors of the study wrote that increases in the cost of college are justifiable when spending on academics increases, but often schools fund “layers and layers” of administration costs. Council spokesman Michael Pomeranz said the report covers fundamental measurements that are important for policy makers, students and their parents to know. The numbers in the report show how administrators prioritize items in the budget, especially because the report focuses on the growth of different budget areas over time, he said.

“Especially around this time of year, a lot of the [Big 12] schools get attention for athletics,” Pomeranz said. “It was important to refocus on what’s happening off the field.”

While UT’s academic budget was far larger than its $110 million athletic budget in fiscal year 2007-2008, the athletic budget grew at a faster rate in a shorter time period. Between 2002 and 2007, UT’s academic spending increased 30 percent and administrative spending increased 17 percent. Between 2004 and 2008, the athletics department grew 34.7 percent.

The study shows during the time period covering the 2004 to 2007 fiscal years, the athletics department, which is self-funded, increased its spending 34.7 percent, a larger increase than the 30-percent instructional or 17-percent administrative spending increases from 2002 to 2007.

Among all Big 12 universities, UT had by far the largest athletic budget in fiscal year 2007-2008. The department pays its own expenses and brought in $33 million in ticket sales for games in 2009.

Ten percent of the royalties from trademark licensing go to the University’s academic core budget. UT budget director Mary Knight said the funding from trademark licensing goes to the president’s office for teaching and research awards. The University does not use the money for anything else, such as salary increases or operating costs.

By comparison, the University Co-op gives all of its profits from merchandise to the University and has given UT $28 million in the past decade.

Classics professor Tom Palaima, a former Faculty Council chair, said the University should not cede 90 percent of its trademark licensing and royalty revenue to the athletics department. Palaima said UT is a beloved school even without its athletics.

“This kind of situation arises when the leaders of the University don’t establish proper priorities,” he said.

Heather Lakemacher, a senior program officer for ACTA, said most people would agree that the primary mission of a university should be teaching, so it’s good to question where the University is putting its resources.

Lakemacher said in some cases there may be legitimate reasons to see a much larger increase in a nonacademic area — for example, new technology being implemented across the system.

“But what we always encourage people to think about is, what does it appear that the university is doing as a trend?” she said. “Do they tend to be putting their money toward instructional spending? Do they tend to distribute it equally as they grow?”

The report suggests that while UT has the largest administrative budgetin the Big 12, the University has kept the growth of administrative costs lower than many of the other Big 12 institutions.

Knight said keeping administrative costs low to maintain high spending for academic purposes is UT’s goal. He also said 98 percent of the latest budget reduction at UT came from the University’s administrative budget.

UT has the largest budget for administration among the Big 12 schools at $89 million in fiscal year 2008, but as a percentage of its $660 million instructional budget, administrative costs were 13.5 percent of academic costs. Six Big 12 schools kept administrative costs lower as a percentage of academic costs in the same year.