director of UT

Astronomer Taft Armandroff was announced as the new director of UT’s McDonald Observatory on Monday.

Armandroff will replace current director and astronomy professor David Lambert, who announced his plans in April to retire after serving as director for 10 years. Armandroff, who will be the fourth director of the observatory, will take over as director in June. Armandroff is currently director of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. A graduate of Wesleyan University and Yale University, Armandroff also worked at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tuscon, Ariz., for 19 years.

Armandroff said he has two primary missions for his first five years on the job, including keeping the technology and research at the McDonald Observatory on the cutting edge.

“The other area that I’m really interested in, as well as the rest of the astronomy faculty, is to have Texas firmly commit to building an even larger telescope in Chile,” Armandroff said. “It’s called the Giant Magellan Telescope. It will have an effective diameter of almost 24 meters, so that’s a huge increase in the collecting area compared to the biggest telescopes we have today.”

Armandroff said he is looking forward to continuing Lambert’s work on the Hobby-Eberly project, a major experiment to search for dark energy. Upon his retirement, Lambert said he hopes the project will contribute to the world’s understanding of dark energy. Armandroff said the natural features of the observatory are similar to those at the Keck Observatory. 

“It’s really, really dark out there, way far away from the cities,” Armandroff said. “You can get these incredible images of the spectra of objects in the night sky.” 

In addition to pursuing research, Armandroff said he is looking forward to working alongside UT students at the observatory.

“I like the idea that [the McDonald Observatory] presents an opportunity for students being involved, whether it’s through a class or a research project or employment,” Armandroff said. “I think we’re a lot stronger of an observatory because of our involvement with the students.”

The observatory, located in Fort Davis, is one of the top astronomy research facilities in the country. According to Rebecca Johnson, publications editor at McDonald, there will be special events offered at the observatory through August 2014 intended to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Johnson said these events would include a variety of guest speakers from across the country with a special focus on new discoveries happening in astronomy.

Although Armandroff said he is looking forward to the transition, he said he will miss the natural beauty of Hawaii. 

“The Summit of Mauna Kea is just an amazing place,” Armandroff said. “Going up there is really magical.”

Journalism director Glenn Frankel will appear at Book People Wednesday at 7 p.m. for a reading and signing of his new book, “The Searchers: Making of an American Legend.”

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

“There’s a deeper meaning to westerns, which is about how we conquered the west, and what our country’s about,” Glenn Frankel, director of UT’s School of Journalism, said. 

According to Frankel, on the surface westerns are about a guy with a gun and the shoot-out, but in his new book, “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend,” Frankel explores the film and American history of the 1956 John Ford film, “The Searchers.” 

David Hoffman, a former Washington Post colleague of Frankel’s and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, said that Frankel’s “The Searchers” will be the cultural book of the season because Frankel took one strand of American history and followed it all the way through. 

“It cuts from a really raw, serious, violent conflict to a great filmmaker trying to make a film,” Hoffman said. “History is best understood by somebody who can show that it cuts across culture, mythology [and] dirty old clippings. And that’s the great thing about this book. It’s a journey through history that is completely cutting across different times. And you feel like you’ll see things in a different way.”  

Frankel is a former Washington Post reporter and a Pulitzer Prize winner. In his book, he addressed the incident in which Comanche Indians kidnapped 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker who grew up as a Comanche Indian, married a warrior and bore him three children before her American family came to “rescue” her and her infant daughter 24 years later. Frankel examines this event from both a historical standpoint and through the lens of John Ford’s film.  

Frankel said his subtitle, “The Making of an American Legend,” describes how every generation re-imagines history, then changes what it doesn’t like in order to fit its own sensibility and needs. When writing the book, Frankel tried to put himself in Parker’s shoes.

“I think it was pretty clear by the way she acted how frightened she was, how vulnerable she felt,” Frankel said. “Can you imagine what that’s like? I had to. I tried to. I can’t feel those feelings in the same way, but I tried really hard to see what that would be like. It’s great to see her picture, to look in her eyes at her half-panicked ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ You use every clue you can. You go with what they give you.”

Joseph McBride, Ford’s biographer and a film professor at San Francisco State University, described Frankel as a reporter at heart who does great research to find out about things lacking sufficient knowledge. 

“His research is astonishing,” McBride said. “He has many great discoveries important for American history. He’s a great writer who tells the story very engagingly. It’s a very gripping book. I read it almost in one sitting. It’s rich. He understands people really well and is fascinated by complexities and varieties, which you can see in the book. It was a story [that] needed to be told.” 

According to Frankel, the future is all decided but it’s the past that’s unclear. However, Frankel does not want to teach history lessons with his book, he wants to tell stories. 

“It’s interesting to me to capture someone in a moment of crisis when they have to make decisions about what to do,” Frankel said. “They all lived such colorful, complicated lives. I feel like they were all searchers in a way, for a way to survive the world. You don’t make stuff up. You give [the readers] something powerful and meaningful and hope they get it, and they can decide how to live their lives or how to act based on it. I’ll be writing, I hope, until I leave this earth, and I’ll never be done.” 

Frankel will appear at BookPeople on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for a reading and signing of his new book.

Published on February 27, 2013 as "UT Journalism school director discusses book". 

The University cannot give faculty and staff a holiday the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Adrienne Howarth-Moore, director of UT’s human resource services, told The Daily Texan Tuesday.

The limitation is because of a restriction from the State Legislature that designates 17 days as official holidays for state institutions. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is not designated as an official holiday, although the Friday after is.

“We as an institution can’t go against the law,” Moore said.

She said the University is permitted much more flexibility for students. A document titled “Principles for the Development of the Academic Calendar,” amended by the Faculty Council in 2007, looks to keep a minimum of 70 class days in a semester. Adding days to the Thanksgiving break would mean taking some away from the winter break.

Jordan Clark, business honors junior and Out-of-State Students Association president, said the University’s break schedule means many out-of-state students choose to stick around campus rather than pay exorbitant Thanksgiving travel prices. He said most out-of-state students he knows are OK with this because they acknowledge the implications of attending an institution far from home.

Still, Erik Hermes, an advertising senior from Florida and officer in the Out-of-State Students Association, said he would prefer to be home, but that it just isn’t feasible. Hermes said air tickets and his brother’s tests on Wednesday prevented them from going home this Thanksgiving.

“When [students] are forced to wait till the last minute, air fare prices are higher,” Hermes said.

Jason Zielinski, a spokesperson for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said Wednesday is always a peak day for the airport.

“We expect to see at least 30,000 people,” Zielinski said. “We’re up 3.5 percent this year.”

Zielinski said traffic at the airport peaks again on the Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving as people pour back into Austin.

Because of these factors, Hermes said it was easier for him and his brother to have their mother travel to Austin. He said he wished the University didn’t have Wednesday as a class day because many professors, like his, cancel classes while others don’t. He and his brother have no option to fly back on Wednesday together.

“We wanted to fly back together,” Hermes said. “I want to see more standardization across the board.”

UT received high marks for affordability in an annual finance report. Despite fears of tuition hikes, UT may be a better value than the report suggests, officials said.

For in-state student value, UT-Austin ranked 24th out of 500 universities studied by the Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine in its annual “Best Values in Public Colleges” report. The publication broke down its method of ranking as one that cross-analyzes cost data such as tuition, fees, room and board and financial aid for in-state and out-of-state students with academic data such as admission rate, test scores of incoming freshmen, and four- and six-year graduation rates.

Tom Melecki, director of UT’s student financial services, said UT ranked well because it managed to keep tuition increases lower than the national average.

“We are looking for efficiencies anywhere we can find them,” he said. “That has also allowed us to keep tuition increases at a minimum. Our last increase was 3.99 percent. That’s less than half the national average of 8.02 percent.”

Melecki said UT students might fair better than Kiplinger indicates because the report lists average debt upon graduation for students at $24,667, slightly higher than the $24,582 the office of student financial services calculated for May 2011 graduates.

Associate dean of student affairs Marc Musick also noted a slight disadvantage UT students had in the ranking.

“Many students leave with zero debt, and that is not taken into account in that figure,” Musick said.

Melecki agreed.

“Only 50 percent of students borrow when attending the university compared to the national average that ranges from 60 to 70 percent,” he said.

Melecki said that while Kilplinger factors in Austin’s high cost of living, it doesn’t factor in his office’s attempts to get students to lower costs through Bevonomics courses, publication of the UT 4 Less newsletter and other saving tips.

Melecki said one of the most important things for students to remember when managing their finances is to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 15, to ensure they are considered for need-based aid. He said although students may have un-met costs covered by financial aid, they should weigh benefits of attending UT when evaluating their finances.

In comparison to Texas A&M, which ranked 21st in the report, Melecki said UT’s four-year graduation rate of 52 percent was higher than Texas A&M’s rate of 46 percent. Texas A&M students’ in-state costs average $8,941 per semester after need based financial aid, compared to the $11,857 cost for UT students.

The only other Texas institution in the top 100 universities was UT-Dallas, ranked 46. Cost of attendance at UTD after need-based aid is $14,068 per semester for in-state students, and the school has a 42 percent four-year graduation rate.

Mario Villa, director of UT’s East Texas Admissions Center, said cost is often a factor for prospective students.

Villa said most students coming through the admissions center look more closely at rankings of individual programs, not overall rankings of UT.

“I never really hear families of prospective students mention these general university rankings like ‘I hear UT Austin was ranked 24th Best Public University by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine,’” he said.