Gretchen Ritter

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance, is excited to spend the coming fall in Ithaca — because, for all she will miss about the University, one thing she is not sad to leave behind is Texas weather. 

Ritter, also a government professor, is leaving UT to be the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. A Cornell alumna herself, she will be the school’s first female dean.

“It was actually a little surprising to me that I’ll be the first woman in the position,” Ritter said. “I don’t think it will feel like a big deal to anyone there.”

Ritter, who has been on UT’s faculty since 1992, was instrumental in the creation of the Course Transformation Program, an initiative designed to improve large, lower division gateway courses by promoting student and faculty engagement. Steve Leslie, outgoing executive vice president and provost, said the Course Transformation Program was one of Ritter’s greatest accomplishments. 

“UT was one of the first places in the country to launch these blended and online learning initiatives, and Gretchen built that,” Leslie said. “She had the strength and persistent focus on cutting edge ways of transforming courses to set the stage for the methods we use today.”

Ritter also mentioned the program as one of her proudest achievements. 

“I’m proud of having supported an experiment that uses educational technology in positive and thoughtful ways, and in ways that were faculty led and designed,” Ritter said.

Ritter said her decision to leave is based on a variety of factors, including her appreciation of Cornell and a desire to return to the region of the country where she grow up. But in making her decision, Ritter said she also reflected on more recent concerns she has had about the state of Texas public higher education.

“I’m going because this is a great opportunity for me,” Ritter said. “But of course, I did reflect on the fact that it sometimes feels as though there is not as strong a commitment to supporting public higher education in the state as there used to be. That worries and concerns me.” 

Last week, history professor David Oshinsky announced his resignation from UT in favor of working full-time at New York University. Though he cited family connections and personal opportunities as reasons for his departure, he told the Austin-American Statesman that recent conflicts between UT and the UT System Board of Regents made the choice easier. 

“I do leave with sort of a bittersweet taste ... I see the University under fire now,” Oshinsky told the Statesman. “It does disturb me.”

Ritter said if trends like a lack of public commitment and support for public higher education continue, the University will suffer.

“I think we will be paying the price a decade from now,” Ritter said.

Still, Ritter said, she will miss many things about the University, including her colleagues and certain things that make UT a distinctly Texan university. 

“I’ll definitely miss salsa and tortilla chips,” Ritter said. 

In anticipation of his performance at Bass Concert Hall this Sunday, The Daily Texan interviewed comedian Bill Cosby.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

When Bill Cosby returns to the UT stage Sunday night, his reputation will precede him. The legendary comedian has been to UT many times. He has a UT sweater. He has UT socks. He is an honorary member of the football team and the women’s track team. But Bill Cosby’s career has not been a 100-meter dash. With a legacy in show business that spans five decades, Cosby has proved to be more of a long-distance runner. 

The comedian, now 75, has a gruff and grandfatherly manner that accompanies his slow-spoken but sharp humor. Unlike many comedians today, who Cosby said concentrate too much on getting to the punch line fast and delivering comedy quickly, Cosby eases slowly into funny.

“You can’t get a fast food performance here,” Cosby said. “You are going to marinate, to smile and forget about ‘Is this hip or not?’ You are going to get lost in a world of smiling, in identification. Forget about being hip.”

Based on his body of work, Cosby has never been very concerned with being hip. From his early stand-up career to his time on the popular sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” his subject material has concentrated on family, the follies of young adults and raising children, not exactly edgy stuff. But what Cosby’s material lacks in trendiness, it makes up for in timelessness. His fan base spans over three generations, and his comedy has earned him legendary status in show business.

Cosby, however, is not entirely comfortable with his iconic position in the world of comedy.

“Many people will say, ‘You’re a legend,’ and I say, ‘Okay, 40,000 fathoms under the sea is a legend,’” Cosby said. “It’s brand new for me, so I feel that it means old. Old and museum-like, like a ghost.”

He is coming to terms with the label of “icon” or “legend” as he recognizes what it means to be respected and appreciated for one’s work. However, he wants to distinguish the notion of legend from the notion of relic.

“I don’t want [people] to think that because I’m 75, that [they are] going to get a crotchety [performance],” Cosby said. There is a difference between old and timeless, and while Cosby described his performances as something the audience may have seen in their childhood with their parents, his comedy is still on point and relevant.

Although his work stays true to time-tested subjects, Cosby has had no problem staying current in today’s world of social media and constant digital news. He has embraced social media on almost every platform.

Unlike many members of his generation, Cosby has a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a YouTube page, in addition to his website. He is active on all of these sites, posting comments, videos and pictures, although much of the time the exact same thing is posted on all four media portals.

“In show business I have to find the people,” Cosby said, explaining why he chose to venture onto so many social media sites. “I have to tell the people where I am and then hope they remember the icon part without seeing the ghost and get excited.”

On Sunday Cosby returns to Austin to perform his stand-up act at Bass Concert Hall. The audience might see an icon, a man with a killer sense of timing and a knack for storytelling, or they might see a ghost, the man who used to be on “The Cosby Show” and “Fat Albert.” One thing is certain: They are going to see a man dedicated to performing who has given no indication of stopping any time soon.

“Fifty years. Wow,” Cosby said about his career. “But it could very well be 80 years. If I am still thinking and if the timing is still there ... it has to go somewhere, and until I am taken or stopped by Mrs. Cosby, I accept speaking and performance to cause laughter and entertainment.”

Printed on Friday, October 26, 2012 as: Cosby hits fresh, new punch lines