Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of Q-and-A’s with UT’s deans. Randy L. Diehl is dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He assumed the position in 2007.
The Daily Texan: Can you tell us what the most exciting projects are in the college right now?
Randy Diehl: Right now we are working on an initiative that will take about five years to recruit truly outstanding faculty. This is an initiative that has been made possible by funding, from the provost and the president, and it’s targeted at a relatively small number of departments that are considered priorities — history, English, philosophy, government, economics and psychology. Our entire mission, the main components of our mission — teaching, research and community engagement — really depend on attracting top faculty. By attracting great faculty, you can attract other great faculty, great students. It’s what allows us to provide really high-quality graduate and undergraduate teaching.
DT: As some of us are students of the college ourselves, we are sometimes a little overwhelmed by the size of the administration and how many different people there are that you have to communicate with. Can you explain to us what you do as dean?
Diehl: Well, to be honest, I spend a lot of my time with people. I spend the better part of my day in meetings. These are individual meetings with my top staff, ad hoc meetings that are requested by department chairs or groups of people. I meet with each of my associate deans…I also spend a lot of time in the provost’s office or the president’s office. I meet with other deans. A big chunk of my time is devoted to development, and that is talking to friends of the college, alumni, prospective donors.
I spend a lot of time on the road meeting folks who are friends of the college. I would estimate that about 30 to 40 percent of my time is devoted to development — raising the kind of funds we need to build excellence in the college. My job, really, is to work with my colleagues, both in the college and in the Tower, to build excellence in every aspect of our mission. It is what I think of when I wake up. I do very little that is purely bureaucratic. Mostly what I’m doing is working on major strategic issues.
DT: Is it likely at this point that future cohorts of TAs and AIs will be smaller? [Editor’s Note: Since this interview was conducted, a special task force has released its report on the state of TAs and AIs in the college.]
Diehl: They may be a bit smaller. I will be honest: We reduced our cohort size starting at the beginning of the downturn. For us, that was in 2009. Our cohort sizes and our total number of graduate students have gone down by around 21 percent since 2009. I think we can’t go too much further in terms of reducing graduate cohort size. In some programs, if we were to go further, it would actually damage the program. They would be below the critical mass they need to actually have a viable graduate program. In the longer term, as new money becomes available, we may be looking toward an infusion of new, recurring money. That money will be used in a number of ways. It will be used to hire great faculty, to restore the size of our faculty to earlier numbers.
DT: On the issue of graduate student stipends: One of the ways to increase those would be to decrease the size of future cohorts, right?
Diehl: Yeah. And in 2009 we were already experiencing a loss of competitiveness in the size of our graduate stipends. I came up with a plan right before the downturn. To help pay for that, we reduced the size of what is called our soft money budget, which helps to pay TAs, AIs and lecturers. We had no choice. But before that, I had come up with a plan to enhance the competitiveness of our stipend by modestly reducing our cohort size. We see the reduction in graduate cohort size as temporary, or at least a component of it as temporary. And then we’ll come back when we have some new money.
DT: Will you talk a little bit about how the shared services model works?
Diehl: It works extremely well. The idea was we aren’t forcing anyone to go to shared services, it was voluntary. I have never gotten a complaint from anybody about the quality of the shared services operation. Instead, I’ve gotten nothing but, “Wow, this is so much better than when we had so and so doing this.” The turnaround time on reimbursements, the reduction in simple errors that required the paperwork be reprocessed... it’s really helped the department.
The way we do it is when we save money — and we do save money — we divide that money between the college and the unit. Typically, the college gets more of the savings than the unit does. It varies a little bit. We’ve done 50-50 divisions in a couple of cases where it was warranted. Otherwise, one-third goes to the unit or the center or the department, and two-thirds goes to the college to pay for the staff that are required for the central business office, or go to pay for other aspects of the college mission. What we’ve found is that the quality of service is higher than it was before, and we are saving money.
DT: Will you talk about the new geography building and what will be happening there?
Diehl: The building will have a different name. Right now it’s black studies and Mexican-American studies. That’s what’s going to be housed there. Both black studies and Latino studies would not have happened, either as departments or as research institutes, without the incredible support of Bill Powers, with full support from the dean and the faculty. He made the funds available to go out and get a new faculty and support research. This campus now would be viewed nationally, internationally, as one of the centers for ethnic studies, particularly black studies and Latino studies.
DT: How do you respond to critics’ claims that the College of Liberal Arts here, and its counterparts at other universities, don’t adequately prepare students for today’s workforce?
Diehl: It’s nonsense. The marketable skills we provide our students are at the very core of a liberal arts education. I am talking about critical thinking, the ability to write coherently, the ability to speak, the ability to understand how we got to where we are as a society; in other words, to understand enough history, enough of the humanities to understand our culture, to understand our international culture. It is no surprise that a majority of CEOs, when surveyed, will say they are looking for, in terms of hiring, not so much technical skills but the kind of skills that liberal art majors bring to the table.