the University of Michigan

One reason why Harvard University constantly excels as a top university is its low student-faculty ratio. Remarkably, for each professor at Harvard, there are only about seven students. Those students therefore benefit from close learning interactions and mentorship from expert educators and researchers. Seventy-five percent of classes at Harvard have fewer than 20 students. 

The student-faculty ratio at Princeton University is 6:1. The ratio at the University of Pennsylvania is about the same. The ratio at Caltech is 3:1. At the University of Virginia, it is 16:1. At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, it is 15:1.

How does UT Austin compare? Back in 2001, the ratio of students to faculty at UT Austin was 21:1. This proportion left much to be desired, so UT’s president, Larry Faulkner, announced a plan to add 300 tenured and tenure-track faculty to our University. Faulkner’s goal was to enhance education at UT by lowering our student-faculty ratio to 16:1. 

In 2006, UT’s new president, William Powers Jr., in his inaugural address, emphasized the importance of fulfilling Faulkner’s initiative. Moreover, Powers set a higher goal: to eventually reach 445 new faculty positions.  

So where are we now? 

At the start of the academic year 2014-2015, UT Austin had 2,462 full-time equivalent teaching faculty, that is, 435 more than when Faulkner began his initiative 14 years ago. So it almost sounds as if we reached our presidents’ goals. But unfortunately, that’s not the case, because our student population has also grown.   

To calculate student-faculty ratios, we divide “student full-time equivalents” by “faculty full -time teaching equivalents.” (It’s not enough to just divide student headcounts by faculty because some students are only enrolled part- time, and some faculty do not teach full-time.)

As of September 2014, UT Austin has 45,720 student full-time equivalents. Therefore, our student-faculty ratio is now 18.6:1. We have almost reached midway from the goal that we had hoped to reach by 2010.

That goal was reified in 2002 by the Commission of 125, a wisely convened group of 218 distinguished members, who earnestly sought to fulfill the mandate of the Texas Constitution of 1876 and establish “a university of the first class.” The Commission labored for two years to systematically evaluate UT Austin’s entire curriculum. Finally, their No. 1 recommendation was to “reduce the undergraduate student-faculty ratio to 16:1.” 

They rightly concluded: “The quality of education the Commission seeks for UT students can be achieved only if there is a direct and meaningful engagement between students and professors. Such engagement is essential if we are to prepare students for an increasingly complex world. The student-faculty ratio is an important and traditional measure of a quality undergraduate education.” 

Naturally, it was not sufficient to simply hire more instructors, because if enrollments also grew, then our student-faculty ratio might not be improved. Therefore, the Commission added another goal: “Decreasing the student-faculty ratio will require reducing enrollment while also expanding the faculty. But the latter objective must not undermine the University’s commitment to recruit and hire new tenure-track professors of the highest quality.” 

This issue has now been raised in Faculty Council. Our likely next president, Gregory Fenves, will face this challenge: How can we fulfill the important goals set by the Commission of 125 and by our past two presidents? 

My recommendation will be that instead of hiring a few new faculty members at ever-higher salaries, UT should hire more quality faculty at moderate salaries. 

Martínez is an associate professor in the Department of History.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Kevin Hegarty, UT’s vice president and chief financial officer, will step down from his position to become executive vice president and CFO at the University
of Michigan.

Mary Knight, associate vice president for finance, will serve as interim CFO until Hegarty’s position is filled.

Hegarty will make the transition from Texas to Michigan during this semester, pending approval from Michigan’s Board of Regents. His last day working on campus will be Feb. 26.

Since 2001, Hegarty has overseen finance, budget, real estate, information technology, open records, payroll and purchasing at UT. 

Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan, spoke about Hegarty in a speech to Michigan’s Board of Regents.

“Mr. Hegarty is strongly committed to the role of public universities and brings a valuable combination of private sector and public higher education experience to the appointment,” Schlissel said. “I am confident he will serve our university well in meeting the challenges ahead.”

President William Powers Jr. said Hegarty has been a valuable resource to the University with regards to improvements in efficiency.

“Few people in our University’s history have served the campus with as much dedication and honor as Kevin,” Powers said. “He will be sorely missed and will always be a great friend. Kevin’s love for the Longhorns is exceeded only by his accomplishments improving the university, making us one of the most productive and efficient campuses in the nation and leading us through very challenging budget years.”

Hegarty has contributed to large-scale projects at UT, such as information technology, finance and procurement services and Shared Services, a plan to centralize the University’s human resources.

“If you look at any of the main initiatives that have happened at the University — things as big as the creation of the Dell Medical School — Kevin and his expertise [have] really been central to that,” UT spokesman Gary Susswein said. “This is a big loss for the university, but we wish Kevin well.”

Susswein said the search for Hegarty’s replacement will not begin until after the next UT president is in office.

Knight, who worked with Hegarty for the duration of his 13 years at UT, said she will continue to expand Shared Services while serving as interim CFO.

“We’ll continue to move forward with the Shared Services Initiative,” Knight said. “It’s currently in a pilot phase, so it has a relatively small impact on the campus as a whole.”

Knight commended Hegarty for his ability to work closely with faculty and administrators on campus.

“He’s got fabulous working relationships with the deans and the vice presidents and really has the attitude of ‘we are here to help with the academic and research mission, and we want to do our jobs well so that the mission of the University can be accomplished,’” Knight said.

UT alumnus Payam Banazadeh spoke to students in STEM-related programs about an opportunity to work with NASA on Monday evening. 

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Starting this year, NASA will give University students and faculty the opportunity to propose a mission concept that the space administration may actually use.

The Space Mission Design Challenge, presented by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, known as JPL, allows students and faculty to propose space mission concepts for review by a special committee of JPL engineers. The program has been previously offered to Stanford University and the University of Michigan.

One of the committee members, UT alumnus and JPL engineer Payam Banazadeh, said the challenge enhances teamwork between different departments at the University.

“I think the main benefit here is to connect the science students and science department to the engineering department,” Banazadeh said. “We want to show that, to be able to achieve any scientific goal, [there] is collaboration between the two different disciplines.”  

According to the challenge’s rules, the concept must either be science-driven or have a technology demonstration objective. Banazadeh said, depending on the capability of the designs, the committee will select four to five ideas from students and faculty.

In the fall, those selected will have the opportunity to work with aerospace engineering students at the University to develop the concept. The top two teams will travel to Pasadena, Calif., for a two-day design session with JPL engineers and scientists.

Aerospace engineering senior Tyler Bollman said he thinks the program will help students prepare for the industry.

“I think it’s a great way to get into the business, definitely from a student’s perspective, to straight into learning how the business is handled in a mission scenario,” Bollman said.

Aerospace engineering professor Wallace Fowler, who teaches Spacecraft Mission Design with engineers from the JPL providing input on the students’ final projects, said the Space Mission Design Challenge presents a fantastic opportunity for students to excel.

“We haven’t done anything like this at UT, ever,” Fowler said. “I told students in the class, ‘If you want to work for JPL, this is not just an assigned presentation. This is an audition.’”

With the challenge open to all UT students, Banazadeh said he believes sometimes the best ideas come from students outside traditional aerospace engineering circles.

“If you come from the other end of the spectrum, you don’t think about feasibility,” Banazadeh said. “You come up with a crazy idea and then give the engineers the problem and say, ‘Hey, solve this.’ I think that’s a better way to approaching these innovative-type missions.”

Photo Credit: Michael Todd | Daily Texan Staff

Attorneys for both the University and Abigail Fisher, a rejected UT applicant, argued over the necessity of a race-conscious admissions policy in front of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

Fisher sued the University in 2008 for discriminating against her based on her race, which she claimed was in violation of the 14th Amendment. 

In June, the Supreme Court determined the Fifth Circuit had failed to apply strict scrutiny to the University’s race-conscious admissions policy and sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit court to determine whether the University’s policies are narrowly tailored and necessary to achieve a “critical mass” of minority students. 

In their questions during oral argument, Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Carolyn King and Emilio Garza focused on the way the University defines “critical mass,” as well as past attempts the University has made to increase minority enrollment.

“Every attempt I’ve heard to define a critical mass has been tautological, circular or objective,” Garza said.

Photo by Charlie Pearce / Daily Texan Staff

Greg Garre, the University’s attorney, said although UT does not use specific numbers to determine a critical mass, the University is still able to determine when this mass has been met.

“[Not using percentages] doesn’t mean that UT can’t determine when a critical mass is reached,” Garre said. 

In describing the difficulty of defining a critical mass, Garre and the judges both made references to former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quote, “I know it when I see it.”

Fisher’s attorney Bert Rein said if the University considers race in its admissions process for people who do not qualify for admission under the state’s Top 10 Percent rule, the school must provide undeniable evidence that diversity could not have been achieved through any other means. 

“If you pick race, you have to be able to withstand strict scrutiny,” Rein said.

According to Garre, the University uses race as part of a much larger admissions process, and race is one of several factors that, combined, determine 4/7 of an applicant’s personal achievement index. That score is in turn combined with the applicant’s academic index score to determine if the applicant should be admitted to the University. 

“One factor of a factor is race,” Garre said.

Higginbotham said because most low-performing schools in Texas are heavily made up of minority students, if the University did not use holistic review to gain minority students, then students might begin to assume all minority students at the University are from low-performing schools.

“That to me creates the stigma that [Justice Clarence Thomas] has rightly complained about,” he said.

President William Powers Jr. — who is a Harvard Law graduate and a former dean of the UT Law School — said he thinks the questions the judges asked clearly indicate they researched the University’s specific admission policies. 

“The court was very well prepared on both sides,” Powers said. “The arguments were very relevant to the application of the [admissions] standard. Arguments were excellently presented.”

The University has been the center of many previous cases related to affirmative action. In 1996, Hopwood v. Texas was the first affirmative action case to strike down race as a factor during an admissions process, though the right to use race with certain qualifications had been established in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978.

Grutter v. Bollinger, a case brought against the University of Michigan in 2003, declared use of race as an admissions criteria constitutional, reversing the Hopwood ruling.

Garre argued that during the seven years between those two cases, while the University did not use race as part of its admissions process, the percentage of African-American students in the student body fell by approximately 50 percent.

“In 2004, there were 15.2 percent minority admits,” Garre said. “You go to 2007, the 15.2 percent ballooned to 23.6 percent with the addition of race in holistic review.”

Rein said the University has not made any attempts to use race-neutral admissions criteria since the Grutter case declared that using race as a factor is constitutional.

“They haven’t looked at a darn thing,” Rein said. “What they did is look at Grutter and say, ‘The green light is on.’”

Powers disagreed and said the University has been unable to achieve its goals of student diversity through processes that do not take race into consideration.

“To suggest that we have not tried race-neutral admissions policies ignores the University’s history,” Powers said in a statement. “In fact, prior to the introduction of the admissions policy being defended today, the University saw the number of minority enrollments drop precipitously or stagnate, despite more targeted recruiting, increased scholarships, the use of socioeconomic factors in holistic review and the introduction of the Top 10 Percent law.”

Additional reporting by Jordan Rudner.

The current iteration of the “UT Shared Services Plan,” a plan that calls for eliminating 500 jobs and centralizing some University services, will be tested on a college or other large unit within the University before its campus-wide implementation.

The plan’s draft, reviewed by the Shared Services Committee, was sent out in a press release from the Texas State Employees Union on Friday. A committee representative would not confirm how the group was able to obtain a copy of the report.

The goal of the report, UT spokesman Gary Susswein said Friday, is to eliminate these positions primarily through attrition and retirement. He said the University cannot assure that it will not use layoffs to meet the target of 500 jobs. These jobs would be culled from Information Technology, Human Resources, Financial and Procurement services. 

Kevin Hegarty, UT vice president and chief financial officer, said the pilot version of the plan — to be launched in eight to 10 months — will occur on a volunteer basis and help the University monitor its success.

“Think of what you’ve read [in the report] as a hypothesis,” Hegarty said. “Now, we need to experiment vis-a-vis this pilot and either prove or disprove our hypothesis. I think when we do this pilot, that should tell us whether or not our estimates were realistic or unrealistic, if we are going to go forward with the program and what we need to change.”

Hegarty said the success of similar centralization plans at other institutions, including Yale University and the University of Michigan, makes him think it will work at UT.

“If we do nothing, we will see more of what we’ve seen in the last handful of years, which is continued job loss because revenue is not going up, tuition is not going up and state investment continues to net decline,” Hegarty said. “We have to balance the books. We can only spend the money that we have.”

The report estimates the University would have to invest between $160 million and $180 million to make its recommendations for long-term cost cuts feasible. A portion of that money would be used to establish a new technological administrative system called Workday, Hegarty said.

Currently, the University uses the Departmental Financial Information Network, known as DEFINE, to provide users access to documents, payroll information, account transactions and balances and other official documents. 

“We’ve decided to [replace DEFINE] in any event because we have to,” Hegarty said. “Our current systems are at [the] end of life, and they’re becoming expensive to maintain. They’re written in programming languages that are no longer current languages.” 

Hegarty said the University is now entering the public discussion phase and has shared the plan with several groups including the Dean’s Council, the vice president’s council and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Budgets. He said he has seen justifiable concern for the risks associated with the plan from these groups, but an overall willingness to make changes and accept the new options the plan outlines. 

“Those that have taken the time to study it believe that it’s the right direction,” Hegarty said. 

Bianca Hinz-Foley, Plan II junior and regional organizer of United Students Against Sweatshops, said the University has been unwilling to engage in open communication with the Save Our Community Coalition, an organization of student groups opposed to the recommendations of the “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT” plan released in January. 

“This plan to eliminate jobs is really just the first step in a much larger privatization plan,” Hinz-Foley said. “This will change the University from a campus where professors and students come together to talk about big ideas to a corporation that values money above all else. This is a critical issue facing students, faculty and tax-payers.”

The President shakes hands with some of Manor New Technology High School's students as he made his way out of their gymnasium after delivering remarks on Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Under a proposal made last week by the Obama administration in which universities nation-wide would be compared against one another for financial aid, UT officials said the University would rank well, resulting in increased financial aid for students. 

President Barack Obama’s higher education plan would rank colleges and universities and allocate financial aid according to the rankings. The plan, aimed to be in place by 2018, will be administered by the Department of Education.

The ratings system would use categories such as the percentage of financially-needy students admitted, affordability and other metrics to determine financial aid distribution, according to a White House statement. The ranking system would compare colleges and universities of similar missions, to fairly evaluate them within the same category. This would mean state universities and community colleges would not be compared side-by-side. The preliminary plan will need to be passed by both houses of Congress in order to take effect.

According to Thomas Melecki, UT director of Student Financial Services, the University stacks up well against its peer institutions. Compared to other state flagship universities, a large percentage of UT students receive Pell Grants, given by the federal government to low-income students who qualify.

The University also has a lower tuition rate than many of its peer institutions, In the 2011-12 school year, the University’s average in-state tuition was $9,790, which was lower than many other flagship universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.

“There are a lot of things here that suggest to me that we would score very well on any kind of data the government puts together,” Melecki said. “The extent that that will turn into more and better financial aid for our students, that will be a huge help to our body.”

Student Government Administrative Director Joshua Tang said if the University bodes well under the ratings system, it would improve the value of a UT degree for all students.

“If we can incentivize better fiscal management of higher education and boost academic performance of the students who receive financial aid, I think that can go a long way to solving some of the educational insecurities in our country,” Tang said.

Under the Obama plan, graduation rates would also be factored into the proposed ratings system. In a statement last week, UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said the University’s focus on students’ long-term success will be rewarded when UT is ranked on the new system.

“We currently have initiatives in place to boost our four-year graduation rates, which are already the highest in the state, and our six-year graduation rates are on par with our national peers,” Doolittle said in a statement.

Doolittle also said the University was supportive of the incentive-based financial aid as long as the institutions were graded on appropriate data.

According to Melecki, a large number of UT students would benefit from more financial aid due to rising living costs in Austin.

“The cost of going to the UT-Austin keeps rising, not because of what UT-Austin is doing. What’s driving the cost of going to UT-Austin up is being in Austin,” Melecki said. “Austin is the most expensive city in Texas in which to rent.”

Melecki said that students should pay attention as legislation from ideas set forth in the Obama plan is debated in Congress.

“The president has begun a dialogue; the question is how that dialogue will end up,” Melecki said. “There may be changes in this that may or may not serve our student body well. [Students] need to pay attention to this.”

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will once again confront the issue of race in university admissions in a case brought by a white student denied a spot at the flagship campus of the University of Texas.

The court said Tuesday it will return to the issue of affirmative action in higher education for the first time since its 2003 decision endorsing the use of race as a factor in admissions. This time around, a more conservative court is being asked to outlaw the use of Texas' affirmative action plan and possibly to jettison the earlier ruling entirely.

A federal appeals court upheld the Texas program at issue, saying it was allowed under the high court's decision in Grutter vs. Bollinger in 2003 that upheld racial considerations in university admissions at the University of Michigan law school.

The Texas case will be argued in the fall and the changed makeup of the Supreme Court could foretell a different outcome. For one thing, Justice Samuel Alito appears more hostile to affirmative action than his predecessor, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. For another, Justice Elena Kagan, who might be expected to vote with the court's liberal-leaning justices in support of it, is not taking part in the case.

Kagan's absence probably is a result of the Justice Department's participation in the Texas case in the lower courts at a time when she served as solicitor general.

The challenge to the University of Texas program comes from Abigail Fisher, who filed a lawsuit with another woman when they were denied admission there. They contended the university's race-conscious policy violated their civil and constitutional rights. By then, the two had enrolled elsewhere.

The other woman has since dropped out of the case and the state has said that Fisher is a senior at Louisiana State University whose impending graduation should bring an end to the lawsuit. But the Supreme Court appeared not to buy that argument Tuesday.

Most entering freshman at Texas are admitted because they are among the top 10 percent in their high school class. The Texas policy applies to the remaining spots and allows for the consideration of race along with other factors.

Texas had dropped affirmative action policies after a 1996 appeals court ruling. But following the high court ruling in 2003, the university resumed considering race starting with its 2005 entering class.

The case is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 11-345.

During his speech Friday at the University of Michigan, President Barack Obama scrutinized the rising cost of attending college. Echoing sentiments from his State of the Union speech last week, Obama put publicly funded universities “on notice” to rein in tuition or face a decrease in federal funding.

The speech outlined a new blueprint for higher education that would double federal work-study programs and drastically increase the availability of federal, low-interest Perkins loans. The proposal also calls for a “Race to the Top” program — comparable to an existing plan for K-12 education — that promises financial rewards for states that keep tuition at a manageable level.

Obama’s plan also proposes a competition that would incentivize universities to balance efficiency with quality. Just as Texas universities currently compete against each other for coveted Tier-One status and its associated funding, Obama’s $55-million contest will set a standard for universities.

Besides outlining specific criteria for improvement in higher education, Obama expressed frustration with the struggle that seems unavoidable to college students across the nation: student loans. For the first time in history, total debt from student loans is greater than total credit card debt. The situation is particularly precarious because unlike credit card debt, student loans are not forgivable after declaring bankruptcy.

The mounting sticker shock of tuition creates a situation in which student loans become necessary for attendance, even at public universities. In 2003, the in-state cost of attendance at UT was only $7,974 per year. Now, it can total $12,829 — an increase of more than 60 percent over only nine years. The average UT undergraduate with loans leaves with more than $24,000 in debt, according to the University’s financial aid office. Struggling college students want to pay off loans incurred through tuition prices, but there has to be a mechanism available for them to do so.

With his proposal, Obama hopes to alleviate some of that pressure by speeding up legislation that would reduce maximum required loan payments to 10 percent of income post-graduation. By using the new Consumer Finance Protection Board, the plan will publish transparent “grades” of affordability and value at universities — an idea that has been lauded as sound by financial aid analysts.

The transparency push is essential to the effort by the Obama administration to make states more accountable for rising college costs. Texas was one of the 40 states mentioned in the speech that slashed public university funding in the last year.

The debate surrounding the state Legislature’s budget cuts prompted extreme pressure on UT and other public universities to make up the difference with tuition hikes. Proponents of extreme “efficiency,” such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former UT System adviser Rick O’Donnell, hijacked the conversation on higher education funding by castigating some researchers and professors as wasteful.

But, as Obama correctly acknowledged Friday, the problem is not with professors but with states that pass the buck on financing gaps by inflating tuition faster than students can be expected to keep up.

The state Legislature’s drastic cuts to higher education left universities feeling as though the only options for financial viability were to either cut key programs or to raise tuition. In December, UT President William Powers Jr. and the Tuition Policy Advisory Committee recommended the maximum allowable tuition increase of 2.6 percent for in-state students, a move that many student groups criticized as unfair.

Obama centered on this sentiment of injustice by portraying the tuition debate as a broader symptom of an economic crisis among the middle class. While speaking on the UT campus two years ago, Obama called education “the economic issue of our time.” This perspective is both alarming and accurate. While the wealthiest Americans pay a comparatively low rate of taxes, middle-class Americans face endless, increasing hurdles to higher education. Obama’s blueprint for higher education is an important step toward righting the imbalance in college affordability. Attending college shouldn’t be the American dream; it should be the American standard.

President Barack Obama proposed incentive-based federal aid in which more affordable colleges receive more aid. UT President William Powers Jr. said the plan is sound, but kinks need to be worked out to ensure consideration for the expense of maintaining a top research university like UT.

Obama spoke about higher education reform in his State of the Union address on Jan. 24 and delved into more specific plans at the University of Michigan on Jan. 27.

The president requested an increased federal aid incentive plan for colleges to keep tuition rates at a reasonable level. Part of the proposed plan includes increasing campus-based aid, which would mainly expand the Perkins Loan Program, so colleges with better contained tuition rates would receive more federal funding.

“If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down,” Obama said. “We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t.”

Obama said graduates in 2010 who took out loans owed an average of $24,000 and is suggesting that Congress approve low interest rates for student loan borrowers.

“Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever,” Obama said. “That’s inexcusable.”

Obama also made appeals to double the number of work-study jobs over the next five years and create a college scorecard of financial information about colleges to be readily available to families.

“We want to push more information out so consumers can make good choices, so you as consumers of higher education understand what it is that you’re getting,” Obama said.

Powers said Obama’s performance-based funding model is sound and includes approaches implemented at UT. He said the model’s success would depend on the implementation and the measurements used to determine how much funding to allocate to various colleges. Powers said the model should include multiple, carefully chosen measurements.

“If the only metric used is tuition for distributing resources, then across the nation the Perkins loans would go to community colleges,” Powers said.

Powers said the University responded to the $92 million in state cuts with a dramatically lower tuition proposal than most of the University’s peer institutions. Powers submitted a recommendation on Dec. 15 to increase tuition by the largest amount allowed by the UT System. He said he does not know how much of an increase the recommendation would have been without the System directives, but it would have been modest.

“We would have still been very concerned with cost,” Powers said.

Powers said it is important to keep in mind that it is not just about cost, but about the value of the education.

“We want as low of cost, as high of quality education,” Powers said.

Beverly Moreno, communications sciences and disorders senior, said the incentives program to give more federal aid to cheaper colleges sounds nice on paper, but it is not as simple as it is presented.

“I can’t say let’s punish our schools that hike up prices,” Moreno said. “I know there are a lot of details out there that result in higher tuition cost.”

Moreno said as a student with a work-study job, Obama’s focus on increasing work-study impressed her.

“I think that’s a great thing to be able to work and put yourself through college,” Moreno said.

She said anything the federal government can do to lessen the necessity of student loans is a good thing, especially given the dismal job market.

“Loans are necessary, but it’d be nice to have more of a guarantee that we’re going to be able to pay those back and not regret it,” Moreno said.

John Ciorciari, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, gives a lecture on Monday afternoon titled “Archiving Memory after Mass Atrocities.” Ciorciari’s lecture on documenting national archives was part of the Human Rights Happy Hour Speaker Series hosted by the School of Law.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

 It is a nation’s duty to record the truth through archives and to overcome the challenges of assembling those archives, said John Ciorciari, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.

Ciorciari lectured Monday as part of a series on human rights sponsored by the Rapoport Center in the School of Law.

Ciorciari, who published a book on the duty to protect human rights in Southeast Asia, described the foundational approach of creating a strong archival base for both memory and accountability.

“It’s very important for the people responsible for documentation to be thoughtful, to establish procedures,” he said.

He noted the example of Cambodia and the atrocities committed there in the 1970s with the brutal, genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. Documents were used to convict those responsible for crimes against humanity, he said.

“There’s an emerging notion that people have a right to know what happened,” Ciorciari said.

He also said a number of post-communist states began to set up specialized memory institutes after the Cold War. This norm of establishing archives gathered momentum in the late 1990s, he said.

The question of who is allowed to assemble archives and who is to organize and gather the documents is a difficulty governments face, Ciorciari said; a national archive is a natural place to start.

“When a national archive is [established], it is a building capacity for the state in dealing with future record-keeping,” Ciorciari said.

He also said the process of establishing national archives depends greatly on the cooperation of a national government.

“A lot of governments are not willing, or are unable, to deal with these documents,” he said. “And [those documents] may not see the light of day.”

He said in cases of citizen privacy, ethical decisions will have to be made.

William Chandler, an administrator at the Rapoport Center, said discussing human rights issues is important for students of law as well as other students.

“The Rapoport Center is interdisciplinary,” Chandler said. “The University is a great environment to have open dialogue about human rights issues.”

The archiving process, Ciorciari said, is not a simple or easy one, but it is inherent to human rights and holds those who abuse their power at the expense of citizens accountable for their actions.

“People will say, ‘I want to see those documents today. I lost my uncle,’ or, ‘I lost my sister,’” he said. “Even with modern technology, it’s going to take a long time relative to the legitimate needs [of citizens]. Their patience for the use of these documents is going to be short.”