Below is a selection of recent news coverage about the leadership dispute at UT Austin. Stories are listed in reverse chronological order.News Coverage
University of Texas Board Asks President to Step Down
Wall Street Journal, July 8
House Committee Wants UT Regents To Hold Off On Any Action Against Pres. Bill Powers
Texas Public Radio, July 8
Venomous language in UT president kerfuffle seems to come from the Powers side
Watchdog.org, July 8
As Fight Over U. of Texas President Comes to a Head, Everyone Wonders, Why Now?
Chronicle of Higher Education, July7
TXExplainer: The Latest on the ‘July 4th Coup’
Alcalde, July 7
Cigarroa: Communication Problems Led to Powers Decision
Texas Tribune, July 7
Battle for Texas
Inside Higher Ed, July 7
Supporters rally behind UT president, urge him to stay
Associated Press, Longview News-Journal, July 7
Powers asks for 1 more year as University of Texas president
Dallas Morning News, July 7
UT President Powers Proposes Graceful Exit
Associated Press (Syndicated): http://bit.ly/1rMncBo
Austin American-Statesman: http://ow.ly/yRe6N
Letter from president to chancellor: http://ow.ly/yRelZ
Power struggle at UT could hurt its reputation, observers say
Houston Chronicle, San Antonio-Express News, July 7
Petition Supporting Powers Hits 10,000 Signature Goal in Three Days
The Horn, July 7
University of Texas feud threatens president's job
Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, July 7
Powers to Cigarroa: Stepping Down would be 'Enormously Disruptive'
Time Warner Austin, July 7
Transparency Committee to Remind UT System of Directive
Texas Tribune, July 7
Supporters Rally Behind UT Austin President
Houston Chronicle, July 6
Powers’ exit would be 'travesty' for UT, says Alumni Board chief Hutchison
Dallas Morning News, July 6
Pressed to resign, UT’s Bill Powers backed by faculty, alumni, students
Austin American-Statesman, July 5
UT President Bill Powers told to resign or be fired, sources say
Dallas Morning News, July 4
Cigarroa Tells Powers to Resign or Be Fired
Texas Tribune, July 4
Sources: Whistleblower Forcing Out UT President
Breitbart, July 4
A critical decision: UT-Austin's leaders need to put aside politics and personality differences and do right
Editorial Board, Houston Chronicle, July 8
Editorial: UT chancellor needs to explain why he wants to oust Powers
Editorial Board, Dallas Morning News, July 8
POINT: Facts prove Powers good for university
John Curtiss, Texas Ex, for the Houston Chronicle, July 8
COUNTERPOINT: Litany of troubles at UT-Austin underscores the need for a new president
Charles Miller, former UT System Regent, for the Houston Chronicle, July 8
UT ouster of president is not wise - Powers should be allowed to step down in 2015
Editorial Board, McAllen Monitor, July 8
Texas politicians smarten up, ditch UT pres this time around
Jon Cassidy for Watchdog.org, July 8
Gavin: Why UT President Powers is the best at what he does
MIT Professor Frances Gavin for the Dallas Morning News, July 7
Block the July 4 Coup
Andrea C. Gore, Hillary Hart and William Beckner for Inside Higher Ed, July 7
Sound reasons are needed for Powers' dismissal
Editorial Board, Austin American-Statesman, July 7
News of Powers 'ultimatum' shows disrespect to able president
Daily Texan, July 7
Following the economic difficulties of 2001-2009, Texas has provided a fertile atmosphere for business prosperity and overall economic growth. As researchers who are close to the entrepreneurial process and have owned businesses ourselves, we understand that developing entrepreneurial firms, and the perceptions of their owners, may not be in synch with the larger economic picture. The priorities of entrepreneurs are often more fundamental, the urgency is often greater, and the observable opportunities differ based on the lens through which a business owner sees the world. We wondered how the black business community views the Texas business landscape overall today. To find out, we surveyed Texas black-owned businesses, including many in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and asked owners about themselves, their businesses and their perceptions of other firms in their industries. What became clear is that black owners perceive significant hurdles in growing their businesses and achieving the profitability levels of their industry peers.
Among the survey responses, we observed many of the same issues entrepreneurial businesses generally face, as well as a number of challenges to growth previously identified in the research literature on minority-owned small businesses and the overall research literature on all firms. Our survey, sponsored by The University of Texas at Austin, in cooperation with the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce, polled 914 black-owned businesses across Texas about a variety of business-related issues.
We found that most Texas black-owned businesses in our survey are similar to the businesses we ourselves have owned: firms that provide a professional service and are owned by an individual with at least a bachelor’s degree and who started that business himself or herself. Furthermore, the vast majority of these black-owned businesses have no paid employees other than the owner. The median age of the firms among our respondents is 10 years, a healthy number that points to significant longevity in business. Overwhelmingly, these business owners assess themselves as proficient at a range of professional skills, including analysis and problem solving, written and oral communications, team building and management, the ability to motivate, and the ability to develop relationships.
And yet, despite confidence in their skills as business people and relatively high levels of educational attainment, black owners of businesses in our survey still perceive significant barriers. More specifically, a majority of the business owners responding to the survey agreed that black-owned businesses, in general, have less access than other firms to government decision makers for the purposes of procurement opportunities and that black-owned businesses are unfairly excluded from participating in both government and private-sector contracting opportunities. In addition, when we asked them an open-ended question about their top three training needs and to rank these training needs in order of importance, survey respondents identified accounting/finance topics more often than any other response (16 percent), followed by technology (10 percent) and management/leadership training (10 percent). Similarly, when we asked survey respondents to list the top three major challenges facing their businesses, the most frequently mentioned topic was funding/cash flow/finance (26 percent). Fully half of the survey respondents had never applied for a business loan.
To overcome these challenges and address these training needs, and to ensure that entrepreneurial opportunities are shared across the board as the Texas recovery strengthens, policymakers and business leaders should focus on improving access to financial capital and financial training for black entrepreneurs. In addition, because research on black business has shown that firms that start with employees are more likely to grow faster and survive longer than those that are sole proprietorships, more should be done to encourage black entrepreneurs planning new businesses to start with a level of capitalization and scope that allows them to start their businesses with employees, if they chose to do so.
John Sibley Butler is the Herb Kelleher Chair in Entrepreneurship and the J. Marion West Chair for Constructive Capitalism in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, where he holds joint appointments in the Departments of Management and Sociology. He is on the Board of Glofish, where he was the first investor. Matt Kerwick is a research scientist at the Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute, The University of Texas at Austin. He is also founder and president of Visionary Research Inc., a research and strategy consultancy.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News.
If you have ever ridden a crowded subway or bus at rush hour, you have likely noticed that when strangers encounter each other, they briefly exchange eye contact before looking away. In densely shared spaces, choosing to look away is neither rude nor unusual. Rather, such looking away respects people’s need for space and anonymity in public. Erving Goffman, a prominent sociologist, referred to such behavior as civil inattention.
These days, people do a lot of important things online. Certainly, unimportant things can happen when we get sucked into the Internet’s vortex. But the Internet is the place where we stay connected with friends and family who often live far away. It is where we find romantic partners. Where we get support in times of crisis. Where we share our expertise. The Internet is where we grow up and try on new identities. Where we advocate for particular political parties and platforms. And perhaps, it is where we find a place to finally belong. In other words, the Internet does more than help us get ahead in our careers. For most of us, what we do online affects many — and perhaps all — aspects of our lives.
So what happens if most of us — or enough of us — focus our digital energies on maintaining our ideal work persona online? What if most of us take the common career advice to manage each piece of online information as if future employers might see it? We may lose more than we will gain.
Certainly there could be short-term gain for early masters of online professionalism. But if more and more people brand and polish their online personas to meet these new expectations, such information will no longer give promised access to “the real person.” What then? Employers will still expect us to keep up with our professional personas online. It will become the new normal. Yet it will cost us in terms of the other life goals we pursue online — goals that are not just about work.
Although employers may have good reasons for looking online, like people sharing a crowded subway, they should choose to look away in order to respect people’s online lives. Let’s find alternate ways to fulfill our organizational obligations without exploiting the information made visible by growing up, learning, engaging, debating and connecting online.
Choosing to look away is not new to business contexts. This is one of the things professional standards and ethics are about: Even though we are able to do something, we choose not to do it. Or we choose to do it in a different way that serves the greater good. Take insider trading for example. Insider trading happens when people use access to confidential or nonpublic information to trade a company’s stock to their advantage. Many countries prohibit insider trading because it is considered unfair. Insider trading shows how we establish rules for what information we collect, and whether and how we can use that information. It shows that even when we have the privilege of knowing something, we may choose not to use it for our own gain because of a higher standard.
Such looking away is not always legislated. For example, when human resource personnel in the United States receive an application with a personal photo on it, they often remove the photo or discard the application. They do so because even though the applicant made the information available, removing the information helps human resource personnel avoid the chance of unintended bias by the managers and others reviewing résumés.
So let us be intentional in where we look and where we don’t look. Let us not allow our organizational need to identify red flags to undermine people’s online lives. Let us find ways to fulfill our organizational due diligence while also respecting that people — including ourselves — have lives outside of work.
Brenda Berkelaar is an assistant professor in communication studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Her expertise is in the ways technology affects work, careers and personnel selection.
On Civil Rights Anniversary, Educational Opportunity Gap for Young Men of Color Needs More Attention
This week, we celebrate 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Since that time, we certainly have overcome many hurdles in our effort to achieve equality, but gaps remain, particularly when it comes to education. The opportunity gap for young men of color is one of the biggest crises of our time.
Only 5.4 percent of students enrolled at two- and four-year colleges and universities in Texas in the fall of 2012 were African American males; 4.1 percent were Hispanic males. If we are to increase the number of African American and Latino males entering college, we must increase high school graduation rates first. It is up to all of us to make sure that happens, because raising graduation rates and improving educational attainment must begin on a local level in elementary and secondary schools. As the vice president of diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin, I can assure we are willing leaders in this effort.
At UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, we fund initiatives that address the unique problem of young men of color to the tune of $750,000 annually. Like the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative recently launched by the White House, our commitment involves academic initiatives and partnerships with community and philanthropic organizations in order to reach out to young men beyond our university. In doing so, we are able to engage men of color across the entire educational spectrum, from pre-K through graduate school.
Two programs key to our work are Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) and the African American Male Research Initiative. Project MALES conducts research about male educational experiences and includes a mentoring program for male students of color across Texas. The program has spawned the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color, which includes six community college districts, five universities and three school districts in the state (Austin, La Joya and El Paso ISDs) committed to enhancing Latino and African American male student success.
The faculty-led African American Male Research Initiative (AAMRI) is designed to increase the four-year graduation rate for African American males. AAMRI faculty members and staffers also mentor young black men through graduate school and research the best practices for them to achieve excellence. Mentoring is essential to these programs to ensure young men graduate from high school and college.
Mentoring initiatives, with the opportunity for young men to develop relationships with professionals and men of color already in college, will help break the school-to-prison cycle and keep young men on the path toward high school graduation. At its most basic level, the school-to-prison cycle removes students from classrooms and sets them on a path leading into the criminal justice system. The African American Youth Harvest Foundation, which started as one of our community incubator projects, heavily supports in-school suspension programs in order to break that cycle. Youth Court, a program through another one of our partners — The University of Texas Law School — has been successful in turning around students at risk of being suspended. Law students and staff members from the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law run the program, training the middle school students to serve in a number of roles.
In order to circumvent the school-to-prison pipeline, the students at the greatest risk need the opportunity to see themselves as something other than troublemakers or bad kids; they need to see themselves in mentors who have successfully navigated the education system and who are on a path of excellence. The African American Youth Harvest Foundation and Youth Court provide students the opportunity to transcend those negative labels, as do mentoring programs such as Communities in Schools’ X-Y Zone and our cascade mentoring programs through Project MALES and AAMRI.
As the Texas population becomes more diverse, we cannot continue to waste the incredible talent of millions of young Texans by allowing them to remain academically unsuccessful and on a path to poverty, prison or both.
Gregory J. Vincent is vice president for diversity and community engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.
One of UT Austin’s premier research units is the Texas Advanced Computing Center. I’m proud to announce that Dan C. Stanzione Jr. has been named executive director of TACC. Dan has served as deputy director since June 2009 and assumed his new post July 1.
UT Austin has become a global leader in supercomputing thanks to TACC and the research it supports. Under Dan’s leadership, I believe our computers will become even more powerful and our research even more world-changing.
Dan is the principal investigator for several leading projects including a multimillion-dollar National Science Foundation grant to deploy and support TACC’s Stampede supercomputer over four years. In Stampede’s first year of operation, 3,500 researchers nationwide used it to further their science and engineering research projects. He is also principle investigator of TACC’s upcoming Wrangler system, a supercomputer designed specifically for data-focused applications.
Dan will preside over the construction of a new office facility adjacent to the research complex at the Pickle Research Campus in North Austin. This facility will allow TACC to expand its visualization capabilities and provide new spaces for training, collaboration, and public events.
Dan earned three degrees from Clemson University, where he later directed the supercomputing laboratory and served as an assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering. He previously served as the founding director of the Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative at Arizona State University and served as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy Fellow in the NSF’s Division of Graduate Education.
I’m looking forward to watching TACC’s growth under Dan’s leadership.
Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have created a new nonlinear metasurface, or meta mirror, that could one day enable the miniaturization of laser systems.
The invention, called a “nonlinear mirror” by the researchers, could help advance nonlinear laser systems that are used for chemical sensing, explosives detection, biomedical research and potentially many other applications. The researchers’ study will be published in the July 3 issue of Nature.
The metamaterials were created with nonlinear optical response a million times as strong as traditional nonlinear materials and demonstrated frequency conversion in films 100 times as thin as human hair using light intensity comparable with that of a laser pointer.
Nonlinear optical effects are widely used by engineers and scientists to generate new light frequencies, perform laser diagnostics and advance quantum computing. Due to the small extent of optical nonlinearity in naturally occurring materials, high light intensities and long propagation distances in nonlinear crystals are typically required to produce detectable nonlinear optical effects.
The research team led by UT Austin’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering professors Mikhail Belkin and Andrea Alu, in collaboration with colleagues from the Technical University of Munich, has created thin-film nonlinear metamaterials with optical response many orders of magnitude larger than that of traditional nonlinear materials. The scientists demonstrated this functionality by realizing a 400-nanometer-thick nonlinear mirror that reflects radiation at twice the input light frequency. For the given input intensity and structure thickness, the new nonlinear metamaterial produces approximately 1 million times larger frequency-doubled output, compared with similar structures based on conventional materials.
“This work opens a new paradigm in nonlinear optics by exploiting the unique combination of exotic wave interaction in metamaterials and of quantum engineering in semiconductors,” said Professor Andrea Alu.
The metamaterial at the basis of this unusual optical response consists of a sequence of thin layers made of indium, gallium and arsenic on the one hand and aluminum, indium and arsenic on the other. The researchers stacked approximately 100 of these layers, each between 1 nanometer and 12 nanometers thick, and sandwiched them between a layer of gold at the bottom and a pattern of asymmetric gold nanocrosses on top. The thin semiconductor layers confine electrons into desired quantum states, and gold nanocrosses resonate at input and output frequencies to enable the the nonlinear optical response of the mirror.
The realized mirror converts light from a wavelength of 8 micrometers to 4 micrometers; however, the structures can be tailored to work at other wavelengths, from near-infrared to mid-infrared to terahertz.
“Alongside frequency doubling, our structures may be designed for sum- or difference-frequency generation, as well as a variety of four-wave mixing processes,” said UT Austin graduate student Jongwon Lee, the lead author on the paper.
“Our work unveils a pathway towards the development of ultrathin, highly nonlinear optical elements for efficient frequency conversion that will operate without stringent phase-matching constraints of bulk nonlinear crystals,” said Professor Mikhail Belkin.
Belkin and Alu led a team of researchers that included electrical and computer engineering graduate students Jongwon Lee, Mykhailo Tymchenko and Feng Lu. Pai-Yen Chen and Christos Argyropoulos, who graduated from the Cockrell School in 2013, also contributed to the paper. The semiconductor material was grown at the Walter Schottky Institute, Technical University of Munich.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research, as well as the German Research Foundation.
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All UT investigators involved with this research have filed their required financial disclosure forms with the university. Alu and Belkin have both received research funding for other projects from the National Science Foundation and other major public science foundations. Belkin has also received research funding for other projects from the companies Omega Optics, Anasys Instruments and Hamamatsu Photonics, and Alu from the AEgis Technologies Group. An alumnus and former doctoral student who worked on the project, Pai-Yen Chen, now works for Intellectual Ventures Inc.
AUSTIN, Texas — Dan C. Stanzione Jr. has been named executive director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin. A nationally recognized leader in high performance computing, Stanzione has served as deputy director since June 2009 and will assume the new post July 1.
“The University of Texas at Austin has become a global leader in supercomputing thanks to TACC and the research it supports,” said UT Austin President Bill Powers. “Under Dan’s leadership, I believe our computers will become even more powerful and our research even more world-changing.”
TACC is a national leader in providing high-end advanced computing resources and services to researchers, conducting leading research and development projects, and providing training and education for the local and national scientific community. The center provides a comprehensive portfolio for virtually every mode of computational research and runs some of the world's largest computing and data systems, with thousands of users from hundreds of institutions investigating such issues as gene sequencing, biofuel production, and weather and climate modeling.
“As deputy director of TACC, Dan has demonstrated his ability to manage the organization and deliver on its commitments to provide world-class computational facilities, research and support to benefit the nation, state and university,” said Juan M. Sanchez, vice president for research at UT Austin. “I am confident that under his new role, TACC will continue to be an internationally recognized center of excellence in advanced computing, offering our faculty, students and researchers the computational tools and technical support needed to sustain our world-class research enterprise.”
Stanzione is the principal investigator (PI) for several leading projects including a multimillion-dollar National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to deploy and support TACC’s Stampede supercomputer over four years. In Stampede’s first year of operation, 3,500 researchers nationwide used it to further their science and engineering research projects. Stanzione is also the PI of TACC’s upcoming Wrangler system, a supercomputer designed specifically for data-focused applications. He served for six years as the co-director of the iPlant Collaborative, a large-scale NSF life sciences cyberinfrastructure in which TACC is a major partner. In addition, Stanzione was a co-principal investigator for TACC’s Ranger and Lonestar supercomputers, large-scale NSF systems previously deployed at UT Austin.
“It is an honor to lead an organization with the tradition of excellence we have at TACC,” Stanzione said. “It’s a fascinating time in supercomputing, with the underlying technology changing rapidly, and the rise of ‘big data’ and cloud computing changing the marketplace. Computing and data are becoming pervasive in many fields of academic inquiry, including medicine. TACC is poised to capitalize on all of these trends and to help even more researchers make new discoveries in the years to come.”
TACC is also preparing a new office facility adjacent to its research complex at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus in North Austin, which will allow TACC to expand its visualization capabilities and provide new spaces for training, collaboration and events for the public.
Stanzione previously served as the founding director of the Fulton High Performance Computing Initiative at Arizona State University and served as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Policy Fellow in the NSF’s Division of Graduate Education. He has served as acting director of TACC since January.
Stanzione received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and his master’s degree and doctorate in computer engineering from Clemson University, where he later directed the supercomputing laboratory and served as an assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering.
AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have devised a new method for enriching a group of the world’s most expensive chemical commodities, stable isotopes, which are vital to medical imaging and nuclear power, as reported this week in the journal Nature Physics. For many isotopes, the new method is cheaper than existing methods. For others, it is more environmentally friendly.
A less expensive, domestic source of stable isotopes could ensure continuation of current applications while opening up opportunities for new medical therapies and fundamental scientific research.
Chemical elements often exist in nature as a blend of different variants called isotopes. To be useful in most applications, a single isotope has to be enriched, or separated out from the rest.
A combination of factors has created a looming shortage of some of the world’s most expensive but useful stable isotopes.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office released a report warning that there may soon be a shortage of lithium-7, a critical component of many nuclear power reactors. Production of lithium-7 was banned in the U.S. because of environmental concerns, and it's unclear whether the current sources, in China and Russia, will continue meeting global demand.
One of the major sources of molybdenum-99, essential for medical imaging in tens of millions of heart, kidney and breast procedures each year, is an aging nuclear reactor in Canada that's expected to cease operations in 2016.Other valuable isotopes are produced by Cold War era machines known as calutrons operating in Russia. Their extreme age, high operating costs and regional concentration further threaten global supply.
“Isotopes are among the most expensive commodities on Earth,” says Mark Raizen, professor of physics in The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences and author on the study. “One ounce of a stable isotope that needs the calutron to separate it can run around $3 million. That’s roughly 2,000 times the price of gold. And that has held back certain medical therapies.”
Unlike the calutron, which requires huge amounts of energy to maintain a magnetic field with electromagnets, the new method for enriching stable isotopes, called MAGIS (magnetically activated and guided isotope separation), needs little energy due to its use of low-powered lasers and permanent magnets. It also has less potential for environmental effects than the chemical process used in producing lithium-7, which has been linked to mercury contamination.
Nuclear medicine in particular could benefit from the new method, the researchers say. Many stable isotopes are precursors to the short-lived radioisotopes used in medical imaging, cancer therapies and nutritional diagnostics.
The new method also has the potential to enhance our national security. The researchers used the method to enrich lithium-7, crucial to the operation of most nuclear reactors. The U.S. depends on the supply of lithium-7 from Russia and China, and a disruption could cause the shutdown of reactors. Other isotopes can be used to detect dangerous nuclear materials arriving at U.S. ports.
Raizen's co-authors on the paper are Tom Mazur, a Ph.D. student at the university; and Bruce Klappauf, a software developer at Enthought and a former senior research scientist at UT Austin.
Now, Raizen's top goal is getting this technology out of the lab and into the world. The MAGIS invention has been issued a U.S. patent, which is owned by The University of Texas at Austin, with Raizen and Klappauf as inventors.
Raizen plans to create a nonprofit foundation to license the technology.
“I believe this is world-changing in a way that is unique among all the projects that I have done. And I do feel passionately about it,” said Raizen. “There are many potential uses of isotopes that we don't even know yet. But they've been held back because the price has been so high, or it's been unavailable. That will be one of the missions of the foundation — to explore and develop isotopes to benefit humanity.”
Some critics have raised concerns about the potential for terrorists or rogue states to use MAGIS to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Raizen believes these concerns are unfounded given uranium's unique chemical characteristics. Read an online debate between Raizen and Francis Slakey, a physicist and associate director of public affairs for the American Physical Society.
This research was funded by The University of Texas at Austin.
The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest of its researchers. Dr. Raizen has submitted required financial disclosure forms with the university. He has received research funding for other projects from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the Welch Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. Klappauf and Mazur have no financial ties to the isotope industry or isotope consumers.
For a global map showing where molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) is enriched, the steps to produce it and the challenges to the global supply, go to: http://www.mallinckrodt.com/Nuclear_Imaging/Global_Mo-99_Supply_Chain.aspx
Summertime is world tour season for big-time musicians: Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, the University of Texas Wind Ensemble.
That’s right, our own 62-student symphonic band just wrapped an epic four-week around-the-world tour that took them to three continents, performing to adoring crowds in Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing and London, among other stops.
The trip took three years to plan and was unprecedented in scope. “It was my third time overseas in 26 years here,” says Professor Jerry Junkin, the director of the ensemble.
Flying to Hawaii the day after providing the rousing soundtrack for Spring Commencement in May, the group visited Pearl Harbor, taught master classes with schoolchildren, and explored cities in Japan and China before finishing with a final show in London. (In September the members will reunite to make a recording of their tour program. Look for it in stores sometime in 2015.)
Watch a video produced by the Longhorn Network about the UT Wind Ensemble, as they prepared for their Around the World Tour. Then read on for a travelogue, adapted from their tour blog, and relive some of the highlights from the Summer 2014 Around the World Tour.
Arrival in Honolulu followed a sleepless night, a four-hour plane ride, a five-hour layover and another six-hour plane ride. After sightseeing at Pearl Harbor, rehearsal began at Pearl City High School.
For clarinet master’s student Pam Wilkinson, learning that military musicians perished in the bombing at Pearl Harbor was a surprise. “I have been reflecting since our visit on the purpose of those musicians,” she wrote on the tour blog. “The various military branches employ hundreds, possibly thousands, of musicians…. I doubt their presence is merely for entertainment…. Music can revive our spirit, give us hope, and heal brokenness in the face of tragedy. This is what I took from the musicians on the USS Arizona.”
While most of the complex travel logistics — it’s not easy moving 70 musicians, their luggage and all the instruments across the Pacific Ocean — went smoothly, one of the flights from Honolulu to Japan was diverted to Wake Island in the Pacific due to a mechanical problem. Everyone arrived safely a few hours later, but the luggage — including some instruments and concert dress — did not make it for the concert in Okazaki City, Japan.
No worries: their Japanese hosts rounded up instruments, and dark tee shirts and pants filled the bill for one engagement. “Half the group looked like they were on their way to the gym, the other half looked like they were playing at a concert,” Junkin says. “It all worked out.”Dark tee shirts made for modified “concert dress” after luggage arrived too late for the concert in Okazaki City, Japan. Fortunately, the group’s Japanese hosts rounded up instruments to replace those stuck in transit.
“It’s worth mentioning what a long day any one concert date entails for the band,” wrote College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster on the tour blog. He traveled with the group through parts of China. “The entire company is over 70 strong. All need to be transported by bus, or train, or ferry. A large variety of instruments need to be shipped by truck or scavenged from the local musical countryside. (The program repertoire calls for harp, piano, celeste, double bass, bass clarinets, contra bassoons, and a huge variety of percussion instruments from tympani to a vibraphone.”
The second concert in Japan was at the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music. It was held in beautiful Madea Hall, where the ensemble shared the concert with the White Tie Wind Ensemble, the premiere wind ensemble in the Japanese college of 1,600 music majors.At the conclusion of the concert at Senzoku Gakuen, the Wind Ensemble was visited on stage by the college’s vice president (pictured in the gray jacket) who shared his gratitude for the performance.
Junkin had put together an ambitious concert program of four contemporary pieces for the tour. Frank Ticheli’s clarinet concerto completed the first half, which began with two compositions by UT composers Dan Welcher and Donald Grantham. Clarinetist and Butler School of Music faculty member Nathan Williams was a featured performer during the tour. A number of encores were performed at the end of each program from the 12 or so pieces that made up the repertoire, including “Stars and Stripes” and “The Eyes of Texas.”Taiwanese Texas Exes got their horns up during “The Eyes of Texas.”
“In the audience were many of our Texas Exes that live in Taiwan. It was exciting to see so much burnt orange in the audience at this performance, and our encore of ‘The Eyes of Texas’ was very well received!” wrote Ryan Kelly, an assistant conductor of the UTWE, who managed the tour blog.
The brief stay in Taipei was highlighted by a concert at Soochow University, presented in conjunction with the 90th Anniversary of the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture.Before their concert in Shenzhen, China, the UT ensemble members gave master classes with young musicians from area bands.
The afternoon in Shenzhen started with master classes, where the UT students worked with students from the area bands. After the concert it was time for a dumpling party. During the meal, area musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments treated the ensemble members to performances.
In Beijing, Sergeant Zhang, a local composer and commander of the People’s Liberation Army Band, guest-conducted the rehearsal. Some unique percussion instruments, including Chinese drums, were used for the concert held at the beautiful PLA Band Concert Hall.A member of the UT Wind Ensemble rehearses with a traditional Chinese drum before their concert in Beijing at the People’s Liberation Army Band Concert Hall.
Several days later, after a flight over seven time zones, ensemble members landed in the British Isles with just one night to recover from jet lag before they performed the grand finale of the tour at beautiful Cadogan Hall in the London borough of Chelsea. As in every city the ensemble visited, the audience had been warm, welcoming and appreciative.On stage at London’s beautiful Cadogan Hall.
“While our performances have been special, played for large appreciative audiences, it has been countless other moments that have helped us to understand other cultures and allowed them to know us in ways that they might not have imagined before,” Junkin reflected in a blog post. “Whether it was the simple wave back at the local citizens of Okazaki City who came out of their houses to see who the young Americans were walking down their residential street, or the joining of an in-progress soccer game with young children in Tokyo, or letting our Taiwanese students proudly show their colleagues their wonderful city, or the opportunity to perform alongside Chinese students in Shenzhen as well as to work with those students for an hour before the performance, somehow all of these things have combined to make the world a better, and smaller, place.”The enthusiastic audience in Shenzhen showed its appreciation for their American guests, waving Chinese and American flags.
“This tour and everything surrounding it is inspiring,” wrote Corey Pompey, doctoral student in conducting. “How can one not be inspired by this incredible experience?”
Covering 33 centuries of art, the exhibit includes works by well-known and influential artists such as Pablo Picasso, Francisco Goya, Edward Hopper, Louise Bourgeois, Jan Weenix and Andrew Wyeth. And when you’ve had enough of the masters, you’ll find a handful of YouTube cat clips on display — because what’s a 21st-century feline event without a video of Nora the Piano Cat?
Curator Francesca Consagra gave us the story behind the exhibit.What can visitors expect when they view the exhibition?
The works cover ancient Egypt to the present and are divided into themes: religion, mythology, hunting, herding, literature, morality, abandonment, aggression and domesticity. I hope that we may surprise our visitors, so I won’t reveal too much about how the experience will unfold for them.Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. “L’Artisan moderne, 1896.” Crayon brush and spatter lithograph with scraper, printed in four colors, 35 7/16 in. x 25 in. Blanton Museum of Art Gift of John S. and Patricia A. Corcoran, 2000. John Tenniel, English (1820-1914) and text by Lewis Carroll. Cheshire cat, p. 91, from “Alice in Wonderland,” 1865. Wood engraving. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. Can you shed light on the role of pets in art? It’s not just about cute furry faces.
Artists are superb observers of life, and they have been depicting our relationships with cats and dogs for millennia.
The exhibition offers a glimpse into social changes that have occurred over time. For instance, while cats and dogs were prominent in ancient Egypt and in Greco-Roman culture as hunters and pets, the rise of Christianity ushered in an era of unusual suspicion and maltreatment of these two animals, especially cats. By the 14th century, due to new Christian teachings and the revival of classical texts, dogs began to appear more frequently and favorably in art. They are seen as loyal companions, healers and signifiers of a person’s high moral and social status. Cats, on the other hand, remained mostly symbols of evil, cruelty and sin in European art well into the 18th century.
The cat’s rise in status evolved partially because pet-keeping became increasingly common in European households during the Enlightenment, a cultural movement that emphasized reason and individualism over tradition. People made room for pets in households, allowing them to connect with nature and to teach children about kindness and responsibility.Marco Benefial. “Portrait of a Lady with a Dog,” 1730s. Oil on canvas, 45 1/2 x 33 7/8 in. Blanton Museum of Art. The Suida-Manning Collection, 41.1999 Takahashi Hiroaki (Shotei), Published by Fusui Gabo. “Cat Prowling Around a Staked Tomato Plant,” 1931. Woodblock print, 20 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Gift of Stephanie Hamilton in memory of Leslie A. Hamilton
The current Internet obsession with cats seems somewhat frivolous, but could it be seen as a modern-day version of this centuries-old tradition that was embraced by master artists?
We have five cat videos near the entrance of the exhibition, presenting the cat’s role in contemporary culture. Some people think that cat videos provide a space for cat owners to share their cats’ personalities and temperaments with other cat lovers for the first time. It’s been suggested that the Internet is the cat owner’s version of the dog park.Lewis Carroll. “Wilfred Dodgson’s dog- Dido,” 1856-1857. Albumen print. Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Did any UT faculty participate in the making of this exhibition?
I started the project by contacting Sam Gosling, a psychology professor who researches personality and temperament in non-human animals. He not only recommended the exhibition’s title, but an influential book by Hal Herzog, a renowned anthrozoologist, whose writings helped me better understand human-animal relations. Two of Gosling’s graduate students, Stephen DeBono and Jamie Fratkin, were especially helpful and provided further readings and insights.
Janet M. Davis, an associate professor of American studies who is writing a book on the growth of the animal welfare movement in the United States, informed our approach to the American works in the exhibition. She assigned students in her Signature Course to research and write about these works.
Other faculty (including Edward Chambers, art history; Philippa Levine, history; and Amon Burton, law) kindly recorded their thoughts about particular works of art for our audio guide.Sandy Skoglund. “Radioactive Cats,” 1980. Cibachrome print, 29 11/16 x 37 3/16 in. Radioactive Cats © 1980 Sandy Skoglund. John Sargent Noble. “Otter Hunting (“On the Scent”),” 1881. Oil on Canvas, 41 x 60 in. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Funded by “One Great Night in November, 2006.” While You’re There
Check out the Blanton’s new WorkLAB Satellites – art-making stations that double as contemporary art installation (read about them in the Austin American-Statesman).
Searing heat and suffocating humidity levels are upon us here in the Southern states. In Texas, residents know that summers are brutal, but while we may be proud of our ability to withstand such extreme conditions, that cold blast of air conditioning when we walk indoors is a welcome respite from the heat outside. In fact, prolonged exposure to temperatures as low as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, when combined with high humidity levels, can put even the healthiest individuals in extreme danger. Despite knowing of these dangers, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has declined to provide air conditioners in most inmate housing areas, or even to set maximum temperature standards in these areas. This needs to change.
Every summer, the TDCJ subjects its prisoners to deadly temperature and humidity levels, and violates prisoners’ human and constitutional rights and their rights to health, life and dignity. Some note that many law abiding Texans do not have air conditioning in their homes. However, these individuals have the freedom and capability to escape deadly summer heat by entering air-conditioned buildings such as libraries or movie theaters. They can take showers and drink water as many times as they want. TDCJ inmates, on the other hand, spend much of their time locked in enclosed concrete and metal structures, where temperatures often exceed 100 degrees during the summer months.
As we noted in our report “Deadly Heat in Texas Prisons,” at least 14 heat-related deaths have been documented at TDCJ facilities since 2007. Many of these inmates had pre-existing health conditions or were taking medications that rendered them heat-sensitive, yet the TDCJ did not properly provide cooled living areas. While the TDCJ uses ventilation and fans indoors, these measures do not protect against heat illnesses in high temperatures and humidity. To the contrary, fans can accelerate heat-related illnesses in such conditions.
The TDCJ’s failure to address the extreme heat conditions in its prisons is a violation of the law, both from a constitutional and international perspective. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and courts have repeatedly held, as recently as December in Louisiana, that failure to mitigate the South’s extreme summer temperatures is a violation of the Constitution. A federal lawsuit filed last week in Houston is the latest to seek relief for certain prisoners. Additionally, all the major human rights bodies affirm the rights of prisoners to have their dignity respected and to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment such as exposure of prisoners to temperature extremes, and many international human rights court decisions have found that extreme heat similar to situations in Texas contributes to a finding of inhuman or degrading prison conditions.
The TDCJ’s practices to combat extreme heat in its prisons are also woefully inadequate, especially compared with the practices of many other states. For example, the Arkansas Department of Corrections has provided air conditioning for its inmates since the 1970s and has set a formal maximum allowable temperature of 78 degrees for its inmate housing areas. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections requires that temperatures in that state be maintained at appropriate levels. Texas’ own Texas Commission on Jail Standards requires Texas county and privately operated municipal jails to keep temperatures in inmate housing areas below 85 degrees. Even detainees at Guantanamo Bay are provided with air-conditioned cells.
It is important to remember that, despite their incarceration, inmates retain an inviolable set of rights: the rights to dignity, health, life, and freedom from cruel, unusual, inhuman or degrading treatment. The heat in Texas prisons continues to violate all of these rights, and there is no excuse for this blatant disregard for fundamental human rights. The TDCJ should take immediate action to better protect its more than 150,000 prisoners from extreme and deadly heat. Otherwise, we will almost certainly see even more preventable, heat-related deaths this summer.
Ariel Dulitzky is the director of the Human Rights Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law. Alex Goeman and Samantha Chen are students of the Human Rights Clinic.
Researchers Reveal How Electric Fish Evolved Their Shocking Skills Independently at Six Different Times
AUSTIN, Texas — New research demonstrates that the six electric fish lineages, all of which evolved independently, used essentially the same genes and developmental and cellular pathways to make an electricity-generating organ for defense, predation, navigation and communication.
The work will be published June 27 in the journal Science. The research was led by Michael Sussman of The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harold Zakon of The University of Texas at Austin and Manoj Samanta of the Systemix Institute in Redmond, Wash.
Fish evolved an electric organ independently half a dozen times in environments ranging from the flooded forests of the Amazon to murky marine environments. Charles Darwin himself cited electric fish as prime examples of convergent evolution, where unrelated animals independently evolve similar traits to adapt to a particular environment or ecological niche.
“The surprising result of our study is that electric fish seem to use the same ‘genetic toolbox’ to build their electric organ,” despite the fact that they evolved independently, says Jason Gallant, an assistant professor at Michigan State University and co-lead author of the study.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers assembled the complete genome of the most potent electric fish, the electric eel, and the genetic sequences involved in constructing electric organs and skeletal muscles from three fish lineages that have independently evolved electric organs.
Zakon, professor of biology and neuroscience in The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences, identified some of the genes that, depending on how they are regulated, can turn simple muscle tissue into an electric organ. Zakon and Gallant also identified some of the key molecular pathways used by multiple electric fish lineages to converge on similar electric organs
"An exciting result of this work is that it pinpoints steps in various cellular pathways that are the most likely to evolve in other animals as well," says Zakon. "For example, the pathways that transmit electrical pulses in the vertebrate heart, including our own heart, derive from muscles. We find that electric organs in fish and these pathways in our hearts share some of the same regulatory genes.”
The electric organ is used by fish in murky environments to communicate with mates, navigate, stun prey and as a shocking defense, probably a reason the muddy Amazon and its tributaries teem with electric fish, including the electric eel. Not really an eel but a fish more closely related to the catfish, the electric eel produces a jolting electric field of up to 600 volts, about 100 volts per foot of fish.
All muscle cells have electrical potential. Simple contraction of a muscle will release a small amount of current. But at least 100 million years ago some fish began to amplify that potential by evolving from muscle cells another type of cell called an electrocyte, larger cells organized in sequence and capable of generating much higher voltages than those used to make muscles work.
The “in-series" alignment of the electrocytes and unique polarity of each cell allow for the “summation of voltages, much like batteries stacked in series in a flashlight,” says Sussman. An electric eel body contains many millions of such “flashlights” working together and firing their electrical discharge simultaneously
“Our study demonstrates nature’s creative powers and its parsimony, using the same genetic and developmental tools to invent an adaptive trait time and again in widely disparate environments," says Susmann, a professor of biochemistry and director of the UW-Madison Biotechnology Center, who first undertook the exploration of the electric organ almost a decade ago. "By learning how nature does this, we may be able to manipulate the process with muscle in other organisms, and in the near future, perhaps use the tools of synthetic biology to create electrocytes for generating electrical power in bionic devices within the human body or for uses we have not thought of yet.”
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the W.M. Keck Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
This was adapted from a University of Wisconsin-Madison press release.
Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas and Spanish Theater Available for Research and in Online Database
The Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas and Spanish Theater is available for research at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin. Individual records for each suelta are also available in an online database, providing extensive information about the collection.
This news is also available in Spanish.
The collection includes more than 15,000 “comedias sueltas,” a generic term for plays published in small pamphlet format in Spain from the early 17th century through the early 20th century. The materials at the Ransom Center have been described as one of the major collections of Spanish dramatic literature in suelta form in North America.
Within the collection, more than 2,500 authors were identified, publishing sueltas and related works from 1603 to the late 1930s. Nearly 600 sueltas at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University were also cataloged as part of the project.
The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) funded the cataloging project “Revealing Texas Collections of Comedias Sueltas” under its “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” initiative. CLIR is a nonprofit organization that works with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning to enhance research and teaching.
The funding allowed for the creation of a database with individual records for each suelta, making extensive information about the collection available on the Ransom Center’s website.
Within the database, works are searchable by author, title, composer, place of publication, publisher, printer, keyword and date. Dimensions of the works, stamps or markings, handwritten notations, added text and the presence of musical and illustrative content are also noted.
Researchers will discover the vast chronological scope and depth of the Texas sueltas holdings. Many provide a glimpse into popular Spanish theatrical and musical entertainment genres, and some of the works overlap with the better known genre of “zarzuela,” a type of Spanish operetta.
The majority of these plays were published after the mid-19th century, originating in Madrid or Barcelona. Several hundred were published in smaller cities throughout Spain and Latin America. The collection’s more than 2,000 translations into Spanish originate predominantly from French, Italian and English, with some from German and Catalan.
Within the collection are the 1,119 sueltas described in Mildred Boyer’s bibliography “Texas Collection of Comedias Sueltas” (1978), covering the second half of the 17th century until 1833.
“The collection and database will be excellent resources for scholars interested in the history of the Spanish book,” said Richard Oram, Ransom Center associate director and Hobby Foundation Librarian. “Literary and bibliographical scholars will find scores of unique but previously invisible titles, performing arts historians will discover arcane titles in all manner of theatrical genres, and students of music history will find what are effectively libretti of musical works. Cross-disciplinary projects using the sueltas can certainly be foreseen.”
Among the represented dramatists in the earlier sueltas is Pedro Calderón de la Barca, regarded as one of Spain's foremost dramatists and one of the finest playwrights of world literature. The works of Lope de Vega, Matos Fragoso, Mira de Amescua, Rojas Zorilla, Vélez de Guevara, Tirso de Molina, Leandro Fernández de Moratín and Ramón de la Cruz are also in the collection.
Sept. 29-30, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas at Austin, the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University and the Ransom Center will host the conference “The State of the Comedia Suelta: Celebrating the Texas Collections.” Held at the Ransom Center, the conference will highlight writers and/or works represented in the collection. Researchers from a variety of fields — including Hispanic literature and culture, history of the book, music, theater, bibliography, conservation and library science — are expected to attend.
High-resolution press images are available.
If you live in the South and have trouble exercising during the muggy summer months, you’re not alone. New research by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin has found that adults are less physically active — and more obese — in counties where summers are hot, especially if they are also humid or rainy.
The new study, which appears in the American Journal of Public Health, also found that adults are less active and more obese in counties where winters are especially cold, cloudy and dark.
Summer weather helps to explain why some parts of the U.S. have more obesity than others. As shown in the study’s maps, many of the counties with the people who are least active and most obese are in the Southeast, where the summers are hot and wet, while many of the most active, least obese counties are in the mountain West, where summers are cool and dry.
“Living in Texas as I do, the results really resonated for me,” said Paul von Hippel, an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs who wrote the study with doctoral student Rebecca Benson. “Around June or July here, it starts getting hard to think about going outside for a jog — or even a brisk walk — after work, which is close to the hottest part of the day. You have to come up with a strategy for staying active in the summer. Are you going to get out in the early morning, which is the coolest part of the day? Are you going to swim? Or are you going to do something indoors, like basketball or ice skating or just walking on a treadmill?”
Developers and planners who want to encourage physical activity should think about what people will and won’t do in summer heat, von Hippel said.
“Some planners are more thoughtful about that than others,” he said. “A great example of thoughtful planning is the hike-and-bike trail along Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. It’s shady, it’s next to water and it attracts thousands of walkers, runners and bikers on the hottest summer days.”
On the other hand, says von Hippel, there are parts of Austin where the city has just painted a bicycle lane stripe on a sun-blasted asphalt road. “That will not encourage summer activity,” von Hippel said, “except among the truly hard core.”.
There are other influences on obesity, such as demographics, sprawl, parks, stores and restaurants. The study controlled for all those influences, however, summer heat and rain or humidity still mattered.
“In a sense, the importance of weather is obvious, but we looked at some other ‘obvious’ things, and they didn’t pan out,” von Hippel said. “For example, going in we knew that Coloradans were exceptionally thin and active, so we expected to find that hills and mountains encourage physical activity. But it turns out that terrain matters very little for activity or obesity. In some mountainous areas, like Colorado, people are very active, but in others, such as West Virginia, they aren’t.”
For a high resolution version of the map, click here.
100 years ago, on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated by a Bosnian-Serb student. One month later Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia in retaliation, launching World War I. The fighting continued for four years and killed 10 million servicemen.
While industrialized weapons like machine guns, tanks and poison gas fought on the battlefields, the war back home for civilians’ hearts, minds and money was waged with dramatic propaganda posters appealing to patriotism and emotion.
UT’s Harry Ransom Center maintains an enormous collection of these iconic posters, some of which are on display in the exhibition The World at War, 1914-1918, which runs through Aug. 3. The exhibit is free and open to the public. Even more of the posters can be viewed on the Ransom Center’s digital collection website.
“The posters document geo-political events and the social and economic transformations set in motion by the war,” writes Ransom Center graduate research assistant Elizabeth Lovero in a blog post about the posters. “The role of women, new technologies, international aid, wartime economy, and food supply all feature prominently in the collection.”Below, explore the posters and watch a Longhorn Network segment highlighting The World at War exhibit and why it was “the door-opener to all our woes in the 20th century.” William P. King. “Hold up your end!” ca. 1914–1918. Lithograph. 70 x 51.5 cm. Harry R. Hopps (1869–1937). “Destroy This Mad Brute. Enlist – U.S. Army.” 1917. Lithograph. 106 x 71 cm. Z. P. Nikolaki. “Hello! This is Liberty speaking.” 1918. Lithograph. 30.5 x 22.5 cm. Lucille Patterson. “Service. National League for Women’s Service. Fall In!” ca. 1914–1918. Lithograph. 63.5 x 44 cm. James Allen St. John (1872–1957). “The Hun. His mark. Blot it out with Liberty Bonds.” 1917. Lithograph. 76.5 x 50 cm. James Allen St. John (1872–1957). August William Hutaf (1879–1942). “Treat ‘em rough. Join the tanks.” 1917. Lithograph. 104 x 70 cm. Unknown artist. “The Hun is still watching!” 1917. Lithograph. 28 x 53.5 cm. Sem (1863–1934). “Pour la liberté du monde. Souscrivez á l’Emprunt National á la Banque Nationale de Crédit.” [For the freedom of the world. Subscribe to the National Loan at the Banque Nationale de Crédit.] 1917. Lithograph. 119 x 77 cm.
Rich students usually graduate from college. Poor students usually don’t.
That’s the theory The New York Times Magazine put forward in a recent article that highlighted my efforts at the University of Texas at Austin to improve graduation rates among economically disadvantaged students by addressing the psychological obstacles they face.
What the article did not address directly is the underlying reason why many students don’t graduate: the grading curve — the venerable measure that instructors use to separate the best students from the worst. End up too far to the left on the bell curve too often and your chances of graduating fall sharply. And historically, that has applied disproportionately to the disadvantaged.
The success of the strategies being developed at UT-Austin to help at-risk students raise another question about the curve: If more disadvantaged students are now passing, will instructors need to find other students to fail?
The idea of education as competition — in which instructors select for the best and in some cases forget the rest — often hurts students, especially freshmen, who are finding their footing. In fact, the first exams students take a month after starting college tell us what we already know: that a student with a high SAT score is less likely to fail than a student with a lower SAT score.
It is a vital mission of higher education institutions to identify the next Nobel laureate among our students. But that is only one of our responsibilities, and ranking students when they should still be on the practice field does little to identify the next laureate and, worse, potentially discards them before the game begins.
The good news is that innovations in technology and teaching are giving us better ways to educate our new students. I began to see this firsthand a few years ago and decided to stop using the grading curve I’d once embraced. These days, I walk into class on the first day of the semester and tell my 500 freshman chemistry students that every one of them can earn an A. Armed with clear expectations for my students and a more positive perspective on student success, I do everything I can to help them master the material. In the process, I have changed my course (which combines lectures and online instruction) to provide students with 24/7 access to the content they need. This gives me more time to motivate students and help them develop study skills. I also use a more flexible grading structure that incentivizes students to study harder rather than give up after that first exam.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m getting better. This spring, more than half of my students earned A’s, twice as many as a decade ago. To those who are quick to argue grade inflation, I can assure you my course material has only gotten more challenging through the years, and more importantly, far more learning is going on now than before.
As I make these improvements, I realize I have some serious competition in my effort to help students succeed. I see this new competition every time my children and their friends are playing video games, which familiarize our children with learning and adapting quickly in a low-stakes digital environment. Video games may sound antithetical to learning, but the ability to lose several times while steadily improving —without being locked out of the game — can be transferred to the classroom.
Online educators understand very well the potential of gamification — the use of game elements in everyday settings, like school and work — in breaking the grading curve. On campus, we need to understand that the traditional brick-and-mortar approach to teaching, despite all its advantages, puts physical and temporal constraints on student success.
In the coming years, I imagine that the most successful teaching models will effectively blend the very best of what technology has to offer with the value that only comes with face-to-face learning. What should disappear in the process is the grading curve. New strategies will be needed for ranking our students and guiding them toward professional schools and into the workforce, but there will also be a lot more educated talent to spread around — and Texas will be much the better for it.
David Laude is the senior vice provost for enrollment and graduation management and a professor of chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin.
One little-known benefit of the Longhorn Network to the University is the opportunity for our students to work as interns at the network. The recent success of many interns suggests we have tapped into a valuable feeder system for the ESPN family of networks.
Since the ESPN-run network launched, the experience gained at LHN has helped eight students get entry-level positions inside the ESPN family. Ten others have gone on to secure full-time positions in video production, marketing, sports journalism, and business operations at companies such as NBC, the Texas Rangers, and Yeti.
I’m proud of the Longhorn Network and all it has brought to the University, from its great sports and academic programming to its financial support for numerous faculty chairs. And we’re just getting started.
Hook ’em Horns,
As the world’s attention focuses on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, The University of Texas at Austin offers the following faculty experts working in areas related to Brazil. All of these faculty members are affiliated with the university’s Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, one of the leading centers in the world for the study of Latin America.Media and Culture
Professor and Knight Chair in Journalism, School of Journalism
Research Areas: Media and freedom of the press
Associate Professor, Department of Spanish & Portuguese
Research Areas: Film and culture
Professor of Communication, Department of Radio-Television-Film
Research Areas: Film and TV
Professor, Department of Government
Research Areas: Social policy issues in Latin America, politics of education and health reform
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
Research Area: Social inequality
Professor, Department of Sociology and Population Research Center
Research Areas: Health and reproductive rights
Associate Professor, School of Architecture
Research Areas: Latin American architecture, Latin American urbanism, favelas (Brazilian slums) and sustainability
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography & the Environment
Research Areas: Land use, land use change, sociopolitics of land use
Leonidas T. Barrow Centennial Chair in Mineral Resources, Department of Geological Sciences
Research Areas: Petroleum exploration and assessment
Associate Professor, College of Education
Research Areas: Access and persistence in Brazilian higher education; affirmative action and admissions in Brazil
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, and Center for African and African American Studies
Research Areas: Racial formation, black liberation and resistance in Brazil
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology and Department of African and African Diaspora Studies
Research Areas: Race, social inequality and cultural studies
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded The University of Texas at Austin a $12 million grant to fund carbon storage research aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The four-year DOE grant will fund a carbon storage research project at the university’s Center for Frontiers of Subsurface Energy Security, which is led by Larry W. Lake, professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering. This grant is a renewal of the department’s five-year, $15.5 million research grant to the center in 2009.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced that UT Austin’s center is one of 32 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) across the nation that will receive a total of $100 million in funding to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build the 21st-century energy economy.
UT Austin is the only university in Texas to receive the grant.
“UT Austin is ground zero for addressing critical carbon storage challenges, including sustaining large carbon dioxide storage rates for decades, better using storage space and improving carbon containment,” said Lake, who holds the Shahid and Sharon Ullah Endowed Chair in Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the Cockrell School. “This research has the potential to create a healthier environment and economy.”
Carbon storage is a major focus for the White House, which announced earlier this month its proposal to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, compared with the level in 2005.
The goal of UT Austin’s research is to improve geologic CO2 storage, which is a key technology for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel consumption — especially from coal and natural gas used to generate electricity. A multidisciplinary team from the Cockrell School, UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, will collaborate on the project.
UT Austin’s research project, which includes 20 faculty members from across the university, will begin this fall.
“Today, we are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation’s energy future,” Moniz said. “The funding will help fuel scientific and technological innovation.”
Since the EFRC program was established in 2009, the centers have produced 5,400 peer-reviewed scientific publications and hundreds of inventions at various stages of the patent process.
Additional information about the EFRCs can be found on the DOE website.
Analysis of the surprising defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor included the notion, as one county GOP chair told the Washington Post, that voters “hadn’t seen him”- that Cantor had lost touch with his constituency after a long tenure in office and a greater focus on inside-the-Beltway politics than on his district. Cantor would not be the first to face accusations of being “out of touch” with his electorate, and his defeat raises important questions about how elected officials at all levels should engage their constituents after elections.
It is never much trouble, after all, for a voter to get a candidate’s attention during a campaign—candidates aspire to connect personally with as many voters as possible, to act concerned about the issues that concern those voters, and to promise to work hard for them while in office. But the “radio silence” that many officeholders adopt after taking office—particularly at the state and national levels—can leave many voters feeling unrepresented.
At the local level, mayors and public administrators in cities across America have begun to realize that those affected by a City Council’s decision should be able to affect those decisions. Many of these cities have moved past a bygone era in which citizens are asked to wait around for hours to speak for a mere three minutes on a topic of great concern to them, the fate of which was likely decided much earlier. The mere opportunity to deliver a speech publicly appeals to an infinitesimally small portion of the public, and an even smaller percentage can give up the time needed to do so—or sees any value in it.
So, many cities have chosen to take innovative approaches to engaging the public in dialogue well before making any decisions about policy or budgeting. In cities like New York and Chicago, the public has been invited to “participatory budgeting” processes in which they propose and then vote on specific projects to receive city funding. In cities like Austin, citizens can attend a meeting in person or watch the same meeting on television or online and participate via phone, text message, or social media, producing an audience of several thousand that represents a broader cross-section of the public than would otherwise be possible. Cities like Philadelphia have even hosted games to get citizens to help with community planning. Youth councils have sprung up all across the country, from Oregon to Virginia, to give official voice to an often ignored pre-voting or newly-voting population.
Meanwhile, few members of Congress deviate from the “town hall” medium of engagement—positioning themselves in front of a verbal firing squad at the front of an auditorium only to face a barrage of often hostile questions that leave them defensive and silence those who want to have a serious conversation. The shortcomings of this format became clear in the lead-up to the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act, in which many members of Congress came home to angry crowds, some of which they simply ignored or evaded and others of which they counter-attacked.
Given Congress’s recess schedule and its use of social media, politically advantageous opportunities exist for more robust engagement between members and their constituents—both in-person and online. Members of Congress could ask their constituents directly how to handle issues at hand. Certainly, constituents could call or write, but in the absence of any invitation to provide input or personalized response, the exercise could seem futile. Beyond that, it limits opportunities for dialogue—both between an elected official and constituents and among those same constituents—to move beyond talking points into a deeper understanding of viewpoints and an exploration of possible areas for compromise.
In its “core values,” the International Association for Public Participation argues that governments should “provide participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way,” and “communicate to participants how their input affected the decision.” In the absence of an invitation to participate after casting a ballot, or the means to do so, or a sense of why it would matter, incumbent officeholders could increasingly face a fate like House Majority Leader Cantor’s—tossed from office for being unengaged with voters.
Larry Schooler is a senior fellow at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas.