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.
“Surf Texas,” published by The University of Texas Press, is an evocative and nostalgic photo essay that presents an insider’s portrait of the surf culture of Texas.
The urge to ride a wave, the search for the next perfect swell, is an enduring preoccupation that draws people to coastlines around the world.
In “Surf Texas,” a new title published by The University of Texas Press, photographer and Texan surfer Kenny Braun reveals the essence of the surfers’ world from Galveston to South Padre, presenting an alternative perspective than what traditional surf photography has offered from surfing meccas like Hawaii and California.
“Perfect sets of waves are few and far between on the Texas coast, but Texas surfers know that and have made the necessary psychic adjustments,” writes novelist Stephen Harrigan in the book’s foreword. “And, in observing them, Kenny Braun has the advantage of being one of them. He knows what they’re looking for, he knows what they’ll settle for, and he knows what they dream about.”
Harrigan adds, “The relative absence of towering, perfectly formed waves may have had a liberating impact on Braun’s work, allowing him to forgo the spectacular nature shots we’ve come to expect from surf photography and introduce us to something altogether different, a somewhat journalistic black-and-white chronicle that presents surfing not as high adventure but as dogged pastime.”Below, catch a wave and browse a selection of Braun’s work from “Surf Texas.” Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com. Photographs from Surf Texas by Kenny Braun (Copyright © 2014 by the University of Texas Press) used by permission of Kenny Braun and the University of Texas Press. For more information visit www.utexaspress.com.
EVENT: State Sen. Royce West and University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers will join researchers from The University of Texas at Austin as they issue a report, prepared in collaboration with the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce, on the state of black-owned businesses in Texas. The event is open to the public.
WHEN: 10:30 a.m., Thursday, June 19.
WHERE: Texas Capitol, south steps, facing Congress Avenue
BACKGROUND: The Bureau of Business Research, part of the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, will report on the state of black-owned businesses in Texas, based on demographic data and a statewide survey of black business owners. Bruce Kellison, associate director of the bureau, and members of the research team will comment on the findings after handing over an official copy of the report to leaders from the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce (TAAACC). Speakers at the event will include:
- Charles O’Neal, Executive Consultant, TAAACC
- State Sen. Royce West
- Bill Powers, president of The University of Texas at Austin
- Bruce Kellison, co-author of the study and associate director of the Bureau of Business Research
The report will address metrics of black-owned businesses in Texas and obstacles perceived by business owners. The complete report will be available at the website of the IC2 Institute immediately after the event June 19 at http://ic2.utexas.edu/.
You will see a lot of Brazil during the next few weeks while the FIFA World Cup happens in 12 cities. And beyond soccer matches you will see both good and bad images, parties and protests. People there are asking hard questions about the legacy of mega-events such as World Cup, and we should too.
Overall, the Brazilian people are shouting out that mega-events can be quite profitable for organizers, sponsors and contractors, but extremely disruptive where they happen.
For the soccer World Cup, four new stadiums were built and eight were drastically renovated at a cost of $4 billion. In addition, several infrastructure projects to expand and improve airports, rapid transit bus routes and light rail were built, along with incentives for hotels, which increased the hosting capacity of some cities by as much as 50 percent, costing another $10 billion. For the Summer Olympics of 2016, another $15 billion will be invested.
However, there is an overall feeling in Brazil that such mega-events are a missed opportunity at best, and that the billions would be better spent on hospitals and schools. Add to that the fact that many of the transportation projects are behind schedule or have been canceled.
In the hurry to build the hosting and transportation infrastructure for the World Cup, thousands of people were displaced from their homes or saw their communities deeply transformed by the construction. In Rio de Janeiro, where the World Cup final will be played July 13, the problems are exacerbated by the preparations for the 2016 Summer Olympics that are going full force. No wonder Brazilians took to the streets to protest last year and will surely do so again, using the World Cup as a publicity tool to pressure the local government.
This conversation should resonate in Texas, especially in cities such as Austin and San Antonio, which are increasingly becoming mega-event kinds of cities. Austin already hosts two large music festivals and the Circuit of the Americas race track with its many events every year. In San Antonio, the city is building more event space to attract Las Vegas–style shows and conventions. But what is the legacy of those mega-events for the entire city, beyond organizers, sponsors and contractors? In short, not much beyond the traditional talk of tourism and tax revenue.
Fifty years ago, French theorist Guy Debord warned us that our society was moving toward a dictatorship of spectacles, with little concern for individual expression and rights. Cities are now franticly competing for those events with little thought as to why exactly they should do this. We should not spend precious resources to showcase our cities to the world 20 days per year when what should matter is the well-being of our sidewalks and parks during the other 345 days.
It is easy to look at Brazil and blame governmental inefficiency for the delayed mass-transit projects, but what do we have to show in Texas? Austin doesn’t get a better Zilker Park after the Austin City Limits Music Festival. We are not planning a transit system out to the airport and the Circuit of the Americas, which we should. Think about Atlanta after the 1996 Summer Olympics or Salt Lake City after the Winter Games of 2002. Are they better off? Many people would say that the outcome is uncertain. I would argue that it has been profitable for a few and added nothing for the large majority of residents.
I applaud my fellow Brazilians for asking tough questions about the legacy of such mega-events, and I urge my fellow Texans to do the same in their cities. For decades we got used to the discourse that cities need such events as branding and investment opportunities, but we never ask who is really benefiting.
I hope that we do not wait for yet another mega-event in order to start building the long-overdue projects that would improve life for the majority. Or perhaps we should indeed wait for another mega-event to trigger strong street protests or an Occupy-type movement as we see in Brazil, waking us up to the fact that our 20th-century car-oriented city is way past its expiration date.
Fernando Luiz Lara is an associate professor of architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, where he serves also as chair of the Brazil Center at the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.
Attorney General Greg Abbott continues to hold an edge over gubernatorial challenger state Sen. Wendy Davis in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, with Republicans maintaining double-digit advantages in other major races.
If the election for Texas governor were held today, Abbott would have a 12-point lead over Davis, 44 to 32 percent, with 17 percent undecided. A February poll gave Abbott an 11-point lead over Davis.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Republican Dan Patrick leads Democrat Leticia Van de Putte by 15 points, 41 to 26 percent, with 23 percent undecided.
The statewide poll, conducted May 30 to June 8, surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters and had a margin of error of 3.28 percentage points.
“Republican candidates continue to benefit from an advantage in party identification in the electorate,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at The University of Texas at Austin and a co-director of the poll. “The Democratic ticket headed by Wendy Davis will need to pull off some combination of increasing turnout among Democratic voters and persuading Republicans and independents to vote for them to overcome the Republican advantage that is evident in this poll and in previous polling in the 2014 election cycle.”
In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton holds a 13-point lead over Democrat Sam Houston, 40 to 27 percent, with 27 percent undecided. In the race for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn leads Democrat David Alameel 36 to 25 percent. In other races:
- Comptroller: Republican Glenn Hegar leads Democrat Mike Collier 32 to 25 percent.
- Land Commissioner: Republican George P. Bush leads Democrat John Cook 36 to 25 percent.
- Commissioner of Agriculture: Republican Sid Miller leads Democrat Jim Hogan 32 to 24 percent.
- Railroad Commissioner: Republican Ryan Sitton leads Democrat Steve Brown 32 to 24 percent.
“The numbers for all of the statewide races reflect the fact that Texas remains a solidly Republican state,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin. “The fact that most voters have not yet engaged with the 2014 election is about the only positive note for Democrats.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz was a strong favorite among Republican voters for the 2016 Republican primary election for president. Thirty-three percent of respondents tapped Cruz, with the nearest challenger, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, received 9 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry received 7 percent. The numbers echoed the strong showing by Cruz in last Saturday’s straw poll at the Texas GOP convention.
“Whatever Beltway pundits and journalists say about Ted Cruz, he remains the dominant personality in Texas politics,” said Shaw.
Among Texas Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outpolled her nearest challenger, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 64 to 15 percent.
This is the latest in a series of online polls conducted by the Texas Politics Project and The Texas Tribune. Comprehensive poll results, information about methodology and the survey dataset will be available at the Texas Politics Project website next week after the publication of questions on education, immigration and other policy issues at the Tribune website.
AUSTIN, Texas — A $1.5 million gift from the Foundation for Biblical Studies will support graduate students and faculty research in the study of Christian origins and related fields at The University of Texas at Austin.
The gift will be used to create the Foundation for Biblical Studies Excellence Fund in the College of Liberal Arts for the Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins (ISAC) and the Department of Religious Studies.
“The Foundation for Biblical Studies has a long history of supporting early Christian studies, both teaching and research, and it has been instrumental in helping establish the Department of Religious Studies and see it grow to include a graduate degree program,” said Max Miller, foundation president. “The members of the foundation board feel that this excellence fund can ensure that religious studies will to be taught and researched for a long time at The University of Texas. We feel that we have succeeded beyond our hopes, and now establishing this excellence fund is the right thing for us to do.”
The foundation’s contributions to the study of Christian origins commenced with the late William Shive, professor of chemistry at UT Austin, who worked to establish the foundation and the religious studies program.
“Through its continued support, the Foundation for Biblical Studies has helped to ensure that UT Austin will long be a center of academic excellence for the study of the biblical world, early Judaism, and Christian origins,” said L. Michael White, chair in Classics and Religious Studies and ISAC director.
He said the new gift specifically targets graduate education and research, and will thereby promote many areas of interdisciplinary study for undergraduates and graduates alike.
“It is nearly impossible to overstate how significant the financial support of the foundation has been for us in ISAC and Religious Studies,” White said. “We are extremely grateful to the members of the foundation for their commitment both to UT and to this important area of scholarship and education.”
A fundamental lesson of the government classes that I teach at The University of Texas at Austin is that we get the government we deserve. As the primary season came to a close recently, I am sorry to say that the campaigns thus far showcased our government, and the candidates who want to be a part of it, in the worst possible light. Name-calling, playing loose and fast with the facts, and the politics of personal destruction dominated the airwaves. Offering solutions to the problems we face as Texans and Americans has not even been part of the dialogue. If we as citizens continue to fall for the slick television commercials or allow candidates to distract us with half untruths about their opponents, we will have to accept that we are no better than our government.
I have one of the best jobs in the world. Every year, 500 of the best and brightest young adults sit in the seats of my classrooms. I also have one of hardest jobs in the world. Current state law requires every graduate of every public college and university in Texas to take — and pass — two government courses. In two semesters, my colleagues and I have to educate our students on the basics of our government and to instill in them the virtues of civic participation in our government. If we don’t do this, we leave the future of our government in the hands of ignorant and uninspired citizens who are therefore incapable of exercising their fundamental democratic responsibilities.
At the beginning of this latest semester, these students, who aim to be future attorneys, artists and astronauts, viewed American government with the same sort of disdain that all Americans view government these days. Veterans who have to wait too long to receive basic care, government shutdowns that plague our economy and politicians who would rather grandstand than solve problems have provided proof to my students that learning about their government is a waste of their time — and mine. But as the semester continues, I teach them that the system that James Madison and the other founders devised did not prize efficiency. Exercising the levers of government is supposed to be difficult. Passing new bills requires effort. Compromise is difficult. But without it, our Constitution and the very principles of government of, by, and for the people cannot possibly succeed.
That the primaries degenerated into mud-slinging contests is to be expected. When the candidates’ views are relatively similar, we would expect the campaigns to distinguish themselves on the personal attributes of their candidates and the shortcomings of their opposition. But now that the parties have chosen their candidates, and given the serious disagreement between those candidates, this should be the time for a serious discussion of what our future should look like.
I would like to see all of the candidates running for office in this year’s general election — especially Greg Abbott, Wendy Davis, Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte — make their campaigns worthy of my students’ efforts. Texas should lead the way for showing America what is good about politics and what is admirable about public service.
While Texas is blessed with a vibrant economy and a diverse and industrious workforce, it also has real problems that need solutions. Too many of our fellow citizens do not have access to basic health care. Our education leaders spend too much time managing budgets rather than innovating for future challenges. Our water, where it exists, is increasingly polluted. Traffic is getting worse, and the budgets to manage it are shrinking.
Rather than questioning one another’s motives and personal stories, I implore today’s and tomorrow’s candidates to remember what it is that the voters should want you to do: focus on outlining your solutions to these great problems and challenges.
We must hold our candidates to high standards, and we must force them to outline real solutions to real problems. If we do this, we very well may have a campaign worthy of my students’ time and something I can use in the classroom as a positive example rather than another negative one.
Sean Theriault is an associate professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin. He is an expert in party polarization in elections and voter retribution.
Robert Schenkkan, BA’75, and Kevin Adams, BFA ’84
Longhorns are celebrating the two alumni who won Tony Awards on Sunday.
Robert Schenkkan won for Best Play of the Year for “All the Way,” his play about LBJ starring Bryan Cranston. Schenkkan, who lives in Seattle, has been commissioned to write a sequel, which will be “The Great Society.” In 1992, Robert won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his work “The Kentucky Cycle.” Robert was a Plan II student who graduated with a B.A. in drama in 1975.
Kevin Adams, B.F.A. ’84, won for Best Lighting Design for a Musical for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” This is Kevin’s fourth Tony Award.
The Longhorn Family is proud of these two Texas Exes who have reached the pinnacle of their profession.
What starts here changes the world.
“The Making of ‘Gone With The Wind’” Exhibition Takes Visitors Behind the Scenes on 75th Anniversary of Classic Film
AUSTIN, Texas — The exhibition "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" commemorates the 75th anniversary of one of the most popular films ever created by exploring its history and legacy. The exhibition runs from Sept. 9 to Jan. 4, 2015, at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.
Featuring more than 300 items, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center's collections and includes on-set photographs, storyboards, makeup stills, costume sketches, concept art, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage and producer David O. Selznick's own extensive memos. Three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, including the iconic green curtain dress, will be exhibited together for the first time in more than 25 years. In 2010 donors from around the world contributed more than $30,000 to support conservation work for these costumes. Replicas of two gowns will also be on view.
From the time Selznick purchased the rights to the book, it took more than three years to bring the film to the screen. The materials in the exhibition document the challenges of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning book into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost.
Before a single frame was shot, "Gone With The Wind" was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Clark Gable was a popular choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara, and there was a nationwide search before British actress Leigh was cast in the role.
"'The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on this film," said Steve Wilson, exhibition curator and the Ransom Center's curator of film. "The David O. Selznick archive, which is the Center's largest collection, forms the backbone of the exhibition, placing the Ransom Center in a unique position to tell the story of the making of this epic film."
The chronologically organized exhibition will reveal the challenges involved in the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood's Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released. Visitors will get an insider's perspective on the search for an actress to play Scarlett, the film's iconic scenes, the influence of the African-American press on filmmakers' decisions and the enthusiastic reception of the film by fans.
A fully illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title will be co-published by the Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press in September with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host and film historian Robert Osborne. Generous support for the exhibition has been provided by TCM.
The David O. Selznick holdings comprise the core of the Ransom Center's film collection, which also includes the archives of silent film star Gloria Swanson, screenwriters Ernest Lehman and Paul Schrader, director Nicholas Ray and actor, director and producer Robert De Niro.
"The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" can be seen starting Sept. 9 in the Ransom Center Galleries on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Member-only hours are offered on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Public tours are offered every day at noon, as well as Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. "Gone With The Wind" screentests will be shown in the Ransom Center's first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends, immediately following the public tour.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Ransom Center will host the 2014 Flair Symposium, "Cultural Life During Wartime, 1861–1865," from Sept. 18 to 20. The symposium will look back to the 19th century to examine the cultural world of Union and Confederate painters, photographers, musicians, theater companies and writers. The songs, images, poems, books and plays that appeared between 1861 and 1865 offer a nuanced perspective on the Civil War that challenges later narratives, both fictional and historical.
Complementing the physical exhibition is the web exhibition "Producing Gone With The Wind," which explores producing the film, including rarely seen fan mail from individuals who sought auditions, solicited employment and protested the production. Visitors can also see teletypes from Selznick's production company that detail the casting of Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and explore the costumes, hair and makeup that contributed to the film's vibrant imagery. The web exhibition launches Sept. 9 at hrc.utexas.edu/webgwtw.
High-resolution press images from the exhibition are available.
Photo: UT Athletics
I know you all join me in congratulating the Longhorn baseball team and five-time Coach of the Year Augie Garrido for advancing to the College World Series. The Horns booked their ticket to Omaha with a sweep of the University of Houston over the weekend. Their season now stands at 43-19.
The Horns will face UC Irvine this Saturday, June 14, at 2 p.m. I’m proud of these young men.
Hook ’em Horns!
The Kansas Board of Regents recently approved a new policy designed to restrict what employees are allowed to write on social media. The policy is the result of a tweet by journalism professor David Guth after the killing of 12 people at the Washington Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. Guth wrote, “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”
Obviously, Guth’s tweet is an ugly comment, but should such comments be prohibited in a free society? Apparently in Kansas the answer is yes. The response of the Kansas Board of Regents was to restrict freedom of speech in a policy affecting faculty members and staffers at the state’s six universities, 19 community colleges and six technical schools. These employees are now prohibited from writing/saying anything on social media that would incite violence, disclose confidential student information or release protected data, or run “contrary to the best interests of the university.”
The first three of these make sense. Americans have long recognized that some restriction of free speech is necessary in a civil society. However, the last is a dangerous step in the direction of authoritarian rule in which institutions — governmental or otherwise — attempt to control ideas of the public that leaders of the institution deem offensive. And in a wonderfully Orwellian twist of Newspeak, the Kansas Board of Regents chairman, Fred Logan, defended the new policy by, in essence, stating that it will strengthen academic freedom by limiting free speech.
Many countries have experimented with this model for controlling the public: Germany, Russia, Japan, China … the list is long. The point is not to equate the Kansas regents to the authoritarian governments of the past or present, but merely to highlight the fact that when the leaders of institutions attempt to control the expression of unapproved ideas on behalf of the collective good of a specific community or organization, they inherently undermine free speech and, in the case of Kansas, academic freedom.
How is the potential author of a tweet or Facebook comment going to know whether his/her comment violates the regents’ definition of the best interests of the university? And who defines those interests? Are the staffers and faculty members of the colleges in Kansas not part of the process of defining the interests of their institutions? And don’t they do this through exercising the right to free speech and academic freedom?
In her biography of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall attributed a very simple, but profound, idea to her subject: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This mindset is the foundation of a free society. It is the basic ideal that our soldiers go off to defend and often die to protect. It is the most basic right in a free society, because it allows for the public to challenge their leaders and to prevent the rise of authoritarian rule.
Furthermore, this idea is also the foundation of an open and healthy academic community. The single most important job of administrators at any academic institution, regardless of the level, is to protect the right of everyone to express their opinions openly and to debate and discuss different ideas, even if at times those ideas may be offensive to many. The way to eliminate offensive ideas is not to suppress them, but to allow others to see the ugliness and come to an informed awareness of how and why those ideas offend.
To prohibit people from speaking freely, even if at times what they say is offensive, is contrary to the values expressed in the Constitution, which so many have fought for and died to protect over the course of American history.
When we react to policies such as the one in Kansas, we should think about the comment of author Salman Rushdie, who after publishing his book “The Satanic Verses” experienced the ordering of his execution for blasphemy against Islam. As Rushdie states: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
John W. Traphagan is a professor of religious studies at The University of Texas at Austin. John Harney is an assistant professor of history at Centre College in Kentucky.
Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can.
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?
Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?
As Pete Seeger‘s voice carried the populist refrain through her history classroom, Davina Bruno began to sing along and experience the past in a whole new light.
The song is a famous labor tune written by Florence Reece for a coal miners’ strike in the 1930s. History professor Jacqueline Jones likes to play Pete Seeger’s 1967 version for her students and then invite them to join the chorus.
It can be a powerful and memorable moment for students, and it’s just one of the methods Jones uses to make history come alive in her classroom. Watch the master storyteller at work, and it’s easy to understand why she has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history, most recently this year for her book, “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race From the Colonial Era to Obama’s America.” The first was for her 1985 book, “Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to Present.” She also won a MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called “genius” award) in 1999.“History is fascinating!” Jones says. “Anyone who loves a good story will love history, where the human experience in all its complexity is played out on a grand stage.”
“She never recites anything, but tells it like it is, a story,” says Bruno, the public relations junior who chimed in on the labor song. “The Great Depression and the presidency of FDR was my favorite lesson from her class. She vividly described the breadlines and horrors of the lower class as though she were there. She showed us pictures of poverty and told us stories about how different types of socioeconomic classes fared during this period. She connects the different aspects of U.S. history into an inter-woven group of events that has significance to modern day America.”
In her classes — she teaches everything from first-year seminars to graduate courses — Jones presents primary sources that help students “hear” voices from the past and “do” history themselves by analyzing the sources in a critical way. She uses photographs, popular music, film clips and campaign ads to bring subjects to life.
Jeff Johnson, an exercise science junior who took “American History Since 1865″ this spring, enjoyed Jones’ unique approach to the subject.
“I have always been interested in history and have always enjoyed learning more about it,” Johnson says. “She was able to present new and interesting material and perspectives of a time period that I had learned about several times before.”
Giving students a fresh take on history and its subjects is at the core of Jones’ curriculum.This portrait of anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells is one of the images Jones shares in her class.
“In almost every class I provide a biographical sketch of a person — famous or not-so-famous — who can help us understand major transformations in American society,” Jones says. “I show a picture of the person, then present his or her own words — in the form of a speech, a letter or a book excerpt, for example. The exercise is designed to introduce students to techniques of document analysis, the foundation of a historian’s craft.”
Henry Wiencek, a third-year graduate student of modern U.S. history, has learned from Jones the professor, but also Jones the research director and dissertation adviser.
“She is a really thorough editor of student work and helps you become a better writer,” Wiencek says. “When you get papers back from Dr. Jones, every page is marked up. It looks daunting at first glance, but the comments are always thoughtful and highly constructive.”
Graduate student Deirdre Lannon agrees.
“She challenges comments thoughtfully, in ways that make the speaker feel supported and engaged in an intellectual exchange,” Lannon says.
As for Jones’ favorite type of history to teach?
American history is especially close to her heart.
“I think it’s essential that everybody learn about American history; it’s a story of great drama, and of course the past shapes who we are today,” Jones says. “I love introducing my students to the grand sweep of American history and to fascinating individuals they may not have heard about — ordinary people who changed history.”
[Photograph: Kate Ter Haar/Flickr]
For the book lovers among us, summer means making a little extra time to fall in love with a new title or revisit an old favorite.
Incoming University of Texas at Austin freshmen are no exception, and the 12th annual Reading Round-up invites them to join a campus-wide book club that promises an introduction to the university they won’t soon forget. Not to mention it offers plenty of new entries for their must-read lists.
Reading Round-up shares professors’ picks for books they think new college students should read, from the classics to modern novels to practical nonfiction. Students in the Class of 2018 pick a book from the list, sign up online and read it before the fall semester begins. On Aug. 26, the day before classes start, faculty will lead small group discussions with the students who read their pick. (See the entire 52-title list here, along with each professor’s pitch for why it’s worth your time.)
Educational psychology professor Leslie Moore led a discussion on the novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns” last year and will do so again this summer.
“Having the opportunity to share this experience with curious, knowledgeable and prepared students is one of the privileges of academia,” says Moore. “I had students with a variety of majors and backgrounds — from engineering to education — which added to the breadth of the discussion. If these students are representative of our future, UT is in great shape!”
Whether you’re about to begin college or your campus days are long in the past, peruse the list and get to know a good book or two.A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir
by Elena Gorokhova
Elena Gorokhova’s “A Mountain of Crumbs” is a lyrical and moving memoir of a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. It is an extraordinary document, by turns revealing of the Soviet reality of the time, ardent, and funny. Gorokhova’s English is smart, limpid, and beguiling: she is a splendid writer. Her book is a very good read and a remarkable portrait of a place and time now all but faded from view.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini
An engrossing story of the fate and friendship of two women in modern Afghanistan. I chose this book because in our global society, it gives a personal face to a country that is now part of U.S. history. While reading about the hardships in the lives of men and women in Afghanistan, I learned about how important creating meaning in life is to people everywhere. This book starts as a slow read, but hang in there: it quickly becomes a page turner.
All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the First World War. It is time to take lessons from that period’s effects on the youth of the time. The hero of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a 19-year old young man initially led more by the pressures of associates and society than by his own judgement. Through the story and in addition to the horrors of war, he faces questions of identity, loyalty, innocence and sacrifice, just as many people of his age — including university freshmen.
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction
by David Sheff
This #1 New York Times bestseller depicts a family’s experience with addiction, covering a substantial portion of the author’s son’s life and the struggles to live with, help and understand a person with a substance use disorder. Elegantly weaving an emotional narrative with evidence-based science, this acclaimed memoir is an excellent vehicle to understanding addiction and recovery, and learning more about yourself in the process.
Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers, orphaned at birth by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance. They grow up on the grounds of a small hospital in Ethiopia, under the care of a surrogate family operating within the constantly shifting turmoil of a country on the very brink of revolution. The novel deftly weaves detailed surgical descriptions with themes of love, betrayal, faith, humor and coming of age. Like the author, who is a leading figure in the medical humanities and a practicing doctor, the novel’s well-developed characters share his fascination with medicine.
How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
by Ray Kurzweil
Kurzweil is the preeminent popular futurist of our time, with books like “The Singularity is Near” and “Age of Spiritual Machines.” In this new book he talks about reverse engineering the brain to figure out how it works and what the nature of intelligence is. Whether you come from the biological side or the artificial intelligence side, this book provides a provocative foray into how mankind will ultimately unlock and harness the extraordinary potential of the brain as we turn it lose on creating artificial consciousness.
Life’s Greatest Lessons: Things That Matter
by Hal Urban
In this wise, wonderful book award-winning teacher Hal Urban presents 20 principles that are as deeply rooted in common sense as they are in compassion. The topics, gathered from a lifetime of teaching both children and adults, span a wide range of readily understood concepts, including attitudes about money, success and the importance of having fun. Classic in its simplicity and enduring in its appeal, “Life’s Greatest Lessons” will help you find the best in others and in yourself.
Oedipus the King
Oedipus was written in 5th Century b.c.e. Athens. Fulfilling a prophecy of the Oracle at Delphi, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother and then becomes King of Thebes. Later, he investigates the cause of a plague in Thebes, only to find that it is he and his sin. The play raises issues of free will, humanism and the role of the gods.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Paloma is a 12-year-old girl who sees no reason to live. Renee, the story’s narrator, is a 54-year-old single woman who manages the apartment complex where Paloma’s dysfunctional family resides. Renee lives vicariously through the characters in the novels she cherishes. As they lead their parallel lives, Paloma and Renee develop a relationship that is full of humor and sadness; joy and hope; as well as grief and loss. There are cats and goldfish and a rich Japanese tenant. This novel is a richly rewarding experience about the meaning of life and death and hope. Once you start, you won’t be able to put his novel down.
12 Years A Slave
by Solomon Northup
Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, “12 Years a Slave” is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. It recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C. in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next 12 years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation. After his rescue, Northup published this exceptionally vivid and detailed account of slave life. It became an immediate bestseller and today is recognized for its unusual insight and eloquence as one of the very few portraits of American slavery produced by someone as educated as Solomon Northup, or by someone with the dual perspective of having been both a free man and a slave.See the complete list of faculty-recommended books. Surfing, Merle Haggard and Killer Summer Road Trips
Recommended titles for summer published by the University of Texas PressSurf Texas
by Kenny Braun
If you can’t go to the beach, bring the beach to you. Texas is one of the top surfing states in America, and Braun has devoted years to photographing the scene from Galveston to South Padre. Large format, pristine black and white photographs make this a perfectly calm book for a lazy summer day.Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark
edited by Chad Hammett
The closest thing we’ll ever get to an autobiography of Shepard, this collection of letters spans 40 years of friendship, turmoil, failure, fame and family. With equal parts hollywood gossip, tortured artist and genuine remorse, the book is an intimate glimpse of America’s leading dramatist.Aransas: A Novel Jacob’s Well: A Novel
by Stephen Harrigan
“Jacob’s Well” and “Aransas,” Stephen Harrigan’s first two novels, have been unavailable for far too long. From the beaches of south Texas to the aquifers of central Texas, these two novels are a perfect way to escape to the waters of the Lone Star state, while never leaving your living room. Harrigan is a Texas icon, and these two novels are must-reads for anyone who calls this state home.Merle Haggard: The Running Kind
by David Cantwell
Haggard continues to tour, even making three stops in Texas this summer, and this book is the most focused study of the artist’s most prolific years available. An American music legend, Haggard’s complex and contradictory career are presented by longtime music critic Cantwell in his famously straightforward and readable style.Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate
by Ginger Strand
New York Times best-selling author Ginger Strand writes the books that you never knew you wanted to read, but can’t imagine how you lived your life before you read them. In “Killer on the Road,” Strand tells the remarkable story of the American highway system, the planet’s largest public work and the killers who use the system to perform their dark deeds. A perfect companion on those long summer road trips.
Steve Mims, who recruited students to fill out his crew.
“‘Arlo and Julie’ is wonderfully charming and a fine example of our creative community at work.”
That was the closing line of the Austin American-Statesman review of the entirely UT-staffed feature film, “Arlo and Julie,” which won over critics at its world premiere during the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in March. The comedy centers on the quirky relationship between Arlo and Julie, who are anonymously mailed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. As the meaning behind the puzzle grows more perplexing, the couple’s relationship is jeopardized as they become obsessed with the mystery.
Steve Mims, veteran lecturer in the Department of Radio-Television-Film in the Moody College of Communication, wrote and directed the film. To fill out his crew, Mims turned to the 15 undergraduate and two graduate students from his “feature film workshop” course in spring 2013, meaning the students earned both film and academic credit. The only hired crew members were art director Kakii Keenan (B.A. Studio Art, ’83), and sound recordist and line producer Joe Bailey, Jr. (B.A. Plan II/History ’05, J.D. ’08).
To fund the film, Mims launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $33,000 in nearly one month. The modest budget — by feature-length standards — allowed for the filmmakers to pay actors, reach an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild, and cover the cost of the two professionals, plus marketing and legal fees.
“We always knew with the budget we couldn’t support a full crew,” said Mims. “But the work ethic of the students I recruited to make this film is excellent — and if you enjoy working with them, it makes it easy to trust them and believe in their dedication.
“It’s a great way for them to get experience,” added Mims. “The bigger part of it is students are able to get an idea of the commitment involved and live out what is learned from all their production classes.”
The course required students to work a minimum of six hours one day a week. The film was shot on digital in locations around Austin including the sixth floor studios in the CMB on campus and in the border town of Terlingua, Texas. The production wrapped just short of 18 days.
Students built sets, managed the production schedule, set lights and grip equipment, acted as camera and boom mic operators and often interchanged roles on set. After shooting wrapped in early March, students helped Mims critique raw footage and performances and evaluate edits. By early May, a rough cut of the 76-minute film was in the can.
Senior RTF major Jorge Corona was first assistant camera operator and says it was a boost to his education and career.
“I just know that the experience makes me a more attractive asset to any production,” said Corona, who got hooked on film after he first saw the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. “And the experience working hands on for a feature-length project is pretty big to me, knowing all it takes to do something of that magnitude.”
Don Howard, production area head of the RTF department and director of UT3D, said a course in which students receive credit to help shoot a faculty member’s film is not typical, as the timing and fit of projects often don’t align with that of the course schedule.
“I wish we could to do this more — in a lot of ways, it’s better than an internship experience where students may be seen as a low-level employee,” said Howard. “We can’t necessarily plan on doing it every semester, but we’re open to it when the stars align.”
Howard said hands-on, feature filmmaking classes such as Mims’ are only successful if talented and experienced filmmakers lead them.
“I trusted Steve could shoot it in one semester, and he knew the only way it would work is if it was a good experience for the students,” said Howard. “The most amazing thing to me is that we have filmmakers who are so successful — but choose to stay here because they love to teach.”
“Arlo and Julie” was one of only eight films chosen to premiere at SXSW, out of more than 1,200 submissions. It continues the festival circuit, with upcoming showings at the Waterfront Film Festival in Michigan and the Nantucket Film Festival in Massachusetts.
I am delighted to announce that Sharon Wood — a distinguished engineering professor who has served as interim dean of our Cockrell School since October — is now the Cockrell School’s ninth dean. Sharon joins a select group of scholars to have led the school since T.U. Taylor taught our first engineering class in 1888. I am proud that she is the first female dean of this school, just as she was the first female department head within the Cockrell School. Sharon is a national expert in the performance of concrete structures during earthquakes.
The Cockrell School is ranked No. 10 in the nation, and best in Texas, by U.S. News & World Report. Sharon will lead its 270 faculty members and more than 7,500 students and oversee annual research expenditures exceeding $150 million. Leading the imminent construction of the Engineering Education and Research Center, which will elevate the Cockrell School even further, will be among her most important activities.
Sharon received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Virginia and her master’s degree and doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she also served on the faculty for 10 years. She joined the Cockrell School faculty in 1996.
I look forward to seeing the new heights the Cockrell School of Engineering will attain because of Dean Wood’s leadership.
What starts here changes the world.
June 2 is Leave the Office Early Day, providing a good excuse for managers to let their employees leave early for a day, which could improve morale and ultimately employee retention. Simply put, successful employee engagement involves creating a neighborhood at work.
As the labor market continues to improve, employee retention is becoming more important. But, retaining employees is a hard thing to do, especially when a micromanager is involved. Just ask people who have left jobs and worked for micromanagers. Chances are they’ll cite “management style” as one of the reasons they left, if not the reason they left. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Many people promoted to management roles have little training to help them to manage people. Many of them were promoted to management roles because they were good at the initial job for which they were hired, which involved expertise in a particular discipline. Some managers have gotten MBAs, but most MBA programs focus on finance and accounting practices, with perhaps one course that focuses on the “soft skills” involved in leading people
It is expensive to have to hire new people and to train them to function in your organization, and the organizational culture suffers when there is constant turnover. For managers, a key aspect of promoting engagement requires navigating the tradeoff between productivity and talent development. There is always pressure to meet deadlines and to get projects completed as quickly as possible. That involves a focus on the task at hand. But, training team members to enhance their skills and put them in a position to advance requires letting them make some of their own decisions and allowing them to learn from their mistakes. This process slows progress in the short-term, but it makes people more effective in the long run.
Long-term employee engagement is all about the people. Human beings are wired to prefer what feels best in the short-term over what is best for the long-term. The productivity/development dilemma is a classic tradeoff of this type. Handling it successfully requires taking a neighborhood approach to management.
The neighborhood approach involves thinking about the kinds of relationships you have in your life. You can divide most of your relationships into one of three categories: strangers, neighborhoods and families.
Strangers are the people we do not know well. We interact with them warily, and when we do business with them, it is a strictly fee-for-service transaction. On the other side of the spectrum, there are families. Families share a close bond. They communicate often and engage in holidays and other rituals together.
In the middle is the neighborhood. Neighbors, which could be friends or co-workers, are people we see often. We communicate with them multiple times a week and keep up with what is going on in their lives. And, ultimately, we do things for our neighbors roughly in proportion to what they do for us. You can borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbor, but the expectation is that you will do something for that person in return in the future.
Creating a neighborhood at work starts with managers who think of their group as a team — a collection of neighbors — and not as a group of people who report to them. The neighborhood gets built through frequent two-way communication in which managers talk about their expectations, and team members are able to discuss their needs and to voice their concerns. In exchange for their efforts, managers look for opportunities to develop new skills in their team members.
This structure helps to resolve the tradeoff between short-term and long-term, because in those instances in which there is a real deadline that requires everyone to work together, the team is ready to respond. The group functions well in these situations in part because everyone knows that the organization is also willing to put in effort on their behalf.
When the management of an organization creates a neighborhood, it helps to stave off micromanagement. The more that managers communicate with their team members and provide them with training opportunities, the easier it is for them to trust that the work that is going to get done will meet the high standards of the organization.
Ultimately, then, engagement has its roots in the social structure of the organization. Build a neighborhood, and you will build a better company.
Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor in Liberal Arts and a professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin. He is founding director of the university’s Human Dimensions of Organizations program and the author of “Smart Thinking,” “Habits of Leadership” and “Smart Change.”