Archive for June, 2010
A few years ago, UT graduate E.L. Keene made an estate gift to fund an annual prize in creative writing. The Keene Prize in Literature is available to all currently enrolled UT students and submissions are accepted in fiction, poetry, drama, and non-fiction prose. The winner receives $50,000, and an additional $50,000 is divided among three runners-up. In its totality, this is the most generous student writing award in the nation. I’m always amazed and inspired by the imaginative ways in which our alumni support the students of our university.
E.L. Keene played trombone in the Longhorn Band and received a biology degree in 1942. Although he made his living as a chemist for Revlon, he was a devoted reader of literature and an aspiring writer. He envisioned a prize that would support young writers at UT and help launch their literary careers. He hoped “to encourage the writing and publishing of good American Literature, to lend financial support to the creators of such literature, and to enhance the prestige and reputation in the world market of American writers both now and in the future.”
To ensure that the prize winners would demonstrate “the greatest artistic merit and narrative mastery of the English language and [show] the greatest promise of becoming a professional writer,” Keene called for a multidisciplinary selection committee comprised of the Dean of Liberal Arts, the Chair of the Department of English, the Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the Director of the University of Texas Press, and an author who is resident in Austin.
The Keene Prize is now in its fifth year. The 2010 recipient is Nora Boxer, who graduated in May with an M.A. in creative writing from the UT English Department. Her winning entry is a short story entitled “It’s the Song of the Nomads, Baby; or, Pioneer.”
Congratulations, Nora! And congratulations to the three runners-up: Fiona McFarlane, Roger Reeves, and Virginia Reeves.
Last year’s winner, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, wrote a play entitled Lidless that was also selected as the winner of the 2009 Yale Emerging Playwrights Prize. The play was given a staged reading at the Yale Repertory Theatre and will be published by Yale University Press.
E.L. Keene’s endowed gift will continue to support UT’s best student writers for many years to come. I look forward to seeing the names of these young authors on the covers of the books they will write.
Last fall, Jackie Dana, an academic adviser in the Department of Sociology, suggested that UT plant more perennials and native plants on the campus and fewer annuals that require replanting each season. Jackie submitted her idea to the Ideas of Texas website, writing “there are a number of suitable perennial flowers, shrubs, and herbs that could withstand the hot summers in Austin and yet would be aesthetically pleasing.”
In response, this summer, Landscape Services, headed by manager John Burns, will consult experts at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center—and Jackie—to re-design the gardens on the east terrace of the Main Building. Thanks, Jackie!
In the past, as mature plants died, UT Landscape Services has replaced them with native and adapted plantings, but Jackie’s idea encouraged us to explore ways we could accelerate these efforts and consider new and sustainable approaches to landscaping. Pictured above is an example of one new native plant bed located on 24th Street outside the Biological Laboratories Building. Several other beds in this area will undergo similar transformations over the next few weeks.
Jackie voiced her ideas on The Ideas of Texas website. The site allows students, alumni, faculty, and staff to submit ideas for improving the University. It also serves as a forum where visitors may vote on individual ideas, as well as submit comments. A few ideas have already been implemented. Tower Talk itself was an idea contributed by staff member Stephanie Cardenas of the Cockrell School of Engineering. Thanks, Stephanie!
The Ideas of Texas website is more than an electronic suggestion box. It’s a way to have your ideas evaluated by the office or department closest to the relevant process—and to know that it will be considered. This summer nearly 400 ideas, submitted before April 1, are under review. In this period of limited financial resources, some good ideas will not be feasible at the moment. Nevertheless, we will implement ideas that make us more efficient, provide better services to our constituents, improve the student experience, and save money.
I hope you’ll visit the site and contribute your ideas for building a stronger UT.
I wanted to share this message, which I sent to our faculty and staff yesterday:
Recently I shared with you information that all Texas state agencies have been asked to plan for a possible 10% budget reduction in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years. This is in addition to the 5% budget reduction that we had already made at the request of the state for the current biennium.
In light of this additional directive from the state and the increasing uncertainty about its implications for our financial future, the University Budget Council reached the decision that UT cannot afford to commit to permanent salary increases for fiscal year 2010-11. However, the Budget Council concluded that we can prudently implement a one-time, merit-based salary payment program for both faculty and staff. The raise pool amounts to approximately 2% of total current compensation for faculty and staff.
These merit-based, one-time salary increases will be administered in the form of a single payment, probably in November of this year. All employees are eligible for consideration, but not all employees will receive this one-time merit payment.
There are some exceptions: For example, employees whose salaries are funded through external grants (“26 accounts”) will be eligible for permanent merit-based increases. There may be other employees in self-supporting units who could receive permanent increases. Salary increases that result from faculty promotions will be permanent. Performance-based contract obligations will be honored. And in some cases, it may be necessary to consider and respond to individual employment circumstances.
All one-time merit payments will be included in computations that determine retirement benefits in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and in the Optional Retirement Program (ORP).
While not ideal, we believe this plan is our best course of action. We will continue to look for creative ways to deal with budget challenges in the future. I appreciate your hard work, dedication, and service to UT, which are all the more crucial in this difficult economic period. Thank you for your commitment to the University.
The Texas Exes, UT’s alumni association, celebrates its 125th anniversary today. To mark the occasion, the UT Heritage Society of the Texas Exes are launching UT History Central, a website devoted to the rich history of UT. These photos are examples of some of the pictorial history on the site, which also includes articles, audio recordings, and a history guide.
With a membership of more than 90,000, the Texas Exes is one of the largest member-based alumni associations in the nation. Nearly 100 Texas Exes chapters and networks across the world provide support to the University and its proud traditions.
I hope UT History Central will provide you with valuable UT information and rekindle memories from the 40 Acres.
Congratulations to the Texas Exes!
Those of you who subscribe to the blog via email may get better photo quality by clicking on the title of this post, which is a link to the Tower Talk website. During the past month Tower Talk has had more than 3,000 visitors from 35 nations. I appreciate the comments you submit to Tower Talk.
Earlier today, I joined UT Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds and Women’s Athletics Director Chris Plonsky at a press conference where I announced that The University of Texas at Austin has reaffirmed its commitment to the Big 12 Conference.
This is a long-term and unequivocal commitment.
After spending several months examining and evaluating our options in the changing world of Division 1 athletics, we have decided the Big 12 provides the best long-term opportunity for our university. In reaching this decision, we have taken into account the impact on our student-athletes and their families, financial ramifications of the various options, and the interests of our Big 12 partners.
We have been well served by the Big 12 since its inception, and it has always been our top priority to keep it together. We believe a newly constituted 10-member conference will continue to benefit all of our member institutions. We are committed to a new, long-term, 10-team structure.
I know the process of determining our conference affiliation has generated a great deal of interest in the UT family. Indeed, many of you have shared your thoughts with me. I think this decision will serve the University well in the years ahead.
Here’s the link for video of the press conference.
Hook ‘em Horns!
I know there’s a lot of interest in the realignment of the Big 12 Conference and its impact on intercollegiate athletics, but I don’t have any news on that subject to share with you today. However, a number of alumni saw a video of an interview of me several months ago by Newsweek chairman Rick Smith and suggested that I make it available on Tower Talk.
The interview focused on corporate ethics and was a part of the “On Leadership” series, a joint production of Newsweek magazine and the MBA program of Kaplan University. Like many online videos, there is a brief advertisement at the beginning.
I hope you enjoy the video, and I will have something to say about the conference realignment in the days ahead. A text excerpt of the interview is also available at the link below.
I sent this message to our faculty and staff earlier today.
You may be aware that on May 28 the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House directed state agencies to submit appropriations requests for the state’s 2012-2013 biennial budget that include a possible 10% budget reduction. This is in addition to a similar directive on May 18 to implement a 5% reduction for the 2010-2011 biennium.
These measures are being taken in response to the economic recession and the resulting weakness in state sales tax revenues.
In early May UT Austin completed plans to reduce general revenue spending by 5% for the current biennium. In the weeks ahead, we will consult University leadership, including representatives of the faculty and staff, regarding how we will proceed with our plans for the possibility of deeper budget cuts as directed by the state.
At this point, I cannot say how these developments will affect our University. They do have the potential to disrupt our plans for a 2% merit raise pool for fiscal year 2011 for faculty and staff. Merit raises remain a high priority and we will do our best to preserve them.
I want to thank the deans, vice presidents, chairs, and supervisors for effectively communicating our budget plans in May. We will continue to be forthcoming and transparent, and I’ll share additional news with you as it becomes available.
These are challenging times for all of us, and I am even more grateful for your contributions to our University.
In addition to the demands of university life–attending class, studying, conducting research, part-time employment, and extracurricular activities—UT students perform tens of thousands of hours of public service. For the past two years, I have hosted a reception for faculty members who participate in our Service Learning Initiative, in which service is included in the classes they teach as a part of the course work. This spring, one of my guests at the reception was Chelsea Adler, the incoming president of the UT Senate of College Councils.
In June of last year, Chelsea was enrolled in Social Work 360K Community Development, a course that took her and 39 other UT students to the African nation of Ghana. Chelsea, a senior from Arlington, is majoring in Government and Social Work. In the semester preceding the trip, she and a half dozen students in her section met weekly to plan their trip.
Working through a non-profit foundation in Africa, Chelsea and her fellow students were assigned in small groups to different social agencies in Ghana. Chelsea’s group worked on prenatal care and empowering young women through educational programs on nutrition, pregnancy, and health care. They created an informative workbook and website for pregnant women. Faculty member Dorie Gilbert in the UT School of Social Work and Lanese Aggrey of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement accompanied the students to Africa.
“We learned a lot about international development. But we also learned a lot about race and diversity. You think you understand these issues, but seeing the dungeons used in the slave trade left a deep impression on us,” said Chelsea.
Chelsea and her classmates were in Ghana for four weeks. “We lived and worked outside our comfort zone and we worked closely with people we might never meet otherwise. We learned more from the Ghanaians than they learned from us. It was a life-changing experience. I see the world differently. And things we learned by experience on the street in Ghana were sometimes more relevant than what we learned in my classes in international development in Austin.”
UT has the fourth-largest study abroad program among American universities. Students like Chelsea combine international studies with service learning to make a difference.
What starts here changes the world.