July 05, 2011

An Important New Initiative on Graduation Rates

As I said in my recent report to the UT community, we need to improve our four-year graduation rates. Doing so will save the state and Texas families millions of dollars annually, and enable the University to accommodate more of the outstanding students who want to attend UT. In my May 9 address, I challenged all of us to deepen our commitment to this goal.

Today I am announcing the formation of a task force on graduation rates. It will be chaired by Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. I have invited eight faculty members in addition to Dean Diehl and five students to serve on the task force, and I’ll share their names as soon as I receive confirmation.

I have asked the task force to submit a report and recommendations by December.

We have great students and great faculty, and our four-year graduation rates should be among the highest in the nation. Although our graduation rates are the highest in the state, we should not be satisfied until they are among the very best. Together we will make this happen.

Bill's Signature

Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates:

Faculty:

Dr. Randy Diehl, Task Force Chair
Dean, College of Liberal Arts

Dr. Rowena Fong, Professor
School of Social Work

Dr. Robert Gilbert, Professor
Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering

Dr. Beverly Hadaway, Associate Professor
Department of Finance

Dr. Brent Iverson, Professor and Chair
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Dr. Charles Ramirez-Berg, Professor
Department of Radio-Television-Film

Dr. Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, Associate Professor
Department of English

Dr. Mary Steinhardt, Professor
Department of Kinesiology and Health

Dr. Philip Uri Treisman, Professor,
Department of Mathematics

Students:

Ms. Shannon Allport
Biology/Premed, Predental, Preveterinary

Mr. Gilberto Ortega-Rivera,
English

Ms. Ilse Quijano
Comm. Studies / Political Comm.

Mr. Francisco Tamayo
Accounting

Mr. Wesley Williams
Undeclared






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6 Responses to “An Important New Initiative on Graduation Rates”

  1. Rick Cherwitz says:

    I agree with Renee and Tom: the presence of staff on the task force is essential. In particular, UT’s undergraduate advisers should be represented; they more than faculty have a good sense of what it will take to reduce time to degree. In my role as a faculty member who directs the Intellectual Entrepreneurship Consortium (IE), an initiative that helps undergraduates discover their passion and design an education (e.g., courses, internships, work experiences) to meet that passion, I interact regularly with UT’s undergraduate advisers. They frequently tell my why students in their departments take extra semesters to obtain a degree. I am not certain their insights have been heard fully by the administration. Improving graduation rates is an important goal; so let’s be sure that all informed voices are heard.

  2. Mike says:

    I admire Palaima’s suggestions. He’s a great teacher and a truly prophetic voice on campus.

    I personally think that some of the “sideshow” elements he criticizes do in fact bring in precious dollars to the university and benefit, in some way, academics.
    On the other hand, they do take away from the main goal universities: undergraduate and graduate level education.

    Will the new liberal arts building provide a nice cafeteria/meeting area for the meeting of the minds?

    • Tom Palaima says:

      I agree. There is probably some gain from having our campus leaders spend inordinate time on sports-related matters.

      Joe Jamail and Red McCombs are cited as those who have given to athletics and the university–in McCombs’ case, if one considers supporting the prominence/dominance of our business school a plus for higher education and even for the shaping of our country’s economic policies and practices, arguable points.

      But one leads by example.

      So when students and faculty and staff and the people of this state, see our leaders leading the charge to support big-time sports and the profligate extravagance of $300 million stadia, sky boxes, stadium clubs, and locker rooms that put the accommodations at the Four Seasons to shame–and on top of all that an espn-sponsored sports network, instead of doing the equivalent of ‘cracking the books’ on weekends and throughout a fiscal crisis, well…..

      When legislators or business leaders come to campus, they gaze upon the DKR-Memorial Colosseum that they know cost $300 million.

      They shake hands with Mack Brown.They know he is the University’s public face. They know he is worth $5 million+ per year and that UT’s president led the charge to get him a $2 million dollar raise in a time of firings and cutbacks. He MUST be what we value more than anything!

      Never mind the Karen Uhlenbecks, Steve Weinbergs, Marjorie Curry Woodses, David Hillises, Roberta Greenes, David Oshinskys, H.W. Brands, Ricardo Ainslies, Katy Arenses, Michael Granofs, Al Martiniches and Miguel Fergusons on campus.

      This contrast in itself speaks volumes to corrupt values.

      They then tour the Coop and see, unless they go downstairs to the basement, only sports paraphernalia, $60 Longhorns coaches sports shirts, $16 Longhorns car magnets, Hook-Em Morns mug.

      They lunch in the AT&T Center or the Stadium Club, talk to profs in the McCombs Building, tour the Jamail swim center and the Gregory Gym resort complex (which I use almost daily by the way), and meet the president and provost for a late afternoon reception in the million-dollar upgraded MAI 212 reception room.

      They can go away thinking that UT Austin is a posh country club and playground for sports diversions.

      It is hard to undo such impressions no matter how hard you define need, especially when the people you are speaking to are staying at and dining in the AT&T Center.

      Nothing they have seen says need, want, or even overall good to society.

      Side show becomes main show very easily.

      This is especially true when the general public and our long-term governor and his educational ‘advisers’ (I use the word guardedly) have a difficult time grasping what goes on here.

      Outsiders grasp for what is easy.

      What is on display is athletics circus shows and the easily grasped ‘public benefit’ studies, such as psychology studies of the words lovers use (fine in itself, but not fully representative).

      And there is, as I say, no faculty club on campus.

  3. Renee B. says:

    I think it’s an important goal to look at our graduation rates, but I have to wonder why this task force will only be comprised of students and faculty? Why are staff not being included on this task force as well? Many staff, especially in the academic advising community, have a unique insight into the challenges facing our students, and could bring a valuable voice to the discussion. We may not be in the classroom with our students, but we are important partners in their education nonetheless.

    • Tom Palaima says:

      Good point.

      Staff members have a huge reservoir of firsthand understanding of the practical factors of students in financial need and working really more than part-time that I bring up in my comment. Staff academic advisers see what kinds of students are struggling with what kinds of courses and issues.

      Let us hope that it is not too late for the task force to be truly inclusive for the good of all.

  4. Tom Palaima says:

    Here are some areas to look at:

    1. Student athletes (over 500, so a sizable portion of student body) are admitted in a separate pool. Many are well below average student profile in standardized tests and other criteria relating to academic preparation. They are then given what UT athletics director DeLoss Dodds calls full-time jobs (and the NCAA’s own surveys show they put in ca. 45 hours per week training, practicing, traveling, playing). This is in open violation of the NCAA’s own set limit of 20 hours.

    Worse yet, their NCAA Academic Progress Rate is measured on a 6-year cycle and UT still has very low graduation rates in major sports OVER SIX YEARS. Just fixing this so that student athletes conform to the academic standards of normal students and are students full-time and athletes as part of being students would cause 4-year graduation rates to go up.

    2. Seriousness of purpose and devotion to studies and to the overall good of society. Mega-spots entertainments and luxury facilities are serious distractions from what should be the primary goal on the Forty Acres.

    UT should not be in the business of promoting televised sports entertainment and the zombification of minds, young and old, who learn to devote more than their leisure time and resources, in fact their minds and souls, to such distractions.

    3. There is NO Faculty Club on campus where faculty can meet across disciplines and discuss educational issues by themselves, rather than as members of task forces, and encourage one another in the academic endeavor.

    The old faculty club was eliminated when the AT&T Business training center and deluxe hotel was put in. Most Liberal Arts, School of Education, School of Social Work, etc. faculty, including myself, and I am relatively high-salaried for Liberal Arts, cannot afford to eat at the Stadium Club or the AT&T Center, unless we are with administrators who have expense accounts.

    There is no longer any common place for all faculty to meet on an equal basis. There is a high-roller sports club in the DKR-Memorial Colosseum and a high-roller business training center set at the level of junior business executives. I go to the second only when a business school colleague takes me as a guest on his expense account or an administrator holds a working luncheon and pays the $15-20 minimum it costs to dine there.

    So there is no longer a place like the common rooms at foreign universities. There are not even cafeterias as at Spanish Universities where students and faculty of limited means can dine together, so that students can get to know what professors profess in their lives.

    Even in the Unions, who can afford Starbuck’s every day and who wants to eat unhealthy Wendy’s hamburgers and other franchised junk foods? Bring back true university cafeterias or franchise out to Luby’s.

    3. If student athletes were true students and held to true student graduation targets, they would not need deluxe tutoring centers and paid tutors. Those funds could be redirected toward average students.

    4. If student athletes were true students, they would not be part of a professional sports entertainment system. The incentive (not need) to pay unconscionably high salaries to coaches would be gone. No coach should be paid more than our president and our president should not be paid much more than the average of a pool of across-the-board distinguished faculty.

    Put a ceiling on upper administrative salaries, too, say $225,000.

    The money generated from such savings would be redirected to student scholarship funds that would enable students to study, not work part- or in many case full-time.

    The list of things to be done that will never be addressed is long. One last one:

    My own very personal opinion as a holder of two UT teaching awards and a MacArthur fellow and a student of language and culture is that the words and phrases ‘entrepreneur’, ‘brand’, ‘mission statement’ ‘task force’ (and others like them–propose your own) and the concepts and entities they signify should be banned from the Forty Acres.

    I recommend a return to meat-and-potatoes (or vegetarian stir fry and books)and books (even on-line or pdf or Kindle) in simple buildings. Do away with distractions, luxury dining, pleasure palaces, sports cable networks, branding, pr spin.

    In fact go back to the basic values Gov. Rick Perry promotes in his book “On My Honor,” minus, of course, some of the truly frightening babies and bathwater he drags in.