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Dean's Alumni Newsletter: June 2008

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The College of Liberal Arts is pleased to bring you the Dean’s Alumni Newsletter to keep you in touch with news from our community of scholars.

Feature Stories

Politics in the Pews

Researchers explore the role of religion in mobilizing African-American and Latino voters

Historians, sociologists and political scientists have documented and examined the impact of church-based political activism for years, but Eric McDaniel, assistant professor of government, says they have neglected to examine why churches become politically active in the first place.

That's the question he poses in "Politics in the Pews," which explores how and why Black religious institutions answer the call of politics.

Read the story...

Pop Goes Philosophy

Professor draws upon popular culture to illustrate today’s moral issues

For more than 15 years, Daniel Bonevac, professor of philosophy, has used “The Simpsons” and other examples from film and television to teach esoteric philosophical concepts in the class, “Contemporary Moral Problems.” Bonevac’s willingness to engage popular culture may explain why the class is one of the most sought-after philosophy courses at the university.

Read the story...

Diffusing Explosive Situations

Hoping to save lives, researchers seek new methods to detect bombs

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been a devastating weapon against United States armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such weapons are cheap and easy to make, easy to hide and easy to detonate remotely. Those factors make them an ever-present danger in conflicts to come.

Researchers, such as Sam Gosling, associate professor of psychology, are investigating innovative ways to deal with IEDs. The American Psychological Association recently recognized Gosling for his pioneering research in the field of animal personality, which includes the performance of explosive-detecting dogs.

Read the story...

In the News

Life & Letters Magazine Online

When the world has questions about Latin America, reporters, educators and policymakers turn for answers to the College of Liberal Arts. Our community of scholars is the focus of the new issue of Life & Letters, which highlights “Gateway to the Americas and Changing U.S. Demographics.”

The College of Liberal Arts publishes Life & Letters for its community of scholars, alumni and friends. The magazine profiles faculty research, accomplished alumni and students who excel both in and out of the classroom. With a new publication design and expanded length, the Winter 2007-08 issue of Life & Letters features more than 100 liberal arts faculty and staff members, and numerous student and alumni stories.

View the current issue: Gateway to the Americas…

With Age Comes a Sense of Peace and Calm, Population Research Center Study Shows

Aging brings a sense of peace and calm, according to a new study conducted by Catherine Ross and John Mirowsky. Starting at about age 60, participants reported more feelings of ease and contentment than their younger counterparts.

More about the research findings...

New Evidence from Earliest Known Human Settlement in the Americas Supports Coastal Migration Theory

New evidence from the Monte Verde archaeological site in southern Chile confirms its status as one of the earliest known human settlements in the Americas. A team of researchers, including Michael B. Collins of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, reported new data supporting the Coastal Migration Theory in the May 9 issue of the journal Science.

More about the research…

Plan II Student Combats Sex Trafficking in Southeast Asia

Christine Nguyen, Plan II, government, business honors and management student, founded the Southeast Asian Children's Coalition, an international non-profit organization that combats poverty and exploitation. For the past four years, Nguyen has been the coalition's executive director. Nguyen’s honors thesis on human trafficking caught the attention of editors at Glamour, who selected Nguyen for the magazine’s “Top Ten College Women of 2006.”

Read more about Nguyen’s quest to end human rights violations in India and Asia…

New Partnership Established with Aga Khan University

The University of Texas at Austin has established a five-year exchange agreement with Aga Khan University in Pakistan, which has campuses in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. The agreement includes research collaborations, special events and lectures, secondary teaching training programs, and faculty and student exchanges

More about the agreement…

Do Attractive Women Want it All?

Although many researchers have believed women choose partners based on the kind of relationship they are seeking, a new study conducted by David Buss, professor of psychology, reveals women’s preferences can be influenced by their own attractiveness.

More about the study…

BB&T Donates $2 Million for Ayn Rand Research

BB&T Corp., one of the nation's largest banks, has awarded $2 million to the Department of Philosophy to establish the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism. Tara Smith, professor of philosophy, will be the first holder of the chair.

More about Smith’s Ayn Rand research…

Honors and Awards

Psychologist Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Wilson Geisler, psychology professor, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors for a scientist or engineer in the United States.

More about Geisler and the academy…

English Professor Earns Piper Award for Teaching Excellence

The Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation has honored Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, associate professor of English, for teaching excellence. She is one of 15 national recipients of the San Antonio-based foundation’s awards.

More about the Piper Award...

Plan II Honors Student Wins Prestigious Beinecke Scholarship

Dhananjay Jagannathan, a Plan II Honors student majoring in philosophy, classics and linguistics, earned a Beinecke Memorial Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree.

More about the Beinecke Scholarship…

NSF Awards Political Scientists $490,000 Grant to Study Race and Politics

The National Science Foundation has awarded two political scientists at The University of Texas at Austin a $490,000 grant to study African-American political opinions and behavior in the 2008 presidential election.

More about the NSF award…

College of Liberal Arts Honors Retired Faculty

Ten faculty members are retiring from the College of Liberal Arts this year. The college thanks these scholars—and friends—for their many years of academic service and contributions to their fields of study:

  • Robert S. Boyer, professor of philosophy
  • Ingrid M. Edlund-Berry, professor of classics
  • W. Parker Frisbie, professor of sociology and former director of the Population Research Center
  • Anthony C. Hilfer, the Iris Howard Regents Professor of English Literature
  • Robert H. Kane, Distinguished Teaching Professor of philosophy
  • Lily Litvak, professor of Spanish and Portuguese
  • Ian R. Manners, professor of geography and the environment
  • Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, the Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics
  • Dina M. Sherzer, professor of French and Italian and comparative literature
  • Joel F. Sherzer, the Liberal Arts Foundation Centennial Professor of Linguistic Anthropology

More about the retired faculty members…

Provost Honors Five Liberal Arts Professors with Teaching Awards

The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost awarded six university faculty members the President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award for the 2007-08 academic year:

  • Daniel Birkholz, assistant professor of English
  • Diane Davis, associate professor of rhetoric and writing
  • Sam Gosling, associate professor of psychology
  • Daniel Hamermesh, the Edward Everett Hale Centennial Professor of Economics
  • Daron Shaw, associate professor of government

More about the five College of Liberal Arts honorees…

Friar Society Selects History Professor for Teaching Excellence

The Friar Society awarded Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of History G. Howard Miller its 2008-09 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship in April. The $15,000 prize is the largest university award for undergraduate teaching excellence.

More about the award…

History and Sociology Programs Top Rankings

U.S. News & World Report named The College of Liberal Arts’ Latin American History program as the nation's best in its 2009 rankings of America's Best Graduate Schools. Thirteen other Liberal Arts programs made the list, based on expert opinion about program quality and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school's faculty, research and students.

More about the rankings…

Digital Media Spotlight

Normandy Scholars Blog about World War II

Students in the 2008 Normandy Scholar Program on World War II, organized by the Department of History, blogged about their experiences overseas during May 6 to 27.

More about the Normandy Scholars…

Virtual Museum Spotlights Texas’ Cultural Heritage

Created by the college’s Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, is a virtual museum that tells the stories of Texas’ earliest settlers. Tour the virtual exhibits to view Cabeza de Vaca’s journey, the life and times of the Caddo, frontier forts and more.

In 2008, earned the Award for Excellence in Public Education from the Society for American Archeology.

Visit the Web site…

Take 5: Faculty Insights in Brief

Through video snapshots, researchers from the College of Liberal Arts welcome visitors into their lecture halls and labs across campus. Take Five and experience the essence of academic life.

View the Take 5 videos…

In Memoriam

Tony C. Hilfer, the Iris Howard Regents Professor of English Literature, died in a car accident on April 11 at age 71. He taught at the university for 45 years. Hilfer was a renowned scholar of popular genres, including crime fiction and film noir. More…

Professor John Slatin of the Departments of English and Rhetoric and Writing died March 24 at the age of 55. He taught at the university for 29 years and was founding director of the university's Accessibility Institute. More...

Charles "Chuck" Bonjean, emeritus professor of sociology, died Feb. 20 at the age of 72. Bonjean, former executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, taught at the university for more than 40 years. More...

Supporting Liberal Arts

The generous support of alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the university allows the College of Liberal Arts to recruit and retain outstanding faculty members and provide the best programs for our students.

If you are interested in supporting the college, we invite you to consider making a gift. The college relies on private philanthropy to broaden support for scholarships, study abroad opportunities, faculty and graduate students. Gifts to the college ensure students are able to experience the same life-changing education you enjoyed.

Learn more about how to support the College of Liberal Arts

Dean’s Circle

Become a partner in transforming lives by joining the Dean’s Circle. The Dean’s Circle giving society acknowledges alumni and friends who have committed to making an immediate impact through unrestricted funds. All members will be recognized on the college’s Web site, receive periodic reports from the Dean, as well as the college’s magazine Life & Letters. Members will also be invited to attend a number of events, including a special annual Liberal Arts reception.

If you would like to learn more about giving opportunities, including special contribution levels for young alumni joining the Dean’s Circle, please send an email to


Jessica Sinn, public affairs specialist, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-2404 or