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Moving Forward, Looking Back as the Liberal Arts Council Turns 30

For the Liberal Arts Council (LAC) at The University of Texas at Austin, 2009 has been an extremely busy and rewarding year. With highly anticipated forums on big issues such as healthcare reform, budget cuts and getting into law school, the LAC garnered an unprecedented amount of student attendance and media coverage.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the LAC — which gives voice to College of Liberal Arts students — has evolved into the university’s largest council at the university.

“I feel our council produces more, and is more effective than any of the other councils at this university,” says Carl Thorne-Thomsen, LAC vice-president and business economics junior. “And I feel a lot of that comes from a tradition of excellence and from the hard work and dedication of the leaders of the past.” 

One of 19 councils that comprise the Senate of College Councils, the LAC has sponsored and helped write resolutions about gender equity, infrastructure renovations and foreign language curriculum.

Through programs, lectures and many other student advocacy events, the 65 active members of the LAC work to represent the undergraduate students’ academic interests and connect them to the college administration, the faculty and the professional world. All liberal arts students are eligible to apply.

Looking at successes in 2009, Mykel Estes, LAC president and rhetoric and writing senior, said the LAC has set a higher standard for legislative student forums, such as a recent gathering at which more than 100 students had their first opportunity to voice their opinions to the college’s faculty and administration on proposed changes in the foreign language curriculum.

Giving students a chance to weigh in on important issues is a large part of the LAC’s mission, Estes notes. 

“We’re trying to get the student leadership at the college involved in important discussions,” Estes says.  “We can’t let the voices of the undergraduates fall through the cracks and that’s why the LAC is here – to make sure they don’t.”

In addition to creating positive change in the college and university, LAC members are gaining hands-on problem solving and leadership skills, as well as an enhanced appreciation for the college.

“The LAC has been one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career,” says Ajay Patel, LAC financial director. “The council really feels like a home in such a large college, and I've met some of my best friends here. I am truly proud of the work we do, and I love getting to work alongside the college administration. There aren't many organizations that give you that opportunity.”

From his experiences engaging in discussion panels, town hall forums and legislative sessions, Thorne-Thomsen discovered college isn’t always about hitting the books.

“As a council member, I’ve been able to grind my teeth on real world situations in a way that no professor would be able to teach me to,” Thorne-Thomsen says. “I don’t underestimate the power of what I learn in the classroom, but I feel like a full education isn’t complete without the chance to display real, practical leadership.”

In hopes of recruiting new LAC leaders and reconnecting with past members, the LAC will invite students and council alumni to a 30th anniversary event at the Littlefield House in February.

Kathleen Aronson, assistant dean for development in the College of Liberal Arts, says the celebration will be a great opportunity for the LAC to rekindle relationships with alumni.

“The Liberal Arts Council has played a key role in stewarding and engaging alumni, from their work with Project Thank You, where they thank donors with hand-written notes, to their support and advocacy for the new building,” Aronson says. “These are the leaders of tomorrow and it’s an honor to work with them during their college careers.”

The event will also highlight the need for the proposed new Liberal Arts building on the east mall, which will allow students and faculty from different departments to share a space for the first time in decades. The LAC is actively supporting the project, which could be complete by 2013.

“We really need this new Liberal Arts building,” says Patel, a journalism, liberal arts honors and rhetoric and writing junior. “We also really need all the support for it we can get, so we'd love to get our alumni on board.  This new building will primarily serve students, but it's also something alumni can be proud of.  It's a symbol of our great university taking a step forward.”

 By Jessica Sinn
College of Liberal Arts