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Student Life and Activities Committee
The Student Life and Activities Committee (B-3), created by the Faculty Council in January 2010, met five times during the 2011-12 academic year. Richard Reddick (educational administration) was elected chair of the committee and Andrew Dell’Antonio vice-chair for 2011-12 and chair elect for 2012-13.
At the first Student Life and Activities Committee (SLAC) meeting, the group considered how best to focus our attentions in the course of the year. Given the broad spectrum of responsibilities for this newly constituted committee, which include “To look at issues concerning student life and activities from an academic perspective; to gauge whether student activities are beneficial to students’ education; to review and report to the Faculty Council annually about the status of the intercollegiate athletics programs,” the consensus was that the majority of the members of B-3 did not have the expertise or background to review the status of the intercollegiate sports programs and come to any kind of meaningful evaluation. This was a sentiment shared by the 2010-11 committee; thus it seems that the Faculty Council should re-examine this charge for the SLAC. Alba Ortiz, Ted Gordon, and Jim Vick brought their considerable experiences from working with athletics to the work of the committee; however, the consensus among committee members was that to take on the responsibility of reporting on academic outcomes in athletics would more or less constitute the entire work and time of the committee. Athletics currently creates an annual report with voluminous data, which may in fact contain the information that the Faculty Council seeks.
If the Council deems that the athletics reporting aspect of the committee’s responsibilities should remain, the committee has two recommendations: 1) appoint an administrator from athletics who can serve as a facilitator of information between the committee and athletics; and 2) provide a graduate assistant who can direct the data collection and reporting aspect. Additionally, members suggested that the Athletics Council should report to the Faculty Council to avoid replication of this work. The student representatives additionally echoed the sentiments of the faculty, wishing to devote the majority of the committee’s time discussing ways to enhance and improve student experiences at the University with an emphasis on the common experience of academics and co-curricular activities.
The 2011-12 committee endorsed the recommendations of the 2010-2011 committee, which expressly focused on the enhancement of faculty-student interaction as a means to foster a sense of community among the constituents of our campus. These recommendations include:
- A summer reading program where everyone on campus reads a single book—students, faculty, administration, and staff. In the fall, a variety of activities could be organized for group discussions in different formats and venues that would allow students and faculty to interact in a low-key way while discussing ideas and responses to literature.
- Borrowing Plan II’s “Voltaire’s Coffee” concept, faculty members could select a book or film (that may or may not be related to their own field of research) and host a discussion for 20-30 students either at their homes or in a casual space such as the Student Activity Center (SAC). Students would sign up to attend; coffee and dessert could be served. These could take place throughout the year. A variation on this idea is a “Faculty Fireside,” where students sign up to come to a professor’s house for dessert and conversation on a contemporary issue.
- Reinstate faculty fellows in all of the dorms and eating halls. Here, a faculty member is a mentor for a hallway or section of a dorm and dines on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) with the students. These casual lunches and dinners would allow informal conversation and discussion between students and professors to take place over the course of the academic year and relationships to develop outside of the classroom setting.
- Establish/reserve community tables in Jester, Dobie, and the SAC where students and faculty could meet on a regular basis to discuss certain topics over lunch. For example, each Tuesday a certain table in Jester Commons could be designated for current events (or economics, problems in engineering, contemporary film, etc.), and students and faculty could meet for a casual exchange of ideas.
After President Powers announced the increased focus on four-year graduation, the committee invited Vice President of Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez to discuss the impact of this emphasis on student life. Dr. Gonzalez discussed a number of initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs and urged the committee to dedicate attention to how four-year graduation will affect all aspects of the student experience at UT Austin. Andrew Townsell, student government (SG) chief of staff, also visited the committee to present current concerns of the SG. Many of the concerns surrounded financial aid.
The committee invited a panel of student representatives ranging from first-years students to seniors to discuss what they considered to be the “best practices” fostering faculty-student interaction. Students universally agreed that they craved more faculty-student interaction and discussed the following ideas and initiatives:
- DWAP (dining w/a professor) – Ranging from 10-60 students. Small or large event, for those taking courses with host professors or about to take classes. Very popular.
- “GPS” (games, profs, and students) team building activities. Trivia component. Dinner.
- In engineering, regularly scheduled advisor are professors. This contact allows students to gain insight on future activities such as co-ops and graduate school. Students enumerated some of the benefits of this approach:
- Staying connected through professional life
- Experiences of faculty help with our career
- Undergraduate research – what they do outside of the classroom setting
- “Waste of time” to come to UT and not have a research experience
- Students like knowing the professors and being able to say “hi” in the halls.
- College Councils would potentially be interested in piloting a program to bring faculty in dorms and dining halls.
- Students endorsed the “Faculty Fireside Chat” idea. They also discussed the Tejas Club’s Faculty Coffees as a particularly successful way to meet and learn about the work of faculty.
- To ensure success for these ideas, students made these recommendations for SLAC:
- Getting traction with councils – meeting with councils early in the school year to propose legislation.
- Making participation voluntary (faculty/students). These faculty-student groups should be small and approach college deans.
- SLAC could assist in identifying faculty who are interested in meeting with students via a portal such as EUREKA.
- Though much attention has been directed to orientation, students felt there should be more discussion on mentoring, which can also continue through FIGs.
- Jim Vick discussed the Math Club, which has met on Wednesdays for free pizza. This is funded through the College of Natural Sciences.
- Students discussed how the campus community came together – faculty, students, and staff – for the Pancakes for Parkinsons fundraiser in the spring semester.
- FIGs are an opportunity for faculty to meet students in a safe space. Faculty speakers could visit for 30 minutes and field questions.
A number of committee members expressed concern for the workload of faculty, given the increased demands on faculty time and the reduction of FTE faculty. As inspiring and important as these efforts are, faculty are increasingly concerned with promotion and tenure as well as increasing teaching, research, and service obligations. SLAC should continue discussing this tension and potentially bring this concern to Faculty Council.
An additional and enduring concern with SLAC is the process of electing a chair and vice-chair. There is considerable confusion regarding who on the committee is eligible to serve in either capacity, and given the many obligations of faculty, it would be helpful to indicate to new members that according to their term, they are likely needed to serve as chair or vice chair, so that members are aware of this responsibility from their selection to the SLAC.
The committee found the interaction with student representatives to be among the most fulfilling and useful actions during the 2011-12 academic year. We recommend that the 2012-13 SLAC similarly forge relationships with Student Government, Graduate Student Assembly, and the College Councils to facilitate many of the proposed ideas and learn what concerns the B-3 committee can assist with.
Richard Reddick, chair