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Back To On Campus Home September 2007 Volume 33, Issue 11 Home


Joseph Yura portrait Joseph Yura

More than 2,100 Texas bridges were classified under the same structurally deficient rating given to the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota and killed at least four people, but state officials insisted that all the spans are completely safe. Inspectors look for corrosion, deterioration and damage and check for cracks that signal fatigue, said Joseph Yura, a professor emeritus of engineer at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in structural steel design. “Like everything that gets older, there’s some deterioration, but that doesn’t mean that the bridge is unsafe,” Yura said. “If it gets to the point of being unsafe, it’s going to be closed. That’s all there is to it.”

The Associated Press
Report Says 2,100 Texas Bridges are Deficient (Aug. 2)

C. Michael portrait C. Micahel Walton

C. Michael Walton, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, helped write a series of reports issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers that have repeatedly found the nation’s highway system with insufficient money. ‘’Continually falling short of the actual needs,’’ Professor Walton said, results largely from ‘’our backlash to increases in taxes.’’ Professor Walton said states had been looking to the federal government for leadership. ‘’I am not sure transportation falls to the top of the priorities as it should barring a catastrophic failure,’’ he said in reference to state government spending.

New York Times
Bridge Collapse Revives Issue of Road Spending (Aug. 7)

Jordan Steiker portrait Jordan Steiker

A Texas governor can commute a death sentence or grant a reprieve based on a recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are appointed by the governor. But governors past and present, including President George W. Bush and the state’s current chief executive Rick Perry, have taken a hands-off approach. “The courts are not much of a check in Texas and the executive defers to the courts,” said Jordan Steiker, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law and co-director of the school’s Capital Punishment Center.

Religion, Culture Behind Texas Execution Tally (Aug. 13)

Jane Maxwell portrait Jane Maxwell

Researchers have figured out how to give an entire community a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater from a city’s sewer plant. The test wouldn’t be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country. “We have so few indicators of current use ,” said Jane Maxwell of the Addiction Research Institute at the University of Texas, who wasn’t part of the study. “This could be a very interesting new indicator.”

The Associated Press
Scientists Drug - Tests Whole Cities (Aug. 22)

“Over the years we’ve watched searches for altruistic fields grow while watching M.B.A.’s and electrical engineering fall,” says Clara Pitts, vice president for product management. Applications for graduate programs in public administration, which includes social work, rose 7 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to the latest survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Examinations Board. Students coming from other careers account for a significant part of enrollment in social work programs — 50 percent at Fordham, 25 percent at N.Y.U. and the University of Denver, 20 percent at the University of Texas at Austin.

New York Times
Second Acts: Stage to Social Work (July 29)

The history of the Romani people- “Gypsy” is now widely taken as a term to describe their culture. It is believed that they were originally north Indian mercenaries enslaved during the Muslim conquests of circa A.D. 1000 and later marched across the Caucasus, ending up scattered across Central and Eastern Europe. Eventually they became renowned for their talents in music and dance, entertaining the royal courts of such monarchs as Catherine the Great. “Given the facts of social history, performance has provided one of the few areas where Romanies have been able to make a living in the non-Romani world,” says Ian Hancock, the director of Romani Studies at the University of Texas. “So it made sense to develop and encourage those skills.”

Living Like Gypsies (July 30)

Scholars in antiquity began counting the ways that humans have sex, but they weren’t so diligent in cataloging the reasons humans wanted to get into all those positions. For now, thanks to psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin, we can at last count the whys. After asking nearly 2,000 people why they’d had sex, the researchers have assembled and categorized a total of 237 reasons -- everything from ‘’I wanted to feel closer to God’’ to ‘’I was drunk.’’ They even found a few people who claimed to have been motivated by the desire to have a child.

The New York Times
The Whys of Mating: 237 Reasons and Counting (July 31)

With a nationwide real estate crisis in full bloom thanks to subprime mortgage woes, falling prices and rising loan rates, homeowners are increasingly turning to Internet sites to try to glean bits of information that may shed light on when to refinance, or whether to sell. This urge, I learned, is another common problem among people who are addicted to monitoring their house values. “It’s called a ‘wealth effect,’ ” said Clemens Sialm, a finance professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies homeowners’ financial decisions. “It works the other way, too. If you think your house price goes down, you cancel all your dinners out.”

New York Times
What's My House Worth? And Now? (Aug. 2)

Many of the numbers that make news about how we feel, think and behave are derived from studying a narrow population: college students. It’s cheap for social scientists to tap into the on-campus research pool -- everyone from psychology majors who must participate in studies for course credit to students who respond to posters promising a few bucks if they sign up. But psychologists may be getting what they pay for. College students aren’t representative by age, wealth, income, educational level or geographic location. “What if you studied 7-year-old kids and made inferences about geriatrics?” asks Robert Peterson, a marketing professor at the University of Texas, Austin. “Everyone would say you can’t do that. But you can use these college students.”

The Wall Street Journal
The Numbers Guy: Too Many Studies Use College Students As Their Guinea Pigs (Aug. 10)

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an opinion piece written by Michael Granof, the Ernst & Young Distinguished Centennial Professor of Accounting and Distinguished Teaching Professor in the McCombs School of Business.

Michael Granof portrait Michael Granof

By now, entering college students and their parents have been warned: textbooks are outrageously expensive. Few textbooks for semester-long courses retail for less than $120, and those for science and math courses typically approach $180. Contrast this with the $20 to $30 cost of most hardcover best sellers and other trade books. Perhaps these students and their parents can take comfort in knowing that the federal government empathizes with them, and in an attempt to ease their pain Congress asked its Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance to suggest a cure for the problem. Unfortunately though, the committee has proposed a remedy that would only worsen the problem.

New York Times
Course Requirement: Extortion (Aug. 12)

Bruce Buchanan portrait Bruce Buchanan

Though (Karl) Rove says he is not about to vanish from politics, the debate over the legacy of his unique dual role has begun. Some say he personifies the need to limit the power of White House political aides; others say he’s a model future presidents may want to emulate. “He’s been a huge help to Bush,” said Bruce Buchanan, a presidential historian at the University of Texas in Austin. “Whether helping Bush helped the country” is another question, he added, and it may not be settled for 50 years. Buchanan says Rove is leaving at a time when the administration “looks like a complete bust.” Former GOP chairman Rich Bond said Rove had “a very good beginning and a dismal ending” to his White House career. “The magic ended in 2004,” he said.

USA Today
To Dems, Rove 'More Dangerous' Outside West Wing; With Less Time Devoted to Bush, Political Whiz Can Strengthen GOP (Aug. 14)

Daniel Hamermesh portrait Daniel Hamermesh

Four academics released a study that found that Major League Baseball umpires called strikes at different rates depending on a pitcher’s ethnicity. The analysis was conducted by Christopher A. Parsons, an assistant professor of finance at McGill University; Johan Sulaeman, a graduate student at the University of Texas; Michael C. Yates, an assistant professor of finance at Auburn University; and Daniel S. Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas. The discovery of mild bias is slightly different than the one regarding basketball fouls, Hamermesh said, because the nature and frequency of the umpires’ decisions leads to a purer data set. “Nothing absolutely requires a basketball official to make a foul call — a lot of the time, the official can make no call at all,” Hamermesh said. “An umpire has to call a ball or a strike if the pitch isn’t swung at. It removes a lot of the choice to not make a choice at all.”

New York Times
A Finding of Umpire Bias Is Small but Still Striking (Aug. 19)

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an opinion piece written by Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs Assistant Professor Alan Kuperman.

Alan Kuperman portrait Alan Kuperman

Twice in the early 1990s, the international community prematurely supported the independence of a former Yugoslav territory before addressing the concerns of its Serb minority. In both cases, Croatia and Bosnia, this failure triggered a bloody ethnic war between secessionists and fearful local Serbs, who perpetrated inexcusable war crimes. Fighting ended only when Serbs were either granted autonomous regions and police forces to patrol them, or when they were ethnically cleansed from the territory. Today, the United States is poised to repeat the mistake by recognizing the independence of Kosovo before Serb concerns are addressed.

The Wall Street Journal
The U.N.’s Flawed Kosovo Plan (Aug. 16)

Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, which finances arts education, said that the arts can promote experiences of empathy and tolerance. “There is no substitute for listening to jazz, seeing ‘Death of a Salesman’ performed, reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ seeing the Vietnam War Memorial,” he said. “Those powerful experiences only come about through the arts.” Still, such reasoning may not be sufficient to keep arts education alive in public schools. “That’s not the kind of argument that gets a lot of traction in a high-stakes testing environment,” said Douglas J. Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin.

The New York Times
Book Tackles Old Debate: Role of Art in Schools (Aug. 14)

At this year’s American College of Sports Medicine meeting in New Orleans, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin reported that a bowl of wheat flakes with milk was just as effective in boosting exercise recovery as a specially formulated sports drink -- by providing a good balance of glycogen-restoring carbohydrates as well as protein for muscle repair. Another tried-and-true recovery drink for many athletes is chocolate milk -- it’s protein- and carb-rich, with fluid, potassium and cocoa antioxidants to boot.

Los Angeles Times
Carbs of Different Stripes Provide Fuel to Go, Go, Go (Aug. 20)

Second Life is a four-year-old virtual world owned by Linden Labs. Users create avatars — images of characters they can use to move around and interact with other users. Joe Sanchez, an assistant instructor in the School of Information at the University of Texas-Austin, studied an English class of 19 students using Second Life. He found they don’t like it for activities that can be done in a real classroom, such as lectures or slide shows. But they do like to use it to visit new places or do group activities. For example, Sanchez says his students enjoyed learning about leadership by building avatars to look like a personal role model, such as Mother Teresa, and conducting small group conversations between the avatars in the personae of the characters. After the Virginia Tech shootings, he took his students to a memorial that had been built in Second Life. When they arrived, conversations became hushed, he says. “They felt like they were in a sacred place.”

USA Today
Teachers, College Students Lead a Second Life (Aug. 2)

About 159,000 men in the USA are full-time fathers, more than triple the number a decade ago, Census data show. “Just don’t call them ‘Mr. Mom.’ They really don’t like it,” says Aaron Rochlen of the University of Texas-Austin. He spoke at a panel on cutting-edge research about fathers at the American Psychological Association meeting. Rochlen co-wrote a study of 213 men who became fathers, on average, in their late 30s after such diverse jobs as computer techie, bouncer and soldier.

USA Today
Don't Call Him Mr. Mom (Aug. 22)