New book on Signature Courses shares UT’s educational innovations


Guy P. Raffa and his contribution to Signature Course Stories

One of the most important developments at the University during my nine years as president has been the formation of Signature Courses. Taught by seasoned faculty and required for all freshmen, Signature Courses are administered by the School of Undergraduate Studies and immerse students in the culture of higher learning as they arrive on our campus.

Now, a new book, written by the teachers of these courses, has painted a vivid picture of how they’re changing lives. Signature Course Stories is a collection of essays that describe how these groundbreaking courses connect the University’s freshmen with its most distinguished faculty members.

Written by outstanding professors from across many disciplines, and with a foreword by me, the essays are organized by the goals of Signature Courses: critical thinking, information literacy, oral communication, writing improvement, interdisciplinary approaches, experiential learning, and contemporary content.

Below is a short excerpt from Ben Carrington’s essay “Postracial America: Race and Culture in Contemporary America,” describing the scene in his classroom after showing a photo of the Marion, Indiana, lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, and playing Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”:

As I turned on the lights my suspicion was confirmed, at least three of the class were crying, a few more trying to hold back tears. The rest were silent. I took a few moments to let the students reflect and process. In truth, I needed the time myself. “Is everyone okay?”

It’s at moments like these that our role as educators seeking to enhance not just knowledge acquisition but the humanistic desire to understand and make sense of the world, with a view to change it, becomes apparent. These moments remind me what we’re about as professors, as teachers, or at least why I came into the profession. A reminder that, despite what some may claim, my students are not “customers,” and I am not providing a service to please and satisfy preexisting wants. The mall and cable TV can do that. A necessary precondition for being a better student, for being a more fluent writer, a more critical thinker, is to care about the subjects we engage. This does not mean losing sight of objectivity or placing politics before robust scholarship, but rather recognizing that passion, emotion, and empathetic recognition with different histories, cultures, and peoples can be an important basis for learning. We ultimately understand ourselves and our own histories better as a result. An affective pedagogy helps us to humanize and make real what can sometimes come across to students as a series of worthy but disembodied facts and historical markers.

I’d like to congratulate Dean Brent Iverson of the School of Undergraduate Studies, as well as editor Lori Holleran Steiker, on an outstanding job. Thank you for capturing and sharing this important moment in American higher education. The book is available from the University of Texas Press.

What starts here changes the world.

Bill Powers signature

2013 – One for the Record Books



As 2013 draws to close, I want to thank you for the role you have played in our extraordinarily successful year at UT Austin.

It was a year marked by momentous generosity.

Michael and Susan Dell gave UT $50 million enabling the creation of the Dell Medical School. This was only the first of three times the Dells and UT would make major headlines in 2013. The second was the opening the Dell Computer Science Hall this spring, named in honor of another $10 million gift from Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The hall opened as part of the Gates Computer Science Complex, made possible by a $30 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And the third headline was the gift of the Magnum Photos Collection, one of the most valuable gifts in the history of the University, given to the Ransom Center by Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

We named the College of Communication for the Moody family in recognition of a $50 million gift from the Moody Foundation. And former Regent Robert Rowling and his wife, Terry, pledged $25 million for a new home for the McCombs School of Business graduate programs to be named Rowling Hall.

All of these gifts and many more contributed to a record-breaking fundraising year for 2012-13. We need one more record year to achieve our $3 billion goal for the Campaign for Texas by the end of August.

It was a year marked by tremendous achievement.

UT’s largest college got a new home in January when we opened the Liberal Arts Building. We also launched the Clements Center for History, Strategy & Statecraft. And the Blanton Museum celebrated 50 years with a wonderful exhibit composed of masterworks from alumni collections.

Our faculty continued to win national and international recognitions: The National Academy of Engineering inducted Joseph J. Beaman Jr. of Mechanical Engineering; Sharon L. Wood of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering; and Keith P. Johnston of Chemical Engineering. The National Academy of Sciences elected John Goodenough of Mechanical Engineering. And the Institute of Medicine elected George Georgiou of Molecular Biosciences, Chemical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering. Dean Young of the English Department was appointed Texas Poet Laureate. And C. Grant Willson of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering won the Japan Prize.

Our men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams both won Big 12 championships.

And it was a year marked by passages and transitions.

This year we lost the beloved Bill Livingston, who for nearly 60 years had served the University in numerous roles including that of interim president and senior vice president.

It was a year of major transitions as we thanked giants of our UT family for their dedicated service: DeLoss Dodds, who served 32 years as men’s athletics director; Tom Staley, director of the Ransom Center for more than 25 years; Mack Brown, who led our football program for 16 years; Steve Leslie, our executive vice president and provost, who had served in that role since 2007; and Robert Dahlstrom, who had served as UT police chief since 2006.

Among those who have succeeded them — our new executive vice president and provost Greg Fenves, formerly UT’s engineering dean; new athletics director Steve Patterson; new dean of graduate studies Judith Langlois; new dean of Undergraduate Studies Brent Iverson; new director of the Ransom Center Stephen Ennis; and new UT police chief, David Carter.

I’m always proud of UT Austin as I travel and meet my peers, and I am especially so this year as I fulfill my role as chair of the Association of American Universities.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday. Thank you for all you have done for UT Austin this year.

Bill's Signature


Brent Iverson to lead School of Undergraduate Studies

Iverson, Brent 2013

I’m thrilled that Brent Iverson has agreed to lead UT’s School of Undergraduate Studies, starting July 1. Dr. Iverson is a well-known and widely respected figure on campus, an award-winning teacher and researcher in organic chemistry. As someone who was part of the initial conception of the School of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Iverson is the perfect person to build on the successes of the school, creating pathways for leadership and excellence in undergraduate studies. He is a recognized teacher, researcher, and scholar, with a proven commitment to providing our undergraduates with the best academic experience possible.

Undergraduate Studies is key to our student success initiatives and classroom innovations. It has responsibility for the core curriculum, as well as more than 2,000 students who have not yet declared majors.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Iverson is an inventor on 18 issued U.S. patents. Working with George Georgiou and Jennifer Maynard of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, he helped develop a commercialized late-stage cure for exposure to anthrax.

Thank you, Brent, for your leadership. Our undergraduates have a bright future with you in this key position.
Bill's Signature