Each morning as I head to my office in the Gebauer building, I walk past the classical letters that adorn the outside walls of the Tower.
Those letters — in Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek and Latin — and the accompanying hieroglyphic symbols are a reminder of the intellectual pursuits that are at the heart of The University of Texas at Austin’s mission. We study languages, cultures and civilizations, both ancient and modern, to better understand the world in which we live in and to relate to different peoples and societies.
Whether you’re walking past the Tower for the first time or the 1,000th, I hope the gold-leafed letters inspire and remind you of the noble mission that we pursue.
They certainly did for Middle Eastern Studies Professor John Huehnergard, who joined our faculty from Harvard last year. When John saw the letters for the first time, he wondered why they were there and what they could tell us about the university’s history. With a small group of undergraduate students, he set out last fall to find out.
John and his students discovered an 80-year-old tale that includes a couple of larger-than-life characters, some higher education politics and an unbridled ambition for UT to be a leader in the academic world. That story is detailed in this issue of Life & Letters.
Other stories in this issue will remind you just how successful the university (and the College of Liberal Arts, in particular) has been in achieving that academic greatness to which we aspired nearly a century ago. They include a Q & A with History Assistant Professor Tiffany Gill, who has researched African American beauty parlors’ role as platforms for social, political and economic activism.
This issue also honors several departments and centers celebrating historic anniversaries this year — Government, Naval ROTC, Plan II and the Population Research Center — and the alumni and faculty who recently won the prestigious Pro Bene Meritis award for their invaluable contributions to the college.
In the current economic climate, maintaining that level of excellence can be challenging. But the college has been leading the rest of the university in developing creative solutions to the state’s and university’s budget problems.
As you may have read in media reports, we recently offered incentive packages to senior faculty members who might be considering retirement. The packages — a lump sum payment worth two year’s salary for those who accept the offer to step down — will let us save on salary costs in the long term and allow some of these faculty members to remain on campus in emeritus status. We are able to carefully monitor course offerings, so we can absorb the loss of these teachers and still guarantee that students have the classes they need for graduation and can take challenging classes with quality professors.
That, after all, is why we’re here. As the letters on the Tower remind me every day, this is a place where we aspire to learn, to challenge, to understand and to do great things. It was true last century and it will be true next century.
As always, I appreciate your ongoing support for the college and look forward to hearing from you with any ideas or questions you have.
Randy L. Diehl,
Dean, College of Liberal Arts