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UT News

In the Know

The March 15 weekly roundup of campus kudos and press mentions.

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Campus Kudos

Professor receives service learning commendation
School of Information Professor Loriene Roy received a 2009-2010 Academic Service Learning Commendation from the university. The commendations are given to faculty whose work exemplifies the goals of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Faculty selected to receive this recognition provide academic service learning. Commendations are sponsored by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Professor selected as fellow for educational research association
Angela Valenzuela, a professor in the College of Education, has been selected as an American Educational Research Association (AERA) fellow in recognition of her scholarly contributions to education research and to the development of research opportunities and settings. Valenzuela, who also is associate vice president for school partnerships in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and director of the Texas Center for Education Policy, was the only University of Texas at Austin faculty member selected. Valenzuela was also elected to a member at-large position on the AERA’s executive council.

College of Liberal Arts announces Pro Bene Meritis recipients
Frank Denius, W. Parker Frisbie and Ellen Clarke Temple have been selected to receive the 2010 Pro Bene Meritis award, the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts. The Pro Bene Meritis awards were first granted in 1984 to honor individuals who are committed to the liberal arts, who have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits and who have participated in service related to the College of Liberal Arts. The recipients will be honored at an awards dinner on April 22 at the ATandT Executive Education and Conference Center.

Professor receives national security fellowship
Andy Ellington, the Wilson M. and Kathryn Fraser Research Professor in Biochemistry, has been awarded a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, one of only 11 in the country. The fellowship is intended to support unclassified, basic research that may transform the Department of Defense’s capabilities in the long term. It comes with a five-year grant of more than $500,000 per year. Ellington’s research focuses on using evolutionary techniques to engineer biopolymers, cells and even entire organisms that can help solve real-world biotechnology challenges.

Press Mentions

The Wall Street Journal: Recession move: The mini-shift
March 11

Laid off in the depths of the recession and unable to find another full-time job, writer Tamara Rice pieced together a new kind of workday for herself: three to five “mini-shifts” lasting one-and-a-half to three hours each.

A major pitfall of mini-shifting is the lack of “clear edges” between work and personal time, which can gradually erode RandR until “your life gets out of balance in a very significant way,” says Julie Morgenstern, a New York corporate productivity consultant and author.

Another risk is reduced output. “Almost any time we switch between doing different tasks, we will be less efficient than if we focused on a single task,” says Russell Poldrack, professor of psychology and neurobiology at The University of Texas at Austin, and an authority on multitasking.

The New York Times: Warning: Ancient sex on show in Paris
March 11

The latest show at Paris’ Quai Branly museum comes with a warning for visitors: “This exhibition of Moche ceramics shows sexual acts of an explicit nature.”

But the extraordinary and graphic testimonial of the ancient Moche civilization of Peru isn’t about physical pleasure or procreation, according to the curator. He says the sexual acts evoke the rituals that accompanied the death of dignitaries, and the human sacrifices that went with them.

Curator Steve Bourget, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin who has made his career studying the Moche, says he believes they were part of ritual or sacrificial ceremonies — bloodthirsty and wild though strictly controlled affairs.

The Wall Street Journal: Gas-extraction link possible in quakes
March 11

One aspect of a natural-gas production technique could be the cause of small earthquakes around Fort Worth, Texas, in recent years, a new study has found.

Researchers said, though, that the vast majority of such new gas wells don’t seem to lead to increased seismic activity.

Seismologists and geologists from The University of Texas at Austin and from Southern Methodist University concluded in the study that a separate set of very small earthquakes — too small to be felt — that they examined in late 2008 and early 2009 “are consistent with an induced or triggered source,” rather than normal seismic activity.

“It is plausible,” the researchers said, that the injection far underground of waste fluids, including saltwater, triggered the quakes — not the actual drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

The New York Times: Tea-ing up the Constitution
March 12

Brash and young though it is, the Tea Party movement has already added something distinctive to contemporary political discourse. It has made the Constitution central to the national conversation.

The content of the movement’s understanding of the Constitution is not always easy to nail down, and it is almost always arguable.

“It really is open to interpretation by anybody, in what I sometimes call the lawyerhood of all citizens,” said Sanford Levinson, a law professor at The University of Texas. “Anybody in a bar can get into a shouting argument over what equal protection means, or the right to free speech.”

The New York Times: Lost in the shorthand
March 13

A recent New York Times Magazine article about the Texas State Board of Education said it was driven by a bloc determined to “advance a Christian agenda.”

The board’s “Christian faction,” the article said, was dominated by Don McLeroy, a creationist convinced that separation of church and state is a myth perpetrated by secular liberals.

Welcome to the unending battle over political and ideological labels: Christian, conservative, liberal, libertarian, populist, progressive, neoconservative, moderate.

Labels are more than descriptors. They are also weapons in our polarized political culture. Sharon Jarvis, an associate professor of communication studies at The University of Texas, has written extensively on political labels. She traced the path of “liberal” from something Harry Truman was proud to be to a term John Kerry seemed to run from. Republicans have been more successful at defending their labels and demonizing the other party’s, she told me.

Read last week’s In the Know.