THE FIRING LINE: Ignoring racism, Sarah Weddington, online learning

The Firing Line

Ignoring racism is detrimental

After reviewing the campus’ overwhelming response to the articles written weeks ago in The Daily Texan to capture the true essence of our campus climate by reporting on incidents that occurred during Roundup, I must admit that I was less than shocked by the nature of the conversation that developed online. Of the 209 comments that were submitted to one of the articles, 15 of those were censored for their inappropriateness. The nature of the comments ranged from eloquent disrespect among campus members, lack of sensitivity for others’ perspectives and ignorance towards the concept of racism.

It is repulsive to witness behavior of this sort being displayed throughout a campus that prides itself on the core values of learning, discovery, individual opportunity and responsibility. We, as members of this campus — students, faculty and staff —  must hold ourselves and each other to a higher caliber of moral standards.

While many members of this campus may feel like the University of Texas and the United States have progressed to post-racial society, if we continue to downplay the existence of racism at UT, we will continue to experience the detrimental effects that it has proven to have on our campus climate.

Previous incidents like the one that occurred during Roundup have been difficult to label precisely as racist, but an event that occurred this past Sunday evening in the Malcolm X Lounge (an open space most commonly used by African-American students) has no room for mislabeling. On Sunday, April 17, an individual walked into the X-Lounge in black-face and sat on the couch in the midst of several African-American students while one friend recorded and a group of students stood outside the X-Lounge and watched this occur. Given the history that this campus has of students hosting black-face parties and the traditional minstrel shows that have been a part of campus-wide events such as Roundup and the fall football games, the recent controversy with the Simkins Dormitory, etc., these types of incidents should not be taken lightly by any student or member of the administration.

I charge all members of the Forty Acres to be that catalyst of positive change on this campus, discouraging the intolerance and insensitivity that takes place both deliberately and covertly. For those interested in continuing the conversation about the racial climate on campus, feel free to attend the upcoming town hall meeting that I have committed myself to promoting through my position as a newly elected University-wide representative of Student Government.

— Kristin Thompson
Member of the Roundup Coalition
Civil engineering junior

Keep Sarah Weddington

From a business perspective, I’ve been sympathetic to the difficult financial decisions the University has had to make. I have not marched, written letters, complained or whined about the changes. However, I need to speak up now. Who is doing the thinking, or who is refusing to engage their brains and think, about some of these budget decisions being made? It has come to my attention that professor Sarah Weddington is being let go. If you’ve never heard of Weddington, I’m sure you’ve heard of the case that she argued and won before the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade.

Really? Really? We’re really letting a professor go due to budget cuts who made such an impact on U.S. history? No, I do not know the inside story of why she is being let go. Is it her position on abortion? Did she not publish enough? Did she not follow a tenure track?

Were her writings not in prestigious peer reviewed journals? I really don’t care. I don’t care if she never accomplished a legal success after Roe v. Wade, which is not the case. Roe v. Wade was big enough for a lifetime.

I have been a student in Weddington’s class. Listening to a tape from the ‘70s of Roe v. Wade being argued before the Supreme Court and then being able to ask questions to the same attorney I had just listened to was amazing. I was in the presence of, and interacting with, history. It was all possible because I’m a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

If Rosa Parks were to be a lecturer at UT, would we let her go as well, due to budget cuts? All she did was refuse to give her seat up on a bus.

Have any of you readers taken a class here at UT and wondered how in the world the professor ever got funded for their asinine research? Yet, they are kept on despite budget cuts. The “rules” of academia and “budget” seem to be obscuring the vision of true learning. Living history is far, far better than any book, article or journal.

By the way, Sarah Weddington is well liked by her students and is always glad to help any deserving student with referrals to her vast network of contacts or with letters of reference to law schools. She goes far beyond teaching a class. I hope UT wakes up and keeps Sarah Weddington.

It makes me sad to say I attend UT, where such smart people study but such stupid decisions are being made.

— Sandy R. Poffinbarger
Women’s and gender studies
graduate student

Online learning vs. E-learning

In an April 20th viewpoint, “Keep Classes Offline,” the Texan editorial board asserts that “online learning” is not an answer to UT’s financial plight. But the analysis shows confusion about what is meant by that phrase.

One meaning of “online learning” (or “distance learning”) means no more than delivering a lecture over the Web instead of in a classroom, perhaps with questions and answers handled by email. “Online learning” is what the University of Phoenix sells.

“E-learning,” on the other hand, is based on a computer program that simulates the presentation of an idea or a skill, permits the learner to experiment in one of many ways found most comfortable, then provides individualized feed-back that recognizes and explains the strengths and weaknesses of each individual student. The professor’s input lies in the design of the program, not in teaching a course.

A few good “E-learning” modules could teach a subject across the country.

Airplane pilots today are trained by e-learning computer-based programs. Errors are explicated, and opportunities for choices are presented until the learner no longer “crashes” the plane. Might some college subjects be learned in the same manner? Carnegie-Mellon thinks so and has built an e-learning program for mastering elementary statistics and has found it as good or better than the standard lectures and section discussions.

To develop a good E-learning module is expensive. But for subjects taught widely across the country, such as elementary statistics, we could afford millions of dollars in development costs to achieve successful professor-less learning modules. As we note the enthusiasm with which our kids play games based on video and computers, do we think that we might attract them to the challenge of learning statistics? Maybe.

UT has a program to help departments redesign courses, including using computer-based learning in novel ways. One of the efforts underway, in fact, will be designed to teach statistics, for which $300,000 has been allocated. What The Daily Texan should be watching is whether the resulting program will save students the cost of “online learning” or whether UT will join the effort in E-learning and achieve comparable outcomes in learning with savings in costs to students.

— Francis D. Fisher
Senior Research Fellow, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs