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Christen Sparago

OPINION 4/17/18 10:04pm

Response to Anson Fung: Rice should stand against divisiveness

Fung’s argument is an interesting enough intellectual exercise if you’re bored while sitting in Monday morning traffic, but I entirely disagree with the premise that the public positions taken by the administration on political issues like DACA “call into question Rice’s commitment to diversity of learning and discovery.” 

NEWS 11/12/13 6:00pm

Baker Institute hosts party with Jenna Bush Hager

Party guests toasted the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with champagne flecked with gold at Club Berlin, the one-night-only event held Saturday, Nov. 9.Professionals and students alike poured into the tent constructed for James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's 20th Anniversary Gala. The theme, "Punk-Chic: Chaos to Cocktails," inspired outfits featuring feather boas, faux-hawks and fedoras. Upscale restaurants Reef, Uchi and Killen's Steakhouse contributed food for the evening. Throughout the evening, guests danced to an upbeat mix of contemporary and 80's music by New York-based DJ KISS.Honorary Event Chair Jenna Bush Hager said she was excited to attend the event."James Baker has been a family friend for many years, and I'm happy to be here supporting an event for the [institute] founded in his name," Hager said. "Tonight is the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, which is awesome. For those of us who grew up in the '80s, that's especially meaningful."According to Vince McElligott, the Baker Institute's senior director of development, the purpose of the event was to get young professionals involved in the Baker Institute."One of the challenges we face at the Baker Institute is how to involve the younger generation," McElligott said. "We're hoping this afterparty will help do that because it's less traditional and more fun."Martel College senior Kenneth Misner said he appreciated that the event targeted young professionals."It's great to see the effect the Baker Institute has had on students and the younger generation," Misner said.Lovett College junior Shannon McNamara said transforming the tent into a nightclub was a great idea."This is the perfect place to get Rice undergraduates involved in public policy," McNamara said. Baker Institute Senior Fellow Steven Lewis said the contrast between the previous night's 20th Anniversary Gala and Club Berlin emphasized the wide interest in the Baker Institute."The gala was appropriate to celebrate donors who have been here a long time," Lewis said. "But the 1980s theme is appropriate for tonight because we're interested in making it more enjoyable for the younger generation."J.D. Bucky Allshouse, the co-chair for the Baker Institute's 20th Anniversary Gala, said he enjoyed the event's nontraditional theme."The whole idea is to get young people involved," Allshouse said. "It's a good time to dress up and be foolish."

NEWS 10/21/13 7:00pm

Linguistic graduate program faces elimination

The linguistics graduate program is currently under review, and applications will not be accepted for the 2014-15 academic year, according to Paula Sanders, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.Sanders declined to comment on how long admissions will be suspended and said the administration cannot provide any further information while the review is in progress.A 30-year endowment may have been erroneously linked to the graduate program, according to former linguistics department chair Nancy Niedzielski. The endowment was from the Dolores E. Mitchell Fund and spanned 1982 to 2012."The linguistics graduate [program] was founded 30 years ago; at that time, there was a sum of money endowed to the university, and part of that money went to the linguistics program," Niedzielski, an associate professor of linguistics, said. "I am finding it highly coincidental that the money ended in 2012, and now we are hearing that we are a problematic department."Niedzielski said she requested the graduate program's first external review last year when she began to suspect the program might be cut when the funding expired."I have five years of emails from members of the upper administration saying that there was no reason to be concerned and that the money was not being linked to the graduate linguistics program," Niedzielski said. "But as 2012 approached, that story began to shift, and I began to worry. I was sure of our department's value, so I requested an external review." Sanders informed then-incoming graduate student in linguistics Jonas Wittke that Howard H. Hughes Provost George McLendon had initiated an internal review of the program in an April 2, 2013 email. This email stated that the review would take place during the fall 2013 semester."The purpose of internal reviews of graduate programs is to assess their overall health and to make recommendations about the strategic allocation of the university's resources," Sanders stated in her email. A document written by a committee of the Faculty Senate and approved by the Faculty Senate on Sept. 11, 2013, to address the review of the linguistics department states that reviews of departments should not impede admissions. The document is titled "Elimination of Graduate Programs: Procedures and Best Practices.""The review to establish whether a graduate program should be eliminated ... should be completed within six months, normally between September and February, so as not to come into conflict with the graduate school admissions process," the document states.Linguistics graduate student Bazile Lanneau said the discrepancy between how long admissions have been halted and how long the review is supposed to take is cause for concern."It's an example of why I don't feel the administration has any intention to treat us honestly," Lanneau said.  From March 10-12, 2013, a committee of three linguistics professors from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas, Austin visited Rice to conduct the first external review of the linguistics graduate program since it was founded in 1982, according to the committee's report, titled "Report of the External Review Committee for the Department of Linguistics of Rice University." The review committee's report states the program should be retained. According to the report, "Disbanding the department would mean the eventual loss of the linguistics curriculum, which would be very much to the detriment of undergraduate education at Rice." However, according to Chair of the Department of Linguistics Michel Achard, the linguistics faculty was informed in an April 11, 2013 meeting with Sanders, McLendon and Dean of Humanities Nicolas Shumway that the external reviewers recommended the elimination of the doctoral program in linguistics in a private meeting."The whole process was presented to [the faculty] as being justified by our failing to meet some expectation of excellence," Achard said. "I realize that it's difficult for Rice, as a relatively small institution, to keep as many programs at the graduate level as we have departments at the undergraduate level, but we haven't been given a precise rationale, short of this relatively vague notion."No such recommendation was given, according to Sherman Wilcox, a professor of linguistics at the University of New Mexico and a member of the external review committee. "That did not happen," Wilcox said. "The report reflects the honest and clear opinions of all three reviewers. We were asked if the program should be cut, and we responded that it should not."A self-study document prepared by the Department of Linguistics for the external review committee includes a list of current employment information for all graduates who have received a doctorate in linguistics since 2000. Of the 31 students for whom information is currently available, 22 are professionals within the field of linguistics.Achard said the placement information for Rice University linguistics graduate students speaks for itself."We have placed students all over the world, and most of them are doing quite well," Achard said. "We have placed them both in academia and in industry, so I am absolutely not at all ashamed of what we have done in the graduate program."Department of Linguistics Graduate Advisor Robert Englebretson said the linguistics faculty has not received any information in writing about the future of the graduate program."All we have seen is an email to graduate students, but nothing else official," Englebretson, an associate professor of linguistics, said. "It disturbs me when I see [our] students and faculty so confused."Englebretson said he has never heard anything negative about Rice's graduate program in linguistics."Linguistics faculty at other universities, both in the U.S. and abroad, recommend our graduate program to their students. And now these same students are being told that Rice thinks our program is so bad they're considering terminating it," Englebretson said. "I worry what that would do for the reputation of Rice and the welfare of our graduates."Linguistics graduate student Sarah Cain said she feels the administration is misrepresenting the graduate program's reputation in the field of linguistics."I feel as though the administration has not taken seriously the graduate students' accomplishments in their assessment of our graduate program's health," Cain said. "I also feel like the administration is misrepresenting our department's reputation in the field of linguistics. Many of us were specifically encouraged to go to Rice, many turned down multiple offers from other schools, and our faculty are highly respected in the field."According to undergraduate linguistics major Emily Remirez, the graduate linguistics students have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the undergraduates."The linguistics graduate program should be retained and even expanded," Remirez, a Baker College junior, said. "In my opinion, the linguistics program has a lot more interaction between undergraduate and graduate levels than other departments." Remirez said eliminating the graduate program would negatively impact undergraduate course offerings."The upper-level classes are a mix of graduate and undergraduate students," Remirez said. "Without [the graduate students], there will be a smaller student body and fewer challenging classes for us to take. Losing our [teaching assistants] will also force class sizes to be smaller, and that would be hard on such a small department."

NEWS 10/8/13 7:00pm

Hoot changes ordering process for hot food

The Hoot has changed its hot food ordering process, according to General Manager Mattie Pena.Pena, a Martel College junior, oversees the Hoot North and South restaurant managers in placing hot food orders and said it is hard to predict the amount of hot food the Hoot might sell on any given night."The process [of deciding how much hot food to order] is extremely difficult," Pena said. "We know customers get disappointed when we run out of food, but the Hoot is proving itself to be a sustainable business as we continue to adjust our hot food sales and reduce waste."Hoot South Restaurant Manager Allison Connell said she is responsible for ordering Papa John's pizza for both the North and South locations."I decide how much to order based on historical data of hot food sales," Connell, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. "Major factors include what day of the week it is, what other events are occurring on campus and nights before major tests."According to Connell, the Hoot had previously lost a significant amount of profit due to unsold hot food."Before last year, ordering was done with the thought that the Hoot should have hot food available until closing," Connell said. "However, this was not a feasible business model. Food that had not been sold by closing was a straight loss. Our [new] goal is to run out of hot food around 12:45 [a.m.] each night."Hoot North Restaurant Manager Carey Skinner said she and Connell make sure to also take data from previous years into consideration when deciding how much hot food to order. Skinner, a Duncan College junior, said she is in charge of ordering Chick-fil-A for both the north and south locations of the Hoot."There are definitely other factors that contribute, like weather and study breaks," Skinner said. "We look at the order history from the past week and [from the current] week of school the past year."Skinner said losing money from not selling out of hot food is problematic for a business as small as the Hoot."There is a break-even point of an amount of each hot food item we must sell every night in order to pay employees and make any profit," Skinner said. "Having leftovers means we paid for a lot of wasted product, which decreases our profit."Duncan College junior Jake LaViola said he wishes the Hoot had hot food available later at night."I've gone to the Hoot a few times around midnight or 12:15 a.m., and they have frequently been out of hot food," LaViola said. "I would love for them to have more hot food since I do not get out of rehearsals and meetings until 11 p.m."Lovett College junior Daniel Imas said the Hoot has been sold out of hot food roughly half the times he has visited."The Hoot exists to serve as a late-night food option for Rice students who have few options without having to drive off campus," Imas said. "When they run out of food early on a consistent basis because of under-ordering, they aren't serving their purpose or the Rice student body."Connell said the Hoot offers many other options for purchase so that students will not have to go hungry in the event hot food is sold out."We want to have something for customers who come later in the night, [so] we offer items such as ramen, chips, pop tarts and candy bars," Connell said. "Additionally, this week, we are running a special on hummus and pretzel cups, which we may add permanently to the menu if they do well."Pena said the Hoot's new hot food ordering process is just one example of the opportunities student-run businesses give students to learn about management."Three years ago, Hoot managers were just beginning to experiment with sales and products and were unaware of the trends," Pena said. "Now, the business has grown to the point where we are able to predict market trends and adjust accordingly. I hope Rice leadership can understand how much hard work and learning goes into making the Hoot a successful business."

NEWS 9/30/13 7:00pm

Potentially insensitive NOD theme vetoed

The original theme for Wiess College's annual Night of Decadence public party has been vetoed, according to Wiess Social Amber Callan."We had to veto the final theme that everyone had decided on," Callan, a junior, said. "We will be working on it this week to try to get it resolved."The rejected theme, "Around the World in NODy Ways," sparked controversy over concerns the theme was culturally insensitive, Callan said.The Wiess  College masters could not be reached for comment on the issue. Callan declined to comment on who made the final decision to veto the theme but said the Wiess socials took many concerns into consideration. "We talked to a lot of people about [changing the theme]," Callan said. "Everyone was worried about cultural insensitivity."McMurtry College junior Graham Eldridge said he does not think the rejected theme is culturally insensitive."The name doesn't include or reference any specific people, places, cultures or traditions," Eldridge said. "As far as I know, Around the World in Eighty Days is just an old adventure book."Duncan College junior Molly Mohr said vetoing the theme was unnecessary."I don't think it's culturally insensitive," Mohr said, "I think it represents that Rice has a variety of students from different cultures."Martel College junior Crystal Olalde-Garcia said she agreed with the veto."My initial reaction was that it was way too vague," Olalde-Garcia said. "People could dress based on stereotypes, and I think it was a good idea to veto it."Jones College sophomore Jeffrey Piccirillo said the theme was too broad and could have opened the door for students to wear controversial costumes."I could see how the theme would lend itself too well to culturally insensitive costumes," Piccirillo said. "The mentality of being better safe than sorry is probably one that should be taken."Baker College junior Alex Clouse said he thought the veto was a smart decision."There's always the possibility for a culturally insensitive costume," Clouse said. "But with 'Around the World in NODy Ways,' costumes would inherently be related to race."Thresher Editor-in-Chief Rachel Marcus contributed to this article.

NEWS 9/16/13 7:00pm

Committee formed to review SA constitution

On Sept. 9, the Rice Student Association passed a bill convening the Committee on Constitutional Revisions to review the SA constitution and bylaws and propose amendments based on its findings, according to a Senate bill posted to the SA's website earlier this week.SA President Yoonjin Min said the push for revisions came from rising concern over confusion in the constitution as it currently stands."There are so many contradictions within the current constitution," Min, a Jones College senior,  said. "It feels wrong for us as an organization to have a constitution that's so hard to use and understand."According to Min, the decision to review the SA constitution came as a result of conversations spanning the last two years and the belief that this year's SA Parliamentarian and Constitutional Committee Chair Brian Baran will offer a lot to the revision process."Brian is really great with parliamentary procedures, so we thought this would be a good year to tackle this big topic," Min said.Baran, a Thresher copy editor and Duncan College junior, said the SA's historically inconsistent compliance with certain provisions highlight ambiguities in the document's provisions but that no single event is solely responsible for the decision to convene the committee."Some of the bylaws [refer] to procedures that aren't present in the constitution," Baran said.Min said the Constitutional Committee's review will take this procedural confusion into consideration."Right now, we have the main constitution, which has a lot of really outdated sections, and then we have the bylaws, [which] could presumably be changed more regularly to reflect changing times," Min said. "It isn't consistent. We definitely know that our constitution isn't great and that we're not following it."Baran said these discrepancies have led to situations causing dissatisfaction among students in the past. For example, according to Baran, the procedures of the previous SA General Election were called into question because preferential voting was required by the SA's bylaws, but was not implemented on the ballot."The procedure was unclear," Baran said. "[The bylaws] said two different things in two different places. One was more specific, so it was binding, and it contributed to an embarrassment [for the SA]."According to Min, the goal of the review process is to make the constitution clearer and easier to use."Process is really important to me," Min said. "The decision [to revise the constitution] is really so that we can become more transparent and process-oriented. The way things are delineated now doesn't make sense."Both Min and Baran said they hope the new constitution will reformat the functional parts of the old constitution to become more user-friendly and that they hope the new constitution will better regulate interaction between the SA and the organizations it works with. Min said she hopes the committee, which includes Baran, SA Internal Vice President Nathan Liu, SA Secretary Nathan Andrus and four general members of the SA, will finalize its recommendations before the general election this spring."We'd really like to have all the proposals done by the end of this semester," Min said.Jeremy Huang contributed to this article. 

NEWS 4/18/13 7:00pm

Gustin wins George R. Brown teaching award

Rice University alumni from the past decade have selected professor of biochemistry and cell biology Michael Gustin as this year's recipient of the George R. Brown Prize for Excellence in Teaching.According to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, alumni who graduated two, four and five years ago vote to nominate their professors. The awards are then given to the 10 professors with the most votes, one of whom receives the award for excellence in teaching. The remaining nine professors receive awards for superior teaching.Gustin, a professor at Rice since 1988, said he feels honored to receive his award."Teaching is being challenged by new ideas about how to teach students, particularly in the sciences," Gustin said. "An important part of teaching a course is to try to build a community. It's an opportunity to learn together. Every time I teach, I'm always learning."Gustin said the increasing number of online courses can sometimes lack this sense of community.Gustin said he began to ask himself last year about the purpose of a university and came to the answer that, in university courses, teachers can pass their interest in the material on to their students more effectively. "I'm a pretty enthusiastic guy," Gustin said. "I like what I'm working on, both in teaching and research. I think that enthusiasm is infectious for students."Gustin said his experience as a Wiess College master has been pivotal in his effort to learn all of his students' names in his introductory biology course this year. Hutchinson said all 10 recipients of Brown teaching awards will be honored at 3 p.m. Monday, April 22 at a reception in Keck Hall Room 100. Last year's winner, John and Ann Doerr Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics Mark Embree, will give a lecture about his experiences teaching in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics. All Rice students are invited to attend, Hutchinson said.Hutchinson said the Committee on Teaching, which chooses the recipients from those nominated by alumni, takes class size and subject into consideration."There is a concern that large classes have more alumni, so [they] may attract more votes than small classes," Hutchinson said. "This method actually makes it possible for recognition for faculty teaching all kinds of classes."According to Hutchinson, the nine recipients of awards in superior teaching are professor of biochemistry and cell biology Yousif Shamoo, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science Brent Houchens, professor in the practice of bioengineering Ann Saterbak, professor of economics James Brown, associate professor of history Alexander Byrd, associate professor of sociology Rachel Kimbro, professor of architecture Carlos Jimenez, professor of English Helena Michie and professor of mathematics Michael Wolf.Kimbro said receiving her award was a major highlight of her career."I really thrive on in-classroom engagement with my students," Kimbro said. "I'm very proud to join the large cadre of other sociology professors who have won this award."