What I decided to do was visit the web sites of as many Texas colleges as I could remember, pull up their news releases from this past spring 2005 semester, find the ones that looked promising, and then read those and see if anything jumped off the screen.
What I wasn't interested in was the usual, predictable college or university news -- new buildings begun, big donations secured, faculty tenure awarded, routine appointments made. I was looking for the unique, the awe-inspiring, and the comic. And if I ran across pictures of cheerleaders in the process, then so be it.
Here, then, is Muley's very first Texas College Roundup.
There was a lot of change within the Texas college mascot ranks this year. After a two year absence (I guess the film career didn't work out), Houston Baptist University's live mascot Wakiza returned to campus. The lucky husky gets a new set of caretakers called the "Sled Team" led by "Head Musher" Brandi (with an i).
Baylor University's live bear mascots, Joy and Lady, are getting a fancy new home with terraced landscaping, play area, waterfall, "feeder log" and an "educational cabana."
Austin's Huston-Tillotson College got a new mascot, or at least a redesigned one: a very aggressive-looking ram. Well-known ad agency CSD&M came up with both the ram mascot and the college's new "tag line," which is...THINK MORE.
Rejected tag lines:
Forget the CEOs and politicians. If you were lucky, you got to hear from someone outside the usual campus speaker lineup at Texas colleges this past spring.
Rice University students got to listen to Dr. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the great Mahatma Gandhi. See if you can guess the title of his lecture:
a) "Gandhi: Rhymes With Blondie"Across town, the University of Houston had folksinger Odetta sing "Songs of Social Change" and talk about the Civil Rights movement. Meanwhile, U of H's Graduate School of Social Work went in a different direction, welcoming "full-figure supermodel" Emme to give the commencement address. The host of "Fashion Emergency," perhaps taking a cue from the Mahatma, discussed "empowerment, ways to change the world and how to make a difference."
b) "Gandhi: Sandals of Freedom"
c) "Gandhi: Spinning Wheel Got to Go Round"
d) "Gandhi: An Enduring Legacy of Non-Violence"
Remember Bob Guiney, "the curly-headed casanova of reality dating show fame" from the TV show "The Bachelor?" Well, he was raising temperatures among single women at Amarillo College when he and his band performed there in February, and a lucky AC gal with the winning $1 raffle ticket ended up winning a date with "Bachelor Bob."
Meanwhile, Austin College in Sherman held their annual "Buddhism in Texas" panel discussion, welcoming leading Buddhists from around the state to help them "build community awareness" and be a part of the Presbyterian school's religion course, "Life and Teaching of the Buddha."
Texas college researchers have been busy discovering all kinds of wonderful things to benefit mankind.
Rice researchers had their plates full, learning that obese shoppers are more likely to experience discrimination, that the reason blacks are more at risk for heart attacks than whites is still a mystery, and that people who oppose giving free needles to drug abusers are sending the wrong message, namely:
"You are social lepers and, as upright, moral, sincerely religious people, we prefer that you and others in your social orbit die."Researchers at Southern Methodist University looked at how citizens in the U.S. and Mexico see each other, and found, among other things, that 52 percent of Americans consider a large numbers of immigrants coming to the U.S. a threat to its security.
At the University of Texas at Austin, researchers found that people with high levels of testosterone are comfortable in "high status" positions, but are distracted and unable to concentrate in "low status" jobs. Which may explain why the teenaged guy at the window at Burger King always gets my order wrong.
At the University of Houston, meanwhile, researchers spent their spring playing around with genetically altered zebrafish that glow in the dark. Why? Because they're way cool, of course, but the official line is that the little fishies are shedding light on how our biological clocks work.
I was breathless with anticipation when I scanned the Texas A&M University web site, hoping that their intrepid research team had figured out a way to change the color of yet another vegetable to TAMU maroon. Alas, no such luck, but I did learn that Aggie researchers have discovered there's a potential cancer-causing chemical in some fried foods. The good news: the nasty chemical can be easily reduced by dropping cooking temperatures. The bad news: it will now take three days to cook a basket of fries, and they're still frozen on the inside when you eat them.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, so your school won conference sports championships and debate tournaments and Rhodes Scholarships and Pell Grants. Let's hear about the interesting victors out there in academia.
Lots of college students apparently are good at judging things related to animals. Check out Stephen F. Austin State University's champion poultry judgers, Angelo State University's boffo wool judgers, and that can't-be-beat team of meat judgers at Tarleton State, who won again and again and again.
At Baylor, a pair of disadvantaged twins were guaranteed free tuition and a lot more after they won Oprah's "Dreams Come True" contest.
What kind of competitions were Texas colleges hosting on their campuses this spring?
Texas State University invited the state's best hostage negotiators to compete, forcing them to listen to "close to a dozen men scream(ing) obsecenity-filled rants into the phones at the same time." There was also a lot of screaming going on at the University of Houston College of Business, where students from five universities pretended to be NYMEX traders shouting out orders in a simluated "open outcry" competition.
Students at Texas Lutheran University got to do things like run through "an obstacle course of inflatables" and eat "messy pies filled with gummy worms" at their Big Dog on Campus competition. The University of Texas chose a bit more cerebral route, inviting student creators of computer games to cross pixels in competition. The winning game had to be original and fun, but also "socially redeeming," which I guess means that "Grand Theft Auto: Uzis in Use" didn't make the cut.
But my favorite has to be Texas Woman's University's seventh annual Edible Car Contest, where middle and high school students compete to build cars solely out of things people can eat. "In previous years, cars have been made from cucumbers, hot dogs, ice cream cones and even a loaf of bread. Wheels have been made of pinwheel pasta, cookies and Moon Pies." And the winning car must actually roll down an 8-10 foot ramp to win. Don't tell me that American students are falling behind those from other countries in science -- baloney! I mean, nuts! I mean...you know.
What would a survey of universities be without a few examples of the ever-advancing tide of political correctness?
The University of Texas at Austin welcomed aboard Dr. Gregory Vincent, who fills a brand-new post: "vice provost for inclusion and cross-cultural effectiveness." Dr. Gregory comes well-prepared for this task, seeing as how he previously served as the University of Oregon's "vice provost for institutional equity and diversity." I've always said that my old alma mater, UT, was a narrow coterie of like-minded voices that needed to be aired out a bit to make everyone feel included. Please start with warm hugs for heterosexuals, conservatives, Christians and Republicans, Dr. V. They need to feel the love.
The good folks at the University of North Texas believe they just aren't being nice enough to each other, so their response was to "celebrate campus unity" with a new event called "Civility Day." Students got to line up to write their thoughts about civility on large canvas walls ("After you." "No, after you!"), and also enjoy the healing balms of hot dogs and jazz-fusion music.
Lots of neat stuff has been introduced on Texas campuses this spring.
I guess I shouldn't have been so hard on the University of Texas about not doing things to make conservatives feel more at home. After all, their excellent Ransom Center did spend $2.5 million dollars to acquire the papers of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer, including the original manuscripts of Mailer's more than 40 books. If you wish to look through the more than 900 boxes of stuff ol' Norm will be dropping off this summer, just give the Ransom Center a call.
Baylor University has added to the holdings in their Collections of Political Materials by incorporating the papers of the late Penn Jones Jr., one of the earliest Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists. One of Mr. Jones' fellow researchers said, "Penn was one of the first generation of researchers who felt the government was behind the assassination -- probably a conspiracy involving military intelligence...He always thought LBJ was behind it somehow."
Texas Christian University's Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Gallery held their first "Space Day" this spring. It included a presentation titled "Hollywood in Space," which I think accurately sums up the last decade or so in Tinseltown.
Academics and civic boosters finally figured out it was going to take more than a statue of the "World's Largest Jackrabbit" to bring tourists to the wind-blown wastes of Odessa, so a big ol' replica of Stonehenge made of donated stones was erected on the campus of University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Asked why the stones on the replica Stonehenge are up to three feet shorter than on the original, a coordinator said, "The stones are free, you take what you can get."
FUN AND FEARSOME CRITTERS
I was trembling in fear when I learned from the Texas A&M web site that rabid skunks are posing a threat to humans. And it's a bad situation -- not only might you die from being bitten by a rabid skunk, but everyone will need to wear a gas mask to attend your funeral. Never fear, though. An Angelo State University professor, Dr. Robert Dowler, is doing his part by presenting his famous "Skunks 101" lecture, which includes a PowerPoint presentation and tips on how to identify the three types of skunks found in the Concho Valley -- spotted, striped and hog-nosed. A hog-nosed skunk? Talk about adding insult to injury.
Back to Texas A&M -- they weren't satisfied just scaring me with skunks. They went on to tell me how leaf-cutting ants are "on a rampage" in Texas. These little boogers are "mercilessly stripping...plants of leaves," and "they create huge underground storage vaults for the leaves they gather...on many occasions, they have reportedly tunneled under house slabs and cause(d)them to crack." Whoa! I'm picturing a movie, maybe with Kevin Bacon in the lead, about huge underground leaf-cutting ants that terrorize a remote town in the Texas desert.
But not all animals are scary. The horsies at Tarleton State are nice, especially the ones featured at the university's annual horse sale. These graduates from Tarleton's (equine) breeding program not only look good, but they're quite social and well-rounded: "They have been ridden, both inside and outside, exposed to trail obstacles, and introduced to a cow."
Sorority girls at Texas Lutheran University decided instead of just pitching the dresses and accessories they wore to Greek formals, they'd donate them to students from local high schools needing prom dresses. Way to go, Project Cinderella.
Also at TLU, philosophy professor Dr. Mark Gilbertson has completed his 15th year of planting tulips on campus. Why do this? "Someone once said that beauty on campus is the silent teacher. I agree," he says.
A Baylor English professor, Dr. Greg Garrett, has a new book out called Holy Superheroes, which says in effect that "in the cosmology of comics, Batman represents a version of God sometimes found in the Old Testament -- a God of retribution and harsh judgement." By contrast, Superman "believes people are essentially good and just and just need a little help now and then."
Stephen F. Austin University sponsored a panel discussion about a controversial modern sculpture, made of steel and measuring 20 feet long, called "Night Wind." In the accompanying photo on the web site, it seems to be resting in a large dump truck, but then again, knowing modern art as I do, the dump truck might be part of the sculpture.
Here's a rarity -- an institution of higher learning that's actually short on clowns. The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston is looking to beef up participation in their "Caring Clowns" program, which provides everything from hospital bedside visits to entertaining children and their families waiting for doctor's appointments. Ability to transform surgical rubber gloves into balloon animals a plus.
And finally, I DID find a cheerleader photo to share, courtesy of Sam Houston State University. This girl is AWESOME!
Quote of the day:
"I find that the three major administrative problems on a campus are sex for the students, athletics for the alumni and parking for the faculty."
college president, in 1958