Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Randy L Diehl


Professor EmeritusPh.D., University of Minnesota

Professor, David Bruton Jr. Regents Chair in Liberal Arts, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts
Randy L Diehl

Contact

Interests


Psycholinguistics, cognition, and speech perception

Biography


Randy Diehl received his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. He is a Professor in the area of Cognition and Perception and is a member of the Center for Perceptual Systems. Diehl's research focuses on the perception and production of speech sounds and on auditory category learning. Various methods are used including: acoustic analysis of natural speech, perceptual identification and discrimination of synthetic speech stimuli and of analogous non-speech stimuli, computational modeling of the representation of speech sounds in the auditory nerve and estimation of auditory distances among sounds, simulations of preferred speech sound inventories using a criterion of maximal auditory distance. We are currently applying Bayesian statistical decision theory in the analysis of tasks that involve learning of novel auditory categories (including both non-speech categories and second language sound categories) as well as tasks that involve recognition of sounds from one's first language.

A list of publications can be found on the Diehl Lab web site.

Courses


PSY 394U • Speech Perception

45140 • Fall 2006
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM SEA 3.250

Seminars in Cognitive or Perceptual Systems. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

PSY 379H • Honors Research II-W

43120 • Spring 2006
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM SEA 2.108
C2

Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Upper-division standing, Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each, Psychology 458 and 359H, and consent of the honors adviser.

PSY 359H • Honors Research I

43095 • Fall 2005
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM SEA 2.108

Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Upper-division standing, Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each, six semester hours of upper-division coursework in psychology, a grade point average of at least 3.50 in psychology courses taken at the University, a University grade point average of at least 3.25, and consent of the honors adviser.

PSY 301 • Introduction To Psychology

41255 • Spring 2005
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM WEL 1.316
SB

Basic problems and principles of human experience and behavior. Three lecture hours a week for one semester, or the equivalent in independent study.

PSY 301 • Introduction To Psychology

42330 • Fall 2004
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM ART 1.102
SB

Basic problems and principles of human experience and behavior. Three lecture hours a week for one semester, or the equivalent in independent study.

PSY 394U • Speech Perception

42845 • Fall 2004
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM SEA 2.224

Seminars in Cognitive or Perceptual Systems. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

PSY 379H • Honors Research II-W

40130 • Spring 2004
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM SEA 2.108
C2

Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Upper-division standing, Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each, Psychology 458 and 359H, and consent of the honors adviser.

PSY 359H • Honors Research I

41230 • Fall 2003
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM SEA 2.108

Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Upper-division standing, Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each, six semester hours of upper-division coursework in psychology, a grade point average of at least 3.50 in psychology courses taken at the University, a University grade point average of at least 3.25, and consent of the honors adviser.

PSY 394U • Curr Tpc In Cognitn & Percpt

41390 • Fall 2003
Meets W 1:30PM-4:30PM SEA 3.250

Seminars in Cognitive or Perceptual Systems. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

PSY 379H • Honors Research II-W

40390 • Spring 2003
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM SEA 2.108
C2

Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Upper-division standing, Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each, Psychology 458 and 359H, and consent of the honors adviser.

PSY 359H • Honors Research I

41030 • Fall 2002
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM SEA 2.108

Three lecture hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Upper-division standing, Psychology 301 and 418 with a grade of at least C in each, six semester hours of upper-division coursework in psychology, a grade point average of at least 3.50 in psychology courses taken at the University, a University grade point average of at least 3.25, and consent of the honors adviser.

PSY 394U • Speech Perception

41188 • Fall 2002
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM SEA 5.106

Seminars in Cognitive or Perceptual Systems. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

PSY 301 • Introduction To Psychology

40910 • Fall 2001
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM ART 1.102
SB

Basic problems and principles of human experience and behavior. Three lecture hours a week for one semester, or the equivalent in independent study.

PSY 394U • History Of Psychology

41365 • Fall 2001
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM BEN 318

Seminars in Cognitive or Perceptual Systems. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

PSY 301 • Introduction To Psychology

40630 • Fall 2000
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM ART 1.102
SB

Basic problems and principles of human experience and behavior. Three lecture hours a week for one semester, or the equivalent in independent study.

PSY 394U • Speech Perception

41160 • Fall 2000
Meets MWF 11:00AM-12:00PM BEN 318

Seminars in Cognitive or Perceptual Systems. Three lecture hours a week for one semester. May be repeated for credit when the topics vary. Prerequisite: Graduate standing and consent of instructor.

Publications


Kingston J., Diehl R.L., Kirk C. & Castleman W. (2008, September) On the internal perceptual structure of distinctive features: The [voice] contrast. Journal of Phonetics, 36, 28-54.

Diehl R., Lott A. & Holt L. (2004, September) Speech Perception. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 149-179.
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Diehl, R. & Lindblom, B. (2004) Explaining the structure of feature and phoneme inventories. In S. Greenberg, W. Ainsworth, A. Popper & R. Fay (Eds.), Speech Processing in the Auditory System (pp.101-162). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Wong P. & Diehl, R.L.  (2003, September) Perceptual normalization for inter- and intra-talker variation in Cantonese. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 413-421.
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Geisler W.S. & Diehl R.L. (2003, September) A Bayesian approach to the evolution of perceptual and cognitive systems. Cognitive Science, 118, 1-24.
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Papanicolaou A., Castillo E., Breier J., Davis R., Simos & Diehl R.L. (2003, September) Differential brain activation patterns during perception of voice and tone onset time series: A MEG study. Neuroimage, 18, 448-459.
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Diehl R., Lindblom B. & Creeger C. (2003) Increasing realism of auditory representations yields further insights into vowel phonetics. Causal Publications Adelaide, Vol. 2, pp. 1381-1384.
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Maddox W.T., Molis M. & Diehl R. (2002, September) Generalizing a neuropsychological model of visual categorization to auditory categorization of vowels. Perception & Psychophysics, 64, 584-597.
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Geisler W.S. & Diehl, R.L. (2002, September) Bayesian natural selection and the evolution of perceptual systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London: Biological Science, 357, 419-448.
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Wong P. & Diehl, R.L. (2002, September) How can the lyrics of a song in a tone language be understood. Psychology of Music, 30, 202-209.
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Diehl, R., Molis, M. & Castleman, W. (2001) Adaptive design of sound systems: Some auditory considerations. In K. Johnson & E. Hume (Eds.), The Role of Perceptual Phenomena in Phonological Theory (pp.123-139). San Diego: Academic Press.

Maddox W.T.,  Molis M. & Diehl R.L. (2001) Generalizing a neuropsychological model of visual categorization to auditory categorization of vowels. Proceedings of the Workshop on Speech Recognition as pattern Classification, Nijmegen, 85-90.

Breier J., Gray L., Fletcher J., Diehl R., Klaas P., Foorman B. & Molis M. (2001, September) Perception of voice and tone onset time continua in children with dyslexia with and without attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 80, 245-270.
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Diehl, R. (2000, September) Searching for an auditory description of vowel categories. Phonetica, 57, 267-274.

Redford M. & Diehl R.L. (1999, September) The relative perceptual distinctiveness of initial and final consonants in CVC syllables. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 106, 1555-1565.
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Hay J. & Diehl R.L. (1999) Effect of duration, intensity, and F0 alternations on rhythmic grouping. Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, San Francisco, pp. 245-248.
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Diehl, R. (1998, September) Locus equations: A partial solution to the problem of consonant place perception. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 264.

Simos P., Diehl R.L., Breier J., Molis M., Zouridakis G. & Papanicolaou A. (1998, September) MEG correlates of categorical perception of a voice onset time continuum in humans. Cognitive Brain Research, 7, 215-219.
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Molis M., Diehl R.L. & Jacks A. (1998) Phonological boundaries and the spectral center of gravity. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress on Acoustics and the 135th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, 2019-2020.

Wong P. & Diehl R.L. (1998) Effect of spectral distance on vowel perception. Proceedings of the 16th International Congress on Acoustics and the 135th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, 2015-2016.

Diehl R.L., Lindblom B., Hoemeke K. & Fahey R. (1996, September) On explaining certain male-female differences in the phonetic realization of vowel categories. Journal of Phonetics, 24, 187-208.

Fahey R., Diehl R.L. & Traunmuller, H. (1996, September) Perception of back vowels: Effects of varying F1-F0 distance. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 99, 2350-2357.

Fahey R. & Diehl R.L. (1996, September) The missing fundamental in vowel height perception. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 725-733.

Castleman W. & Diehl R.L.  (1996, September) Effects of fundamental frequency on medial and final [voice] judgments. Journal of Phonetics, 24, 383-398.
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Diehl R.L. & Castleman W. (1996) Integrated perceptual properties: The affricate/fricative distinction. In A.P. Simpson & M. Pätzold (eds.), Sound Patterns of Connected Speech: Proceedings of the Symposium Held at Kiel University on 14-15 June 1996 (pp. 191-200). Institut für Phonetik und digitale Sprachverarbeitung, Universität Kiel, Arbeitsberichte #31.

Diehl, R. & Molis, M. (1995, September) Effects of fundamental frequency on medial [voice] judgments. Phonetica, 52, 188-195.

Kingston J. & Diehl R.L. (1995) Intermediate properties in the perception of distinctive feature values. In B. Connell & A. Arvaniti (Eds.), Phonology and phonetics: Papers in laboratory phonology IV (pp.7-27). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Balise R. & Diehl R.L.  (1994, September) Some distributional facts about fricatives and a perceptual explanation. Phonetica, 51, 99-110.

Kingston J. & Diehl R.L. (1994, September) Phonetic knowledge. Language, 70, 419-454.

Diehl R. & Hoemeke K. (1994, September) Perception of vowel height: The role of F1-F0 distance. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 96, 661-674.

Cohen L., Diehl R.L., Oakes L. & Loehlin J. (1992, September) Infant perception of /aba/ versus /apa/: Building a quantitative model of infant categorical discrimination. Developmental Psychology, 28, 261-272.

Hura S. & Lindblom B. & Diehl, R.L. (1992, September) On the role of perception in shaping phonological assimilation rules. Language and Speech, 35, 59-72.

Hura S. & Lindblom B. & Diehl R.L. (1992) Some evidence that perceptual factors shape assimilations. Chalmers Technical Report 10, Göteborg, Sweden: Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Information Theory.

Cohen L.B., Diehl R.L., Oakes L.M., & Loehlin J.C. (1992). Infant perception of /aba/ versus /apa/: Building a quantitative model of infant categorical discrimination. Developmental Psychology, 28, 261-272.

Diehl R., Kluender K., Walsh M. & Parker E. (1991) Auditory enhancement in speech perception and phonology. In R. Hoffman & D. Palermo (Eds.), Cognition and the symbolic processes, Vol 3: Applied and ecological perspectives (pp.59-76). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Diehl R.L., Walsh M. & Kluender K. (1991, September) On the interpretability of speech/nonspeech comparisons: A reply to Fowler. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 89, 2905-2909.

Walsh M. & Diehl R.L. (1991, September) Formant transition duration and amplitude rise time as cues to the stop/glide distinction. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 43A, 603-620.

Diehl, R. (1991) Listener-oriented constraints on articulatory organization. Proceedings of the XIIth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences Aix-en-Provence, France, August 19-24, 1991. Vol. 1, 92-96. (Invited semi-plenary paper).

Diehl, R. (1991, September) The role of phonetics in the study of language. Phonetica, 48, 120-134.

Diehl, R.L., & Kingston, J. (1991). Phonetic covariation as auditory enhancement: The case of the [+ voice]/[- voice] distinction. PERILUS: Papers from the Conference on Current Phonetic Research Paradigms: Implications for Speech Motor Control, Stockholm University, August 13-16, 1991.

Blicher D., Diehl R.L. & Cohen L. (1990, September) Effects of syllable duration on the perception of the Mandarin Tone 2/Tone 3 distinction: Evidence of auditory enhancement. Journal of Phonetics, 18, 1-13.

Diehl R., Kluender K. & Walsh M. (1990) Some auditory bases of speech perception and production. In W. Ainsworth (Ed.), Advances in speech, hearing and language processing (pp.243-268). London: JAI Press.

Diehl R.L. & Kluende, K. (1989, September) On the objects of speech perception. Ecological Psychology, 1, 121-144.
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Diehl, R. & Kluender, K. (1989, September) Reply to commentators. Ecological Psychology 1, 195-225.

Diehl, R. (1989, September) Remarks on Stevens' quantal theory of speech. Journal of Phonetics 17, 71-78.

Diehl R.L. & Walsh M. (1989, September) An auditory basis for the stimulus-length effect in the perception of stops and glides. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 85, 2154-2164.

Career Overview


I was a faculty member in U.T.’s Department of Psychology from July 1, 1975 until I retired on September 1, 2019, but I will focus on events that occurred during my term as department chair, from fall 1995 to fall 1999, and during my term as dean of Liberal Arts, from summer 2007 to fall 2019.

I came to U.T. fresh from my doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, where I worked under the supervision of James J. Jenkins. During my time at U.T., I received research support from NIH and NSF, and I supervised many terrific graduate students who went on to tenure-track positions at such institutions as UCSD, Wisconsin, and Northwestern. Most of my publications were on speech perception, but I also published on a complex private language developed by two young sisters, and along with Bill Geisler, I published several papers on a Bayesian approach to the evolution of perceptual and cognitive systems. Over the years, I taught courses in introductory psychology, cognition, speech perception, and the history of psychology.

 

Developing and Executing a Faculty Recruitment Plan

In the two years prior to my becoming chair, the department had experienced a net loss of 12 faculty members owing to retirements, deaths, and outside job offers. One of my main goals as the new chair was to carry out an aggressive plan of faculty recruiting, not only to restore our original numbers but, more importantly, to build excellence. In my initial meeting with the dean of Liberal Arts, Sheldon Ekland-Olson, I stressed the importance of this goal and sought his support for the necessary funding of salaries and start-up packages. Sheldon responded positively but said that he would condition his support on Psychology’s willingness to develop a bold and comprehensive four-year hiring plan. 

In my first meeting with the Psychology faculty, I communicated what Sheldon had said and presented my thoughts about how we might proceed. Looking back on it, I suspect some of my colleagues were already having second thoughts about their new chair. This is because the process that I laid out was byzantine in its complexity and very demanding of faculty time and effort. 

There were four steps. The first was to ask each of the seven departmental areas to write down its own faculty hiring priorities along with a clear rationale. The result—no surprise—was a set of area-centric proposals lacking a department-wide perspective. The second step was to create seven planning committees each including members from a variety of areas and each charged with coming up with its own version of a departmental hiring plan, drawing on the earlier work from step one. The aim here obviously was to create plans with a departmental, rather than a purely area, orientation. The third step was to form a steering committee made up of the chairs of the seven committees from the previous step. The charge of the steering committee was to develop a single draft of a hiring plan, drawing on the best ideas generated in steps one and two. The final step was to invite all of the tenured and tenure-track faculty to an all-day retreat to discuss, amend, and vote on the draft plan of the Steering Committee.

As complicated as this process was, it resulted in a visionary faculty hiring plan, one that received unanimous support from our faculty and the enthusiastic endorsement of the dean. In the four years of my chairmanship, we recruited 13 outstanding new faculty, and our national ranking moved upward. 

The success of this recruitment initiative owed a lot to the high level of collegiality among Psychology faculty members and to their willingness to work for the good of the entire department. Judy Langlois deserves enormous credit for chairing the steering committee that produced an excellent draft plan, and the encouragement and support of Dean Sheldon Ekland-Olson was deeply appreciated by everyone in the Psychology Department.

 

Planning a New Psychology Building

By 1995, the faculty, students, and staff of the Psychology Department were scattered across 15 buildings on and off campus, and the amount and quality of the space were woefully inadequate. This state of affairs was clearly having a negative impact on our ability to recruit new faculty members. For years, the department had been on the short list for a new building, but it seemed that we were always being leapfrogged by other departments and units that had managed to find external donors to support construction.

My predecessor as chair, Donald Foss, finally broke the logjam by securing a challenge gift of $5 million from Charles and Sarah Seay, which prompted the U.T. Board of Regents to approve a new Psychology Building. The planning for the new Seay Building began while I was chair, and its construction took place under Michael Domjan, who followed me as chair. The Building Committee was headed by Josh Holahan while I was chair and by Dennis McFadden while Dr. Domjan was chair. 

During the planning of the Seay Building, we had to overcome many challenges, but I will focus here on two of the most significant ones.

The building was to house both the Psychology Department and a unit from the College of Natural Sciences, then called Child Development and Human Relations (CDFR), part of the Department of Human Ecology. Shortly after becoming department chair, I was summoned, along with the chair of Human Ecology, Steve Clark, to a meeting with key members of the facilities planning hierarchy of U.T. Austin and U.T. System. At that meeting, Clark and I were told in no uncertain terms that he and I would be responsible for working with the architects to design the interior layout of the building and that the short planning schedule would not allow time for the departmental faculty and senior staff to be engaged in the process. I expressed shock and dismay, emphasizing that lab spaces in particular needed to be designed by their users and not by administrators many steps removed from the actual research needs of particular labs. I argued that the university would never plan a chemistry or biology building this way, and that the very idea of a purely top-down design process showed a profound misunderstanding of the nature of psychological research. However, the powers-that-be remained adamant. 

That very day I met with Josh Holahan to develop a course of action. We agreed that, contrary to instructions, we would ask faculty and senior staff to meet individually or in small groups with the architects so that the Seay Building could be designed to meet the actual needs of its users. Josh organized and implemented this process brilliantly, and the department will be forever in his debt. The U.T. facilities planning administrators were taken aback (and were a more than a little miffed) when I later presented them with the results of our efforts, but they accepted the work as a fait accompli. 

A second challenge arose as to how the space of the Seay Building would be allocated between the Psychology Department and CDFR. At the time, Psychology was projected to have about 45 faculty members, while CDFR had eight. In addition, we had about 40 times the number of majors as CDFR. In the initial plan, Psychology was to be assigned about 82 percent of the building space, which was considered even by the chair of CDFR to be a fair allocation, given the disparity in the scale of the two units. 

However, we began to hear rumors that Acting President Peter Flawn, whose wife Pris was a key member of the Visiting Committee for Human Ecology, was unhappy with the space allocation. Dean Ekland-Olson and I were summoned to a meeting with Provost Steve Monti and our counterparts in the College of Natural Sciences. At the meeting, the provost announced without discussion that President Flawn had decided that CDFR should receive about one third of Seay Building space while keeping the overall building size the same. On hearing this, I expressed outrage (later I likened it to a “simulated psychotic episode”) and said, in a torrent of expletives, that if this decision were not reversed, I would tell Charlie Seay that his vision for the Psychology Building had been betrayed. I should emphasize that Sheldon Ekland-Olson put his administrative career on the line by insisting that Flawn’s decision could not stand. Even our Natural Sciences counterparts refused to weigh in in support of Flawn’s decision. At a certain point, Provost Monti excused himself in order to talk to President Flawn. When he returned, he said that the original 82%-18% space allocation would remain in place. 

I firmly believe that the size and quality of space in the Seay Building turned out to be a crucial factor in Psychology’s ability to recruit terrific faculty and graduate students and to raise its national profile. The final version of the Seay Building was as successful as it was in large part because of the extraordinary dedication of Gary Zuker, the department’s head of technical services. He pored over the building plans, finding and fixing many errors and inconsistencies, and he visited the building site daily to make sure that we got the building we needed. 

 

Planning and Funding the Seay Annex

In retrospect, there was an important weakness in our design of the Seay Building. It did not adequately address the longer-term growth of the Psychology faculty and the needs of highly productive faculty members for larger lab spaces. Two units in particular were destined to grow substantially in faculty numbers and program requirements: the Center for Perceptual Systems, under the directorship of Bill Geisler, and the Institute for Mental Health Research, under the directorship of Chris Beevers. Largely owing to the outstanding international reputations of these two leaders, CPS and IMHR had recruited top faculty, all of whom had serious space needs, and these units had begun to outgrow the space originally assigned to them. 

After I became dean of Liberal Arts, I asked Assistant Dean Joe Tenbarge to begin working with the chair of Psychology and with Bill Geisler, Chris Beevers, and Larry Cormack to outline a plan for a Seay Annex that would house CPS and IMHR, among other units. At the same time, I began lobbying the higher administration for the necessary funds to underwrite such a facility. We hired an architectural consulting firm to help develop a master space plan for the College of Liberal Arts, with a major focus on the Seay Annex, and when completed we presented the master plan to the provost and president and to members of the relevant campus planning committees. 

Fortunately, we had a strong advocate for Seay Annex in the person of Dan Slesnick, Senior Vice Provost. Dan understood clearly that funding for the Annex would be an excellent investment, given the caliber of investigators like Bill Geisler and Chris Beevers.  When we pitched the project to Provost Maurie McGinnis, I was thrilled to learn that she shared Dan Slesnick’s enthusiasm. She noted that Psychology was the most highly ranked department in the college and was extremely deserving of this kind of support. It turned out that President Greg Fenves agreed. 

Securing the funding for the Seay Annex is one of the last things that my team accomplished during my time as dean and one of the things of which I am most proud. A previous bricks-and-mortar success during my deanship was the construction of Patton Hall which, owing to the efforts of Joe Tenbarge, came in 15% under the projected cost and with 14% more assignable space than originally planned.

 

A Note on the Quality of the Psychology Department from the Vantage Point of the Dean’s Office. 

When I was just a faculty member, I knew that Psychology was a great department, but I confess that I didn’t fully appreciate how great it was until after I became the dean of Liberal Arts. As dean, I met every fall with the College Promotion and Tenure Committee, consisting of representatives from each of the departments in the college. We would review each promotion dossier, and the members of the committee would then vote whether or not to recommend promotion. In virtually every year of the 12 that I served as dean, members of the committee would express a certain amazement about the quality and productivity of Psychology promotion candidates. I would hear comments like these: “Where do you find such people? How is it possible to be so productive? How do you manage to retain people of this caliber?" 

I am extremely proud to have been a member of the Psychology Department for 44 years.

 

Some Final Remarks 

I have been asked to comment on how my perspective changed as my stage of career progressed from faculty member to department chair to dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

 I’ll begin by admitting that I began my career with absolutely no interest in academic administration. In 1992 I served on the College Advisory Committee for the Appointment of a New Dean, and I distinctly remember being perplexed as to why the fine individuals we interviewed would ever want to be a dean. When the chairmanship of Psychology opened up in 1995, I did everything possible to keep my head down and avoid being selected. My colleagues nevertheless recommended me to the dean, and I reluctantly agreed to do it for one term. My colleagues had been very supportive of me through the years, and I felt that I owed them this.

But a strange thing happened: about a month after becoming chair I began to notice that I was actually enjoying the work. To be more specific, I enjoyed working with colleagues to build a stronger department. I had mistakenly assumed that serving as chair was just a series of inconsequential meetings and pencil-pushing. Instead, I was coming to realize that what my colleagues and I were trying to do was meaningful and important.

I did stick to my decision to serve only one term, but the experience undoubtedly broadened and deepened my understanding of the values and mission of a great research university. Eight years later, when the dean’s position opened up, that understanding, acquired during my time as chair, prompted me to apply for the job. And the experience of serving as a dean strongly reinforced my belief in the significance—indeed, the civilizational importance—of what we do as academics.


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    The University of Texas at Austin
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