College of Liberal Arts

The Texas Ten 2018

Wed, May 2, 2018
Photos by Matt Wright-Steel.
Photos by Matt Wright-Steel.

Since 2011, the Alcalde has honored UT professors with the Texas 10 awards.

Every year, alumni nominate their favorite professor from their time on the Forty Acres. This year, nearly 300 alumni and students nominated more than 100 UT educators, past and present, who inspired them. Among the finalists, faculty from the College of Liberal Arts landed three of the top ten spots.

Below, are their stories, originally published by The Alcalde.

Lisa B. Thompson

Associate Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies

Write Anywhere: “I got over the whole: ‘It has to be quiet, the pencils are all lined up.’ No. If you’ve got 15 minutes, you can write.”

As a first-generation college student, Lisa B. Thompson was initially wary of pursuing a career as a creative writer. Then in graduate school at Stanford, her playwriting professor asked her to join a playwriting group in San Francisco. She was finishing up her doctoral exams when members of the group asked her to be part of a reading series. “I was like no, no, I can’t be doing this silly stuff,” Thompson says. Finally, they convinced her. After the reading of her play, a producer in the audience approached her and said, “I want it for next season.”

Since then, that play, Single Black Female, has run off-Broadway and around the world. “I tell my students all the time,” Thompson says, “‘don’t do things for money. Do things for your heart and money will follow. You can’t really hide from what your destiny is.’”

In her class titled “Revolution Will Be Dramatized,” her students studied plays and films that pushed for black rights during civil rights and the Black Power movement. Students created documentaries, graphic novels, paintings, and performances around Black Lives Matter, or any social movement important to them. “It was amazing to see what they came up with,” she says.

Her writing and teaching keep her busy, but Thompson is naturally energetic, especially when she’s doing what she loves. “I get paid to do this: talk about books and films and plays and poetry with people who are smart and excited,” she says. “I just have a lot of fun teaching.” --Written by Marisa Charpentier

Thomas Garza

University Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor, Slavic and Eurasian Studies; Director, Texas Language Center and Arabic Flagship Program

The world’s a stage: “Growing up, I wanted to be a stage actor. I sort of get to do that as a professor: three shows, two times a week!”

Studying Russian, Eastern Europe, and vampires was something Thomas Garza fell into by chance. But in a way, it felt like destiny.

His first office at UT was in the dingy, cramped underground of Parlin, where he worked alongside the resident bat colony. It was there he met his wife and associate professor of English, Elizabeth Richmond-Garza, and the couple became the two “quirkiest” characters in the basement.

Today, his office has a view, but a bat colony still lives a couple of floors above. Every inch of the space is covered in bookshelves, one for each class: “Vampire in Slovak Cultures,” “Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita,” and “Russian Sci-Fi in Lit and Film.” Sitting on the shelves are Vladmir Putin bobbleheads, dated postcards, and Edward Cullen candles. It’s hard not to notice Garza’s lecture-day outfit: a synthetic flax blazer and a shimmering gold bowtie.

Since starting at UT, he has been awarded over a dozen administrative and leadership roles, but teaching is what he lives for. Each year, he says, his students are more diverse and open-minded, and continue to inspire him.

“I feel so lucky to see firsthand what people thought was going to be a disastrously apathetic generation prove us wrong,” he says. “The millenials have turned out to be [one of the most] incredibly politically aware, socially-conscious, caring population I’ve ever seen at my time here at UT.” -- Written by Elizabeth Hlavinka.

Bartholomew Sparrow

Professor, Government

Classroom Pet Peeve: “Students who don’t use undergrad to take classes and do activities that might interest them, but might not be useful for their careers. The undergraduate years are a time of growing, to meet different people, try new things.”

Step into the office of government professor Bartholomew Sparrow, MA ’84, and you’ll find colorful pieces of abstract art painted by his wife, gifts from students strewn about his desk, and an entire wall adorned with hundreds of books — all of which he has read.

From Joan Didion’s Political Fictions to Max Weber’s Economy and Society to a volume of the Pentagon Papers, he’s been adding to this little library on the third floor of Batts Hall since starting at UT, nearly 30 years ago. It’s a collection as expansive as the subjects that drive him. With a focus on American political development, Sparrow has taught classes on the rethinking of America’s founding; bureaucracy; the media; the politics of food in America; and great American fiction.

“What I love about political science is it’s such a large field,” says the Annapolis, Maryland, native. “‘We’re political animals,’ as Aristotle says. We’re in society and there has to be a settling on how people are going to engage — the complexity is wonderful.”

A rebellious streak in his youth made Sparrow think he’d never be a professor like his father. He toyed with the idea of becoming an architect or cultural engineer and worked a brief stint in journalism before finding his voice in academia. When he’s not walking his dog Zonza or riding his bike around Austin, Sparrow is looking for a new way to engage his students, or working on his next book.

“I’m just happy reading and writing — if I’m on vacation for a week, I find myself wanting to go back to political science and studying,” he says. “That’s terrific. That’s what you really want: to enjoy your work.” -- Written by  Danielle Lopez


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