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Warning Against UT Austin French


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I want to warn anyone thinking of applying to the French or Italian programs at UT Austin.

The French and Italian program at UT Austin is a mess. They have lost several professors over the past few years and have not replaced them. One of the professors is a serial sexual harasser, and the completion rate for the PhD is 24% as of this year. Of those who have graduated, only two have found tenure-track jobs. The program offers a generous stipend (for academia), but please don't be fooled. The professors there do not care about their students' progress or careers. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I did my double major with French at UT not long ago, and I can confirm that it can be a great experience, or it could be an absolute mess. During my time, I had the ability to interact/rant with a number of graduate students, especially as I go through the app cycle, and they've confirmed quite a bit of what you've said. I've essentially concluded that the issue with UT's French department is a very, very profound lack of rules and guidance compared to other graduate programs and a pretty (really) bad proportion of lecturers to professors.

I don't immediately know which professor you're talking about in regards to sexual harassment (especially if they teach grads, since I was an undergrad), but our department was pretty renowned across the languages for having sleazier professors, especially lecturers. Yeah, this is a common university corruption, but it was bad; It got to the point where there were professors recognized- not by their abilities- but for who they slept with (e.g. "Oh yeah!! Pr. Steve! He hooked up with Stacy and Becky yeah??") If you were a major, the group was small enough for these things to be common knowledge; I couldn't even imagine what it's like as a grad student. Now, I'm all for consent and free love (and I'm male so this wasn't really an issue for me), but It was honestly pretty gross, inappropriate and turned me off from the department when I thought about applying for grad school.

I was an RA/student mentor for freshmen when I was a sophomore, and the university even made me sign a contract saying I wouldn't fraternize with my "students", if that puts it into perspective... Apparently, that protocol just doesn't exist in the department. Sure you can sweep it under the rug, but it made events/talks/presentations uncomfortable knowing a professor slept with the girl sitting next to you and is hitting on the girl across from you, and the department isn't doing anything; I may just be prudent though. The big problem is that it spoke for the department's lack of HR, sensitivity training, etc. and that does suck. 

On the contrary, UT Austin has some absolutely amazing professors. I'm talking amazing, supportive, understanding, love their topic, incredibly open, etc. However, the program is so polarized between literature/linguistics and is so understaffed, that you're really gonna have to fight for a good advisor who can give you the time without being pressed between 20 other grad students/undergrads who are vying for their attention. As an undergrad, I probably only had 4 or 5 post-doc professors as a major candidate, everybody else was a grad student lecturer. Adjunct positions are a growing crisis in academia, but UT's French department had a way higher percentage of them compared to my second major (also in humanities). Assignments are super haphazard, and professors change/aren't placed until the first week. I knew someone on a lectureship contract who would get sections changed after the session began, sessions would get cancelled, etc. There were also scandals about professor placements every year and a lot of talk about why people left/got fired, cause it was rarely on good terms (If you're wondering, "How did he know all of that as an undergrad?" Well, small department in a big school... word gets around.)

As for PhD retention, I'm not too versed on that since my scope is more limited to the department as a whole.

I originally wanted to defend my alma mater because Austin is a phenomenal city and UT as a whole is a pretty good school. In general, I enjoyed my time in the French department because I genuinely believed I got lucky with good professors. However, thinking back, I have heard and experienced a lot that validates your concerns- it is rather upsetting. If you're thinking of UT and you really wanna go, just please do your research, make contacts early and set your own morals and guidelines, cause it can potentially end up being a good experience if you can get past the administrative mess.

Edited by tomstomfoolery
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  • 4 weeks later...

Whoa, UT on the board! UT was my undergraduate alma mater and I really wanna jump in on this convo. 

I really only heard one or two inappropriate faculty rumours as an undergrad, but they were there and it was a weird environment. I think a lot of it springs from the fact that a lot of my lecturers and teachers were really young. Of course, most of these people are graduate students and that blurs the lines and makes it complicated, but it also seems like grad students didn't get a lot of pedagogical training. If I'm not mistaken, there is no intense teaching seminar like some other graduate schools. Also, UT went under a massive legislative funding hit, most likely because of it's political sway (blue school, red state... not great.) For this reason, nobody - from professors to admin - is getting hired, and a lot of programs, namely liberal arts, are being super cut. Yay, Texas!  Finally, UT is a giant - I mean giant - school. The largest concentration of French classes is, of course, in the core beginning and intermediate classes. Grad students don't ever seem to stray out of these classes, which is typical, but can stink if you're wanting to more speciality TA. UT also started making the shift to online beginner and intermediate classes, which might either appease you or turn you off. 

But UT does have one really big strength, and it's linguistics. UT's program doesn't really boast a singular "strength" when you look at their site, but I had some phenomenal linguistics classes as an undergrad, and I'm not even a linguist. French linguistics faculty is much larger at UT. One professor I had is kicking ass with media linguistics and teaching materials all over the nation. You can do literature or culture, but there's really only one professor per era and they are indeed packed with meetings and other students. One of the literature professors advised me and he was absolutely phenomenal, but I always felt for the guy because he always seemed to have a line out his door. Africa/Francophonie professors and 1960s-on is almost completely non-existant, but a lot of people do Arabic/French linguistics. Essentially, If you're into linguistics, UT isn't a bad option, it seems way more flexible. Repeating what tom said, the professors who are good (most of them) are outstanding. But again, you may have to deal with the massive shortage UT is facing. 

ETA: HOLY GOD 24% retention @misterdog?! I had no idea it was that low! I did hear some candidates left, but wow... 

Edited by madamoiselle
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