For almost a half century, The University of Texas at Austin's intellectual talent has enriched Humanities Texas's board of directors. Former history department chair Alan Tully and LBJ School professor and former dean Edwin Dorn presently represent the Forty Acres on our board. Our board alumni include many of UT Austin's brightest stars through the years, among them: Bill Livingston, Betty Sue Flowers, Joe Frantz, Max Sherman, Roy Mersky, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, Robert King, Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth, Larry Carver, and Alan Taniguchi. Within this auspicious galaxy, Dean Randy Diehl occupies an especially prominent place. He has been an invaluable member of the Humanities Texas board of directors for the past six years. As a UT faculty member since 1975 and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts since 2007, his commanding knowledge of the Forty Acres has significantly advanced our efforts to share UT's academic resources with the citizens of Texas. In anticipation of Randy's forthcoming retirement, we've invited some of his colleagues to share their appreciations of him. We also welcome his successor, Ann Huff Stevens.
I have known Randy ever since 1975, when we both started as faculty in the psychology department. Our starting nine-month salaries were $13,000. Given these whopping salaries and the fact we wanted homes with yards for our kids, we both ended up settling northwest of Austin in Williamson County.
To save money (and to hang out), we started carpooling once or twice a week. This turned out to be a great thing for me. First of all, I learned a great deal about human speech perception (Randy's area of research in psychology). But, I didn't just learn about speech perception from carpooling; I learned about a vast array of other topics. As many of you know, Randy not only has great common sense and leadership ability, but he has a remarkable memory and a thirst for general knowledge. For example, as an undergraduate, Randy represented the University of Illinois in the GE College Bowl, a prime-time television program on NBC where teams competed in their knowledge of history, literature, science, and art. So riding to work with Randy was like riding with a talking encyclopedia.
One of the topics we frequently talked about was evolution by natural selection, the area of research originally made famous by Charles Darwin. After many years of carpooling, these discussions stimulated us to work on a formal theory of how a species' sensory and perceptual systems evolve to match the species' behaviors and environment—for example, how vision and hearing systems evolve. We published two substantial articles on this theory, one of which was published by the Royal Society of London, of which Darwin was a member.
In the few years before our work on the theory of evolution, Randy served as the chair of the psychology department. During this period, he oversaw the design and construction of the Charles and Sarah Seay Building, the current home of the psychology department. Randy's dedication, hard work, and leadership made the building the great success that it is.
A few years after our papers on evolution, Randy became the dean of liberal arts. This was not so good for our carpooling, but it was a great thing for the college and for the university. In my unbiased opinion, Randy is the best dean the college has had since I arrived at UT forty-four years ago.
Randy is my best friend. I am very thankful to have been his friend, his colleague, and one of the faculty members that he has led, first as department chair and then as college dean. Thanks Randy!
I am a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon and Randy Diehl's academic grand-daughter. I owe Randy a debt of gratitude for being a generous mentor and a scientific role model who launched me into a satisfying scientific career.
You all know Randy Diehl as a fearless academic leader championing The University of Texas at Austin. But, only a few of you in the room were here to see a young Randy Diehl arrive on campus as a new assistant professor in 1975. He had just earned his PhD at the University of Minnesota and launched a research career with the publication of a solo-authored paper that made a big splash.
You see, when Randy entered the field, a highly influential theory ruled the day. Its claim was that we hear speech in an entirely different manner than other sounds. Speech was considered a special signal, uniquely perceived by humans and tightly bound by how we talk. Across a long and productive program of research, Randy laid the groundwork to turn this theory on its head. This is so important because it has set the stage of a contemporary neuroscience approach to understanding how we understand speech. Today, most new graduate students take it as a given that speech builds from neurobiological substrates common to perception, attention, learning, and memory. This is in no small part due to Randy's influential work.
Randy traces his academic lineage back to the father of modern psychology. But, even more importantly, Randy's generous mentoring has populated the field with a thriving cohort of academic children, grandchildren, and now even great-grandchildren who continue to work in this tradition.
Once, in considering a job offer that involved rather considerable administrative responsibilities, I called Randy to ask what got him excited about academic administration. His answer has stuck with me for quite a few years. He said that, as an individual researcher he could have some influence through his research, but as dean he could work to foster the research of dozens of researchers and compound that impact by supporting the careers of others. I think you will agree with me that Randy has done both. He has made incredible contributions in our field, compounding them across the academic generations, and gone on to do the same for faculty, staff, and students across the entire College of Liberal Arts at UT Austin.
During his tenure as dean, Randy has been a stalwart promoter and defender of the humanities in environments that have frequently undervalued the importance of the liberal arts as the bedrock of enlightened citizenry. He has understood quite well that the social dimensions of humanity are ultimately what defines who we are. Evidence of this is abundant. Under his leadership, new programs have blossomed. African and African diaspora studies has developed into a departmental entity with a full range of courses and program options; the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies moved from being an idea into a vital focus of programmatic activity.
Equally important has been Randy's commitment to strengthening existing departments that stand at the heart of humanities education. One of these—history—has benefitted enormously from Randy's support. Over the years, he has encouraged the department to find the best faculty possible to reflect the diversity of contemporary historical concerns, to link other departments and programs with connecting interests, and to hire at all levels with an eye to the capacity for future accomplishment and leadership, as best expressed in the department's current chair, Professor Jackie Jones. In addition, he has encouraged initiatives such as the development activities of the department's visiting committee and the scholarship-centered Institute for Historical Studies that have fostered greater intellectual engagement within the department, across the university, and among members of the larger international academic community. He has been supportive, too, of what has become the most significant public face of the department: its award-winning Not Even Past internet presence.
What must not be lost in this macro-account is the micro-dimension of effective decanal leadership. Randy has reached out to support history faculty as well as other humanities scholars with the creation of the College's Humanities Research Awards and generously funded numerous conferences and symposiums, as well as specific undertakings that have sprung from the environment of enablement he has fostered. Simply put, there can be no higher compliment to Randy's deanship than that offered by a current history department member: "Randy really does know who we all are."
It has been fun working with Randy Diehl for the last twelve years. I suppose that isn't normally what a chair says about her dean, but it's true. Despite some recent challenges, Randy enjoys his job, and as a result of that, so do I. I'm glad we're stepping down at the same time, so I don't have to feel nostalgic about his unfailing moral support, his integrity, his flexibility, his generosity, and above all his dry sense of humor and his remarkable frankness. An interview with Randy, however difficult the ostensible topic, is never without its laughter, its surprising revelations, its personal touches. For example, Randy once told me that he lacks the normal supply of pain sensors, so he has to be careful around hot objects in case he burns himself without knowing it. A brilliant metaphor for an administrator who has had to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; many of those arrows simply fail to register on his pain index.
Randy served a term as chair of psychology and, even as dean, he remembers the challenges that face the leader of a large department, and he manages to be a sympathetic and bracing interlocutor at the same time. Though he's aware of nuance, and as a psychologist he understands that most people are complicated—honorable, smart, and well-meaning but also flawed and self-serving all at the same time—he also knows that some behavior is beyond the pale. Administration is people before it is budgets and bureaucracy, and, as a result of long experience, Randy is pretty shrewd. He's also a good listener as well as an entertaining talker.
It was wonderful to learn that an article Randy wrote before he became Dean of Liberal Arts was chosen as one of the top twenty articles published in the last thirty years by the journal Language. It is particularly appropriate that it involves the control of articulation in ordinary speech.
Randy's own research is on the scientific edge of the humanities, but this has not made him a less effective advocate for the liberal arts, or, indeed, for the English department. We owe our first designation as a priority department to the trust Randy placed in us, and we have had his support in good times, but also in bad. Particularly, come to think of it, in bad. It is easy to please administrators when everything is going well and your success reflects favorably on them; much rarer to keep their confidence when things are falling apart. I'm grateful that Randy has always had my back, even when I've made mistakes.
To end with an anecdote, since this is a personal reminiscence: recently, when he was making a routine decanal introduction at a conference on British women writers, Randy amazed the attendees by saying that he was a particular fan of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, not a novel that is top of everyone's reading list, even at such a conference. I was proud to say, to admiring non-UT visitors, "Yes, that's our dean. He reads novels."
Randy [is] a unique blend of accomplished scholar, administrator, and advocate for the college. In addition to his academic standing, he brought to the Office of the Dean a collaborative and visionary approach both to the college's teaching and research mission and also to its relationships with alumni and donors. Randy eagerly engaged with supporters of the college, sharing his priorities but also seeking out their experiences as students and alumni, finding ways to connect them to a place they loved in a way that would be meaningful for them as philanthropists and impactful to our scholars. He has a deep respect for faculty and staff, learning people's names, inquiring about their jobs and lives. The development team at the College of Liberal Arts was never more supported and partnered with, all to the benefit of the college and to our donors. He understood the unique importance of donors to the college; beyond the dollars they gave, it was their advice, advocacy, and the way they represented the college in their careers and their communities that seemed to inspire him most. Quite simply, he was a joy for all the development staff to work for because he valued our work and enjoyed participating in our donors' wishes to give back.