Informal Classes Set to Open New Chapter
Popular UT program gets second chance in life
While the Texas Union's decision to close the Cactus Cafe was met with public outcry, the parallel decision to terminate the informal classes in the fall went relatively unmourned. Now a new plan to shift the program elsewhere in the university appears set to revive the long-running educational program.
Dean of Continuing and Innovative Education Judy Ashcroft said, "Some time this summer, hopefully sooner than later, there will be information on the Union website, and it will say, 'Informal Classes will be moving to Continuing and Innovative Education.'" Rather than running the courses directly, Ashcroft's office will function as a clearinghouse for noncredit courses open to students, staff, and community members at large. The initial plan is for a very stripped-down first wave of classes "to keep the spirit alive while we get the business model and the back-office to support all of this," said Ashcroft. The Texas Union, which canceled the program to cover the cost of a 2% merit pay pool, has historically subsidized the low-price courses. Since Continuing Education is completely self-sustaining, Ashcroft said the department will make sure the program covers its operating costs.
The informal classes program was founded in 1971 and has served tens of thousands of students – both university members and other Austinites – every year. Due to its continuing popularity, there have been multiple attempts to find an alternative administrative home for it since the termination decision was made public on Jan. 29. On Feb. 3 University Unions Executive Director Andy Smith wrote that "we are evaluating an offer from a private vendor off campus." The Texas Union was also approached by a coalition of course tutors and held direct discussions with Austin Community College about transferring all or some of the courses to new management.
The first course in the new Continuing Education era, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Go Native U, will start taking registration this month. Ashcroft said she is in discussions with UT schools, including the Kinesiology and Health Education Department, the Butler School of Music, and the School of Fine Arts and off-campus entities, including ACC, to run some courses under this new umbrella program. (In the meantime, ACC will expand course provision in areas previously covered by UT's informal classes, including dance.) The Butler School already offers some music classes through Continuing Education and was working on its own community outreach program "before this crisis came about," said Director Glenn Chandler. For now, the school will run its own open enrollment program, which Chandler said he plans to start advertising before the end of the month. With the same cash and space constraints as Continuing Ed, the initial course offering will be small, but, Chandler said, "We're looking to develop a program that is more comprehensive over the next few years."