Dean Eddie Palmer works with UL's 35 graduate programs and the 1500+ graduate students they comprise, about 10% of the campus. ultoday.com spoke with him recently.

Tell us about yourself.

I've been here at UL since 1985. I came here as head of the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, and stayed there until '01, when I became Dean of the Graduate School.

I was at Texas Tech for a decade before I came here, and I taught at UTEP for one year. I love Texas, and I had a good experience out there. I also taught at Delta State in Cleveland, Mississippi. I got my doctorate from Virginia Tech in 1975.

What was your dissertation topic?

An occupational study of Virginia game wardens. It was fabulous. These are the people with guns and badges who capture the bad guys out in the woods: people who spotlight deer, capture bear, fish with dynamite, that kind of thing.

They're a marginalized group, because people think they stock the fish. But they're one of the few law enforcement groups dealing with a population where just about everyone they meet has high-powered rifles & shotguns, particularly during certain seasons.

So I spent a year of participant observation, riding with them. We also did state-wide surveys of game wardens, what they liked, didn't like, how they adapted, how they got info.

We found that they are happy in their work. They're outdoors types, they enjoy being out in the woods, they're self-sufficient. They have some role conflict in that they're usually not viewed as police officers. People would say, "You can't take me to jail," and the warden would respond, "Watch me."

And they're tough people. They experience the role strain & role stress other law enforcement officials do, but they are out in the hinterland, and there aren't as many of them. They work alone a lot, they're in isolation.

What have you worked on since?

My specialty is deviant behavior and criminology. I used to teach courses in both of them, including juvenile delinquency, that sort of thing. For example, I taught a course on human relations to all of the Lubbock Police Officers. It took me an entire summer, 8 hour days.

My dad was a deputy sheriff, and these people I taught, they understood what I was saying. They may not have agreed with my political philosophy, but in my experience law enforcement officers are eager to learn about human behavior, how to understand it, how to predict it. The social sciences can be an important tool for law enforcement. They can inform us, we can inform them.

At one time I worked for the US Marshal's service as a contract employee. I was a Special, "As Needed" Deputy US Marshall. I didn't have a gun. It was one of those things where you need someone to go with you to deliver a prisoner, you don't want to go alone, and whenever possible you don't want to use a full-time official.

As a result of that, I got to hang out with the Border Patrol, the FBI, probation & parole officers. So I got quite a bit of experience watching those people do their jobs. And again, these are people who are intelligent about their work. They study people and try to understand them in order to have a better way of "finessing" law enforcement. The hot triggers tend to the be young guys. Very few of the seasoned officers downplay what sociology & psychology can do for them.

Tell us about the Graduate School.

The Graduate School contains the admissions offices for all of the graduate programs that exist on campus. We have 26 master's programs and 9 doctoral programs. While those programs are all housed in their respective colleges, we have 1,514 grad students. When it comes to dropping courses or appealing grades, it comes through the Graduate School on its path, and I work with these students as their Dean.

Our main job is supportive. We support the academic departments and colleges in their graduate education missions. We handle admissions, that is one of our biggest things: getting in all the applications, evaluating the transcripts, recalculating the transcripts and grades, and sending the information to the departments. Then the final decision to admit comes through me, even though 99.99% of the time I concur with the recommendations of the involved department.

We are also involved in passing through money that goes to graduate assistantships, fellowships, and that sort of thing.

We have these figures on the PhD cumulative graduation rate, and how long it takes people to complete their degrees around the US.  Our PhD completion rate is better than the national average, up through the seventh year of enrollment. We don't have comparative data for master's programs, but about 70% of our master's students finish their degrees, and most of them take between two and four 4 years. We want to do better, of course, but we are pleased that we are generally ahead of the national average.

We also fund our grad students. Out of our 1514 students, 324 are in doctoral programs, and we fund 234 of them, or 72%. So we're funding a lot of them.

Out of our 1190 master's students, we fund 450 of them, or about 38%. So overall, we're funding 45% of our graduate students. We'd like to fund more, and we have been increasing our stipends and the number of assistantships that we offer.

Dr. Authément started that before he left, giving us more assistantships and larger stipends, and Dr. Savoie has agreed that we will continue on that mission, and try to get more graduate student dollars. Dr. Savoie has said that this is one of the things we need to grow in, we need to produce more graduate programs and recruit more students. Dr. Stewart [VP for Research & Graduate Studies] announced that we got $50M last year in external funding, and a lot of that helps support our grad students.

So that's one of the imperatives in regard to the strategic plan, to advance graduate studies, to increase our enrollment.

I have a new staff person, and half of her duties will be to recruit grad students.

Anything exciting for the future?

In the Dean's Council I see more effort being expended for interdisciplinary programs. They're easy to discuss, but hard to implement and deliver. So I see people willing to cross boundaries.

[Moody College of Business Dean] Joby John has been talking about innovation and creativity, our need to think outside of the box. Those kinds of things start conversations, and in 10 years you have programs.

Interdisciplinary is hard to do, but that is where academia is going. In the future, we will have more programs outside the silos.