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Pulitzer-winning historian to leave UT

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz, Austin American-Statesman Staff

David Oshinsky, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at the University of Texas, is quitting to take a job at New York University.

Family connections and professional opportunities prompted the decision, but controversy involving the UT System Board of Regents makes leaving easier, he said.

“I do leave with sort of a bittersweet taste,” said Oshinsky, 68, who will start his new job in the fall. “I see the university under fire now. It does disturb me.”

Regents and UT President Bill Powers have quarreled on numerous matters in the past two years, including faculty productivity, progress in improving graduation rates and the organization of the school’s fundraising office. State lawmakers are pressing the regents to back off, especially on their decision to commission an outside review of the use of donated money at the School of Law, of which Powers used to be dean. Lawmakers contend that the matter has already been investigated.

Oshinsky said he was also troubled by what he called assaults on the history department. A report by the National Association of Scholars claimed UT and Texas A&M University history courses put too much emphasis on race, class and gender and not enough on political, diplomatic and military matters. Legislative proposals would stipulate that only courses providing “a comprehensive survey” of American history or Texas history would count toward the state-mandated six history credits.

Oshinsky won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 2006 for “Polio: An American Story,” an account of the medical, social and political dimensions of the battle against the dreaded disease. He is only the second person to win a Pulitzer while on the UT faculty. William Goetzmann, who died in 2010, won in 1967, also for history. Glenn Frankel, director of the School of Journalism, won the Pulitzer for international reporting as a correspondent for The Washington Post.

Oshinsky has been working half time at UT and half time at NYU since September 2007. He said his main focus in New York would be running the medical humanities division at NYU’s School of Medicine.

“The goal is to give medical students a broader education by including links to the liberal arts, medical humanities and current issues in global public health,” he said. “It’s obviously an exciting endeavor.”

Joan Neuberger, a professor of history at UT, said she’s sorry he’s leaving. “He is a very good scholar who can make his work accessible to the public, and he is a fantastic teacher and a great colleague,” she said.

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