2014 Herbert Kurz Chair Roundtable: The Politics of Immigration and Citizenship--Past as Prologue

As the Herbert Kurz Chair in Constituional Rights, each year I have the pleasure of putting together public programing around the theme of constitutional rights.  In 2012, we took on NYPD's controversial Stop and Frisk policy.  Last year, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, we tackled school desegregation.  This year, we investigate the politics of immigration, a subject that has been described as the "new third rail of American politics."

Individuals and groups as diverse as the NAACP, Mark Zuckerberg, Al Sharpton, MALDEF, SEIU, the Chamber of Commerce, and many others including leading CEOS in the Silicon Valley have loudly called for comprehensive immigration reform.  Zuckerberg has said that immigration is the civil rights issue of our time.  All feel that the system is profoundly broken and is harming individuals and families, and also puts U.S. businesses in an uncompetitive position.  In the summer of 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive and bipartisan immigration bill.  The initial elation quickly evaporated when the House failed to follow suit and openly stymied the process.  The immigration reform effort was declared officially dead in the summer of 2014.  Was immigration reform always mission impossible?

To address that question and related ones, I am convening a round-table of prominent immigration scholars who study immigration in historical context.  Common to all the participants is that they believe why something happens in American politics is often explained by when it happens.  These scholars are adept at drawing insight from our immigrant past to explain our present. 

WHAT:      Round-table on the politics of immigration and citizenship

WHEN:     Thursday, October 16, 4:30-6pm, with informal reception to follow

WHERE:  CUNY Graduate Center,  365 Fifth Avenue (@ 34th St.), Sociology Lounge (Room 6112)

WHO:  The participants are prominent immigration history, law, and public policy scholars.

Cybelle Fox, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UC Berkely, author of  Three Worlds of Relief that won 6 book awards.

Rebecca Hamlin, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Grinnel College, author of the recent Let Me Be a Refugee.

Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, U. of Pennsylvania, and author of Civic Ideals, a finalist for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History.

Dan Tichenor, Philip H. Knight Professor of Social Science, U. of Oregon, and author of Dividing Lines, winner of the Gladys Kammerer Award.

As moderator, I have asked the participants to take 3-5 minutes to address what aspect of our immigrant past best illuminates our current situation, and then we will immediately open the floor to audience questions.

2014 Kurz Chair panel: Are we More Equal? 60 years after Brown v Board

In my position as the Herbert Kurz Chair of Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties at CUNY Brooklyn College, I have the ability to create public programing about constitutional law and civil rights issues that are of concern to our Brooklyn College community and to citizens more broadly.  The first inaugural Kurz Chair panel last year was a vigorous discussion of NYPD's controversial Stop and Frisk policy.  I am equally excited about this year's event and invite all to attend.

WHAT:  2014 Kurz Chair panel

WHEN:  April 7 from 12:50 to 2:15 pm

WHERE:  CUNY Brooklyn College's student center at Campus Road and E. 27th Street, State Lounge, 5th Floor (Bdlg. 1 on linked campus map)

WHO:  All are invited.  This year's group of scholars are education integration experts and they will assess the legacy, progress, and challenges that remain after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v Board decision.

The distinguished panelists include:

David Bloomfieldis a Professor of Education at Brooklyn College with a joint appointment at the Grad Center’s Urban Education Program. He is the founding chair at Brooklyn College Dept. of Childhood, Bilingual, and Special Education.  His areas of expertise include education law, legislation and policy; school and district management; parent and community outreach and NYC school governance.  He is a former elementary and secondary school teacher; general counsel, NYC Board of Education; general counsel and senior education adviser to the Manhattan borough president; Exec. Dir. for public education programs.  He is the author of American Public Education Law(Peter Lang, 2011) and many other articles and book chapters about education policy.

Chris Bonastiais a Sociologist at CUNY Lehman and the Grad Center who specializes race and politics in historical perspective. His second book, Southern Stalematewith University of Chicago Press examines Prince Edward County, Virginia, the only school district to close its schools for an extended period–1959 to 1964–rather than desegregate them. Bonastia describes the struggle over education during the civil rights era and the human suffering that came with it, as well as the inspiring determination of black residents to see justice served. Artfully exploring the lessons of the Prince Edward saga, Southern Stalemate unearths new insights about the evolution of modern conservatism and the politics of race in America.

Karolyn Tyson is a Sociologist from UNC Chapel Hill. Her expertise is in the sociology of education, equality of educational opportunity, and qualitative research methods. She is particularly interested in understanding the complex interactions between schooling processes and the achievement outcomes of black students. Tyson has published Integration Interrupted: Tracking, Black Students, and Acting White after Brown (Oxford, 2011). The book examines how and why black students have come to equate school success with whiteness. Based on more than ten years of research, Integration Interrupted shows how the practice of curriculum tracking in the aftermath of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision contributed to students casting academic achievement as a “white thing.”

I wish to thank all the cosponsoring units and departments listed below for their support of the event.

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Conservative Student Group's unintentional lessons in "Catch and Illegal Immigrant" game at UT Austin

Gawker reports that the University of Texas at Austin's Young Conservatives group is doing a "catch an illegal immigrant" event tomorrow.  (UT Austin is my alma mater where I got my PH.D.) The group's Facebook events page (since removed) described the game as follows:

YCT will be having a "Catch an Illegal Immigrant" event this upcoming Wednesday. The details of the game goes as follows:

There will be several people walking around the UT campus with the label "illegal immigrant" on their clothing. Any UT student who catches one of these "illegal immigrants" and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card.

The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.

The University has responded  forcefully, warning that anyone that participates in the event will be acting in violation of the University's honor code. This just in, after intense backlash over the event including from conservatives, the event has been cancelled.

The irony in this episode is so thick you can cut it with a knife.  Upon cancelling the event, the organizer, Lorenzo Garcia, expressed shock and admitted the game was “misguided” and “intentionally over the top.”  ABC News also reports that, "members of the chapter feared retaliation...'I spoke with our chapter’s members, and they are both concerned that the university will retaliate against them and that the protest against the event could create a safety issue for our volunteers.'"Garcia said.

We, the decent public, have Lorenzo Garcia to thank for the following:

1)  Keeping the immigration issue in the news when it is just about dead in terms of legislative viability in this term.  Thanks for making sure it went into one more news cycle.

2)  Highlighting the absolutely arbitrary nature of one's immigration status.  Randomly pinning students around campus with a sign that reads "illegal" is surprisingly similar to the randomness of the birth lottery for those who are lucky enough to be born on U.S. soil.

3)  Highlighted the fear and psychological unease of the undocumented population who have to constantly look over their shoulder for fear of retaliation from the authorities.

Somehow, I don't think those were the lessons Garcia was aiming for.

Best practices: What organized sections can do to enhance academic networking

The problem with "networking" is that it places most of the burden on the "networker".  For reasons cited in many of the posts, it can be difficult for networkers to get into this process.  What can institutions do to facilitate the process? The political science blogs have lit up lately about the value of academic networking.  David Lake has offered his view from the senior professor perspective.  I've offered mine from the mid-career Associate Professor's perspective.  Sara McLaughlin Mitchell has put up a post about the special challenges women face in networking.  Will Moore noted that there is no one universal way to do academic networking and that a lot rests on considerations of the person's race, sex, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics.  As others have already pointed out, I agree that no amount of networking will make up for bad research.  But all of these posts do also hit the value and indeed the necessity of netoworking and note that career success and personal well being is not just about doing good research.

I've been a member of several sections in APSA and MPSA and I've noticed some best practices carried out by organized sections and individual policy entrepreneurs that work.

1.  Reach out to junior people.  The Law and Courts section of APSA has been very proactive about this. A kind word from one of the more senior people inviting a grad student or Assistant Professor to a reception or other event makes a difference.

When Wendy Martinek was section chair at MPSA several years ago, she created a book panel for my first book that was coordinated by Mark Graber who invited the other panelists.  It was an unexpected and generous gesture especially since I am not well known or at a fancy school.  When I served as MPSA section chair several years later, I did the same and went out of my way to look for a younger scholar whose book had just come out who could use the exposure.  Not that you should never have a book panel for senior scholars, but senior people don't need those author-meets-critics book panels as much as pre-tenure people. 

2.  Reach out to graduate students.  The newly formed Migration and Citizenship section has a graduate student member on the governing council.  This is a great idea and the only section I've seen do this.  The graduate student member, elected with the leadership slate of candidates, is working on programing that is of special interest to grad students, some of which is networking opportunities. 

Virtually every section at APSA and every other political science association has a graduate student paper prize or dissertation prize.  Why not put a graduate student member on those prize committees?

3.  Include new members immediately   When sections gain new members, they should integrate them immediately and put them to work on a committee.  When I joined Law and Society years ago, Howard Schweiber not only introduced me to a bunch of fellow LAS members in Chicago and at my new university but immediately stuck me on a paper prize committee.  The many committees of each organized section always need staffing.  Rather than going to the same people over and over, the sections should try to rotate the membership on these committees especially by making an effort to include new members.

Similarly, although I am new to the federalism research, the Federalism Section of APSA immediately put me on a prize committee.  When the sections do that, it makes the new person feel immediately involved, invested, and connected.  Put the new people to work quickly!

4.  The "Constitutional Schmooze" model of conference.  One of the most fun and intellectually invigorating conferences I attended was a mini-conference organized by Mark Graber.  The conference is unique in it's organization.  It invites ten law professors and ten political scientists to a location for 2 days of intensive discussions.  The invitees are a mix of senior and junior people.  The conference that originated with Mark Tushnet has now been taken over by Graber and others and runs regionally with the east coast, midwest, and west coast schmooze.  Here's an example of a recent east coast schmooze.

Graber explained that the reason he invited both law professors and political scientists is not only because the two groups don't usually talk to each other or attend the same conferences, but that the law professors wouldn't know who the senior political scientists were to be scared of them and vice versa with the junior political science people not being intimidated by the senior law professors to hold back from critiquing their work.  This model worked because the group was small, there was a good mix of junior and senior people, and there was great forethought about who to invite based on the chosen topic (that year it was constitutional interpretation).

Others like Karthick Ramakrishnan have a version of this model in a program called The Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium (PRIEC).

Like the Constitutional Schmooze series, PRIEC is a series of small meetings bringing together graduate students and more established scholars and the meetings rotate among different academic institutions that host. Unlike the Schmooze, PRIEC actually has the attendees present their ongoing research to get feedback.  There are many other groups that run mini-conferences like the Constitutional Schmooze and the PRIEC that center around different research questions and topics. 

These smaller conferences are much less intimidating to younger scholars and grad students than APSA and MPSA and they provide realistic opportunities to interact with senior scholars.  The problem is that they only come into being through the huge amount of work of a few organizers.  Perhaps academic departments could volunteer to host one of these conferences or create a similar one.  It would be an investment of resources for sure, but it would get the ball rolling and that institution could hand it off to another department the following year.

Networking is not easy.  APSA, other political science organizations, and organized sections can do their share as can other smaller groups of researchers.  This is hopefully just the beginning of a list of best practices to make the networking process smoother.

One view on how to do the contrived activity known as academic networking

Social networks is the buzz term of the day.  In academia, the networking kicks into high gear during academic conferences, but how do you do academic socializing and networking?  As Brian Rathbun blogging at Duck of Minerva (h/t Frank Thames) writes:

APSA  [the American Political Science Association annual convention] is around the corner and young academics should think about setting up meetings with people who it would be good to know.  Personal contacts are much more important than they really should be in a business where it is supposed to be the ideas that matter.  

Great.  So how do you do it?  Do you stalk big name professors in your field and try to follow them around the conference?  Do you try to set up meetings with Professor-Big-Name via email before the conference to meet them face to face?  Rathbun reported limited degrees of success using that strategy. 

His advice is instead of trying to track down the most well known professors in your field, try to get to know younger scholars.  Rathbun says, "[T]he younger, the better. It is almost always the case that the young people are the most creative and the most fun to be around. You will learn more. Young people haven’t settled into their intellectual habits and do not take themselves so seriously. "

I agree with Rathbun's advice, but would put it a bit differently.  Remember that networks should be built not only upward and vertically, but also horizontally and downward, with people coming up the ranks behind you, including graduate students.  You cannot ask Professor-Biggest-Name-in-Your-Field to read drafts of your papers (well you could, but they'd likely ignore you), but you can ask your fellow Assistant and Associate Professors as well as the close friends you made in graduate school. 

Some advice from my own experience.

1) Build contacts with people who are your peers and those coming up the ranks behind you.  There are smart people at all levels of the profession and who graduate from all kinds of schools, not just marquee institutions.  Seek out those, regardless of their rank or pedigree, who you think are smart and with whom you are simpatico with regard not just to subject matter and methodology, but also temperament and sense of humor (or lack thereof).  Don't be a snob.  It's a tough business. You need fellow travelers to laugh and commiserate with you through the trials and tribulations--not just to help you climb the career ladder.

The networks should not only be used for yourself.  More than once I have tapped my networks not to benefit myself, but to help one of my students get into a graduate program or an Assistant Professor with tenure by helping them select the list of external reviewers.  It's not that I was going to lobby my contacts for my Assistant Professor friend, it's that I knew these people to be conscientious, and tough but fair readers because they had taken my work seriously when I was (and still am) unknown.  Like Nancy Pelosi reputedly does, keep a mental rolodex in your head of the people you have done favors for so you can tap them on someone else's behalf later.  Strong networks are built through mutual respect and mutual obligations.  Interdependence is not a bad thing!

2) People who you assume will help you, may not.  Others who you least expect to help, might.  This was a tough and surprising lesson I had to learn.  Having come from the very generous University of Texas at Austin where as a Ph.D. student I had access to their highly ranked law school resources and faculty, I naively assumed that's how it would be everywhere. 

When I was an Assistant Professor at a different university with a law school, I asked if I could have access to the law school version of Lexis/Nexis.  I was denied.  I asked if I could get a courtesy joint appointment in name only (I had no wish to go to their holiday party or go in their fancy faculty lounge) so I could get access to that resource.  "No, that's not possible at all," was the answer.  I completed my research including my first book and a law review article by having to do wide workarounds the law school resources I was barred access to on my own campus.  University of Texas Law's view seemed to be that if anyone uses their resources and publishes something, then it is a tide that lifts all boats; these other guys didn't see it that way.

On the flip side, I emailed two very prominent law professors, rockstars in the legal academy, for help with one of my book manuscript chapters.  Yes, it took multiple follow up emails and months, but both eventually graciously read my chapters, gave me feedback, and provided invaluable confirmation from a senior scholar that my research was on the right track.  On the same book project, another senior political scientist also read multiple chapters for me.  I had never even met two of them in person until months after they helped me.  I was a young and completely unknown Assistant Professor at a non-fancy university and these much more established people helped me.  I was so grateful and humbled.

3)  Be gracious.  Totally true story.  One of the senior law professors who helped me with my chapter got quite a surprise several years later.  He was interviewing with a member of the Obama Administration transition team for a high level position in the immigration bureaucracy.  The interviewer said, "Oh, Professor, I am such a big fan of your work and I understand we have a mutual friend in common."  The Professor was expecting the name of a U.S. Senator or federal judge to drop from her lips.  Instead the interviewer said, "You know, Anna Law?"  Professor Big Deal, in a moment of candor, asked, "Anna WHO?"  And the interviewer said, "Anna Law has told me how helpful and generous you were with her book project."  The man nearly fell off his chair.  The DC staffer is married to one of my colleagues.

When people make a reasonable request of you, be gracious.  If you cannot help them because you are swamped, tell them so and perhaps advise them of a better time (3 months from now?) when you might be able to help, or help them in a more limited way ("I can't read your whole chapter, but maybe we can talk in the phone and you walk me through your argument and I'll give you some feedback" or "Is there a particular section of the paper you'd like me to read and comment on since I can't read the whole thing?").  Don't just blow off the request or dismiss them because you think they are small potatoes.  A few kind words costs you nothing.

4)  Keep trying.  As many senior scholars and otherwise good people who have helped me along the way there are, there have been an equal number who have ignored my requests for help completely, said dismissive or demeaning things to me, or were just plain mean.  There will be those people.  But just like applying for fellowships and grants, you have to keep trying and keep asking for help.  Not everyone will dismiss you and there are nice people out there.

5)  Pay it forward. No one makes it solely on their own in this business.  If you received help from someone in the past, help someone else coming up the ranks behind you.  You were once that graduate student, adjunct, and Assistant Professor. 

There's not only one way to do it.  I found a strategy that worked with my introverted personality and I have been enormously blessed with many mentors.  Good luck, all!

Charles Murray strikes again!: Reviving the myth of Asian Americans as model minority

I thought that it was passe,  the whole Asian Americans as model minority thing.  That stereotype had its heyday in the 1980s when mainstream news magazines like Newsweek and Time ran glossy articles about Asian Americans, almost always immigrants, who had overcome great odds to achieve academic success. Although remnants of the stereotype remain, much of it has gone the way of VHS tapes and Atari systems as the public has become more educated about the fact that lauding Asian Americans for their special aptitude for academic achievement is in fact a stereotype.

Ostensibly it is a positive stereotype that praises Asian American students for their academic achievement.  But upon further examination, it is as damaging a "positive" stereotype as saying African Americans are particularly gifted at sports, implying that individuals of an entire race don't excel at the range of human skills.  So what if you're the Asian American kid who doesn't excel at academics?  What if you were the artistic one like Amy Tan who wanted to be a fiction writer?  Or you were Asian American who excelled at sports like Jeremy Lin, but for a long time couldn't catch a break because people just couldn't wrap their minds around the concept of an Asian American basketball player.

There are a host of problems with the stereotype including the fact that labeling one group the model minority draws unwelcome comparisons to other minority groups. As one of my Latina students once asked me indignantly, "Are we [Latinos] therefore the deviant minority?"  So with the public and the chattering class now educated about the perils of the myth, it was quite stunning yesterday to see an iteration of it.

Charles Murray put up a post on the American Enterprise Institute website purporting to sympathize with  the discrimination directed "against hard-working, high-achieving young people" who were being shut out "because of the color of their skin."  He was writing about the percentage of Asian American students at elite universities in the country and speculating about whether there is an Asian American quota at these schools like there used to be a Jewish quota.  He thought he was being objective and race neutral.

The problem was that the entire article focused almost exclusively on race and academics, again, drawing the direct line from a student's Asian American-ness only to academic achievement, as if academics is the only thing Asian Americans excel at and the only factor they can be defined by.  There is no discussion of the fact that Asian Americans, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, enjoy higher soci--economic status, which would correlate with academic performance.  Entirely missing in Murray's discussion is any acknowledgement of the deep legacies of inequalies wrought by  historical patterns of forced versus voluntary migration of African slaves and newer immigrant groups.  "Asian Americans are smart because they are Asian Americans" is what he is suggesting.

Then the most shocking passage of all was what Murray speculated about what admissions officers were thinking but would never admit about Asian American applicants, what he called the "sub rosa rationale for the Asian American ceiling":

“Yes, they get high test scores and grades in high school, because that’s all they and their ambitious parents care about. They aren’t intellectually curious. They don’t add to classroom discussions. They don’t have any interests outside academics or maybe music. They don’t come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. They don’t add as much to the university environment as other kids whose test scores and grades aren’t as high.”

He hastens to add, "I didn’t write that down because I believe it, or because I think any admissions officer in any elite university in the country will defend it in public, but because something like that logic is the only justification for a ceiling on Asian-American admissions." (original emphasis) The lady doth protest to much, methinks.  I'm still searching for the data source of that conclusion.  Did he survey admissions officers?  Did he even conduct one interview? Did he run regression analysis and eliminate SES and all relevant variables and he was only left with this view? 

Or did he just articulate, while disavowing it, the standard dispossessed person's rant that trots out the racist stereotypes that goes along with the model minority myth, namely that Asian Americans are technically competent, even brilliant, but soulless automatons?  Lots of very talented students of every race and ethnicity get shut out by elite universities because there are a finite number of seats in each class.  To suggest that Asian American students are being disproportionately disadvantaged by the system is disengenuous.  Compared to what groups?  Based on what measure of merit?  To just focus on race and academic achievement again pits this allegedly most "deserving" group against others who are presumably less deserving who are taking up an excellent Asian American's spot.  I need to find my Rubik's cube and dig out my ratty Ms. PacMan tshirt--the 1980s model minority myth is back again.

Mixing politics and research: responses to NSF cancellation of a political science grant cycle

It is happening:  politics is invading public research funding decisions in a major way.  The National Science Foundation, a major grant provider for political science research, has cancelled its next funding cycle citing uncertainty about their budget.  The federal grant agency, which funds many kinds of science and social science research, one of which is my home discipline of political science, found itself under fire from Republican lawmakers who were targeting the political science program.  The New Republic has reported a clearly political motive for the attack.  Back in March, Timothy Noah at TNR wrote:

The real reason the NSF’s political science program is being eliminated is that Republicans are ideologically hostile to its content, not its cost. Jeff Flake, the Republican congressman from Arizona who sponsored a similar bill that cleared the House last year, dislikes the program because it spent “$700,000 to develop a new model for international climate change analysis.” Senator Tom Coburn, the Republican from Oklahoma who sponsored the Senate amendment, doesn’t like it because he’s tired of reading studies about the public’s distaste for the filibuster, the GOP’s most cherished nullification tool.

A Nature article speculates that the Political Science program director at NSF may have strategically cancelled the upcoming grant cycle hoping some of the politics will blow over. Specifically, the director may be hoping that the proposals that NSF certify only research that is "'groundbreaking' of 'the finest quality,' does not duplicate any other federally-funded research, and will 'advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and ... secure the national defense'", will be removed by the next grant cycle.  Many have noted that these criteria would replace the NSF's rigorous peer review process.  I would argue that given the subjective criteria laid out, it does something worse, it subjects political science research (for no other discipline has been singled out to meet this standard) to a political litmus test.

In case there is any further question about the politically motivated nature of the attack on the Political Science program in particular at NSF, John Sides at the Monkey Cage reported that when he called a staffer on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to ask what political scientists could do to help preserve NSF funding, he was told the they were looking for, "'bite-sized' stories about political science research, and especially research that would be appealing to more conservative members of the committee. " (original emphasis)  Sides followed up and asked for examples that might meet that criteria and the staffer "suggested research about national security, transparency, and how to make government smaller and/or smarter." 

To paraphrase Madison in The Federalist Papers No. 10, the proposed solution is a remedy surely worse than the disease itself.  Political Science, and the academy in general, are in trouble if our ability to preserve NSF funding is contingent upon our adeptness in shoehorning research into a conservative frame.

I and others in my discipline have argued that the merits of NSF funding is its ability to fund graduate students and facilitate ambitious research involving expensive datasets or extensive fieldwork--all subject to a very rigorous peer review process.  Sides noted that according to the House staffer he spoke with, such arguments and those about the general utility of political science research are not as useful as identifying specific projects that dovetail with conservative concerns, although he noted that even then it may not convince.  There is also the structural constraint that apparently most universities that obtain NSF funding are in states with Democratic Senators, so the electoral pressures brought might be limited in effect. 

Surely political scientists collectively who study politics and government institutions can figure out a multi-pronged response given these structural constraints.  I'm talking to you: parties scholars, game theorists, historical instituionalists, interest group scholars, and political behavioralists.  This is real world problem should be a comprehensive exam question.

For now, what can we do?  We can still contact all our elected representatives using this portal here.  Indeed I live in a state with two Democratic Senators, but my hope is that my letter will educate them about the need for NSF research, the importance of the peer review process, and the politics of this push, so that they understand what's at stake as well to better defend the program.

The opportunity cost of a public school paying David Petraeus $150K-$200K to teach two seminars

Earlier we learned that retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus would be joining the CUNY faculty.  Then we shortly thereafter learned that he wouldn't really be ALL IN at CUNY and would instead be jetting back and forth between CUNY and USC and has apparently been offered a fellowship at Harvard.  Then comes the news this week that for teaching 2 seminars at the Macaulay Honors College, he will be handsomely over-compensated at a rate of $150K to $200K.  (For some perspective, our adjuncts make about $3,000 a course.)

Some might object to me comparing David Petraeus to a typical academic adjunct and they would point to the prestige and alleged public profile raising ability of Petraeus.  Maybe.  But the operative concept taught in every intro level economics course and still in play here is "opportunity cost".  The term put succinctly refers to the alternatives of how the resource could be used.  Instead of spending the resource (in this case, not just his Petraeus' $150K to $200K salary but the research funds, travel funds, and Teaching Assistants) on the thing it was spent on, what else could have been done with the funds. 

Not all of our classrooms have smart-classroom technology (wired with equipment that would allow the instructor to project PowerPoint/stream internet video etc.), and my colleagues who don't hold a named endowed chair like me have very limited travel and research funds to carry out their research.  Many of my Brooklyn College students cannot afford to do an internship that would help them build connections and further their careers because they simply cannot work for free.  Bringing our CUNY Brooklyn College physical infrastructure up to the smart-classroom standards that are industry wide, increasing faculty's research/travel funds, and funding scholarships for student internships are but three things that the resources to hire Petraeus could have been spent on.  Those investments would have long term effects.  What will this "investment" in Petraeus who will barely on campus for 2 seminars yield?

And I'm not even getting into how the use of these resources clashes with the whole notion of a public institution with the mission of educating students with modest means.  My colleague Corey Robin has already covered that angle and so has NYS Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, a Republican, Marine, and Iraqi war veteran.  In a letter to CUNY Chancellor William Kelly,  Lalor writes:

High-priced celebrity hires are not the right fit for a public university. Whether it is $150,000 or $200,000 to teach a single class a semester, this is not a good investment. Taxpayers fund CUNY to provide an affordable education for New Yorkers. Paying $150,000 to David Petraeus to teach a three-credit seminar for two semesters contributes little to an affordable, quality education. Taxpayers and students both deserve better. While Petraeus might offer some glamour, that alone does not fit with the University’s mission.

It is also not quite accurate to claim that Petraeus’ salary will not be funded by taxpayers. CUNY is a public university. According to the CUNY spokesman, Petraeus will be paid from the University’s Research Foundation. However, there are no grants or donations specifically earmarked by donors to pay for Petraeus. That means the salary will come from the Foundation’s general funds. Money sources are fungible in a large institution and when CUNY takes funds from one place, it affects other funds, specifically tax dollars and student tuition payments. This hire definitely involves tax dollars and public spending.

I don't know from what funds, public or private, Petraeus is being paid. But from an opportunity cost standpoint, it really does not matter. Finite resources are being expended.  What else could CUNY, perpetually cash strapped, and with a mission of educating middle class and working class students, spend $150,000 to $200,000 on instead of Petraeus?

My ambivalence about "diversity" required courses and who teaches them

Most universities and colleges have a multi-culturalism/diversity course requirement somewhere in the curriculum, but who teaches these classes?  It has been hotly debated whether these courses themselves are necessary. I do favor the courses for the reason that it is often the only class a student will be exposed to learning about non-western, non-dominant population's cultures, histories and traditions.  In a rapidly changing United States which is headed into being a majority-minority nation, and with many big cities already majority minority, knowing about non-western histories and cultures is essential to mutual understanding and respect in our diverse society.  These classes oftentimes also criticize the dominant historical and political narrative that students are so accustomed to hearing and forces students to evaluate history and politics from another point of view.  As well these understandings will come into play in a globalized world where the business of corporations and governments traverse nations. 

I believe these classes are needed, but I am very ambivalent about who actually teaches these courses. More often than not, it is women who teach women's studies, African Americans who teach African American studies classes, and other minorities who teach required diversity/multiculturalism classes. On the one hand, members of these groups may have a strong interest in these subjects and through their Ph.D. training have become experts in those fields.  It is true that the most Ph.D.s in Women's Studies are awarded to women and Ph.D.s in African American Studies is awarded to African Americans,  but it is not exclusively true as shown by my friends Jeanne Theoharris (Brooklyn College), an expert in Afrian American studies, and Paul Frymer (Princeton) an expert in race and ethnicity. 

But the opposite is not true.  It seems kind of stupid to even say it, but not all female scholars are scholars of women's studies nor are all minority scholars experts in race and ethnicty. Yet, it happens all the time that women and minorities are conscripted to teach these multicultural classes regardless of whether their own research expertise involves multiculturalism or diversity.  There is an essentialism underlying these decisions to tap women or minority faculty to teach these classes when the faculty member's research expertise is not in the area of diversity.  The assumption is  that somehow the faculty member, by virtue of being female/nonwhite must have some special expertise in the area of race or sex, just by being a woman or minority.  But ultimately it is about the power dynamic.  When a chair of a department tells you to teach a class, and you do not have tenure, you have little choice but to comply. 

I found myself in such a situation.  I am not a race or sex/gender expert.  I am an expert in law and legal institutions.  Nevertheless, at my first job, I felt so lucky to have a tenure track job straight out of grad school, that I was eager to please.  (In retrospect, I wonder whether the chair of the department routinely asked all faculty members whether they would teach that class.)  When asked if I would teach the multiculturalism class, I agreed, saying I would offer a class on the 14th amendment's equal protection clause as it has been applied based on race, sex, and sexual orientation.  I figured it would not be so bad to teach multiculuralism if it intersected with my actual expertise.  I was so wrong.

So what are some negative effects of having mainly women and minorities?  First, it further reinforces the idea that race/sex/sexual orientation are specialized courses about someone elese's history, not American history.  The drawback of creating these courses is that students often fail to grasp that African American history is part and parcel of American history, not a detour from it.  When primarily women and faculty of color teach these courses, it reinforces the sterotype that these classes are about "other people's" issues. If diversity/multiculturalism is so important, why don't white men and tenured faculty in large numbers teach the class?

Second, speaking from experience at having taught such a class for four quarters, these classes are especially draining on the faculty member for a number of reasons.  Because it is often a required course, the professor is working with a conscripted army rather than a voluntary one.  Students don't enjoy required courses; many dig in their heels out of resentment and often challenge the instructor's teachings. Many professors teach required courses and they all complain about unengaged students and why they would rather teach an upperlevel elective.

But there are very specific challenges to teaching a diversity/multiculturalism courses. I felt drained not so much that I was being constantly and directly challenged by my students at a former university I used to teach at, but that I routinely was met with students (and not just white men) who did not actually believe racism or sexism existed because they were either too naive and/or they grew up in monocultural environments.  I did not anticipate how emotionally draining the class would be for me to have to walk into class several times a week and prove over and over that racism and sexism actually exist, which were very real features of my own life.  To them it was just academic.  To me, it was the actual life I live.

Third, it can take a toll on the faculty member's teaching evaluations because these are unpopular courses to begin with, and a toll on the faculty's overall well being and job satisfaction.  By the fourth time I taught the diversity seminary, I was exhausted and I begged out of it.  I had a good argument.  I pointed out to the chair of my department that I also routinely taught Intro. to American government, an entry level class taught to almost all non-majors that most professors also don't like to teach.  I argued that it was unfair for her to stick me with two required "service" courses (no one wanted to teach them, yet they are essential to the curriculum) and that my teaching evaluations were taking a beating and I was pre-tenure.  I offered to continue to teach Intro. to American but I needed a break from the diversity class.  I explained the reasons outlined above.  I do not believe I ever said that I refused to teach the class ever again. 

The chair was quite reasonable at first.  She responded, "No one should have to teach a class they absolutely hated teaching."  But she argued with me, saying how important the class was.  I responded that I had no particular expertise beyond being a woman and minority myself and that if it was so important, have a white male teach it.  She acquiesced only to retaliate by insinuating several years down the road during my tenure decision that I was "difficult" and not a team player for saying I hated the class. I very much doubt that I was the only faculty member to come to her to ask to be taken out of teaching a class they hated.  And I never refused to teach it in the future.

After tenure, I did not dump the class from my teaching lineup.  I changed the readings very slightly, renamed the course as a law course "Equal protection under the law?  Women, African Americans, and the LGBT" , and most importantly, taught the class as a mid-level political science requirement rather than as the diversity seminar.  The same class, with the same lectures, worked a lot better and students actually enjoyed the class.  I certainly enjoyed teaching it more.  There is something about labeling it the diversity seminar that brought out the worst and killed the class.

Moral of the story: to all chairs of departments, please think about the effects of your decision to fill those required diversity classes.  Don't just dump them by default on women and minority professors.  Even if the course is within the professor's area of substantive interest, ask them how the class is going for them. Better yet, tenured, white and male professors should all seek to include diverse perspectives (if yourt subject matter will at all allow) in their non-diversity requied classes.  This move would go a long way towards showing students that the concerns of minorities should not only be confined to those groups and their professors.

With much sadness, I recently learned of a friend's decision to leave academia  because she was so burnt out from teaching a women's studies required course to always hostile students.  She described it to me as "constant blowback".  If those classes are that important, spread it around, have other white male faculty teach it and have tenured faculty teach it.  Have them design the course around their own expertise as I did.  The course that started as the diversity seminar is still in my teaching lineup.  I look forward to teaching it to my very diverse Brooklyn College students, but it will never again allow it to be labeled as a multiculturalism/diversity requirement.

Two academic implications that flow from a "permanent war on terror"

Glenn Greenwald today blogged about U.S. officials acknowledgement of the permanent nature of the war on terror.  He reports that Michael Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for operations, stated that the war on terror was going to last "at least 10 to 20 years" from today.  Counting the ongoing war on terror, that began after the 9/11 attacks, Greenwald notes that we are apparently in the middle of a 30 year war. As I read his article, two thoughts came to mind.

First, is the implications for civil liberties, but a specific aspect of it.  A whole generation of people, my undergraduate students, will have lived a large portion of their lives with the U.S. actively fighting the war on terror.  Greenwald puts it this way:

Each year that passes, millions of young Americans come of age having spent their entire lives, literally, with these powers and this climate fixed in place: to them, there is nothing radical or aberrational about any of it. The post-9/11 era is all they have been trained to know. That is how a state of permanent war not only devastates its foreign targets but also degrades the population of the nation that prosecutes it.

I blogged a few days ago about the difficulty I confront in the classroom of teaching the concept of privacy to my undergrads who are already of the Facebook/Twitter generation where everything previously private is now shared publicly.  My students simply don't see what the big fuss about surveillance is and their view is, "If I have done nothing wrong, what does it matter if the government monitors me."  My teaching challenged aside, adding to the effect of ubiquitous social media, I share Greenwald's concern that a permanent war on terror will desensitize citizens from being vigilant about their civili liberties and civil right being eroded.

Second, academia is a little slow on moving to cover the effects of the existing, much less the permanent war on terror.  I have in mind a specific subfield in the legal academy and political science, the subfield that studies war powers, the politics and law behind the war powers clause in the U.S. Constitution Article I Section 8 granting Congress the right "to declare war", and Article II Section II which names the President "Commander in Chief of the armed forces".

I served as discussant on a panel at the 2013 Midwest Political Science Association convention in Chicago in which 4 scholars presented their papers on War Powers.  Although the scholars on the panel were doing historical work, I challenged them to explain how that entire subfield of study had been changed by modern warfare and the endless war on terror, with it's drones, which renders a traditional battlefront obsolete (h/t Anne Harrington), and with combatants like Al Quaeda who come from no particular country, wear no identifiable uniform, and do not respect the rules of war. Has public support of the war on terror been lukewarm but not outwardly oppositional because war is now more antiseptic and the burden of war only falls on the families of the voluntary armed forces?  Has this situation translated into wider latitude to the Congress to defer and the President to expand executive power? My questions drew no answers.

I thought perhaps that maybe I was asking the wrong group of war powers scholars this question because my panel was composed of people who studied war powers historically, not in the present.  So imagine my surprise when I went to Lexis/Nexus and checked law reviews and found only ONE article which had war powers and war on terror in the title.  It's been 12 years since the war on terror began and the academy has been just as unquestioning of the expansion of executive power as the public.  What's going on?

Why I resigned as pre-law adviser after a decade of pre-law advising

In most political science departments, there is a person that teaches and researches U.S. constitutional law, the federal courts, and/or judicial behavior.  Many political science majors think they have to major in politicalscience to go to law school.  (They are mistaken, but that's another post.) At teaching schools, as opposed to research universities, many of us who specialize in public law (the qualitative side of law) and/or judicial politics (the quantitative side of law) are also expected to serve as the pre-law adviser, often with no teaching release or other compensation. 

For 9 years at DePaul University, I was one of two pre-law advisers in the political science department.  I met with students who were interested in law school, talked to them about how to pick a law school, file applications, and write compelling personal statements.  I have edited many of these statements as well.  I carried out the pre-law advising on top of my 30 plus advisees that would come in for technical advising.  (Technical advising involves sorting through curriculum questions for the students, not career advice or mentoring.  "Can I take Math 101 and 103 to meet the quantitative reasoning requirement?" "Does Sign Language count as a foreign language.")

At Brooklyn College, I continued with the same duties but was also part of a "pre-law team" , a group of advisers and administrators that met through the year to devise programing and strategies that would get students to law school and raise the Brooklyn College LSAT average to be competitive with other senior CUNY schools.  Brooklyn College was good enough to give me a one course teaching release for my efforts.  Last week I resigned as pre-law adviser after 10 years of advising.  The main reason is that as the Kurz Chair, I have substantial public programing and publishing duties that I need to concentrate on.  But pre-law advising was never the favorite part of my job.  As the years went by, and as the legal job market cratered, I had more and more misgivings about sending my students to law school.

It always struck me as silly to assume the public law/judicial politics person should be the pre-law adviser.  Many of us study law and legal institutions, but we have no J.D.; rather we have a Ph.D, which entails entirely different training.  In my case, I made a specific choice not to go to law school, which is not to say I have no legal training, because I did take a handful of law classes at my Ph.D. institution, the University of Texas at Austin.  Many J.D./Ph.Ds in political science have both degrees but have chosen not to practice law.  What is strange is to have someone who made a conscious choice NOT to go to law school for whatever host of reasons, advise students about law school.  I was quite literally no more qualified to dispense advice about law school than any of my other colleagues in the department.  Teaching and researching about law has little to do with law school.  I had never prepared for or taken the LSAT. Why not hire many of the unemployed JDs to fill this role?

But the main reason serving as pre-law adviser in the last 10 years has becoming more and more dispiriting is the market trends of the legal field.  It used to be that getting a law degree was a reliable vehicle for upward mobility for persons not born into wealth and that you could make quite a decent living.  But those days are long gone and it has not been true for awhile.  I posted a while ago about the trend that more and more people going to law school and saddling themselves with an average of $100,000 in debt, only to find fewer and fewer legal jobs out there.  There is also a correlation between one's likelihood of landing a decent law job and the ranking of the school you graduated from.  Many within the legal academy led by Brian Tamanaha, a law professor himself, have been very critical about the ethics of law schools continuing to churn out graduates with high student loan debt, knowing there are few jobs.  Many media reports also document the deceptive marketing practices of law schools who inflate their employment statistics in an effort to mislead prospective students. The headline of a recent Salon article flat out said, "Law school is a sham."


The typical LSAT score at DePaul is between 140-150.  There, the DePaul students commonly attended John Marshall Law School, Northern Illinois Law School, Kent, or Thomas Cooley Law School.  Each year, a few would also get into DePaul, Loyola, U. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and maybe one or two each year would get into a school in the top 15 law schools.  The pattern was similar at Brooklyn College with an average LSAT score of about 146, with many getting into New York Law School, Brooklyn Law School, some others would get into second tier law schools like American or Villanova, and a handful into NYU, Columbia, and the elite law schools.  (You'd need a score of 160 or higher to be eligible to apply to top 20 schools.) 

This pattern did not sit well with me.  About 2007, I had a conversation with my other pre-law advising colleague at DePaul, David Barnum.  He and I independently reached the same conclusion that we didn't feel right encouraging our students to go to 2nd and 3rd tier law schools knowing the amount of student loan debt they would assume, and then knowing they were heading into a brutal job market where the ranking of your school often determines the job you get and whether you get a job at all.  A famous New York Times article published in 2011 noted that grads of even top 10 law schools were having trouble in "the grimmest job market in decades."

About one fourth of DePaul's students are first generation college students and/or first generation immigrants.  That percentage is even higher at Brooklyn College.  These students are often my best students because of their level of effort and seriousness of purpose--like all young people, they are full of hopes, dreams, and optimism.  They are also the ones that can least afford to saddle themselves with $100K of debt, the median law school debt students graduate with, and risk unemployment after that.  The law schools accused of deceptive practices, mainly 3rd tier law schools desperate to fill their classes and put tuition paying students in chairs, are preying on the hopes, dreams, and optimism of this population. That combined with the ideology of the American Dream, that "anyone can make it", has been a boon for 2nd and 3rd tier law schools who are expanding their hiring of faculty and infrastructure since the recession began.

Feeling that we would be remiss and unethical not to do otherwise, David Barnum and I at DePaul began actively warning students of the job market and advising them of the tremendous student loan debt they would incur.  The pre-law program at Brooklyn College was not as aggressive about  advising students about debt and the legal job market, and it is still pushing law school in various ways through career panels and LSAT prep courses run by the Career Center. Administrators seemed more concerned about raising LSAT scores rather than just discouraging people from heading into the law school game of chance.  (The Career Center does not advertise prep courses for the GRE.)

I never told any student not to go to law school.  I would hand them the New York Times article and told them to do their own research and to assess whether the high debt and uncertainty in the job market was an acceptable amount of risk for themselves.  Many students did just that and came back and thanked me for alerting them to the dismal state of affairs.  Many more got angry at me and said that I had "killed their dreams." Market forces bigger than me destroyed their dream.  I'm just the messenger.  It's time for someone else to be pre-law adviser.

Petraeus multi-tasks, teaching also at USC, is he all in at CUNY?

Well gee whiz, just as I put up the post about General Petraeus coming to CUNY, news went out today that he's going somewhere else too to USC.  An April 23, 2013 New York Times article about Petraeus joining CUNY reported:

Mr. Petraeus, who will be the next visiting professor of public policy at the university’s Macaulay Honors College, had been approached by many universities, but settled on CUNY because he admires its diversity of students, locations and offerings, his lawyer, Robert Barnett, said in an interview.

Meanwhile, this morning's LA Times article states, "Petraeus, 60, is supposed to start his faculty position at USC July 1 for an open-ended period, officials said." The new USC gig gives new meaning to "settled on CUNY".  My colleague Corey Robin is right to ask if the guy is really all in.

General Petraeus becomes Professor Petraeus at CUNY

Last week, it was widely reported that at CUNY where I teach, that we have a new colleague:  General David Petraeus has been hired as a Visiting Professor at the CUNY Macaulay Honors College beginning August 1.  I feel ambivalent about this development.  On the one hand, it's a coup (no pun intended) for CUNY to land such a high profile person with obvious specialized knowledge and even a PH.D. in International Relations from Princeton.  On the other hand, Petraeus, when he was head of the Central Intelligence Agency, presided over the militarization of the agency, moving the CIA away from it's intelligence gathering function and toward a blurring between it and the military.

My colleague, Corey Robin, in his blog suggests that CUNY might be part a part of the disgraced Petraeus' image rehabilitation plan.  Not everyone is thrilled as illustrated by the poster below.


UMASS grad student debunks Harvard economists' austerity study

Those of us who call the insular world of academia home know of the politics here.  One standard feature of academia is its snobbery.  There is a clear hierarchy and ranking of colleges and universities, and on many lists, Harvard is at the top.

The elitism of academia is sometimes mitigated by our publications process of which the gold standard is double-blind reviewed.  It means that when academics publish studies in academic journals, the manuscript is first vetted anonymously with other academics who work in that field to assess whether the manuscript's material is original and whether its findings and conclusions are sound.  The anonymity of the peer review process is to guard against conflicts of interest and bias and to ultimately produce candid reviews of scholars' work.

Imagine the shock everywhere when a economics graduate student  at UMASS Amherst, writing a term paper for his class, was able to debunk and take down the work of two powerful Harvard economists.  The study in dispute is the Reinhart and Rogoff study about austerity that has been cited and adopted as official policy by conservative governments throughout Europe.

Thomas Herndon, the grad student, did this by finding coding and spreadsheet errors and omissions of key pieces of data that might have changed the conclusions of their study.  What is not clear is why this paper, which apparently was not peer reviewed, was so readily adopted as truth by so many in power. 

Stephen Colbert devoted two segments to this momentous event.  Here is one segment.




My adventures as a pre-law adviser as the legal job market tanked

Among my many administrative duties at DePaul University where I previously taught for 9 years and now at Brooklyn College is that I am one of the pre-law advisers on campus.  It is a job that I am increasingly uncomfortable with given the grim job market for new lawyers.  At the beginning of the recession, a flood of people went to law school, presumably to ride out the unemployment wave.  Law schools benefited handsomely.  They hired  faculty at a quick pace and built infrustrusture as well to accommodate the increased enrollment. The problem is that as ABA approved law schools were expanding and accepting more and more students, the legal job market was cratering.

There was trouble as the recession wore on.  More and more firms and other outlets were lawyers are typically employed cut back on their hiring at the same time that law schools were graduating large numbers of newly minted JDs.  Soon, stories like this one in the New York Times asked "Is Law School a Losing Game".  The conclusion of that article is "no" given the heavy debt incurred and the depressing job market upon exit.  There is now a veritable cottage industry of pundits and law professors who are critical of law school.  One of the most prominent critics is Brian Tamanaha, who wrote the book Failing Law Schools, in which he is critical of deceptive practices used by law schools to lure even more graduates.

Responses to this trend have been interesting.  Aspiring law students did catch on.  As the endless drumbeat of stories on legal jobs drying up and the burdensome student debt people faced, law school applications declined beginning in 2011 or so.  The New York Times ran a story at the end of January 30, 2013 about the sharp decline in law school applications, the lowest in 30 years.  The legal profession is in crisis, spawning rethinking of the entire legal education system itself by changing the model of legal education. 

But colleges and universities need to respond also.  At DePaul, my fellow pre-law adviser in the department independently reached the conclusion that it was not ethical for us to be encouraging aspiring law students to go to law school and "go for it" without also warning them of the costs.  I've handed out like hot cakes a copy of the New York Time article "Is Law School Worth It" to any pre-law adivsee that walks through my doors and I tell them not to take my word for it, but to do their own research. I advise them of the huge student loan debt they will incur and ask them to ask themselves whether it is worth it.

At Brooklyn College, in conjunction with the career center, we are creating a panel called "Think you need a JD for a cool job?  Think again."  In my experience of pre-law advising, many students seem to choose law school as a default, because they don't know what else to do with their degree in the social sciences or humanities.  We're trying to counter that thinking with a panel of people who have full-filling jobs that do not require a JD.  Still, it feels like an uphill battle.