The Stanford University Tomorrow’s Professor e-newsletter recently examined the nature of the social sciences. In “What is Social Science?” Rom Harré — Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University — is interviewed by Nigel Warburton, co-author (with David Edmonds) of the book Big Ideas in Social Science. Harré and Warburton compare and contrast the social sciences with the physical sciences in a fascinating discussion.

Today is September 11, 2017, the 16th anniversary of the New York City and Washington D.C. terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. The Pacific Standard website has an interesting article about cable news re-broadcasts of their original coverage.

Pacific Standard recently published an article on improving U.S. Presidential election primaries. The author poses a provocative proportion: “How to improve the primary process? Make it less democratic. It sounds counterintuitive—and would be a hard sell—but making the way the two major political parties nominate candidates less traditionally democratic could also make it more open to compromise and negotiation.” Specifically, he argues that we should:

  1. Make the primaries and caucuses proportional rather than winner-take-all;
  2. Shorten the time between the first and last primaries and caucuses so that candidates who aren’t necessarily winning in fundraising might still make it to the end; and
  3. Make contests less about the candidates and more about the delegates. This could include unbinding delegates from the voters’ choices.

Very interesting!

Last week faculty and staff returned to SJSU for the fall semester. Classes started on Wednesday (August 23, 2017), and the next day the President gave her annual Fall Welcome Address. She started the address by discussing the August 11-12, 2017 violence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville surrounding marches and rallies by White supremacists. I also discussed the protests and counter-protests at the conclusion of the College of Social Sciences welcome event, on Monday, August 21, 2017. See below for the transcript.


To close, let me read two brief items to you.

(1) The first is a note I sent to the college the day after the November 8, 2016 U.S. elections:

Dear Social Sciences Family-

Many of us are shocked and saddened by yesterday’s election and our nation’s deep divisions. It seems that across all aspects of the political spectrum many actions were driven by ignorance and fear instead of knowledge and hope. As we process these results two social media posts by colleagues may be good to keep in mind: 

 “Out of touch. Like me, you are out of touch with the majority of our country if you did not vote for Trump. (I am not a Hillary supporter either….so I am even more out of touch than most.) Whether or not you are right, does not change that we are out of touch. That said, the best route forward is not to vilify those who don’t think like us, nor condemn them as stupid or ignorant, but instead to understand how and why the majority came to be so different from us.”

 “Being a teacher/writer/advocate has never been more important. Let’s fight for the next generation. I’m fired up and ready to go.”

 In these challenging times let’s remind ourselves of our mission to help our students and the broader community create more complex and nuanced understandings of their social worlds. Our work matters more than ever now.

 Warmest Regards, Walt

(2) The second was the start of an article from last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Teaching Newsletter, August 17, 2017”):

The violent demonstrations by white nationalists this past weekend at the University of Virginia have brought renewed attention to one of higher education’s biggest challenges: fostering civil dialogue in class. 

There’s no shortage of guidance available. Groups like Project Pericles, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project have been working to help students engage in constructive conversations, especially during fraught times.

 

When the students return on Wednesday many will be extremely anxious about the futures. From undocumented students worried about their ability to stay in school and study, to students of color wondering if they are safe when formerly closeted bigots are emboldened to openly express their hate, to the increased unease of all students about their economic futures in the midst of worldwide upheaval, the next few weeks will be difficult times.

I know that many of you are already making changes to engage the challenges we will face. For instance, at least two Assistant Professors rewrote their syllabi after the atrocities in Charlottesville. And the SJSU  Fall 2017 Faculty Professional Development Series on Whiteness and Race is more timely than ever. I applaud and thank all who have already thought deeply about how we can move forward to build a better society.

I know that many more instructors will use tools such as those listed in the Chronicle article. Others will develop and powerfully implement new ideas over the semester. In the development I encourage you to draw on the collective experience and wisdom of your colleagues. Together we are stronger.

Earlier in this event we discussed new investments in our Ethnic Studies programs. There are also other social justice proposals in development that will help us create more democratic societies. Our work as social scientists is crucial in that endeavor.

So, on the one hand this concluding note could dampen a traditionally celebratory event, but on the other it is a testament to our vibrancy. When I started as CoSS dean two years ago one of the Chairs remarked, “Collaboration is in your DNA!” Well, I was drawn here because collaboration is an essential component of the college as a whole; collaboration is in our DNA. Tough times are ahead, but we will collectively generate ideas that will get us through the current mess as we build better places on the other side. I look forward to the journey with you all. Have a good semester!

 

The annual Beloit College Mindset List has been released. Providing “a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students about to enter college,” this year’s list for the class of 2021 is for students mostly born in 1999…the year I finished graduate school and became an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota! Items include “Zappos has always meant shoes on the Internet,” and “the BBC has always had a network in the U.S. where they speak American” [BBC America! I’m going to miss Orphan Black.]. My oldest niece starts at Whittier College next month; I’ll have to send her this list.

A Vanderbilt University professor notes, “Beloit College just published its annual Mind-Set List to remind professors of the ever-growing gap between their own cultural experiences and those of their incoming students. As a service to these new students, I am now providing the faculty version of the mind-set list. Here is your guide to the college years of a typical 50-something professor.” His “The Mind-Set List, Faculty Edition” is pretty funny!

The August 11, 2017 Google Doodle is about the 44th anniversary of the birth of hip hop. The doodle is interactive: one is invited to experiment with scratching and mixing records on two turn tables [just two turntables, though, not two turntables and a microphone]. I must admit that I spent a little too much time playing with it today! I also reminisced about my earliest experience with hip hop: with other 7th grade kids I improvised my own lines to raps by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five…I think that one of my lines was “Like Melle Mel I’m here to say, all the pretty girls come my way!” I didn’t pay much attention to hop hop again, however, until rooming with a high school buddy in my first year of college. At one time Charles Isbell maintained an online hip hop reviews page, but now he’s too busy with administration, as he’s the Executive Associate Dean and Professor in the College of Computing at our undergraduate alma mater, Georgia Tech. I wonder how many other deans out there were hip hop heads back in the day…

Citylab has a recent story about a project in which U.S. rivers are mapped using the conventions of a subway map. “If any modern-day Huckleberry Finns and Jims wanted to navigate the mighty rivers of America,” the article begins, “they’d do well to take along this delightfully crafted guide to waterways that looks like a subway map.” Fun!

The San Francisco Bay Area has a new bike sharing program. The Ford GoBike system appears to be an easy way to rent bikes for short trips in several cities in San Francisco, Oakland, San José, and surrounding areas. The annual membership is a bit steep, though, at $149/year. Why is it twice as much as the annual subscription for the Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota Nice Ride bike sharing program?

The Pacific Standard magazine has a fascinating series on change makers whose accomplishments occurred later in life. Each person is at least 80 years old, and “each has post-retirement accomplishments more spectacular than most people’s life’s work. They’re part of the gray-haired ‘encore movement,’ a wave of elders who are using their golden years to do potent social justice work.” For example, 82 year-old Wilhelmina Perry received an Encore Award for her activism at the intersection of Blackness, LGBT, and religious identities. Wow!

One of my favorite websites is CityLab, a space “dedicated to the people who are creating the cities of the future—and those who want to live there. Through sharp analysis, original reporting, and visual storytelling, our coverage focuses on the biggest ideas and most pressing issues facing the world’s metro areas and neighborhoods.” The editors recently redesigned the site, and sent a note to subscribers about the changes. I’ll report the note below. I encourage everyone to visit the site!


Dear CityLab Reader,

Today, you will notice we have launched a major redesign to CityLab. The redesign is bringing you the same smart insights and strong journalism as before, but now enhanced by a design that is easier to read, and as sophisticated as you, our readers. If you want to learn more about how we redesigned the site David Dudley, our Executive Editor, wrote a great post here.

Over the coming weeks and months you will see additional changes coming to CityLab.

The first, and perhaps most visible, change to CityLab is refocusing our verticals down to an essential five.

  • Design: covering how space elevates us, engages us and makes our cities and communities special and livable.
  • Transportation: examining all aspects of mobility; from bicycles to autonomous vehicles to our own two feet.
  • Environment: exploring how cities are on the frontlines of sustainability, resiliency and making our lives more green.
  • Equity: connecting how we live in cities to how we provide opportunities for all to thrive and improve the wellbeing of all members of our community.
  • Life: a refocus of our “modern urbanist’s guide to life” to engage a new generation to think and act in their pursuit of making their urban communities better, cooler and livable.

A second change is a deeper commitment to telling stories visually, especially with maps. Cities are visual experiences and we are supporting our writers who have long desired to expand the way we tell stories. There is new innovation in cartography, infographics, and custom visual information; which will allow for strong interactive features. This type of storytelling will become a hallmark of CityLab.

The third change at relaunch is that we are introducing several new features:

  • Solutions: we will be building on our CityFixer articles by rebranding them “Solutions.” For select articles will be attaching a new “Toolbox,” so people who are inspired by the article can learn how to explore a solution for their city.
  • Viewpoints: we will be expanding our POV content to support important new voices that will change the debate about our future cities. We will have special emphasis on men and women of color and other voices who have been underrepresented in the conversation about the future of cities.
  • Newsletters: we have found that newsletters are an excellent way for audiences to connect with us, and that our newsletter subscribers become regular, deep, and engaged readers. We have already launched a new weekly newsletter tied to urban living. We will be experimenting with additional newsletters focused on Maps, and a morning urban news round-up The Lab Report.

The last big change is that we have stopped accepting advertising that interrupts your reading experience. For CityLab’s highly engaged, educated audience we want our advertising to have impact, and even at times surprise and delight you. We are now working directly with our advertising partners to create stronger, useful ads that stand to the right of the content, which, befitting our site, we call “Empire Ads,” as well as sponsor content that we create with our advertising partners.

CityLab has never been a passive voice publication. Our writers and editors don’t write about the future of cities, but with our unabashed love of urban life we are a part of the process of how urban leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs discover the future.

Our commitment is to dive even deeper into reporting the stories that change the way we think about our urban future. And now we have a site that can showcase the best urban journalism in the world!