Archive: May 2016

In the 2015-2016 academic year there were two new Department Chairs in my college. The Associate Dean and I had a group check in lunch with them back in January (along with a second-year Chair who also wanted to be included), and today we all had a second group lunch. We discussed both the pleasant surprises they experienced and the challenges they faced. Next year there will be four new Chairs, so we asked the group today about ideas for having monthly check ins. They came up with great suggestions. I look forward to using their ideas along with info from CCAS Seminars for Department Chairs [I was a Director last year]. Department Chairs are key players in the effective operation of colleges and universities, so providing them with tools and support to be successful is one of the highest priorities for Deans. Many thanks to all of the Department Chairs out there!

In previous entries I’ve posted commentaries on my last commencement ceremonies at the University of Minnesota, my first commencement ceremony at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and thoughts on apprehension about reading names at commencement ceremonies. Now here at SJSU I have a new experience: attending multiple departmental ceremonies! SJSU has one big official commencement in the football stadium on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, but many academic units have smaller, more intimate ceremonies. The first College of Social Sciences department ceremony was yesterday, when I gave brief opening remarks at an event for sociology graduates, and shook hands with a hundred or so students as they crossed the stage. It was an enjoyable experience, but I might have to investigate the possibility of wearing sneakers with my regalia if I’ll be standing for that long at other events…

A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about why African Americans usually vote for Democratic candidates given that they initially heavily favored Republicans after gaining the right to vote. “The Al Smith Shift” popped into my mind. I remembered this from a freshman year lecture in one of my political sciences classes at Georgia Tech. That was in 1986-1987…almost 30 years ago (!). Anyway, the professor noted that Alfred Smith was the 1928 Democratic nominee for U.S. President. He lost the election, but some of his ideas were attractive to African American voters, so they cast a large number of votes for him. His policy proposals were later adopted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the New Deal, so African Americans continued to vote for Democrats. Well, at least I think that this is what the professor said. A Google search for “Al Smith Shift” or “Alfred Smith Shift” does not turn up any direct evidence to support my memory. The book Blacks in the New Deal: The Shift from an Electoral Tradition and Its Legacy appears in the list of general results, however, so I’ll have to check that out. If anyone has any information that can help me determine the veracity of my memory please share it!

UPDATE: Professor Garrick Percival writes, “Check out this link which offers some good insights: Assuming this is accurate, it seems like Smith’s record on racial issues was something of mixed bag. He made overtures toward black voters and spoke to issues of importance, but he was also really concerned about alienating the white Democratic vote in the south. It looks like he garnered some fairly impressive vote totals in southern majority-black counties but I suspect this doesn’t say a whole lot given the high levels of black disenfranchisement at the time. It doesn’t look like he did all that well among black voters in the northern urban cities.” Thank you, Dr. Percival!

The College of Social Sciences Dean’s Profile web page concludes with “[a] non-academic passion for Walt is science fiction movies and television. He has hosted informal discussions of The X‑Files, and is currently a fan of Orphan Black on BBC America.” Today in the conference room the “Dean Team” — me, the Associate Dean, the two previous Associate Deans, and the Academic Resources Manager — gathered in the conference room to watch Orphan Black‘s premiere episode, which introduces the show’s fascinating exploration of the ethical, technological, and social scientific implications of human cloning. After the inevitable streaming video glitches were fixed I was able to introduce three folks to a great show, and remind the fourth person about it (she has not seen anything since season 2; we are now in season 4). We could not have too much discussion afterwards, as it’s hard to avoid spoilers, so we’ll have to gather again after they finish binge-watching season 1!

Today is International Workers’ Day (also known as May Day). I’m en route to the office to work for several hours — so I’m not really honoring the day — and an old Pizza Hut commercial from the mid-1990s popped into mind. In it workers are on strike while management frets about the latest set of demands. One manager gets an idea to order pizza for the workers as a tactic to bring the two sides closer together, and it works (!). At the end of the spot the workers and management are all laughing while enjoying hot pizza. I can’t find this spot online, but it appears that a similar commercial is available. This one doesn’t have the same happy ending, as only one worker realizes that the pizza is from management; also, the workers are outside on the picket lines in the cold, while management is in a warm office. I wonder if this version of the commercial was made after reaction to the unrealistic original?