SJSU Social Sciences

Today (January 16, 2018) is the second annual National Day of Racial Healing (NDORH). The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) asked colleges and universities across the country to engage in activities, events, and/or strategies that promote healing and foster engagement around the issues of racism, bias, inequity, and injustice in U.S. and/or global societies. The AACU&U notes, “this is an opportunity for people and organizations to come together in their common humanity and take collective action to create a more just and equitable world.” NDORH is an initiative in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort, a national community-based process to promote transformational and sustainable change that addresses historical and contemporary effects of racism. We did not plan any NDORH activities in the College of Social Sciences this year; that will have to change next year.

Last week on San José State’s campus Sociology Professor Scott Myers-Lipton spoke at a Martin Luther Luther King, Jr. commemoration about “The Kingian Legacy For Today.” Today on MLK Day I thought that it would be appropriate to reproduce Professor Myers-Lipton’s speech as a blog post.


The Kingian Legacy For Today
by Scott Myers-Lipton

I teach a class here at San Jose State on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During this class, we trace the events of Dr. King’s life from the bus boycott of Montgomery to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC where he spoke of his dream, to the slums in Chicago where he lived for a time, from Marks, Mississippi, which was to be the starting point for King’s Poor Peoples Campaign, to Memphis, where he went to support garbage workers, and sadly, tragically, where he was murdered.

As you can imagine, Martin’s journey and struggle to build a just society is rich and full of incredible stories of bravery, courage, and sacrifice, and it easily fills up the 30 class sessions over a 4-month semester. Unfortunately, we don’t have 30 class sessions to talk about why Dr. King’s legacy is so critical for us today. I only have 10 minutes, so I will keep it brief, but hopefully memorable.

Let me start by saying that some intellectuals are Marxists, others are Weberian…as for me, I am a Kingian! I am a Kingian because I think Dr. King has the correct analysis of American society, the correct solutions, and the correct method to bring his solutions into being.

First, let me explain King’s analysis of American society. King’s analysis of the US was that racism, economic exploitation, and militarism were inter-related problems that undermined the Beloved Community. King called these 3 inter-related problems “the Giant Triplets” or the triple evils. King would state that, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the ‘giant triplets’ of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

To see how King saw how economic exploitation and racism were interconnected, King argued that there was a “curious formula”, which dated back to the writing of the U.S. Constitution, which defined a black person as 60% of a human being when determining taxation and representation. Martin would say that this “curious formula” still existed in his times, but it declared Blacks 50% of a person since of the good things in life, Blacks had approximately 1/2 of those of Whites. Of the bad things, Blacks had twice those of Whites.

Now, some people today claim that we live in a color-blind or a post-racial society but I am here today, as a Kingian, to say that the relationship between racism and economic exploitation still exists in these United States, as the “curious formula” still describes today’s America. For example, in 1968, the year King was murdered, the unemployment rate was 5% for Whites and 10% for Blacks. Today: White unemployment is 3.4%, while Black unemployment is 7%. In 1968, 10% of Whites lived in poverty compared to 35% African Americans (a bit more than 3x as much poverty). Today, 8.8% of Whites live in poverty compared to 22.8% African Americans (a bit less than 3x). And right here, in Santa Clara County, the Infant Mortality Rate–widely accepted as an accurate indicator of general health– is 2.9% for Whites and 7% for Blacks while median household income is $101,000 for Whites and $60,000 for Blacks (almost 2x).

As I stated earlier, I am a Kingian, because his analysis of U.S. problems, and the tools that he gave us to analyze it, are still accurate today. King’s “curious formula” gives us an important conceptual tool to understand the interconnection between racism and economic exploitation.

But Dr. King didn’t stop at the relationship between racism and economic exploitation. He also saw how both were connected to militarism. For King, militarism was an ideology and framework of action based on large military spending and a willingness to use the military to protect the economic interests of the elite. When speaking of militarism, and its connection to racism and poverty, Dr. King said, “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will thingify them—make them things. Therefore, they will exploit them, and poor people generally, economically. And a nation that will exploit economically will have foreign investments and everything else, and will have to use its military to protect them. All of these problems are tied together.”

I believe that Dr. King would look at today’s military spending, which in 2018 will be $824 billion dollars, and he would question why we are spending so much when the US government spends just $50 billion on low-income housing assistance, or $70 Billion on food for low-income families. As King stated, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

So to be a Kingian, we must embrace King’s analysis of the problem, and at the heart of his analysis are the Giant Triplets and the Curious Formula. But to be a Kingian also means to embrace King’s solutions to America’s problems, which means we need to implement an Economic Bill of Rights. Dr. King had concluded that American Capitalism was flawed since it did not provide enough living wage jobs for its people. King called the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voter Rights Act superficial changes, since they had done little to change the economic conditions of Black Americans. King said that that the movement needed to evolve from Civil Rights to Human Rights.

In response, King proclaimed: “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now, that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at the swankest integrated restaurant when he doesn’t even earn enough money to take his wife out to dine? What does it profit one to have access to the hotels of our cities, and the hotels of our highways, when we don’t earn enough money to take our family on a vacation?”

King felt that the best solution to solve the problems caused by racism and economic exploitation was an Economic Bill of Rights. First put forward by President Franklin Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address in 1944, an Economic Bill of Rights is composed of several important economic rights, most importantly, the right to a job, the right to a living wage, and the right to housing. In his last book, Dr. King argued that we needed a contemporary Economic Bill of Rights to supplement the Constitution’s Political Bill of Rights.”

In an article published 8 days after his assassination, King stated, “We need an Economic Bill of Rights. “This would guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work. It would also guarantee an income for all who are not able to work.” In fact, the demands for full-employment through a massive public works program, a guaranteed income at middle-class levels and the creation of 5 million low-income homes were the 3 demands of King’s Poor People’s Campaign that was about to start when he was assassinated.

Today, 43 million people are living in poverty. In California, 23% of Blacks live in poverty, and 19% of Latinos, compared to 10% white. The “curious formula” still exists, and thus, King’s demand for an Economic Bill of Rights is still the correct solution to our nations problems.

Finally, King had the correct method to bring about change. Of course, we all know that King was dedicated to non-violence. But more of us must become knowledgeable about how King focused his non-violent actions on targets to create an environment that allowed for change to take place.

On a personal note, this is what I have dedicated the past decade to. Understanding the “change process”, so as to take the policy ideas that SJSU students have, and to help the students implement them. The title of my new book, Change, A Student Guide to Social Action, has just been released, and it explores how SJSU students have won 12 campaigns in my Social Action class from the minimum wage campaign, to getting air conditioning in Dudley Moorhead Hall, and from getting more printers here at the MLK Library to the student’s most recent victory, which was to get President Papazian to join the Workers Rights Consortium, which will guarantee that our SJSU apparel is not made in sweatshops. Importantly, the book provides a non-violent framework, strategies and tactics on how to bring about change. I tell my friends that the book is Kingian, with a feminist flair!

In conclusion, King’s call to us is clear: we need to engage people in a massive assault on poverty, racism, and militarism by implementing an Economic Bill of Rights, and paying for it by reducing our military spending. I encourage you to become engaged in this great Kingian work!

The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) website recently posted a chart on the 2018 College and University Rankings for Federal Social and Behavioral Science Research & Development funding. Covering fiscal year 2016, San José State ranks 22nd on the list of combined federal research and development expenditures for social sciences, psychology, law, communications, and social work. This is ahead of our neighboring research powerhouses, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. We have amazing researchers on the faculty!

I am on the Board of Directors for StoryCenter, the world-renowned nonprofit organization that uses innovative story development practices and participatory media methods to support people in sharing personal narratives rooted in their own life experiences. I was recently interviewed about my pathway to become a digital storyteller and digital storytelling advocate. Other board members will be interviewed later; this group include SJSU College of Social Sciences assistant professor Nikki Yeboah, one of the newest members!

SJSU Political Science Professor Lawrence Quill has co-written a provocative essay about universal basic income with Hasmet Uluorta, an Assistant Professor of Political Studies and International Development Studies at Trent University. They discuss how technology might enable a system of universal basic income and transform the function of government. For example:

Turning welfare provision into an app that tracks and monitors behavior means you can do away with many of the bureaucratic elements of the state. Of course, this would mean giving technology companies access to the entire database of citizens within a given territory, along with other data such as immigration records. This would arguably swap one form of paternalism for another. But where some observers see Big Brother, the tech entrepreneurs who wish to alter the behavior of people for the common good see “captology” or “persuasive technologies,” and substitute “surveillance” for “using apps to change the behavior of people for the better.” Thanks to phones and other wearable technologies, such “intimate surveillance” is now so pervasive that this participatory panopticon is the norm for a generation who have grown up knowing only the reality of Internet life.

Quill and Uluorta conclude, “The idea that poverty, like other social and political problems, can be solved by turning to technology and reducing the power of the state is a potent one with deep philosophical roots. We should keep this fresh in our minds when debating policies that herald privately owned technologies as the solution to complex social problems.” Well said!

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!

 

Two years ago today (July 6, 2015) two new deans joined seven others at San José State U. As of July 1 this year Mary Schutten (Dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts) and I are now the senior academic deans as we start our third year here, and we are just one year behind the most senior dean (Ruth Huard of the College of International and Extended Education). Wow! In terms of total dean experience, I believe that I’m the most senior of the nine of us here at SJSU, as I’m starting my fifth year overall as a dean (third year here following two years at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside). Oh wait, the new dean of the College of Business (Dan Moshavi) was also previously a dean before joining SJSU, so he might have more total experience. Whatever the case, it’s weird to be a “senior” after just two years!

Although not in the College of Social Sciences (CoSS), I’d like to highlight a project by Journalism and Mass Communication Associate Professor Michael Cheers: his recently completed Simple Gifts: A Portrait Series Celebrating SJSU’s Black Faculty. Professor Cheers notes, “The Black faculty at San José State University were given a homework assignment. They were asked to choose a personal keepsake, and pose with that item for a formal portrait. Then explain how that item influenced their teaching careers.” Several CoSS faculty are featured! I am too. My keepsake is Racial Formation in the United States, Second Edition, and here was my narrative: “I entered graduate school in the fall of 1993. I chose sociology as my field of study based on being drawn to books on the subject, even though I had never taken a sociology class. I was a bit unsure about my choice initially, as none of the books that semester really appealed to me as was the case in the past. That changed in the spring of 1994 when I read Racial Formation in the United States. Not only did it remind me of how much I loved sociology, it provided key ideas for my first publication, which was accepted in the fall of 1994. It was frequently cited in future publications for years to come. In 2008 I met one of the authors, and he signed my copy! I still occasionally thumb through it now, 22 years later.” I have not yet read the third edition from 2014. I’ll have to correct that soon….

My previous blog post was about Convocation Season. Last year I attended eight department convocations, and one for African American students from around the university. This year I also attend the African American student convocation and eight department events (although the mix of departments was different than last year; my associate dean attended events I could not make). Last year I shared a few brief remarks from memory at most of the events; this year I decided to write out remarks beforehand in order to give longer greetings. [I wish that I had the skill of being about to remember short speeches without notes!] Here is the one that was the most fun to deliver, to the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences:

Good morning! As Professor Bahkru noted, I’m the Dean of the College of Social Sciences. I am also a faculty member, in sociology. It’s always great to say a few words to members of my home department.

I’m under strict orders to truly give just a few words. In this case, 3 sentences (!). That’s going to be difficult, as you all know how hard it is for professors to contain ourselves when we are passionate about something! My apologies for not following instructions, Dr. Rudy, but I think I can do it in 3 paragraphs:

  1. Welcome students, and congratulations on your forthcoming graduation. The faculty and I are proud of you! Your hard work has paid off.
  2. As sociologists, you know that individual effort alone didn’t get you here. Many, many others helped you; some you know, but you never met others who worked tirelessly on your behalf behind the scenes. Many of your family and friends are here today to celebrate your day. Please join me now in thanking them for all the support the provided to you over the years!
  3. Finally: we live in very challenging times, when our faith in our democratic institutions has been shaken. Please keep your sociological imaginations active. Each and every one of you has an important role in strengthening the social structures in which we are enmeshed.

Thank you, and congratulations!

This time last year I wrote an entry called Commencement Season is Here, which discussed both pleasant and stressful aspects of graduation ceremonies. That entry noted that here at SJSU there is one big graduation ceremony for the entire campus, and many smaller department ceremonies, usually called convocations. Last year I left a few early in order to hustle to drop in at others. This year I’ve decided to sit through entire ceremonies; if there are two conflicting ceremonies the associate dean would attend one of them. This year he’ll be attending two, and I have eight, plus the main all-university commencement ceremony this Saturday, May 27. Next week I’ll have to find a place that dry cleans regalia…