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!

“Cultural appropriation” is a term that is increasingly appearing in popular culture. “The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation” is a fascinating article in The Atlantic, arguing that “borrowing from other cultures isn’t just inevitable, it’s potentially positive.” Check it out!

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….

The Atlantic‘s new “You Are Here” series explores the [social] science behind everyday life. The “How the Internet is Changing Friendship” episode asks, “Wherever your friends are, you can always check up on them with social media. But does that mean that we’re keeping friendships alive past their natural expiration date, or are virtual connections actually making friendships stronger?” Very interesting question!

The Atlantic‘s CityLab website has a fascinating story about multiracial defenders of confederate memorials in New Orleans. One would initially think that all of the defenders are White, but, as usual, race in America is more complex and nuanced than meets the eye….

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…

The Atlantic magazine has published an interesting article: “Building Social Change From the Bottom Up.” The subtitle reads, “In an era of polarization and distrust, these local innovators—from a team of urban planners to a kids’ baseball coach—show that individuals can still better their communities.” Their stories are inspiring!

It’s always a pleasure to highlight outstanding faculty. Last month I shared a Political Science professor’s thoughts on augmented reality technology. Today I want to highlight History Professor Ruma Chopra, whose article on past and present refugees to Canada — “Refugees Fit For Rescue” — was recently featured on the Early Canadian History website. Read more about Professor Chopra’s projects on her rumachopra.com website.

Shortly after President Trump took office Amazon reported that it was sold out of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, as many wondered if his election signaled that the dystopian society depicted in that work of fiction was now reality in the United States in 2017. However, another mid 20th Century dystopian novel – Brave New World – may be the more accurate reference. For example, in a seminal work of media culture the Chair of New York University’s Department of Culture and Communication argued,

There were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble)…. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”
–Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. vii.

The College of Social Sciences recently hosted the first Dean’s Office Book Club, and we discussed these books and Postman’s analysis. We asked folks for their thoughts on which book is the more accurate reflection of the U.S. today? Both books? Neither? Professor and Anthropology Chair Roberto Gonzalez and I co-facilitated the discussion; Professor Gonzalez assigned both books to his ANTH 136: Thought Control in Contemporary Society class this semester. We had a great discussion!