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?

There is a new book out on key terms in academic life:

From ABD to P&T, higher education has its own language (and we’re not even talking about discipline-specific jargon or academese). Most Ph.D. hopefuls become fluent via the immersion method (aka graduate school), but what if there was a dictionary of sorts to help out along the way? Now there is. The PhDictionary: A Glossary of Things You Don’t Know (but Should) About Doctoral and Faculty Life (University of Chicago Press) decodes — in alphabetical order — 149 key terms for academics. Beyond basic definitions, author Herb Childress, co-founder of the consulting firm Teleidoscope Group and former dean of research and assessment at the Boston Architectural College, illuminates each term with stories about his own off-the-beaten-path journey through graduate school and the professoriate.

I’ll have to check this out. In my last year of graduate school, Academic Keywords: A Devil’s Dictionary for Higher Education was released, and it provided great insights as I prepared for my first appointment as a professor. It sounds like The PhDictionary will do the same for the next generation of aspiring academics!

The Pacific Standard website has an interesting article on how non-profits help close the digital divide, the gap between those who have access to high-speed internet services, and those who don’t. The author notes:

[T]he digital divide isn’t just about potential adopters. There are also barriers on the supply side that non-profits try to bust through, and most of them are mental. One problem is that businesses aren’t entirely aware of the financial incentives that come with getting more people online.

This is an important reminder, as most of the strategies I’m familiar focus on consumers.


One of the TV shows I’m following this year is the dystopian drama The 100. Recently the death of a queer character on the show prompted members of the LGBTQ+ community to launch a campaign to influence TV producers to create better representations of LGBTQ+ folks. Today I discovered a great article about why media portrayals of members of minority communities matter. Among other things, the author argues:

The natural antidote to ignorance is travel; it’s meeting new people and staying open-minded to new experiences. However, not everyone has the luxury of doing that. A lot of people are stuck in their physical environments, surrounded by people who are similar to themselves. This is where the media comes in. It is a form of mental traveling, full of experiences we are unlikely to have in our real lives. However, how likely are we to stay open-minded if the media constantly tells us that the world is violent, evil, and full of people who want to do us harm? What kind of expectation will that create in meeting new people? If the media continues to perpetuate fear, anxiety, and xenophobia it will be minorities who will continue to pay the price.

Many thanks to Tania Hew for telling me about this article!

When I was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota I occasionally served on graduate student committees. The last student with whom I’m working (on his Ph.D.) contacted me today about his dissertation defense date, so the era of working on graduate student committees might be coming to an end, given my full schedule of administrative activities. Then again, I was never the primary advisor on a committee; most of the students I worked with were doing unconventional things and needed a source of support in negotiating with more traditional mentors, so I can probably still serve in that capacity. In the meantime, graduate students are on my SJSU College of Social Sciences student advisory board, so I’ll always maintain some contact with them!

Since February my daily commute to campus has usually included an hour and 10 minute train ride from Oakland to San José. Normally the train operates within 5 minutes of scheduled departure and arrival times. Today, however, the train was 30 minutes late, which popped the short story “The 5:22” into mind. This short story is an interesting exploration of a disruption to a regular train rider’s schedule, especially as one of his regular co-riders also undergoes a significant transformation. I recognize other regulars on my train so I’d have a similar reaction, I think!

I’m kicking myself since I no longer have a copy of a University of Minnesota class assignment based on this short story. The class was on social and cultural expression through the medium of film. I think that I asked students to discuss how and why they would film the short story if they were directors. I’ll have to start thinking about some way to revive that assignment for use here at SJSU.