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.

The cover story for the March 2016 issue of The Atlantic magazine is “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together.”  The online subhead reads, “Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.” Today I read the article during my train commute to work. It’s a refreshing departure from more negative and depressing analyses in the news, especially surrounding the U.S. Presidential primaries. I wonder, however, why the print version differs from the online version. The print magazine’s table of contents has the same title, but the cover reads “Can America Put Itself Back Together?” [Emphasis added.] The subhead: “A three-year 54,000-mile journey reveals surprising sources of strength.” Hhhmmm.

In recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8) StoryCenter is inviting people to view a powerful new collection of narratives from their Silence Speaks initiative, The Right To Her Story. These stories are available free of charge until Friday, March 11 by entering the code WOMENSDAY to view the collection. The proceeds from online streaming and DVD sales after March 11 support StoryCenter’s ongoing efforts on behalf of women’s rights globally.

Blackasotan is a soon-to-be launched website about the experiences of Black Minnesotans. From its “Share Your Story!” section:

Every creative venture has an origin story. Ours? A lot of shared meals and amazing conversations about our individual and collective experiences of blackness in the frozen tundra, AKA Minnesota.

At some point, we became determined to make this idea a reality. We aren’t the first to try to capture stories through the lens of a place: shout-out to sites like 1839 and Stuck in DC. We also know for sure that we didn’t invent the idea of featuring stories of Minnesotans from communities of color / with underrepresented identities (hello, Opine Season).

But, we’re doing it anyway. An idea doesn’t have to be new to be impactful. And we know these stories that we tell to each other, our friends, families, and co-workers at happy hours and house parties and in the hallways are powerful.

Indeed! Sharing our stories can be useful in so many ways. I came up with a possible story, and sent a note to the editors:

I have an idea for a short non-fiction submission: “30 years a Minnesotan.” I first visited Minnesota in the summer of 1986 after graduating from an all-Black Atlanta high school. Today in 2016 I’m the Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University, but in between I spent four summers in Minnesota as an engineering intern at 3M, lived there for 14 years as a professor (including five years as Chair of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota), and visited at least once a year in the other 12 years. I now consider myself a Minnesotan: I pined for home during my first two years away while at the U of Wisconsin-Parkside, and recently changed my hometown listing on Facebook from Atlanta to Minneapolis. I’d talk about how many think that an existence in a state with a relatively small number of Blacks is extremely limiting, but I found it full of possibilities for Black identity after living in a more regulated all-Black environment.

Blackasotan will launch in April, so they’ll need stories by the end of March. On one hand I hope that I’m not selected to develop the idea into a submission, as I have several deadlines and tasks due in March. On the other hand, it will be fun to write this piece!