Thursday, 10 November 2016

Initial Election Thoughts

I was absolutely shocked and devastated by the election results on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, but now it's clear that we all should have seen it coming. It was Brexit all over again--the same divisive, angry rhetoric on both sides, the same class and race dividing lines, and of course, the same result.

I've been reading a lot of pieces that try to explain it, try to make sense of what happened, why the pollsters got it wrong again, and what happens next. I don't claim to understand it all, and I'm sure there isn't one single, simple explanation. Class, race and education seem to play a huge part in the new alt-right populist politics.  The media tends to focus on the working class, uneducated voters who support Trump and have certain lower socio-economic indicators--even the "Make America Great Again" hat is a class marker--it's a so-called "trucker hat". For Brexit, we saw the same type of media portrayal--voters who lived near closed-down factories and industries, like Stoke or Wales for instance, where there was high unemployment, went for Leave. But in both cases, there was a gap between the media portrayal and the reality as shown in exit polling. The majority of Americans who earned less than $50,000 a year voted for Clinton, and many Brexit supporters were retirees living in rural areas and villages in detached homes--not exactly poor or working class.

Many people have noted that these two elections have exposed an undercurrent of racism and bigotry in society. In the aftermath of Brexit, there was a spike in hate crimes and in the days leading up to the U.S. election, I feared a repeat of that--no matter who won. There have already been stories circulating on social media about racist and anti-Semitic vandalism, harrassment, verbal abuse, sexual assault, and other forms of hate crimes.

I'm not quite ready to make peace with this new reality. I'm disappointed that Clinton won the popular vote and lost the electoral college--it's like 2000 Gore v. Bush all over again, but without the Supreme Court decision. I'm going to struggle explaining it to my students. I can't picture Inauguration Day, or a State of the Union address with Trump not just taking part, but playing the starring role. I never watched The Apprentice and I don't want to watch him on C-Span, either.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Feedback Anxiety

As an early career academic, I don't have much experience with editors' comments, so I haven't developed a thick skin yet. Every little margin note & criticism is deeply painful to read. I agree with their comments, too--I don't challenge them, I just accept that they're right and I'm wrong and my work is crap. It sends me to a very hopeless, demotivated place where I struggle to see how I could possibly revise it again. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know how I got a PhD. Somebody clearly made a mistake.

The trouble is, I've already been feeling like a failure because my contract includes some TA work. I'm still doing the same thing I did when I was a PhD student. I love teaching and I'm extremely grateful to be employed, but it's a constant reminder that I have failed to get a post-doc position or a research assistantship or an entry-level lecturing post...One day I mentioned to Richard that I felt like a failed academic and he reminded me that it's not over yet--my career's just starting, it's too early to label it a failure. That said, the "early career" stage excuse can only cover five or so years. The 'what if's creep in and I panic about never establishing myself. And then I get feedback like this, asking for a total rewrite and I have no time to do it, between teaching and reading (no time for job searching or putting together new proposals). How are other academics managing to do all of this? Do they just never sleep or spend time interacting with other people? Is that what I'm doing wrong?

At the moment, I'm procrastinating over facing the comments and doing my rewrite of that women & FP chapter...I just wanted to put this out there and reflect on it all before I bury it deep again and move on with life. Does it get easier, this whole publication process? Will I always feel worthless when I read editors' comments? Should I give up on academia and move out to a sheep farm in the Dales?

Thursday, 20 October 2016

2016 Presidential Debates

Now that the final debate is over, I'm ready to comment on this whole hot mess. It's been a painful thing to watch these debates. They've been unlike any other debates we've ever seen--the constant interruptions and talking over each other, candidates not shaking hands at the start and end, name-calling, etc. We've never had one candidate dominate all three debates before, either--Clinton has been the clear winner of every debate, while her predecessors have often performed better in one format or the other, and the winner is often determined by style over substance. In this election, Clinton had both. She remained calm and poised, even when Trump raised his voice and became agitated. She rose above his insults and name-calling, and came back at him with well-crafted responses that often used his own words against him to prove her points. She tried to stick to the issues, particularly during the first debate, before more pressing personal issues arose with more recent revelations.

Clinton has used the debates very strategically and masterfully--more than anything else in her campaign, her debate performances have demonstrated her political skills. She refers to a person to illustrate a point, as we've seen so many other candidates do (McCain's Joe the Plumber in 2008, David Cameron's '40-year-old black man' in Plymouth in 2010), but it's not just any old anecdote. It's an interview, press release, viral video and TV advertisement that are already filmed, edited and ready to launch. Her mention of Alicia Machado at the first debate was absolutely brilliant--his awful nicknames for her demonstrated both her opponent's misogynist attitudes towards women ('Miss Piggy') and his racist stereotyping of Latinas ('Miss Housekeeping'). It absolutely threw him and got under his skin--not only was he visibly uncomfortable (asking 'where did you hear this?') at the debate, but he subsequently spent a week tweeting about it, trying to harm Machado's reputation and discredit her. Instead, it reinforced the image of him as a bully--an image that was humorous during the GOP primaries when his target was "Lyin' Ted" or "Little Marco", but the bully image took on a much more sinister, more universally repugnant quality when his target became any woman who's ever struggled with her weight (i.e. 99.9% of women).
I think the final comments of each candidate at the third debate really do sum up this whole election campaign. They were asked to keep it positive, and Clinton, first to give her remarks, did keep it very positive:

Hillary Clinton: 
I would like to say to everyone watching tonight that I’m reaching out to all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, because we need everybody to help make our country what it should be. To grow the economy, to make it fairer. To make it work for everyone. We need your talents, your skills, your commitment, your energy, your ambition. 
You know, I’ve been privileged to see the presidency up close, and I know the awesome responsibility of protecting our country and the incredible opportunity of working to try to make life better for all of you. I have made the cause of children and families, really my life’s work — that’s what my mission will be in the presidency. I will stand up for families against powerful interests, against corporations. I will do everything I can to make sure that you have good jobs with rising incomes. That your kids have good educations from preschool through college. I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president.

She doesn't mention Donald Trump at all. She starts by echoing Obama's 2008 election night promise--'even if you didn't vote for me, I will be your President, too.' It's a lovely concept and an attempt to heal the wounds inflicted by this divisive, crazy election cycle. The emphasis on children and families plays to her strengths as the first female candidate--women are expected to know what they're talking about when it comes to children/families, so it lends her credibility (obviously that's all problematic for gender reasons, but let's ignore that for the sake of political strategy). It's an appeal to the voters, putting the decision in their hands and empowering them--"I hope you will give me a chance to serve as your president"--hope, a chance, to serve.

Trump's comments took the opposite tactic: he stayed on the attack and kept his tone decidedly negative.

Donald Trump:
She’s raising the money from the people she wants to control. Doesn’t work that way. But when I started this campaign, I started it very strongly, it’s called Make America Great Again. We’re going to make America great. We have a depleted military. It has to be helped, it has to be fixed. We have the greatest people on earth on our military.
We don’t take care of our veterans. We take care of illegal immigrants, people who come into the country illegally, better than we take care of our vets. That can’t happen. Our policemen and women are disrespected. We need law and order, but we need justice too. Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education, they have no jobs. I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than she can ever do in ten lifetimes.All she’s done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos. But they get the vote and then they come back and say ‘we’ll see you in four years.’
We are going to make America strong again and we are going to make America great again, and it has to start now. We cannot take four more years of Barack Obama, and that’s what you get when you get her.

He opens with an accusation, and it's not even particularly clear what he's accusing her of. He says he'll make America great, then criticizes the state of the military, veterans affairs, immigration, "inner cities" (Trumpspeak for areas where minorities live). He says a Clinton presidency would be four more years of Obama's policies as if that were a bad thing--his approval rating is currently at its second-term high, so I don't think the American people will have too much of a problem with that.

And finally, here's my official prediction. I've left Utah blank because I think McMullin genuinely could win, which means Utah's electoral votes go to neither Trump nor Clinton.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Women and the Fulbright Program

This week I submitted my revisions to the organizers of a forthcoming edited volume on Fulbright, based on the papers from last September's Fulbright Legacy conference at the University of Arkansas. My chapter's working title is "Fulbright Women in the Global Intellectual Elite"--it looks at women's contributions as grantees, administrators and as accompanying spouses of Fulbrighters.

I've got to say, I really enjoyed this one. There were so many stories and examples that I didn't have room to include (and I still went over the word limit...)--women whose time abroad changed their whole life trajectory, who accomplished amazing things, who were the first woman in their various fields. Ruth J. Simmons didn't make it into the final version, but she's definitely going in my book's women section. Her journey is brilliant--daughter of a Texas sharecropper, scholarship student at Dillard University, went on to earn a Masters and a doctorate from Harvard, and became the first African-American President of an Ivy League university. I love having extra material for future projects--this paper gave me about 2k words over the limit to tuck away in my 'leftovers' file!

I'm always relieved to finish a paper and submit it--hitting that 'send' button makes me feel 10 years younger--and I usually celebrate by taking the rest of the day off. This particular paper, though, has been really inspiring and rekindled my enthusiasm for my book edits. I went straight from sending off the paper to starting a new document and collating all of my new and revised bits and pieces.

This week I've run into another problem of access, just like I did back in 2011. It's so disheartening to be told that you can't do what you wanted to do, what you envisioned your project would include. It made me feel like my efforts on that particular sub-project had been a waste of time--something I have very little of to begin with these days. It's still up in the air, so I don't know what's going to happen with it, but at the moment it's frustrating and I just feel like I'm being thwarted at every turn: I can't get a job without publications so I try to work on those, and now I'm running into barriers with my publication.

After venting and having a little pity party, though, I decided to just carry on with whichever other bits I can work on in the meantime. I'm updating my lit review (the trouble with updating a PhD thesis is that I did my lit review in my first year, and a lot more research has been published since 2011...) and rethinking my "theoretical basis" chapter (which I never liked but it was a hoop I had to jump through to get my supervisors' approval...I'm not axing it altogether, though, because I've found some interesting new lit to add to it!).

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Certain Demise of US PD in the (tiny) Hands of a President Trump...

I try not to dwell on the possibility of a President Trump too much--it's too painful and our efforts are better spent trying to prevent it from happening, rather than speculating about how horrible it would be. There are so many things to fear about a Trump presidency at home--racism, bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, etc.--that I think the media often ignores all of the scary things he would do overseas. He admires dictators, dismisses our allies in NATO, wants to ban Muslims from entering the US and build a wall on the Mexican border, among other outrageous statements. I have complete faith that the ban and wall are not going to happen, but one thing I'm equally sure of is the demise of U.S. public diplomacy under a President Trump. 

This morning I watched a brief interview with Madeleine Albright on MSNBC's Morning Joe. She made some excellent points about his "America First" foreign policy (if you can even call it a proposed "policy"...we haven't seen much in the way of concrete, clearly articulated policy statements coming from his campaign so far...). Secretary Albright pointed out that in the late 1930's, the U.S. was following an "America First" policy then, too--and she reminded us of that policy's disastrous effects on her native Czechoslovakia.

Tara D. Sonenshine, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, wrote a great piece last month on the USC PD blog & Huffington Post about Trump's recent comments re: NATO.

"With careless rhetoric, Donald Trump risks destroying America’s power and credibility around the world at a time when Russian belligerence is high, and when Europe is struggling to contain the spillover from the Syrian war."

Since that time, he's only grown more and more outlandish in his statements--asking the Russian (or Chinese, he's not picky) hackers to find Clinton's missing e-mails, which constitutes treason. He's now said he was being 'sarcastic' and 'just joking', but nobody was laughing. 

"Asked if he was concerned that he was apparently encouraging Russia to spy on an American political party, he added: “It gives me no pause. If Russia or China or any of those country gets those emails, I’ve got to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”" (Independent article)

The way he so casually throws country names around, as if Russia and China are interchangeable, demonstrates just how ignorant, and willfully ignorant, he is about the world. This is not the kind of person who has any interest in public diplomacy. Trump would hate "soft power" because it has the word "soft" in its name. He prefers "strong"--it's one of the most-used adjectives in his 200-word vocabulary. He would see it as a waste of time and money--'Why do you need to talk to foreigners? Who cares what they think of the US? America First!'

(Another reason the "America First" line sends shivers down my spine: MP Jo Cox's assassin shouted "Britain First"...that's the kind of simplistic, nationalistic, xenophobic rhetoric we're dealing with here) 

I want to say I'm confident that he won't win in November. The crazy, offensive things he says and does every day, the high-ranking Republicans refusing to support him--surely he can't win. But the polls are still too close. The latest Politico poll, taken after both conventions had wrapped up, has Clinton just 6 points ahead, 50% to 44%. After seeing both conventions, hearing both of Michelle Obama's speeches, listening to Chachi and Duck Dynasty vs. Katy Perry and Meryl Streep, watching fear-mongering vs. hope-mongering--only 50% of Americans support Clinton? 

How can public diplomacy practitioners explain that one to the world?

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Fulbright Program at 70

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Fulbright Act, the modest little amendment to the 1944 Surplus War Property Act that created America's oldest, largest and best-known educational and cultural exchange program.

The size & scope of the program has grown exponentially. In the first two years after the legislation was passed, exchange agreements were made with only nine countries. This wasn't for other countries' lack of interest in exchanges--the agreements were complicated to negotiate and could only be enacted in countries which held surplus World War II property, the only funding source available for these earliest exchanges. Today, the program is active in more than 160 countries around the world, and is funded by a combination (varying country by country) of U.S. congressional appropriations, domestic private donations, foreign government appropriations and foreign private donations. Participation figures have increased significantly, as well. The number of Fulbright grants went from just 84 in its first year to 4,182 by 1953, a nearly fifty-fold increase. Today, approximately 8,000 grants are awarded each year.

The context in which these exchanges operate has changed dramatically over the past seventy years. International students are no longer a rarity on the world's campuses. American news, media & consumer products are available nearly everywhere U.S. grantees go. When international students decide to go to the U.S., they have pre-formed ideas about their destination from American pop culture (to a much greater extent than they did in the 1940s and '50s). Among the many other effects of globalization, it has greatly influenced the educational exchange experience.

This 70th anniversary highlights the need for the history of the Fulbright Program to be updated. Today, I've launched a survey of Fulbright Program administrators around the world, asking for their thoughts on the purpose and impact of the exchange program. Their responses will contribute to my examination of the current state of the program in my forthcoming book. I'm aiming to submit my revisions back to my publisher by the end of the year, so expect further progress updates here on the blog.

For any Fulbright Program administrators, past or present, who are interested in contributing their thoughts, here is a link to the brief survey:

Thank you very much for your interest!

Monday, 25 July 2016


The European Union's exchange programme, the European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS), has had over 3.3 million participants since its establishment in 1987 (European Commission, 2014). The programme offers an interesting contrast with the Fulbright Program. The U.S. has, at times, struggled to balance foreign policy impacts on the programme with calls to preserve its apolitical, academic nature. The European Union, on the other hand, created its exchange program with explicitly political aims. It was part of a greater ‘People’s Europe’ project in the 1980's, created to strengthen public support for integration and foster a European identity amongst the young people who participated in the study abroad programme. Most studies have found that ERASMUS students feel more 'European' after the exchange experience, and often go on to internationally-oriented careers (Papatsiba, 2005; Teichler and Janson, 2007; Mitchell, 2012; etc.).

 In 2010, a surprising study found ERASMUS participants reporting lower levels of European identity at the end of their sojourn. Emmanuel Sigalas, the author from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, offers two potential explanations for this unexpected result. One possibility is that participants began the sojourn with a strong European identity, which meant “there is more scope for deterioration rather than improvement.” (Sigalas, 2010, p. 260). The more convincing explanation, however, is that the host country may have had a significant effect: the incoming students in this particular study were in the UK. “It is important to note that incoming students came to study in one of the most Eurosceptic countries of the EU, where…people are amongst the least likely in Europe to identify as European.” (ibid., pp. 260-261). 
Now, the interesting part about this finding, given the Brexit results: four out of the nine UK universities included in the study were located in places that voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. This suggests that students may have been exposed to Eurosceptic attitudes during their sojourn, which could undermine attempts to forge a European identity. In hindsight, it appears that Sigalas' findings might be explained by the simple fact that his subjects went to places like Keele and Southampton, which voted to leave (69% and 53%, respectively).

On a related note, The Guardian had a piece on the uncertain post-Brexit future of ERASMUS yesterday.  The exchange programme relies on basic EU tenets, free movement of people and capital, to operate across the 27 member states. The UK might join the list of countries outside of the EU that participate in ERASMUS fully: Iceland, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey. Alternatively, it might go the way of Switzerland and be a "partner country" not a "programme country" (the long list of partner countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, have a more limited scope in terms of the types of exchanges that they can host). I'm sure the ERASMUS generation who voted to remain in the EU are hoping for Britain to keep its "partner" status.

A couple of interesting bits from the article:

"Ironically, Erasmus has its genesis in the UK: its founding father was Dr. Hywel Ceri Jones, among the early senior British appointments to the EEC, to head its first education and training department. He had worked with Professor Asa Briggs at Britain’s first European Studies department at Sussex University, which inspired the European pilot in 1976, he explained this week: “the idea that the internationalisation of study had to be open to all disciplines, not just languages. So we brought in the scientists, social sciences and arts”.
Dr. Ceri Jones, who went on to become Director General for employment and social policy at the European Commission, told the Observer: “Erasmus will still flourish in Europe, but UK universities have been a powerful magnet, because of the English language. I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about”."