Burdine Chronicles – October 2020

Dear Alumni and Friends,

The more perceptive among you will notice that this edition of the Burdine Chronicles is coming to you long after APSA – such as it was – is over. We could say, “COVID has upended the world and everything is crazy,” but instead we’re going to claim we have been waiting on a few developments to crystalize so that we can share the most up-to-date news with you (which turns out to be at least half true).

First, bucking the national trend, we are conducting two faculty searches this Fall – an open rank search in Racial and Ethnic Politics (REP) and a junior search in Methods. Please share broadly and let us know of any great candidates! Here is the link to the Methods ad. You can find the Racial and Ethnic Politics ad here.

Second, we have organized two election roundtables – an election preview October 29 at 5 pm (Sean Theriault, Bethany Albertson, Tasha Philpot, Jim Henson) and an election review November 10 at 5 pm (Daron Shaw, Alison Craig, Hannah Walker, Eric McDaniel).  Participation is open, but registration is required. We hope many of you can join us.

We recorded another installment in our ongoing, occasional Reflections series. This time we had a great conversation with Pat McDonald and Rob Moser on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and US foreign policy on the global system. We talk about the collapse of the consensus that sustained that global order for so many years, about how that affects US capacity to be a global leader, and how the pandemic has accelerated trends that had been brewing for years, and that underpinned the election of Donald Trump.

Closer to home, it turns out the Government Department at the University of Texas at Austin is not the sole occupant of its own universe. Like many other organizations and most of society, since last Spring we have been engaged in an extended conversation on diversity and inclusion. Raúl Madrid led a diversity task force this Summer and Fall to address these issues.

The conversation and the work of the task force have pushed us to innovate in a number of ways that we think will make us a stronger department. We are hopeful that the REP search mentioned above will bring an exciting new scholar to the department. With strong support from Dean Ann Stevens, of the College of Liberal Arts, we are working diligently to establish a REP research lab that will be co-led by Amy Liu and Eric McDaniel, and that will seek to blend Americanist and Comparative approaches to the study of Racial and Ethnic Politics. Although nothing is yet final, we are hopeful that the lab will become a space for innovation and collaboration across fields, one that will bring together faculty, graduate and undergraduate students. In addition, and in conjunction with the REP Lab, we are pursuing a new postdoc program spearheaded by the university’s Vice Provost for Diversity. If we are successful, this program will bring two postdocs to the Department for three years, to work on REP research. At the end of the three years there may well be another position opening up in REP.

Given that you inhabit the same universe we do, I would love to hear about the conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion happening on your campuses. Drop us a line to share what you’ve learned and what you are doing differently.

Speaking of the Zeitgeist, we continue adapting to our new teaching environment in the age of COVID. This fall we have expanded our menu of made-for-virtual online classes. Sean Theriault and Bethany Albertson are teaching a new virtual-native elections class; Eric McDaniel and Daron Shaw are teaching their Gov 310 online; and Pat McDonald and Rob Moser continue to teach their very successful Gov 312 online. In addition, Stephen Jessee has developed a virtual-native Methods class that debuted this summer and is on again this Fall. These are all excellent courses we will be teaching online long after we return to “normal” – whatever that might look like. Many others have adapted their standard in-person classes to hybrid and online formats. This department is full of gifted and committed teachers and COVID hasn’t changed that. Our enrollments are up by nearly one thousand students over last Fall.

Of course, in keeping with tradition, we are here to celebrate the many achievements of our alumni, our students, and our faculty! You can find recent alumni news here, but let me highlight a couple of the less traditional contributions our alums have made.

Johnny Meyer, who earned his PhD this past year, received the TISTA Tech Veteran Academic Leadership Award for his role in creating Veterans’ Voices, a state-wide humanities project. Veterans’ Voices brings soldiers and civilians together to break the silence around the experience of war. The project is sponsored by Humanities Texas, and has received two consecutive grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In addition to publishing a NY Times Op-Ed on criminal justice on Native American lands (This 19th Century Law Helps Shape Criminal Justice in Indian Country), David Heska Wanbli Weiden (PhD 2007) has published Winter Counts, a crime novel that takes place on a Native American reservation. His novel was chosen as a Best Book by Amazon, Apple Books, Oprah Magazine, Time, The Washington Post, and other outlets.

You can find additional recent alumni publications here. They include books and articles in prominent journals, as well as op-eds and other contributions, underlining the wide range of interests our alumni have, and the contributions they make. Be sure to send us your publications, as I’m sure there are many more we are not listing, just because we don’t know about them.

Our alums are moving up and moving around too. You can find the news of alumni promotions and jobs here. And we keep adding to the alumni list. Please join me in congratulating recent graduates, and their placements.

But just because our former students are doing lots of interesting things doesn’t mean our faculty have been idle. You can find recent faculty accomplishments here, and you can stay generally up to date by checking in with our blog.

These are interesting times, for sure. The challenge for us is not merely to survive them, but to learn from them and emerge stronger than ever. In the Government Department at UT we are working as always to make our department better, through new hires, self-reflection and improvement, new approaches to teaching, and continuing efforts to produce research that matters. I’m sure you are all doing the same, and I look forward to hearing from you on the many ways in which you too are constantly innovating and improving.

Be well and keep in touch.

Dan Brinks

Public Reactions to International Legal Institutions: The International Criminal Court in a Developing Democracy

Terry Chapman (and Stephen Chaudoin) has published, “Public Reactions to International Legal Institutions: The International Criminal Court in a Developing Democracy,” in Journal of Politics.

Abstract: We examine public attitudes concerning a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). We hypothesize that citizens tend to display lower levels of support for investigations in their own country than hypothetical ones abroad. We further argue that this decrease in support is moderated by a citizen’s “proximity” to the investigation. Both perpetrators and victims of alleged crimes can be hesitant about legal interventions, with the former fearing prosecution and the latter fearing the loss of a fragile peace. We use a survey experiment about the ICC in Kyrgyzstan that randomly assigned respondents to a control group, asked about foreign investigations, and a treatment group, asked about an investigation into recent local violence. Treatment lowered otherwise relatively high approval for investigations. This effect was strongest in regions most proximate to the violence, especially among coethnics of victims. Our findings help explain why support for international law can vary widely across subnational constituencies.

The Environmental Costs of Civil War: A Synthetic Comparison of the Congolese Forests with and without the Great War of Africa

Kyosuke Kikuta has published, “The Environmental Costs of Civil War: A Synthetic Comparison of the Congolese Forests with and without the Great War of Africa,” in Journal of Politics.

Abstract: Despite the fact that, between 1950 and 2000, more than 80% of wars occurred within biodiversity hot spots, we do not fully understand the environmental costs of war. This study conducts one of the first systematic evaluations of the costs of civil war for forest environments. The analysis, however, requires a proper counterfactual: the forest coverage if it were not for civil war. Moreover, instead of estimating an average cost of diverse civil wars, it would be better to tailor the estimate to each war. I address these problems by applying the synthetic control method to the case of the Great War of Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The analysis shows that the civil war caused a 1.61% loss of the forests, which is more than the entire territory of Belgium and nearly a half of Sierra Leone, over five years. The finding calls further attention to “conflict timber” problems.

Albertson, Guiler: Conspiracy theories, election rigging, and support for democratic norms

Bethany Albertson and Kim Guiler published, “Conspiracy theories, election rigging, and support for democratic norms,” in Research and Politics.

Abstract: Under what conditions does conspiratorial rhetoric about election rigging change attitudes? We investigated this question using a survey experiment the day before and the morning of the 2016 US presidential election. We hypothesized that exposure to conspiratorial rhetoric about election interference would significantly heighten negative emotions (anxiety, anger) and undermine support for democratic institutions. Specifically, we expected that Democrats who read conspiratorial information about interference by the Russians in US elections, and that Republicans who read conspiratorial information about interference by the Democratic Party in US elections would express less support for key democratic norms. Our evidence largely supported our hypotheses. Americans exposed to a story claiming the election would be tampered with expressed less confidence in democratic institutions, and these effects were moderated by prior partisan beliefs about the actors most likely responsible for election meddling.

Jay Kao: Family Matters: Education and the (Conditional) Effect of State Indoctrination in China

Jay Kao’s paper, “Family Matters: Education and the (Conditional) Effect of State Indoctrination in China,” has been accepted for publication in Public Opinion Quarterly.

Abstract: When and how does state indoctrination work? Building upon research on motivated reasoning and family socialization, I argue that only those individuals whose parents have connections to political patronage are subject to state indoctrination because their pro-regime biases transmitted from parents induce higher receptivity ex ante to government messages. Focusing on political education in China, I conduct a quasi-experimental analysis exploiting the sharp variation in textbook content generated by China’s most recent curriculum reform. Results based on a national survey show that the new politics textbooks successfully affected only those individuals whose parents had worked for the government. The finding survives extensive robustness checks and falsification tests. I also consider several alternative explanations of the effects: preference falsification, selective attention, parental indoctrination, and educational quality. This paper not only highlights the role of intergenerational transmission in moderating the effectiveness of state indoctrination but also casts doubt on the actual degree to which regimes can change minds by changing educational content.

Allen Sumrall: Incongruous Ideas of Impeachment

Allen Sumrall has published “Incongruous Ideas of Impeachment: ‘Impeachable Offenses’ and the Constitutional Order,” in Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Abstract

Despite a wealth of historical evidence and constitutional, political, and legal theory, impeachment in the United States remains hotly contested and poorly understood. This article argues there is a historical explanation for the confusion. In particular, the confusion stems from two competing ideas about impeachment, one layered atop the other. Constitutionally, impeachment is an important aspect of the separation‐of‐powers system, and a tool Congress can use to remove officials who are shirking their constitutional duties or damaging the polity itself. Soon after the founding, however, a new, competing idea of impeachment began to develop—that of impeachment as a legal device to remove officials who had committed an indictable offense. This idea had roots in civic republican traditions about political opposition being illegitimate. The interplay and tension between these competing ideas can help explain why impeachment politics today is both so fraught with tension and poorly understood.

Recent Faculty Publications, Awards, News, Op-Eds, etc.

Bethany Albertson: Winner of the Southern Political Science Association 2020 Erika Fairchild Award

Joe Amick, Terry Chapman, and Zach Elkins: “On Constitutionalizing a Balanced Budget,Journal of Politics

Dan Brinks (and co-authors): The Politics of Institutional Weakness in Latin America, Cambridge

Jason Brownlee: 2019-20 President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award

John Gerring, Kyosuke Kikuta, and Daniel Weitzel (with co-authors) “Why Monarchy? The Rise and Demise of a Regime Type,Comparative Political Studies

Ken Greene: Campaign Effects and the Elusive Swing Voter in Modern Machine Politics,Comparative Political Studies

Stephanie Holmsten and Rob Moser (and co-author):  Winners of the Leon Weaver Award for the best paper in APSA’s Representation and Electoral Systems section, for their paper, “The Election of Minority Women: Ethnic Parties, Ethnic Seats, and Gender Quotas.”

Nathan Jensen and Calvin Thrall: “Elon Musk got millions in tax breaks,Washington Post

Bryan Jones: Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Bryan Jones, Michelle Whyman and Sean Theriault: awarded the 2020 Richard F. Fenno, Jr., Prize by the Legislative Studies Section of APSA for their book, The Great Broadening: How the Vast Expansion of the Policymaking Agenda Transformed American Politics

Bob Luskin (and co-authors): “Does Deliberation Increase Public-Spiritedness?” (forthcoming in Social Science Quarterly); (and co-authors): “Deliberative Distortions? Homogenization, Polarization, and Domination in Small Group Discussions” forthcoming in British Journal of Political Science

Eric McDaniel: “Why are People Dying to go to Church?Soujourners

Scarlett Neeley, who worked with Sean Theriault and Alison Craig as an undergraduated, was a semifinalist in the University Co-op George H. Mitchell Student Awards competition, for her project, “Problem Solvers or Problem Creators: The Problem Solvers’ Caucus and Polarization in the United States House of Representatives.”

Thomas Pangle: Socrates Founding Political Philosophy in Xenophon’s “Economist”, “Symposium”, and “Apology”, University of Chicago Press

David Prindle made the Alcalde‘s “Texas Ten”

Devin Stauffer: “Locke on the Limits of Human Understanding,Interpretation

Jeffrey Tulis: ongoing, in The Bulwark

Jeffrey Tulis: “The Traditional Interpretation of the Pardon Power is Wrong,The Atlantic

Jeffrey Tulis and Nicole Mellow: “The Inheritance of Loss: A Symposium on Jeffrey K. Tulis and Nicole Mellow, Legacies of Losing in American Politics,” Political Theory

Hannah Walker: Mobilized by Injustice: Criminal Justice Contact, Political Participation and Race, winner of the 2020 APSA Racial and Ethnic Politics Section Best Book Award

Kurt Weyland: “Populism’s Threat to Democracy: Comparative Lessons for the United States,Perspectives on Politics

Scott Wolford: “War and diplomacy on the world stage: Crisis bargaining before third parties,Journal of Theoretical Politics

 

 

Recent Placements

Caitlin Andrews-Lee – Ryerson University, Toronto (tenure-track)

Maraam Dwidar – Syracuse University (tenure-track)

E.J. Fagan – University of Illinois, Chicago Circle (tenure-track)

Iasmin Goes – University Carlos III of Madrid (three-year post doc)

Daniel Weitzel – University of Vienna (five-year post doc)

Jonathan Wensveen – University of Lethbridge (visiting assistant professor)

Charles Zug – Williams College (two-year post doc)

Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Summer 2020 PhD Defenses

Brendan Apfeld: Do Left and Right Differ on Education in Latin America? Explaining Unexpected Convergence

Maraam Dwidar: Power to the Partner: Organizational Coalitions and Minority Representation in American Rulemaking

Carolina Moehlecke: Corporations and Global Regulation: Challenges and Opportunities for State Regulatory Powers 

German Petersen: Origins and Consequences of Corruption Scandals: Evidence from Mexico

Stephen Joyce: Judicial Federalism: A Comparative Study of Its Origin, Operation, and Significance 

John Meyer: One Way to Live: Orde Wingate and the Adoption of ‘Special Forces’ Tactics and Strategies (1903-1940) 

E.J. Fagan: Information Wars: Party Elites, Think Tanks and Polarization in Congress 

Jonathan Wensveen: Making History Safe for Democracy: Understanding Alexis De Tocqueville’s “Profoundly Ambiguous” Theory of History

Charles Zug: Demagoguery and American Constitutionalism 

 

 

Recent Alumni News, Awards, Op-Eds, etc.

Brandon Archuleta: 2020-21 Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow (Strategic Advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asia in the U.S. Department of the Treasury)

Katherine Bersch: When Democracies Deliver: Governance Reform in Latin America, selected by the International Political Science Association’s Research Committee on the Structure of Governance as the 2020 recipient of the Charles H. Levine Memorial Book Prize; selected for the 2020 SPAR Award for the Best Book Published in Public Administration in 2019 by the American Society for Public Administration

Maraam Dwidar: Recipient of the 2020 POP/Party Politics Award recognizing the best paper delivered on a Political Organizations and Parties-sponsored panel at the preceding APSA annual meeting, for “Interest Group Coalitions and Minority Representation in Rulemaking”

Roy Germano: research on migrant remittances was referenced by the NY Times; The Other Side of Immigration named Best Documentary on The Hill‘s list of best civil rights movies of all time

Dennis Hickey: piece in CHINA-US Focus, “US-China Tensions and the Salience of the Taiwan Issue”

Amy Lauren Lovecraft (nee Suker) (and collaborators): Interdisciplinary Research for Arctic Coastal Environments (InteRFACE) grant – an $8.7 million partnership with four national laboratories and the International Arctic Research Center to improve earth system modeling.

John Meyer: Received the TISTA Tech Veteran Academic Leadership Award for his role in creating Veterans’ Voices, a state-wide humanities project. Veterans’ Voices brings soldiers and civilians together to break the silence around the experience of war. The project is sponsored by Humanities Texas, and has received two consecutive grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

David Weiden: NY Times Op-Ed, “This 19th Century Law Helps Shape Criminal Justice in Indian Country;Winter Countschosen as a Best Book by Amazon, Apple Books, Oprah Magazine, Time, Washington Post, and other outlets

Recent Alumni Publications

Brandon Archuleta: Twenty Years of Service: The Politics of Military Pension Policy and the Long Road to Reform, University Press of Kansas

Christina Bambrick: “Horizontal Rights: A Republican Vein in Liberal Constitutionalism,Polity

Katherine Bersch (and co-authors): “Responding to COVID‐19 Through Surveys of Public Servants,” Public Administration Review

Alvaro Corral (and David Leal): “Latinos por Trump? Latinos and the 2016 Election,Social Science Quarterly

Alvaro Corral: “Allies, Antagonists, or Ambivalent? Exploring Latino Attitudes about the Black Lives Matter Movement,Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences

Kyle Endres (and co-authors): “Elite Messaging and Partisan Consumerism:An Evaluation of President Trump’s Tweets and Polarization of Corporate BrandImages.Political Research Quarterly

Kyle Endres (and co-authors): “Partisan Consumerism: Experimental Tests ofConsumer Reactions to Corporate Political Activity.Journal of Politics

Jasmine Farrier: Constitutional Dysfunction on Trial, Cornell University Press

Aaron Herold (forthcoming): The Democratic Soul: Spinoza, Tocqueville, and Enlightenment Theology, University of Pennsylvania Press

Dennis Hickey: “China’s Expanding Engagement in Global Health,” Asian Perspective

Aaron Herold: “Tocqueville on Religion and Democratic Character: Equality, Mediocrity, and Greatness,” in Civil Religion in Modern Political Philosophy: Machiavelli to Tocqueville, Penn State University Press

Richard Holtzman: “Making it Up As He Goes: Donald Trump’s Hyper-Rhetorical Presidency,Fast Capitalism: An Interdisciplinary Journal

Amy Lauren Lovecraft (nee Suker) (and co-author): “Scenarios development with Alaska’s Arctic Indigenous youth: perceptions of healthy sustainable futures in the Northwest Arctic Borough,Polar Geography

Amy Lauren Lovecraft (nee Suker) (and co-author): “Risks without borders: A cultural consensus model of risks to sustainability in rapidly changing social-ecological systems,Sustainability

Steve Pittz: Recovering the Liberal Spirit: Nietzsche, Individuality, and Spiritual Freedom, SUNY Press

Daniel Ryan (and co-author): “Knowledge gaps and climate adaptation policy: a comparative analysis of Latin American countries,” Climate Policy

Recent Alumni Promotions, New Jobs, Retirements

Manuel Balán – Director of the Institute for the Study of International Development (McGill)

Christina Bambrick – Notre Dame (assistant professor)

Kyle Endres – University of Northern Iowa, and Associate Director, Center for Social and Behavioral Research

Connor Ewing – University of Missouri (assistant professor)

Jasmine Farrier – Vice President, University Advancement (Louisville)

Laura Rabinowitz – St. Thomas University (Fredericton, NB, Canada)

Arnold Fleischmann – Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University

Danny Hayes – promotion to professor, George Washington University

Dennis Hickey – Emeritus, Missouri State University

Philip Meeks – Emeritus (since 2016), Creighton University

Peter Sanchez – Emeritus, Loyla University Chicago

Robert Shaffer – Syracuse University (post doc)

Trey Thomas – West Virginia University

David Weiden – promotion to professor, Metropolitan State University of Denver

Don Zinman – promotion to professor, Grand Valley State University

 

Burdine Chronicles – April 2020

Dear Alumni,

If this were a normal Spring, I would be writing you as the Midwest PSA conference gets under way. I would be sending some updates, notes about publications and promotions, the state of the graduate program. It turns out, we didn’t get to catch up with each other in Chicago, and these are not normal times. So rather than dedicating the whole letter to the department’s many accomplishments, I thought I might spend a bit of time telling you about our shared experience transitioning to online learning this Spring. I’m sure you all have similar stories.

Our department has some experience with and exposure to online learning; and many of you, no doubt, have the same. But none of us would have anticipated what we did just one month ago, transitioning quickly and completely to our new, virtual classrooms. We were very fortunate to have access to exceptionally helpful resources here at Texas during our transition. Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) has led the whole campus through the transition, creating and maintaining a Faculty Course Guide, and making sure Gov faculty were well taken care of. In addition, the Faculty Innovation Center created and maintains an Instructional Continuity site to give faculty some guidance. While we all – well, most of us – miss seeing each other in person, our department’s faculty have met several times over Zoom, first sharing tips for making the transition, and since, sharing our experiences, collaborating in unprecedented ways to help everyone make the move. We have also been fortunate to receive expert guidance from some of our seasoned online instructors. You can read their insights on this post by Bethany Albertson and Sean Theriault, and in this piece by Rob Moser, Pat McDonald, and Sarah Reed.

More recently, again led by LAITS, we fielded a survey returning nearly 1,000 student responses about their experience moving online with Government Department courses. The survey showed that nearly all our students have access to the technology they need to transition online. At the same time, however, many students are having some difficulty managing the transition. In particular, students are experiencing high levels of anxiety and uncertainty, not just about their classes, but about their finances and their future.

The survey and our response to what we learned from it are part of the approach we have taken throughout the crisis; from the beginning of this forced experiment in online learning we have tried to put the students first. The University, the College, and the Department have all worked to help those students most in need and to ensure our (virtual) classrooms remain accessible to all, accounting for the diversity of experiences and challenges our students face finishing this semester. Acknowledging that many students will have difficulty with internet connections, being able to meet at set times, or finding the right space at the right time to learn, we have encouraged either on-demand modules or recording of live sessions, in conjunction with relaxed attendance policies (for live courses), a move to low-stakes assessments, and maximum flexibility in grading options for the semester. Even as we, faculty, for the most part found the transition to be a little easier than we expected, we understand this transition is most challenging for students – and especially for students facing socio-economic or demographic difficulties. We will continue to do what we can to help students meet these challenges, while continuing to uphold our high standards for instruction and learning.

I sincerely hope all of you are staying healthy and finding some silver linings in your own virtual experiments. I would love to hear from you about the resources your universities have provided, the approaches you and your colleagues have taken, and your experiences thus far. I’m sure there will be tales of triumph and tragedy, before this is all over. And I hope we soon get to gather, trade stories, and celebrate our accomplishments.

I can’t let this opportunity go by altogether without celebrating some of our faculty’s recent publications. Gary Jacobsohn has published a new book on constitutional revolution; Daron Shaw has published a book on turnout myths; Shannon Bow O’Brien published “Transcending the Veil: Barack Obama’s Rhetoric and Strategic Racial Representation” in the new issue of National Review of Black Politics (with Natasha V. Christie); Cambridge University Press has just accepted J. Budziszewski’s Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Divine Law (his fifth commentary in the series); Jeffrey Abramson’s article, “Faithless or Faithful Electors: An Analogy to Disobedient but Conscientious Jurors,” will appear in vol. 69 (April) of the Emory Law Journal; and Zeynep Somer-Topcu recently had an article accepted for publication in theJournal of Electoral Studies (with Margit Tavits and Markus Baumann) — “Does party rhetoric affect voter perceptions of party positions?” I made my own small contribution with an introduction to a special issue of Humanity, entitled “Human Rights and Economic Inequality” (with Karen Engle and Julia Dehm), which includes articles by several prominent human rights scholars.

In final news for this edition, I am very happy to report on one promotion and two new hires. Beginning Fall 2020, Bob Luskin will be promoted to full professor, and two new assistant professors will join the department: Hannah Walker, in American Politics, and Nathan Gilmore, in Theory.

I wish you all the best in these unprecedented times, now and in the coming months. I know you are doing the best you can for your students and your institutions. I look forward to hearing from all of you about your experiences, the next time we are together.

Cordially,

Daniel M. Brinks, J.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Comparative Politics and Public Law
Chair, Government Department
University of Texas at Austin

All is Not Lost: Online Education in an Era of Social Distancing

By Patrick J. McDonald, Robert G. Moser, and Sarah Reed

The pandemic triggered by the spread of COVID-19 is rapidly changing the social, political, and economic landscape of the world.  We are just beginning to feel these consequences in higher education. Public health guidance associated with social distancing has created a nationwide push to move most instruction online.  This shift will disrupt classrooms as instructors and students adjust to a significantly different learning environment while simultaneously coping with the broader everyday anxieties posed by this pandemic.

In light of this shock, we would like to share some of our experiences—both successes and mistakes–associated with our large-scale transition to online instruction at the University of Texas at Austin.  Since the Fall of 2014, we have taught an online topics course on American Government (U.S. Foreign Policy) that meets a general education requirement. Our annual enrollment in this course across the Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions now approaches about 4,000 students.  We have offered multiple variants with individual class sizes ranging from 175 to 1900. One includes synchronous instruction that asks students to log in to our learning management system (LMS) at a common, set time to watch a video feed and interact with us. Other asynchronous versions make all instructional content available to students via an on-demand basis so they can “attend” class when it best fits their schedule.  We have successfully incorporated graded, online discussion sections of 15 to 25 students into these classes. And we have used a range of assessments including live quizzes, short writing assignments, longer essays, take home exams, live in-person exams in a common room with hundreds of students, and online exams proctored through a third-party testing service.

Benefits and challenges of online courses. While it is difficult to see a bright side to a sudden shift to online courses in the middle of an academic year, some attributes of online courses can offer real advantages. Even in classes that exceed one thousand students, attendance in our online class is surprisingly high. More than 90% of students watch recorded lectures and complete lecture quizzes on time. This participation rate substantially exceeds standard attendance rates of our large in-person courses with several hundred students. Many of us are legitimately concerned about the loss of direct personal contact in the online setting. However, online discussion sections and interactive question-answer exercises allow more widespread participation in our course, particularly by reserved students who will submit comments or questions online but not speak up in a live class. Online courses with recorded lectures also preserve course material for students that is lost in live, in-person lectures. Students that miss a class can easily recapture that content by watching the recording.  They can also control the pace of a lecture by pausing to take notes and rewatch segments they find challenging.

Despite these benefits, online instruction also creates new challenges for students. They interrupt the traditional routines of academic life. Students are accustomed to physically attending class and have a difficult time adjusting. Without the structure of in-person class meetings, students may have trouble organizing their consumption of course material online. They may not read reminders posted online or sent over email. Small things like finding the links to lecture recordings or assignments on the course website can frustrate them. Online courses require that students initiate these changes independently, requiring a greater degree of organization and self-discipline. If too much content is provided at once, students are tempted to procrastinate and binge-watch lectures prior to exams or other assignment deadlines.

Fortunately, there are ways that instructors can organize and present course material to mitigate these challenges. However, we should not underestimate the differences between online courses and in-person courses. Students will need to develop different skills and habits to succeed in online courses.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous online courses.  When moving online, instructors first need to decide between a synchronous or asynchronous offering. There are pros and cons to each.

Synchronous online courses more closely resemble live in-person courses. Students log in at a specified time and collectively watch a live broadcast of an instructor delivering content. They offer interactivity among instructors and students. Students can ask real-time questions through direct messaging or video conferencing.  Instructors can use live quizzes, discussion sections (with or without video), and polls to support student concentration and engagement.

Asynchronous online courses provide pre-recorded instructional or lecture content to students.  These recordings expand their access, effectively shifting to on-demand delivery. This generally provides greater flexibility for students, an important consideration in light of the radical changes to everyday routines.  Asynchronous courses are particularly helpful for working and non-traditional students who need to take courses outside of normal business hours. Students also do not have to worry about course scheduling problems such as choosing between two desired courses that meet at the same time with asynchronous courses. This may be important in the current crisis when many instructors are rescheduling course lectures and assignments without coordination. Recording asynchronous lectures also can be less stressful for instructors. An instructor can stop and start over if something goes wrong or simply edit out a mistake. One can also lecture for shorter intervals, take a break, and then record another segment.

This flexibility imposes some costs.  Such courses lose the coordination benefits of interacting simultaneously.  Students cannot get their questions answered in real-time. Students lose the opportunity to learn from each other through discussion.  Instructors cannot field pop quiz questions or live student polls to increase student engagement.

The choice between a synchronous or asynchronous online course involves weighing these tradeoffs. Of course, an instructor can blend the two alternatives, pushing lecture content into an asynchronous format while preserving synchronous meetings for questions and discussion. However, such combinations require clear communication that inform students of log-in times for live broadcasts and the deadlines associated with asynchronous content.

Delivery of instructional content.  The presentation of lecture content differs significantly in an online environment.  We lose most nonverbal visual cues that help us to make inferences about communication effectiveness and whether students are actually engaged.  Students are deprived of mild social pressures that help sustain concentration when inhabiting the same physical space with an attentive audience.  When watching a lecture online, a more exciting alternative is literally a click or swipe away.

These challenges, though, are not insurmountable.  Through trial and error, we implemented the following adjustments.

First, we divided up longer lectures into a series of short segments of eight to ten minutes or less, generally organized around one central question or argument.  In a synchronous environment, this means stopping repeatedly to ask for questions or the completion of a brief exercise, such as a quiz, poll, or short, written response.  In an asynchronous environment, this means a formal halt to the taping of a lecture segment, preceded by a brief conclusion or review.

Second, if lecturing to a camera on your computer, avoid long stretches where students are just watching you speak to them.  Our students report difficulties sustaining concentration in this situation. Moreover, many of us have nonverbal cues that distract students when forced to focus on a screen dominated by a single person.  Toggle back and forth to a powerpoint presentation (with pictures, definitions of key concepts, and brief explanations) if possible. Lecture in front of a whiteboard if one is available. Integrate a clip from Youtube or an interactive graphic found on the web.

Third, be aware that many of your most conscientious or diffident students will respond to having access to recording of your lectures by watching or listening to them multiple times.  Worried about missing something important, they focus on the details and can miss the forest for the trees. These anxieties can be reduced by repeating core themes over the course of a lecture and encouraging them to email questions or post them on a central discussion board.  Such anxieties also place a premium on effective communication. These students, in particular, will struggle with wandering video lectures that jump around from idea to idea.

The benefits of smooth student consumption of online, instructional contentThe costs of poor time management manifest multiple times every semester when we see sleep-deprived students sitting for an exam after trying to learn five or six weeks of content with two days of cramming.  These temptations can grow when students lack the formal check-ins provided by the in-class setting. Absent regular deadlines, some students will treat lecture content and readings like bingeing something on Netflix.  Our own internal tracking suggests such practices hurt the middle 70% of students in the grading distribution. If they binge watch online instructional content in the days leading up to an exam, their final grades are a half letter grade lower, on average, than the student who did some work for class over more regular intervals like 3 or 4 days a week.

The good news is that students will respond positively to low stakes assessments or check-ins encouraging smooth consumption of instructional content.  Preserve regular deadlines that correspond to your class schedule with small check-in assignments like a paragraph response to a discussion question or a brief online quiz through your LMS.

Online discussion sections.  When appropriately structured, the integration of synchronous, online discussion chats can be an excellent instructional device that deepens understanding through targeted questioning of students while enabling them to learn from each other.

These chats can be implemented through a simple discussion online discussion board or even a google doc or sheet.  We broke students into groups of 15 to 25 and distributed questions in advance. We graded them on a low-stakes basis (credit, half credit, or no credit).  Students were required to post their comments in complete sentences, detailing some claim or argument. We told students to imagine the structure of these conversations as resembling a party.  Even though there might be twenty people in the same room, they didn’t all have to participate in the same conversation. Instead, students were free to break up into smaller groups on their own by directing questions and responses to each other, say with an @Joe or @Jane query.  We began these discussions by posting one of the discussion questions circulated in advance and then intervened repeatedly in multiple conversation threads to get students to specify their claims or arguments in more detail.

While many students described these discussion forums as chaotic at first, they quickly adjusted after our encouragement to concentrate on the posts of a handful of students.  They reported feeling liberated by not worrying about being called on in an in-person, single conversation setting. When we “called” on them in the chat, they didn’t feel the pressure of everyone in the class looking at them while waiting for an answer.  Instead, they knew that others were simultaneously focused on their own conversations. They were more comfortable, knowing they had time to think through their responses to our queries or those from fellow students.

Clear communication and organization. With this ongoing classroom disruption, clear communication and accessibility is vital to success. Moving from a classroom to online mid-semester may heighten anxiety as students have been socialized to a specific process throughout the preceding weeks. Good communication can ease this stressful situation and provide guidance in creating a new normalcy.  Use your LMS’s announcement or email feature to let your students know about any changes to the syllabus and assignments as early as possible. Collect all these announcements in a central location. Your LMS may also let you post announcements or information on your course home page. Prompt responses to any issues or questions will set a supportive tone and provide the necessary guidance.

It is also a good practice to create a clear lesson structure in your LMS. Try to provide all instructional content–such as readings and lecture videos–in a single tab or page so students can access them easily.

The importance of starting strong. We have learned that it is vitally important for students to “start strong” in online courses. At the beginning of the course, they need to understand what is expected, know the schedule of the course, and get into a successful routine of completing assignments by their deadlines to succeed. As we already noted, online courses disrupt traditional academic routines. When taking an online course, students need to develop new routines early on so that they do not fall behind in class and get discouraged.

Instructors can help students make these adjustments by following two crucial steps. First, at the beginning of class, provide frequent reminders of upcoming deadlines so students quickly acclimate to the flow of the online course. We also recorded an introductory lecture that explained the content and schedule of the course so students could hear it from us rather than simply read the syllabus. Second, early intervention can help students who fall behind to catch up rather than fail or drop the course. Online courses are particularly well suited to help students recover from initial missteps. We use short low-stakes quizzes after each lecture segment to incentivize students to watch the lecture videos and reinforce the material. These quizzes allow instructors to identify students who do not understand the material or are simply not attending class. Check your LMS to see if it provides data on student usage, such as durations and daily distribution of page views.  These enabled us to monitor student engagement with the course. We also implemented an early intervention program that emailed students who were not watching lectures or completing assignments. These students responded very positively to these interventions, appreciated the outreach, and often managed to establish successful routines and complete the course.

The challenges of collaboration.  All instructors have to make decisions about the appropriate level of collaboration in their classrooms.  Online instruction can heighten the challenges associated with regulating collaboration, particularly during high-stakes exams.  We have typically solved these problems through the standard monitoring of in-person tests that bring students together twice or three times in a semester.  Obviously, this option is no longer available.

Asynchronous assessments that rely on multiple-choice or true/false questions can be particularly susceptible to cheating.  Some students will simply coordinate among themselves, taking turns to get the questions (and answers if provided to them) before sharing with others.  Some of these challenges can be alleviated with large question banks that most will not have time to write during this rapid transition to online instruction.

Instructors might consider the following remedies.  For smaller classes, take home essays, graded online discussion sections, and timed, short answer exams (with a large number of definitional terms or concepts that can be substituted for each other) work really well.  This semester, we will replace our remaining high-stakes, in-person exams with a series of synchronous, timed, open notes, low-stakes quizzes. We will limit the duration of the testing window and shuffle questions with a larger than normal question bank to heighten the challenges of collaborating.  This format is also aided with cheating detection software supplied by our university.

Online proctoring. You can also use a third-party proctoring service to give high-stakes exams in an online course.  They confirm the identity of students and monitor them through a computer’s camera over the course of an exam.  We encourage the consideration of several tradeoffs with this alternative. Students will be rightfully concerned about their privacy.  Many could also face hurdles associated with cost and technical requirements.   Students may not have access to the same technology at home that they did on campus.  They may lose their internet connection in the middle of an exam or try to do things like taking an exam while in a moving car! This can increase frustration for all sides and impact continuity within the class.  You may see if your university already has an online proctoring service that could be seamlessly implemented. However, we learned that staff oversight is usually necessary to act as a liaison between the student and the proctoring service.

The current crisis is a defining moment for higher education.  As a community, we have never experienced this type of disruption to our daily work and studies.  Unlike some other industries that must simply shut down during this crisis, we are being asked to continue our core academic mission using technology and a virtual learning environment.  While online education is relatively new, it has been used to provide high-quality instruction to millions of students. We can use these tools to continue to teach our students remotely.  In the process, we may learn to harness the advantages of online tools to enhance our classes even after the crisis ends.

Spring 2020 American Politics Speaker Series

Jan 24: Alan Wiseman, Vanderbilt
February 12: Brian Richter — UT
February 17: Brandon Archuleta — USMA (a new addition since our last announcement)
February 26: Matthew Hayes — Rice
March 11: Zachary McGee — UT
March 25: Philip Moniz — UT
April 9: Angie Maxwell — Arkansas
April 29: Adam Berinsky — MIT

Buehler Wins SERMEISS Book Award

Matt Buehler’s book, Why Alliances Fail: Islamist and Leftist Coalitions in North Africa, has received the 2019 SERMEISS book award. The Southeast Regional Middle East & Islamic Studies Society (SERMEISS) awards this prize to recognize outstanding scholarship in Middle Eastern studies across any academic discipline in the social sciences or humanities.

https://sites.google.com/su.edu/sermeiss/home

https://press.syr.edu/supressbooks/139/why-alliances-fail/

Burdine Chronicles – August 2019

Dear colleagues and friends, 
I’m writing you for the first time as the incoming Chair of the Government Department. After six years of excellent service to the Department, Rob Moser has decided to step down, as he related in the last edition of the Burdine Chronicles. Please thank him, if you get a chance, for all the work he has done for the Department over the last few years. No doubt more than a few of you owe something to his dedication and effort. 
 
You can probably find Rob, and many other UT people, at the Texas Reception at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, which this year will happen on Saturday, August 31, 7:30-9:00pm, in the Omni Hotel Executive Room.
 
As you will see from the remarkable list of accomplishments below, the Department has a great deal to be proud of. Our faculty are winning teaching awards, and publishing and winning prizes for their research; our grad students are publishing and teaching, and as a result earning tenure track jobs at excellent institutions; and our alums are publishing, winning prizes, and getting promoted.
 
FACULTY NEWS:
 

Our faculty have so far this year published at least seven books (that we know of — they don’t always share):

Richard Albert (a new addition to our excellent set of comparative constitutionalist faculty, with a primary appointment in the Law School): Constitutional Amendments: Making, Breaking, and Changing Constitutions

Daniel Brinks, with Steve Levitsky and Vicky Murillo: Understanding Institutional Weakness: Power and Design in Latin American Institutions

Henry Dietz: Population Growth, Social Segregation, and Voting Behavior in Lima, Peru, 1940-2016.

Wendy Hunter: Undocumented Nationals: Between Statelessness and Citizenship

Bryan Jones, Sean Theriault, and Michelle WhymanThe Great Broadening: How the Vast Expansion of the Policymaking Agenda Transformed American Politics.

Kurt Weyland: Revolution and Reaction: The Diffusion of Authoritarianism in Latin America.

Scott Wolford: The Politics of the First World War: A Course in Game Theory and International Security.

We also continue a long streak of winning teaching awards from the University of Texas. Bethany Albertson won the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award. Michael Anderson received the Leslie Waggener Centennial Teaching Fellowship, and Rhonda Evans (both faculty and alum) was awarded the Harry Ransom Teaching Award. 

And we’re taking home more than our fair share of the 2019 APSA awards. Please congratulate the following faculty on their prizes: 

The Comparative Agendas Project, directed by Bryan Jones, but with the collaboration of many faculty and grad students in our department, has won the Lijphart/Przeworski/Verba Dataset Award from the Comparative Politics Section (previous winners include Zach Elkins, for the Comparative Constitutions Project dataset)

Daniel Brinks and Abby Blass were awarded the C. Herman Pritchett Award for the Best Book Published on Law and Courts, for their book The DNA of Constitutional Justice in Latin America (co-winners).

Remarkably, Derek Epp and his co-authors were the co-winners of the C. Herman Pritchett Award for the Best Book Published on Law and Courts for their book Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race, co-authored with Frank Baumgartner and Kelsey Shoub.

And Gary Jacobsohn was chosen for the Law and Courts Section Lifetime Achievement Award. This trio of prizes from the Law and Courts section of APSA — the largest section of APSA — confirms the Department’s standing as a Public Law powerhouse. 

ALUMNI NEWS:

Perhaps the biggest news this year is our placement record. Twelve of our students landed tenure track jobs this year (one, at one of the most prestigious institutions in Japan, was actually a tenured position). Although we like to claim some credit for this stunning result, one look at their records will largely explain their success. Our students are well-trained, they’re smart, and they compile excellent teaching and publication records before they ever leave UT. Of course, Wendy Hunter’s excellent work as Placement Director doesn’t hurt either. 

 

Nor do our PhDs stop publishing once they leave. Our more recent PhDs have a long list of books to celebrate (in addition to other publications): 

Manuel Balan: Legacies of the Left Turn in Latin America: The Promise of Inclusive Citizenship

Matt Buehler: Why Alliances Fail: Islamist and Leftist Coalitions in North Africa

Oya Dursun-Ozkanca: Turkey-West Relations: The Politics of Intra-alliance Opposition

Jeremy Fortier: The Challenge of Nietzsche:  How to Approach His Thought

Shannan Mattiace: Politics in Mexico

Amy Risley: The Youngest Citizens: Children’s Rights in Latin America

Christian Sorace: Afterlives of Chinese Communism: Political Concepts from Mao to Xi

Brian Wampler and Natasha Borges Sugiyama: Democracy at Work: Pathways to Well-Being in Brazil

Kristin Wylie: Party Institutionalization and Women’s Representation in Democratic Brazil 

As if we were short on prizes, Kristin Wylie’s book won APSA’s Legislative Studies Section Alan Rosenthal Prize.

And, of course, all this excellence is rewarded with promotions and other recognitions at their current institutions. Manuel Balan was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure, and has won two multi-year external grants from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Oya Dursun-Ozkanca was promoted to professor of political science, College Professor of International Studies. And Amy Risley was promoted to Professor, and won the 2019 Clarence Day Award for Outstanding Teaching. 

Alvaro Corral is the 2019 recipient of the APSA Fund for Latino Scholarship. Dennis Plane won a Fulbright grant to teach at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México. 

Matt Vandenbroek (and his co-authors) won Honorable Mention for the 2019 Walter Lippmann Best Published Article Award from APSA’s Political Communication Section for their 2016 JOP article, “The Changing Norms of Racial Political Rhetoric and the End of Racial Priming.” David Williams was awarded the TCU Political Science Department Distinguished Alumnus Award. And Matthew Wright was named the 2019-20 John and Daria Barry Visiting Research Scholar in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.

I’m afraid this reads more like a laundry list than like a nicely polished narrative about what’s going on in the Department. And in fact, the lists don’t even begin to capture everything that’s going on here at UT-Gov. We have been and will continue to hire new and exceptionally accomplished faculty, we have just welcomed 15 more remarkable students who want to complete their PhD with us, we have an exciting list of visiting speakers lined up for the following year, and we continue to teach awesome classes to thousands of UT undergrads. Our current grad students are pursuing fascinating research, and you can expect more faculty and student publications, on topics that are central to our discipline and our politics. There’s a real sense of excitement here in Batts and Mezes (as you all know, our time at Burdine is receding into the distant past—should we change the name of this newsletter?). 
 
Please continue to keep in touch, to share your accomplishments with us, to reach out to your former professors and colleagues. We love to hear from you. 

Sincerely,

Dan Brinks