Newhouse endowment for the CIRCLE directorship

The Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation has made a $1.5 million gift to endow the directorship of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the leading research center on youth civic education and engagement at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

This endowment is the most recent gift from Elyse Newhouse, J82, and her husband Michael Newhouse, A82, who have long been generous supporters of Tisch College and Tufts University. The gift will advance CIRCLE’s mission to understand and eradicate the barriers that keep some young people from participating in civic life. It will ensure that CIRCLE, a consequential anchor institution in the fields of civic education and engagement, will continue to have extraordinary impact on diverse young people’s ability to have a voice in our democracy.

[See the whole press release here.]

This announcement is doubly meaningful for me. First, the director is my close colleague and successor Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, who richly merits an endowed position as a national leader in the field of youth civic engagement. CIRCLE is intensely collaborative, and the whole team deserves credit for all of its work, yet this is a moment to celebrate Kei. The gift reflects her accomplishments and excellence.

Second, the endowment vindicates our initial vision for CIRCLE. Founded in July 2001, CIRCLE began as strictly grant-funded project, albeit with the ambition of becoming a permanent institution that would help create a new field of research and practice. We moved from University of Maryland to Tufts in 2008 because of Tufts’ commitment to civic engagement and research. I proudly turned over the leadership to Kei in 2015. Tufts has supported CIRCLE in many ways, of which the Newhouse endowment is the newest–and one of the most significant–examples. We can now be sure that CIRCLE will be active and influential for a long time to come.

ghosts as a metaphor for past injustice

In Ghost Stories for Darwin, Banu Sabramaniam recalls:

Trained in evolutionary biology, I saw a field of morning glories and asked about flower color variation. I did not ask why it was the most obvious question. The landscapes in Southern California provoked me to ask questions about native and foreign species, without questioning the blurry distinctions between the native and the alien and the histories of the plants. The problem of women in the sciences elicited strategies to increasing their numbers, without any questioning of the gendered and racialized expectations of science.

Years later, I look at the same fields and see the ghostly apparitions of a eugenic past—the many mutilated, tortured, imperiled, and dead bodies, the stigmatized, contained, disciplined bodies of communities and nations of color, the poor, those deemed mentally incompetent, inferior, the many lives deemed not worth living. In tracing the genealogy of variation, all these histories came tumbling out.

Sabramaniam derives this use of a ghost metaphor from Avery Gordon and others. One example in her book is eugenics, which was widely endorsed and taught, closely linked to the development of population biology, genetics, and even statistics, and embraced across the political spectrum. In turn, eugenics is rooted in racism and sexism.

A defender of science would say: eugenics was a mistake, but now it has passed thanks to the self-correcting methods of scientists. A deep critic of science would say: the institution is still the same one that produced eugenics. I take the ghost metaphor to mean something between those two views. The institution is not eugenics; it is science. However, science is haunted by eugenics and racism, just as we might imagine a house to be haunted by ghosts. Likewise, Sabramaniam’s question about color variation was not racist; the flowers really were colorful, and it was good that she enjoyed them. However, once Sabramaniam had explored the history of scientific inquiry into variation–which was important work–she was no longer able to see the wildflowers without also seeing specters of the past.

A house and a ghost are distinct. We can imagine an effective exorcism or another solution to the problem presented by a ghost. Yet we are not actually banishing the ghosts that haunt us.

This metaphor resonates for me. I am not interested in blowing up the institutions around me, partly because I am not convinced that we would be better off without them, and partly because I actually admire aspects of them. But they feel haunted, and the more necessary work we do to understand their pasts, the more haunted they seem.

See also: pseudoscience and the No True Scotsman fallacy; media literacy and the social discovery of reality; the progress of science; mixed thoughts about the status of science etc.

open position at Tisch College, supervising student researchers

Program Manager, Student Research – Tisch College-(21001763)

(This is a part-time position, working 17.5 hours per week.)

The full listing and a link to apply are here.

The Program Manager will lead a team of paid student researchers who function like a research consultancy, conducting projects in support of Tisch College faculty and research groups housed within Tisch College, such as CIRCLE, the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, the Center for State Policy Analysis, the Tufts Community Research Center at Tisch College, the Tufts Priority Research Group on Equity, and others. Periodically, the team may also study or evaluate Tisch College programs. Projects may involve survey research, analysis of existing data, interviews, focus groups, observations, literature reviews, and other methods. Given the mission of Tisch College, research will almost always involve civic engagement as a topic.
The Program Manager selects students for the research team and organizes them to work effectively together. Criteria for selecting students should include some prior coursework in research methods and/or prior experience with research. Therefore, teaching fundamental research methods is not a responsibility of this position. However, students may require additional training and support for particular projects.

The Program Manager consults closely with Tisch College professional researchers to identify appropriate projects and to determine the methods, timelines, deliverables, etc. for each project.

The Program Manager works with the student team to accomplish all aspects of each research project, including—when appropriate—research design, Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, data collection, analysis, and communication of results. The Program Manager is responsible for the quality of the research as well as the learning opportunity for the student researchers.

The Program Manager will be responsible for the supervision of all program staff and students, financial and administrative oversight, and budget management.


Basic Requirements:

  • MA degree with 3-5 yrs. experience in area of research.
  • Direct prior experience with all major aspects of social science research.
  • Experience teaching or leading groups of undergraduates.
  • Experience working on collaborative research.     

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Ph.D. or coursework completed toward a PhD.
  • Both qualitative and quantitative research methods and experience.
  • Experience producing research that is meant for a public audience or for practitioners (not just academic publication).
  • Knowledge of aspects of civic engagement as a research topic.

Peter Beinart interview on anti-Semitism and Middle East politics

This is the video of yesterday’s conversation with Peter Beinart at Tufts:

I asked him:

  • What do you think is the relationship (if any) between rising anti-Semitism and rising criticism of Israel?
  • When is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic, and when isn’t it?
  • Is it important that we have dialogue about Israel/Palestine in places like Tufts? Why? What would be trying to accomplish?
  • In Jewish Currents in July, you wrote, “In mainstream American discourse, the word ‘anti-Palestinian’ barely exists. It is absent not because anti-Palestinian bigotry is rare but because it is ubiquitous. It is absent precisely because, if the concept existed, almost everyone in Congress would be guilty of it, except for a tiny minority of renegade progressives who are regularly denounced as antisemites.” Can you expand on that statement and talk a little more about why you focus on anti-Palestinian prejudice here, apart from Islamophobia or anti-Arab prejudice?
  • What should non-Jews know about Judaism to engage appropriately in civic life?
  • What is your own position on Israel/Palestine now, and how did you get there?
  • What would a one state solution look like? How would the state be organized?

rationales for private research universities

The Atlantic’s Emma Green begins her interview with Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber by asking, “Why should Princeton exist?” He answers by talking about “talent.” He says, “the idea of a place like Princeton is that you can identify young people who have extraordinary talent and will benefit from an intensive academic experience. Over the space of years and decades, they will blossom in ways we can’t even predict, and they will be able to address problems that matter.”

In order to accept this rationale, you would have to accept some version of four controversial premises: 1) Princeton attracts talent, as opposed to various forms of capital (financial, social, cultural). 2) Talented people learn more at Princeton than they would at less selective institutions; they do not merely receive credentials with high market value. 3) Graduates of Princeton are trustworthy and accountable to other human beings. And 4) Social change depends on small numbers of talented people.

Persuasive evidence for these claims cannot be anecdotal. Eisgruber cites Justice Sotomayor, who is genuinely talented, probably learned a lot at Princeton (she talked about it when she visited Tufts), serves the public good, and wields influence as a Supreme Court justice. But one example does not make the case. What is the net impact of Princeton on society? (For instance, what is the impact of one Sonia Sotomayor minus one Ted Cruz?)

I would offer a different justification, cautiously because I think it only goes so far. You could call it “one cheer for Princeton.”

Justice is extraordinarily important. It is a contestable concept and it should be complex, encompassing various values that may not fit together comfortably. For instance, it should probably encompass both individual freedom of choice and also equity. Regardless of how you define justice, highly selective and fabulously endowed US universities are not likely to be consistent with it. That is why they should face constant pressure from democratic institutions as well as competition from public higher education and from other entities here and abroad.

But I don’t think that justice is the only good. Here I would also mention truth and beauty. Highly selective and well-funded universities generate a lot of those goods–and not only for their own members. As Eisgruber notes, five of this year’s Nobelists have Princeton connections, and their research is in the public domain. David Card’s work on the minimum wage is research that should promote both truth and justice. He conducted it with Alan Krueger while they were both at Princeton, which is a good example of the benefits of concentrating expertise. Princeton also produces beauty in the form of natural science and scholarship. At Tufts, we add a school of fine arts.

Although highly selective private institutions generate truth and beauty, they don’t–and shouldn’t–monopolize those functions. For one thing, public universities produce a vast amount of the same goods. (But US public universities are often effectively private institutions.) More importantly, truth must come from beyond the academy.

Indeed, universities have weaknesses as producers of knowledge and beauty (apart from their questionable impact on justice). They are not particularly good at valuing the ideas and insights that come from the margins of society. My job is to try to address that problem at Tufts and in some national networks. Whether I succeed is a different question, but I work on it every day. I think my underlying motivation is the belief that by combining the kinds of knowledge that come from places like Tufts and Princeton with very different kinds of knowledge, we might be able to enlighten and empower people beyond our walls.

See also how to keep political science in touch with politics; the weirdness of the higher ed marketplace; a way forward for high culture