Identity, Controversy, Pedagogy: Teaching Contentious Issues in the Political Science Classroom

By John McMahon and Patricia Stapleton

As fall terms approach, one question seems to preoccupy political scientists more than anything else: how do you teach Donald Trump? At the least, this challenge has provoked blog posts, social media discussions, and conversations over coffee (and stronger fare). Benjamin Kroll of Centre College posed the dilemma thusly:

How does a college professor teach with a commitment to politically neutrality and objectivity under these circumstances? Is neutrality in the classroom even desirable or ethically defensible at this point?

I need to figure out… how I can, as a college professor, effectively teach about the presidential election and American politics while simultaneously 1) clearly demonstrating that many aspects of “Trumpism” are illegitimate expressions of American political culture and values, 2) raising awareness of the potential future spectre of authoritarianism that a Trump presidency might enable, 3) emphasizing that there are legitimate reasons to support Trump even if you do not accept the viewpoints and proposals that are not legitimate, and 4) making sure that all students, Republicans and Democrats alike, feel that they are welcome to express their views in classroom discussions, and 5) making sure to emphasize that despite many of Trump’s illegitimate views and that he is this year’s standard-bearer of the Republican Party, the “mainstream” GOP is still well within the traditional boundaries of American politics and values?

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Contingent Faculty and Labor Justice: Opportunity, and Incorporation

The third post in our “professional development and reflections on the discipline” series, curated by the WPSA Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, discusses contingent faculty. Julie Novkov, current WPSA President, reflects on the realities of adjunct and contingent faculty, and suggests what we and our universities can do to transform thinking around, and acknowledge the crucial contribution of, contingent faculty. Other posts in this series include Failure and Success in the Academy, By Susan Sterett, Jennifer Diascro, and Judith Grant, and The Personal is Political, or At Least, Relevant, by H. N. Hirsch. If these topics are of interest to you, we would like to encourage you to register for the short course at the APSA conference in Philadelphia in September on Unlocking Success with Failure. This half-day short course will focus on unlocking our success – as individuals and institutions – by exploring the failures in our personal and institutional stories. We will do so in the context of the many interdisciplinary intellectual frameworks that illuminate failure as inevitable and necessary for achievement.

By Julie Novkov


Susan Sterett’s and Jennifer Diascro’s recent explorations into themes of failure and success have struck me particularly in the last several months as my university grapples with the silent growth in, and regularization of, contingent labor as a critical piece of fulfilling its educational and service missions. Our provost convened a panel in 2015 that brought together faculty and professional staff from across the university, including both “regular” workers with eligibility for permanent appointment and a variety of workers holding temporary appointments, both full-time and part-time. We studied the issues for half a year and produced a full report to the president. The university is now in the process of figuring out how to implement the panel’s recommendations, and I am fortunate enough to serve on one of the implementation committees. I’m provoked to ask myself an important question: what is to be done with the various frames of failure that shape our understandings of contingent faculty labor?

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The Republicans’ Porn Problem

By Shira Tarrant


Gearing up for the 2016 convention in Cleveland this week, the GOP is prepared to address adult entertainment and declare that pornography is a “public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions.”

This sentiment is similar to that expressed in a Utah state resolution from April this year, which claims that pornography is a public health hazard. Yet, despite being proposed and backed by Republicans, a range of studies does not necessarily support the political declaration that pornography is a public menace.

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Why the Veepstakes matters less than you are told and more than you realize

By Heath Brown


It is Veepstakes time again and all eyes are on the choices Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are making. Much media attention has been drawn to the possibility that the vice presidential picks will help win a key swing state in November, serve as an “attack dog” on the campaign trail, or sparkle in a future debate. While this is all possible, and negative media coverage may deter some candidates, especially women, from seeking the post, there seems to be little evidence that it ultimately matters that much for the election. (See Kyle Kopko and Christopher Devine’s Politico piece from April on this, and also Boris Heersink and Brenton Peterson’s Monkey Cage blog piece that suggests small VP effects).

Probably of more importance, Dave Hopkins argues convincingly on his blog, is that VP choices matter because of “the window that they provide into the presidential candidates who select them.” Donald Trump’s much anticipated, but ultimately delayed VP announcement, probably says something about his style of deliberation over difficult decisions.

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Not Simply a Game—What the France v. Germany Euro Cup Semi-Final Can Tell us about the Politics of Racial Diversity in Europe

By Jacqueline S. Gehring

The rising support for the far-right in Europe, like the nativist and xenophobic support for Donald Trump’s candidacy in the United States, has many Europeans and American worried about the future of their democracies. In this moment of rising anti-Islamic and racist rhetoric across Europe, tomorrow’s semi-final game between France and Germany in the European Soccer Championship is not only a showdown between the European Union’s two most influential countries, it also provides an opportunity to understand how race, racism, and the far-right influence the politics of national identity in France and Germany.

The French and German soccer teams are very diverse, with players who are racialized as non-white—a fancy way of saying that they are often treated as racial minorities, just as black or Latino Americans face discrimination in the United States. Although many French and Germans claim that racism is not a significant problem in their countries, research demonstrates that racial discrimination is widespread in both countries. As symbols of the French and German nations, the diversity of the French and German national teams challenges those who believe that their nations should be for “ethnic French” or “ethnic Germans.” At the same time, these soccer teams become a rallying point for French and German politicians who seek to promote the benefits of a diverse society.

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Language Matters: Concerns About “Political Correctness” are Deeply Intertwined with Race and Gender Discrimination

By Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee

As American society has become more diverse and inclusive, there have been efforts to make language reflect that inclusivity. For decades, women, LGBTQIA people, disability advocates, and people of color have demanded a more inclusive language. In key respects, their effort has been successful. Powerful men (and women) increasingly face scrutiny for using racial slurs or discriminatory language, as Mel Gibson, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling have discovered. Moreover, the public tends not to sympathize with these powerful people who stray far beyond the realm of “political correctness.” While these efforts are widely accepted among some portions of society, especially young people, they have met a backlash among many other segments, namely older, white men and women. 

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Sorry Donald, Brexit is not about you (or the United States)

By Jacqueline S. Gehring


Americans awoke Friday to news of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, with commentators portending that this vote brings the US one step closer to Donald Trump’s presidency.  Donald himself proclaimed “I hope America is watching.”  Of course, Trump also congratulated the Scottish people for taking “their country back” even though they actually voted to stay in the EU.  (If they were voting to take their country back, they would have done so by declaring independence from Britain, not the EU.  Hasn’t Trump ever seen Braveheart?)  

It is not only Trump, however, who believes that the Brexit vote may predict the American presidential race.  A look at today’s media coverage, or the twitter feeds of many American political scientists, show similar fears.  At the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum claims Brexit is “a warning to America,” while the New York Times suggests that populist anger driving Trump is also the main driving force of the Brexit vote.  

I will not argue here that Brexit does not have supporters who are driven by xenophobia and populism.  It certainly does.  The British wish to leave the European Union, however, is not an inherently xenophobic or populist wish.  Instead, Britain has been ambivalent about the European Union since its founding, when Britain chose not to join.  Later, as the British economy struggled, European membership began to look better and better.  So much so that they applied to join the EU twice in the 1960s.  French President De Gaulle vetoed the British application both times, an experience not easily forgotten by the British.  Finally in 1973, Britain joined the European Community (what we now call the European Union).  Even at this moment, when Britain had been trying to join the EU for over a decade, there was still significant domestic concern about how membership in Europe might affect British independence, and fear among trade unions that Europe would decrease worker’s protections.  These concerns were so significant that Britain held a referendum just two years after joining Europe.  With British economy and political power waning, 67% of voters supporting membership because they hoped it would strengthen Britain.  It did.

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