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Faculty News and Updates

The primary responsibilities of a faculty member in a college or university are to teach and do research (or creative activity in some disciplines). At a flagship research institution like UT, faculty members are supposed to teach graduate and undergraduate courses in their areas of specialization, train graduate students, and conduct research that advances knowledge. Indeed, faculty members at UT write the books and articles students at other institutions in Tennessee and beyond read in their classes. In this edition of the Political Spectrum, we want to move beyond the teaching and research and demonstrate some of the other activities that marked the 2015-16 academic year.

Recent Grant Success

The most visible products of a professor’s research are published articles and books, but many professors apply for grants to assist their research and teaching. A number of the political science faculty were successful in attracting grants this year that will allow them to further their research and work with graduate and undergraduate students. Each of these has international implications.

Professor Brandon Prins received a $200,000 Minerva Grant from the US Department of Defense to study how lootable resources affect the duration and intensity of civil war.

Professors Jana Morgan and Nathan Kelly secured a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation.

Professor Michael Fitzgerald conducted fieldwork on anti-Americanism in Moscow, Russia, funded by a research grant from the UT Institute for Nuclear Security

Professor Matt Buehler secured a seed grant through the UT Institute for Nuclear Security to conduct a 2,000-person nationally-representative population-based survey experiment on public attitudes toward nuclear nonproliferation in Morocco. Specifically, the survey examines whether a hypothetical threat from Israel, Iran, or another Arab country provides a bigger impetus for public support for the building and use of a nuclear weapon.

Faculty Enhance Visibility of UT Around the Globe

Faculty members in the department are often invited to other campuses to share the results of their research. In addition to various talks around the United States, a number of faculty members received invitations to speak at venues around the world.

Professor Richard Pacelle gave two talks at the University of Genoa. The first talk, titled "Gypsies, Trump, and Thieves,” focused on the 2016 election in general. His second talk, "Forty More Years: The Making of the Clinton Court (or the Trump Court),” focused on the most important issue of the 2016 election: the Supreme Court.

Professor Jana Morgan gave presentations on her research in the following academic settings: Universidad Diego Portales (Chile) and Grupo de Analisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE—a Peruvian think tank).

While in Morocco working on his research project, Professor Matt Buehler delivered a lecture in Arabic titled “New Methodologies in Public Opinion Research” at the faculty of social sciences at King Hassan II University.

Faculty Lend Expertise to Policy Makers

Members of the department also consult with and lend their expertise to opinion leaders and policy makers. In 2015-16, faculty members offered their perspectives and advice on various issues.

Jana Morgan spoke at the US State Department on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela for an audience that included foreign policy analysts and intelligence officers from various federal departments. She also participated in an invited panel in Santiago, Chile, along with other academics, as well as leaders of all the major Chilean political parties, regarding the crisis of representation there.

Michael Fitzgerald was invited to give a presentation on the electoral college and the 2016 presidential campaign for visiting delegation from the Zagreb University in the Croatian Republic. Post-presentation interviews were featured in a documentary produced by the delegation for Croatian television. Nate Kelly’s research on inequality is part of the academic and policy debates.

Students in Tim Ezzell’s political science class got in on the process of influencing legislators and policy makers. The class developed and presented a project in Washington, D.C., to a federal-state commission dedicated to fostering sustainable economic development in Appalachia. The students, part of UT's Appalachian Teaching Project, spent the fall semester brainstorming ideas to promote Mountain City, in Johnson County, and the Doe Mountain Recreation Area. They called their design the "Appalachia 4G," a plan to use smartphone technology to spur business development and tourism in Johnson County, Tennessee.

Tim Ezzell DC Class Visit
Tim Ezzell (second from right in the Vol orange) and his class in Washington, D.C.

Their plan was to use Google cardboard, an inexpensive virtual-reality headset, to promote local businesses and the recreational opportunities available at the Doe Mountain Recreation Area. They envision community members creating videos of the recreation area and other locales and posting them online so potential tourists can experience the area virtually. They hope that what they learn in Mountain City can be applied to other Appalachian communities.

This is the sixteenth year of the Appalachian Teaching Project, one of UT's longest-running service-learning classes. It is sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission, a partnership between federal, state and local governments. The project provides planning and economic development assistance to distressed communities. This year, tech-savvy students want to use technology to enhance the appeal and attraction of Johnson County.

"A lot of the people we're trying to help want to better their communities and don't know where to begin," says Casey Bright, a senior in political science and sustainability and a member of the class. "They don't see themselves as capable of using the same technology or think that it can benefit them. We realize how easy it is to use and we can show them. The technology can help them do things a lot faster than the way they're doing things right now."

Bright noted that although some parts of Appalachia experience poverty and isolation, many residents have cell phones and smartphones because it is often their only means of communication and connection with others. Many do not have landlines, and cell phone service has improved dramatically.

Ezzell who has taught the Appalachian Teaching Project for thirteen years, noted Johnson County is located in the middle of a rapidly-growing tourism area.

"Other communities in this corridor—Abingdon, Damascus and Boone—have benefited from this growth," he says. "We feel like it is now Johnson County's turn to enjoy some of these economic benefits as well. They have made great progress in the past few years and we are hoping we can help them continue this trend."

Comings and Goings

We hired two new faculty members in the spring and are pleased to welcome one of them to Knoxville and UT. Now before you jump to the wrong conclusion, the second new faculty member, Christopher Ojeida, who received his PhD from Penn State, has a post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford for the 2016-17 academic year. We will be pleased to welcome him officially in the pages of the Spectrum next fall.

Emily Schilling at the Capitol
Emily Schilling

We are very pleased to welcome Emily Schilling, who comes to us from the University of Iowa where she got her PhD by way of a post-doc at Washington University. Emily is a specialist in American politics and methods. Her primary research is on Congress and state legislatures. Her research focuses on how legislators make decisions and, in particular, how legislators influence one another’s behavior. Through the use of spatial econometrics, she addresses a gap in the literature on legislative decision making between theories that emphasize how each legislator's decisions depend on those made by their colleagues and the empirical methods that are not able to capture this interdependence.

We were sorry to lose Adam Eckerd, a valued colleague, a great scholar, and an excellent softball player to Virginia Tech. We are hoping the Volunteers will take it out on the Hokies (what is a Hokie anyway?) in Bristol. We wish Adam the best and will miss having him with us.


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