Fred Block | Research professor at U.C. Davis
Read our Summer 2016 Newsletter Below
A Difficult Season
This is an especially challenging time for progressive academics.
Our efforts to create inclusive learning environments for students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference are mocked by national political figures that ridicule “political correctness,” engage in bullying behavior, and openly embrace sexist and racist speech.
We are often included in the right-wing’s war on teachers that are blamed for everything that is wrong with education.
Meanwhile, universities and colleges continue to be squeezed by budget pressures and the destructive initiatives of aggressive or incompetent administrators. In some states, efforts to strip away protections of tenure are already well advanced while elsewhere the Koch Brothers and their allies create academic institutes and centers to propagate free market propaganda. At the same time, our students suffer from heightened economic anxieties both about their debt burden and about their ultimate ability to find a decent job.
To be sure, there have also been victories. The recent Supreme Court rulings have preserved affirmative action in university admissions and have halted pro-life efforts to close down abortion clinics by unjustified medical regulations. The presidential primary campaign has focused attention on the student debt burden and has generated discussion of free access to public higher education. But any sense of progress is overwhelmed by the realities of continuing unprovoked police violence against minorities, the failure to address racial injustice across the criminal justice system, and new initiatives by state governments to stigmatize transgender people. And when we look beyond the borders of the U.S., we see a dysfunctional global economy that has not yet recovered from the Global Financial Crisis, the continuing rise of right-wing and nationalist political projects, and intensifying geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East and East Asia.
While it might be tempting to succumb to despair, this is a time to redouble our efforts as engaged scholars. The evidence is all around us that ideas and issues that were just a few years ago debated only in academic settings are now being taken up by the broad public and, in some cases, are having an actual effect on public policy. Critiques that began in the university set the stage for broader social movements including the “Fight for Fifteen,” the campaign for marriage equality, “Black Lives Matter,” the battle to end our dependence on fossil fuels, the ongoing struggle to reform our dysfunctional financial system, and campaigns to eliminate student debt.
Here are a couple more examples. For years, the idea of providing every citizen with a basic income to cover food, shelter and other necessities was almost entirely limited to academic debate. Today, basic income is being discussed in major newspapers and magazines and advocates include both labor leaders and high tech entrepreneurs. Similarly, since the 1990’s, thousands of students have been exposed to Karl Polanyi’s powerful critique of free market ideas in social science classrooms, but now his ideas have migrated into publications such as Dissent and The American Prospect. A recent web post was even entitled “Karl Polanyi for President.” To read it, click here.
These are all indications that ideas, research, and writing can and do make a difference even as we confront opponents who frequently deny the findings of both natural science and social science. And this is why we have created the Center for Engaged Scholarship. In these first few years, most of our energies are going into building the dissertation fellowship for Ph.D. students. (If you haven’t seen our inaugural awardees, you can review the list by clicking here.)
We think this is the most concrete and immediate way to send two messages. The first is directed at graduate students encouraging them to formulate dissertation projects that can contribute to progressive change. The second is a message to the broader social science community that engaged scholarship is both academically legitimate and vitally necessary if we are going to prevail over the destructive visions of right-wing billionaires.
In future years, we hope that the Center will do more to shape an agenda for engaged research and teaching. We welcome your ideas and we thank you for your continued support for this undertaking. We are particularly grateful to all of the people who devoted their time to reviewing the fellowship applications and to all of those who applied. We plan to announce the 2016-2017 fellowship competition on the CES website in September. Please pass the word along to any graduate students who might be interested. Onward!
Statistics from Our First Year
In the inaugural round of our fellowship competition, we received 386 applications of which 366 met our eligibility requirements. 67 percent of the total applicants were female, 28 percent were male and 2.3 percent of our applicants identified as gender queer/gender non-conforming and approximately 1.4 percent identified as transgender male/transgender female/different identity.
Of the 246 applicants who responded to the racial and ethnic identification question, a third identified themselves as Caucasian/White and about 4% identified as Latin American/Latino/Latina. African Americans accounted for 10% and about 10% of the applicants were from the combined category of Asians and South Asians. The remainder were divided among more specific ethnic identities.
In terms of discipline, Sociology provided a third of our applications followed by Political Science at 12 %, Anthropology at 9% and History at 7%. The remainder came from Psychology, Education, Women’s Studies, Social Work, Ethnic Studies and other programs.
Applicants were enrolled in universities in 36 states with the largest numbers coming from California, New York and Illinois.