Jeffrey Engel, Tower Center, we need a middle-class president

(CNN)There seem to be two prerequisites for the modern U.S. presidency.

1. Being fabulously rich.

2. Successfully pretending you’re not.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tried his hand at No. 2 last week as he announced his bid for the White House. With his back awkwardly turned to the TV cameras, and a drive-through-worker style microphone clipped to his ear, Cruz relayed a version of his life story, often in third person, to a student crowd at Liberty University in Virginia.

“Imagine another teenage boy being raised in Houston … experiencing challenges at home … heading off to school over 1,000 miles away from home in a place where he knew nobody. Where he was alone and scared. And his parents going through bankruptcy meant there was no financial support at home — so at the age of 17 he went to get two jobs to help pay his way through school. He took over $100,000 in school loans, loans I suspect a lot of y’all can relate to. Loans, that I’ll point out, I just paid off a few years ago.”

Poor Cruz.

All those loans.

Good thing he’s estimated to be worth $1.8 million to $3.5 million.

And he’s not the wealthiest person whose name has been thrown into the hat as a potential candidate for 2016, according to estimates compiled by Crowdpac, a nonpartisan website that aggregates stats about potential political candidates.

Crowdpac estimates Hillary Clinton’s net worth to be $21.5 million (more if you include Bill). Jeb Bush’s: $10 million. Even Elizabeth Warren, enemy of Wall Street, champion of populist financial-sector reform, is estimated to be worth $3.7 million to $10 million, according to CNN Money. READ MORE

New courses help students shape ethical dialogue in variety of fields

DALLAS (SMU) – Nine new courses to be taught at SMU beginning this fall aim to address real-world ethical challenges from the political science realm to the video game industry.

With $128,000 in grants from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, many of the 25 faculty members who developed the courses or have sponsored ethics-focused research grants gathered March 19-22 in Taos for a ethics course development and writing workshop.

“We have long felt that professors are among the most influential people in a student’s college life. If their professors write about, talk about and teach ethics, students will see ethics as important and worthy of attention,” says Maguire Center Director Rita Kirk.

The grants are part of a half-million dollar, five-year incentive award offered by the Maguire Center to professors for course development and research publishing. (For recipients, see below.)

SMU Political Science Professor Matthew Wilson says his course “Ethics of Revolution and Civil Disobedience” will reflect current political issues students see in everyday life.

“Ethical-issues discussions surrounding resistance to the state are especially timely, given the current debates over conscientious objections to vaccination, the Obamacare contraception funding mandate and same-sex marriage,” he says.

“As our society continues to become more and more diverse in its mix of religious and philosophical beliefs, a growing number of Americans will find that they have significant moral objections to some aspect of government policy,” Wilson says. “When are they duty-bound to subordinate their own consciences and obey, and when are they ethically permitted, or even obligated, to resist? That’s the core question this class will explore.”

SMU Religious Studies Professor G. William Barnard will guide students through the complexities of world religions “to more consciously articulate and address difficult moral issues within the matrix of their own lives,” he says. READ MORE

Cal Jillson, Political Science: Pre-K efforts at Capitol a test for governor, lawmakers

Times Record News

By: Mathew Waller

AUSTIN — Children ran in circles in the bright gym. They sat pointing at pictures and words in books at the library. And they typed at computers in a screen-filled classroom.

“The slide game!” one child shouted, asked about a favorite education computer program.

“Thinking skills,” said another.

The 240 children, many kindergarten-age, attend the Abacus School of Austin — which offers full-day prekindergarten classes.

“It’s all about a love for learning,” said Cathy Kelly, director of the school.

She talked about how they brought in a zebra and a camel for a demonstration.

Abacus is on the higher end of pre-K environments, and the private school is funded through tuition alone, as opposed to the way the state provides funding for half-day pre-K for economically disadvantaged children.

Now Texas is preparing to invest more in children ages 3-5 in public schools. Lawmakers thus far aren’t debating whether the state will invest in pre-K, but how, and by how much?

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has a huge stake in the matter, as his first big educational proposal and his first emergency priority, a measure that could aim at proving that Republican leadership is able to make meaningful reform in public education.

Abbott’s plan is most closely encapsulated in House Bill 4 from state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and has tremendous backing. The bill would give more funding to schools that qualify to set up high quality pre-K.

However, the bill has been called incremental as it doesn’t come near restoring more than $200 million in pre-K grant funding removed back in 2011. Abbott’s plan will cost about $100 million. Another piece of pre-K legislation, HB 1100 from state Rep Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, and state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, would require full-day pre-K for the high quality programs and bring in double the cost to spend around $300 million.

“Gov. Abbott has laid out a vision to make Texas first in the nation in education, and that begins by building a strong foundation in early education with the goal of ensuring all students are performing at grade level in reading and math by the time they finish the 3rd grade,” Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, wrote in statement.

HB 4 also has the backing from the Texas Association of Business.

“It’s very important because too many of our kids arrive at kindergarten not ready to learn,” TAB President Bill Hammond said.

Such an investment can help cover workforce skills gaps in the future.

“Not enough students are coming out of high school that are career- or college-ready,” Hammond said.

An effective solution

Texas began offering pre-K publicly in 1985. There are 1,047 school districts and charter schools offering a prekindergarten program, and 504 of them are full day.

Advocates for pre-K say that the program is more than a day care and that children without pre-K are less likely to catch up in kindergarten, that in the long term there are fewer high school dropouts, and that the soft skills help children throughout their lives.

The issue of putting more resources into pre-K got started in the campaign season, with both Abbott and his opponent, former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis, of Fort Worth, emphasizing education in their campaigns.

“The beauty of prekindergarten, as opposed to many other education initiatives, is there is such a good amount of credible research that establishes its benefits,” said Holly Eaton, the director of professional development and advocacy for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. “That’s why the Legislature has funded it, at least half-day, knowing of its importance.”

A day of pre-K at Abacus starts as early as 6:30 a.m. with early morning activities, a morning snack, group time, gym or music and movement play, literary and writing study, such as letter study, and shared reading and writing. The afternoon at Abacus as a full-day school includes art studio, time in the computer lab or library, science and social studies, math and exercise on the playground.

Of particular importance is that pre-K helps close the “word gap,” where by the time children in wealthy families are 3 years old, they’ve been exposed to 30 million more words than those in low-income households, Eaton said.

Catherine Murphy, an Austin mother whose child recently went to Abacus, said she has seen pre-K work. Her son is now in first grade, and she said he adapted well when kindergarten rolled around. He had no problem rising early, sitting quietly or doing work, she said.

“I would be totally for getting a child into education sooner rather than later,” Murphy said. “To have him in a school rather than a day care is really important.”

Scott Elliff, a retired school superintendent in South Texas, said pre-K is a tool that helps bridge equality gaps in general.

“Especially when you’re talking about student populations that are high poverty … I think it’s absolutely an essential part of our programming,” Elliff said. “The way our state accountability system is set up, everybody by the third grade needs to pass the same tests.”

He said full-day kindergarten not only helps with more instruction for children, but it also helps families in which parents can’t take off work to pick up their children from a half-day program.

Dollars that Count

A major difference between Huberty’s HB 4 bill and Johnson’s HB 1100 bill is how much funding would go to pre-K.

For now public schools in Texas get half-day pre-K funding to the tune of $3,650 per eligible student.

Under HB 4 districts could opt in and get up to $1,500 per student, Huberty’s office has said in a release.

Under Johnson’s HB 1100, schools could get another $3,650, essentially doubling the allotment for students.

Johnson argued that, because more students might be eligible in HB 4, the amount going to students in HB 4 would likely be watered down to more like $650 per student for the 185,000 students who may be eligible.

Johnson compared the situation to the hypothetical of giving everyone a dollar out of a million dollars, or targeting a million dollars at a specific project, like a library.

“It doesn’t really accomplish a whole bunch,” Johnson said of HB 4.

Johnson’s HB 1100, meanwhile, would require a plan for more teacher assistant training and teacher development, class size limits, and most significantly, a full day.

For a district to qualify under HB 4, it would need to fully align what they teach with the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines and measure their progress to meet the goals of those guidelines.

Teachers would need to be certified, and individual districts would need to make a plan to engage parents and keep families highly involved in the student’s education.

“One of the goals of this program: make sure that every kid in the state of Texas gets money,” Huberty told a panel of lawmakers this month.

At the moment the major challenge to HB 4 is HB 1100, the bill offering full-day pre-K in its high quality requirements. Most of the House Democrats are signed onto HB 1100.

Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson called HB 4 a modest proposal, and the director of the University of Texas’ Texas Politics Project has called the program a “minimalist approach,” in an opinion piece.

A statement from Abbott’s office bristled against any idea that Abbott isn’t serious about the issue.

“Governor Abbott placed early education at the forefront of his agenda by declaring it his first emergency item during his State of the State address, and is actively working with the Legislature to ensure his proposals are adopted to build a brighter future for Texas children,” Chassé said in a statement.

Hammond, with the business association, said he supports HB 4 because of the lesser cost. Huberty has also raised concerns that some school districts won’t be able to participate because they don’t have the room or capacity for full-day pre-K.

“It’s a decision that has to be made at the local level,” Johnson said in defense of HB 1100 before a House panel. He said that school districts could partner with private entities for the space, and that “there is a whole panoply of options.”

Ted Cruz President 2016 Speech: Why Did He Announce First?

International Business Times

Originally Posted: March 23, 2015

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s announcement on Monday officially declaring his Republican presidential run wasn’t just an effort to soak up all the media attention as the first major party candidate to announce. It was also a signal to campaign staffers and donors to join his team.

“His problem is that in a very crowded field that includes some very accomplished people like [ex-Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush and [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie and [Ohio Gov.] John Kasich and a bunch of other senators, I think he felt he needed to break to the front of the pack with an early and unambiguous declaration that he’s running for president,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “He’s looking for that moment in the sun where he can make his case and hope that big donors, as well as lots and lots of small donors on the Internet,” support him.

The latest poll numbers have not looked good for Cruz. A CNN survey from last week showed the Texas senator in eighth place out of 14 possible Republican contenders for president. He also has a negative net favorability rating. Roughly 50 percent of American adults are familiar with him and 22 percent view him favorably, while 28 percent have an unfavorable view, according to a Gallup poll released earlier this month. READ MORE

America’s political royalty

Christian Science Monitor

Originally Posted: March 22, 2015

By Linda Feldmann

Why political dynasties, from the Adams to the Clinton to the Bush families, are both loved and loathed in the United States.

In a nation of 319 million people, America’s 2016 presidential election could well come down to a rematch between two of its greatest modern political families: the Bushes and the Clintons.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is crushing it in polls for the Democratic nomination. The former secretary of State, senator, and first lady leads her nearest potential competitor – Vice President Joe Biden – by an average of 44 percentage points in major polls. And she hasn’t even taken the first formal step toward running. In terms of fundraising and organizing, though, Mrs. Clinton is all in.

Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, is at or near the top of the vast potential Republican field in most polls. The former governor of Florida has some commanding advantages: the Bush family’s killer Rolodex and, flowing from that, the ability to raise vast sums of money. At one recent fundraiser, tickets went for $100,000 a pop.

Recommended: How much do you know about Jeb Bush? Take our quiz.

Like Clinton, Mr. Bush has lived and breathed politics at the highest level for decades. For both, politics is the family business. Both epitomize “establishment.” READ MORE

Students Travel To Selma For 50th Anniversary Of Civil Rights Marches


Originally Published: March 7, 2015


Today, March 7, marks the 50th anniversary of a bloody milestone in the Civil Rights Movement – when marchers in Selma, Alabama were attacked by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On Friday, a busload from SMU began retracing the route a group of students, faculty and staff took a half century ago. LISTEN


SMU Students Mark History Milestone With Trip To Selma


Originally Published: March 6, 2015

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – They are marching back in history to mark a major milestone. Students from Southern Methodist University loaded into buses Friday and set off — bound for Selma, Alabama.

They know it will be an emotional trip and it’s one they’ve planned for more than a year.
There are 36 students and four adults on their way to Selma. The group is largely made up of young people with majors in Human Rights and Anthropology – majors that are a part of part SMU’s political science department.

But the pilgrimage wasn’t by exclusive invitation; it was also offered to all students at SMU.

LaQuencia Dorsey’s grandmother was among the thousands who participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago.

“It’s going to be an emotional roller coaster for me,” she said. “Especially [since], my grandmother was part of it as well. It’s really unique for me to be able to touch the bridge, to actually feel where things happened.”

Facilitator Ray Jordan explained that the American civil rights movement and the experience of events in Selma aren’t mutually exclusive to African Americans. “It’s incredibly important that this becomes American history,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s segregated or sectioned into Black History, but this is the history of our country.”
Unlike those who made the trip from SMU in 1965, those who left on Friday are not afraid for their safety.

It was 50 years ago, on the eve of his bus ride to Montgomery that retired SMU Professor Kenneth Shields says a group of African American janitors came to his door. He recalled, “They said, ‘you don’t realize the dangers you are going into.’”

Shields explained that he and the others who left from SMU 50 years ago were motivated by what happened on Bloody Sunday. “I have always felt an identification and empathy for people who are marginalized.”

Friday Shields was there to help send off the next generation of activists. “I wish very much that I could be going along with you,” he told the group.

On March 25, 1965, Professor Shields says he marched next to a girl who could’ve been more than 14-years-old.

“She was still bandaged from being beaten on Bloody Sunday. And I said, ‘what do you think of the sheriff and the people who beat up on you?’ And she said, ‘I love them.’”
The group traveling then found that advice from janitors proved to have merit. In 1965, the bus company provided box lunches for the marching students’ ride home. When they opened them they found them full of garbage.

The 2015 group will reach Jackson, Mississippi Friday night and will be in Selma by Saturday morning. READ MORE

Students honor Dedman College professors’ excellence with 2015 HOPE Awards

SMU’s Department of Residence Life and Student Housing honored 45 exceptional University educators, 26 Dedman College professors, at the 2015 HOPE Awards Banquet.

HOPE (Honoring Our Professors’ Excellence) Award recipients are named through student staff member nominations as professors who “have made a significant impact to our academic education both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Congratulations to all of the Dedman College 2015 HOPE Award honorees:

Adriana Aceves, Mathematics
Paul Avey, Tower Center for Political Studies
Greg Brownderville, English
David Michael Crow, Psychology
LeeAnn Derdeyn, English/Discernment and Discourse
Melissa Dowling, History/Classical Studies
John Duca, Economics
James K. Hopkins, History
Vanessa Hopper, English
Matthew Keller, Sociology
Michael Lattman, Chemistry
David Lee, Anthropology
Judy Newell, Mathematics
Rachel Ney, World Languages and Literatures/French
Jennifer O’Brien, Chemistry
Wei Qu, World Languages and Literatures/Chinese
Stephen Robertson, Statistical Science
Bivin Sadler, Statistical Science
Martha Satz, English
Sam Ross Sloan, English
Tom Stone, English
Thierry Tirado, World Languages and Literatures/French
Nick Tsarevsky, Chemistry
John Wise, Biological Sciences
Patty Wisian-Neilson, Chemistry
Brian Zoltowski, Chemistry


North Texans to mark 50th anniversary of Selma’s ‘Bloody Sunday’

Dallas Morning News

Dallas groups will be busy this week leading local activities to coincide with the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala.

Commemorations in Selma began this week. They will peak Sunday with a re-enactment of the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing and will continue through March 21. This month’s activities recall events that led to the Aug. 6 passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act under President Lyndon Johnson.

•Led by the grass-roots organization Faith Friday, several hundred people are expected to gather from noon to 2 p.m. Friday at the west end of the Continental Avenue Bridge at Singleton Boulevard and Beckley Avenue. Dr. Juanita Wallace, who helped form Faith Friday last September to address issues of concern to the South Dallas/Fair Park area, said the assembly will feature speakers, choirs and faith-based groups, and will include calls for continued civil rights progress both locally and nationally.

Organizers said the gathering will commemorate March 1965 events at the Pettus Bridge in Selma, where state troopers and others attacked marchers during their first attempt to cross the bridge en route to Montgomery in pursuit of voting rights for black Americans.

To inquire, call 972-803-3052. READ MORE