Killer Robots?

SMU News

Military drones and autonomous weapons focus of experts’ talk at SMU March 3

DALLAS (SMU) – Lethal autonomous weapons systems, a.k.a. “killer robots,” were once the stuff of sci-fi thrillers. But technological advancements in unmanned weaponry (like drones) have created some very real strategic, legal and ethical dilemmas for policymakers and military/government leaders.

To sort out those issues, three internationally respected armed conflict experts will assemble for “Killer Robots,” a free public discussion sponsored by the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies on Thursday, March 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at McCord Auditorium, third floor of Dallas Hall, 3225 University Blvd. Advance reservations are requested by emailing

“Some say it’s unethical to put lethal force in the hands of autonomous systems, because no computer algorithm should be able to make decisions about killing,” says event moderator Joshua Rovner, SMU Tower Center Distinguished Chair of International Politics and National Security and author of the award-winning book, Fixing the Facts: National Security and the Politics of Intelligence (Cornell University Press, 2011).

“On the other hand, robots can be programmed to be very careful about where and when to fire, resulting in fewer innocent civilians caught in the crossfire,” he adds. “Robots also are free of the nastier human emotions ­– rage, hatred, the desire for revenge – that lead to atrocities.” READ MORE

High-level’ national security postdoctoral fellows join SMU Tower Center

SMU News

Originally Posted: December 16, 2015

DALLAS (SMU) – Thomas Cavanna and David Benson have been selected to serve yearlong national security postdoctoral fellowships at SMU. Cavanna is in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, and Benson joins SMU as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project on cyber-security.

“Both are pursuing important interdisciplinary scholarship at a very high level,” says Joshua Rovner, Tower Center acting director. “They’ve sought out discussions and collaborative research on critically important policy issues, and they are pushing the boundaries of what we know about international relations and national security policy.”

Cavanna’s work focuses on U.S. foreign policy, strategy and nuclear studies, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of Hubris, Self-Interest and America’s Failed War in Afghanistan: the Self-Sustaining Overreach (Lexington Books, 2015). His next book, expected in spring 2016 to focus on U.S. foreign policy toward India and Pakistan in the 1970s, is based on his dissertation, which won the 2013 Prix Jean-Baptiste Duroselle for best dissertation in history of international relations. Another forthcoming book will address U.S. grand strategy and the rise of China from the Cold War to the Obama administration. READ MORE

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Hilary Clinton wants to quell doubts in prime-time debate

The Hill

Originally Posted: October 11, 2015

Hillary Clinton is getting off her back foot after a clumsy start to her presidential campaign.

After being buffeted for months by the controversy over her emails and seeing her dominance in the polls decline, Clinton has made aggressive moves to shore up her support on the left and take the fight to the Republican field.

A strong performance on the debate stage during the first Democratic clash, set for Las Vegas on Tuesday night, could help the former secretary of State maintain her altitude, quiet talk of a White House bid by Vice President Biden and slow the rise of her main rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We’ve seen all email, all the time,” said David Birdsell, a debate expert at Baruch College in New York. “This is the first sustained encounter with her in which voters will have the opportunity to hear about something else.”

Clinton has been trying to change the subject recently, with some success.

Her announcement last week that she opposed the trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, came as a welcome development to liberals who have been skeptical of her candidacy.

She also seized the initiative on gun control, perhaps the one issue in which she can convincingly run to Sanders’s left, after a mass shooting in Oregon.

On Friday, Clinton met with activists from the #BlackLivesMatter movement — a constituency that has given Sanders considerable trouble — later tweeting, “Racism is America’s original sin.”

And Clinton has even sought to turn the Benghazi probe to her advantage.

Her campaign pounced last week after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) appeared to suggest that the House panel investigating the 2012 attacks deserved credit for lowering Clinton’s poll numbers. READ MORE

Dedman College Alumni Celebrated at Homecoming

Congratulations to Dedman College alumni Bess Enloe ’60, finance educator and the Rev. Dr. Michael W. Waters ’02, ’06, ’12. Mrs. Enloe will receive a Distinguished Alumni award while Rev. Waters will receive the University’s Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes the outstanding achievements of an alumnus or alumna who has graduated in the past 15 years. READ MORE

Matthew Wilson, Political Science, does Ted Cruz’s evangelical father help or hurt his campaign?

Star Telegram
Originally Posted: April 18, 2015
By: Bud Kennedy

Cruz’s father brings down the heavens, but does he help or hurt Ted?

If you thought Sen. Ted Cruz’s father might tone down his comments for the campaign, think again.

At 76, Carrollton evangelist and professional translator Rafael Cruz made headlines last week.

And not only as the father of a presidential candidate with a stunning $35 million raised, including PAC money, just one week into the campaign.

Rafael Cruz is an old-school fire-and-brimstone preacher, barnstorming to win souls for Christ and votes for Ted.

At a Tea Party event in a Georgia church, the elder Cruz said: “If someone like Hillary Clinton is elected in 2016, you might as well kiss this country goodbye. … We are fighting for the survival of America.” READ MORE

Cal Jillson, Political Science, to speak at Austin College this week on his book Lone Star Tarnished

North Texas e-News

Sherman, Texas — Austin College’s annual Public Administration Symposium will feature the presentation “Lone Star Tarnished” by political expert Cal Jillson, sharing ideas from his book Lone Star Tarnished: A Critical Look at Texas Politics and Public Policy. The lecture Friday, April 10 at 11:00 a.m. in Hoxie Thompson Auditorium of Sherman Hall is free and open to the public.

Following the lecture, The Texas Tribune will host a panel in Mabee Hall on “Texas Transportation: The Next Five Years.” Panelists will include Deirdre Delisi, former chair of the Texas Transportation Commission; Clay Jenkins, Dallas County judge; Ambassador Ron Kirk, Former U.S. trade representative and Dallas mayor; and State Representative Larry Phillips, R-Sherman. Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune will moderate. READ MORE

Harold Stanley named 2015-16 Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar

Harold Stanley, Geurin-Pettus Distinguished Chair in American Politics and Political Economy and SMU associate provost, has been named a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar for the 2015-16 academic year.

Stanley, who was named SMU’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs in late March, joins 12 other outstanding scholars in the liberal arts and sciences from institutions including Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, NYU, UCLA, Penn State, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University and the Institute for Signifying Scriptures. READ MORE

Did you miss the Tower Center’s nuclear weapons forum? C-Span was there.

Watch the discussion on nuclear weapons and national security, featuring the Tower Center’s own Joshua Rovner as moderator. 


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.”