SMU mourns the death of Prof. Dennis Simon, founding member of the Tower Center for Political Studies and leader of SMU’s Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Dennis SimonSMU Associate Professor of Political Science Dennis Simon died Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 in Dallas after a long illness. An SMU faculty member since 1986, he was a recognized expert on the American presidency, national elections, women and the political glass ceiling, and the politics of change in the United States.

Passionate about his students and his work, he continued to teach and present lectures on the presidential elections to the SMU community through fall of 2016.

“Dennis Simon’s legacy at SMU will not be forgotten,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “He was both a brilliant scholar and devoted teacher, talents he bridged with a sense of humor that never wavered. Dr. Simon invested his time, commitment and his passion for political science with his students, fellow scholars and the community. His influence will live on in the many lives he touched.”

The Texas House of Representatives “gaveled out” its regular session Tuesday, Feb. 14, in Simon’s memory on a motion by State Rep. Morgan Meyer. Services for Simon are pending.

Simon was quick to say that his proudest and most impactful work came in guiding since 2008 both undergraduate and graduate students on SMU’s annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to historical sites across the south.  The 7-8 day bus trip occurs during Spring Break every year, creating an immersive learning experience that “pilgrims” describe as life changing.

During Simon’s 31 years as an SMU faculty member, he received nearly every teaching award offered by the University, including the “M” Award, the Willis Tate Award and President’s Associate Award. In 2005 he received the Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award, given to just four professors each year for their commitment to student learning. Known for his mentorship and dedication to teaching, he used U.S. elections as a living laboratory, teaching his popular course, “Presidential Elections,” every four years.

Simon’s other teaching and research interests included presidential-congressional relations, public opinion, electoral behavior and research methodology.  His research appeared in leading journals such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics.  He was the recipient of the Pi Sigma Alpha award given by the Southern Political Science Association for his study of national forces in state legislative elections, and twice the Miriam Irish award given by the Southern Political Science Association for his study (with Assoc. Prof. Barbara Palmer) of the emergence of women in U.S. electoral politics.  His most recent book, with co-author Palmer, Women and Congressional Elections: A Century of Change (Lynne Reinner Publishers) was published in May of 2012. The book’s first edition was published in 2006.

Simon’s recent research projects included “The Perilous Experiment,” a historical and quantitative study tracing the evolution of popular and legislative leadership in the American presidency and “Southerners in the United States House of Representatives,” a history of electoral and ideological change in the South since 1930, supported by a grant awarded by the Dirksen Congressional Center. He earned his B.A. from Wittenberry University in Springfield, Ohio, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the department of political science at Michigan State University. Before joining SMU, Simon was an assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota.

Simon was a founding member of SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, where he served as a member of the Tower Center Faculty Advisory Board and as a senior fellow. The Tower Center was created in 1992 to promote the study of politics and international affairs and stimulate an interest in ethical public service.

“He was a dedicated supporter of our center, serving us in a variety of ways,” said the Hon. Dan Branch, chair of the Tower Center Board of Directors and former member of the Texas House of Representatives. “Most of all, he was a devoted mentor to our students.”

Simon also joined the faculty of SMU’s Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) program when he arrived in in 1986, teaching courses such as “Politics and Film,” and “The American Presidency” to hundreds of graduate students in the predominantly evening program. He began teaching “The Politics and Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement,” to both MLS students and undergraduates in 2008, combining it with an existing trip organized through the SMU Chaplain’s Office to historic sites in civil rights history. Simon never tired of sharing with an audience the “power of place” he said came with combining a semester-long course with personal experiences shared at the sites of civil rights violence and struggle.

> Watch Dennis Simon’s 2012 Maguire Public Scholar lecture at YouTube video

Dennis Simon, Civil Rights PilgrimageWith his Chaplain’s Office partner, Ray Jordan, and student leaders chosen each year, the trip featured stops at sites Simon described as “ground-zero,” in the civil rights movement, such as Little Rock High School, the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home in Montgomery. History came alive at each spot, thanks to Simon’s friendships with original participants he called “foot soldiers” in the civil rights movement, who shared their recollections with students, sometimes hopping aboard the bus to lead tours.

The class and trip, sponsored by the Embrey Human Rights Program and SMU’s Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, are now a core requirement of SMU’s human rights undergraduate major and the human rights emphasis in SMU’s Master of Liberal Studies program. Each year students share their thoughts and memories of the trip on an online blog.

> Read blog postings from the 2015 Civil Rights Pilgrimage on the 50th anniversary of the 1965 voting rights march

“I will always be thankful to Dr. Simon for showing us all what it looks like to not only celebrate the light, but to be the light in situations where it seems like the darkness might swallow us up,” said Michelle Anderson ’15, who served as student leader of the pilgrimage in 2015. “I’m missing our fearless leader already. Keep marching, pilgrims.” Anderson is pursuing a Ph.D. in media studies with a focus in transitional justice at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Simon also generously shared his expertise with the news media, serving as an expert on the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, the impact of the John F. Kennedy assassination, the changing role of women in politics, and trends in presidential and mid-term elections. He regularly presented lectures to the community and served as a panel member at lecture series throughout the Dallas area.

See Dennis Simon’s last lecture, shared with the community Nov. 12 as a wrap-up of the 2016 presidential election

“The qualities that made Dennis a fine person – intelligence, enthusiasm, and honesty – made him an extraordinary teacher and mentor to his students,” said Joe Kobylka, SMU associate professor of political science and Simon’s longtime friend. “His passion for studying American politics and change electrified his lectures and infused his students with his enthusiasm. When that happens, education ensues, and Dennis was a master educator. I learned from him, as a student and then a colleague. I will draw on those lessons daily.”

> Find more of Dennis Simon’s work at SMU News

February 16, 2017|For the Record, News|

Site Spotlight: Handy tips from SMU Libraries as 2017 Fair Use Week begins

ARL Fair Use Week infographicThe Association of Research Libraries observes 2017 Fair Use Week Feb. 20-24, and SMU’s Central University Libraries is celebrating with handy resources for students and other University community members.

Dillon Wackerman, SMU’s Digital Repository librarian, has answered some questions about fair use in honor of the week, which is organized to “celebrate the important doctrines of fair use in the United States” and “promote and discuss the opportunities presented, celebrate successful stories and explain the doctrine.”

Share the link to spread the word.

> Read and share via the SMU CUL News blog

February 20, 2017|Site Spotlight|

Research: Hunting down cancer-causing viruses that hide from the immune system

Robert L. Harrod, Biology Lab ResearchSMU virologist and cancer researcher Robert L. Harrod has been awarded a $436,500 grant from the National Cancer Institute to further his lab’s research into how certain viruses cause cancers in humans.

Under two previous NCI grants, Harrod’s lab discovered that the human T-cell leukemia virus type-1, HTLV-1, and high-risk subtype human papillomaviruses, HPVs, share a common mechanism that plays a key role in allowing cancers to develop. Now the lab will search for the biological mechanism — a molecular target — to intervene to block establishment and progression of virus-induced cancers. The hope is to ultimately develop a chemotherapy drug to block the growth of those tumor cells in patients.

“The general theme of our lab is understanding the key molecular events involved in how the viruses allow cancer to develop,” said Harrod, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences whose research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of viral initiation of cancer formation.

While HTLV-1 and HPV are unrelated transforming viruses and lead to very different types of cancers, they’ve evolved a similar mechanism to cooperate with genes that cause cancer in different cell types. The lab discovered that the two viruses tap a common protein that cooperates with cellular genes to help the viruses hide from the immune system.

That common protein, the p30 protein of HTLV-1, binds to a different protein in the cell, p53, which normally has the job of suppressing cancerous growth or tumor development. Instead, however, p30 manages to subvert p53’s tumor suppressor functions, which in turn activates pro-survival pathways for the virus.

From there, the virus can hide inside the infected cell for two to three decades while evading host immune-surveillance pathways. As the cell divides, the virus divides and replicates. Then ultimately the deregulation of gene expression by viral encoded products causes cancer to develop.

“They are essentially using a similar mechanism, p30, to deregulate those pathways from their normal tumor-suppressing function,” Harrod said.

— Margaret Allen

> Read more about Rob Harrod’s research at SMUResearch.com

February 17, 2017|For the Record, Research|

Perot Museum, SMU host ‘Past, Present and Future’ fossil lecture downtown on Thursday Feb. 23, 2017

SMU Scott-Hawkins Lecture and Perot Founders Circle Lecture invitationThe Perot Museum of Nature and Science and SMU invite the entire University community to a special event on Thursday, Feb. 23.

Scott Wing, curator of fossil plants at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, will speak on “Past, Present & Future – The Truth Is In the Fossils.” A catered reception will precede the lecture at 6 p.m., with remarks at 6:30 p.m. Complimentary valet service is available.

Dr. Wing’s lecture is co-hosted by Dedman College’s Scott-Hawkins Lecture Series and the Perot Museum’s Founders Circle Lectures, and presented by Charles Schwab.

The event is free and requires an RSVP (two guests per response maximum). To RSVP or request additional guests, contact the Perot Museum, 214-756-5729.

February 17, 2017|Calendar Highlights, News|

Mustang Football announces 2017 schedule

SMU FootballSMU Football has announced its 2017 schedule, which will include seven home games. The Mustangs will open the season with their annual Whiteout in Ford Stadium on Sept. 2 against Stephen F. Austin. They will remain at home the following week, hosting 2016 bowl team North Texas on Sept. 9.

Visiting teams during the 2017 season will include 2016 bowl teams Tulsa, UCF and Arkansas State, as well as American Athletic Conference rivals Tulane and UConn.

Highlights include:

  • TCU, The Battle for the Iron Skillet, Sept. 16 in Fort Worth
  • Arkansas State, Sept. 23 (Family Weekend)
  • UConn, Sept. 30 (conference game)
  • UCF, Nov. 4 (Homecoming)
  • Tulane, Nov. 25 (Senior Day, conference game)

> Find the full 2017 Mustang football schedule at SMUMustangs.com

February 16, 2017|Sports|
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