Carolyn Smith-Morris discusses the Flu Epidemic on KERA

Tower Center Associate Carolyn Smith-Morris was interviewed by KERA News Radio about her upcoming talk at SMU: “The 1918 Flu Epidemic: A 2018 Perspective” Feb. 22. Smith-Morris described her interviews with those who lived in Ebola-affected neighborhoods, and argues that humans essentially respond with the same sort of fear to all epidemic threats.

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TC Associate Directs New Center for China Studies in Manchester

TC Associate Directs New CenterThe Tower Center is happy to announce that our associate Peter H. Gries has been chosen as director of a new center for China Studies at the University of Manchester. The center, made possible by a generous donation by philanthropist Dr. Lee Kai Hung, will be accompanied by a Chinese Culture Gallery, and will focus on research and public outreach.

Read more about the Center.

Fellows and Associates Research Highlights: Fall 2017

Dominique Baker, Associate
  • Academic Lectures, Conference Presentations, and Speaking Engagements
    • “Undergraduate debt’s role in shaping students’ futures,” TG (formerly Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation), June 2017.
    • “Borrowing to get ahead: Undergraduate debt’s effect on graduate school decision-making,” Stanford University Center for Education Policy Analysis, March 2017.
    • “Beyond the incident: Institutional predictors of student collective action,” Midwest Political Science Association, April 2017. (with Richard S. L. Blissett)
  • Papers, Publications, and Other Writings
    • Baker, D. J., & Doyle, W. R. (2017). Impact of community college student debt levels on credit accumulation. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 671(1), 132-153.
    • Flores, S. M., Park, T. J., & Baker, D. J. (2017). The racial college completion gap: Evidence from Texas. The Journal of Higher Education. Published online first.

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James Hollifield: Why Immigration Reform is so Hard

Tower Center Academic Director James F. Hollifield wrote an essay for the Bush Institute’s The Catalyst about the difficulty of immigration reform. He argues that international migration policy is a difficult problem to solve because of politically salient entry and exit laws, as well as questions of market influence and the impact of refugee-causing disasters.

“We must resolve these issues if we are to experience a virtuous cycle of greater openness, wealth, and human development, rather than falling back into a vicious cycle that leads the world into greater anarchy, poverty, disorder and war,” Hollifield wrote.

Read his essay here.

Center Spotlight | Idean Salehyan

Tower Center Associate Idean Salehyan has several research interests, all centered around domestic political conflict. The Tower Center sat down with him to talk with him about his latest projects and goals. Salehyan is Associate Professor of Political Science  at the University of North Texas and the co-Director of the Social Conflict Analysis Database project (SCAD).

What have you been working on most recently?

Center spotlight Idean Salehyan
Tower Center Associate Idean Salehyan
on a hike outside of Oslo, Norway.

Most recently I’ve been looking at protests and repression dynamics. I’m part of a project called the Social Conflict Analysis database. We look at Africa, North Africa, and parts of Latin America to understand when protests turn violent and when the government decides to step in and repress protesters, and so I have a couple of papers along those lines. One is focused on when and under what conditions governments repress nonviolent protesters. When is nonviolent protest met with lethal force? And another paper is looking at electoral protests and which elections are more likely to lead to mass protests and violent contestation of the outcome.

I’ve had this longstanding interest in forced migration and refugee studies, so I am also in the process of guest editing a special issue of the Journal of Peace Research on the global migration crisis focusing on Syria and the Middle East refugee crisis.

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TC Associate’s Book Wins Rosenberg Prize

Congratulations to Tower Center Associate Erin Hochman! Her latest book, “Imagining a Greater Germany” (Cornell University Press, 2016), won the Hans Rosenberg Book Prize. The award was presented by the Central European History Society for the best book published in 2016. Hochman is a historian of Modern Germany and Austria and is an associate professor at SMU.

Jeff Engel weighs in on tax reform and Flynn’s guilty plea

Tower Center Senior Fellow Jeff Engel was interviewed on Fox 4 about what the future holds for the recently passed tax reform bill, and for the Trump administration dealing with the newest advancement in the Russian investigations: Flynn’s guilty plea.

“It’s not only about who doesn’t like a tax cut, it’s who really wants to keep talking about scandal when of course the American people want the country moving forward with legislation,” Engel said.

Watch the interview here.

Center Spotlight | In the Weeds of Criminal Justice

SMU Tower Center Associate Jenia Turner is a law professor at SMU’s Dedman School of Law. For this month’s Center Spotlight we decided to get to know Jenia and ask her about her research and goals.

A lot of your research focuses around plea bargaining. Why did you decide to focus in on this aspect of the criminal justice system?

Center Spotlight Jenia Turner
Jenia Turner teaches a class at SMU Dedman School of Law.

My first law review article argued that the jury should be more involved in sentencing than it currently is in most U.S. states. I believed that because of its deliberative democratic character, the jury is often better positioned than judges to decide questions of punishment. One of the questions people asked when I presented the paper was, why should we even care about jury sentencing when the vast majority of our cases are plea bargained? And indeed, over 95% of convictions in state and federal cases are the product of guilty pleas, not jury trials. So this led me to focus on plea bargaining and whether there are aspects of that process that can be improved to make it fairer and more accurate.

What has been your biggest takeaway so far?

I strongly believe that our plea bargaining process needs to be better regulated. Courts and legislatures should enact reforms to make the practice more transparent and more likely to produce accurate and just results. Some of the necessary reforms are relatively minor and quite feasible, like requiring that plea bargains be in writing. Others are more ambitious and more difficult, but important—for example, regulating the sentencing discounts that defendants receive for pleading guilty or requiring that prosecutors disclose all relevant evidence before a guilty plea.

Do you have a favorite case you have studied or that you teach? What makes it interesting?

Currently, my favorite case to teach is United States v. Jones. In it, the Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a month-long GPS tracking of an individual’s car, while traveling on public roads, is a search requiring a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. The court held that the GPS tracking was a search, but three groups of justices offered three different rationales for the holding. These three rationales have different implications for how we regulate law enforcement’s use of new technologies, and these are fascinating to explore with students. I am increasingly interested in these types of questions—how the law weighs privacy interests against law enforcement interests in the context of emerging technologies and mass surveillance. Next semester, I will be teaching a new seminar on that topic, entitled Criminal Procedure in the Digital Age.

You have also focused your scholarship on comparative law. What do you find most striking about US law? Is there something that stands out to you as different from most of the world?

One striking difference is how much more prominent democratic principles are in our criminal justice system. We use juries to decide guilt or innocence in criminal cases, and our judges and prosecutors are often elected.  In most other countries, this is not the case. This has important implications for how our criminal justice system functions.

What do you think the most effective avenue is for changing the criminal justice system? What changes would you like to see as a result of your research?

I would say that currently, state legislatures are where the most significant, comprehensive criminal justice reform can happen. For example, in Texas we have taken important steps to expand the kind of evidence that prosecutors must disclose to the defense, to regulate eyewitness identification procedures, and to limit the use of testimony given by jailhouse informants. But more needs to be done, particularly in the areas of sentencing and plea bargaining.

What advice would you give to young academics, and specifically young women, who want to follow in your footsteps?

I would encourage them to reach out to people in their field whom they admire and ask them for advice and mentorship. I know that I owe so much of what I accomplished in academia to scores of mentors, who read my drafts, collaborated with me on research projects, invited me to take part in conferences, and helped me with teaching advice. So, I would encourage young academics to look for such mentors, reach out to them, and learn from them.

Tower Center Fellow Conducts Interviews in Norway

Tower Center Fellow Conducts Interviews in Norway with former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik
SMU Tower Center Fellow LaiYee Leong met with former Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik for a project at the SMU Center for Presidential History.

Tower Center Fellow Dr. LaiYee Leong is conducting interviews in Oslo, Norway, as part of an oral history project for the SMU Center for Presidential History. The project focuses on transatlantic relations during the George W. Bush administration. This past month, she recorded conversations with Norway’s former prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former defense minister Kristin Krohn Devold.

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Center Spotlight | Lessons from Bush 41

As a result of a massive 10-year declassification project at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, Jeffrey A. Engel wrote his new book, “When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War.” The Tower Center sat down with Engel, our Senior Fellow and Director of the SMU Center for Presidential History, to discuss his latest project.

Tell us how this book project came about.

Oh my goodness. That is a good story actually. So, my first tenure track job was at the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M, which of course is where the Bush Presidential Library is located. My department chair walked into my office and said “You know there’s a diary over at the library they just released. You might find it interesting.”  It was George Bush’s diary from when he was de facto U.S. ambassador to China in the early 1970s, and it was fascinating. He was much more interesting as a person who was thinking hard about the nature of the international system than I had anticipated, to be honest, and he also seemed like a fun guy. This led first and foremost to publication of the diary, which the president and I did together, and then subsequently and more importantly, it led to a deep interest in the end of the Cold War, which of course produced this book.

What did you find most interesting while researching this book?

The most fascinating part for me is that we think back on the Cold War in many ways as inevitable. We think that the capitalists will win, but also, that it was a period of joy and happiness and excitement. The truth is I think that we’re actually, as a globe, remarkably lucky to have survived. It is extremely rare in history for a great power to collapse without an ensuing great power war. It’s just the nature of the international system going all the way back to Athens and Sparta.

That didn’t happen at the end of the Cold War, and I contend that it didn’t just not happen, it was actually the active result of prudent and thoughtful and quiet diplomacy on the part of all the great powers, but in particular on the part of President Bush.

Professor Jeffrey A. Engel teaches class outside of Dallas Hall.

What insights are you hoping this book will offer in terms of the U.S.’ position in the current global sphere?

I did not anticipate Donald Trump when I began working on this book. I think even Trump supporters would concede that he is inexperienced on the international stage. He’s prone to shoot from the hip, rhetorically, and hopefully not otherwise.

“When the World Seemed New” is a book about a man who was as experienced as any president in the 20th century. He was particularly experienced internationally. He was calm and confident, and it’s that calm that was really the key to his success. So ultimately this is a book that tells us that what we want in the middle of a crisis is not a leader who is going to escalate the crisis, but a leader who’s going to deal with it quietly.

What could the United States’ current administration learn from your book and from watching Bush?

One of the things that’s really important about that is, and we know this from the declassification project, that throughout his administration, Bush was constantly criticized for not doing enough. Whether it be at Tiananmen Square, whether it be at the fall of the Berlin wall, or whether it be with the coup in the Soviet Union in 1991. At each point he was criticized for being too quiet, too cautious, too calm, not doing enough. We now know two things that are really important.

The first is that throughout that period in each of those crises he was actually working incredibly hard behind the scenes on the phone, with letters, with cables, trying to maintain international calm and international order at the highest possible level. That calming effect was really critical to keep things from going south.

The second thing that we know is that he was really aware that he was suffering in the polls, and he just didn’t give a damn. He said: “You know, saving the world is more important than my poll numbers.” And that is also something which I think the president of the United States today should consider.

Before President Trump took office, some people argued that the U.S. and Russia were entering a new Cold War. How do you think we got to this point?

That’s actually a big aspect of the book. There are two key reasons that Vladimir Putin and other Russian nationalists are upset with the West. The first is they felt they didn’t get enough aid after the end of Cold War and that therefore Russia went through a period of economic upheaval, which was terrible. And the second is that Gorbachev believed he had a promise that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would not expand (and then it did). So, if you want to understand why the Russians are upset today, you really have to go back to this cold war zone.

However, I don’t think we’re necessarily in a new Cold War because I don’t think Russia is that intimidating. But they are increasingly an annoyance.

What would you consider to be George H.W. Bush’s biggest accomplishments?

The first is keeping us all alive. I really can’t stress that enough; how incredibly rare it is historically for that type of event to happen (the collapse of the Soviet Union), without a war, and this is the first time we had to deal with this kind of problem with nuclear weapons in the mix. Bush can really be considered the father of modern Germany and therefore the father of modern Europe, and consequently in many ways, the father of the modern international system. Because without his leadership there is no conceivable way that Germany would have gotten unified as quickly as it did and as peacefully as it did. And within NATO, which is really crucial. So if you like the Germans on your side, you have George H.W. Bush to thank.

“When the World Seemed New” is available for advanced purchase here and will be widely released Nov. 7.