Keeping Dennis Simon’s Legacy Alive Through Students

Dr. Simon talking with students at the Tower Center student barbecue in August 2016.

Dr. Dennis Simon, professor of political science and founding member of the Tower Center for Political Studies, touched countless lives during his time at SMU. For him, the most important part of his job was taking students on the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage.

“It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve done as an instructor at Southern Methodist University, and it’s also something that’s made me terrifically proud of the students at SMU,” Simon said in the beginning of his TEDxSMU Talk on the Pilgrimage in 2014.

In honor of his memory and in order to continue his legacy, the Tower Center will allocate $1,000 a year to the Pilgrimage to help support students who want to go on the journey.

MacKenzie Jenkins with Dr. Simon before leaving on the pilgrimage.

Simon led the Pilgrimage for seven years, taking students and community members across the South to visit “shrines of freedom” over spring break.

MacKenzie Jenkins, SMU junior and HCM Tower Scholar, went on the Pilgrimage with Simon her freshman year — the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March.

“His passion carried on to his students. It’s like having little seeds of hope in the room,” Jenkins said. “He pours so much into his students.”

She said she came to SMU knowing she had to take his civil rights class, but his enthusiasm on the trip confirmed it.

“He was a really amazing man, really funny and he’s going to be so missed,” she said.

Listen to Professor Simon’s TED Talk on the Pilgrimage here>>

Dr. Simon speaking at the Tower Center “Elect Her” event in 2014.

Dominique Earland, a senior majoring in biology and human rights, was inspired by the Pilgrimage to organize an alternative break trip to Selma, Alabama. The trip focused on concepts from Simon’s class and Earland hopes to have it named for Simon once the funding is secured to make it a recurring trip.

“He played an important role in my life and where I see myself going,” Earland said. “The fact that he loved American history and was able to convey the truth of that time period and the political power of the Civil Rights Movement inspired me.”

Earland said Simon taught her how important it is to continue to reflect on that time period and the impact so many people made — people he referred to as soldiers.

“We were so fortunate to have such a great leader and friend in Dennis Simon at the Tower Center,” said Tower Center Executive Director Luisa del Rosal. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honor his legacy than to give to the Pilgrimage he was so passionate about.”

Read more about Dr. Simon’s impact at SMU here>>

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Jeff Engel on “Trump vs the Press”

Tower Center Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Presidential History Jeff Engel was interviewed on FOX4 to discuss President Trump’s relationship with the media.

“We used to see administrations be challenged by the press on interpretations,” Engel said. “We’ve never seen an administration so blatantly challenged by the press because they are simply being factually wrong.”

Watch the full interview here.

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A how-to guide for investigating the President

Joshua Rovner, Tower Chair in National Security, wrote a commentary in the Dallas Morning News on what an investigation into President Trump and his advisers should look like.

Rovner says the questions raised by Michael Flynn’s rapid resignation are “too important to ignore,” but the investigation must be handled carefully.

“Above all the investigation should be a fact-finding exercise,” he wrote. “Those responsible should resist the urge to make sweeping declarations about what must be done. Their motto should be analysis, not exhortation.”

Read the full article here.

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Five things to know about the undocumented

Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield discussed undocumented immigrants on Take Two Feb. 15.

“The simple fact is that we have a tremendous juncture in terms of what we need for our economy and for what the law provides for in terms of the number of people that can come and work here legally,” Hollifield said.

Read five takeaways from the talk here.

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A look at Michael Flynn’s rapid demise as Trump’s national security adviser

Tower Center Director of Studies Joshua Rovner was interviewed by Fox News Feb. 14 regarding Michael Flynn’s resignation from his position as national security adviser to the Trump administration.

Rovner said it is the quickest anyone has resigned from a new administration at just 25 days into the job. He believes that “for president Trump, the fallout over the Flynn debacle is likely to be more political….because there are questions about the legitimacy of last year’s election.”

You can read Fox News’ article and watch Rovner’s interview here.

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SMU Professor to research college access for English language learners

Denisa Gándara,  assistant professor of higher education at SMU, is one of 13 scholars who has been awarded a research grant as part of the Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) and the Tower Center for Political Studies research partnership.

The grant program was established to provide meaningful research geared to promoting a stronger understanding of the Latino community and creating a dialogue about key societal issues.

“The issuing of these grants marks the beginning of a new approach to policy and research related to the Latino community,” said Miguel Solis, president of the Latino CLD.

The awards were chosen by the research grant advisory board made up of Solis, Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield, and Tower Center Postdoctoral Fellows Alicia Reyes-Barriéntez and Aileen Cardona Arroyo.

“Denisa is already doing excellent work,” Reyes-Barriéntez said. “She is a young scholar with an exciting future at SMU, and we are excited that she will form part of our research partnership.”

Gándara’s research will look at college access for English learners (ELs) in the state of Texas. Coming from a small border town near Brownsville, the issue resonates with her childhood.

“I was an English learner myself,” she said. “I knew a few people who were English learners all the way through high school.”

In Texas only 8 percent of ELs graduate from high school college-ready.

“Even in schools where a lot of graduates go onto college, that’s not the case for English learners, so it seems they’re not benefiting from that college-going culture and that could be because they’re segregated,” Gándara said.

Texas’s higher education plan calls for almost doubling the percent of the population that has a postsecondary degree or credential. “It’s a big goal,” Gándara said.

Gándara thinks one of the reasons the state still has so far to go is that ELs have been neglected when considering policy change. She hopes her research will help fill in that gap.

“Denisa’s research is more relevant today than it has ever been,” Solis said. “Ensuring that policy makers and the public understand issues related to English language learners and can enact solutions to address those issues will be critical to ensuring our nation’s success.”

Rather than looking at student factors, she plans to focus her research on the structural barriers at both the school level and district level. She wants to explore what is working well for the students and identify areas that could be improved.

Gándara expects to produce two papers over two years for the project. She says she is especially excited about the focus of the Latino CLD- Tower Center partnership to merge scholarship with focus.

“I don’t always have the opportunity to translate my research into policy, so I think the LCLD and the Tower Center are both uniquely positioned to be able to use the findings of my research because they work directly with leaders and prospective elected officials,” she said.

“We want for research to inform practice and policy,” Reyes-Barriéntez said. “That’s what we value.”

Read more on the timeliness of Gándara’s research in the Dallas Morning News here.

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Edward Rincón: Immigration and crime levels are not correlated

Tower Center Associate Edward Rincón wrote a commentary for TribTalk looking at the politics of sanctuary cities, which have been under attack by President Trump. In an executive order to strengthen immigration enforcement, Trump said he would punish local governments that do not comply with federal authorities.

Rincón argues that Texas lawmakers fighting against sanctuary cities are “wolves in sheep’s” clothing, especially Governor Greg Abbott. While Trump claims immigration leads to more violent crime, Rincón said research contradicts this idea.

“Texas residents may feel safer as a result of this destructive legislation, but it will not be long before they will also feel the consequences of a vanishing immigrant community in terms of higher prices, labor shortages and a stagnating economy,” Rincón said.

Read his commentary here.

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TC Fellow Jeffrey Kahn, constitutional law professor, examines travel ban

Tower Center Fellow and SMU Jeffrey Kahn discussed the nature of presidential power, specifically the power of the president to issue impactful executive orders like President Trump’s recent travel ban in an interview on FOX4.

A judge in Washington has already ruled against Trump’s executive order, which prevents refugees from entering the country for 120 days, and bans citizens from seven different Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

In response to Trump’s tweet admonishing the federal judge, Kahn said “It’s very important that each branch understand that they are co-equal branches in our federal government, and when one branch attacks the integrity or the individual decision makers in their spheres that is an attack that is very, very dangerous for the country.”

Watch the full interview here.

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Event recap | The Mass Politics of Immigration

Dr. Wayne Cornelius, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California at San Diego, gave a talk at the Tower Center Feb. 1 called “The Mass Politics of Immigration.”

Cornelius argues there have been eight episodes of American nativism dating all the way back to waves of anti-German and anti-French sentiments in the 1790s. His presentation focused on more recent episodes including a wave of anti-Mexican sentiment appearing in 1990 and an anti-Middle East wave beginning after 9/11.

Cornelius tracked the anti-Mexican wave back to California in the 1990s, and more specifically to Proposition 187, a statute with the goal of denying undocumented workers access to public services. He said immigrants were a scapegoat for the economic state of California.

Contributing factors and perceptions to the anti-immigration sentiment

The anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by several factors according to Cornelius, including the number of immigrants coming (which surged in the early ’90s), the country of origin (“problem nationalities”), catalytic events (such as Prop 187 and 9/11), and media exposure (both volume and content). He said excessive media coverage of Latino immigration has shaped public perception by leading people to believe it is a problem, even though people are emigrating from India and China at a much faster rate.

Another contributing factor  is political entrepreneurs who exploit the fears and concerns of people in order to win votes. His first example of this was Pete Wilson, who won the election to become governor of California in 1994.

When the discussion then turned to President Donald Trump, Cornelius said he was simultaneously riding the wave of the anti-immigration sentiment and building it up. The perceptions of immigration that fuel these negative feelings are that immigrants take jobs away from Americans, they increase taxes, they benefit greedy employers and advance corporate welfare, and as Samuel Huntington said, they threaten American culture and identity.

According to Cornelius, the perception of immigration is divided politically as well. “The majority of Democrats say immigrants strengthen us, while the majority of Republicans say they burden us,” he said.

The sentiment against immigration is strongest with the white working class. “They saw that America was changing unfavorably for them, and they believed immigration was driving the change,” he said. Cornelius argues this led them to vote for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.  That being said, anti-immigration feelings are resulting in increased white Republicanism.

The incentive for politicians to engage in immigrant bashing won’t change until demography does. While the Latino population in the U.S. is growing, Latino voter turnout remains low. Even with Trump’s explosive rhetoric, Latino turnout only increased by 1 percent. Gerrymandering will also continue to dampen the Latino voice, according to Cornelius.

The negative bipartisan view of immigration

While roughly 70 percent of the population is in favor of finding a way for undocumented

Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, asks Dr. Cornelius a question.

immigrants to stay in the U.S., allowing for increased flows of people legally into the country remains unpopular in both parties.

Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve and Tower Center Senior Fellow, argued that this is problematic since immigration is essential to the U.S. economy.

“The goals to attain 3-4 percent GPD growth are dreams without immigration,” Orrenius said.

Cornelius made the argument that people come here illegally for lack of a better option. Without reforming the system, they will continue to come.

“The legal immigration system is broken,” he said.

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Q&A | My time as a campaign manager

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Kovan Barzani, class of 2017, managed Jim Burke’s 2016 campaign for the Texas House of Representatives District 114 in Dallas. Barzani started out as a Fellow at the Dallas County Democratic Party, and within a month he was running Burke’s campaign. Barzani is triple majoring in economics, public policy and management. Upon graduation in May he will be working for Capital One in Dallas as a business analyst. The Tower Center sat down with Barzani to hear his story.

How did you become Jim Burke’s campaign manager?

During my first couple of days as a volunteer at the Dallas County Democratic Party I made this huge spreadsheet that did a bunch of data work for all of the campaigns of the county. I showed it to some of the people who organize where we walk and they were pretty impressed by it so they had me take on a bigger role. By the end of the first week I was doing strategy work instead of making phone calls.

I led the first successful targeted Muslim outreach in Dallas County at that time. That got me a lot of attention. Burke watched me do all of this and I designed a strategy for his district and showed it to him. He really liked it. Then I asked if I could manage his campaign and he said sure. He was a throw-in candidate (someone you put in the race to gauge how the district is doing), but I wanted to make it a little more competitive. Voters shouldn’t just have to see that he’s a Democrat; they should see what that Democrat actually stands for.

What did you learn as a manager?

The importance of logistics. I realized that you can make really cool signs, posters or whatever, but if you don’t have a place to put them, then you’re going to struggle. Even if you have a place, you have to figure out how to get the signs there. I didn’t have a truck so I would have to go to Plano, pick up my mom’s SUV, drive to 635 around that district, put signs down, then drive back to Plano and pick up my car and drive home. I never thought about that when I was making the signs, I just thought we were going to have really cool signs.

What was it like earn a leadership position so quickly?

It was great because I got to go through and do things my way. I didn’t go through old campaign strategies or anything like that. I was taking it by the horns and saying “You know what? We’re going to try some new things out.”

One thing I did was a huge mail service for door hangers. My thinking was that if we could get a lot of people to turn out, we could reshape not just for Jim’s sake but for the Democratic Party in general. That House district that we were in was also in a U.S. Congressional District (Pete Sessions, R-TX, District 32) which voted more for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. These efforts that we did targeting low propensity voters actually helped Hillary’s performance in Dallas County more than would have traditionally been done. That was my strategy, to make sure that we could get turnout up all around the county, specifically in the northern part.

It reshaped my whole perspective of how politics should be. It should focus heavily on the local but it doesn’t.

How did being in the Tower Scholars Program affect your involvement?

A lot of Scholars were coming in and helping out from time to time and it was that network that helped support me.

In addition, while we didn’t really learn about campaigning in the Tower Scholar classes, we learned that in policy you always want to go back to the constituents and ask them what they want. So early in the campaign before we had a strong platform we went out and walked neighborhoods and asked people what they wanted from a candidate. There’s no guarantee you’ll win but at least you started a discussion. That idea comes from the Program. You can’t be out of touch and make policy.

But the network of the Program is the most powerful thing. Even Republicans within the program told me that they hoped I could pull it off. There’s some camaraderie there that’s nonpartisan, and supporting someone even if you don’t agree with them is a huge thing.

Do you see yourself managing more campaigns in the future?

Now that I’ve gotten into it, it’s a lot harder to get out of it. I’m taking a break for a little bit, but I expect to get back involved with the city council and mayoral races if I can find a candidate that I like and hopefully help them put in a message of change and progress. What I’ve learned now is that the local level, the city level, all of that is where everything really happens. And if you can control your cities and promote a good and strong ideology there, then you’ll probably win these elections. It all starts at that level.

I want to hopefully go on and get a joint MBA and policy degree and see where I go from there. I went from volunteer to campaign manager in less than a month. I didn’t even plan on being a volunteer until two weeks before I became one. So through a short stretch of time, everything exploded and that gives me hope. You need to have some plan and direction, but if you’re willing to put both feet forward, do what you can do, you’re always going to end up in a successful place. You just need to understand your skills and know what you can do.

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