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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Student Blog | The China-Japan-Southeast Asia Relationship

In her assessment of China’s contemporary foreign policy Dr. Rumi Aoyama, a leading scholar in Chinese Foreign Policy from Waseda University, noted that China is creating meaningful “economic, institutional, and political ties around the world.”

Aoyama began this semester’s Sun & Star Japan and East Asia colloquiums with a lecture discussing China-Japan-Southeast Asia relations from both a historical and modern analytic perspective. Her lecture was divided into three parts: (1) Chinese foreign policy toward Southeast Asia, (2) the China-Japan relationship, and (3) the possibility of big power conflict.

China’s Foreign Policy in Southeast Asia

Because China is an economic and diplomatic giant its relationship with Southeast Asian states is asymmetric. These relationships are also relatively new. After opening its economy China was forced to start on the ground floor by building and restoring diplomatic relations with its regional neighbors. Full-scale diplomatic efforts and regional engagement did not truly begin until after demarcation, most notably in 1996, which coincided with Western engagement.

1996 – 2006

This early era of Chinese diplomacy proved to be comparatively successful in terms of regional cooperation. Numerous changes, including sharing maritime claims, industry and economic engagement such as the ASEAN-Chine Free Trade Area and bilateral free trade agreements with various ASEAN states, helped to strengthen regional cooperation. As a result of these early collaborative economic efforts China is now one of the top three trading partners for every ASEAN state. Additionally, it was during this time that China began to delve into a more multilateral framework for its foreign relations, not only in terms of participation, but also in regard to leadership. In these years China became engaged with the Six-Party Talks, ASEAN+3, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and several other multilateral diplomatic efforts. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in 1997 China adopted a new security concept of regional cooperation in non-traditional security areas. Up to this point Asian security hinged almost completely on bilateral treaties and relations with the United States. This new security standpoint, an attempt to create a more China-dependent region, entailed development programs with nations such as Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar as well as efforts in addressing transnational human and drug trafficking.

2006 and On

In the last decade Chinese aggression and the Pivot to Asia have changed the situation.

First, Chinese aggression is the direct product of China’s changed foreign policy goals. China redefined its national interests in 2006, moving its central focus from economic development to the concepts of sovereignty, security, and development. With security at the forefront of policy decisions China has become undeniably more assertive in the region, most notably in maritime issues such as the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea.

Secondly, the Obama Administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ is largely regarded as Washington’s counterbalance to Beijing’s increasing regional and international presence. China’s response to the Pivot is known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), which is a combination of the historic Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In totality OBOR would span three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. It would include 60 countries and offer “five connectivities”: (1) policy consultation, (2) infrastructure connectivity, (3) free trade agreements, (4) currency cooperation, and (5) people-to-people connectivity. Ultimately OBOR has the potential to truly integrate China into the international arena in an unprecedented way.

Even if China makes no concessions on maritime issues it is now in a position to better economically integrate the region, in particular with regard to Southeast Asian states.

The China-Japan Relationship

The relationship between China and Japan is at the worst it has been since the normalization of relations in 1972. Perceptions of the relationship are dismal; over 50 percent of Chinese citizens and nearly 40 percent of Japanese citizens do not believe relations will get better. In both nations, overwhelming majorities of people have a negative image of the other nation.

In light of these statistics Aoyama stopped to analyze the question: What hampers Sino-Japanese relations? In both China and Japan the three most cited issues were: the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute, the larger maritime resource issue, and the grand-standing history of dispute between the two nations.

Those who regard the other nation with positive sentiment, Aoyama said, feel that way because of bilateral economic relations and basic people to people interaction and connection.

Nevertheless, the state of the Sino-Japanese relationship presents a major security dilemma. The East China Sea dispute is not a passing issue. The historic precedent for conflict is not a memory that will be absolved at least in the foreseeable future, and the introduction of Japan’s 2015 Security Legislation undoubtedly complicated matters, though it was necessary for Japanese international contribution and national defense.

Big Power Competition

To wrap up her lecture and explain the greater implications of contemporary Chinese foreign policy Aoyama cited three points of contention that could lead to conflict with China in the near future.

  1. The U.S. Pivot to Asia and the Japanese Security Dilemma
  2. China’s One Belt One Road
  3. Russian Relations

While the first two have been discussed previously, the addition of the relationship with Russia as a matter of concern is extremely notable. Aoyama stated plainly that U.S. presence in Asia is causing realignment between China and Russia. Additionally, Russia has been improving relations with Southeast Asian nations, namely through the exportation of weapons to countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

As both a reaction to their perception of Western containment and their own security agenda, China’s foreign policy, while presenting the opportunity for greater regional and international integration, creates an unmistakable possibility for big power conflict.


Claire Huitt is a senior at Southern Methodist University triple majoring in public policy, economics, and political science with a focus on international relations and the Asian Pacific. She is a Bauer Scholar in Political Science, Hamilton Scholar, Engaged Learning Fellow, a representative of IGNITE Women in Politics, Chair on Asian Pacific Relations with the Tower Center Student Forum, Dedman School of Law Pre-Law Scholar, New Century Scholar, and a member of the University Honors Program. After graduation Claire intends to attend law school and pursue a career in international law and foreign affairs.

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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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