Page 1

CAS CADE SPRING 2017

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

THE OUTSIDERS Visions, trauma and the art of the self-taught

Q+A GIVE IT UP FEATURE TRUMP AND THE ISSUES HUMANITIES PRAISE PORTLANDIA


DEAN’S PAGE

A SEA CHANGE FOR HIGHER ED

CARRYING ON OUR MISSION IN A TIME OF POLITICAL TRANSITION

s I watch the evolving political scene across the nation, I ponder, “What does this mean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Oregon?” Everyone agrees that the new national climate heralds a sea change for public higher education. On one front, President Trump has called for major cuts to federal research funding, including a 20 percent reduction to National Institutes of Health funding and elimination of the national endowments for the humanities and the arts. These cuts, if enacted, will seriously reduce research funding at the UO that supports salaries for postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, staff and faculty. State or federal cuts may also reduce our ability to grant undergraduate scholarships, making it more difficult for Oregon students to attend and complete college. Consider: Although the advertised in-state tuition is $8,910 per year, scholarships help reduce the average net total tuition paid by in-state students to roughly $6,500 per year. Scholarship support makes the UO accessible to students from all financial backgrounds. Also of concern is the impact of travel restrictions on our 3,000 international students—and on recruitment of new students from overseas. As I write this, our international applications are down 10 percent; some US universities have experienced drops as large as 80 percent. International students enrich our campus through their global perspectives. The revenue from their out-of-state tuition also helps fund in-state students, whose average net tuition covers only about 40 percent of the true cost of their education. I am also deeply concerned about attacks on our faculty, staff and students.

Internet bloggers and media have targeted scholars who study climate change and feminism, spewing commentary that is vicious and factually incorrect. Worse yet are the hate crimes that target minority populations, non-Christian religions and international students. The frequency of these incidents on campus has decreased since the immediate postelection period, but their occurrence has left us wary. To anticipate and plan for possible repercussions of our changing political climate, I have asked faculty, staff and leadership to engage in “scenario planning.” We will identify the best processes for responding when, for example, our faculty come under factually inaccurate and intimidating attacks launched through the internet and the media. We will ensure that we preserve a financially secure, safe and welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff. I find it reassuring that many of our faculty are experts on issues that are in play in these uncertain times. For a deeper understanding of immigration, trade and other concerns, please read the assessments by some of our expert social scientists that begin on page 8. We live in a time of remarkable change, little of which we can predict with accuracy. As a college, we therefore must remain vigilant in our outlook and flexible in our planning. And, more than ever, we must recommit to our ideals as an institution of public higher education—ideals that require us to seek new knowledge, serve all students and be forward-looking as we train the next generation of leaders.

W. ANDREW MARCUS, TYKESON DEAN

KELLY JAMES

A

Andrew Marcus is Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences. He is a professor of geography and proud parent of four UO graduates and one current UO student, all in the arts and sciences.


CONTENTS

SPRING 2017

FEATURES

4

THE OUTSIDERS

VISIONS, TRAUMA AND THE ART OF THE SELF-TAUGHT

8

“HISTORY IS WATCHING US NOW”: TRUMP AND THE ISSUES EXAMINING IMMIGRATION AND MORE UNDER THE NEW ADMINISTRATION

2

Q+A: ARE ACTS OF KINDNESS RANDOM? SOME OF US ARE INCLINED TO BE CHARITABLE—ESPECIALLY AS WE AGE

16

HUMANITIES

DIGITAL SHAKESPEARE, DRACULA’S BITE, PORTLANDIA, FACULTY FRIEND

SOCIAL SCIENCES 20 JUSTICE FOR ALL, IN THE

SCIENCES 24 NATURAL OWLS AND EARS, SEA LIFE, MATH MASTER, A RIVER’S STORY

ONLINE EXTRAS

28 CLI-FI FAN, MEDICAL ETHICS, GLOBETROTTER, BLUEGRASS BIOLOGIST

ENDNOTES

29 QUAKE ALERT, STARGAZING, SUPER SCHOLARS, AT THE HELM

ORPHANAGES, INTERNATIONAL AFFAIR

COVER: GREGORY VAN MAANEN, UNTITLED, 2009. ACRYLIC ON BOARD, 11¼ X 9 IN. (28.6 X 22.9 CM). COURTESY CAVIN-MORRIS GALLERY, NEW YORK.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  1


Q+A

ARE ACTS OF KINDNESS

RANDOM?

Some of us are inclined to be charitable—especially as we age INTERVIEW BY M AT T COOPER

A

hypothetical: You’re walking along when you spot a $20 bill on the sidewalk. Do you pocket it? Or give it to the charity on the corner? Your answer should indicate whether you’re more concerned about others or yourself. But it doesn’t, necessarily. You might lie just to look good: “Charity, of course!” Even if you truly would donate the money, you might do it out of self-interest—say, to appear compassionate. In fact, you might not even know why you’d give up the $20 in that situation. Given human nature, it’s hard for scientists to get at the truth of a seemingly straightforward question: Is it possible to care wholly and completely for the welfare of others—or is self-interest always involved? Ulrich Mayr found an answer, by asking a source that doesn’t mislead: the human brain. The head of the psychology department (above right) teamed with economics professor Bill Harbaugh and psychology graduate student Jason Hubbard to test whether there is such a thing as “pure altruism”: acts of kindness done not for our own benefit but only for the benefit of others. The tests included MRI imaging that showed—at the neural level—whether subjects’ brain pathways were excited more by charity or self-interest. The result was a resounding “yes”—some people give solely to help others. Even better, Mayr said, is the possibility that this kindness can be learned.

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Q

You could study any number of human behaviors. Why altruism?

ULRICH MAYR: Well, it touches on a very basic question, doesn’t it? Mainly, whether people are good or bad. Scientists have historically tried to answer that question through a more specific one—the willingness of people to share their hard-earned resources with others in need. But that’s a tough nut to crack. People give away money for all sorts of reasons—to get their name on a building or get something in return or just to make people think that they have great character. You can’t get a good answer by simply asking people, “Why do you give?” You have to trust your subjects to tell you the truth, but they don’t always do so, so you’re in a bind there.

Q

Your tests involved real money. Walk us through them.

UM: First, we asked people repeated questions about how much money they wanted to give to charities and how much they wanted to keep. This was actual money paid to them for being in the study, so every dollar they didn’t give away they could take home. We kept a tally of how much money they were willing to give away over the course of the experiment. Next, we ran them through personality questionnaires—how nice they are


Q

Why did you measure altruism three ways? Why not just rely on the brain imaging?

UM: The questionnaires and behavior tests are the traditional ways that we have tried to measure altruism, but we didn’t know whether they were actually getting at that behavior. By adding brain imaging, we found that all three are truly measuring altruism—there was consistency among the scores indicating a person’s level of altruism, across the three methods.

Q

to others, how often they give to charity, how much they volunteer, that sort of thing. We wanted a broad understanding of their tendencies to be selfless or altruistic.

Q

Why would someone tell you if they’re actually selfish and greedy?

UM: That’s exactly the problem. Both the personality questionnaire and the giving-away-money exercise are subject to lying—you don’t really know what’s driving people’s responses, altruism or self-interest. But the brain doesn’t lie. So for the third piece, we placed people in an MRI scanner and honed in on the “reward” areas of the brain that respond whenever something good happens to you—it could be money, good food or sex, for example. On a monitor, they watched transfers of $20 going to charities or to themselves. But they had no control over whether the money went to them or the charity. That’s important. In this situation, all of the non-altruistic motives fall away—you can’t influence anything, so you can’t engage in self-interest. We observed that for some people, the reward areas respond when money comes to them—no big surprise there. But for some people, it responds more strongly when money goes to the charities. This is a measure of pure altruism— it cannot be easily faked.

Explain what happened with tests involving “the people in the white lab coats.”

UM: This was an interesting little tidbit. We asked people to make decisions whether to give to charity under two different conditions—one in which their setting was completely private and they knew no one was watching, and one where they were watched by people in a control room in white lab coats. People in the latter condition gave considerably more. This shows that those self-interest motivations are also there, even in the people who are also very benevolent. But these reactions can be isolated and they don’t affect the assessment of pure altruism.

Q

What did you find regarding older subjects?

UM: We found that a 60-year-old is about twice as likely to give money away to charity as a 25-year-old. It’s always been known that older people give quite a bit more money, although psychologists are still trying to figure out why. Our study confirms that older people give more but it’s not because they have more money, or feel more pressure to give, or are more inclined to follow expected social norms. There is a “strengthening” of this general tendency to be benevolent.

Q

Why do you think older people are more charitable?

UM: One possibility is that it’s purely

biological—something switches on in the brain that makes us more altruistic. I find that very implausible. If you assume that’s unlikely, it has to be something that people experience—something about the way that older people construe the world that is different in younger adults. If that is the case then it’s something, in principle, that can be learned. It’s important to note that the purpose of the reward areas in the brain is not to make us happy—that’s not their evolutionary purpose. Their purpose is to signal to the brain an action that is worth repeating. It’s a learning mechanism—it drives what the brain needs to encode, to memorize, so it can repeat it in the future to get that root sense of reward again.

IT TOUCHES ON A VERY BASIC QUESTION— WHETHER PEOPLE ARE GOOD OR BAD. THAT’S A TOUGH NUT TO CRACK.

Q

Do you think it’s possible to teach altruism?

UM: Well, we have shown here that by engaging in altruistic behavior, you get a reward in part of the brain. That should actually strengthen future altruistic behavior. I think it provides a key toward thinking about educational measures that could really drive this reward-related mechanism and strengthen altruistic behavior. It suggests that it should be possible, maybe through a mild coercion, to get people to actually do good deeds. You could ask your kids to spend a portion of their allowance for a good cause of their choosing, for example. They may experience something they wouldn’t have experienced if you didn’t coerce them, and that’s a way to get that sense of reward. Then, if you’re somewhat lucky, it becomes a self-driving force and you don’t have to coerce them anymore. It becomes a habit.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  3


Visions, trauma and the art of the self-taught

d

BY MATT COOPER aniel Wojcik was a child when he first encountered the art of the untrained. During trips, his family was always stopping at one roadside attraction or another. He was amazed by the famous Watts Towers of Los Angeles, made of rebar and concrete and reaching 90 feet into the air; Bottle Village, a collection of shrines and mosaic walkways in Southern California composed of landfill discards and found objects—25 years in the making—left him fascinated and wanting to learn more. It was the art of the self-taught: people Right: Gregory Van Maanen, who didn’t even call themselves artists Happy Survivor, 1982–89. Mixed and had no formal artistic training, but media on wood. Courtesy of were compelled to create. Often living on Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York. the fringe of society, they were labelled “outsiders”—psychiatric patients and viOpposite page, left: Gregory sionaries, recluses and trauma victims. Van Maanen, Untitled, 2009. Now Wojcik has returned to them, as Acrylic on board, 29 x 23 in. an academic. In his new book, Outsider (73.7 x 58.4 cm). Courtesy CavinArt: Visionary Worlds and Trauma, the Morris Gallery, New York. professor of English and folklore studies combines exhaustively researched profiles of these artists with stirring, revealing examples of their work. He tries to humanize those he says are frequently misunderstood. Images from Outsider Art are featured on the following pages, with summaries drawn from Wojcik’s profiles of artists. He explores how these individuals use art to cope with adversity and trauma. There is a tendency among enthusiasts of this genre to romanticize the artists’ suffering and pigeonhole them as deviants because it may make this type of art more desirable, Wojcik said. By telling the artists’ stories, he seeks to provide a better understanding of them. Wojcik has occasionally used folklore to examine ideas outside the mainstream—this is someone, after all, who studies cultural beliefs tied to the apocalypse. But in exploring “outsider art,” he hopes to show that these artists are not so different from everyone else. “Artistic expression,” Wojcik said, “is a universal human endeavor.” 4  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

GREGORY VAN MAANEN

For Gregory Van Maanen, painting is nothing less than “a suicide prevention program.” Born in 1947, the New Jersey native was a young soldier in Vietnam in 1969 when, during an attack, he saw fellow infantrymen killed next to him. Van Maanen himself was shot and left for dead; rescuers later found him, and he spent months in a hospital before returning home. War so traumatized him that he never talked about it. But with painting and sculpture, Van Maanen releases the scenes in his head. The skulls and ghosts and nightmarish figures that he creates are his medicine, a way to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.


MADGE GILL, 1882–1961

Gill’s life was beset by adversity. She was born in the 19th century out of wedlock and hidden away by her mother; she grew up in foster care, a girl’s home and an orphanage. As a mother herself, Gill lost two children, almost dying of complications during delivery of a stillborn baby girl. She suffered severe Right: Madge Gill, Untitled, n.d. illnesses that required Ink on paper, 25 x 10½ in. (63.5 x the removal of her left eye 27 cm). De Stadshof Collection, and all of her teeth; she enMuseum Dr. Guislain; dured emotional collapse www.collectiedestadshof.nl. and a failed marriage. In creating drawings as large as 30 feet in length—and sometimes producing more than a dozen designs in one day— Gill worked in what others described as a trance state. She was guided by a spirit named Myrninerest, perhaps derived from “my inner rest.” Over a 40-year period Gill produced thousands of drawings, yet the same image unfailingly appeared: a woman with a distant gaze in her eyes, a delicate nose and tiny lips, and often in a fashionable hat. Gill said that each of the faces she drew had meanings, but she never specified what they were. UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  5


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MUCH OF FINSTER’S ART BEARS OUT APOCALYPTIC BELIEFS ABOUT GLOBAL NUCLEAR ANNIHILATION AND SOCIETAL DECAY IN THE FACE OF EVIL AND SUFFERING.

HOWARD FINSTER, 1916–2001

One of the most famous outsider artists in the United States, Finster is known for thousands of paintings, sculptures and the two-acre “Paradise Garden” that he created in his backyard in Pennville, Georgia: a maze of sculptures and structures constructed from broken Opposite top: Howard televisions, abandoned Finster, The Seven Devils, automobiles, discarded 1981. Tractor enamel on bicycles, water heaters, wood, 22 x 30 in. (56 x 76.2 plastic toys and more. cm). Photograph Jim Prinz. Like a number of other Courtesy of the Arient Family visionary artists, tragedy Collection. visited Finster in childhood. He lost five brothers Opposite bottom: Howard and sisters, including one Finster, A Feeling of Darkness, brother who died grue1982. Tractor enamel on wood, somely in front of Finster’s 20¾ x 34 in. (52.7 x 86.4 cm). eyes, in a grass fire. Photograph Jim Prinz. Courtesy In adulthood, Finster of the Arient Family Collection. was a born-again Christian and minister. He was painting a bicycle one day when he suddenly saw a small face in a smudge of white paint on his fingertip; a divine feeling told him to “paint sacred art,” he said, and he soon created thousands of pieces. Much of Finster’s art bears out apocalyptic beliefs about global nuclear annihilation and societal decay in the face of evil and suffering. He described visions of traveling to other planets and called himself “a stranger from another world.”

NICK BLINKO

Blinko, born in 1961, is the former lyricist and lead singer for Rudimentary Peni, a legendary British punk band. Diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, his intensely detailed drawings arise from what he has described as “acute psychic anguish,” Above: Nick Blinko, Untitled, suffered when he is not on medication c. 1998. Colored ink on paper, and expressed in tortured faces, skulls, 16½ x 11½ in. (42 x 29.2 cm). tiny monsters, broken dolls and other Courtesy of Henry Boxer Gallery. haunted imagery. Therapeutic drugs ease Blinko’s suffering but disrupt his concentration and hand-eye coordination. Without his medication, he has said, he is able to make the art that he desires—but the cost is full exposure to emotional pain and delusional states. UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  7


Trump a nd the I ss ues

History is Watching Us Now IMMIGRATION, THE ECONOMY, TRADE, HEALTH CARE, POLITICAL MOVEMENTS—BREAKING DOWN KEY TOPICS UNDER THE NEW ADMINISTRATION STORY BY MATT COOPER | PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHARLIE LITCHFIELD

The president himself may have said it best: “History is watching us now.” ¶ Those were Donald J. Trump’s words in July, when he became the Republican nominee for president at the party’s national convention in Cleveland. Now the Trump presidency is well under way, with an ambitious lineup of policies and proposals that trigger broad questions about the future of America. ¶ Social scientists in the College of Arts and Sciences—three from political science, three from economics—were asked to dissect issues in play under the new administration: immigration, trade, the economy, health care and political movements. They explored the key elements underpinning these topics and what’s at stake. 8  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

DAN TICHENOR—IMMIGRATION Professor and Philip H. Knight Chair, Department of Political Science INTERESTS IMMIGRATION POLITICS AND POLICY, AMERICAN PRESIDENCY, NATIONAL SECURITY AND CIVIL LIBERTIES, SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, RACE AND RELIGION

All sides agree that the immigration system in America is broken. But none of them seem ready for the concessions necessary in a comprehensive solution. That’s according to Dan Tichenor—the political science professor has studied the politics and policies of immigration for more than 20 years. He examines the role that social, economic and political forces play in shaping how newcomers are governed. On the right side of the political aisle, legislators say immigration laws aren’t enforced and our borders aren’t controlled. On the left, they say that there is no pathway to citizenship for those here illegally, relegating them to second-class status. But reform is elusive because there is disagreement not just between the Republican and Democratic parties, Tichenor said, but within them. “There’s a bitter pill for nearly every constituency,” Tichenor said. “That’s why we’ve been stuck in neutral for decades.” LONG ODDS FOR REFORM The administration’s focus on immigration has raised anew the calls for comprehensive immigration reform. But that’s an exceedingly heavy lift, Tichenor said. There are three broad categories of immigrants: legal immigrants, which includes refugees and others who are approved by the US to become permanent residents; undocumented immigrants, who enter without inspection or overstay their visas; and temporary foreign workers, sought by US businesses to fill jobs in high-wage sectors such as technology and lowwage ones such as agriculture. There are four pieces to reform that must be included to win legislative approval, Tichenor said: • Sanctions or other penalties on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants • Enhanced enforcement at the US-


Mexico border and of laws already on the books • A path to legal status for undocumented immigrants • A system for addressing the needs of employers for temporary labor. But at least one of each of these elements is a “deal breaker” for one major constituency within the Republican and Democratic parties, Tichenor said. THE REPUBLICAN DIVIDE On one side of the Republican Party are “classic immigration restrictionists,” Tichenor said—those who want to significantly limit both the number and rights of immigrants through strong enforcement of laws and increased security at the USMexico border. But their priorities clash with the goals of the party’s “pro-business, proimmigration conservatives,” Tichenor said. That group supports broad admission of laborers to fill high-end jobs that Americans can’t, and low-end ones that Americans won’t. The US Chamber of Commerce, for example, says immigrants “bring entrepreneurial energy that creates jobs for all who live in America” and “help fill gaps and labor shortages in our workforce.” The pro-business group believes that “just as the free market promotes the economy through the easy flow of goods and services across borders,” Tichenor said, “workers should also flow easily across borders.” For reform legislation to work, the pro-business group seeking a diverse workforce would have to accept stronger sanctions against employers who violate immigration laws—and that’s fundamentally at odds with their goals. The restrictionists, meanwhile, view employer penalties as beneficial—but would likely oppose steps to legalize temporary immigrant workers to meet employer There’s broad needs. DEBATES FOR DEMOCRATS On the Democratic side are “liberal, immigrationrights defend-

agreement that immigration in America is broken, Tichenor said—but coming to consensus on a solution is another matter.

Our future is one that is going to be very diverse. Immigrant communities are going to exercise far more economic and political power.

ers,” Tichenor said, who push for broad admissions and rights so that families can be reunited, hard-working laborers can enter and those escaping war and oppression can find asylum. To reform immigration, this group would have to accept stronger enforcement of laws and penalties on employers in violation. That’s especially distasteful

to them, Tichenor said, because workplace sweeps for undocumented immigrants can raise legitimate civil-rights concerns. Opposite the immigration defenders, the Democratic Party is home to “economic protectionists,” Tichenor said— they worry that globalization and largescale immigration threaten jobs and wages. In return for employer sanctions, though, they would have to embrace a broad program for citizenship, which runs contrary to their goals. TAKING THE LONG VIEW Although the current immigration debate is focused on where we are as a country, Tichenor said it’s also useful to consider where we’re going.


There is no proof that the way to address the global trade deficit is through protecting US trade, Cristea said.

Given falling birth rates among whites and rising ones among minorities, demographers predict that at some point in the 2030s whites will no longer make up the majority of the population. That could bring greater openness to liberal immigration proposals among the nonwhite majority. Generational shifts in views on immigration also suggest that future policies, like the face of the nation itself, could have a very different look. “Our future is one that is going to be very diverse, multiethnic and multiracial,” Tichenor said. “Immigrant communities are going to exercise far more economic and political power.”

ANCA CRISTEA—TRADE Associate professor, Department of Economics INTERESTS INTERNATIONAL TRADE, INDUSTRIAL ORGANIZATION, APPLIED ECONOMETRICS

Which is the better path: making international trade as open and fluid as possible? Or protecting US industries by raising the cost of imports? What happens to the average worker under either scenario?

Cristea is an empirical trade economist who assesses trends through statistical analysis. She studies the global benefits of easy movement of goods, services and people and the impact of trade on the environment and workers. Trade generally lowers the cost to make goods and services, but it creates winners and losers when production is moved to locales with lower labor costs. It’s better for business to have easy access to the global playing field, Cristea said—but that can come at the expense of workers whose jobs are outsourced to non-US competitors. RECENT HISTORY For decades, the US has generally not taxed imports or taxed them minimally—say, 2 percent on manufactured goods. Manufacturers who ship a $20,000 car from Japan pay about $400 in import taxes, for example. The theory, Cristea said, is that making trade free or inexpensive encourages countries to play to their strengths. Businesses stick to producing what they do best, export the surplus, make a profit and grow; they save money by importing what would be expensive to produce or procure domestically. But the US has shed about five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, which critics blame on free trade. CHANGING THE JOB POOL The new administration is trying to reverse this trend; proponents of trade protectionism believe

10  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

it will restore a substantial number of manufacturing jobs. But research indicates that advances in technology are more important than trade in explaining the decline in manufacturing employment. “Protecting trade is not going to preserve jobs lost to increased automation and technological development, both of which tend to be cheaper than human labor,” Cristea said. “These jobs are not going to come back.” As US employers have moved all or part of their operations abroad, manufacturing jobs have dropped. But some firms relocate only part of their business and the savings allow them to retain and expand higher-paying jobs in the US, Cristea said—jobs in research and development, marketing and sales, for example. In fact, at the same time that the US was losing manufacturing jobs, it was adding 53 million jobs in services, Forbes magazine reported—in sales, housekeeping, nursing and teaching, for example. Of these new jobs, about 60 percent were in higher-paying occupations than the jobs lost. TRADE DEFICITS The new administration wants to correct trade imbalances with countries such as China and Mexico, Cristea said, but it’s important to understand the nuances of this issue. A trade deficit means that the value of a country’s exports is lower than the value of imports. There are two kinds of trade

Protecting trade is not going to preserve jobs lost to increased automation. These jobs are not going to come back.

deficits: bilateral and global. The former refers to trade between two countries; the latter, to the total value of a country’s exports minus the total value of imports. It’s misguided to focus on bilateral trade deficits as a measure of economic health


because those figures don’t factor in trade with third parties. Consider Mexico: In 2015, the US used almost 70 percent of that country’s imports for its own exports, although that’s not reflected in the $50 billion US trade deficit with Mexico. It’s better to focus on global trade deficits and to keep them from growing in the US. The current figure—$500 billion—is about 2.5 percent of the value of all US goods and services. This is the important deficit to watch, Cristea said—countries continue to invest in the US economy but the global trade deficit could eventually raise concerns that they won’t get a return on that investment.

MARK THOMA—HEALTH CARE Professor, Department of Economics INTERESTS DEBT, UNEMPLOYMENT, INTEREST RATES, ECONOMIC POLICY, HEALTH CARE

The difficulties Republicans have had replacing former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act leave the country with the same question that has persisted for years: How to control health care costs while ensuring or expanding coverage? Millions of Americans get coverage under Obama’s signature health law—a record 6.4 million signed up in 2017, for example. But premiums for users and costs to government are rising significantly—the Congressional Budget Office warns that at the current pace, spending on federal health care programs will drive budget deficits and debt to record levels over the next 30 years. Thoma is a macroeconomist who studies both monetary and fiscal policy, with a focus on the US economy. One of the most important issues for the economy is health care—and Thoma has followed it closely. Thoma is well-known for his column in The Fiscal Times and his blog Economist’s View, which Nobel Prize winner and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called “the best place by far to keep up with the latest in economic discourse.” Science Magazine listed Thoma as one of the 100 most-followed scientists on Twitter and he is a regular source for the national press. The health care debate will ultimately hinge on a philosophical question rather

than an economic one, Thoma said: Is health care a commodity or a right? If the country decides that health care is no different from any other good, Congress could choose to give the health insurance industry more latitude in determining who receives coverage. However, if health care is seen as a right, that could impose a moral obligation on lawmakers to ensure that those who can afford it help pay for those who cannot. In such a system, Thoma said, the government—not private insurers—would be a logical authority to oversee coverage. THE ACA AND BEYOND Regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act continues or is eventually replaced by a Republican alternative, Thoma said the underlying principle is the same. For government-run health insurance markets to work, people must be required to participate. If healthier

Over the long-term, the health care debate will hinge on a philosophical question rather than an economic one: Is health care a commodity or a right?

people don’t have to buy insurance, Thoma said, everyone is in trouble. Health care isn’t like other goods and services. The costs to individuals can be astronomical, arising without warning—costs to treat a serious illness or an injury. Most people can’t save enough to prepare for these expenses or afford them when they happen. The solution is to pool money in an insurance fund—everyone pays and that money covers major expenses for the unfortunate. The snag, Thoma said, is the cost, or premium, to join. It’s an average of the expected costs for both healthy and unhealthy members, so it’s automatically a bad deal for the healthy—it’s more than their expected costs, so why not skip the expense and gamble on not getting sick or injured? To avoid this scenario, the ACA forces people to buy health insurance by charging those who would otherwise go without. But it

Rising health care costs must be slowed, Thoma said, but we haven’t arrived at a budgetary crisis. UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  11


doesn’t charge enough, Thoma said—too many healthy people still leave the pool. Without a mandate that everyone buy health insurance, or a steep penalty for going without, the downward spiral begins: As those in good health leave the pool, premiums rise among those remaining, more people leave and eventually only those with high health-care costs remain, facing premiums that they can’t pay. That’s bad for everybody, Thoma said, because we’ll all end up paying more for health care. Those who can’t pay for insurance will get care in emergency rooms or through other costly means, and insurers will cover those costs by raising everyone’s premiums.

Lowndes predicts there will be populist movements on the left that will continue in the vein of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements.

SWITCH TO SINGLE-PAYER? An alternative to people buying (or not buying) health care is the “single payer” approach—residents pay taxes to the state and it becomes the single payer, providing health care or contracting for it with private organizations. This approach could become popular, Thoma said, as more people join Medicare, a single-payer program that provides health insurance for older Americans who have paid for it through a payroll tax. But regardless of the plan, Thoma said people need help making informed choices about treatment. Say the issue is cancer—is surgery the answer? What about radiation or chemotherapy? Which hospital? Health insurers must provide guidance. With private insurance, insurers decide what procedures they will cover depending on how high a premium the client is willing to pay. Alternatively, government can regulate health care and determine which procedures are appropriate.

THE FUTURE OF “SANDERS POPULISM” On the left side of the political aisle, populism was driven by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who mounted a strong challenge to eventual Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Sanders energized millions with calls to more heavily tax the wealthy and break up the nation’s biggest banks—those calls aren’t going away. The movement is alive, Lowndes said, and strong in Oregon, where it’s rooted in the Democratic politics of Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio. Both advocate campaign finance reform to curb contributions by wealthy “1 percenters” and give more control of government to the people. It’s important to remember that Sanders’ populist momentum began outside the party, primarily with the Occupy movement that protested social inequality, Lowndes said—it appears that this trend could continue. “There are likely to be populist movements on the left that will continue in future Occupy-type movements, Black Lives Matter and the ‘sanctuary city’ immigration movement,” Lowndes said.

BENDING THE COST CURVE Be wary of lawmakers arguing that a looming fiscal crisis makes urgent the need for a health care overhaul, Thoma said—rising costs must be slowed but we haven’t arrived at a budgetary crisis. Rising health care costs drive increases in the national debt. But interest rates for loans remain relatively low and foreign stakeholders continue to buy up our debt— both suggest that the economy is sound and that there is no looming budgetary crisis.

when the idea of ‘the people’ has real resonance— they often collect around an anti-establishment leader with whom they identify.”

JOSEPH LOWNDES—US POPULISM Associate professor, Department of Political Science INTERESTS AMERICAN POLITICS, CONSERVATISM, POPULISM AND RACE

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election shocked experts and everyday people alike and triggered exhaustive analysis of the factors behind his win. Publications including The New York Times and National Review said at least one of the forces appeared to be a burgeoning populist movement—that is, those who believe that everyday people are being exploited by the “elites” of society, be they politicians, the wealthy, bankers or others in positions of power. Lowndes has studied political movements for more than a quarter-century. He is fascinated by the role that populism played in the 2016 election on both sides of the political aisle. His prediction: This movement will remain a significant presence on the political landscape for the foreseeable future, requiring attention from Republicans and Democrats alike. “Populist movements thrive when the government can be convincingly cast as corrupt,” Lowndes said. “That’s

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INSTITUTIONS AND IMMIGRATION On the right side of the political aisle, a hallmark of populism is distrust of the government and other institutions, Lowndes said.


As an ostensibly populist president, Trump is likely to continue to challenge status quo institutions such as the courts, when they oppose him on matters such as national security, or the media, when he believes he’s been subjected to unfair coverage. The bigger question is whether Trump will be able to translate his populist momentum into policy. That will hinge primarily on whether items in his agenda will require cooperation with Congress. Where Trump is “unconstrained” by his need to work with lawmakers or other institutions, Lowndes said, he can use executive authority to advance priorities of his populist base. And he already has, with regard to deportation. After promising to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants, the new president signed an executive order just days after taking office that unleashed the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport many of them.

Right-wing populism can align with fringe movements that are intolerant of minorities.

TRADE WARS AND REAL WARS Regarding proposals that require legislative support, Trump will be forced to balance preferences of the far right with those of the mainstream Republican Party. Right-wing populists generally view the international arena as filled with competitors or enemies of their country, Lowndes said. That is echoed in Trump’s calls for tighter restrictions on foreign trade and an at-times adversarial stance toward international alliances such as NATO. But making—or breaking—treaties must be done in conjunction with the Senate, where it’s unclear if a “protectionist” approach will prevail over conservatives who favor open trade and international partnerships, Lowndes said.

Waging war is a different matter. Presidents increasingly take unilateral military action without congressional support, as evidenced by Trump’s missile strike against Syria. Such moves score points with Trump’s populist base, Lowndes said, by framing military action in the context of “winning quickly and getting out.” But, he added, the president will eventually need congressional approval for any sort of sustained military campaign. POTENTIAL FOR PREJUDICE Rightwing populism can also align with fringe movements that are intolerant of minorities, Lowndes said. He expects Trump’s win to bring into the political foreground nationalist sentiments in opposition to international influence and this country’s changing racial demographics. There are direct connections, Lowndes said, between the new administration and such movements. Stephen Bannon, a key Trump adviser, was the head of Breitbart news, a website that Bannon claimed to have made into a platform for “the altright”—a loose affiliation of nationalists whose ideologies are linked explicitly to white supremacy, Lowndes said. As whites lose majority status in this country, Lowndes said, “opportunities for the growth of powerfully racist, authoritarian politics will abound. Regardless of whether Trump is reelected, dangerous forms of white populism will likely develop both inside and outside the party system.”

CRAIG PARSONS—POPULISM ABROAD Professor, Department of Political Science INTERESTS EUROPEAN POLITICS, COMPARATIVE POLITICS

The world has never been smaller. The flow of people and business across national borders is at an all-time high. Global trade is rising. The planet’s biggest cities are extraordinarily diverse. This trend causes some to worry that newcomers might overwhelm the status quo—they want to protect their nation’s jobs, public services and cultural identity. In 2016, according to The New York Times and other news organizations,

Despite the spread of populist-nationalism in Europe, it’s unlikely that more countries will leave the EU and threaten its existence.

these concerns sparked a fundamental change to Europe’s political landscape: Great Britain voted to exit from the European Union, which oversees trade, immigration and services for more than 20 countries. The theme of the “Brexit” vote, according to political scientist Craig Parsons, was “we want to control our country.” That idea is rooted in nationalism, which holds that a nation should govern itself free from outside interference and should preserve its identity—that is, shared characteristics such as culture, language and race. “The Brexit campaign was about whipping up the people and pushing away external authority,” Parsons said. “Britain now faces serious questions as it tries to break from the EU because the Brexiteers can’t reclaim undivided national control without huge costs.” POPULISM AND THE EU The Brexit vote illustrates the rise of “populist nationalism,” Parsons said—the pursuit of nationalist ideas in ways that resonate with populists. Populists believe that everyday people are being exploited by politicians, the wealthy, bankers or others in positions of power. The populists leading the Brexit campaign persuaded voters that their national values and sovereignty had been “sold out” to the EU by elites and previous leadership. YOU BREAK IT, YOU BOUGHT IT The question for Britain now is whether populist-nationalists will get what they want in divorcing the EU, or whether more moderate positions will prevail. It’s an understatement to say that the process of splitting apart will be challenging. Parsons called it “one of the

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It’s an understatement to say that Britain’s divorce from the EU will be challenging. Parsons called it “one of the most complicated negotiations in the history of the world.”

conditions look to be mutually exclusive.”

most complicated negotiations in the history of the world.” The EU has stated that Britain must pay $50 billion euros to buy itself out of EU assets in the country and other commitments. There are also three million EU residents in Britain on passports and their citizenship is now uncertain; processing them all and granting approvals for residency within current rules would take 150 years, Parsons said—an impossible job. But the biggest problem facing British government and its populist faction is the choice between economic vitality and controlling immigration. Many Brexiteers want to control immigration. But the British economy depends heavily on access to the EU market, the world’s largest trading bloc—and the EU doesn’t open the market to countries that don’t allow free movement for EU citizens. “The mandate the British government has drawn up for untangling from the EU is full control of their borders and, at the same time, major access to the EU market,” Parsons said. “Those

NOT A DEATH KNELL FOR THE EU Despite the spread of populistnationalism across the continent, it’s unlikely that more countries will leave the EU and threaten its existence, Parsons said. The movement succeeded in Britain because those skeptical of the EU gained control of the Conservative Party, one of British parliament’s two mainstream parties, and thus had the power to put the issue before the people. But most European countries don’t have a two-party system, making it much more difficult for a radical position to gain the legislative control necessary to put an issue up to a public vote. MAY, MACRON AND LE PEN British Prime Minister Theresa May’s move to hold a “snap” election June 8—three years early—is an attempt to secure her post for years and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations. But May’s nationalist party base is pushing her campaign in aggressive populist directions, which may make negotiations harder. Meanwhile France is moving the other way. Centrist Emmanuel Macron’s presidential victory over populist-nationalist Marine Le Pen showed the challenges populists there face in taking power. Mainstream politicians and voters refused to ally with the far right, limiting Le Pen’s appeal and empowering proEU leadership.

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GERMAN ELECTIONS Nor does Parsons predict big gains for populists in German elections this fall. The country is beset by the same challenges that stoke populist feelings elsewhere—immigrant and refugee influxes and fears about foreign-born terrorists. But there aren’t the same concerns about joblessness experienced elsewhere in Europe, Parsons said—the country rode out the Great Recession better than any other large economy. In addition, the German parliamentary system is designed specifically to block small, fringe parties from making big legislative gains. In the German election, Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a major challenge from Martin Schultz, a candidate just left of center, popular for his charismatic approach to governance. Populism’s rise in Europe is rooted in the failure of leaders to manage globalization and immigration. Schulz can tie Merkel to that narrative, Parsons said— she is the most prominent world leader to have welcomed vast numbers of Syrian refugees, some 400,000-plus, prompting violent protests in some areas.

TIM DUY—THE ECONOMY Professor of practice, Department of Economics, and director, Oregon Economic Forum INTERESTS MACROECONOMICS, MONETARY POLICY, LOCAL AND REGIONAL ECONOMICS

The US economy grew 1.6 percent in 2016, down from 2.6 percent the year before. Forecasts are for around 2 percent growth for the next 10 years. Is that too fast? Too slow? Or just right? Economic growth is the increase in the amount of goods and services produced over time, and it relates directly to the number of jobs available. If growth is too slow, jobs vanish; if it’s too fast, there aren’t enough workers to keep up, and that causes rising prices and inflation. What’s a president to do? The Trump administration is acting on several fronts as it manages the economy—but that’s a delicate dance, economist Tim Duy said, and the wrong move can cause the nation to stumble. Administration officials are weighing increased spending and tax cuts as they debate the proper rate of economic


growth. Were Duy privy to that discussion, he’d be counseling caution regarding any major moves. FIRST, DO NO HARM Despite job losses in manufacturing, President Trump inherited, overall, a healthy economy, Duy said—low unemployment, solid wage and job growth, rising workforce participation, low inflation and low interest rates. Stealing a page from the Hippocratic Oath, he said the best policy for the new administration would have been to “do nothing,” for fear of harming economic momentum. Trump officials have other plans. The president has made tax reform a priority and has proposed broad-based personal tax cuts. Tax cuts that favor the wealthy might temporarily boost the economy, Duy said, but it would be more effective if those tax cuts went to the middle and lower classes. Infrastructure spending—which Trump has also proposed—helps the economy if it raises productivity. Road projects, for example, can reduce shipping costs, which benefits producers and consumers, Duy said. But other moves could slow growth, he added—restricting immigration, for example, hurts the labor supply in many sectors.

The makeup of the Federal Reserve is one of the most intriguing questions regarding the new administration and the economy.

growth—that is, more than the workforce can accommodate. Because that can cause inflation, officials will likely try to avoid that scenario by raising interest rates, making it more difficult for businesses to borrow money and grow. WHITHER THE FEDERAL RESERVE Those officials are with the Federal Reserve—they set US monetary policy, and the makeup of their board is one of the most intriguing questions under the new administration, Duy said.

The Reserve’s job is to maximize employment and keep prices stable, and they do this by adjusting interest rates to keep the economy growing at a steadybut-sustainable rate. The current board would likely raise interest rates in response to a surge in the economy, to keep that growth in check, Duy said. The operative term is “current”: Given upcoming departures from the Reserve board, Trump could appoint as many as seven members over the next two years, dramatically swinging fiscal policy from controlling growth with high interest rates to more likely freeing it with low ones. “If you’re worried about the Federal Reserve offsetting your efforts to stimulate the economy,” Duy said, “you stack it with people who favor lower interest rates.” He favors the appointment of “run-ofthe-mill centrists” less likely to tip the economy into recession through extreme swings in interest rates.

THE “D” WORDS Some people fear that a slowdown in economic growth could cause deficits and debt to grow. Duy doesn’t share this worry. Annual deficits of $400 billion have pushed US debt to $20 trillion. But economists haven’t identified the amount of debt that is problematic for a country such as the United States, Duy said, which doesn’t truly face the prospect of bankruptcy. As a last resort, he noted, The Trump the country can pay administration is off debt by printing acting on several more money—alfronts as it manages though that can the economy—but trigger inflation. that’s a delicate Duy is more dance, economist concerned that Tim Duy said, and the administrathe wrong move tion will trigger can cause the nation excessive economic to stumble. UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  15


BUILDING ON

THE BARD New Website captures changes to Shakespeare over Time

T

HE INK had barely dried on Shakespeare’s plays before other writers began tinkering with them. They changed words and scenes as they saw fit. They tweaked story lines to give them happy endings. They tied up loose ends in plays that finished without a resolution that satisfied them. It continues today, with scores of wholesale adaptations of the bard’s plays in literature, movies and music. In fact, fresh takes on Shakespeare help his plays remain relevant 400 years after his death. “Productions and performances have always been changed to make them appealing to new audiences,” English professor Lara Bovilsky said. “If that’s not done, they die.” Bovilsky recently launched a website on the evolution of Shakespeare’s plays over the years—Time’s Pencil, a name taken from a Shakespeare sonnet about the ways that time changes a person. The website—timespencil. omeka.net—features “exhibits” on the bard’s original plays of the 16th and 17th century, his sonnets and adaptations by others, including children’s literature; within each exhibit, Bovilsky has writ-

ten detailed narratives that provide rich background, context and insight. For example, in the exhibit “Shakespearean Fan Fiction,” Bovilsky explains that the bard’s characters enjoyed a surge of attention in the 19th century prompted by the growing popularity of the novel. Click on one of her examples, “The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines,” and learn about work by scholar Mary Cowden Clarke, who published novellas in the 19th century depicting the child-

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON RARE BOOKS COLLECTION

thriller that draws from Shakespeare’s darker poetry. Bovilsky got the inspiration for the project two years ago, when she was deeply involved in securing the UO’s selection as a host site for an exhibit of a rare original copy of the First Folio, the first published collection of dozens of Shakespeare’s plays. The UO was

PRODUCTIONS AND PERFORMANCES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CHANGED TO MAKE THEM APPEALING TO NEW AUDIENCES. IF THAT’S NOT DONE, THEY DIE.

hoods of Shakespeare characters such as Ophelia, Lady Macbeth and Juliet. The webpage links to images of book pages from Cowden Clarke’s Ophelia narrative, revealing key moments in the text. Time’s Pencil includes materials dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, and Bovilsky plans to add creative presentday riffs on the playwright such as Black and Deep Desires: William Shakespeare, Vampire Hunter (2015), a supernatural

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the only Oregon stop for a 2016 crosscountry tour of the folio, organized in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. In conjunction with the event, Bovilsky collaborated with Knight Library to display rare Shakespearean gems, including his second and fourth folios, in the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. She also curated an exhibit in the library called “Time’s Pencil”; buoyed by the


INTERVIEW WITH

THE VAMPIRE Students in comparative lit

tap vintage journalism in their embrace of Dracula

A Time’s Pencil includes beautiful imagery such as this—Hamlet and Laertes preparing to duel.

response to this attraction, Bovilsky created the website—essentially a digital version of the exhibit. Reviews are positive—on and off campus. UO senior Karissa Adams used Time’s Pencil for a recent project in an advanced Shakespeare course, tracing the constant “updating” of the bard’s writing across a comparatively small 70-year period from 1616 to 1685. “I always assumed Shakespeare was good literature because it never changed,” she said. “But the reason why we think of it as good literature is because it’s changed to reflect our culture.” The website has also proven valuable to Eliza Greenstadt, an associate professor of theater and film at Portland State University. She used it for two courses in which students examined incremental changes in Shakespeare across centuries. “The exhibits demonstrate the instability of the text,” Greenstadt said. “They show students that the volumes they read and the performances they view are the result of many years of cultural influence.” —JM

UTHOR BRAM STOKER’S Dracula is renowned for introducing the world to one of fiction’s all-time great monsters. To introduce her comparative literature students to the Count, instructor Katherine Brundan asked much more of them than just a close reading of the book. In an effort to transport students to Dracula’s 19th-century London, Brundan took full advantage of rare resources in Knight Library. Students dug into the digital versions of content first printed a continent away and more than a century ago—newspapers and other periodicals produced in London in the 1890s. Each student first chose a periodical for the project. Then they wrote an article based on one of the story lines in Dracula, while trying to match the tone and style of their selected publication. “The goal of this project was to immerse students in the journalism of the day,” Brundan said. “They had to think creatively about how to place the novel within the debates and language of its own era.” One student wrote mock interviews with the main characters by incorporating direct quotes from the novel. Another adopted a “true crime” approach, writing up newspaper-style reports of the Count’s suspected misdeeds. A third reviewed the novel as if writing on the same day that it was first released. Julianna Hollopeter, a freshman majoring in communication disorders, took the opportunity to get outside her comfort zone. She penned an article for a conservative newspaper called The Spectator. Hollopeter attempted to defend an idea with which she personally disagrees—that the city’s women needed men to fend off Dracula’s attacks. She assumed the guise of a male

reporter, making “his” case while she tried to imitate the stilted, flowery prose of the era with passages such as: “Our women need protecting because they are delicate and easily manipulated against the powers of evil. Thus, strong, capable men need to keep watch and protect our faint-hearted ladies.” As with the others, Hollopeter was expected to write historically accurate prose. For example, Stoker emphasized in Dracula the dawn of “the new woman”— what we now know as feminism—through

ONE STUDENT ADOPTED A “TRUE CRIME” APPROACH, WRITING UP NEWSPAPERSTYLE REPORTS OF THE COUNT’S SUSPECTED MISDEEDS. Mina Harker, a resourceful character who helps find the vampire even after falling under his spell. But because the word “feminism” was just emerging in 1890s Britain, Hollopeter wrote about the concept without referring to it by name: “After speaking with Mina it was easy to see how she exhibits certain traits of the new woman. These characteristics include learning shorthand, practicing journalism, traveling on her own, and participating in non-normative activities.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hollopeter said the project made her a better writer. But she also became a better reader. “Now I look at a text and when it was written,” she said, “and instead of seeing it as a 21st-century woman, I can see it as it was supposed to be perceived back then.” —JM

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FROM PORTLANDIA TO PROFESSIONAL

Spoiler alert! Ducks who worked on the set of the sketch comedy are launching film careers

Portlandia creator and co-star Fred Armisen has routinely made himself available on set to answers questions from cinema studies interns such as Laura Brehm (left) and Jordyn Roach.

N A QUIRKY SHOW like Portlandia, interns get asked to do quirky things. This is why Maddie Dunkelberg found herself going door-to-door in downtown Portland one summer day in 2014, asking total strangers if she could go up on the roofs of their buildings. She calls it “rooftop scouting”—producers wanted the perfect backdrop for the show’s spoof of a rock video by supergroup U2. Dunkelberg plunged in.

interest of faculty members and Portlandia producers in launching careers in film. Producers and crew have regularly given their time to cinema studies students, both on the set and when traveling to Eugene to speak in classes and teach workshops. Students, meanwhile, capitalize on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to work on the set. More than 20 have served in internships, using that experience to launch entertainment careers in Oregon and beyond. Interns often support production, working long days while they run errands, haul tables and other equipment and keep curious passersby from wandering into a shot.

O

“You’re just going from building to building, asking, ‘Can I go onto your roof?’” said Dunkelberg, a 2015 graduate of cinema studies and Spanish. “In Portland, people are like, ‘Sure, use my apartment for free, go up on my roof, see what’s up there.’ You don’t get that experience on every show.” Portlandia is the Emmy award–winning sketch comedy series set and filmed in Portland, starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and entering its final season in 2018. The UO Cinema Studies Program has fostered a close relationship with the show over its seven-year run, owing to the shared

UNDER THE SAME ROOF

I

Linguistics professor Julie Sykes is a live-in resource for undergrads T’S NO STRETCH to say that Julie Sykes is especially close to her students. She lives with hundreds of them, after all. Sykes, an associate professor of linguistics, is the current faculty-inresidence in the Global Scholars Hall, home to 400 UO students. Her duties range from helping students navigate the rigors of academics to sweetening up the day-to-day of dorm life: She has been known to deliver desserts door-to-door to her hall mates, accompanied by two small helpers—her daughters (ages 3 and 6).

Sykes describes the suite that she shares with her two young daughters as akin to a normal house, with three bedrooms and two baths. It’s not just a faculty-inresidence program for her, she jokes—it’s a family-inresidence program. It was once more the province of private schools to place a professor under the same roof with undergraduates as a live-in resource. But faculty-in-residence programs in public universities have

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become increasingly common as well, and the UO has had a faculty member living on site in the Global Scholars Hall since it opened five years ago. Sykes, now in her third year in this role, strives to be there when someone wants to talk about the stresses of campus life or a seemingly impossible amount of schoolwork. “It’s a powerful resource for faculty relationships with students,” Sykes said. “And this is inherently what we do, right? Build relationships with our students.” She and her daughters also regularly host “mystery dinners” in which attending students are treated to a visit by a surprise guest—a dean, perhaps, or another faculty


AUGUSTA QUIRK/IFC

Brownstein (left) and Armisen on the set. “Very down to earth people,” one intern said—“Carrie has her dogs on set every day and Fred’s always telling funny stories.”

Dunkelberg has parlayed her internship into a job as a coordinator for NBCUniversal, working with young writers in Los Angeles. She helps them hone their craft through mentorship programs and acts as a go-between for meetings with movie executives. Dunkelberg credits her experience with Portlandia for guiding her to the right niche within the sprawling entertainment industry. “You really have no idea what you want to do,” she said, “until you jump in and actually see what it’s like to work with people.” Another UO alum, Cam Krutsinger, found that his calling is people—namely, “talent,” the actors, extras and others who appear on camera. The 2012 cinema studies graduate started as an intern on Portlandia in May

of that year, assisting the extras coordinator. He worked with talent agencies in helping the show find actors and others for nonspeaking roles. He soon got his big break—the extras coordinator left and Krutsinger filled in admirably, resulting in his full-time hire. He was with Portlandia for three seasons and then moved to the set of Grimm, an NBC drama series also shot in the city. Krutsinger now works for Simon Max Hill casting, finding actors for clients such as Nike and Adidas when they film commercials in the Portland area. “A lot of my job is schedule coordination and communicating between agencies and clients about what they want in actors, when they want it and whether people have the availability to do it,”

Krutsinger said. “It’s task management, organizational skills and learning what to do in a priority order. It’s a lot of things that you get better at during school.” Krutsinger’s success is exactly what producer David Cress has in mind when he talks about the show’s commitment to “giving back to education.” This is why he recruits interns from the UO, but he also sees the UO-Portlandia partnership as a two-way street. “For us, there is constant turnover with people moving from one project to another. It’s a real plus when you can get talented people like Cam who move quickly into the job,” Cress said. “For students, there are so many jobs (in film) but they are all highly soughtafter. This is a way to get your foot in the door.” —MC

member. The family participates in as many hall activities as possible, together demonstrating that university professors are approachable. Students entering college sometimes feel intimidated by faculty, said Michael Griffel, student housing director. By sharing living space, he added, students begin to see professors less as authority figures and more as people with whom they can connect. The faculty-in-residence program will also be incorporated in an as-yet-unnamed residence hall opening later this year just south of the Global Scholars Hall, and in other halls as each is renovated, on a caseby-case basis. “Students might be walking through their hall at 9 o’clock at night and see a professor by the fireplace or talking to other students,” Griffel said. “Having that connection with

faculty outside of a classroom is one of the top factors for student success.” Those connections work both ways. Sykes is gaining rare insights into the student’s

education, that lens into the non-classroom perspective really matters,” Sykes said. “I get to bring that to other faculty.” The Global Scholars Hall is so-named because of its international focus. The hall celebrates cultural diversity through a variety of academic offerings, most notably its immersion programs in French, German, Spanish and other languages. Living among students from a kaleidoscope of countries has been an enriching experience not just for Sykes but for her girls—they’re learning how to write in Chinese, make a Japanese meal and otherwise familiarize themselves with a global community. “The Japanese language group was having a sushi event, so my daughter rolled sushi,” Sykes said. “She thought it was the best thing she’s ever done.” —MC

THE JAPANESE LANGUAGE GROUP WAS HAVING A SUSHI EVENT, SO MY DAUGHTER ROLLED SUSHI. SHE THOUGHT IT WAS THE BEST THING SHE’S EVER DONE.

world, she said, and that serves faculty efforts to improve the college experience. “If I’m on a strategic planning committee or we are rethinking undergraduate

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SOCIAL SCIENCES

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

FOR ALL Laura Pulido helped start the movement to protect minorities from health hazards BY MATT COOPER

I

N EARLY 2014, lead-tainted water began to flow into taps of homes in Flint, Michigan. Despite complaints, city officials were slow to respond. The problem continued for more than a year and thousands of children were exposed to lead poisoning. At least 12 deaths from Legionnaires’ disease have been linked to the crisis. Investigations were conducted, lawsuits were filed. The governor apologized and the state and federal governments rushed hundreds of millions of dollars to the city for supplies, medical care and infrastructure upgrades. What went wrong? In managing use of the Flint River for water, officials at all levels of government were accused of ineptitude and neglect. Two state bodies said another factor was also at play: racial discrimination. More than half of Flint’s 99,000 people are African Americans, and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission came to the conclusion that “systemic” racial discrimination helped cause the crisis. The commission said the crisis was the result of implicit bias that affected decisions made generations ago—decisions about how the city would develop, where industrial and suburban areas would be planned and who would live in those areas. These decisions, the commission

said, effectively benefitted people of one race over another—sometimes by design, sometimes subconsciously. Nothing about the Flint crisis surprised Laura Pulido in the least. Pulido, a professor of ethnic studies and geography who joined the UO last year, has spent more than two decades examining why people live where they live and, as a result, what environmental hazards they face. She believes that over the years, as cities across America were planned and began to grow, racial discrimination—sometimes intentional, sometimes inadvertent—influenced where whites and minorities could live, and also resulted in the siting of polluting businesses closer to minority populations.

In the top five The Flint problem, Pulido said, began in the 1970s. Officials cut back on maintenance of the water system serving the urban core as whites began migrating to the suburbs, which deprived the city of tax revenue. After years of funding shortages, Flint officials decided to cut costs by shifting from water provided by the city of Detroit to tapping the Flint River. It was the latest example of a common problem, Pulido said: Residents in and around urban areas often don’t share equally in the area’s benefits and burdens.

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Pulido argued that geographers were overlooking ways that discrimination had permeated urban development in the United States for 150 years.

Pulido is part of a decades-old movement for “environmental justice”—the belief that everyone should have the same access to clean air and water and the same protections from pollution and toxic threats. Thanks to her research, Pulido is nationally recognized as a founding member of this movement. “She is considered one of the top five scholars in the country in this area,” said Julie Sze, chair of American studies at the University of California at Davis. “She connects race and space in a way no one had done before.”

Back to the1850s Today, social scientists studying environmental hazards routinely consider whether discriminatory practices have created different risks for specific groups. But it wasn’t always so, Pulido said. In 2000, as an associate professor of geography at USC, Pulido argued in a paper that geographers were overlooking ways that discrimination had permeated urban development in the United States for 150 years. As a result, she wrote, the poor and people of color were exposed to unhealthy and hazardous living conditions. To test her point, she used her native Los Angeles for a case study. Pulido traced the movement of whites in LA, in the 1850s and after, to the cleaner suburbs, and the concentration


of minorities in the dirtier industrial city center. The shift was due partly to the refusal of middle-class whites to live near immigrants and people of color, Pulido wrote, but there was more to it than that.

“A landmark paper” Developers promoted the movement of whites to the suburbs while denying this housing to people of color. Some may have done so for no other reason than prejudice, Pulido wrote, while others may have realized that the presence of nonwhites would reduce property values. Industry was also implicated. Choosing locations near railroad lines, manufacturers built plants that belched smoke in the urban core, where most minorities were forced to live. Employers promoted the suburbs as the perfect place for white industrial workers to live “with no Negroes and very few Mexicans and Chinese,” as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce industrial department wrote in 1925. Geographers, Pulido wrote, needed to expand their work to consider how racially discriminatory practices shape where and how people live. The impact of the paper was immediate and widespread. “That was one of the most defining essays written in the journal over the last 100-plus years,” said Nik Heynen, geography professor at the University of Georgia and editor of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers. David Pellow, director of the Global Environmental Justice Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, credited Pulido with showing that the favorable living conditions historically enjoyed by whites have often been at the expense of the poor and people of color. That idea alone, he said, prompted scholars to revisit numerous studies. Regarding matters of environmental justice, Pulido established that class, race and land must be considered together, said Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at the University of

Southern California. “There had been a lot of work, including by me, trying to pinpoint the exact drivers of environmental inequality,” he said. “This was a landmark paper.” It was strong praise for a high school dropout. Academically uninspired as a youth, Pulido didn’t finish secondary education. She took her first real steps educationally in the early 1980s with a course on California geography at Golden West College, which inspired in her a fascination with people and places. She then went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geography, exploring the relationships between groups and the land they share. She added environmental issues to this investigation while completing her PhD in urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles.

hiring trifecta At the UO, Pulido is the first joint appointment in ethnic studies and geography, a recognition of the intersection of race and place in issues such as climate change. She’ll teach courses this fall on environmental justice and the relationships among race, nature and people in positions of influence. In the research arena, Pulido is exploring sites of racial violence in Los Angeles and the extent to which the histories of these conflicts have been commemorated. She plans to expand the project by producing a national atlas of sites of racial violence associated with the country’s founding. Bruce Blonigen, dean of faculty and operations, said the hiring of Pulido amounted to a trifecta: “She will make major contributions to our university’s research, diversity and pedagogy.” For her part, Pulido sees her training in ethnic studies as critical to everything she studies. “My relationship to ethnic studies is especially important,” Pulido said. “It’s through that discipline that I can explain various issues related to race, the environment and geography.”

SHE CONNECTS RACE AND SPACE IN A WAY NO ONE HAD DONE BEFORE.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  21


INSIDE

I

THE ORPHANAGES

T MIGHT SEEM ODD to think of orphanages as anything other than homes for parentless children. It could be surprising to learn that the kids in some orphanages actually have loving parents. Stranger still, perhaps, to discover that many parents send their kids to these orphanages because they want the best for them. But it’s all about the context. In Cambodia, for example, the relationship between orphanages and the public might seem unusual to many Westerners. Those unfamiliar with Cambodian orphanages sometimes misunderstand them—and that can be detrimental to the kids in these facilities and those who travel from abroad to help them. Kathie Carpenter came to this conclusion after a decade of research on

Cambodia’s orphanages. The international studies professor has made a half-dozen trips to the Southeast Asian nation to study these institutions, examining the interactions between kids and tourists who volunteer there. Cambodia is increasingly a destination for volunteers, many of whom come from the West to work in the orphanages. They often come with misconceptions about these institutions, Carpenter said—including the assumption that none of the children have parents. Westerners generally understand orphans in this context. But in Cambodia, about three-fourths of children in the orphanages have at least one living parent. This realization has left some volunteers feeling duped because they feel that the orphans aren’t “real,” Carpenter said; the news media has picked up on that senti-

ment, condemning “Scambodia” for “fake orphanages” that are merely out to draw donations from well-meaning volunteers. The bad press results in fewer volunteers and less funding. But contrary to Western understanding of the word “orphan,” the Cambodian equivalent is closer in meaning to a “waif,” with no requirement that both of the child’s parents are deceased. That’s one of the common misconceptions about these orphanages. Carpenter notes a few others: l THE KIDS COME FROM NEGLIGENT HOMES. The opposite is often true. Cambodia’s rural regions generally lack schools; most families from those areas who place their children in orphanages do so because they believe that educational opportunities are better there, and research supports this.

International Intrigue When your first job is in the United nations, every day is a surprise

A

LYSSA GOESSLER has gone straight from the tree-lined campus of the University of Oregon to the hallowed halls of the United Nations in New York City. The 2016 graduate (left), who received her degree in general social sciences, was recently hired as an administrative assistant in the Jordanian embassy.

22  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

According to Goessler, every day in the UN brings a new revelation—surprises and insights come so fast she can scarcely keep up with them. Among her favorites: l STUFFING ENVELOPES—A JOB FIT FOR AN AMBASSADOR. Goessler was starstruck when she met Jordanian ambassador Sima Bahous, a well-respected figure who leads development programs throughout the Arab region. But even an ambassador helps with the busy work. Goessler found herself elbow-toelbow with Bahous one day, handling a mailing for a fundraiser. “It was quite humbling to see that someone who is such a leader is normal and struggles with the same things we all struggle with,” Goessler said—“trying to fit something inside of an envelope.”


THE CAMBODIAN WORD FOR “ORPHAN” IS CLOSER IN MEANING TO “WAIF,” WITH NO REQUIREMENT THAT BOTH OF THE CHILD’S PARENTS ARE DECEASED.

DISORDERS. Critics of orphanage volunteering say the kids are permanently damaged by the cycle of forming and breaking bonds with volunteers who leave after weeks or months. But attachment disorder is not a risk for children placed in institutions after age 5, which is usually the case in Cambodia, Carpenter said. The children may become fond of volunteers and feel sad when they leave, she said, but it’s not accurate to call this “attachment disorder” or to assume that it is inevitably harmful. l UNTRAINED VOLUNTEERS SHOULDN’T TEACH ENGLISH. Volunteers often teach orphans English formally or through conversation, drawing criticisms that they lack the training or should instead help Cambodian English teachers further their skills. But Carpenter found that kids pick

l HOW TO SPEAK “DIPLOMAT.” The

importance of communications style in the UN can’t be overstated—every letter, every email, every memo must include the proper titles, salutations and expressions of gratitude that comprise the customs of international diplomacy. “Even if it’s only to RSVP, there are layers and layers of diplomatic phrasing, like ‘the ambassador of Jordan avails herself of this opportunity . . .,’” Goessler said. “I’ve always been pretty well-spoken, but diplomatic language is a whole different vocabulary.” l THE ART OF ASSERTIVENESS. Goessler was raised to be polite, but she’s learning how to be just pushy enough to get things done. “I’ve gotten much better at respectfully marching into somebody’s office and saying, ‘If we don’t take action on this matter, this, that or the other is going to happen’—they appreciate that,”

KATHIE CARPENTER

l THE KIDS SUFFER ATTACHMENT

In many orphanages, the kids perform a traditional dance at the end of each day, for donations. It gives them a sense of dignity—in Cambodia and many parts of the world, children are expected to contribute financially to their family and education.

up English quite well through the volunteers. l THE KIDS ARE BEING EXPLOITED. In many orphanages, the children perform a traditional dance for volunteers at the end of each day, after which volunteers make donations. Critics have likened this to animals performing in a circus, but that reflects a cultural misunderstanding. In Cambodia and many parts of the world, children are expected to contribute financially to their family and education and doing so gives them a sense of dignity.

l PLAYING WITH THE KIDS ISN’T

she said. “Jordan is a kingdom, and rank really matters, so it’s a little daunting. But if you have something you need to tell the ambassador, you need to tell the ambassador.” l QUID PRO QUO—IT’S NOT JUST A LATIN EXPRESSION. Goessler tracks nominations made by each country for appointment of their officials to committees; she does this so that countries which need Jordan’s vote for their nominee one day can repay the favor when her embassy needs a vote for their own nominee. “The essence of diplomacy,” Goessler said—“I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” l ENGLISH + ARABIC = ASPIRIN. Goessler minored in Arabic studies and in her role she’s constantly switching between English and Arabic. Her first two weeks were memorable not just for the excitement of the experience but for a dual-languageinduced “dull, lingering headache.”

l SNOWED OUT. Goessler was thrilled

HELPFUL. Playing with orphans is one of the most popular volunteer activities but some child advocates say the adults’ time is better spent teaching kids or helping with projects. But research suggests that kids benefit from play with adults. “Interacting with the kids is an extremely popular activity for volunteers,” Carpenter said. “Those interactions can be mutually beneficial. But that hinges on an understanding of the orphanages and the assumptions we bring to them.” —JM

to help plan a high-level UN meeting on peace in the Middle East that was to involve more than a dozen ambassadors and foreign ministers, many of whom were flying into NYC for the event. The scheduling consumed her life for three weeks—then a blizzard walloped the city and the meeting was canceled. “Kind of a nightmare,” she said. l THE OPPOSITE OF “STRESSED” IS “DESSERTS.” Coworkers quickly discovered that the way to help Goessler relax is to “just give her food.” Treats started appearing on her desk and colleagues back from lunch would “just happen” to produce an extra sandwich. “Food hospitality is a huge thing in the Middle East and that holds true in my office,” Goessler said. “It’s another part of Middle Eastern culture that I love learning about here.” —JM

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  23


THE BIOLOGIST AND THE BIRDS

ing ability to better understand how we process sounds ourselves. Takahashi teaches the raptors to cooperate with numerous tests that help unlock how humans hear—and what causes our hearing to fail. “Hellen Keller said that if you are blind, you are cut off from objects, but if you are deaf, you are cut off from your fellow human beings,” Takahashi said. “Humans rely on their hearing to stay in contact with other people.” Distinguishable by its ghostly visage and piercing black eyes, the barn owl hears with such precision that it can strike prey in total darkness. In 2000, Takahashi and his team were examining the raptor’s auditory mechanics when they stumbled across a discovery that has paid off for humans. A research associate was assessing an owl’s response to sounds by observing its physical reactions—in this case, movement of the eyelids. But after a few runs, the only response in the owl was dilation of its pupils. The light Barn owls “map” sounds in their brains. bulb went off. Each sound corresponds to a specific point Takahashi and his in the physical landscape around the bird, team hadn’t been handy for locating a mouse scurrying through considering this the forest on a moonless night. behavior—they theorized that humans, too, might

24  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

have this involuntary hearing response. That’s exactly what they found: Our eyes dilate when we pick up soft sounds in a controlled environment. The lab team’s observation contributed to the development of testing for people unable to take part in a traditional hearing exam, including infants too young to respond to questions and those with disabilities. Such breakthroughs are the reward for the countless hours that go into training owls to cooperate in a research setting. As astounding as their hearing is, Takahashi jokes, the birds aren’t good at listening to instructions. Testing takes place in a soundproof room within a soundproof room, to eliminate all other noise. The birds perch on a stand in complete darkness, wearing earphones (yes, a barn owl can be trained to wear earphones). A sound is played—a “hiss”—at various volumes, all below what we can hear. Takahashi and his team observe the owl’s movements with infrared cameras. Before any of this can happen, though, these feisty fliers must be taught to sit still and to accept being handled by Takahashi and his graduate students. Working with three to six birds at a time, Takahashi and his team raise the owls from hatchlings, feeding them on an hourly basis for the first week. The infant birds bond with the person who raises them—the process is called imprinting— which can lead to some interesting twists on the idea of “workplace relations.” Takahashi recalled a young owl that strongly connected with a female student. It saw a particular male assistant as a threat, and would propel itself in feathered

STUDIO MCDERMOTT

I

F YOU’RE LOOKING for research assistants willing to work hard— and cheap—you could do worse than Terry Takahashi’s barn owls. Every time the biology professor walks into his laboratory, they snap to attention. Wide-eyed, they closely watch his every move. He can feel the intensity of their laserlike stare even when his back is turned to them. Tireless workers, they spring into action to run every test, over and over and over. All they ask in return? Maybe a dead mouse to eat. Takahashi, co-director of the Institute of Neuroscience, has worked closely with barn owls for more than 30 years, examining their magnificent hear-


fury at the unsuspecting student’s head whenever he entered the lab. They had to keep the owl in its cage to keep the peace. Of these strong-willed creatures, Takahashi said, “it’s probably as easy to train them as it is training cats.” Takahashi was first drawn to studying the barn owl after learning that their brains process sounds the way that our brains process sights. He has circled back to this physiological phenomenon for his latest work. In the owl brain, neurons that capture sound are arranged topographically—like a map—so that each represents a particular “auditory point” in the physical landscape around the bird. This serves the barn owl not only in hearing, but also in pinpointing, the location of a field mouse scurrying across the forest floor in the dead of night. It also prompts interesting questions regarding humans and noisy environments.

ABOUT TWO-THIRDS OF PEOPLE OVER THE AGE OF 65 STRUGGLE TO HEAR CONVERSATIONS AMID THE DIN OF A CROWDED ROOM.

THAT HEALTHY GLOW

P

LEASE FORGIVE YOUR garden-variety slug if it turns green with envy. What self-respecting mollusk wouldn’t covet the rainbow-like beauty of Hermissenda opalescens? These colorful critters are only two inches long, but what they lack in size they more than account for in otherworldly iridescence. The opalescent sea slug doesn’t actually generate that warm glow from within—proteins in their blood capture and reflect available light. Scientists believe this evolutionary adaptation might advertise to predators the sea slug’s unsavoriness. Though they live less than a year, these dwellers of tidal pools can be spotted from spring through late summer along the coast from Alaska to Northern California—and at the new Charleston Marine Life Center, featuring exhibits on deep-water habitats, marine mammals and research by the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, which runs the center. —MC UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  25

REYN YOSHIOKA

About two-thirds of people over the age of 65 struggle to hear conversations amid the din of a crowded room, Takahashi said. He is studying which part of our auditory system fails in these environments, preventing us from distinguishing the location of different sounds among many competing ones. In the barn owl, Takahashi can analyze how the auditory system identifies and “visualizes” sounds from a particular source, in the presence of noise. The scientist says he still has much to learn from his feathered friends, including how they avoid crashing into trees while plunging down toward their next meal on a moonless evening. “How they do it,” Takahashi said, “we’d love to know.” —JM


BIRTH OF A RIVER The Colorado’s origins may hold clues to the breakup of continents

O

NE OF THE MAIN waterways of the Southwest, the Colorado River is among the most controlled in the world. The extensive system of dams, reservoirs and aqueducts routinely diverts the Colorado’s entire flow for agricultural irrigation and water to 40 million people. Environmentalists have fought further development and controversy continues to swirl as demands on the river rise. For Becky Dorsey, the story of the Colorado begins about 5 million years ago, with its birth. That’s a story she is just starting to tell. The earth sciences professor is trying to determine when and how the Colorado started and how it evolved through time. Answers to those questions won’t just resolve debates about the river’s origins—

they’ll help scientists understand how whole continents can split apart. Dorsey and her team had scarcely begun a three-year project funded by the National Science Foundation when they notched their first breakthrough late last year, advancing a debate that has confounded geologists for decades: Did the Colorado River originally flow into a lake or the sea? It’s long been thought that a key stretch of the river near the California-Mexico border first formed as a series of lakes, with water that flowed down from the Colorado plateau. Dorsey’s team argues instead that the Gulf of California once extended into this area, about 150 miles north of its northern shore today. Under the conventional wisdom, scientists have explained the presence of

NOT YOUR BASIC ALGEBRA Two talented math minds tackle an abstract concept in “representation theory”

T

HE MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM had stood for 35 years. Ben Elias thought he’d take a crack at solving it. It was 2009 and Elias was a graduate student at Columbia University. For decades, the field’s brightest minds had tried and failed to prove a complex problem from a complex corner of mathematics. At stake: a possible breakthrough in the understanding of—you guessed it— extremely complex concepts.

The field is “representation theory,” a mind-bending corner of the math realm that involves abstract algebraic concepts and how their components can be represented for study. Elias is an expert, and his recent hire at UO as an assistant professor has bolstered a math department that already ranks as one of the world’s best in this area, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For decades, the UO department—despite being comparatively small—has produced leading research in representation theory, in turn drawing a critical mass of top-notch faculty in this field, said Hal Sadofsky, dean for natural sciences and a math professor. Elias, in fact, had long considered the UO as a destination.

26  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

marine fossils in the rocks of this area as evidence that birds once carried clams, barnacles and other catches there from the sea. That idea is based on the composition of the rock. But Dorsey’s team—led by master’s student Brennan O’Connell—looked instead at its features: The rock shows orderly layers of varying thickness, suggesting instead that the sea once deposited sediment in the area in steady, high- and low-tide cycles. “We took a new approach,” Dorsey said. “This is just what we do. We march up some lonely wash, we get right up there and we look really, really close at the rocks. It’s not rocket science and it’s not always easy to do this work, when the rain’s pouring down and it’s 30 degrees. But we love it.”

His chances of landing here were only helped by his work in graduate school on one of the most stubborn mathematical dilemmas in his field. It’s called the “Kazhdan-Lusztig conjecture,” and never mind trying to understand it. Suffice it to say that Elias met someone similarly motivated to tackle this mathematical conundrum. Geordie Williamson was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford in England, and the two clicked at a conference in 2009, agreeing to take on the conjecture. For years, the two met weekly via Skype, as Elias moved from graduate studies at


UTAH

NEVADA

COLORADO RIVER

ARIZONA CALIFORNIA

STUDY AREA S UNITED STATE O IC MEX PACIFIC OCEAN

GULF OF CALIFORNIA 0

100 km

The 1,450-mile Colorado River, which drains an area that covers parts of seven US states, has a story to tell about the potential breakup of continents.

Mathematicians Ben Elias and Geordie Williamson solved a long-standing problem, helping scientists who use pictures such as this to understand complex concepts in abstract algebra.

Columbia to MIT and Williamson, to the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn. Speaking for hours on end, each would aim his computer’s camera at a blackboard as they volleyed sophisticated equations back-and-forth across the Atlantic. They also worked together in person for a time, collaborating in Bonn for a month (while also making time to sample the local liquors). There, they came to the brink of proving the conjecture . . . but fell

just short. Frustrated and two years into a grueling effort, Elias and Williamson set the problem aside for a few months. That was all it took. The two were Skyping in 2012 when the missing pieces finally fell into place: Their equations worked, they proved the conjecture and in so doing, provided powerful new tools for researchers. In the end, Elias said, the duo’s complementary skills won the day. Williamson contributed an ability to synthesize ideas, while Elias was adept at quickly discerning patterns and coming up with computations to capture them, sometimes scribbling them out on a notebook and holding them up to his computer’s camera for Williamson.

Proving the conjecture, Elias said in a recent interview, was “pure ecstasy.” Celebrations included the exchanging of bottles of fine Scotch. The larger community—both inside and outside math circles—has also sent congratulations. For their work, Elias and Williamson won a $100,000 prize awarded to young researchers by some of tech’s top executives, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. In the short-term, Sadofsky said, mathematicians will be able to solve new problems by using the approach that Elias and Williamson have validated. But it’s the long-term ramifications that cause a pioneer like Zuckerberg to sit up and take notice. “People will be mining this work for years, if not decades,” Sadofsky said. “Their findings could be applied in practical ways that are not yet known, to answer questions that we don’t yet know to ask.” —JM

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  27

PAUL E. GUNNELLS (GUNNELLS@MATH.UMASS.EDU)

That sediment also holds clues to conditions that could cause entire continents to split in two. The Colorado once dumped huge amounts of sediment into the gulf, a body of water that sits atop the continental plate boundary where Southern California and the Baja California peninsula are slowly drifting away from mainland Mexico. Rifting between two continental plates may be intensified by the presence of sediment, leading to “localized strain,” Dorsey said—that’s one of the conditions necessary for continents to crack in two. “We understand that continental rifting is driven by forces that try to pull two regions apart,” Dorsey said. “But a fundamental question is, what are the conditions that lead to the breakup of one continent to make two new continental plates?” For her, the Colorado is about much more than just manmade changes of the last century. “When I look at the river, it inspires me to contemplate the connections between deep time and the present day,” Dorsey said. “There’s a lot of mystery and beauty in that.” —MC


ONLINE EXTRAS 1) Covering “cli-fi.” English professor Stephanie LeMenager is pioneering a new way to look at a changing world, through climate fiction or cli-fi. Using film, poetry, essays and more, she examines a fictional view of the future that helps us adjust to the reality of climate change. Visit cascade.uoregon.edu to hear LeMenager explain cli-fi’s role in the humanities.

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2) Medicine and morality. Philosophy students explored ethical questions that surface in a medical setting by going to the source—a hospital. They met with medical professionals and even observed an organ transplant as they examined informed consent, end-of-life care and human subject research. Their story is available at cascade.uoregon.edu.

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3) Wonder Woman. Ann Bancroft never met an expedition she didn’t like. The 1981 human physiology grad reached the North Pole after a 56-day expedition, led the first all-women’s expedition to the South Pole and skied across Antarctica. Visit cascade.uoregon.edu to meet a member of the US National Women’s Hall of Fame.

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4) Bluegrass biologist. Thirtyone-year-old undergraduate Aaron Nelson worked as a taxi driver and wildland firefighter before enrolling in UO’s biology honors program. He has traveled the globe while studying climate change and jellyfish; he also plays bass for Alder Street, a Eugene bluegrass band. Get to know Aaron at cascade.uoregon.edu.

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Visit Online Extras at cascade.uoregon.edu Contact us

CAS CADE Cascade is the alumni magazine for the UO College of Arts and Sciences Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences W. Andrew Marcus

Director of Communications Lisa Raleigh

Dean, Faculty and Operations Bruce Blonigen

Assistant Director of Communications, Cascade Editor Matt Cooper

Divisional Dean, Humanities Karen Ford Divisional Dean, Natural Sciences Hal Sadofsky Interim Divisional Dean, Social Sciences Carol Stabile Associate Dean, Undergraduate Education Ian McNeely

Writer Jim Murez Copyediting Sharleen Nelson Scott Skelton

UO College of Arts and Sciences 1245 University of Oregon, Eugene OR 97403-1245 E-mail: cascade@uoregon.edu Web: cascade.uoregon.edu Facebook: facebook.com/UOCAS Twitter: twitter.com/uocas

CAS Advisory Board Linda Andrews Tucker Bounds Mike Couch Taylor Fithian Stephen Gillett Jeff Hansen Bill Herzog Renée James Tom Janzen, Chair John Kennedy Ann Lyman David Lyon

Tom Marriott Mike McCaslin Betsy McClendon Sandra Morris Barbara Perry Natalie Poole Doug Ramsthel Phil Seeley Caron Shore George Slape Stephanie Smith

Art Director JoDee Stringham

Executive Director of Development David Welch

28  UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES

The University of Oregon is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution committed to cultural diversity and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This publication will be made available in accessible formats upon request. © 2017 University of Oregon. MC0517-013fg


ENDNOTES

EARLY WARNING WHEN IT COMES to earthquakes, seconds can save lives. With early-warning systems, communities get notice seconds or minutes before shaking arrives and can take emergency action—elevators can be evacuated, trains can be stopped, even a delicate surgery can be interrupted. Now such a system is operating in the Northwest. ShakeAlert, run by the US Geological Survey and covering much of the West Coast, has been expanded to Oregon and Washington, said UO geophysicist Doug Toomey, who leads the university’s participation in the project. Under the system, earthquake sensors detect ground motion and send readings to computers that broadcast warnings to phones, radios and other communications devices. The system is now linked to sensors in Oregon and Washington and is issuing warnings to pilot users. Still to be determined, Toomey said, are the means by which the system will communicate public warnings and a timeline for completion, the latter being dependent on funding.

STAR POWER

Comet Lovejoy was observed in 2013

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP at Pine Mountain Observatory—literally and figuratively. The physics department’s public stargazing facility near Bend just received a $90,000 gift to upgrade the 14-inch Robbins Telescope, one of four at the observatory. The telescope will soon be remotely operable from campus, enabling undergraduates and others to conduct research from Willamette Hall. They’ll be able to move the scope’s camera to zero in on interesting astronomical phenomena, viewing the images on a computer monitor. The gift from the Roundhouse Foundation, an arts philanthropy in Sisters, will pay for equipment that improves image quality, said Scott Fisher, physics outreach coordinator. That will pave the way for the day when the physics department can visit schools across Oregon to set up remote viewing sessions.

A LEADER ON LATIN AMERICA A LEARNED SOCIETY ANTHROPOLOGY PROFESSOR Lynn Stephen is one of the world’s top scholars on Latin America—and now she’ll serve an official role to that end. Stephen has been elected vice president of the Latin American Studies Association, the world’s largest professional group for researchers and institutions studying the region.

She begins a one-year term in June. After that, she will serve as president for a year, mentoring the next generation of leaders among the organization’s 12,000 members. Stephen, who helped found the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies at the UO, studies the impacts of globalization, migration and the politics of culture on indigenous communities in the Americas.

TWO PROFESSORS from the College of Arts and Sciences have been recognized by a national leader supporting studies in the humanities and social sciences. Mark Quigley (right), associate professor of English, and Bharat Venkat (below), assistant professor of anthropology, have won fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies. Quigley earned one of 10 Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowships, for $95,000. The gift will support work on his upcoming book: Not Such a Long Way to Tipperary documents the counterculture coalition of suffragists, filmmakers, nationalists and others who emerged in Ireland in opposition to World War I. Venkat, a 2017 ACLS fellow, will use his grant toward India after Antibiotics: Tuberculosis at the Limits of Cure, which delves into the extensive tuberculosis epidemic. He was among 70 selected from 1,200 applicants, and will receive up to $35,000.

UNIVERSITY OF OREGON COLLEGE OF ARTS + SCIENCES  29


College of Arts and Sciences 1245 University of Oregon Eugene OR 97403-1245

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17

VAMPIRE’S KISS

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RACE AND PLACE

twitter.com/uocas Facebook.com/UOCAS

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PROBLEM SOLVED

Cascade spring 2017  
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