McCormack Speaks

August 20, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

Dean David Cash Reflects on MGS Hosting Political Debates, Serving as Convener for Civic Engagement

Over the last three years, the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies has returned to its role as a sponsor of political debates. Last semester, McCormack teamed up with The Boston Globe and WBUR to bring Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie to campus for a democratic gubernatorial debate. A few months later, the same team brought Michael Capuano and Ayanna Pressley on campus for a Congressional debate. Next up: Secretary of State William Galvin and his challenger, Boston City Councilor Josh Zakim, debating at the UMass Club downtown, also before a live audience. The team organizing these debates is led by Dean Cash, Research Fellow Bob Turner and Rashelle Brown, McCormack’s events planner. McCormack Speaks sat down with Dean Cash to learn more about the behind-the-scenes work.


SA: Where did the idea to host these debates come from?

DC: There is actually a strong history of political debates at UMass Boston. The first debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 was at the Clark Athletic Center here, and there have been others. When I became dean, I felt that policy-focused political debates were central to the school’s role as an active citizen. Fortunately, through the work of Bob Turner, senior fellow at MGS, we were able to create a strong partnership with two of Boston’s leading news institutions, the Boston Globe and WBUR.


SA: What kind of reactions have you gotten from the public, candidates, UMB community, etc.?

DC: Universally, the reaction has been positive, primarily, I think, because the questioners are first-rate and we have focused on issues that are distinctive, and sometimes controversial, but based on policy differences more than personal ones. It has also been gratifying that the candidates themselves have seen these events as substantive, well-run, and an opportunity to engage in civic and civil discourse.


SA: What has been surprising about hosting these debates?

DC: Virtually without exception, the debaters – whether candidates for high political office or advocates for policy issues on the ballot – have been extremely knowledgeable, well-prepared, and articulate. This is not very surprising, but the level of talent and commitment in our civic life is impressive. I think nearly everyone who attended left the hall encouraged that, in Boston, at least, our public life is in good hands.


SA: Do you have a favorite moment from any of the debates?

DC: Most of the debates have been held here on the UMB campus, and it has been terrific to see how the turnout has grown steadily. One thing we have included in each debate has been the chance for students or other school personal to ask a question, either submitted in advance and asked from the floor, or sent over social media. Creating this opportunity for direct participation in our democracy has definitely been a highlight.


SA: How do you see sponsorship of these debates as connecting to the values and mission of MGS?

DC: Not for nothing, are we the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. John McCormack served 48 years in Congress, and nine as speaker. His deserved reputation as a doer – one who successfully advanced the interests of poor people in housing, health care, and retirement income – is a steady beacon to our school. And another, for sure, is his deserved reputation as a powerful debater.


SA: Are there plans for future debates? Do you see this as something that MGS will continue hosting?

DC: Definitely. There is real value in the debate of important public issues both for the general public and for the school. We couldn’t hold that belief more strongly. Our presence as the academic arm, with the Globe and WBUR, has helped build a powerful partnership that has grown more professional and effective in each of its three years, and promises to remain engaged.


SA: Anything else you would like to convey about the debates that hasn’t been covered by these questions?

DC: As the graduate policy school within Boston’s only public research university, we have unique resources, and a unique challenge. We can and do create learning, but we also have the obligation to spread it, near and far. We have a role – and I would argue a responsibility – to convene these kinds of debates to show that information, persuasion, passion, research and ideas play an important role in democracy.

August 20, 2018
by saadiaahmad001

MGS Associate Dean Edozie on African Studies at UMass Boston and Greater Boston Area

Professor Edozie was appointed last year as Associate Dean at the McCormack Graduate School and as Professor of International Relations in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance. Dr. Edozie is a prominently published Africanist scholar whose most recent appointment was at Michigan State University. Last year, she published her sixth book on a topic in African Affairs, Pan Africa Rising: The Cultural Political Economy of Nigeria’s Afri-capitalism and South Africa’s Ubuntu Business. In her first year at UMass Boston, she convened a university-wide academic programming initiative called the Africa Scholars Forum. McCormack Speaks sat down with Professor Edozie to learn more about her Africa initiatives.


SA: What is the Africa Scholars Forum, and where did the idea to develop it come from?

KE: Though newly appointed at UMass Boston, I’ve been a longstanding teacher-scholar of African studies and African affairs. My dissertation research was on the Nigerian democracy movement. I held my first post-doctoral appointment as Deputy Director of Columbia University’s Institute for African Studies. I have spent over 15 years in varying appointments in the professoriate as an Africanist, including most recently at Michigan State University for 12 years as a Professor of African Affairs and Director of African American and African Studies.

Last year, I was extremely excited to join UMass Boston as Professor of International Relations in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance and Associate Dean at McCormack. In meeting many faculty members, administrators, and students, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the deeply-seated yet invisible-to-the-public African studies vitality at UMass Boston. In conversing with my new fellow, Africanist colleagues, we all pledged to come together to establish a forum for collaboration in deepening, expanding, and enlivening the study of Africa at UMass Boston. That’s how we came to the idea to develop the now established Africa Scholars Forum here.


SA: What are some of the short- and long-term goals for the forum?

KE: We are happy to have established ourselves in late Spring 2018 as a university-wide academic platform for the teaching, research, and programming of Africa, having been convened by an informal network of Africanists at UMass Boston. The Forum serves many functions, including building a more formal educational presence around African studies, providing a collaborative hub for work on Africa at UMass Boston, and facilitating among Africanist faculty shared resources and existing initiatives in African Studies in a convened, organized, and institutional space.

We are currently working on a number of goals and objectives, including:

  1. Develop an undergraduate minor and a graduate certificate in African Studies
  2. Establish a formal speaker series on African issues at UMass Boston
  3. Engage student groups on campus who have Africa programming missions, and create undergraduate student research initiatives on African study
  4. Establish a platform for deepened African research study for graduate students at UMass Boston
  5. Promote existing and new exchanges with area African Studies programs and universities in Africa to facilitate faculty and student exchange, especially study abroad and community research
  6. Collaboratively achieve prestigious grant awards.


SA: How do you see this forum as connecting to the values and mission of MGS?

KE: One of the things that attracted me to UMass Boston was its cosmopolitan, internationalist, and diasporic student and faculty research thrust. Just walking across campus during my interviews here last year, I visibly came across students from all over the world, particularly from Africa – Cape Verdes, Kenya, Ghana, and even my native Nigeria. I remember one day on the commuter bus hearing Yoruba and Pidgin English spoken by students. Both languages are Nigerian. I later learned that there are several African student groups and there are quite a few graduate students, especially at McCormack, who are conducting Africanist doctoral research.

As you can see from the Forum’s member-initiatives, there are also several faculty members conducting research and projects in Africa. At least forty percent of international development policy work is conducted in the African region. McCormack’s policy and global mission stands at the frontiers of Africa study. In collaboration and consultation with other faculties at UMass Boston, including Africana Studies, Anthropology, Economics, History, the College of Social and Global Inclusion, the McCormack School is the appropriate host to lead this university-wide initiative.

MGS faculty members already conduct focused research projects in Rwanda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and are exploring other regions and countries. I have extensive field research and project-based experience working in South Africa, and I am an honorary professor at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in Pretoria. There, I work with the Thabo Mbeki Leadership Institute, the African Renaissance Institute, and the Pan African Languages program; these are all intensive academic research programs and continental platforms for African derived and formulated public policy for the continent. Much of my own publications – including my recent book, Pan Africa Rising – have conducted research on these so called “Africa policies”! I would love to see MGS and UMB connect this faculty research to the continent and UMB students to foster cross-continental educational exchanges on Africa policy.


SA: You were recently appointed as the Co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee of the African Studies Association-Boston 2019 Conference – Congratulations! Can you tell me about your role and about the ASA and the upcoming Boston conference next year?

KE: The African Studies Association (ASA) is an association of scholars and professionals in the United States and Canada with an interest in the study of and engagement in the continent of Africa. Started in 1957, the ASA is the leading organization of African Studies in North America. Next November 20-24, 2019, the ASA will convene its 62nd Annual Meeting here in Boston. The presence of this conference in the region is significant, because it offers an opportunity for the ASA to engage academic institutions and their African Studies programs in the region, not to mention companies and organizations with an interest in Africa. With my colleagues – Professor Kwamina Panford at Northeastern and Assistant Professor Abel Djassi Amado at Simmons University – I am Co-Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee (LAC) for the Association’s meeting in Boston in 2019.

Along with volunteer members from the many African Studies program faculty in the Greater Boston Area and with Boston University’s African Studies Center as our executive office host, my colleagues and I are in the process of organizing several distinctive initiatives for the event. It is a great privilege for us to serve the ASA in this manner and to highlight our African, African Diaspora, and African studies community here in Boston. African peoples have a longstanding, vanguard, and deep revolutionary history of the city and the State of Massachusetts. Massachusetts was the first state in the union to abolish slavery. Today, diverse and expansive communities of peoples of African descent ranging not exclusively from Black Bostonians, to Cape Verdeans, Somali, Haitian, and many other African and African descendant immigrants make up the city’s dynamic majority-minority status.

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