W&L Law Professor’s Supreme Court Brief Influential in Immigration Decision
Washington and Lee law professor David Baluarte was among a group of immigration scholars who co-authored an U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief in support of the defendant in Sessions v. Morales-Santana. The case was argued last fall and decided on June 12, 2017.
The Justices decided the case 8-0 in favor of the defendant, and in their opinion directly reference the brief, Brief of Amici Curiae Scholars on Statelessness in Support of Respondent, accepting the arguments presented by the group and acknowledging its influence in the outcome of the decision.
The case was an appeal by the federal government that sought to defend the constitutionality of less favorable treatment, for purposes of acquiring U.S. citizenship, of a child born abroad to an unwed U.S. citizen father than the treatment given to a child born abroad to an unwed U.S. citizen mother.
In arguing for the defendant, the authors of the brief claimed that there is no support for the government’s assertion that the risk of statelessness for a foreign born, non-marital child was or is substantially greater when the U.S.-citizen parent is the mother rather than the father.
The Court agreed and found this provision of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act to be unconstitutional for being incompatible with the Fifth Amendment’s requirement that the government accord to all persons “the equal protection of the laws”.
Baluarte, who directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic at W&L Law, last year was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Senior Scholars Grant to study the stateless population in Argentina. Baluarte taught in the immigration clinic of the University of Buenos Aires Law School, conducted research on the specific effects of a recent restrictive immigration reform on refugees and stateless persons in Argentina.
Alumni College Livestream: James Joyce and the Writing of Dublin
Animation, Consternation and Elation An independent-study class at W&L allowed students to put together a short animated film from start to finish in only 12 weeks, but it turned out to be much more challenging than they expected.
“With W&L kids, particularly those that are motivated to do this stuff, they are determined to finish. They will be darned if they don’t leave a mark at the end of the day.”
— Professor Gavin Fox
One of Ellen Kanzinger’s role models growing up was her father, who started his career as a PE teacher but is now an IT specialist teaching skills such as graphic design and video game design. Kanzinger, a member of the Class of 2018, looks up to him because he has never been afraid to teach himself software programs such as PhotoShop, Blender or CAD.
“He sort of moved over to a new career through his own hard work and determination, and I’ve always admired that in him,” she said.
It was her father who came to mind when Gavin Fox, a professor of business administration and marketing in the Williams School at W&L, approached Kanzinger to ask if she’d like to take an independent study course in 3D animation. During the challenging 12-week course, students would craft a story, create characters, learn how to use Blender animation software, and put everything together into a finished short animated film.
By the end of Winter Term, Kanzinger and the other three students who took the class — Jason Renner ‘19, Tory Smith ’18 and Jack Boyce ’19 — would pick up much of what they had hoped to learn. They also learned a few things they hadn’t anticipated, including the importance of adjusting expectations.
Fox, whose research areas include service innovation and viral marketing, is similar to Kanzinger’s dad in that he loves the challenge of teaching himself challenging skills. It is not unusual for this Army veteran and father of three to stay up into the wee hours watching YouTube tutorials.
“My brain always goes to the question ‘Can I figure this out?’ and I try to teach my students to figure things out themselves, as well,” he said. “They’re going to learn things so much better that way.”
The idea for the 3D animation class sprang from a Fall Academy session in the IQ Center at W&L, where Dave Pfaff, the director of the center, allowed guests to test-drive the virtual goggles. That got Fox thinking about animation and the possibility of creating a class that would be, in his words, “the ultimate liberal arts project,” as it would require elements of language and storytelling, design, film, acting, engineering and much more.
As the class got underway, the students envisioned an animated short film that would resemble a Cartoon Network show — something perhaps a bit more crude and beginner-level than a Disney film, but pretty slick nonetheless. By the end of the course, as they scrambled to simply complete the film on deadline, their goal had shifted dramatically.
“This project was much tougher than what any of us thought it would be,” said Jason Renner. “I think we all came to appreciate how long it actually takes movie studios to create animated films, and we are proud to say that we were able to create one, as well.”
First, the students got some guest lectures from professors Jemma Levy, Stephanie Sandberg, Leigh Ann Beavers and Chris Gavaler, who gave them pointers on writing, drawing, acting and storyboarding. Then, they set out to come up with a storyline, script and characters. They settled on the simple parable of a lizard and a bird who are competing to get the worm.
In Blender, a software program for creating 3D computer graphics, the students began to learn how to make shapes and landscapes, and to add color and texture to those features. But as soon as they dove into Blender, they realized they were in the deep end — it may be a free program, but it is certainly not easy.
“The actual implementation of taking the story and putting it in Blender was not easy at all,” Kanzinger said. “It is not an intuitive program. So we had these grand story ideas going in, but our story got simpler and simpler as we moved on.”
Some of the most enjoyable moments in the class took place in the IQ Center, where students took advantage of the university’s motion capture body suits to record movements for the characters that would then be transferred into Blender. “Tory Smith and I spent hours in there capturing different sets of movements,” Renner said, “but it was always a fun time.”
When it came time to animate the characters with the captured movement, they hit a big impediment. Since the program used for motion capture is designed for human movement, it turned out to be virtually impossible to transfer Smith’s movements into the body of the bird. As a result, the bird’s role in the film turned into more of a brief cameo.
“It’s not like they had a year to learn Blender, so they were gaining proficiency at it as they went,” Fox said, “which is why, when you look at a lot of the shapes, they were very basic.” He offered some lessons and tips throughout the process but primarily encouraged students to solve problems they encountered independently.
When the animation was finished, the students still had to render the content, which required them to set aside a large chunk of time on finals week. For example, Kanzinger said, a seven-second scene can take three hours to render (the finished film is about 90 seconds). The students — and their professor — said there was a point when they didn’t know if they’d be able to finish the project in time. But rendering ended up being the least stressful part of the process, and they were able to finish early.
“By the end of the semester, with the deadline for submission approaching, I was delightfully surprised to see every member of the team contribute in meaningful ways to help out together a project that far surpassed my expectations earlier in the semester,” Renner said.
Fox said he had a whole range of possible outcomes in mind when he decided to teach the class, and he was pleased that the project came together. Part of the learning process turned out to include when to cut corners and prioritize when coming up on deadlines.
“With W&L kids, particularly those that are motivated to do this stuff, they are determined to finish,” he said. “They will be darned if they don’t leave a mark at the end of the day.”
Kanzinger and Renner both said they appreciated the challenge and the opportunity to take a class they never thought they’d be able to take outside an art or design school.
“This class is a testament to W&L’s commitment to providing the tools for students to succeed,” Renner said. “By loosely laying out an objective for a group of students, W&L allows its students to test their resolve. The pride one has in all their work by the end is overwhelming, and I can’t thank the university enough for having such classes available.”
W&L Law Tax Clinic Receives IRS Grant
The Tax Clinic at the Washington and Lee University School of Law has been awarded a matching grant from the Internal Revenue Service’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic program (LITC). This is the tenth straight year that the Tax Clinic has received federal dollars to support its efforts.
The grant of $87,750 will help fund the clinic for the 2017 calendar year. This is the largest award the clinic has received from the LITC to date and brings the total federal funds awarded to the clinic since its inception to $655,510.
“I am pleased that the LITC grant program continues to recognize our clinic’s work representing low-income taxpayers throughout Virginia,” said Michelle Drumbl, clinical professor of law and director of the Tax Clinic. “Thanks to the support of the LITC program and W&L, our students will be able to continue their important work serving this community of taxpayers who might otherwise go unrepresented.”
Law students working in the Tax Clinic provide free legal representation to low-income taxpayers in resolving their controversies with the Internal Revenue Service. The Clinic students assist taxpayers with audits and a wide array of collections issues. The clinic also represents taxpayers in tax cases before the U.S. Tax Court and in refund suits in federal district court.
In addition, students in the Tax Clinic prepare outreach brochures to help taxpayers with especially confusing tax questions. This past year, for example, students produced guides on determining filing status and on claiming children as dependents, among other issues.
The Tax Clinic serves the entire state of Virginia. At least 90% of the clients represented by the clinic are “low-income”, meaning their incomes do not exceed 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines published annually by the Department of Health and Human Services. For example, a family of four making less than $61,500 per year is eligible to use the Tax Clinic’s services.
The IRS Low Income Taxpayer (LITC) grant program is administered by the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, which operates independently of any other IRS office and reports directly to Congress through the National Taxpayer Advocate. Likewise, clinics funded by the grant program remain completely independent of and are not associated with the federal government. The LITC grant program was created as part of the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998.
Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Receive the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy The Lenfests were recognized for their support of arts and culture, education, social services and other charitable causes
How much money is enough? That’s a topic Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest ’53, ’55L once discussed while having dinner in New York City with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and others who have wealth to spare.
Marguerite explained in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that the answer is straightforward. “You figure out what you need for your lifestyle. What don’t you need? And what do you do with the money you don’t need? You might as well do some good and enjoy the benefits that you’re giving, instead of leaving it for others to decide what to do. Be in charge.”
That’s the philosophy that has driven their philanthropy for the last 18 or so years, in which they’ve distributed more than $1.2 billion to arts and culture, education, social services and other charitable causes. They spent down their foundation’s final dollars to acquire, donate and endow the media company that publishes the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com.
“That was the last gasp,” said Gerry. “That depleted my wealth.”
In recognition of their generosity, the Lenfests are among nine winners of the prestigious 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, given by a group of Andrew Carnegie-affiliated organizations. The national honor is awarded every two years to philanthropists who personify the ideals of Andrew Carnegie’s vision, seeking through their giving to create a world of positive change.
Over the years, the Lenfests have endowed chairs at their various alma maters, established the Lenfest Scholars Foundation, supported the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of the American Revolution, funded overnight camps, and revived the rowing program at Temple University.
W&L is one of several universities that have benefited greatly from the Lenfests’ largesse. A few examples include The Lenfest Center for the Performing Arts and endowments to support faculty salaries, summer research and sabbaticals.
The Carnegie Medal follows the dictum of Andrew Carnegie, who believed “that the person who dies rich dies disgraced.” Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corp., of New York, praised the Lenfests’ exhaustive generosity and also their modesty, integrity and consistency in giving over the years.
“They typify the best of Philadelphia,” he said.
Gerry hopes others will follow their lead in giving away their fortunes to support worthy causes. As he and Marguerite noted, they had a lot of fun doing so.
John D. Klinedinst ’71, ’78L Named Winner of 2017 Most Admired CEO Award
John D. Klinedinst, Founder and CEO of Klinedinst PC, has been named Winner for the 2017 Most Admired CEOs by the San Diego Business Journal. This marks the sixth time in the Award’s 10-year history that Mr. Klinedinst has been chosen as a finalist, and the second time he has been recognized as winner in the privately-held medium-size company category.
For the past decade, the Most Admired CEO Award has recognized San Diego leaders for their outstanding professional achievements and their contributions to the community. Honorees are selected for their determination and insight, as well as their track record for success. Most Admired CEOs are also recognized for their ability to inspire and take the lead in driving not only their businesses, but also the local economy.
Founded by Mr. Klinedinst in 1983, the law firm has seen incredible year-over-year growth. Most recently in 2015, Mr. Klinedinst and the firm’s shareholders launched the firm’s newest office in Seattle, Washington. With its first expansion outside of California, the firm has expanded to serve businesses from five offices across the Western United States.
“To be named a winner of this award is a true reflection of John’s leadership, business acumen, and entrepreneurial spirit,” noted Art Moreau, Shareholder and Chief Operating Officer. “Not only is he an incredible attorney, but a savvy businessperson. His leadership in the business of law affirms this recognition, and we truly congratulate him on receiving this award.”
Every year, the San Diego Business Journal conducts an extensive survey of San Diego firms to identify outstanding and highly-revered Chief Executive Officers. After collecting nominations for Most Admired CEOs, the San Diego Business Journal evaluates all submissions and then publishes its list of finalists for the award. Mr. Klinedinst was recognized as a Most Admired CEO finalist in the category for a Privately-Held Company.
Mr. Klinedinst was named winner at a special awards program and reception on June 15, 2017 at the Hilton San Diego/Del Mar.
Rapping with a Tap-Dancing Hoosier Meet Suzanne Gardner, assistant director of annual giving at W&L
What is your official job title?
Assistant Director of Annual Giving
How long have you worked at W&L?
I’ve been at W&L for a year and a half.
What do you like best about working at W&L?
I really enjoy the W&L community. I love being able to work for such a close-knit university. Being here, you truly are a part of the W&L family.
What advice do you have for students (or parents)?
Take advantage of all that W&L and Lexington have to offer. The programs at W&L are amazing, and the Lexington community has so many incredible organizations and opportunities. Four years flies by, so start making your impact now!
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Bloomington, Indiana (go Hoosiers)! Many of my close friends and family are still in Indiana.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
I grew up in south-central Indiana surrounded by the things Indiana is best known for: flat land and corn. Just kidding, we also have a killer pork tenderloin sandwich at the state fair.
I’ve been a dancer my entire life and continue to tap dance during trips to New York City. I graduated from Indiana University and lived in Indianapolis and Chicago for several years working for a couple of national not-for-profit organizations before making the move to Lex to begin my work with W&L.
I have two siblings who are quite a bit older than me. The age gap between me and my oldest sibling is 21 years. Because of this, I have many nieces and nephews my age and I’m already a great aunt five times. I have a golden retriever that loves hiking, any body of water, squirrels and socks. In my spare time, you will probably find me out on a trail, socializing with friends, or volunteering in the community.
If you could live anywhere, where would you build your dream home?
I don’t know that I would actually settle down and build a dream home at this point in my life. I love the feeling of being able to travel and not having to deal with the upkeep of a house. Someday when I do build a dream home, it will have plenty of land and be near a body of water.
What most inspires you?
The generosity of others. We were all put on this planet to make a difference. I am always so inspired to see what people are doing to help others in their community.
What book are you reading now?
I am getting ready to begin “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.
What music are you listening to these days?
My favorite type of music is rap music. Something about rap just motivates me! Usually when I make the nine-hour drive home to Indiana, I listen to rap to help me power through the drive.
Your favorite film of all time?
It’s difficult to pick just one! I’m going to have to go with “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
A website and/or blog you visit often?
I love traveling, so I’m constantly looking up new destinations and travel ideas. I usually end up reading travel blogs quite a bit to plan my next trip and add to my bucket list.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Audrey Hepburn. Audrey was an incredible humanitarian who often put other people above herself. As she once said, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
If you could have coffee with one person (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
I would have coffee with Betty White. I think she could give some excellent life advice on seeing the humor in everything and not taking things too seriously.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I’ve been able to take part in many unique and amazing experiences in my life, including playing the accordion, childhood acting, and mascot training. I’m usually fairly entertaining and fluent in sarcasm.
If you would like to nominate a co-worker for a Colleague Connections profile, please email Kevin Remington at email@example.com.
W&L Quick Hits: Magic, Severed Fingers and a Rube Goldberg Machine Students practiced stage magic, sculpted severed fingers and whipped up batches of fake blood in a Spring Term course on special effects for the theater.
Owen Collins, professor of theater at Washington and Lee, had students practicing stage magic, sculpting severed fingers and whipping up batches of fake blood in his Spring Term course on special effects for the theater. This video largely follows their final project, a Rube Goldberg machine.
Andrew Niblock ’97: Living and Working with ALS His efforts to inspire and educate his community were featured on ABC's "Good Morning America"
Andrew Niblock, the head of the Greenwich (Connecticut) Country Day School’s lower school, makes a point of greeting his students by name as they step through the school’s entrance to start their day.
As the 1997 graduate of Washington and Lee University told Lara Spencer, an anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America”: “I have the best job in the world. There might be somebody out there who gets more hugs than I do, during their work day, but I’d like to meet them.”
About a year ago, Andrew was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. But he has remained on the job because he wanted to be an example for his students and teach them a lesson about life. First and foremost an educator, he has created age-appropriate videos to help them understand more about the disease.
“I want children to understand curve balls,” Andrew said. “No matter what is thrown your way … if a kid powers through or makes the most of something later because of knowing me, that’d be great.”
Andrew has also helped raise money for research, gamely participating in the ice-bucket challenge that circled the globe a couple of years ago. As the word about his battle with ALS has spread, several W&L classmates are helping raise money for research, too. John Garvey, Brian Kuck, Chris Dalton and Steve Tye will cycle 104 miles — from Newton, Massachusetts, to New York City — in support of the ALS Therapy Development Institute.
You can see Andrew’s interview with ABC here.
Team Niblock: An Update from Steve Tye '97
First of all, I survived the 106.5-mile ride on Friday. If you ever decide to do a 100+ mile bike ride with 5,700 feet worth of hills, I would recommend some hill training. The Silver Comet Trail (an old flat railroad trail where I did all of my training) did not provide adequate preparation for what ended up being some pretty intimidating climbing, but I made it.
More importantly, Team Niblock ended up raising over $$108,000 for ALS Research (as of June 27) and the overall event has raised almost $775,000 at last count. Truly amazing. Thank you for being a part of something so important to me. It was the first time I had ever asked for money for a cause and I was blown away by the generosity of friends and family.
Getting to spend the weekend with Andrew reinforced why we need to find a cure quickly. Fortunately, he will be starting infusions for the new drug recently approved by the FDA, the first one in 20 years, in August. The money you donated will be used to directly impact the work they are doing to accelerate additional treatments and solve the puzzle.
I am truly grateful for all of your support.
Taking Flight Kaela Harmon ’05 makes the case for airports to by combining data analysis with creativity
“The journalism department was like a family. All the professors and administrators rallied around to help students to be well prepared and have a support system,”
—Kaela Harmon ’05
Although she’s still new to a job as public information specialist senior for the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, she has spent the last five years working with airports and the communities they serve.
In that time, she has learned that airport advocates work to represent their host communities to the airlines. Routes, departure and arrival times, and connections are important to people who rely on airports for business and leisure travel. In Austin, as in her previous job with the Columbia, South Carolina, airport, she enjoys analyzing data and using it to craft creative messages. “We’re always working with the community so they understand our role. We’re marketing the airport to the community.”
She notes that an airplane is “a mobile asset.” Airlines can make decisions at any time about where to move and house their planes, what routes to add or drop, and where important connections will be made. That makes it incumbent on communities and airport officials to make a strong case for their air-transportation needs.
In Austin, Harmon is responsible for media and public relations, and she serves as a liaison for the airport and the airlines. On a typical day, she could be writing a press release about a new service, such as a recent announcement of a new nonstop flight between Austin and London, or planning and hosting an event. She also crafts talking points related to the airport’s public announcements and serves on a team of five to manage the airport’s social media accounts.
“The work is very dynamic. It’s a perfect blend of analytics and creativity,” she said. She also has enjoyed the relationships with industry colleagues that she has formed.
In her hometown of Columbia, she was public relations and government affairs manager for the Columbia Municipal Airport, before being recruited by Sixel Consulting Group, where she worked for almost a year helping local airports make their cases for increased air services. She then did freelance consulting until taking the job in Austin in June 2017.
While in Columbia, Harmon was recognized for her work by being named to several lists, including 20 Under 40, 40 Under 40, Columbia’s 2014 Top Women of Influence and Influential Women in Business.
Harmon did not set out to work in airport public relations. She was working for a small museum in Columbia when she saw an advertisement for the job at the Columbia airport. She applied and accepted the job, which set her on her current career trajectory.
While helping with one of Columbia’s programs — Wings for Autism — Harmon realized she could take her passion for airports to another level. The program is a national effort for individuals with autism spectrum disorders or intellectual or developmental disabilities. Families practice the entire process of moving through the airport and boarding a plane, which helps relieve stress when they make a real trip.
The experience inspired Harmon to write and self-publish “Zoey’s First Plane Ride” for children. While other books focus on airplanes, Harmon wanted to “pass along my enthusiasm for airports.” She walks the reader through every step — checking in at the kiosk, checking luggage and explaining where it goes on the conveyor belt, walking the concourse, understanding airport signage, boarding the plane — all the way through to baggage claim.
“Airports can be overwhelming to children,” Harmon said, noting that the book has been well received. Some airports have picked it up to sell, and the airport in Roanoke, Virginia, purchased 100 copies to give to schoolchildren who toured the airport.
Harmon developed her talent for writing and communications through her major in broadcast journalism and communications. Her high school guidance counselor in Columbia was a W&L graduate — one of the first female, black students on campus — and introduced her to the university. Harmon spent six weeks on campus for a summer-immersion program and after applying, returned for a visit. Walking along the Colonnade, “I felt I really needed to be here,” she remembered.
She values the professors in her major who inspired and mentored her. “Bob de Maria was one of those rare people who takes you under his wing and pushes you to be better,” she said. Professors Dayo Abah and Claudette Artwick also stand out as important to her professional development.
“The journalism department was like a family. All the professors and administrators rallied around to help students to be well prepared and have a support system,” she said. “At W&L, you’re not a number but an individual who matters.”
While on campus, she was involved with the Minority Student Association and helped charter Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She continues to be involved by serving on an advisory board for the journalism department. As well as participating in quarterly meetings, she and other board members review senior portfolios, looking at them with a professional’s eye to provide constructive feedback.
As a young black professional, Harmon never wants to lose sight of the fact that “I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Many made sacrifices to give me opportunities.” She hopes to continue to lay a foundation for those who come after her.
Domnica Radulescu Receives a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Romania
“A playwright, novelist and literary critic, Domnica is a world citizen who brings her commitments to bear on her teaching and writing with intense personal engagement.”
Domnica Radulescu, the Edwin A. Morris Professor of Comparative Literature at Washington and Lee University, has received a Fulbright Research Teaching Fellowship to study and teach at the University of Bucharest, Romania, for the 2017 fall term.
“Though I have known her for over 20 years, Domnica Radulescu has never ceased to astonish me with her extraordinary energy, passion and productivity,” said Suzanne Keen, dean of the college. “A playwright, novelist and literary critic, Domnica is a world citizen who brings her commitments to bear on her teaching and writing with intense personal engagement.”
Radulescu, who had a Fulbright to Romania 10 years ago, plans to complete the research and writing of her fourth novel, “My Father’s Orchards,” which takes place in Romania during World War II.
“I’m inspired by my father’s story and his life in Romania during and after the war,” said Radulescu. “Romania has an interesting history in that it first sided with Nazi Germany and later became part of the Allies when the Russians invaded. He came of age during that time and the subsequent communist takeover, and I’ve always been fascinated by his experience. I’m also going to be doing some emotionally difficult research looking into the files of the secret police, which are now available. Like my other novels, this one will examine themes of political upheaval, love and trauma with a new element, that of the paranormal. Romania has a rich folkloric history, and since it is my heritage, it will be interesting to explore.”
Radulescu will teach two courses, one on playwriting and performing trauma, and one on memoir, autobiography and writing about political trauma in the American Studies program at University of Bucharest. “It’s poignant for me because I will be teaching at the university in the same building where I went as a student before I escaped Ceausescu’s communist regime. I will have as a colleague one of my dearest former professors of English literature. I met her again 30-some years later at a conference, and she suggested I come on a Fulbright. Now, here I am, returning to a place that now is teaching my first and second novels in transnational literature courses. I’m following an intellectual and emotional arc in returning to my native city.”
While in Romania, Radulescu also plans to meet with theater directors who are interested in producing a few of her plays. “Bucharest is such a theatrically and culturally vibrant city, with one of the largest summer theater festivals in the world,” she noted.
“I’m excited to reconnect with my roots in the new, modern Romania,” said Radulescu. “Things have changed. It’s quite a different country from what it was. I’ve been going back relatively frequently for work and to visit family, but I’ve felt like a tourist in my own country. When you go and work in a professional setting it is a very different feeling. I always say you don’t belong to a place unless you work in it. You need to feel the rhythms of the city.”
Radulescu is the author, editor or co-editor of 10 scholarly books, three novels, as well as book chapters, articles and plays. She joined W&L in 1992, and as well as teaching courses in French language and literature and in Italian Renaissance literature, Radulescu was the co-founding chair of W&L’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program and is the founding organizer and director of the National Symposium of Theater in Academe. She is the recipient of the 2011 Outstanding Faculty Award.
Loud and Proud Carnegie Hall Performance Sparks Impromptu Choir Family Reunion
Receiving a thunderous standing ovation after performing in the Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall in New York was “truly one of those great life events” for the University Singers, according to Director Shane Lynch.
“Being on that famous stage, singing extremely well next to choirs from huge universities and schools of music . . . those are things that only happen once or twice in most people’s lives,” Lynch said.
The University Singers earned its place on the April 1 program through a highly competitive process. The W&L group was one of only four collegiate choirs from around the country chosen to perform in the Collegiate Choral Showcase. The other choirs selected were the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, the University of Washington Chamber Singers and the University of Washington Chorale.
To vie for a spot, Lynch submitted several years’ worth of recordings of the University Singers, including a couple of songs per year. Judging was based on the ability of an ensemble to sing a number of different songs well and to sustain the quality of the choir over the course of several years, despite the annual turnover that is inevitable in any college choir. University Singers has 52 members, and about 40 to 50 percent graduate each year.
Not only were the students excited by the enthusiastic response to their performance, they also were moved by the outpouring of support they received from W&L alumni.
“We had alums of the University Singers come in from all over the country — California, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, etc. — just to be with us as we performed,” Lynch noted. “The choir family was loud and proud, to be sure. We were on that stage because of the hard work of those alums, as it was their recordings that got us selected in the first place. Afterwards, we had an absolutely packed reception where generations of choir members all sang together. It was just incredible.”
Lynch added that alumni support through the Gordon Spice Fund for Music was instrumental in making this this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible for some students. The Spice Fund was created in 2012 by alumni of choral groups who performed under Spice’s direction during his 39-year tenure at Washington and Lee. Income from the fund is used to enrich the mission of the Department of Music, with special emphasis on enhancing the experience for students through travel.
News of W&L’s acceptance into the showcase did not arrive until August, after budgets had been finalized and Lynch had already committed the University Singers to a full slate of performances that could not be altered.
“The only way an expensive additional performance like this could happen was by being creative, increasing student costs, and having great support from the provost,” Lynch explained.
He pointed out that increasing student costs makes being in the ensemble extremely hard for some students. The Spice Fund kept the costs for these students down to a manageable level and enabled several students with financial need to participate through the year without the stress of the costs keeping them away.
“I firmly believe that the only thing that should determine the roster of the University Singers is talent, and the Spice Fund makes that a reality,” said Lynch. “No longer is the cost of being in the ensemble a deciding factor for students—just talent, work ethic and desire, as it should be.”
W&L Law Students Named Co-Directors for Service to School Program for Veterans
Washington and Lee law school second-year law students David Thompson and Michael Stinnett-Kassoff have been named co-directors for law admissions for Service 2 School, a non-profit organization that provides educational guidance and networking opportunities for U.S. military service members and veterans.
Thompson and Stinnett-Kassoff will lead the law admissions division, helping veterans navigate the admissions process for law schools. They served previously as volunteer ambassadors for the organization, reviewing individual applications to law schools across the country.
“The wars of Iraq and Afghanistan created a number of entrepreneurial young adults—service members that the U.S. government entrusted with significant responsibility,” says Thompson. “Service 2 School helps empower these veterans to continue serving after they last lace up their combat boots. My aim is to support veterans in leveraging their experiences to continue their service in a new capacity.”
Service 2 School has ambassadors that assist service members and veterans with undergraduate admissions as well as admission to business, law and other graduate programs. Veterans can connect for free with an ambassador, and the ambassador provides individual support with the applicant on each step of the process, including test preparation advice, transcript review, interview preparation, and networking.
“The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was one of the greatest investments Congress made in modern history. For every dollar invested in World War II veterans for education benefits, the U.S. received almost seven dollars in return through sustained economic growth,” says Stinnett-Kassoff. “Through my work with Service 2 School, I aim to help the veterans of today’s war on terror not only take advantage of every benefit they earned, but contribute towards the long-term economic growth of the U.S. by attending our nation’s top schools just as our predecessors—the Greatest Generation— once did.”
Both Thompson and Stinnett-Kassoff served in the U.S. military. Thompson was on active duty with the U.S. Army for more than eight years, first as a military police officer and then as an officer with Special Operations Civil Affairs. He was deployed to Afghanistan and Jordan and is currently in the Army Reserves.
Stinnett-Kassoff served in the U.S. Navy for eight years, with deployments in the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Russia and China. He completed his service with a three-year tour as a weapons instructor tasked with training helicopter squadrons in the Pacific Fleet in helicopter weapons systems proficiency.
At W&L Law, both Thompson and Stinnett-Kassoff are involved with Washington and Lee Veterans’ Advocates, a student group dedicated to advocating for veterans and increasing awareness of issues related to veterans, national security strategy, or defense policy. In addition, Thompson is involved with the Women Law Students Organization (WLSO) and Stinnett-Kassoff is a junior editor for the German Law Journal.
Sydney Internship and Study Abroad Program: Olivia Klosterman ’18
Looking back on the last four months in Australia, I cannot believe how much I have been able to experience in just one semester. My time in Australia has differed a little from the rest of the group since my sister just moved to Sydney with her Aussie husband. My brother-in-law, Calvin, was eager to show me the “real Australian experience,” which I quickly learned consisted of exploring beautiful places and eating meat pies while rooting for his favorite Australian rules football team.
One weekend, we set out to the Blue Mountains with their dog, Ralph, to go hiking in one of the area’s most scenic locations. The views were breathtaking and the wildlife was active. The speed of Ralph’s tail wagging accurately captured the excitement of seeing the beauty of nature at its finest. After our hike, Calvin took us to the main hangout where all the locals congregated. Unlike the typical Sydney crowd, the rural community was much more relaxed and easy-going. Even though I had lived in Sydney for a few months by this point, observing this facet of Australian culture made me realize how much I still have to explore.
The next stop on Calvin’s tour was his hometown, Melbourne. Our first morning there, we set out for the city’s famous sanctuary to see Australian wildlife. We saw all of the classics including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, dingoes, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. Unfortunately for Ralph, no dogs were allowed. However, his tail probably would have been another good measure for the excitement of seeing so many unique species for the first time in person.
Later that night, our focus shifted to the second half of Calvin’s “real Australian experience,” rooting for the Essendon Bombers in a highly anticipated match against their rivals. Before leaving to watch the match at Calvin’s brother’s house, Calvin’s mom insisted that I borrow her red cardigan in order to be in appropriate Bombers colors. Unfortunately for Ralph, Calvin’s brother owns cats so he couldn’t come. This was shaping up to be a disappointing weekend for Ralph. However, I had an incredible experience; for the first time, I felt completely immersed in another culture. Watching an Australian rules football game in a room full of Australians, having a favorite team, and understanding enough to know when to cheer, made me feel like I really was a part of their culture.
Though weekend trips with my sister, Calvin, and Ralph always promise a fun adventure, my time in Sydney with our W&L group has been equally as exciting. With the city’s extensive train system and so many gorgeous beaches only a ferry away, we always have somewhere new to explore. Though we have a seemingly never-ending list of places to go, we still make time for the classroom, of course. The University of Sydney provides such a different academic experience compared to W&L. Each course consists of two types of classes, lectures and tutorials. Lectures are less intimate, often seating over a hundred students, while tutorials are more similar to the class structure at W&L, as they are smaller and more discussion driven. Though the consensus in our group is that we much prefer the tutorials, it is still fascinating to gain exposure to another way of learning.
As we enter the final exam period, we are all sad to see our time in Sydney come to an end. We have had so many great experiences that made Sydney truly feel like our home for the past four months. Though our group is currently scattered across Thailand and Vietnam for the pre-exam week break (I wasn’t so lucky with my exam schedule), I think I can speak for everyone when I say we are all incredibly grateful for Professor Irani for putting together this program.
2017 Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize-Winner Announced
“The winning poem is ‘a rollicking, unabashedly passionate lyric invocation of Charlie Poole, an old-time banjo picker who led the North Carolina Ramblers.'”
Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review announced that Annie Woodford, a community college teacher in Roanoke, Virginia, is the winner of this year’s $500 Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize for Virginia Writers.
Her poem, “Arena Chapel Stringband Ballad,” was selected by Joseph Bathanti, the judge of this year’s Greybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize. He said that the winning poem is “a rollicking, unabashedly passionate lyric invocation of Charlie Poole, an old-time banjo picker who led the North Carolina Ramblers.”
Other work by Woodford, a Bassett, Virginia, native, has been published previously in The Chattahochee Review, Word Riot, Prairie Schooner, Appalachian Journal and others. Her first collection, “Bootleg,” is forthcoming, and the contest-winning poem will appear in the fall issue of Shenandoah.
Bathanti also selected as runner-up “I Kept Some Keys as if the Teeth” by Darren Morris of Richmond, Virginia. Morris has published poems in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Southern Review and Missouri Review, as well as the Best New Poets Anthology from the University of Virginia.
Bathanti is former poet laureate of North Carolina (2012-2014) and recipient of the 2016 North Carolina Award for Literature. He teaches at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.
Details concerning next year’s contest are as yet unannounced, but will appear this fall on Shenandoah’s website (shenandoahliterary.org).
W&L’s Colón Examines the Spread of Fake News on The Academic Minute
Aly Colón, Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, examines regular people spreading fake news online on The Academic Minute.
You can hear his talk online at The Academic Minute.
Twenty Members of the Faculty and Staff Retire from W&L
Washington and Lee University recognized six retiring members of the University’s faculty during commencement exercises. Fourteen retiring members of W&L’s staff were recognized during the Employee Recognition Banquet in April.
The 20 faculty and staff retirees are Mae Chandler, merchandise movement clerk, University Store, 2006-2016; Katie Claytor, custodial supervisor, University Facilities, 1993-2016; Julie Cline, office manager, Communications and Public Affairs, 1979-2017; Janice Downey, administrative assistant, Counseling Services, 1987-2017.
Agnes Gilmore, receptionist/office assistant, Student Affairs, 1963-2016; Bill Hartog, special assistant to the president, President’s Office; Margaret Howard, professor of law, 2001-2016; Carol Karsch, library data and statistics support specialist, University Library, 2002-2017.
Mike Miller (deceased), locksmith, University Facilities, 1974-2016; David Millon, professor of law, 1986-2017; Lena Ojure, associate professor of teacher education, 2006-2017; Loretta Persinger, library assistant, Law Library, 1983-2016; Peggy Pugh, custodian, University Facilities, 1985-2016; Stanley Reid, custodian, University Facilities, 1994-2017.
Amy Richwine, associate director for International Education, International Education, 1999-2017; Gabriella Somerville Brown, technology integration specialist, Information Technology Services, 2001-2017; Larry Stene, professor of art, art and art history department, 1982-2017.
Tom Tinsley, director of network and telecommunications, Information Technology Services, 1975-2016; John Tucker, associate professor of physical education and men’s cross country coach, 1989-2017; Sally Wiant, professor of law, 1972-2017.
Joelle Phillips ’95L: From Acting to Law, to the Head of AT&T Tennessee
Uncas McThenia looked over the collection of students on their first day of class – his contracts class. He posed a question, then glanced at the roster students for a name and settled on Joelle James (now Phillips). It was the first day, the first question, and adrenaline-fueled students turned toward their classmate.
She was nervous, but Joelle Phillips steadied the butterflies in her stomach with practiced calm. Before deciding to go to law school, Phillips planned on a career acting and spent a year touring with a children’s theater. Law school was new, but managing stage fright wasn’t.
The similarities between acting, practicing law and her current position as president of AT&T Tennessee are not lost on her.
“I was surprised by how much of my theater training was useful as a law student,” Phillips recalls. “I was accustomed to memorizing lines, and reading cases reminded me of reading plays and looking for the underlying theme.” Best of all, free from the paralyzing stage fright some students felt as they faced the Socratic method, Phillips could relax and listen – not just to professors but also to other students. “My classmates were smart. I learned so much from their perspectives.”
Phillips found the same type of camaraderie with other students that she had enjoyed as a cast member. She was pleased to find it after law school among law associates and her AT&T team members.
Her progression from actress to bankruptcy lawyer to corporate attorney led her to the top position at AT&T Tennessee. President since 2013, she joined the company – BellSouth then – as a general attorney in 2001. Under her leadership, the company undertook a multi-year campaign to reform state telecom laws. Success enabled the company to enter new lines of business and set the stage for big investment (more than a billion dollars for capital expenditures over just the last three years) in infrastructure to support new technologies in the state.
Phillips’ focus on regulatory reform began before she arrived in the C-Suite. She describes it as a product of her experience as the company’s attorney and her training at W&L. “As a regulatory lawyer, it seemed absurd to apply rules fashioned for old technology to new and different technology. Rules designed for monopolies did not align with today’s competitive ecosystem of players,” she says. “Sometimes the best thing a lawyer can do is recognize that the law needs a change.”
Lately much of her time is spent on state education policy, with a focus on the talent pipeline. Jobs with AT&T used to be mechanical. “We trained technicians to make physical connections using manual tools.” Today, those same technicians need digital skills, installing and repairing service with software and coding skills.
The need to keep building skills and expertise extends to Phillips personally as well. “To be strategic, I need to be informed on what’s next,” she said. To that end, she reads a lot to keep up with technology that is continually advancing.
With nearly 6,000 AT&T Tennessee employees, Phillips has adopted a management philosophy that draws on what she admires most about the famed research and development arm of the former AT&T monopoly – the former Bell Labs. “It was an amazing place that produced 12 Nobel Prizes,” she said. Phillips focuses on two of the labs’ rules: mix up the specialties (creating teams of people who have different skills) and leave your door open (accepting assignments from other teams beyond one particular silo). “As I think about harnessing talent and driving innovation today, I try to remember the magic that Bell Labs made by encouraging diverse teams to collaborate and help one another.”
The daughter of an engineering professor at Auburn University, Phillips has adopted the personal and professional qualities she saw in her father and other engineers. “Engineers are optimistic people; they assume there is a right answer,” she said.
She uses that background to tackle challenges today. She starts with the assumption that “there is a way to get this worked out.” She also emphasizes the importance of being prepared. While people think some lawyers are just naturally good on their feet, “it’s because they did their homework,” she said. “Preparation enables you participate in the moment, to be ready when a colleague has an inspired idea and needs your help to bring it to fruition.”
Phillips sees W&L law faculty creating the same type of cross-disciplinary opportunities and benefits that she admires in the scientists and engineers of Bell Labs. “The faculty was both interested and interesting,” she remembers, “not just in their own course work or specialties but also in the other areas we were studying. By talking with us about all the areas we were studying, they helped us to find the patterns in the law”
“We often hear the concept of ‘thinking like a lawyer,’ but I think the faculty at W&L helped instill a lawyer’s instinct as well.” Over time the students developed an instinct based on the patterns revealed by W&L faculty.
Faculty also helped Phillips chart a career course. Prof. Alan Ides recommended her to serve as a law clerk to Judge Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. That recommendation carried extra weight because Ides and Barksdale had both clerked for U.S Supreme Court Justice Byron White.
Phillips also recalls good advice from professors Brian Murchison and Laura Fitzgerald Cooper about choosing between practice areas. Both professors highlighted the difference between studying the law and practicing and encouraged her to talk with practicing lawyers about how their specialty looked day to day. “It was great advice. It helped me realize that I wasn’t actually interested in practicing trust and estate law. I just loved listening to Ned Henneman talk about it.”
After her clerkship, she joined the Atlanta firm Long, Aldridge & Norman. After marrying Brant Phillips ’97L, the couple relocated to Nashville where she joined Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis. At both firms, she specialized in business bankruptcy litigation, so she was surprised when a headhunter insisted she was the right fit for an opening in the in-house regulatory litigation group at BellSouth.
The headhunter was right. Phillips moved up through the legal department and became the first female to serve as president of AT&T Tennessee. Today as one of Tennessee’s most high-profile business leaders, she is an outspoken advocate on education policy, which she believes is key to the state’s prosperity. As chair of the Business Alliance for the Drive to 55, Phillips works with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other state leaders to expand Tennesseans’ post-secondary attainment rates.
Still interested in the arts, Phillips serves on the board of the Nashville Repertory Theater. She loves that the theater has become an “incubator” for playwrights. Recently, professional playwright Christopher Durang came to Nashville to work on his latest play, while mentoring aspiring playwrights through Nashville Rep’s Ingram New Works Festival. Phillips looks forward to the festival’s growth, making Nashville the “Sundance” for new theatrical works.
Does her work with Nashville Rep make her wonder about the road less traveled? She laughs as she considers her unlikely career path, but she sees a consistent theme. “My work places me in the center of a very creative enterprise. It’s about innovation, communication and surprising changes.”
Heat, Water, Lasers, Patience
“I am surrounded by classmates that excel in their areas of study, participate in amazing projects, and conduct high-quality research.”
Science, Society, and the Arts is a multi-disciplinary conference where Washington and Lee undergraduates and law students present their academic achievements before an audience of their peers and the faculty. Through the conference, students, faculty and staff alike have the opportunity to explore new topics and discuss new ideas. Conference participants share their work via oral presentations, traditional academic conference-style panels, poster sessions, artistic shows, creative performances, and various other methods.
Even though SSA has ended, you can still enjoy these stories about the many interesting projects and performances the students presented.
Heat Transfer and Open Channel Flow
Can you describe your project?
My research consists of analyzing heat transfer through a heated cylinder. We have a cylinder that is submerged in a water tank. A heat plume is generated as the cylinder gets heated. This plume moves in a cyclical manner. Using lasers and particle image velocimetry analysis, we can measure the effect generated by the placement of plastic clips, of different sizes and shapes, on the cylinder.
What about the topic made you explore it?
The data gathering techniques really caught my attention. What is there not to like about having the chance to use powerful lasers and 3D printers? Likewise, it involved using the drawing software Inventor to design the ideal clip. Overall, I saw this as a project where I could use the skills that I had attained in my classes to design and conduct the experiment.
What was the most interesting thing you have learned while working on this project?
I realized that minute details can influence the results of the experiment. For example, we always had to wait for a whole day to pass for the water tank to stabilize, since the movement of the water would affect data collection. I also did not know how lasers could be used to acquire data. In our case, the laser created a plane of reflective microspheres, and the camera would then capture that movement.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
We could not get the plastic clips to stay on the cylinder. If one of them fell, then we would lose a whole day’s work since we could not take data. There was a lot of trial and error until we finally designed a clipper that would function properly and stay on the cylinder for at least 16 hours.
What insight or insights did you gain during the research period?
I got the opportunity to develop my patience. Everything must be done carefully and slowly, and then it takes a whole day before I could take data. I realized that research takes time. Even though you want to optimize the process, there are some things that need to be done carefully and calmly.
What is your favorite part of creating, researching or developing this project?
We designed a clip in Inventor (3D CAD software), and then we 3D-printed it. The fact that we can make something on the computer, change it as many times as we want, and within hours have a physical copy of it, is astonishing.
What does SSA mean to you?
SSA is an opportunity for students to showcase the work that many times goes unheard of. I realized that I am surrounded by classmates that excel in their areas of study, participate in amazing projects, and conduct high-quality research.
Why is considering science, society and arts together important to this campus?
SSA is a way to strengthen and unite the campus community through the sharing of knowledge. By having this event, the university demonstrates that it values the work of its students, faculty and staff. It is here, where you start making interdisciplinary connections. You get exposed to research projects, social panels, and artistic performances from a wide array of subjects. These in turn expand your way of thinking.
If you know a W&L student who would be a great profile subject, tell us about it! Nominate them for a web profile.
A little more about Angel
Why did you choose your major?
I have always found it fascinating how chemistry is all around us and that you can use it to create products that improve the day-to-day of individuals.
What professor has inspired you?
Professor Joel Kuehner has always believed in my ability to complete tasks and pursue new missions. He has helped me build confidence in what I do and has taught me that mistakes will be made, but that should not stop you from fulfilling your end goal.
What’s your personal motto?
Small acts of kindness go a long way.
What’s your favorite song right now?
“Lighthouse – Andrelli Remix” by Hearts & Colors.
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
I really enjoy going to Frank’s Pizza and Subs and ordering their pizza.
What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus?
This university is filled with opportunities and people who are willing to help you throughout the process. Even as a first-year, you can start applying and considering the different grants and projects that the university offers.
I plan to get a master’s degree in chemical engineering or analytical chemistry. As well, I am considering going into the petrochemical or chemical industry.
Favorite W&L memory:
RA training week.
Organic Chemistry and Mathematical Methods
Favorite W&L event:
Campus Kitchen’s Souper Bowl
Favorite campus landmark:
The view from Graham-Lees to Gaines at sunset time.
What’s your passion?
Combining my knowledge in chemistry-engineering with my interest in community service to develop solutions that will benefit my community.
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I really like electronic dance music, and I DJ and mix it in my free time.
Why did you choose W&L?
I was considering a small university where I could develop a strong relationship with my professors and classmates. W&L was the ideal match, and I have tremendously enjoyed it so far.
Dudley: ‘Awareness of our Own Ignorance is a Virtue’ President Dudley's remarks at the 2017 commencement exercises have been published in The Roanoke Times.
“We should all begin by asking ourselves this question: ‘What is the most important thing about which I know too little or nothing at all?'”
— Will Dudley
An essay by Washington and Lee University President Will Dudley has been published in the Opinion pages of The Roanoke Times. The essay, based on Dudley’s remarks at the undergraduate commencement exercises on May 25, focuses on the importance of embracing one’s own ignorance as a stepping stone to pursuing knowledge and becoming better informed.
“Not knowing everything is fun,” Dudley wrote. “It makes work challenging and life rewarding.”
To read the entire essay, please click here.
John Christopher ’09: High-Stakes Decisions During a Crisis When the 2015 earthquake struck Nepal, John Christopher had to make some quick decisions on how the Oda Foundation could best serve the people of the region.
John Christopher, a 2009 graduate of Washington and Lee University, created the Oda Foundation in 2013 to provide basic low-cost, high-impact healthcare services and education to the people of Oda, located in the Kalikot district of Nepal (you can read about his start-up efforts here).
Two years after he opened Oda’s health clinic, John faced an urgent scenario in the aftermath of the devastating 2015 earthquake. Even though the community was not damaged, he wondered how he could mobilize his healthcare providers to serve a wider audience.
He turned to Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School who had developed a system for solving complex problems called the AREA Method, an acronym for the names of perspectives that it addresses. They utilized AREA to develop and analyze strategies to maximize the foundation’s impact. She guided John through her AREA process and chronicled his decision journey in her new book out this month called “Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction” (Career Press, 2017).
Einhorn’s approach is to help her clients figure out where to start. As she writes in her book: “How do you know where to look for information and how to evaluate it? How can you feel confident that you are making a careful and thoroughly researched decision in such a volatile, uncertain world?”
John said, “The exercise became an inflection point for Oda, the result of which was more informed decision-making and greater reach. The book’s forward was penned by former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the book extensively covers our work in Oda.”
He noted that 50 percent of the book’s proceeds will go to the foundation — good news indeed in these uncertain times.
Roddy Roediger ’69 Elected to the National Academy of Sciences He is internationally recognized for his theories and pioneering research techniques exploring human memory accessibility and retrieval.
Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, a 1969 graduate of Washington and Lee University, was elected into the National Academy of Sciences. Members are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive.
Roddy, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, is internationally recognized for his theories and pioneering research techniques exploring human memory accessibility and retrieval, specifically false memories.
Among his many honors are the 2012 William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science and the Society of Experimental Psychologists’ highest honor, the Howard Crosby Warren Medal. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society (now the Association for Psychological Science) and the Canadian Psychological Association.
Roddy is co-author, with Barry H. Kantowitz of the University of Michigan, and his W&L mentor, David G. Elmes, professor emeritus of psychology at W&L, of “Research Methods in Psychology.” He has also served on W&L’s Science Advisory Committee.
Art in the Open Students in Meg Griffith’s Spring Term art class created public works of art to draw attention to important causes in the community.
“One thing I didn’t think about before is how much I can personally do for the community, and the direct impact I can have.”
— Archer Biggs ’19
Everybody knows that public art can add color and vibrancy to a city or town, but the students in a Spring Term class at Washington and Lee learned that it can also tell an important story about the community.
Visiting Professor Meg Griffiths’ class, Artistic Collaboration and Community Engagement, required students to work with local nonprofits to conceptualize and make works of public art, then install them in the community. The result was a temporary exhibit at Hopkins Green in Lexington (visible through June 10) and a permanent installation at the Buena Vista Public Library.
“It’s amazing how a space can be transformed just with some materials and a little hard work,” Griffiths said.
To find nonprofits willing to work with students, Griffiths turned to W&L’s Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability. Alessandra Del Conte Dickovick, who works with the program’s Community-Based Research Alliance, helped the class connect with Rockbridge Area Prevention Coalition, an arm of Rockbridge Area Community Services, and Saturday’s Child, a nonprofit organization in Buena Vista dedicated to youth enrichment.
The small class consisted of only four students: One team was made up of Sara Dotterer ’18 and McKenna Quatro ’18, who worked with RACS, while Patrick Robertson ’17 and Archer Biggs ’19 worked with Saturday’s Child.
The students first met with representatives to learn about the work done by the nonprofits in the community, and the challenges they face. This was followed up by research and brainstorming ideas for the art. Griffiths initially thought the process of selecting locations and obtaining permission from local governments to install the art would be a complicated one, but the nonprofits’ existing ties to the community were a boon. The idea was met only with enthusiasm.
Dotterer and Quatro chose a conceptual theme of circles, with the spheres representing various subsets of one large community, like social circles, but also ideas and problems within those communities. They were inspired by the knowledge that many citizens of the Rockbridge area struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and that future substance use is a danger facing many adolescents in the community.
One goal of the class was to have students collaborate with local businesses to execute their ideas, all while staying mindful of the budget. Dotterer and Quatro had Lexington Building Supply craft their hoops out of PVC pipe. The hoops were then covered in brightly colored mason line, the nylon string used by bricklayers to ensure level rows. With the string hanging in layers from the hoops, the finished circles resemble vibrant octopi drifting in the breeze.
The hoops were hung from the pergola at Hopkins Green. Inspired by the Serenity Prayer used in addiction treatment, Dotterer and Quatro framed the display with the words serenity, change, courage and wisdom. Then, because they know teens tend to congregate in the park, they added a box filled with cards that offer ideas for fun, healthy activities that can replace substance abuse. One card suggested “rearrange your room” or “go to a movie at Hull’s Drive-in with family or friends.”
“I think the biggest takeaway for me was learning more about the Lexington community,” Quatro said of the project. “I guess I didn’t realize how bad [the drug problem] was here.”
Dotterer noted that they had to alter their plans several times throughout the project, which taught them valuable lessons. “There are always going to be limited resources and things that will trip you up, but it is the problem solving you use to get around it that is going to make it work.”
Jessica Hogarth, facilitator for the Rockbridge Area Prevention Coalition, said she was thrilled by the result. “It definitely turned out amazing,” she said. “I think what’s really cool about it is that it is so visually appealing, so that part draws people in. Then, once they actually go to the artwork, they can see the list of alternatives we have provided and they can see the meaning behind it. It just brought people together as a community to see something for a really good cause.”
Robertson and Biggs decided on a project that would allow children to contribute through hands-on activities. They erected a steel arbor on the lawn at the Buena Vista Public Library, positioning it as a gateway to two raised flowerbeds. Children from Saturday’s Child made and painted clay flower pots, which Robertson and Biggs filled with native flower species. Children also planted flower seeds in the two raised beds during a dedication ceremony on May 20.
But the most important part of the library project was the arbor itself, which is meant to represent Buena Vista’s identity as a former steel town. Biggs and Robertson asked Premier Fabrication Solutions, a metal fabrication company located in Buena Vista, for help with the project. Two employees ended up building the arbor, and they only charged the students for parts.
“We probably couldn’t have made this ourselves,” Robertson said. “We don’t have the experience and we didn’t have the time.”
The students planted honeysuckle vine at the foot of the arbor, hoping it will eventually climb and cover the structure. Again, they chose a native plant as a nod to the local culture.
“I envisioned this project as a connection back to Buena Vista as a manufacturing town,” Robertson said. “The steel is a tribute to that. And the plants symbolize the hope and possibility for future growth and improvement in the town.”
All four students admitted that when they signed up for the class, they weren’t sure what they were getting into or what they would learn from it. As they sat back and admired the result of four weeks’ work, they realized that it taught them about budgeting, scheduling, critical thinking, overcoming setbacks, and collaboration within the community.
“One thing I didn’t think about before,” Biggs said, “is how much I can personally do for the community, and the direct impact I can have.”
Washington and Lee Announces May Community Grants
Washington and Lee University’s Community Grants Committee has made 12 grants totaling $25,850 to non-profit organizations in Lexington and Rockbridge County. They are the second part of its two rounds of grants for 2016-17. The committee chose the grants from 22 proposals requesting almost $176,000.
W&L awarded grants to the following organizations:
- City of Buena Vista Parks and Recreation Department – Funds to go towards an artist residency.
- Friends of Rockbridge Swimming, Inc. – Support the third phase of their energy conservation plan.
- Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity – To assist with the purchase of a delivery truck.
- W. Kling Elementary School STEM Program – Further develop Kling’s STEM curriculum.
- Main Street Lexington – Funds to help purchase a full-spectrum laser cutter.
- Mission Next Door – Financial assistance for the Neighbor Support Program.
- PMHS Marching Blues – Upgrade and replace equipment.
- Rockbridge Area Conservation Council – Funding for the Maury Watershed Monitors community water monitoring program.
- RCHS Lady Wildcats Basketball – Equipment upgrades.
- Rockbridge Animal Alliance and Cats Unlimited – Subsidize pet care costs.
- Rockbridge Regional Drug Task Force – Purchase of Samsung Galaxy Note Tablets.
- Rockbridge Area YMCA – Funding to support a new enrichment program for Natural Bridge Elementary School.
Established in 2008, W&L’s Community Grants Committee evaluates requests for financial donations and support from Lexington and Rockbridge County. While the University has long provided financial and other assistance to worthwhile projects and organizations in the community on a case-by-case basis, the Community Grants Program formalizes W&L’s role in supporting regional organizations and activities through accessible grant-making.
During its 2016-17 cycle, the Community Grants Committee awarded $50,000. Proposals may be submitted at any time, but they are reviewed only semiannually, at the end of the calendar year and at the end of the fiscal year. The submission deadline for the two rounds of evaluations for 2017-18 will be: by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 3, 2017, and Friday, March 2, 2018. Please make note of the new March deadline. Interested parties may download the proposal guidelines at http://go.wlu.edu/communitygrants.
Proposals should be submitted as electronic attachments (Word or PDF) via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please call (540) 458-8417 with questions. If an electronic submission is not possible, materials may be faxed to (540) 458-8745 or mailed to Washington and Lee University Community Grants Committee, Attn: James D. Farrar Jr., Office of the Secretary, 204 W. Washington St., Washington and Lee University, Lexington, VA 24450-2116.
‘Perspectives’ on Leadership: Elena Diller ’17 & Caroline Todd ’17 Elena Diller '17 and Caroline Todd '17 saw a need for more perspective in academics — so they got to work.
“We’ve come to appreciate the value of learning that the world is a wider place than you might initially think. We firmly believe that’s something you should take with you after you graduate from W&L.”
— Caroline Todd ’17
Q. Can you describe the “special project” you’ve been working on right now?
Elena: Caroline and I co-authored a petition for a new FDR (technically an academic designation right now) that requires students to take a class about a unique, usually marginalized perspective. Think race, religion, gender, culture, political viewpoints, ethnicity, etc. We collected over 500 student signatures and 100 faculty/ staff signatures. I authored the Student Learning Objectives that are used to qualify which courses count towards the designation.
Caroline: Elena and I spent the past two years developing a potential Foundation and Distribution Requirement, or FDR, focusing on intersectional studies. First, after drafting the FDR, we created student and faculty petitions to illustrate the W&L community’s support for our proposal. We then attended several Courses and Degrees Committee meetings in order to present our ideas. We also held a couple of discussions about our proposal in order to clear up misconceptions and brainstorm improvements.
Q. What made you pursue this project?
Elena: We’ve both personally heard people make racist or sexist jokes, throw parties with themes offensive to those of different backgrounds or devalue policies that benefit marginalized groups. Though we both respect our peers, and are in no way perfect ourselves, we understand that a lot of our peers aren’t exposed to backgrounds different from their own. We believe that students will benefit from taking a class wherein they are challenged to study a group of people (and their race, gender, culture, religion) who are different from themselves and work to understand the systemic inequalities that this group faces.
Caroline: We were having lunch together one day junior year when the topic came up. After our conversation, I met with Dean Keen, the chair of the Courses and Degrees Committee, to ask if something like what we had in mind would be possible. She said it might be feasible if the request came from students, so that’s what we’ve focused on ever since. Our process aside, though, we went through with this proposal because we’ve come to appreciate the value of learning that the world is a wider place than you might initially think. We firmly believe that’s something you should take with you after you graduate from W&L.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Elena: The current curriculum states that one course cannot count for more than one FDR. However, we proposed that a course could count towards both a current FDR and the ‘Perspectives’ FDR, as we didn’t want to add a completely separate course requirement. Unfortunately, this rule cannot be changed as of now, so the ‘Perspectives’ FDR is actually a designation, meaning the courses can be found in the course catalog under this title.
Caroline: One of our biggest challenges was wording and rewording our Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), which seek to express what we’re looking for these Perspectives courses to do in measurable ways. We had to figure out exactly what we wanted students to get out of these classes and delineate those abstract ideas within the confines of a few bullet points. Eventually, we drafted a workable set of SLOs, but we had a lot of help throughout that process, so I’m grateful to all the professors who looked over our drafts and offered suggestions.
Q. What has been the greatest reward from this experience?
Elena: Seeing something that didn’t exist before come into existence! It’s not childbirth or anything, but I’m pretty proud.
Caroline: Getting it passed as a designation was pretty exciting, but seeing the university from the administrative side was also a noteworthy experience. This process has helped me become a part of W&L life in ways that I couldn’t have otherwise, and for that I’m incredibly thankful.
Q. What insight — or insights — have you gained?
Elena: Criticism can be key! The Spectator came out with an article which strongly opposed our petition. The article demonstrated perfectly what our proposal wanted to fix: a lack of respect for and concern for different perspectives. It was honestly the best advertisement we could have asked for— we gained 300 more signatures after the article came out.
Caroline: In getting to know faculty and administrators along the way, I’ve learned a lot about how thoughtful W&L as an institution is. Every conversation I’ve had with professors, deans or student affairs staff has been deliberate, considering nearly every ramification of a given topic. No one here makes a decision lightly. I’ve emerged from this process proud that W&L isn’t afraid to embrace complications.
Q. What lies in the future for “Perspectives”?
Elena: Hopefully, when the general curriculum is up for review, a student or faculty member will advocate to overturn the one course/one FDR rule so that the Perspectives designation will become an FDR.
Caroline: It’s actually out of our hands now. Professors will begin applying for their courses to fit the Perspectives designation, and then hopefully when W&L performs its upcoming re-evaluation of the FDR, the designation might be worked into whatever results.
Q. What does leadership mean to you?
Elena: Leadership means filling a need, small or big, when you see one.
Caroline: I’ve gotten a decent amount of leadership advice from Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” actually. Over the course of her career, Fey learned that true leadership entails figuring out how to cater to others’ strengths and work styles — you’ll receive the best results if the people you’re leading feel listened to and cared for. In the end, leadership isn’t about broadcasting how right you may think you are, or telling other people what to do. Even though it certainly requires a leader, it’s multilateral. More often than not, you have to “leave your ego at the door,” as Dr. Lynch tells us so often in choir rehearsals, in order to get the job done. As a leader, you’re setting an example, but one that others want to follow.
Q. Why is student leadership important on W&L’s campus?
Elena: Because we determine what our campus is, what our academic standards are, what our social practices are! Students have a lot of power because of how small our campus is, meaning that we can foster whatever environment we want for ourselves. And hopefully, we keep fostering something that is beneficial for ALL of our community members.
Caroline: For me, the question of leadership always comes back to our Honor System, which forms such an integral part of life at W&L because everyone takes their duty as a community member seriously. Though the Executive Committee has a strong presence on campus, and its job is an important one, honor permeates more than our governing body. Our Honor System allows the same sense of personal responsibility that good leaders have to translate to the duties we take on as students at W&L – we feel it’s our job to leave our community better than we found it. We take ownership of our conduct because we care enough about the future of our university to pass this legacy of community on to incoming students. W&L only works if we do.
If you know a W&L student who would be a great profile subject, tell us about it! Nominate them for a web profile.
A little more about Elena and Caroline
– Sociology & Anthropology, Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor, Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies minor, pre-med-track
– Volunteer Venture 2016 Student Coordinator and Trip Leader
– Peer Counselor
– Community Academic Research Alliance intern
– Casual member of the Outing Club
– Omicron Delta Kappa, National Leadership Honor Society
– Project Horizon volunteer
– SPCA volunteer
What professor has inspired you?
Though there are a lot of W&L professors who I admire greatly, Professor Kelly Brotzman is hands-down an inspiration. I am currently in her Profit & Punishment course, where we learn about the privatization of the penal system alongside inmates in the local Augusta Correctional Center. She had to put in a lot of work in order to get the class approved, and she has advocated for some of our classmates when they were up for parole. She’s nothing short of a bad-ass and she will be sorely missed when she leaves.
What’s your favorite song right now?
Definitely the Tame Impala remix to “waves” by Miguel, but in general I don’t have favorite songs. I do have a favorite podcast though, which is “My Favorite Murder.”
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I’m vegan so I often eat my broccoli with BBQ sauce.
– President; Panhellenic Council
– Community Advisor
– University Singers, Soprano II
– Omicron Delta Kappa, National Leadership Honor Society
– Phi Beta Kappa, Academic Honor Society
What’s your personal motto?
“To look life in the face, always, to look life in the face…” —Virginia Woolf
Favorite W&L memory:
Last year’s choir tour to Ireland with the University Singers (second only to our performance in Carnegie Hall this past April).
The Modern American Novel with Professor Marc Conner. Professor Conner brings out the humanity behind works of literature – he gets at the reasons why we read in the first place. I did a lot of soul-searching in this class.
Class of 2017 Video: ‘What We’ll Miss’ Diplomas have been handed out and caps have been tossed. In this video, members of the Class of 2017 discuss what they'll miss most about Washington and Lee.
W&L to Host the Virginia Governor’s Foreign Language Academies
Read more about the Foreign Language Academies online.
Andre Zeromski ’20 Selected as Kemper Scholar
“As a current undergraduate student at W&L and an Eagle Scout, I am passionate about bringing social progress through community service, finance and technological advancement.”
Andre Zeromski, of San Marcos, California, a first-year student at Washington and Lee University, has been selected as one of 16 in the 2017 incoming class of Kemper Scholars.
The competitive Kemper Scholarship prepares students throughout their undergraduate days for leadership and service, especially in the fields of administration and business. In seven of the last eight years, W&L students have been selected.
“I am delighted at being selected to be a Kemper Scholar,” said Zeromski. “As a current undergraduate student at W&L and an Eagle Scout, I am passionate about bringing social progress through community service, finance and technological advancement. I have had more than two years working part time in various collaborative team environments.”
Zeromski is double majoring in computer science and economics and minoring in mathematics. During his first year, he was a member of the Engineering Community Development Club (ECD) and assisted in planning and fundraising for a service trip to Belize to deliver an ECD-designed water filtration system.
For his Eagle Scout service project, Zeromski collaborated with the Escondido, California, Humane Society to install a new dog interaction yard. He also raised $2,000 for the project.
The James S. Kemper Foundation, which funds the program, supports undergraduate study of the liberal arts as the best preparation for life and career, while providing opportunities for career exploration, practical experience and professional growth. It fosters potential leaders who pursue a broad undergraduate education, while participating in community service, campus activities and vocational exploration outside the classroom.
Recipients are selected from a national applicant pool of first-year college students and receive scholarship assistance for three years based on financial need. Each also receives summer project stipends for two years, attends the annual Kemper Scholars Conference and performs a summer internship at a Chicago-area major non-profit organization after their sophomore year.
Following their junior year, scholars are placed in paid summer internships throughout the U.S. with the Kemper Corp., to gain experience and skills in various industries.
“Kemper Scholars are a select group of undergraduate students from top colleges and universities around the country,” explains Jerry Fuller, executive director of the James S. Kemper Foundation. “They are selected because they are committed to the studies, serve their communities, and because they have exhibited leadership and well-rounded, ethical character. Throughout the over six decades of the program, scholars have gone on to make outstanding contributions as leaders in organizations around the world.”
W&L’s Tallie Weighs in on Race, Food and Cultural Appropriation
“Tallie provides a good test for analyzing cultural appropriation: ‘Is the food imitative or celebrative, or is it claiming certain styles of cooking as its own?'”
T.J. Tallie, assistant professor of African history at Washington and Lee University, talked to Forbes about the cultural appropriation of recipes in a recent story titled, “Who Owns A Recipe? Race, Food And The Debate Over Cultural Appropriation.”
Read his interview online at Forbes.
W&L’s Strong Compares JFK to Trump on 100th Anniversary of JFK’s Birth
“Remembering JFK is worthwhile for many reasons, but one set of reasons is likely to be overlooked. Our nation’s youngest president might be able to tell us something about our oldest.”
The following opinion piece by Bob Strong, William Lyne Wilson Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee, appeared in Newsweek on May 29, 2017, and is reprinted here by permission.
Trump and JFK Are More Alike Than We Like to Think
On the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth there are countless commentaries about the promise shown by our youngest elected president and the grief felt when high hopes were dashed in Dallas.
Remembering JFK is worthwhile for many reasons, but one set of reasons is likely to be overlooked. Our nation’s youngest president might be able to tell us something about our oldest.
John F. Kennedy and Donald J. Trump have more in common than devotees for either would want to admit.
Both were second sons of successful and domineering fathers. Both grew up in wealth and privilege, though outside the highest levels of social status. Both were rebellious in school, reckless and cavalier in relations with women and eventual inheritors of family dreams for wider acceptance.
As young men, they both took on challenging endeavors, but were hounded by critics who said they were more interested in publicity than in genuine accomplishment. They were unlikely presidential candidates who entered the White House after closely fought campaigns against controversial opponents who had been on the national political scene far longer.
They each led political parties with congressional majorities that were deeply divided and unlikely to approve new administration initiatives. They both raised establishment eyebrows by appointing family members to senior administration positions.
There is one more striking similarity. John Kennedy and Donald Trump were pioneers in political communication.
Kennedy understood the importance of television sooner and more completely than his political peers. In appearance and demeanor, if not in substance, he outperformed Richard Nixon in their famous televised debates. After he entered the White House, he made press conference broadcasts live events that won a larger audience and gave him the opportunity to speak directly to the American public without newsroom editors selecting from among his remarks.
When Jackie Kennedy gave a televised tour of the redecorated White House in 1962, her shy sophistication came across the airways in a way that was compelling and appealing. After Jack was killed, Jackie exercised close control over the visual aspects of the funeral ceremonies. Both Kennedys knew how to use television.
Trump, for all his faults and foibles, is a master of the newest forms of political communication on cable news programs and in social media. Earlier presidential candidates—mostly Democrats from Howard Dean to Barack Obama to Bernie Sanders—showed how to use computer connections to effectively organize and energize supporters. But no one in recent presidential politics tapped into the raw power of the new instruments of political communication more often, or more effectively, than Donald Trump.
Trump’s primary debate performances and rally riffs, mostly on cable news networks, looked outrageous to conventional commentators, but came across as authentic to viewers accustomed to reality TV programming. Trump’s campaign tweets invariably commanded attention. Even when they were false, misleading or insulting, they were simultaneously fascinating and newsworthy.
Trump, who emerged in the national consciousness on the cover of New York tabloids, in the tidbits of gossip columnists and in the tidal wave of reality television, acquired an ability to connect with mass audiences that is unlike anything we have seen before in presidential politics.
So, what does it mean if you are a Kennedy, or a Trump, and a groundbreaking politician in the way you communicate with the American people?
As a presidential candidate, it means that you will be under-estimated by observers who apply old standards to new practices. As an elected president, it means that you could have problems interacting with Washington powerbrokers who are more traditional in how they think and act on the public stage. As a public figure, it means you can build a larger and more loyal following than would be expected given modest policy accomplishments.
Of course, there are huge differences between Kennedy and Trump.
Kennedy had real experience in public affairs before he ran for president. Trump had none.
Kennedy had a self-deprecating sense of humor and a deep appreciation for history that served him well throughout his public career. Trump has neither.
Kennedy was able to learn from his early presidential mistakes. Trump has yet to demonstrate such a capacity.
Near the end of his life, Kennedy advocated dramatic policy changes—civil rights legislation and substantive arms control with the Soviet Union—that his successors brought to fruition. It is too soon to tell whether the big things that Trump talks (and tweets) about will be accomplished by him or by others; or whether they will be casualties in a failed presidency.
The commemoration of Trump’s 100th birthday will take place in the summer of 2046. Maybe by then we will know what to make of him as a man, a communicator and a president.
W&L’s Morel on Teaching Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”
“The novel should motivate those unfamiliar with the history of race in America to learn more about its role in our social and political development.”
Lucas Morel, professor of politics and head of the politics department at Washington and Lee University, recently shared his thoughts on teaching Colson Whitehead’s award-winning novel The Underground Railroad with TeachingAmericanHistory.org.
Read the full interview online at TeachingAmericanHistory.org.
W&L’s Rush Offers Opinion on Why Less Democracy is Better Democracy
“In sum, this is a call for a little less democracy in favor of better quality democracy. The way our politics is constructed, Americans have sacrificed quality for quantity — and the cost of this decision shows each election cycle.”
The following opinion piece by Mark Rush, Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law and director of the Center for International Education at Washington and Lee, appeared in The Hill on May 17, 2017, and is reprinted here by permission.
Less democracy is better democracy — Here’s why
Outrage over gerrymandering and demands for electoral reform crop up after every election cycle from pundits and journalists whenever they see strangely drawn legislative district boundaries or a peculiar election result. The former occurs every ten years as states undergo the decennial rituals of reapportionment and redistricting. The latter occurs when a president wins the electoral vote and loses the popular vote. Yet, the root cause goes unaddressed.
In the wake of the election of President Trump, calls for reform of virtually the entire electoral process have arisen from all points on the compass: use redistricting commissions, amend the constitution to get rid of the Electoral College, loosen restrictions on voter registration, etc. Fact is, though, advocates of election reform frequently lose enthusiasm when they discover that reform may actually cost them a favorite incumbent. Furthermore, we find that incumbents — not surprisingly — are more than a little hesitant to call for reforms that might cost them their place in the legislature. Self-interest still guides politics.
What might we do to improve elections that 1) would have a generally positive effect, 2) would not pose much of a threat to anyone’s self-interest and 3) would not cost much in terms of legislative wrangling?
Let me suggest that we lengthen legislative terms.
Ask any legislator and she or he will tell you that they like having districts tailored to their strengths so they can decrease — if not minimize — the cost of and time spent on the campaign trail. At first blush, this would seem about the most anti-democratic sentiment imaginable.
That’s a reasonable reaction in the abstract. But in reality, we need to admit that the legislators have a point. In Virginia, senate terms are four years. In the House of Delegates, they are two years. This is a common arrangement throughout the United States. Only five states have longer terms for the lower house of their legislatures: Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi and North Dakota have four-year terms. This means that in 44 states (not counting Nebraska that has only a one-house legislature), members of the lower house are in what amounts to a constant state of election campaigning.
In Virginia, the general election is in November. The corresponding 2017 primary election is in June. To get on the primary ballot, one had to file papers no later than March 30. The legislative session runs only through January and February. This means that legislators have barely more than one session to engage in legislation before they need to take on primary challengers in anticipation of a general election. Could this be too much democracy?
Not to mention, the American electoral process is incredibly expensive. Virtually every candidate has to run twice — in the primary and in the general election — every cycle. To campaign effectively in the election cycle, one must be out courting voters far in advance. So if our elected officials must spend at least half of their time in office campaigning to stay in office, it stands to reason that they might want to make it easier to hang on to the seat they invested so much time in winning. Cast in this light, it’s not hard to understand a legislator’s desire for a handcrafted district.
In essence, the urge to gerrymander districts at the people’s expense arises from the people’s desire to have primary elections and lengthy electoral processes. So why not make a minor modification: Make legislative terms longer and give our elected officials more time to spend on legislating and governing?
Incumbents would be less worried about constantly warding off challengers — especially from their own parties in primaries — if they could spend more time establishing a legislative record. Maybe they would not be so preoccupied with creating designer districts. By lengthening legislative terms, we would decrease the number — and therefore the overall cost — of elections. This might actually make for a better democracy.
In sum, this is a call for a little less democracy in favor of better quality democracy. The way our politics is constructed, Americans have sacrificed quality for quantity — and the cost of this decision shows each election cycle.
Everyone would win if this small reform were affected. Voters would benefit from less gerrymandering and, perhaps, better Election Day choices. Incumbents would be able to focus on governing as well as campaigning. Challengers would have more time to build better platforms. Democracy would improve. From this perspective, a constitutional amendment to lengthen terms would probably be entirely uncontroversial.
Lengthening legislative terms may seem like a small measure, but it would have an extraordinarily positive impact on American elections.
Mark Rush is Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law and Director of the Center for International Education at Washington and Lee University. His writing and research cover law, politics, elections, democracy and professional baseball and football. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Rush.