As New Orleans colleges shut down, political scientists hope for the best
Tropical Storm Isaac (soon to be Hurricane Isaac) is headed toward New Orleans today, and colleges in the area are shutting down to be sure students and employees are safe, and to focus on minimizing campus damage. Among the institutions announcing closures: Delgado Community College, Dillard University and Tulane University (and just about everyone else in town). Louisiana colleges are used to this kind of situation, of course, and some have neighborly traditions. Centenary College, in Shreveport, for example, is host to Dillard students needing a temporary home.
What is part of life to those who live in the Gulf region is not the norm, of course, for most Americans. And the American Political Science Association has faced a barrage of questions over the last 48 hours over whether its annual meeting (originally scheduled to start Wednesday, but with most sessions starting Thursday) would go on as planned.
On Sunday, the association called off all of its Wednesday events. But on Monday, after it became clear that city officials were not ordering an evacuation and believed they could handle Isaac, the APSA announced that the meeting would proceed as scheduled from Thursday on. While New Orleans is a convention city (ideally in better weather), the news that APSA wasn't abandoning the meeting was considered important enough to the tourism-dependent city that the announcement merited an article in The Times-Picayune.
New Orleans has already been the source of controversy, with some political scientists organizing a boycott of the meeting, which they felt should not take place in a state where the constitution bars recognition of all gay relationships. But on Monday, much of the online discussion (much of it humorous) focused on what to expect for those who do travel to New Orleans. Forecasts say the hurricane will have left the immediate area by Thursday, but with many political scientists planning to travel there today or Wednesday -- when most flights are expected to be grounded -- people were trading stories about which panels would have panelists, and what a conference would look like without power.
There were some gripes about whether the APSA should have selected New Orleans in the first place at this time of year. Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, blogged: "Looking over APSA's written guidelines for convention siting, I see that APSA has included criteria about regional diversity, local treatment of same-sex unions and partnerships, labor union strength, carbon neutrality, and ethnic and racial diversity. Might I humbly suggest that if political scientists want to be taken seriously by Congress and the general public, if would be a good idea to add 'no city located in a hurricane zone during hurricane season' to the list of criteria?"
A poll on the political science blog The Monkey Cage suggests many who were planning to attend the meeting won't be there.
Judging (admittedly unscientifically, with apologies to the quantitative wing of political science) from e-mail lists and tweets, it appears many graduate students are trying to make it to New Orleans somehow. Many, after all, have job interviews or hope to schmooze with people who might help in job hunts.
Michael W. Gruszczynski, a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, tweeted that "When you're on the market (and interviewing at #APSA2012) the no-cancellation for hurricane thing creates 'a lot' of internal conflict." But he followed that up with a plan to get there and get noticed. "I think interviewers are going to be very, very impressed when I show up in a kayak wearing an armadillo as a helmet."
Several university presses used the #APSA2012 hashtag to announce that they will not be in the exhibit hall, although some are keeping their discount offerings for those who order online. Several political scientists suggested that the convention might provide chances for on-site research on crowd behavior, crisis management and other topics. (Several sessions were already planned on Katrina.)
The most popular commentary may be found under the hashtag #APSA2012HungerGames, the creation of a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, W.K Winecoff, who started things off with a series of tweets:
- "The IR peeps try to deter each other, the IPE peeps try to design institutions that promote peace..." (Those acronyms reference international relations and international political economy.)
- "... the theorists ask what Rawls wld make of it, the Americanists take a poll of 'likely participants'..."
- "Michael Sandel asks pithy Q based on thought experiment; gets taken out by poison dart."
Winecoff was planning to go to New Orleans, and is on a panel early Thursday. But he said via e-mail that five of the six panelists have already indicated they aren't going to make it, he doubts there will be many in the audience first thing Thursday, and he suspects his flight will be canceled.
His Hunger Games tweets inspired many others. On the poli sci blog Duck of Minerva, Steve Saideman of Canada's Carleton University speculated on which political science groups would fare well in an APSA Hunger Games. "While some would think the Neo-Realists would do well, since they focus on security or power (depending on the time of day), they might get distracted by blaming some heretofore ignored domestic actor for the policy failures," he wrote.
He added: "The longest odds? Post-materialists. They will find that in the Hunger Games that it is not so much the intersubjective meanings applied to arrows and bullets but the accuracy and power of the weapons launching them. Blood may have all kinds of symbolism, but when it drains out of a post-modernist, the logic of consequences will dominate the logic of appropriateness."
Here at Inside Higher Ed, we couldn't help but appreciate the lemons-into-lemonade humor as we're still planning (hoping?) to cover the sessions and to meet political scientists at our booth in the exhibit hall at the end of the week. But we also noted and share the sentiments of the many messages of concern for people who live in New Orleans, the students and employees at the colleges there, and the scholars trying to decide whether to make the trip. We wish everyone, above all, safety.