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Director's Message, Spring 2023

Greetings! This has proven to be quite the year. We endured an onslaught of more than a dozen storms, with their nomenclature ominously expanding from pineapple express to atmospheric river to bomb cyclone. We lost a number of trees, including one iconic oak that fell across the entrance. We had power outages almost every Tuesday in March and flooded roads and exceptionally high winds. But the 2022-23 fellows class has been remarkably resilient. They shared their struggles with the storms, helping each other when people lost power. Some even developed a strand of dark humor. As one fellow commented, “I don’t mind the rain. I was always told if I spent a year in California, I’d either never want to leave or always want to come back. Now I can’t wait to get back home.” Fortunately, now, as the fellowship year comes to a close, sunshine has returned. And the storms brought an unexpected delight, as Lake Lagunita filled to its highest level in decades, and rainbows were a common sight. Fellows in the lower studies have enjoyed water-front views since the first of the year.

The view from the hill...

Photo by CASBS staff member Drina Adams, March 14, 2023

The stormy weather may have brought us even closer together as a community. At a time when apocalyptic weather enveloped us and this odd pandemic recovery has nothing seeming quite normal, coming to CASBS every day has been a real gift. Our fellows are working on topics of great urgency, ranging from the decline of democracy in Israel, the effects of systemic racism, immigration from Haiti and Central America, police shootings, and mass incarceration in the United States. Almost every weekly seminar has been on a critical issue, and the engagement and excitement around the discussions were thrilling. One fellow leaned over to me after a discussion about anger and hatred in Israel and said the room was absolutely electric. That has been true about many of the seminars, and our post-seminar lunchtime discussions routinely attracted a dozen and a half people to continue the conversations.

I mentioned last fall that this was our youngest, most international and diverse class, but those metrics capture the most typical demographics. This class is diverse in so many other ways, too. In the middle of lunch one day, a political scientist from Indiana smiled and said, “I’ve never seen such a diverse table.” By that, she meant she was Colombian, the fellow sitting next to her from Guatemala, the one next to him from Chile, another from India, one from Taiwan, one from Israel, and one from North Carolina. Someone quickly quipped “We’re homophilous in one respect, we are all Ph.D.'s in the social sciences.” Other conversations reflected on what an interesting cohort of women we had this year, from such varied backgrounds. They were a powerful source of strength for one another, with friendships forged that will endure. 

In February, the fellowship selection committee met for a full day to choose a new class. The class of 2023-24 will be a little bit older, with a different mix of topics and interests. Perhaps not surprisingly, sustainability is a topic that links several fellows who share interests in environmental justice, environmental politics, water rights in China, and the economics of the environment. There will be a strong group of historians, with several focusing on the history of capitalism. We will also gain from scholars grappling with the ramifications of the COVID pandemic and healthcare costs. 

I am very delighted to share that we selected and announced two winners of the 2023 SAGE-CASBS Award. Elizabeth Anderson, Philosophy, University of Michigan, and Alondra Nelson, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton were both chosen to receive the award and will participate in a public discussion here at CASBS on November 16, 2023. More details are available in a longer story inside. For now, I just want to emphasize what an inspired idea this selection was, and to thank SAGE Publishing for supporting both award winners equally.

Woody Powell

We have been active on the fundraising front, working on materials for endowed fellowships that will be a part of the Stanford campaign next year. We are hoping for at least three, possibly up to nine, permanent endowed fellows in the areas of sustainability, technology and equity, and democracy. I created a project to build stronger connections to past fellows. We plan to bring groups of three past fellows back to the Center twice a year for public symposia on common topics, methods, and controversies, and meetings with current fellows. Elsewhere in the newsletter, you will read about exciting new partnerships we forged to support an annual fellow from South Korea with the Korean Foundation for Advanced Studies, and a fellow from Sweden with the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

I am pleased to report that various institutes for advanced study, led by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, came together to create the Virtual Ukraine Institute for Advanced Study (VUIAS) for Ukrainian scholars, whose lives have been terribly disrupted by the war. Our long-range plan is to create a real physical institute in Kyiv, once the war ends. Our hope is this would be part of a Marshall Plan for the Ukraine. In the meantime, the more modest idea is to begin with six virtual fellowships, starting this September. If you know any scholars who are refugee intellectuals, scholars at risk, or still living in the Ukraine, please tell them and have them contact us. And please help us spread awareness of the program through your networks.

CASBS communications director Mike Gaetani has been busy on multiple fronts, publicizing current and former fellows who received notable awards, as well as the Daedalus volume that is the capstone of the Creating a New Moral Political Economy program, led so ably by Margaret Levi. Mike has produced and published several new podcast episodes, one with current fellows Henry Farrell and Rebecca Slayton interviewing former fellow Bob Keohane on his work on climate change and interdependence, and another featuring former fellow Alison Gopnik and science fiction writer Ted Chiang. Current fellow Rohini Somanathan conducted a fascinating interview with former fellow Glenn Loury. These are all wonderful conversations and well worth your time.

The transition to Sarah Soule’s directorship goes very smoothly, accentuated by her excitement about her upcoming responsibilities. Sarah was an observer at the Fellows Selection Committee meeting, and has made the decisions about next year’s faculty fellows and research affiliates. She has met with deputy director Sally Schroeder and me weekly and has held one on one meetings with all of the staff and a number of fellows. The Center will be in very good hands with her at its director.

Our summer institutes will finally be in person this summer, and we are very excited for them. The diversity institute’s first iteration begins in June, led by former fellows Mary Murphy and Jennifer Richeson and current fellow Sylvia Perry. The cohort includes early-career faculty and postdoctoral fellows from the fields of anthropology, demography, political science, psychology, and sociology. 

In July, we will welcome the 5th cohort of scholars for the organizations and their effectiveness institute, run by Bob Gibbons and myself. During week one they will get a strong dose from Bob and me, as well as hear from former fellow Anna Grzymala-Busse, Political Science, Stanford as well as former fellow and CASBS board chair California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar. In week two, approximately 25 former summer scholars will join us for a cross-cohort convocation. That week promises to be stellar, as our guest faculty will include Sanjukta Paul, Law, University of Michigan and Nobel Laureate Jean Tirole, Economics, University of Toulouse, among many others. We created lots of out-of-the-ordinary sessions for that week, including an academic version of the Great British Bake-Off show, featuring groups of scholars proposing half-baked research ideas, which they hope to entice others to join in working on.

Writing about our summer institute is reassuring for me, as it reminds me that I will enjoy an ongoing connection to the Center after departing from the director’s office. It has been a fascinating experience serving as director, seeing a different side of the magic of the Center, and developed a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the staff. Simply put, for many of the fellows, their year here is one of the best years of their lives; for those of us in the office, it can be ‘merely’ another class. The experience reminds me of an old insight from the sociologist Everett Hughes who remarked about his fieldwork in emergency rooms in Chicago – for the parents of a sick child, it is their precious jewel; for the beleaguered intern, it is her 35th emergency of a shift.

I understand better now how the magic can be created, beginning with clear attention to developing shared expectations among the class in September, and sustained efforts to involve everyone.  I watched the fellows’ excitement and anxiety about giving a weekly seminar, the thrill experienced after it is done, and the energy and generosity created by the questions and subsequent discussions. The fellowship year has a definite rhythm and sequence. I spoke with many of the fellows as they both enjoy and struggle with a year of freedom. They are removed from their normal disciplinary silos and internecine battles over resources, and freed to paint on a larger canvas. The best thing we accomplish at CASBS is to provide an environment for scholars to re-imagine their work and think differently about their scholarly pursuits. It has been a real treat for me to have the opportunity to lead this storied institution for the past year, and build on the many things Margaret Levi accomplished during her tenure. I hope that I helped make it an even better place than when I began.


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