Letter From The Chair

John Wilkerson
John Wilkerson, Chair

Autumn 2020

What a year, and more to come! If student evaluations are to be believed, our sudden transition to remote instruction last spring went well. I am grateful to our instructors, graduate students and undergraduates for responding to this completely unexpected challenge. We also had to cancel our department convocation - deeply disappointing for many graduating seniors - but our staff deserves appreciation for producing a virtual convocation (that included a procession, student photo montage and faculty congratulations) under tremendous time pressure.

For part of the summer there was hope that at least some fall classes would take place on campus. However, UW administration concluded (correctly given the recent experiences of other schools that are now reverting to on line instruction) that we could not do so safely. We all want the virus to disappear but until then we will continue to adapt.

For example, starting on Oct. 1, the department will host bi-weekly Zoom webinars exploring the 2020 elections. These webinars, led by faculty experts, will discuss what’s at stake, consider the potential threats to free and fair elections, make predictions across the ballot. They will be live with opportunities for audience questions, but also recorded for later viewing. Please RSVP so that we can keep you updated.

The next few months will be a stress test of our democracy. In such a high stakes election, anything is possible. However, one thing we should not be concerned about is that mail balloting will advantage one party over another, according to recent research by Professor Jake Grumbach. We should also be less concerned about the integrity of mail balloting systems than the integrity of the electronic voting systems used in many states according to research by Professor James Long.

We were shocked and saddened by the passing of Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Kohl, our Administrative Assistant for the past two years. Jerry was an exceptionally kind and funny person who harbored a passion for music. It was a pleasure to learn more about this amazing man from Ann, his partner for 40 years.

We also lost Senator Slade Gorton, an icon of Washington politics who spoke to students in my classes on several occasions and supported many undergraduate interns through his association with the Slade Gorton Center at the National Bureau of Asian Research just off campus.

Finally, on a more upbeat note, we are pleased that Dr. Noga Rotem will join us this fall as an Assistant Professor.  Dr. Rotem specializes in Political Theory, which is one of our most popular undergraduate subjects and a strength of our graduate program. 

I hope that you and yours are safe and healthy. The pandemic has touched close to home for my family.  If you have suffered a loss please know that you have our deepest sympathy.

Sincerely, John

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