Commencement

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Completing a dissertation in political science at West Virginia University is no easy task for an individual. It takes a significant amount of work, dedication, and, most importantly, collaboration with others. Therefore, I must recognize the help of many other individuals, whether they provided support that helped my work or encouragement of my commitment to it. Their contributions and support were instrumental in this undertaking and deserve mention. Even though the words pale in comparison, thank you for everything—as insignificant as it sounds.

I would like to mention a few specific individuals who made this original research and small contribution to knowledge possible. The first and foremost has to be Robert DiClerico, Ph.D., who chaired the committee for this dissertation. His passion for the Presidency, his socratic-method approach to teaching, and his legendary seminar on the American Presidency cultivated my interest in the president and engendered in me the desire to use my dissertation to learn more about this area of research. He is the quintessential professor: rigorous, engaging, and challenging as well as friendly and approachable. I will continuously strive to emulate him as a scholar, professor, and academician. His presence provided continual encouragement regarding my ability to undertake this and future scholarly endeavors. I am not able, in the space allotted, to say enough about how much I owe to Dr. DiClerico for his help with this project. He provided guidance, questions, and comments that enhanced this research and enabled me to think about the Presidency as would a serious scholar. Dr. DiClerico’s fastidious and meticulous approach to the use of language has, without doubt, made this a better and more readable piece of research. I am honored to have had him as the Chair of my dissertation. I am forever in his debt.

I would like to thank Richard Brisbin, Jr., Ph.D., for his incredible insight and comments about this project. His unmatched intellect and memory helped me tremendously during the construction of this dissertation, the writing of the actual project, and the editing of the final product. Moreover, he has challenged me to be a better scholar, researcher, and teacher throughout this entire process. The seriousness with which he approaches scholarship is noteworthy. Dr. Brisbin has contributed to the field of political science by publishing voluminously; I can only hope to follow, in some small way, his example of scholarship.

I would also like to thank Jason MacDonald, Ph.D., for all of the time and effort he put into helping me make this dissertation better. Dr. MacDonald provided me with many productive revision suggestions and comments about how to connect my infant ideas to a sound theory that was grounded in the extant research. His constructive criticism was instrumental in the final draft of this dissertation. Mostly, however, I would like to thank him for his insistence in ensuring that the statistical model and specification of my dissertation made sense and did not violate any assumptions or rules. Without his guidance, this dissertation would not have the statistical rigor that accompanies political science research. Moreover, I would like to thank Dr. MacDonald for his commitment to political science scholarship and his goal of making sure that all political science graduate students at West Virginia University understand how to contribute to the discipline in a professional manner.

I must also mention my appreciation for Jeff Worsham, Ph.D., who provided valuable comments, insights, and constructive criticism about this research. He was able to help guide my research into a more comprehensive and scholarly attempt. He helped me to conceptualize an initial idea, develop it empirically, and articulate it in a scholarly manner. He has continually challenged me to produce concise and articulate scholarly writing. His constant encouragement about “putting a brick in the wall of research” and “not building the entire wall” helped to alleviate many of the pressures that dissertation writing brings to graduate students. Moreover, Dr. Worsham, as the graduate director, was instrumental in my progress throughout the Ph.D. degree. Without his guidance and direction, it would have been easy to unnecessarily prolong my time in the program. For his help, I am truly grateful.

This original research could not have transpired without the work of other scholars who have come before me. Their work provides insight and inspiration. Moreover, their creativity and inquisitive approaches to the Presidency have engendered an abundant collection of research that, once understood, can lead to further studies that advance knowledge. Suffice it to say, I am forever grateful that I can stand upon their shoulders and contribute to the literature and research on the Presidency, however small that contribution may be. These scholars are numerous; I would, however, like to mention a few of the most prominent and most significant: Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha, Ph.D.; George C. Edwards, III, Ph.D.; Jeffrey Tulis, Ph.D.; Dan Wood, Ph.D.; Jeffrey Cohen, Ph.D.; Paul Light, Ph.D.; and Richard Neustadt, Ph.D.

I would also like to thank a few of the professors I have previously studied under during my educational pursuits. Their passion for teaching and research cultivated my interest in graduate school and scholarly endeavors. Their encouragement helped me along the way to develop my own path: Steven Hunt, Ph.D. (Gordon College); Norman Faramelli, Ph.D. (Boston University); Stanley Marrow, SJ, Ph.D. (Boston College); Gerald Pops, Ph.D. (West Virginia University); Jennifer Hevelone-Harper, Ph.D. (Gordon College); Carol Bohn, Ed.D. (Boston University); Roger Green, Ph.D. (Gordon College); Kevin Madigan, Ph.D. (Harvard Divinity); John Kilwein, Ph.D. (West Virginia University); François Bovon, Ph.D. (Harvard Divinity); Adrianne Williams, Ph.D. (West Virginia University); Paul Borgman, Ph.D. (Gordon College); Robert Duval, Ph.D. (West Virginia University); V. Rev. John Behr, D.Phil. (St.Vlad Seminary).

It is to my wife, Joni R. Magnusson, that I owe the most thanks for helping with the writing of this dissertation. She always provided the type of support I needed to keep me sane and focused. She is, without a doubt, the smartest, most beautiful, and most determined individual I have ever met. She is steady in the pursuit of her goals. I have never seen a person work harder than she does. Over the years, this attitude and perspective have motivated me to be the same way. I am forever grateful for her presence in my life. I never would have had the fortitude to undertake or complete such a thing as a Ph.D. had it not been for her encouragement. I am unable to count the number of times I returned home to tell her about my plan to leave school due to my inability to cope. It is because of her support that I never quit and continued onward in my pursuits. I must also mention how much I appreciate the fact that she edited many of my undergraduate and graduate papers as well as this dissertation. Her ability to help me clarify my scattered ideas and her consistent willingness to be patient with the subject matter, and my feeble attempt at explaining it, are nothing short of saintly. Moreover, I have to mention what a great wife she is and mother she will continue to become. From the first time I saw her, I have been and continue to be enamored of her. I hope that our daughter can become the strong woman her mother is. She makes me want to be a better man and person. My life is forever enriched by her presence in it. I love her so much, and I cannot wait to see what life has in store for us and our future.

I would like to thank my daughter Sophia Katherine, an incarnation of pure joy and happiness. Her smile is illuminating and life-changing. While writing this dissertation, I saw her develop from a newborn to a toddler. I will never forget the many nights she slept on my chest as I wrote and wrote. Her mere presence was motivating and inspiring. I am so proud of her. I thought that the day she was born was the most amazing day of my life; every day since then, however, has been more rewarding and fulfilling. Being Sophie’s dad is the most humbling, greatest privilege and honor I have ever experienced. I love her so much, and I look forward to the many more years we have ahead of us as a family.

I would also like to thank Joshua Woods, Ph.D., a friend, colleague, and mentor of sorts. Not only did he help with “simplifying” my dissertation research, which vastly improved my operationalization, he has also shown me, practically and candidly, what it means to be a scholar and producer of original knowledge. During our collaborative scholarly work, he helped me learn valuable research and writing skills that I will use for the rest of my career. Moreover, he has, on many occasions, mentioned his confidence in my ability to be a teacher and researcher at a university. This encouragement, coming from such an accomplished academician, makes me believe that I can accomplish my goals and undertake such lofty endeavors with great aplomb.

I would like to thank Cindy Drumm, the Director of the Student Support Services Center at West Virginia University where I worked while completing this degree, as well as the other staff, namely Vivian Lama, Vanessa Harrison, and Heather Van Gilder as well as Sherry Rose, Erica Bentley, Kylie Evans, and most importantly, the students of SSS. I am so appreciative of their encouragement and support for the pursuit of higher education. Without the flexibility allowed me in my work schedule, I would never have been able to finish this dissertation. Moreover, the encouragement and inspiration I received from so many first-generation and low-income students was humbling and nearly life-changing.

I would specifically like to thank the West Virginia State University for hiring me as an Assistant Professor of Political Science. It is an honor to have been selected for this opportunity; the greatest career in the world. The support and flexible schedule that accompanied this prestigious position enabled me to write this dissertation more successfully. Moreover, the privilege to teach and mentor students from the great state of West Virginia is an honor and the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. I am so grateful for the trust they bestowed upon me and for the confidence they have in me.

I cannot have an acknowledgements section without mentioning my fellow graduate students who were either dealing with the same challenges as I was or were about to enter into the comprehensive exam or dissertation writing phases of their studies. Thank you for always listening to my complaints and sharing in my successes. Having fellow graduate students around to take part in the process of complaining, bickering, and dissecting failures as well as the sharing of camaraderie, productive discussion, and profound insights was greatly cathartic.

I must also make mention of the many other persons who made this goal of mine possible. I am sorry that I am forgetting, in my post-dissertation writing and defense stupor, to mention you by name. Please know that I am grateful and appreciative of all your help.

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Graduate School: To go, or not to go, is that the question?

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If you read the Chronicle of Higher Education, Slate Magazine, or the New York Times, you have come across a story about the decision of whether or not to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. It is a topic of much concern within the academic community, particularly given the budget crises, the lack of available jobs, and the ethics surrounding whether or not to encourage our students to attend when the likelihood of a tenure track job is nearly improbable.

As a social scientist, I know the numbers regarding jobs, the statistical likelihood of being ‘successful’ on the job market. Please do not let what I am about to say fool you with regard to my understanding. I just came from the market. I NEVER want to go there again. However, I must also contribute an anecdote to this discussion, given my experience.

I was the first person in my family to attend college. In fact, no one had even graduated from high school. My community knew drugs, alcoholism, prison, and the common theme between them all, poverty. The opportunity to go to college kind of just happened. I never planned it, no one really ever talked to me about it. When I say opportunity, I mean opportunity. I have no idea how it happened. I had a 1.8 high school GPA, and no idea how to pay for it or what to study. Were it not for the Pell Grant …? I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I was not a terribly bright student. I made average grades. I did work hard, however. I made all the mistakes and faced all of the challenges that first generation low-income students encounter. I managed to transfer to a better school, Gordon College, a small-liberal arts college on the North Shore of Boston (How my heart breaks for Boston and those injured right now). I graduated in 2004. I developed a desire to learn more, more about myself and about the world, and my place in it.

What an easy four words to write. However, it was not so easy. Being a first generation college student and a low-income student puts you in a unique category. Only 5% of those students in the low-income quartile brackets graduate from college. First-generation and low-income college students have higher drop-out rates, higher stress rates, and lower levels of traditional support. When you couple this with my 1.8 high school GPA, I had about a 3% chance of finishing college within six years of finishing high school.

I did attend graduate school at Boston University. If you want to know more about my academic life, click here. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science. I graduated in a reasonable amount of time and secured a tenure track position at West Virginia State University, a Land Grant HBCU, which I love. I have great students. I publish. I contribute to the academic community. I guess it is easy for me to make this argument given that I found your version of ‘success’ rather quickly, but my point is still valid.

Obviously not everyone is going to find a tenure track job. The numbers do not lie. However, I think that the current discussion about whether to pursue a Ph.D. is one sided and inappropriate. Of course the tenured faculty at Tier 1 Research schools are correct about the fact that if you go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. you will fail, if you graduate. And, you will fail more miserably if you do not attend a Tier 1 research school. Do you know why they are correct? They are only defining ‘success’ as a Tenure Track job at their Tier 1 Research school.

These faculty are telling others not to even attempt to pursue this form of higher education. I am utterly flummoxed by this line of thinking in my community. Why are they doing this? At what point did we, as society, discourage people from trying to overcome the odds of a difficult problem? What about the fight? What about David and Goliath, Prometheus and Zeus, Sparta and Thermopylae, Martin Luther and the Catholic Church, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendements and Southern stubbornness, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jim Crow, Women and the World, Hilary Clinton and the World, Barack Obama and America’s racist history, and on and on we could go forever. Overcoming difficult odds is the Human story, the American dream and promise of a better world.

It seems to me that there is a propaganda machine at work. I know that William Pannapacker and Daniel Drezner, amongst others, think they are providing advice that will make it easier for those that would have ‘failed’ at becoming that which they seek. I would assume that they believe that they have an ethical responsibility to ‘warn’ people that pursuing a Ph.D. is dangerous, both financially and emotionally. These arguments have some merit. However, the arguments need serious clarifications.

I think that in their current form, they perpetuate elitism. The elite remain the elite. There is no opportunity for class change. There is no opportunity for intellectual diversity. If Ph.D. work is dangerous and not worth the risk, who will pursue it? Only those with nothing to lose? The elite have no risk in their pursuit of the Ph.D. The risk is for the poor, minorities, and downtrodden. Their articles suggest what is best for those thinking of pursing a Ph.D., only mentioning the negatives, only mentioning that a person will not be a tenure track professor. They never mention the enjoyment and the rewards of pursuing graduate work. They never mention overcoming.

Ph.D. students are some of the most intelligent, creative individuals. They spend hours every day trying to locate problems and then creating models that solve those problems. Why do we want fewer persons like this in the workforce? Why do we want to discourage such hard workers from producing solutions to complex problems? Why do we want fewer critical thinkers at the highest levels participating in any market?

Personally, what if I had listened to them? If I had not even tried to beat the odds of attending college? Seriously, who bets on 3%? Who takes that chance? No one! The odds of me graduating from college were abysmal. Should I have not tried graduate school either? Where is the spirit of rising to a challenge? Where is the fight? At what point do we let ‘odds’ determine what we pursue, what life we want, what type of society we want? The odds are always against us. There is always a reason not to do something, not to change your life or your neighbor’s life. The highest levels of education are an illuminating force. They can provide a person with opportunities that might not otherwise exist, particularly for the poorest of society. Education provides those persons with choices, and the ability to think through those choices; something that true poverty completely obliterates.

Pursing and completing a Ph.D. was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was mind-grueling work. I worked 70 plus hours a week for about $10,000 a year. It challenges every aspect of your identity, personhood, and future life. You are immersed in a world that suffocates you with the notion that a tenure track research job is the only measure of success; it is the only reason to pursue such a level of higher education.

Nevertheless, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. In a complex sisyphean manner, there is beauty and power in the work itself. The constructed ‘outcome’ is irrelevant. The work literally changes who you are and the way you think. It breaks you down to nothing and then rebuilds you in a completely different way. So, do not tell me that if those persons discouraged from pursuing a Ph.D. are smart, they will still be successful if they chose not to pursue the Ph.D. Some persons ‘become’ during the degree. Learning from the process makes you different. It gives a person skills, substantive critical and analytical thinking, and an ability to process multiple perspectives simultaneously, all the while understanding the nuances of an argument with which you disagree while simultaneously contemplating a solution to the posited extant problem.

Instead of simply presenting the myriad of negative aspects, would we not be better served to think of other careers for Ph.D.’s, other ways to contribute to society, rather than simply defining ‘success’ as a tenure track research job. For instance, 53% of political science Ph.Ds work for the federal government. There are other areas wherein Ph.Ds could contribute. Could they not better the workforce in advising, industry, and healthcare, et cetera? Could not the military be better with more Ph.Ds? Could not our high schools be better with more Ph.Ds? Could not our lawmakers, bankers, lawyers?

Are not those faculty members such as William Pannapacker and Daniel Drezner actually perpetuating the problem? Are not they actually the failures? They are facilitating the prepostrus notion that if a person does not get a tenure track position at a Tier 1 research school, that person has somehow failed to reach the ultimate goal. Have they not failed by constructing a pseudo-reality of ‘success’ and then criticizing the system that they actually created? Have they not failed for not embracing their responsibility to see the larger picture with regards to defining the successful outcome of a Ph.D.? A tenure track research job is not the only answer. What about defining ‘success’ as the completion of a Ph.D.? What you do afterwards is not the measure of ‘success’.