Personality Spotlight: Dr. Rodney Hero


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Pictured: (Left) Rolf Niederstrasser, (Right) Dr. Rodney Hero


1. Why do you think it is important for someone who is the president of the American Political Science Association to come to the University of Texas - Pan American?


Previous Presidents haven't undertaken initiatives like this and I think it is important that the APSA is now trying to reach out to students from a whole variety of universities. We hope to raise awareness of Political Science as a discipline and as an area of study. We try to make clear just how interesting the field is, and to make it more visible to them than it might otherwise appear if it is seen only through going to classes and talking to professors.


2. The enormous influx of Latinos into the United States in the last decades has created tensions between the Hispanic and the Black communities. Many thought that black and brown would unite in their struggle, but it turned out to be the opposite in many instances. What are the causes for this?


The research finds some evidence of conflict. I think part of it is that when groups have something in common, let's say a common situation of socio-economic challenges, we might think that this would lead them to work together, or it might lead them just as often to be in conflict due to competition over scarce resources. Part of the research I presented yesterday looks at the variables involved in whether or not there will be competition and conflict rather than cooperation. This is affected by the nature of the policy issues that are at stake and if they are zero-sum in nature. If there are policies and decision-making that help to mitigate the extent of that zero-sum, this could lend itself to greater cooperation. This helps to underscore the importance of social and political influences on shaping how groups interact with each other.


3. What has been the impact (if any) of the Obama administration on Black-Latino relations?


President Obama has been working on one specific set of issues of concern to Latinos. He would like to change immigration policies. At the same time, he recognizes that there is a lot of pressure coming from individuals who oppose this very strongly, so he is trying to develop effective policy approaches while at the same time trying to avoid backlash. There is a very fine line there and a very difficult one to navigate. But overall, in terms of Black-Latino relations, he hasn't talked about it much. He has tried implicitly to recognize the broad common ground, setting the stage for cooperation in policies such as education and economic stimuli. We might look to the President's most recent State of the Union address where he talked about economic inequality, immigration, the police and Ferguson. What I find particularly interesting is that on the one hand, economic inequality is discussed at the beginning of the address, but there is no discussion whatsoever about any kind of racial dimension to this inequality. Economic inequality and racial tensions are a different set of issues and what is not being talked about are the intersections and conditions that they have in common.


4. What do you think is the promise of Political Science? How can we help the public to see the value of the field and not just equate political scientists with politicians and all of the baggage that this entails, i.e. politics equals corruption?


As a political scientist, one of the things I've been trying to emphasize throughout the years is that when people think of the word politics, it has a very negative connotation. But those kinds of issues are such a small part of it. Political scientists themselves define politics as a set of intertwined topics such as policies, values, structures, and the leadership of government. What kind of values are we seeking to achieve? What kind of policies do we put forward to try to achieve those values? We can have differences about values and policies but it is not primarily about narrow, selfish interests. There are different ideas about how to make the world a better place. Politics is much broader than the common usage of it. We are trying to understand politics through Political Science in a very careful and systematic fashion. For example, Black-Latino relations can be contentious. But how, where, when and why are they more or less contentious? To what extent is it due to the nature of public policies? Where are those policy decisions being made at different levels of the political system? It is a matter of systematically understanding politics and by doing so hopefully creating different policies to achieve a cherished goal. Political Science plays a key role in helping us to understand those things in a sophisticated, careful way beyond the public debate that we see in the news. Ornithologists study birds, but they don't want to be birds. Very few Political Scientists want to be politicians. We study politics and we want to understand those processes.


5. In regards to the Obama administration's recent policy change towards Cuba, how do you think the behavior of younger Cuban-American voters is shaping the new civil engagement with the island?


It all has to do with a generational change. A significant number of their parents had an experience in Cuba that led them to be very anti-Castro. I do not believe that they are anti-Cuban, they are anti-Castro. But I think that as Cuban children have grown up in the United States and had different life experiences, we would expect that this will bring them a greater degree of openness to change that will stand in contrast to the attitudes of their parents. Also, with easing of restrictions on visiting family in Cuba, I would expect that many of these families will end up being supportive of an overall pro-Cuban policy.