Talking Leadership with Grad Students

Logo for the Graduate Student Congress at the University of Kentucky.Today I had the honor of having been invited to speak at the University of Kentucky’s Graduate Student Leadership Conference. My talk was called “Democracy and Leadership in Higher Education: A Talk for Graduate Students.” I seconded some of the prior speaker’s remarks, which concerned the value of networking, including online and via social media. One student had expressed her aversion to social media. I explained that at least one wants to have a good Web site, as people do want to look you up some when getting to know you. One avenue that can help are social media profiles, but a good Web site can do wonders too. I would encourage some of the same things. He had said that Facebook isn’t a great medium, but that’s because he was thinking of one’s personal Facebook profile. And obviously he hasn’t read my post about why scholars need Facebook author pages (and since I wrote that piece, my author page following has grown from ~2k to ~141k).

Eric Weber delivering a different talk years earlier, not the one mentioned in this post.

Photo of the paperback and hardback editions of 'Democracy and Leadership.'I wasn’t there today to talk about social media, though. Instead, I spoke mainly about my 2013 book, Democracy and Leadership, and showed what I think we still have to learn from Plato, even if it needs updating for the modern and democratic era. I find a lot of value in reminding myself of what Plato’s Socrates says in the first book of the Republic. There, Socrates says that good people won’t be willing to lead. They’d rather others do it. But, some compulsion weighs on good people, inspiring them to be leaders against their inclinations. That compulsion is the fact, in his way of thinking, that worse people will lead. In the democratic era, the language of good people and bad people generally rings as unpleasant at best. My translation for democracy is to say that the compulsion could be instead that good people care about problems, injustices, that could be ameliorated with effort. Good people don’t want to be at the top for its own sake, but accept positions of responsibility because of what would happen if other people would not stand up to address key problems.

Bust of Socrates.

Socrates.

After that, I explained how and why I think it’s important that we continue to learn about leadership from Plato, even while we disagree with and let go of his authoritarian outlook. In other words, how he characterizes the virtues of leadership is problematic, but there’s no doubt that wisdom is important for leadership, for example, including in the democratic era. It just needs to be understood, pursued, and embodied democratically. So, I talked about what I take that to mean in many contexts of leadership today, but focusing on prime challenges for grad students. After all, good people will need compulsion in grad school too. Leadership is generally thankless, or worse. Plus, it takes a great deal of time and effort, which generally means a distraction from one’s other work. As such, engaging in leadership efforts as a grad student may well mean taking longer to finish one’s program. That’s something serious to accept. To want to lead despite that may well take some compulsion. Even if it does, however, grad student leaders would be wisest if they engage in democratic practices, acknowledging the dangers, challenges, and harms that can come from leading. They should also beware not to carry the world on their shoulders, as time is short, even at its longest, in graduate school (or we generally want it to be), and colleges and universities are slow-moving, relatively conservative institutions. So, at best one can make incremental change and pass on to the next group of leaders their chance to make a further difference.

As such, leadership in the grad school context should stay humble and stoic about what’s possible, want to lead for the right reasons, and be award of the costs, challenges, and reasons not to lead, all while going after it anyway in those cases that truly call for such a sacrifice.

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P.S. Of course there was more detail in the talk, but this is the gist of what I had to say this morning, and the people in attendance seemed to appreciate thinking through these matters with me, raising some very thoughtful and valuable questions. My thanks go out to James William Lincoln and the Graduate Student Congress for the invitation.

Invited talk at the University of Kentucky Law School’s faculty lounge, on “Culture, Law, & Justice: On Expression vs. Cultivation in Speech.” It will focus on freedom of speech and government speech, along with their limits.

Date: September 26, 2016
Time: 12:00-01:00 p.m.
Event: Invited talk on "Culture, Law, & Justice: On Expression vs. Cultivation in Speech"
Topic: Culture, Law, & Justice: On Expression vs. Cultivation in Speech
Sponsor: The University of Kentucky School of Law
Venue: The Faculty Lounge
859.257.1678
Location: 620 S. Limestone
Lexington, KY 40506-0048
USA
Public: Public

My Latest Essay – on the Intentional Costs of Comfort

Published in the 'Southwestern Philosophy Review,' 31, Issue 1, 2016, 19-24.

Hi folks. Dr. John Lachs.It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted. There’s a reason that they say moving is one of the most stressful times in life. It certainly is. Among the many things I’ve been meaning to post is my latest essay, which is a commentary piece I wrote and originally delivered at the 2015 meeting of the Southwestern Philosophical Society conference. The society met in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University. That doesn’t sound very Southwestern, admittedly, but it’s a great group. The essay was a response to the keynote address by Dr. John Lachs of Vanderbilt. It was an honor to comment on his talk, “The Costs of Comfort.” John has been a mentor of mine for close to 20 years. As you’ll see in my commentary essay, however, that doesn’t mean that I went easy on his argument.

This is a photo of the top of the first page of my essay.

In philosophy, we say that “criticism is the fondest form of flattery.” The idea is that engaging in argument with someone’s ideas isn’t a bad thing. It’s joining in with the author in the pursuit of the truth. The honor is in taking someone’s ideas seriously, thinking hard with him or her, or them, and about something of importance attended to in the piece. In this essay, I respond to Lachs’s arguments about “The Costs of Comfort.” It’s a work in progress, though the version I reply to was also published, with my response to it. The costs of comfort are significant, Lachs argues, and some of what “reformers” want to change about present problems can amount to an unwillingness to accept the costs of living the comfortable lives so many of us enjoy today. We may bemoan environmental degradation, but summers in Mississippi are brutal enough even with air conditioning.

About many examples, Lachs is quite right and reasonable, but there are, I argue, avoidable costs of comfort. There are also costs of comfort that are not only accidental, but actually intentionally targeted towards people who are thereby disadvantaged. Racism and other forms of cultural violence lead all kinds of costs of our comfort to be put upon groups made to suffer their weight. In my essay, I defend the need for “reformers,” not for the basic costs of comfort, but for the many troubling cases. Many people reasonably feel for animals and I certainly agree that factory farming needs reform, but when the bugs start to get into my house or my bed, I feel no remorse for hiring the exterminator to keep certain levels of comfort at the expense of bed bugs.

Photo of a bed bug.

How much sympathy would you feel about hundreds of these critters living in your sheets?

That said, injustice is not some simple thing to sacrifice to beat the heat or to keep the bugs out. If we can significantly reduce air conditioning costs with white roofs instead of black ones, furthermore, shouldn’t policy encourage such reforms? If we can raise chickens in far more humane ways than in the cages that are so troubling, why not endure the small discomfort it takes to make that change? Reform can overreach and be unrealistic, but it can also be absolutely vital for good people to sleep at night.

It’s easy for the most comfortable among us to focus on the simpler examples than injustice. Yes we like our comforts, but in time, so many innovations can at least reduce the costs we cause, and still other costs are simply unjustifiable.

If you want to check out my essay, which is a lot more specific than this quick post, visit my Academia.edu page with the piece.

If you’re interested in a speaker for your event, visit my speaking and contact pages. You can also “like” my Facebook author page and follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber.

Video: “Poverty, Culture, and Justice,” @ Purdue U

This is a screen capture from my talk at Purdue University in February of 2016.

I’ve posted a number of recordings of interviews and talks I’ve given on Uniting Mississippi. This talk is on my next project, which is still in progress. The book is titled A Culture of Justice. One of the chapters that is in progress is the subject of the talk I gave at Purdue University. Here’s the video, about 1hr 28 mins:

If you’re looking for a speaker, visit my Speaking and Contact pages.

“‘Uniting Mississippi,’ Ep4 of Philosophy Bakes Bread”
by Eric Thomas Weber

Sorry, listening to the audio on this website requires Flash support in your browser. You can try playing the MP3 file directly by clicking here.

Philosophy Bakes Bread
February 6, 2016

BrownBagLunchPic2Here’s episode 4 of Philosophy Bakes Bread, titled “Uniting Mississippi.” You can listen to it here above or you can visit the podcast’s page for this episode here. You can subscribe to the podcast’s RSS feed here. If you prefer, you can download the MP3 file here and listen to it later.

iTunes has it too.

“Uniting Mississippi”

This episode considers what philosophy has to say about leadership. It features a recorded presentation I gave at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture on my September 2015 book, ‘Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South.’ Though Mississippi is the focus of my application, the principles and challenges apply through the South and beyond.

Logo for Philosophy Bakes Bread, which is a loaf of bread.The transcript for the intro to this episode is available here. The bulk of the episode is a recording of a live talk I gave, for which I do not yet have a proper transcript. For those interested in the project, for now I can direct you to the interview about the book that I gave The Clarion Ledger on the book, as well as to the actual book, available here.

Check out the other episodes of Philosophy Bakes Bread here.

Finally, if you’d prefer to “watch” the podcast on YouTube, here it is:

Video: US Judge Carlton Reeves on “Race and Moral Leadership”

Now that I’m finally catching up with my grant reporting obligations, I’m returning to work from October of 2015. We snagged some nice pictures of Judge Reeves while he was here and we recorded the video of the open forum discussion we held. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves of Mississippi’s southern district caught my attention in particular with the speech he delivered at the sentencing case of a racially motivated murder in Jackson, MS. NPR called his speech “breathtaking,” and it certainly is.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

When I read it I was so moved that after a period of absorbing his deeply thoughtful remarks, I felt compelled to write to him and tell him how much what he said meant to me and to Mississippi. On a whim, I ventured to invite him, were he willing and ever able, to come talk with one of my classes, particularly on the Philosophy of Leadership. He got back to me the same day to say that he would be delighted to come. That’s the kind of guy this now famous judge is. [Video is at the bottom of this post]

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Videoed Talk on ‘Uniting Mississippi’ at USM

Liberal Arts Building at the University of Southern Mississippi.I had a great time at the University of Southern Mississippi on Friday, January 29th. After a fun interview on WDAM TV in Hattiesburg, MS, I headed over to the new Liberal Arts Building on campus, which is beautiful.

Dr. Sam Bruton in the Philosophy and Religion department at USM organizes the Philosophical Fridays program, which runs in part with the general support from the Mississippi Humanities Council. I’m grateful to Dr. Bruton, to the department of Philosophy and Religion at USM, and to the MS Humanities Council for the chance to present in Hattiesburg and the permission to post the video of my talk here. The video was first posted here on the USM library Web site.

I’ve posted the talk on YouTube here below. If you’re interested in the book, you can learn more here or pick up a copy here.

If you enjoy the talk and are interested in a speaker for an upcoming event, visit my Speaking and Contact pages.

Fun Interview on WDAM TV

Photo of Miranda Beard in a school library.I had a delightful time in Hattiesburg, MS this January. My first stop while in town was at WDAM TV’s studio for the Midday News on Channel 7. I had the great pleasure of talking with Miranda Beard, who invited me to tell people about Uniting Mississippi and who announced my talk at the University of Southern Mississippi later that day, as well as the book signing afterwards. Miranda is a very impressive news professional and was very kind and welcoming.

Photo of WDAM TV's studio in Hattiesburg, MS.

The people at WDAM were very kind. The studio was easy to find, and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to drive. I will say that Mississippi’s actually quite a big state. I had to get up at 5 and be on the road at 7 to get to Hattiesburg by shortly after 11 for this interview. It was well worth it. One of the members of the audience at my 2pm talk said that she saw me on WDAM and that she had read my interview in the Clarion Ledger earlier in January.

Here’s the interview:

Thank you to Miranda and to Margaret Ann Morgan, who set this up!

If you’re looking for a speaker for your next event, or know someone who is, visit my Speaking & Contact pages. Also, follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber and “like” my Facebook author page.

TV Interview and Talk at USM

I’m looking forward to meeting the folks at WDAM in Hattiesburg, MS, on Friday, January 29th for an interview about Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South. I’ll be on live at around noon. I’ll post a clip of the interview as soon after it as I can. That same day (Friday), I’ll next head to the University of Southern Mississippi, where Sam Bruton in the Philosophy department hosts “Philosophical Fridays.” Check out the sweet announcement poster they made:

Poster of the announcement for my talk at 2pm in Gonzales Auditorium, LAB 108, on 'Uniting Mississippi.'

MHC-logo-FB“Philosophical Fridays” is a great initiative that engages audiences in and around Hattiesburg. The program has the support of the Mississippi Humanities Council, which is great.

If you’re in the area, come on by. I’m finalizing details about the book signing that’ll follow the talk.

Video of My Interview on WLOX TV News at 4

The video clip of my interview on WLOX TV News at 4 in Biloxi, MS, is included at the bottom of this post. I had a great time visiting the coast, seeing the beautiful water, and talking with some really nice people.

This is a still video frame from my interview on WLOX TV News at 4 in Biloxi, MS, about my book, Uniting Mississippi.

I also had a great time meeting Jeremy from Bay Books for the book signing afterwards at the West Biloxi Public Library. While I was at the TV studio, I was able to snap these photos.

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