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ONE-ON-ONE with Jean Harris, Ph.D.

Jean Harris, Ph.D.Get to know Jean Harris, Ph.D., professor of political science, co-director of the new Center for Ethics and Excellence in Public Service.

You’ve had a busy few years as an expert on presidential first ladies, a go-to for national outlets on Scranton as a political battleground and Pennsylvania as a swing state, an active member of the Lackawanna County League of Women Voters, and the co-director of the new Center for Ethics and Excellence in Public Service (CEEPS), not to mention, of course, your teaching! What is one crucial thing you’ve learned these past few years?

More people now understand that our collection of public servants — those who are elected, appointed and hired based on their merit and expertise — must look like the people they are hired to serve. For our governments — national, state and local — to understand and address the diversity of views and needs of the people they serve, the public servants in each government must mirror the diversity of the people they serve.

Tell us, how has students’ interest in politics changed over the past few years?

In general, students’ interest in politics increases and decreases based on what is happening in the world around them. This is true for all of us. When we see things happening around us that violate our values, or that we believe can impact us, we become more interested in what is happening. We may even be mobilized to action.  In the past few years, students have expressed greater interest in becoming politically engaged in their communities — locally and globally. The University meets these students where they are, fostering their capacities to be “men and women for and with others,” not just by engaging in acts of charity but also by addressing systemic and institutional problems.

Why was it important to you to weigh in on the role Scranton played in the presidential election?

National and international media are interested in Scranton voters every four years, not just when presidential candidates have a connection to Scranton (Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden). The 2020 presidential election brought the largest and most diverse group of journalists to the Scranton area. I can spend a 50-minute class or two explaining why there is so much interest in Scranton during presidential election years. However, instead, I will just say that I appreciate the opportunity to offer a local perspective to media during presidential elections and to use a gendered lens in my political analysis. I integrate into my comments the reality of women’s power in elections, which influences the public policies officials bring to the table as well as policy solutions presented.

CEEPS Opening

 

CEEPS launched on Oct. 14. At the opening, from left: Jeff Gingerich, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs; Jean Harris, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Ethics and Excellence in Public Service; Michelle Maldonado, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; JoyAnna Hopper, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Ethics and Excellence in Public Service; University student Clara Downey, who spoke at the opening; and U.S. Senator Bob Casey.

 
 
CEEPS — designed to “foster the development of ethical and competent public officials and civically knowledgeable, responsible and engaged community members” as well as serve as a resource to train students — launched this fall. How did conversations about this Center begin?

The Political Science Department has a long history of collaborating with civic organizations to foster interest in and knowledge of politics and governance with the goal of preparing people to be effective, active participants in their governments. During the past two decades, after cases of public servant corruption in NEPA, government officials serving the people of NEPA have approached members of the University community with the question: Is there something the University can do to enhance the understanding of NEPA residents and potential and incumbent public servants about the ethics of public service? In the fall of 2019, then-Scranton president Fr. Pilarz determined it was time for the University to answer this request for action.


“Students’ interest in politics increases and decreases based on what is happening in the world around them.”


What do you hope CEEPS will achieve in the first year and in the long term?

I hope that CEEPS begins to develop a reputation as an excellent source of information on the roles and responsibilities of local and state governments and as the host of high-quality educational and networking opportunities to improve the capacities of public servants and politically interested NEPA residents. While we officially launched on Oct. 14, CEEPS has offered events throughout this past year including hosting a workshop on diversity, equity and inclusion for NEPA county and city officials and co-sponsoring candidate debates with the League of Women Voters of Lackawanna County.

How has the number of women in politics changed in recent years, and what does this change mean for our nation?

Not only have the numbers of women running for and winning office been increasing incrementally (with larger proportional increases now and then), but attention to societal conditions and public policies that impact the status of women has also increased. Research indicates that more women in government means more attention to problems that impact women, which are more often than not also problems that impact children and families. Research also shows that women govern with a style that tends to be more transparent — and open to listening to and communicating with their constituents — than do men, fostering more interest and participation in politics. Does this mean that more women in government means more efficient, effective and representative government? If so, how do we get more women in government? Two questions my students and I explore regularly!

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