Dr. Louis Gerson, 94, the political scientist and former department head who escaped the Holocaust as a teenager, died on October 16, 2016 in Southbury, CT. Gerson was a central figure in the post World War II development of UCONN; he was also active in local Democratic politics, serving on the Mansfield Democratic committee from 1969-1972. Yet perhaps his greatest legacy was as a member of the political science department – he taught courses over four decades and inspired many students to serve in various offices in Connecticut politics. Dr. Gerson also served as department head from 1967-77, and remained there until he retired in 1988.
Professor Elizabeth Hanson, now a Professor Emerita who still teaches in the political science department, offers her own personal reflections from her time as an assistant professor:
When I first came to UConn many years ago, Lou Gerson was the chair of the political science department. It was the last year of a decade in which he established the foundations of the department as we know it today. It was also a period of expansion. In 1969-70 alone he hired no less than 12 faculty members, most of whom received tenure at UConn and became notable contributors to the field of political science.
Alas, they were all men! In my first two years in the department I was the only woman in the 26-member department on the Storrs campus. Juicy anecdotes might be expected from this experience, but I cannot think of any. Lou was a supportive department head, and he must have set the tone that made me feel not just tolerated but also welcomed. My most vivid memories of Lou are around a table at lunch in the long defunct faculty club. He regaled us with his views on past and current U.S. foreign policy and always stimulated a lively discussion. It felt like we were talking to the Secretary of State and, in fact, I always thought he looked the part.”
At the department’s annual academic kickoff reception held on August 31, 2016, faculty, staff and students alike welcomed two new faculty members: Dr. Yonatan Morse of Georgetown University, and Dr. Alexander Anievas of Cambridge University.
Dr. Morse joins the department after a three-year stint as Assistant Professor of teaching and Associate Director of the Democracy and Governance Program at Georgetown. Upon graduating with a Ph.D. from Georgetown in 2013, he received the Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences. He then went on to publish in such journals as World Politics, Democratization, and Comparative Politics. In addition to teaching classes on the politics of Africa and democratization on the Stamford campus, Dr. Morse will also be teaching the required graduate seminar in Quantitative Methods this Fall in Storrs.
Dr. Anievas joins the department after serving as a Levrhulme Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. His research interests in international political economy, postcolonial studies and the origin and development of capitalism gave rise to his first two books: Capital, the State and War (University of Michigan Press, 2014) and How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2015). The former work garnered him the 2015 Sussex International Theory Prize.
Dr. Anievas will be teaching classes in IR Theory, Globalization and International Political Economy on the Storrs campus.
Michael Beschloss is an award-winning historian, best-selling author, and an Emmy-winning contributor to NBC News and the PBS NewsHour. But perhaps it is his social media prowess that makes him so relatable to young people—with more than 110,000 followers, he has the largest Twitter following of any historian on earth. Prior to giving his talk for the Edmund Fusco Contemporary Issues Forum on April 13, he met with POLS students Lucas Silva Lopez, Samantha Houghton, Marissa Piccolo, and Tim Faucett. What was discussed? Why, the crazy 2016 election, of course.
“Donald Trump appeared on The Apprentice for 14 seasons,” Beschloss told the students. “During those years, an average of between 5 and 20 million people per week watched him. That’s a pretty impressive following with which to start a campaign.” Beschloss also cautioned against making predictions in 2016: “Trump has broken every rule in American politics and survived. Who knows what rules remain to be broken?”
The New York Times Book Review has called Beschloss “easily the most widely recognized Presidential historian in the United States.” Albert Hunt of Bloomberg News has called him “a national treasure.”
He is currently working on a major history of American Presidents and wars from 1812 to the present, which will be published by Crown Publishers in 2017. For The New York Times, Beschloss writes a monthly business history column on Sundays and a weekly sports history column on Saturdays—the first time The New York Times has ever published a regular columnist on either of those subjects.
The latest (Winter 2016) POLS Newsletter is out today! It highlights the recent achievements of faculty, undergrads, Grads, and alumni. In this edition, we profile the remarkable career of diplomat Brett H. McGurk (UConn POLS ’96), who skillfully served as President Obama’s lead negotiator in last month’s prison swap with Iran. He is building a reputation for cool, constructive pragmatism in the uneasy realm of foreign policy:
Brett H. McGurk (UCONN POLS ’96) was President Obama’s lead negotiator in a secret prisoner swap with Iran last month. By his own account, McGurk choked up as he boarded a Swiss government jet in Geneva on the night of January 16 and greeted three Americans who had just arrived from years of detention in Tehran. More than anyone else, he was responsible for their freedom. “It was an incredibly emotional moment,” he said.
For the 42-year-old lawyer who began his diplomatic career in 2004 as legal advisor to both the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the United States Ambassador in Baghdad, it was a remarkable professional triumph — another chapter in a career that has prospered through Republican and Democratic administrations, and kept him at the heart of America’s most tangled relationships in the Middle East.
Even as Mr. McGurk was meeting furtively with Iranian officials over 14 months to negotiate the release of the Americans, he was leading a very public campaign as Mr. Obama’s special envoy to the global coalition fighting the Islamic State. He continues to be deeply involved in the complex politics of Iraq. The CPA which McGurk once advised was the American civilian administration that ran Iraq in the months after the 2003 invasion. “He’s a doer, who is nonideological, pragmatic, which very much meshes with the president’s approach,” notes Benjamin Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor.
“Over the years, the president has come to trust Brett’s judgment on things,” Rhodes said.
Mr. McGurk was later transferred home to serve as the director for Iraq on the National Security Council. In 2006, he came to President Bush’s attention after being one of the first to advocate a surge of American troops into Baghdad to stabilize what he called a “disintegration” in security. Mr. Bush made Mr. McGurk the lead negotiator of the Status of Forces agreement, which set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
“He had that combination of knowledge and passion, and then a prodigious work ethic,” said Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke.