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Colorado Springs, Colorado
Seventy miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs is the second largest city in Colorado. The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS), with fewer than 10,000 students, is the fastest growing campus in the CU system. Its sociology department, consisting of 8 full time faculty, is pretty much typical of the discipline in terms of its leaning to the left. Members have been in the department for an average of 12 years (range of two to 28 years), so the question becomes, what keeps us here in what Time magazine referred to several years ago as a “white-bread” community? We attempt to provide a fuller picture of Colorado Springs, and in the process help answer this question.
Below are brief pieces from the Travels with Erik blog, which follows Erik Olin Wright, 2012 ASA President, and Jean Shin, ASA Minority Affairs Program Director, on their visits to colleges and universities in the south and southwest in late March. Their goal is to connect with students and faculty from underrepresented groups and highlight the importance of sociology and the opportunities available to those who study it. To read the blog in its entirety, see www.speak4sociology.org/TravelsWithErik.
The theme for the 2012 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association is “Real Utopias: Emancipatory Projects, Institutional Designs, Possible Futures.” Thomas Moore coined the word “Utopia” in the early 16th century as a pun on two Greek roots—no place and good place. Utopia is a fantasy world of perfect harmony, peace and justice. When politicians want to summarily dismiss a proposal for social transformation as an impractical dream outside the limits of possibility, they call it “utopian.” Realists reject such fantasies as a distraction from the serious business of making practical improvements in existing institutions. The idea of real utopias embraces this tension between dreams and practice: “utopia” implies developing visions of alternatives to existing institutions that embody our deepest aspirations for a world in which all people have access to the conditions to live flourishing lives; “real” means taking seriously the problem of the viability of the institutions that could move us in the direction of that world. The goal is to elaborate utopian ideals that are grounded in the real potentials of humanity, utopian destinations that have accessible way stations, utopian designs of viable institutions that can inform our practical tasks of navigating a world of imperfect conditions for social change.
In the introduction to their book on department leadership, Walter Gmelch and Val Misken state that “too much is at stake in this time of change and challenge to let leadership be left to chance or taking turns. The department chair position is the most critical role in the university, and the most unique management position in America” (2011). Yet, according to the authors, only 3 percent of department chairs in the country receive leadership training.