Faculty Spotlight

Political Adviser

POLITICAL SCIENCE Professor Peter Ubertaccio is often called upon by news outlets to comment on the election process, major debates and political trends. Routinely quoted in The Boston Globe and on NBC Boston, New England Cable News and WGBH, he has also been featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Known as Ubs to his students, he is a wise mentor, as legions of his former advisees will attest. In July, the longtime director of the Martin Institute became the founding dean of the new School of Arts & Sciences. Here, Ubertaccio shares his thoughts on his new position, the political climate today and the most amazing afternoon snack. 

My favorite teaching moment: Spending two weeks in Washington, D.C., teaching one of my first travel courses. On one afternoon, the students and I listened to the Nixon tapes in the National Archives, discussing Watergate and the identity of Deep Throat. We were unaware that Vanity Fair had just unmasked Mark Felt until one of the archivists casually mentioned the news of the day.

As the founding dean of the new School of Arts & Sciences, my goal is to: Work with our students and faculty to build on our history and find new and innovative ways to support the foundational work of the traditional liberal arts.

Something most people don’t realize about the political process: It wasn’t designed to be efficient or easily responsive to democratic norms.

I often tell my students that: Politics is complex and messy, and there is always much to learn. We only stop being good analysts when we stop being students.

Our political climate today is: Noxious.

Favorite quote: From Shakespeare’s Henry IV 
GLENDOWER
I can call spirits from the vasty deep. 
HOTSPUR 
Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

If I weren’t a professor, I would be:  A stay-at-home parent specializing in the most amazing afternoon snacks (pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, for this time of year).

Most influential person in my life: My Ironman triathlete wife.

Something new that I recently learned: There are some very good people in North Carolina who get upset if you mistake Lexington-style barbecue for Eastern-style barbecue.

I am most curious about: How political culture intersects with food culture across the country.

In my office, I have: An autographed copy of the first book I read by a politician I admired, The Politics of Inclusion, by former N.J. Governor Thomas Kean.

In my free time, I enjoy: Binge-watching British detective series.


Halloween Watch

WITH ITS COSTUMES, candy and doorbell ringing, Halloween night can be the perfect time to research human behavior.

Psychology Professor Bonnie Klentz has known this for a while and has used Halloween to examine psychological principles such as self-awareness.

“It’s a simple but effective way to test theories with children in the field versus adults in the lab,” Klentz explains. “Kids who come to a house as trick-or-treaters become anonymous research participants.”

Back in 1979, Klentz and collaborators, with the help of student research assistants, set up mirrors behind Halloween candy bowls at 30 houses, advising trick-or-treating children that they could help themselves to one treat. The researchers were positioned incognito behind sheets decorated with Halloween-appropriate drawings with viewing holes, so they could observe the children’s actions.

What the researchers found was consistent with self-awareness theory: When the mirror was present, allowing the children to see themselves as others might see them, they more frequently adhered to the one-piece rule, especially children age 9 and older. The Halloween setup allowed the researchers to collect data on 300 children over three hours.

In the last few years, the study has caught the attention of Los Angeles Times and Time magazine reporters who were writing stories highlighting such Halloween studies. Klentz and her research were featured in both articles. And today, the study continues to inform the reporting that is done on the topic.

“There’s been a push in our profession to communicate our findings more broadly to help positively influence healthier behavior and lifestyles,” says Klentz, whose specialty is social psychology. She also discusses her research in her classes so that students realize that they can work with faculty to conduct meaningful research.

While Klentz didn’t observe tick-or-treaters this Halloween, she notes that more conventional research continues to support the self-awareness theory. “When our attention is focused on ourselves and our behavior, we tend to engage in socially appropriate behavior.” This proves true for humans—even when candy isn’t in the picture.
—Story adapted from the Stonehill Faculty Focus.


Listening to Disney

JAMES BOHN, teaching fellow and music technology director, knew his students would like to learn about the music that complements Disney’s best-known movies. But to teach a class on this, he needed a textbook, so he decided to write one.

Six years later, Music in Disney’s Animated Features was published. In the book’s introduction, Bohn notes that Disney composers “provide as much motion as any animator, as much suspense as any effects animator, and as much color as ink and painters.”