Peter Ubertaccio isn’t sure how the media first found him. An associate professor of political science and recently named dean of Stonehill’s new School of Arts & Sciences, he’d begun pitching nonacademic writing about political parties and data to local newspaper outlets when he received a call from a local reporter asking for his views on a pressing political issue.
“I pay attention to practical political issues, which is not always the case with political scientists,” he says. “So it helped this reporter that I had an eye on what was going on.”
Things took off from there. Ubertaccio is now regularly asked to weigh in on political matters from local elections— including the Massachusetts gubernatorial races— to national issues that impact the state and its lawmakers. Routinely quoted and featured by The Boston Globe, NBC Boston, New England Cable News and WGBH, he has also been featured in national news publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Ubertaccio credits his frequent calls — he fields as many as 10 in the weeks before a major election — to his nonbiased views based on sound research rather than partisan opinions. “I try to base my assessments on what recent history tells us about the potential success of a policy or politician, not a judgment made by one party or the other,” he says.
In addition to winning media attention, Ubertaccio’s fact-based discourse has helped make Stonehill’s Martin Institute for Law & Society — which he directs — a dynamic center where practical politics and political history are valued and discussed. The institute regularly hosts events with public figures — Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey as well as Congressman Joe Kennedy were recent guests — along with candidates for office, who come to share their views on key issues and meet members of the Stonehill community. “It’s a place where students can get an up-close view of the electoral process and meet policymakers and candidates for office,” he says. “It brings a lot of energy to campus.”
Although Ubertaccio says his role as a news source hasn’t changed his approach in the classroom, the articles do provide fodder to enhance his students’ understanding of the context in which political issues play out. Noting that a long interview with a journalist can, at times, be reduced to a single sentence that may not fully capture an idea, he makes clear to students that the opinions he expresses in the press are just that. “I want them to recognize that there are multiple ways to process or understand a political phenomenon,” he says.
Ubertaccio also asks students to take a closer look at the facts and historical context behind an issue, such as the recent presidential executive order banning entry to refugees from seven countries, to help them forge their own opinions. “Rather than discussing why I disagree with the president — which they may know from an article — I ask them to look at what executive orders are and where we find sources of presidential power,” he explains. “I’m teaching them how social scientists look at the critical questions we’re living through right now.”