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Inequality examined: WSU welcomes professors around the nation for the Foley Institute’s lecturing series

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 6, 2021

Angus Deaton speaks at a gathering at Princeton University after it was announced that he won the Nobel prize in economics in this October 2015 photo. Deaton will launch a Foley Institute lecture series on inequality beginning Tuesday.   (Mel Evans)
Angus Deaton speaks at a gathering at Princeton University after it was announced that he won the Nobel prize in economics in this October 2015 photo. Deaton will launch a Foley Institute lecture series on inequality beginning Tuesday.  (Mel Evans)

Eight professors will present research related to inequality in a lecture series hosted by Washington State University this fall.

The Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service hosts the distinguished lectures to “broaden the educational experience of WSU students and the surrounding community by bringing engaging and influential opinion leaders to campus in encourage thought-provoking discussions and ideas.”

The series begins on Tuesday with Professor Sir Angus Deaton’s lecture, “American inequality: the depths of despair.” Deaton, a professor at Princeton University, is the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2015.

After Deaton, lecturers from across the country will present findings on how inequality interacts with such factors as public policy, class and criminal justice.

Dr. Bruno Baltodano, a professor at Florida SouthWestern State College, is returning to WSU for The Foley Institute’s lecture. He completed his master’s and doctorate in political science at the university and remembers attending lectures similar to the one he is giving on Sept. 15.

“It’s sort of giving back to the academic communities that helped me,” Baltodano said. “From the perspective of a grad student, (these lectures) are a benefit. You get to hear from area specialists (even if you) aren’t familiar with these topics. The institute does valuable work in a number of different parameters.”

While The Foley Institute looks to host a diverse set of lecturers, Jennifer Sherman is taking a local look at systemic inequality. Sherman is a current WSU associate professor of sociology and will present her lecture, “The gentrification of Washington,” on Oct. 12.

Her work is based on research done for her book, “Dividing Paradise: Rural Inequality and the Diminishing American Dream.”

“While it is very local and recent work, it’s speaking to issues that have been around for a really long time and helps elucidate some big questions, like why Americans are so tolerant of inequality and how do we justify our positions in it,” Sherman said. “You can look at it on a small scale, but it’s relevant to people across the country and has been happening (throughout) the decade. It speaks to the broader and current time period in the U.S.”

The lectures are not limited to issues of inequality in America. Baltodano is presenting research on what inequality looks like for the Aymara, an Indigenous community in Bolivia.

Baltodano said the lectures are an opportunity to acknowledge systemic issues around the world that mirror America’s issues with inequality.

“There’s this commonality and connection between Indigenous people that precede the nations as we know them,” Baltodano said. “Native Americans in the United States live in the richest country in the world, but there is still a clear difference in terms of status and quality of their lives. That is similar (with Indigenous groups) around the world.”

Beyond the presentation of research, The Foley Institute will connect professors in person, something that participants haven’t experienced recently due to COVID-19 protocol. Former and current WSU faculty across disciplines can build bridges in their work outside of their respective expertise.

“A lot of us have gone a year and half without seeing people in our departments and additional committees,” Sherman said. “To be around people who share the same interest and passion as you around the campuses is really exciting.”

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

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