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Podcast: Local Politics is the Best Politics with Professor Emily Farris

Posted on February 28, 2020


Emily Farris - GovLove

Emily Farris

Emily Farris
Associate Professor
Texas Christian University
Bio | Twitter


The best of American politics. Emily Farris, Associate Professor of Politics at Texas Christian University, joined the podcast to talk about teaching local politics. She shared how she includes local government in her courses and gets students to learn about what’s going on in Fort Worth, Texas. Professor Farris also shared her career path and what influenced her to study this field.

Host: Kent Wyatt

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Episode Transcript

Kent Wyatt

Good afternoon. Welcome to another episode of ELGLs GovLove podcast. My name is Kent Wyatt ELGL, co-founder and City of Tigard, Oregon, Communications Manager. Today’s episode, local politics is the best politics. Our guest is Emily Farris, TCU Professor and political scientist. Before we get into the details here, I do want to highlight a couple key things coming up for ELGL. One, if you’re not an ELGL member simple to do elgl.org You can join for as low as $20 for students $40 for individuals. ELGL 20 this year will be in Portland in May. So I hope you guys have signed up. If you haven’t registered tickets are still available.

 

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Kent Wyatt

And then lastly, and most importantly, at least for the podcast, five star reviews or reviews on iTunes are very helpful. We’re up to 171. And it’s a great way to help promote the podcast and some of the great work that our guests are doing. So with that said, how did we get here? Why are we talking to Emily today? Back in 2017, I think it was the end of the year GovLove episode where we talk about guests that we would like to interview. Emily was on my radar for some of the work that she’s done. And then some of what I’ve heard from her on Twitter. She has a very active, engaging Twitter presence. That is definitely worth following @emayfarris. And so seeing and hearing, what she’s interested in and how she’s approaching local politics, and a variety of other topics, wanted to connect with her today, and I think it’s probably especially timely with the elections coming up to hear from Emily and some of her insights. So with that said, it is time. We will start with our favorite ELGL GovLove lightning round questions. And the one I’d like to start with since we are an audio podcast. Some of you may know Emily or have seen Emily, but for those of you who haven’t, Emily, who would you say is your celebrity look alike?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know if I have, I have no idea. I’m not very good. I’m not very good with celebrities. I don’t, I don’t watch movies and I watch a lot of Real Housewives of everywhere and I don’t look like any of them. So I yeah, I have no idea.

 

Kent Wyatt

What about a favorite podcast that you listen to?

 

Professor Emily Farris

I’m really obsessed with You’re Wrong About. They take just moments in history and some true crime and re interpret it and kind of look back at the moments that we got wrong in history, and so right now they’re doing like the OJ Simpson trial. And yeah, it’s super great.

 

Kent Wyatt

So you are an alumni of Furman University. I graduated from Elon University in North Carolina. When I worked for Elon admissions, Furman was one of our rivals. Do you want to talk about how much better of a school Elon is than Furman?

 

Professor Emily Farris

[Laughter] I don’t know. How many fountains do you have? Furman’s claim to fame is that we’re such a beautiful campus and in fact, you know, as a college professor, now it’s like a little, I don’t know, embarrassing to admit, but that’s pretty much why I chose Furman is that when I was 17, and driving around, going on the college tour, we drove on the Furman campus and I thought wow, this place is really pretty. And I thought I could, I could do this for four years and so that was my big college choice.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well correct me if I’m wrong. I think you’re the one that was tweeting about it and this reminded me of Elon because we have a reputation which I think is true that we paint our grass to make it look really good. [Laughter] You posted a picture of some grass that looked really good and then there was the opposite [laughter] that was not much taken care of.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, that was right in between the building and my office is in and then the building that I’m teaching in this semester. There’s this tiny patch of grass that’s just like it, I mean, it puts like really nice golf courses to shame. But then if you look anywhere else on our campus, the grass is just normal. It’s just like it’s not bad. It’s not great. But this grass is really, really beautiful and that’s the kind of quality content you get on my Twitter. It’s just me walking and being like, this is some nice grass. [Laughter]

 

Kent Wyatt

That was that’s a hot topic in Elon depending on the grass. So it was interesting to see that. So I graduated in 2000, from Elon and I got my MPA at UNC in 2004. That was kind of before the online craze of class, taking classes online. As a professor, what is your what are your thoughts about online classes? I’m not sure if you teach any, or have been exposed to any of them, but thoughts about online learning?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, I don’t teach any and I’ve ever taken one. But we do have a couple of faculty members who teach online and I’ve thought about it. I think that it’s a great way to put more content out there that’s accessible. So I’m about to actually take one of my first kind of large classes, the MOOCs they’re called, of the open curriculum through Columbia to learn more about how to create more inclusive teaching strategies. So you know, I like that they are more accessible, that they can be creative in some of the ways that they try to connect with students, but I also just really value like face to face together in the classroom, like kind of beauty of a lecture with a seminar discussion. And so I haven’t done any online yet, but I can definitely see why some folks are drawn to them.

 

Kent Wyatt

So let’s dig into a little bit of how you got to your position where you’re at. I’m always curious, when I talk to our guests about their background and kind of upbringing. For me, my dad was a City Manager. So I was exposed to local government from an early age for good and bad people at the grocery store complaining about the garbage not getting picked up to the more positive of you know, seeing staff members interact with my dad and really, you know, genuinely appreciative for the work that he was doing. So for you what, what was your upbringing? Did your parents influence your career track?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, so I grew up right outside of Birmingham, Alabama and they small but like quickly growing suburb of the city that had I think kind of like what you might imagine a city like that and that a suburban city in Alabama would be in terms of its politics. And my mom was a local reporter and covered politics. And I was just always really interested in questions about politics and started out really thinking maybe I go to law school and be a lawyer, and I like politics, kind of is like an avenue to that route. And so I was really thinking about law school when I went to Furman and thought about that for a minute and decided that wasn’t the path for me and looked around and saw that the job that my professors had was like really cool, like you get to stay on college like in college forever, essentially and and just talk about ideas and research what you want and put things into practice and, and so yes, I was really attracted to that thinking about, you know, being able to stay in school forever, because I was a bit of a nerd. But I was always interested in cities as well, too. I think with my mom being a local reporter, with just opportunities I had to get involved in high school, also, politics and serve on a city board that was meant for young people to try to engage other young people in the city and then also beat growing up right next to Birmingham and growing up in Alabama and seeing the real impact that race and ethnicity has in local politics and wanting to better understand that in the context when I was growing up in the 90s, and the early 2000s, and seeing ways that certainly made some progress on race, but not made enough progress on race. And so all of that really attracted me to both policy, and at Furman I had a second major in urban studies as well, too. And so, kind of those factors all together, just the place that I was in my parents, you know, especially my mom and then just having really great professors who helped mentor me.

 

Kent Wyatt

For every time that you mentioned Furman I’m gonna mention Elon. [Laughter] So access to both great private schools. Talking about your parents, are there two or three traits that you really feel like you’ve taken away from them or benefiting from now that you’re kind of modeling their behavior in the way that you approach either your personal or professional life?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, I mean, I touch this thing for two or three. But the first thing that came to mind is that my mom was a reporter, as well as an editor. And I think about her a lot and kind of her diligence and, you know, the practice of writing and being a good, also in being a reporter, being a good interviewer as well, too. And so I remember listening to her do interviews or listening to her tape recorder as she was trying to find that right quote. And so that kind of, yeah, practice of writing and diligence and wanting to tell stories in a away and wanting to kind of have evidence, I think about that a lot of being influential to me and wanting to be involved. And I was also just involved in local politics too, and having a group of women that were engaged in local politics. And so I think both my mom and my dad really taught me the importance of being informed, being useful to your community, and helpful and knowledgeable resource. And so, yeah, I think all of that has, has gotten me to where I am and hopefully I serve them, you know, as I try to continue that legacy.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah. You mentioned staying informed. Where do you get your news and information from?

 

Professor Emily Farris

So I get it largely through Twitter. [Laughter] I follow. It’s kind of hard. You know, I’d be curious what your listeners think about this, because a lot of the national news, you know, local politics, don’t make it there. Even like really important big things happening in local politics, just, you know, because there’s so much nowadays in the news, it can just feel like you log online and it’s kind of flooding you and so the way that I’ve tried to you kind of know, cultivate my own news is by following reporters that I think are really interesting, who are studying things that I care about. And reading the local newspaper, so I, you know, read the Star Telegram and try to follow that, so that I get Fort Worth. And then I try to follow some reporters and read some national papers I, you know, regularly read the Washington Post as well to just stay up on American politics.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah. At kind of a simple level, I use Google alerts for key terms, city manager, city budgets, some you know all the cool terms that most people probably do[laughter] and then I news segment it with Twitter and you know, you’re right. I mean, there’s there’s so many interesting and good and bad ways happening in local communities and you really aren’t going to hear about it unless somebody tweets it and you see it or you’re following the right people. So, you know, there’s obviously there’s problems or challenges with social media. But I do feel like being on Twitter exposes you to a lot more just general topics that are happening in local government, assuming that you can kind of drown out some of the noise that’s out there, too.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, you know, I think it’s particularly challenging with the just the state of local media right now. So I have a project that I’d be happy to chat about a little more, but we’re, we’re looking at like, Can folks go on just local news and find, talk about the last city council meeting or the last budget or the last election and with you know, an increasing number of newspapers, either unfortunately, having to close or cut staff, it’s increasingly difficult to find even for your own city, much less somewhere else. And so, you know, I like Twitter because you can find some of those little court reporters who are doing that work but also local activists. I think about, you know, I’ve happened to learn a lot about Charlottesville, Virginia because I follow Molly Konger online and she goes to every city council meeting every practically every board meeting, and I get her direct voice about what’s going on and what she’s seeing as well. So, you know, and with the challenges to local media, you gotta try to find it wherever you get information.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, to your question, I think largely know that City Council meetings, budget meetings aren’t covered. The city that I work for city of 50,000 right up 15 miles outside of Portland. The Oregonian is the major newspaper we have. We even have a local Tigard Times and you know, less Oregonian, doesn’t show up at all and then the Tigard Times will occasionally but there’s really not a presence which I think is a detriment to local government and accountability. Because there there aren’t, there isn’t kind of that oversight. And even now, even when there is there’s just so much turnover in reporters that, you know, it takes a while to get up on what a city is about and how they do things. And I think it’s tough to have some of that investigative journalism that probably used to take place.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Sure. And I think even in the best case scenarios where we assume everyone’s doing their job, they’re trying their best. They’re, they’re working hard. It just means that you don’t have as many voices at the table. It’s hard for cities to then share, this is what we’re doing. This is what when we want your feedback, much less when we are we are concerned that maybe something isn’t above the board or, you know, something might be abused or used incorrectly as well.

 

Kent Wyatt

A couple of things that we’ve seen, I’d be interested in your take. First is, there’s cities, some regional organizations that actually have a reporter in their organization. What are your thoughts about that?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Hmm, I haven’t seen that.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, paid by the organization Metro, which is the regional government here. They did for a while not sure if they still do, but they had a, it was called the position was called reporter and they were supposed to report neutrally on some things that were happening.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, I think that might be challenging sometimes. But yeah, you know, my colleague [inaudible] views and strategic communications runs, like, you know, I can’t do justice to it, hopefully. So I apologize immediately, Jackie, but it runs kind of a year long certificate for folks working in public relations and yeah, Public Information Officers for cities or for Cox or county government and all kinds of different positions. And I can appreciate how difficult and I’ve done a class for them every once in a while about, you know, the importance of democracy and again, connecting with residents and I can appreciate how difficult it is to, to really want coverage and to want to be able to communicate and communicate effectively and let people know what you’re doing or when you need help and wanting to serve the residents and how challenging that can be.

 

Kent Wyatt

So the other position that you see you think the trend started in Detroit and I’ve seen it in a number of cities now, is the Chief Storyteller position. Do you think that’s a good approach for government?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, I I you know, cities have very limited resources. So you have to think about all these if you’re investing in one area, what are you then not investing in and, and how do those stories get told? So you know, the one example I give is that the City of Fort Worth to my knowledge does not where I am does not have one of those people, but the city does pay, have a line in its budget where it pays for essentially marketing to be done by this kind of Visitors Bureau, which does some of this and they just released a couple of videos that are really good, like really quality, excellent, that focus particularly on how for Fort Worth Houston while it has this kind of reputation of being a cow town and kind of like the old cowboys and so trying to move that narrative and, and shape and change that narrative, so that it’s more inclusive, it’s more representative, but also just more realistic. We do have cows that walk down our street twice a day, still, but we have a lot more than that. Right? And so I can appreciate that and kind of like, yeah, I enjoy that and I gladly do it. But then I can also just, you know, listen to activists on the other side, who say that you know, you, you want to kind of bring us out for marketing, you want to showcase certain communities and say, for instance, that y’all means all. But then when it comes to representation on council or when it comes to when policies are actually made, right, the real substantive work, we don’t feel that we’re represented or that our voices are being heard. And so that’s why I kind of just, it’s a bit of a trade off of, you know, you only have so many resources and how are you going to invest it and how are you going to make it where you’re telling stories that are authentic and, and meaningful.

 

Kent Wyatt

Sure. We have a number of listeners in the Texas in the state of Texas, specifically in Dallas Fort Worth. I read one time that you’d written that basically that you would read the political history of Dallas and Fort Worth to explain why those two cities are different. For folks who maybe aren’t from that area, what do you mean by that? Why are they and how are they different? And if you have any insights on why?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, so umm political scientists think sometimes about this idea of political culture that the origin of a place as well as kind of the development of the place and how the residents view their interactions with government, as well as their interactions with the economy and society more generally, that that then shapes the politics of that place. And for political scientists, and I tweeted this when I was I was teaching this in my intro class, I do a unit on state and local government, which is actually really rare in Intro to American politics, and it’s really frustrating for me, but that’s, that’s a side note. I was teaching this and I was thinking because we mostly talk about political culture at the state level. So Texas has a different political culture than Oregon or California. But we don’t like necessarily always dive down to the local level. And I was thinking like, it’s really fascinating to me that Portland feels so different than Dallas. So Dallas is larger than Fort Worth and Dallas is known for being more liberal than Fort Worth. Fort Worth is still the last major urban county in Texas that’s either still red or purple, depending on who you talk to and their political persuasions. But it’s more conservative than Dallas, and you just see differences in the policies that then come out of the two cities. So in Dallas, they’re opening up or perhaps they’ve already opened I haven’t I don’t pay quite as much attention to Dallas politics vis-a-vis Fort Worth politics, so I apologize. But they’re opening and I think some funding up for immigrants to be able unauthorized immigrants to be able to defend themselves and deportation proceedings or some more just services for immigrants vs in Fort Worth, we voted to not join onto the SB 4 lawsuit which was seen as a really punitive piece of legislation that authorized local law enforcement to get involved in questions about immigration, broadly speaking. And so just like the two different you know, we’re separated by about, I don’t know, depending on traffic 30 minutes on a very good day, probably if you’re driving like I am, but but maybe like 30 to 60 minutes, and it seems just like a world apart. You could also look at it in terms of our transit. You know, Dallas has a whole transit system, has streetcars, buses. And Fort Worth has a very limited bus system. And so I was just really interested because I’m still fairly, I mean, I think until the day I die, I will always be considered new to Texas because I did not grow up and live here, but I’m still fairly new to Texas, and so I yeah, I was just really fascinated to know more about just the history and let people think what really creates that difference of origin and like political development between the two cities.

 

Kent Wyatt

I mean, I’m in the opposite situation. We moved to Oregon 12 years ago, and that’s basically considered a native Oregonian. [Laughter] Not too many people that were born and raised here. I don’t know if you’ve delved into this in your research or just have an opinion on it. But speaking about Dallas, do you think it matters whether you have a City Manager, Manager Council form, or strong Mayor?

 

Professor Emily Farris

I do think it matters. I think it matters just on the kind of first simple layer that so many people can’t even tell you who their Mayor is, which is a shame, but much less try to explain to you what a manager is or who the manager is. You know, I take my I teach a class in urban politics and obviously teach the different forms of local government and talk about managers and I take my students to a city council meeting, and they do an observation of the meeting where our city manager is up there on the, you know, on the platform, and at that point, students had just learned usually in the semester, what kind of that form of government looked like. And I ask them, like, if you hadn’t taken my class, or if you hadn’t done you know, the reading, would you have any clues that, that man is the real person running the show? Because he’s not speaking. He’s not talking. For the most part, our city manager rarely interjects and I think that’s probably fairly common. And so just from the perspective of knowing who to hold accountable for voters to know, who should I go to, what Who should I ask questions of like, how does this system work. I think it matters.

 

Kent Wyatt

So one of the many things that stuck out to me in your Twitter account and something that I was following from afar was a Twitter interaction that you had about a gentleman I guess, or a man who had been appointed to the Human Relations Commission of Fort Worth. You had expressed some concern because of his previous comments that basically were homophobic, anti-immigrant, sexist. How did that situation play out? And are you welcome at City Hall there now or what’s up? [Laughter] [Inaudible]

 

Professor Emily Farris

So because I do try to follow local governments both as an academic who’s interested in questions but also as a resident who cares about my city. And because of the fact that our city like has one reporter who is charge of all of local politics, and so he doesn’t often go to the HRC meetings. I follow the Human Relations Commission. They don’t tweet, they live Facebook. I don’t know what to call that. Anyways, they post the Facebook Live during their meetings. And so I try that either. I usually I can’t catch it while it’s happening. And so I I go back and I was reading those. And so it happened over the summer, which I can only imagine if I had I don’t know if it had been another woman or it just, I don’t I can’t tell you why I thought to myself, like, let me go look at these on a day that I did not have much to do. I mean i always have stuff to do as an academic, but I did not.

 

Kent Wyatt

I was wondering because I was a ….guy.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah. But I had previously applied to be on the HRC and had been rejected. So I yeah, I guess I particularly I’m kind of curious about what they do and how they were doing things and like they had tagged one of their members of HRC. And so I clicked on his Facebook profile and it was public. So I didn’t go over like super stalking or anything like that. But it was public and immediately it was just, I mean, you didn’t have to scroll back in time. It was just a flood of transphobic comments of anti immigrant comments of yeah, deeply homophobic and like racist, bigoted comments. And I was just immediately outraged because this is the commission that’s in charge of enforcing our anti discrimination ordinances. This is a commission that I have worked with doing they have a movies that matter series where they show movies like, for instance, I was on a panel discussion after and they showed a movie about [indecipherable]. So this is an organization that’s committed to anti discrimination. And really, we’re like getting rid of that in our city. And there’s a member who is just actively publicly engaging in that. And so that frustrated me quite a bit. And so yeah, I took to Twitter and screenshot some of the posts and asked why is this person on this commission particularly when not that they had to choose me but you know, as a scholar who has studied race and ethnicity, studies local politics, and I had not been selected for that commission, and this individual had, so it particularly kind of like what’s going on here. And so I wrote one of those Change.com petitions and got folks to sign it and it was summer and so the council was on their mid kind of summer break and but I started reaching out to council members and asking them like, do you support this individual on the council? Do you think he should be removed? How long did y’all know? For some it also turned out that like, other folks have complained before. And I certainly don’t think that my voice should be privileged over anyone else just because I have allowed Twitter mouse or that I have in some position of power in the city as like a professor. That’s not okay with me. And so, so yeah, so I guess I just got online and got really angry and active. And so I remember the council agreed that he should not be on the council. They came back after their break and voted to remove him. The HRC first also recommended removing him and then the council followed up recommending to remove him. I assume that I’m like, still welcome. I took my students afterwards. And, but the I think the councilmembers know that I’m somebody who’s watching, that I care I at least I hope they that’s the perspective they take. I’m not there just to antagonize or call out things that are wrong, but that I, I think you know that they should take their job seriously that it really does matter. And I want them to do a good job and to do it right.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, kudos to you for that.

 

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Hey GovLove listeners, Ben Kittelson here. And as a reminder, we are fundraising to support the podcast that you love. Right now ELGL is accepting donations that will be used to take GovLove to the next level. And one of the perks of participating in this campaign is that if you give to the campaign, you can get a shout out on the podcast read by me. So today we’ve got four more shout outs from gracious GovLove supporters. And so here they are. First up, Molly. She’s dedicating this to Libby Cygwin for being a great sister and introducing her family to ELGL, which is a great organization. Brandon Chapman has a shout out and he really appreciates the joy that the GovLove podcast has brought to his life. He writes, the joy and the ability to learn new things that have helped me in my role as city council member. I dedicate this podcast shout out to Jim Chapman who was city council member at 18, the mayor at 21, and then a county supervisor for nine terms. He showed me what political service was all about. Thanks, Brandon. That’s really nice. And then we got a shout out from JC Hutchison. They write great to hear the works of other local governments and their innovators. It’s inspiring!!! with three exclamation points, which I appreciate. And our last shout out is actually an anonymous submission. They write the depth and breadth of the voices GovLove promotes is uplifting to me. There hasn’t been a single podcast where I didn’t take away a great nugget of wisdom or an idea that sparked some needed motivation. Awesome. What great shout outs and sentiments to share about the podcast. Thank you all for supporting GovLove and special shout out to Molly, Brandon, JC and the anonymous submission. For listeners that are interested in donating, want to find out more they can go to elgl.org. Now back to the interview.

 

Kent Wyatt

And it leads me to a larger point or topic that I wanted to cover with you. And that is diversity in local government. ELGL, has been kind of one of our tenets from early on really gender, then more wide ranging through the work with civic pride and other groups. And we hear from our members, most who probably, a lot of them who don’t want to talk about it publicly. But some of the challenges and some of the upsetting situations I guess they find themselves in, in their organizations. From your vantage point, do you see the current state of local government, do you see from more of a staff side or even I guess, the elected side? Do you see it becoming more diverse?

 

Professor Emily Farris

That’s a great question. Some of my research talks about how it’s just really hard to answer those questions. It’s hard to know because there’s no great local data. We don’t have even there’s no local data set of here’s the top or, you know, top 500 cities by population or however you want to cut it even 100. Here’s a list of their mayor’s, here’s a list of who their chief of staff are, or who their city manager who’s the city manager, or the staff overall. And a long time ago, when I was still in grad school, I was trying to collect some of that data on staff and was trying to do public records requests for cities and cities either sometimes just ignored me or said we don’t even know. So it’s really difficult to say if things are changing in terms of elections, we’re still I would optimistically say yes. But I also would kind of cautiously still say that that’s very limited because we’re I’m still hearing so many first right Latina elected mayor for the first African American woman elected mayor. And so we’re still in the categories as the first, right. That still means there’s a long way to go because there’s still so many other you know, there’s it’s the first. So yeah, I would like to think that things are changing in terms of representation and, and being more representative of the cities that folks live in. But I also still think that there’s quite a number of hurdles and we just don’t have good data on it to that, for me to be able to tell you that this percent of cities have this kind of person in office.

 

Kent Wyatt

Your, your experience follows closely with what we’ve experienced in the diversity dashboard, which was intended to look at Chief Administrative Officers, the gender and race and collecting that information even with some paid staff and some students working on is a tall task and not made easy. Usually a lot of times it’s the state associations that probably could be a little more forthcoming. The data part is disappointing because it certainly would help. We have anecdotal evidence of certain things but not to have that is disappointing and especially as a government where everything is supposed to be public, we certainly don’t make this step easy at all. Building off this in general, so I work for city of 50,000. Portland that’s known as one of the widest areas of the country. But for our city, our Latino population is up to 20%. We’re actively trying to do more in the DI area. And I think we’re probably similar to some of the cities out our listeners listening or working for out there is kind of not knowing what to do and where to start? And like how do you start having an impact, one, kind of with your internal culture and then to with attracting boards commission elected officials who bring more diversity? What would be your advice for cities that are kind of embarking on this journey?

 

Professor Emily Farris

That’s a good question. The City of Fort Worth tried to do a racial task force to do some assessment of our own cities culture, our own city government, the local politics and do an assessment of where work was still needed and make a series of recommendations to the council. I think some would say that went better. And others would say that, that process did not go well. I think that for folks who thought that it wasn’t perhaps as productive as it could have been they thought that the folks who were chosen to serve on that task force were really limited and that they were hand selected and meant to be folks who would agree with the current leadership. And so I think that, that situation illustrates that, you know, if you want to engage in the work of really thinking seriously about what each of those words mean, what what diversity means, what, you know, equality means or you know, thinking about issues of equity as what it means to be inclusive, that that should probably likely be something where you’re going to be challenged, and it’s not going to be, you know, a completely smooth process or completely comfortable process for some folks who have always been in leadership or who have always seen themselves in leadership. And so, I guess I would urge and starting at kind of setting some of those expectations And realizations about what the goals are, and a serious conversation about that and understanding that there, there might be recommendations and suggestions that really change what’s going on and really make some, you know, changes that folks in power might not want to be comfortable with. So for instance, with the City of Fort Worth one of those recommendations that I think folks hope go, some of the people who are not happy with the task force helped went would go even further, would be bringing in kind of an independent review board of the police and an independent commission that would evaluate our police and I know that that’s something that a lot of cities have talked about, too. And so, being open to looking to other places that you might not think about your city you’ve seen, you know, sometimes we think about and I have my students do this when they write a final project for me, they analyze the future policy and I tell them go find a city somewhere comparable, and look at what their policy on that topic is. So oftentimes we kind of think about like, who are our fellow city youth? Like what kind of who do we compare ourselves to or who do we think of we are comparable to. So some of the sort, right mean like that, we look beyond that, right? Like, that’s not, we just want to stay where we are and not change. That’s where we look for, like, really want to push ourselves when we look to models elsewhere. And so, you know, I think starting and thinking what have other cities done that seem to be handling this better, or seems to be further along on this process. So that could be starting with a task force. It could be starting with community listening forums. It could be bringing in an outside group from you know, one of the state organizations or a national organization and asking them to come in and do some training. I think there’s different options. But really, I think at the start starting with this, you know, mindset that we are going to engage in this work in a meaningful way that that might mean that we have to reconsider who we are or what we do.

 

Kent Wyatt

Look, let’s talk about the meeting of the kind of your both your worlds, how from the local government side, we’re always looking or interested in partnerships and how we can use the resources around us or help make them even better. How from you in your ideal world, how do you think local governments could be partnering better with university colleges or universities?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Oh, wow, I think a lot of us, I oftentimes think about it from the perspective of how can universities better serve local government, particularly Fort Worth and so it’s interesting. I guess, I don’t think about it as much as how can local government serve us. But you know, I think that they’re, so one of the ways that I’ve thought about it and not just through local government, but just more broadly, is that for, for my classes or for my, I have access to resources to bring speakers in, have access to resources to have students work on various projects, collect data, do those kinds of things. And oftentimes, I don’t necessarily know who to turn to for that. So I have a class actually, that I’ve thought a lot about, I mean, not that deeply. I guess I thought often about it but perhaps not enough to move me off the couch, but about my survey research class, so that that would be a great opportunity for the city to get some polling data done, where they want to know something, and they don’t necessarily have to do an online survey, which is oftentimes I think what we do. But they could actually have well for my class 18 interviewers to go out and conduct some surveys and maybe some hard to reach population. So yeah, so I, I think building relationships is really key and making connections because I don’t I don’t know who to go to for those kinds of ideas. I, you know, I have teaching as you know, one part of my job, research is the other part, I have service, I have other obligations, I just don’t have as much time as I’d like to try to develop those. And, and it comes slowly, like slowly also bringing speakers in and I try to bring community leaders in. So I’ve brought the Mayor of Burlison into my Urban Politics class, I brought our economic director, development director into my Urban Politics class. I have brought a community organizer into one of my immigration classes. But making those relationships like just takes time, but I think creating spaces where you can, you know, we talked about the town gown a lot. But you know, just opening up spaces where folks interact and get to know each other so that then when I have an idea of oh, my class could do this or when a local elected official had an idea, we want to get some information about you know, I’m also if you ever if you follow me on Twitter, I’m really obsessed with sidewalks. You want to get more information about sidewalks and like, okay, I am your person. Like, let’s do it. I’m ready to do that …. Yeah, creating spaces where folks can build relationships.

 

Kent Wyatt

Let’s, let’s talk about your life inside the classroom. Do you read reviews from students? And I’ve noticed this was a new phenomenon since I was in school, but there are now sites that I guess you can leave reviews for your professor. Do you read those sites?

 

Professor Emily Farris

I have I try really hard not to because often times it’s the I call it the Yelp phenomenon in my class where the only time you’re going to go leave me a review is if you really loved me, but probably not. But more likely if you really don’t like me, so I try to stay away from this.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, luckily for you and our audience, I assembled a couple of those because I think it highlights, I think, the incredible work that you’re doing. And to sum it summarize quickly, what I learned is that if I was going to take your class, I need to be on time and participate, but specifically what a couple students had to say about your work and I think this will be enlightening for our listeners. She’s one of the most intelligent professors I ever had. She’s one of the most brilliant professors I ever had. These are two different people. Dr. Farris she’s one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever taken. She makes a class of this one, this one you might not want to listen to as I read. But she’s one of the most difficult classes. She leads one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever taken she makes a class harder than it should be with subjective grading. If you take this course you better not be taking any other classes if you want to receive a good grade. On the final one, let me let them leave on a positive note. She’s super funny and she you can tell she cares about what she’s teaching and that to me was really what showed through in pages and pages of reviews of your work. So when you read when you hear especially the glowing comments about your work, how does that make you feel?

 

Professor Emily Farris

[Laughter] The good ones are always nice to hear. But I tell my students that I want to set high but manageable expectations now there they don’t always agree. If either of us are living up to our ends of the deal for fulfilling those with that is they’re willing to kind of put in the work and view it that I’m I’m willing to You know, get their money’s worth out of tuition. So I, I try to make it high but reasonable expectations.

 

Kent Wyatt

When you teach an Intro to Local Government type class, what do you what type of knowledge do the students usually come in with about local government? Are they literally starting from zero or most of them have some idea of that form of government?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, so I teach in the Political Science Department. So our intro classes are much broader. So my intro classes all of American politics, my so the local politics classes, is actually an upper level class, but they’re still coming in with very little knowledge. One of the things that I really like about the class and I haven’t necessarily done anything to cultivate this, so I can’t take any credit for it, but that for urban politics, that class tends to get a lot of non majors. I get geography students, I get business students, I get pretty much kind of across the board, all kinds of different majors in that class. And so yeah, it means that for a lot of them, just like I met a of Americans, they don’t know much, or they may have gotten involved somehow kind of serendipitously or, you know, had a family member that was involved in local politics or they grew up and they’ve just been really interested and maybe they’ve worked on a campaign, but the kind of broad knowledge most of them even though it’s an upper level, and most of these units are upper level students, juniors and seniors, and some non majors as well. They don’t know too much.

 

Kent Wyatt

One of the topics I’m fascinated by, I guess this is a comment/question. So the only reason I have any writing skills at all is because of a graduate school professor I went to town and my papers with red marks and wouldn’t even grade them without me coming to his office for me to understand why and what I was doing wrong. I’m curious about your observations about the state of writing with students and how you approach and try to make them better, better writers.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah. So growing up with a mom who’s an editor, that was my like, middle school, high school experience, so I can certainly appreciate the role and value in a good editor and someone else reading your work. And I was very lucky to get that, I guess, pre college to strengthen my own writing, but I actually, you know, my students are fairly elite in their backgrounds and come to me with a lot of practice writing and experiences writing and for the most part, I think they’re pretty good writers. I, I think that even the ones who maybe struggle, it’s not a function of them not knowing or not being able to do it, it’s oftentimes a function that they haven’t put the time in. I don’t even think people have the time, my students are taking five classes and interning and like in leadership of their sorority, or they just haven’t chosen to take the time to put it in. So I’m actually pretty, you know, happy with the quality of my students, if I can give them enough time, give them enough space. And especially, I tend to create assignments that build on each other so that they’re doing a couple of things and I can give them that revision back and they can spend more time and we can structure some space throughout the semester when, when things are due. It turns out pretty well.

 

Kent Wyatt

So you mentioned you know, the classroom kind of as a professor of your classroom in service and research, rank those three in the ones you like the best, which one do you like the best and what which is least.

 

Professor Emily Farris

It depends on what day. [Laughter] I really like teaching, I definitely enjoy teaching it, but it’s overwhelming. So when I right now I’m teaching three classes and for folks, lots of folks teach four classes or even more adjunct  in at different universities. So I don’t want to come off as complaining because I have a fairly good gig, but I’m teaching three classes and one of those is a new cramp. And it means that for and I teach Tuesday, Thursday right now, but it means that Monday and Wednesdays I’m prepping and I’m trying to like get enough ready for students so that I’m, you know, on top of things in the classroom, and service work. And then Tuesday, Thursday, I teach pretty much the entire day or have office hours since I only have Friday for research. So right now, that’s why I say it kind of depends right now I kind of would maybe put research above it because I miss it and don’t have enough time for it. And look forward to summer when I have more space. Service is kind of last for me although I really value and recognize the importance of service. I have done a lot of service I think for a junior person, although now I’m 10 years so I’m not quite as Junior anymore. And building in a department, helped build this department of ethnic studies and trying to bring events on campus like organizing the oreal forum on campus. But service is a little is a little more all over the place. So I guess that’d be my ranking right now is kind of research, mostly because I miss it then teaching and service.

 

Kent Wyatt

One of the things this is outside the classroom that we haven’t touched on, along with everything else that you’re working on, you are a parent of a young child. I have an eight year old and 10 year old so I can finally see some breathing room. There’s other challenges of ages, but for me when we had our first kid, it really changed my perspective on my career and what I wanted to do for me, it actually made me more motivated to have an impact and find those ways you can help in the community or whatever your field is. I’m curious about your experience as a parent, and if that’s changed your trajectory of where you want to go in your career.

 

Professor Emily Farris

The biggest change I’ve noticed is that I absolutely am so much better at prioritizing and getting things done when I say they’re going to be done and kind of having cut off points because she’s in daycare but we pick her up or get her from grandma and grandpa at five, and then I have to I’m on with her. There’s no law I’m still going to work on this paper or I’m going to check an email and because I only have so much time before she goes to bed and I want to maximize that amount of time and so that’s, I guess the biggest change for me is that I’m, when I am at home and I’m with family that I’m, that’s what I’m doing. That’s my number one of my priority. And so that’s, that’s been really useful I think, for me to try to separate work life. So many of us, I think work jobs that are very easy to take home, and that there’s always something else to do. And you know what, I didn’t finish that to do list or I really have this deadline that I have to meet. And so that means I have to do this and she’s a good reminder of that. To wait, she’s not gonna wait. This can wait. She’s only right now she’s two years old and every day is more fun. It’s so cool to watch her grow and develop and I just don’t want to miss anytime. So I am getting better at prioritizing.

 

Kent Wyatt

So two follow ups on that, when your daughter listens to this podcast, probably in eight years or so, what do you want her to take away from this and the work that you do?

 

Professor Emily Farris

That’s really deep. [laughter] I don’t know if I’m, yeah, you know, I think especially having a daughter and you know, being a woman and studying local politics and studying just American politics in general. I hope that I’m a good feminist role model for her and that she’s proud of the work I did and, and kind of, I talked with my students, I really love giraffes. And there’s a whole long story about why I love giraffes, but I talk about how I love giraffes is that they stand tall, they stick their necks out, they were tripping. They think that maybe they can’t get and so I kind of hope that she thinks about me as that as kind of like the giraffe that you know, just tall and like, comfortable with my beliefs and reached out for things and kind of stuck my neck out for things. That, that would make me happy as her seeing me as like, you know, a woman of feminist values and really principles.

 

Kent Wyatt

So on a less serious note. Do you feel bad about having her tweet Elizabeth Warren stuff to help you out?

 

Professor Emily Farris

[Laughter] No, I will do whatever it takes right now to get Elizabeth Warren and so I’m tweeting she’s got this cute little play laptop. And so I don’t even tweet I don’t even really get out and text. I see when you text for the candidate you text for your computer. And that I haven’t even done that. So but like kids just pick up like the darndest thing. And so somehow she’s picked up that like mommy texted through her computer. And so she gets out her little computer next to me and it’s like, let’s text for Elizabeth. If it’s like, too adorable not to share and like, I don’t know, if it’ll win somebody over then. That’s great to do. But yeah, but I just think how cool it is, you know, for me I didn’t grow up seeing really women elected in office. And, you know, I was thinking back the other day that then the our last Mayoral race here in Fort Worth, which I got my students involved in was two women running against each other. And there was a man as well to a third party. Sorry. So I don’t mean to dismiss him. But he didn’t have much of a chance. He was kind of more independent. But, you know, just so I think about like, just how cool it is that my kids growing up and going to be able to see that women are running for office and getting elected as Mayor or hopefully as President.

 

Kent Wyatt

Yeah, I don’t want to, I don’t want to make you feel bad. Yeah I might. In 2016, both my kids had Hillary shirts on election night and were pretty devastated. You know, they were young, obviously four years younger and didn’t really know much about the candidates but just seeing how excited they were about having a woman president they grew up. When they were little, they had this ruler that had the picture of every president. And, of course, it’s all white males until you got to Obama. And they still look at that, and are a little discouraged, I think after 2016 and not being able to look back in history and see a President or vice president who is a female. So, I mean, for me, that taught me a lot of things. But you know, the power of seeing people in the positions that you want to be is is so powerful and impactful for children and for adults, and hopefully, that will, will change sooner than later.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah, well, my daughter’s already had her first heartbreak. We were big Julian Castro fans. He was the first presidential candidate that she’s, I guess, met and he came to a rally to get out the vote. Well, he’s [indecipherable] line. And let’s see, I got to meet him and so I’ve already You know, politics is disappointing sometimes and not all full of wins all of the time. So we’ve already had our first heartbreak when it comes to politics for 2020.

 

Kent Wyatt

Well, I have three quick questions and I’ll let you go. Appreciate the time today. First, could a Mayor be president?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Yeah. I think we will have that happen soon.

 

Kent Wyatt

Second question, why aren’t you working for a city?

 

Professor Emily Farris

I ask myself that a lot. I was, I would like to, I don’t know how or in what capacity. I have a friend Thad who has worked for Charlottesville, I think he took a year off of his university. But nobody told me like, you could be a city manager, because that was never a career that I learned about until like as a career or what that path would be. So now I tell my students, you can be city manager. So now my goal is maybe I can do it in some like part time way but that I’m gonna create this whole like legacy of students who hopefully are working in cities.

 

Kent Wyatt

You would crush it in local government and there’s plenty that would be for you for city so if you ever change your mind, we can definitely help out on that.

 

Professor Emily Farris

Sure.

 

Kent Wyatt

So, so we’d like to end all of our podcasts by going out on our guests favorite song. So our award winning producer Ben Kittelson will put it in here towards the at the end of the episode. What song do you want to hear play out for this one?

 

Professor Emily Farris

Can we do Lizzo’s Like a Girl? That would be a good, good ending.

 

Kent Wyatt

Sure thing. Well, thank you for your time today. To our listeners, this has been another episode of GovLove. Take a listen to some of our prior episodes. You can follow us on Twitter @govlove podcast and online at elgl.org\GovLove. Thank you for joining us today.

 

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