In Their Own Words
A conversation with Mike Tierney and Teresa Longo.
Teresa Longo, Executive Director of the Reves Center, and Mike Tierney, Director of the Global Research Institute met for coffee at Illy’s this spring.
Q: Teresa, you’re originally from Montana. How did you come to William & Mary?
Teresa Longo: I was in graduate school [at the University of Wisconsin at Madison] and working on my dissertation on Aztec philosophy.
I went on the job market. It was a really good year for candidates then, unlike now, and I got lots of interviews and a few on-campus invitations, and William & Mary was one of them.
I remember vividly sitting on a bench outside Washington Hall and thinking, “I might get this job, and I don’t know what to do if that happens.”
I’d never been in Virginia. I’d never known much about life in the south. It was really far from Montana. I always thought I would end up somewhere like University of Minnesota or somewhere closer to the west.
But then when I came, the students were amazing, and the colleagues were really serious about
work and also kind people, and the campus was beautiful, and the library was good. Also I felt that at Wisconsin and maybe graduate school generally it was harsh. It was not an easy place to be.
So it was just really welcoming. The story for me is more why stay rather than why come.
Q: So why did you stay?
Teresa: I think it was the freedom.
I was hired in part to teach poetry and something that was then referred to as Latin American cultural history. All of Latin America, which is as you know, too big of a topic honestly. But I remember designing the syllabus and saying to Howard Fraser, who was the department chair and a senior colleague, “Do you need to see this?” And he said, “No, you’re the professor.”
It was such a radical change from the very prescriptive sort of way I had been educated.
I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my whole career on a single thing. I don’t study Aztec philosophy anymore. William & Mary has been great; I’ve been able to go in whatever directions that have made sense.
The other piece of all of that was that I had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to go to law school or graduate school. It was almost a flip of a coin. I had been working in a law office that represented migrant farmworkers and the work was so urgent and it mattered to me, and as soon as I got into graduate school there was no life outside of—not just the university, but the books—and that was disturbing. But at William & Mary that wasn’t the case. I could freely make connections with political movements, with history, with civil rights--things that were happening beyond reading. That led me to say, “Yes, this is good for me.”
Mike Tierney: In terms of your research, it sounds like coming out of Wisconsin you were very focused, narrow, doing what your mentors told you; and here you were allowed to be a liberal arts professor, not just a liberal arts student.
Teresa: That’s right. That was a very big freeing up of who I am.
Mike: What was the first deviation from Aztec philosophy? When did you shift and say, “Wow! I’m going to do something totally different”?
Teresa: Well, the Aztec philosophy part was a lot about how Mexican politicians and elites incorporated Aztec philosophy to their ends, so, in some ways, it wasn’t a total deviation to focus on how people use rhetoric, literature and the arts to move politics. That’s still what I do, so I don’t think I ever dropped the way of thinking, just the topic.
Mike: Is most of your work historical in the sense that you are explaining things in a past time, or are you currently looking--or have you ever looked--at contemporary politics through that lens?
Teresa: It’s close to the present. “Visible Dissent” is my book about the early 21st century and about how Latin American culture, literature arts moved north into the United States and became influential in the United States. How does that happen? What is the process that makes it happen? And it has to do with who publishes.
Mike: So, is this mostly elite thinking and transmission of ideas to other elites, or does it include the mass public? In most societies, there are not a huge number of people reading higher end literature.
Teresa: In Latin America, people read poetry. I work largely in poetry, although not exclusively. In my study, I looked a lot at how poetry moved north. It didn’t need to be moved north to become famous; it was famous, just not in the U.S.
Mike: So when you say people read poetry in Latin America, I hear, “People read poetry in Latin America more than they do here.” Do you think that’s accurate?
Teresa: In Medellin, Colombia, every summer, there’s a huge poetry festival. Huge meaning thousands of people from every continent flowing into Medellin for 10 days of poetry. The city fills up with people from all around the world and from Medellin and people read in every language you can think of. It’s very powerful. So, [to answer your question], yeah.
Mike: It sounds neat.
Q: Mike, how did you end up at William & Mary?
Mike: Well, I’m from everywhere, because my father was a U.S. Marine, so I didn’t grow up in Montana. I grew up in seven or eight different places: San Diego, North Carolina, Colorado, Naples, Italy.
My dad was stationed in different places, and the family went different places, and we landed in Northern Virginia, which is where we were when it was time to go to college. William & Mary’s an in-state school, so I came here in the fall of 1983. I was a tennis player and played on the tennis team from ’83 to ‘87.
I stayed one extra year to do a master’s degree. (Back in those days, the government department had a master’s degree.)
Then I left William & Mary and worked for one year of my life in the real world. I went to Washington, D.C., and worked for the Congressional Research Service and at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In both places, I was studying national security policy —guns and bombs and war—doing research on arms control agreements, which is similar to what I was doing here at William & Mary as a student. I was interested in international affairs, but mainly International security and U.S. foreign policy.
I did that for a year and very quickly started talking to all my former professors at William & Mary—Clay Clemens, Joel Schwartz, David Dessler. They all told me, “You should apply to go to graduate school to get a Ph.D. so you can teach at a university. You like to do research. You like to talk about ideas.”
Joel Schwartz told me being a professor is not very different from being a student. You’re basically reading a lot, and you’re writing a lot. You’re talking to people about Ideas, and you’re trying to understand why the world works the way it does.
So I applied to the top ten Ph.D. programs in the country for international relations, and I was only admitted to two: UCLA and UC San Diego. UCLA was the obvious place for me to go, because that’s where they were very strong with arms control, nuclear weapons and national security issues.
I visited there for one day. No one gave me the time of day. It was very smoggy and they would admit about 90 Ph.D. students per year, which was very different from my experience at William & Mary, where I knew my professors very, very well.
[William & Mary faculty] invited me over to their homes. They taught me how to do research. They went drinking with me at the Green Leafe. I knew them as human beings. UCLA was very impersonal.
So I drove two hours out of the smog bank and looked at San Diego. I was greeted warmly by really smart young faculty and students, and they convinced me to come to San Diego to study international political economy, foreign aid and international organizations.
My experience in graduate school is very similar to yours, Teresa. UCSD was a major research university, a top ten Ph.D. program. There wasn’t a strong commitment to undergraduate education. I did not like that based on my own experiences as an undergraduate, but I had to keep it a little bit quiet because all my [UCSD] mentors wanted me to become them at a Research 1 (R1) university.
Teresa: Same here.
Mike: Long story short, I was taking way too long to finish my dissertation, and I got a phone call from a former professor, Ron Rapoport, saying, “We’ve just lost someone who was going to teach our introduction to comparative.” And this was very late. This was in June, and they needed somebody to teach in two months.
I think his first question was, “Have you ever taught comparative politics?”
And I said, “No.”
And then he asked, “Could you teach comparative politics?”
And I said, “Absolutely!”
So I came here to William & Mary on a one-year visiting appointment. I taught for five years on a series of continuing one-year appointments until an old professor of mine, Alan Ward, retired, and I applied for a permanent position, and I was lucky enough to get hired.
Q: A quality I’ve seen in both of you—as faculty and administrator--is that of mentor. Do you see that as a part of your current roles at Reves and GRI?
Teresa: Oh, for sure. Although in my own education, I can’t really say that I had mentors.
Mike: Where did you go as an undergraduate?
Teresa: University of Montana.
Mike: OK. So a big school.
Teresa: Yeah, pretty big school. I really liked being an undergraduate there. My eyes were opened just by going to university. People wondered about things that had been rolling around in my head, but I could never have said aloud. Questions like, “Does God exist?” We wouldn’t have asked that in my family or at my Catholic school. I remember the first day of philosophy class hearing that and wanting to stand up and say, “Did everybody hear that?” That was awesome.
I loved everything about it there, but there wasn’t a person who showed me how to navigate. It was much less so in Wisconsin. And so I think I was able to see how much [mentorship] matters with students here. They are very appreciative when you show them some pathways.
I think that it is part of the culture here; it’s what people do at William & Mary. It’s embedded in the way we teach.
Q: You’re both involved in international global activities but you’re doing different kinds of activities. How do they mesh?
Teresa: I was remembering when I met you Mike. I have a memory of being in the room where the Council of Chairs and Program Directors in arts and sciences (CCPD) meets now.
I don’t know why we both would have been there. I wasn’t the chair of anything, and I don’t think you were either, but we were in that room, and you were sitting next to me and asked something about my research. And I said, “I’m working on a project on globalization.” And you said something about globalization also, but we had completely different ideas about the value of globalization
At the time I thought that difference was really interesting, so it isn’t exactly an answer to your question but it reminds me that in the intellectual part of our work, we have the potential to be really invested in the same thing but coming at it from different directions, which is awesome.
Q: So Teresa, what do you mean by globalization?
Teresa: I’m a bit more nuanced now, but back then, in the ‘90s, I was reading a lot of intellectual thinkers from Latin America who were concerned about globalization as a new form of hegemony. García Canclini is one of them, and he was saying it’s not whether globalization is about to happen, it’s about how we’re going to intervene in this massive thing that might be coming at us. And I could have misread this entirely, but I remember, your responding Mike, that that wasn’t the way you were looking at it.
Mike: Right. From a political economy perspective, it would be probably very different.
But that’s not my first and strongest memory of you, Teresa. You and I are sitting on a stage in William & Mary Hall. It’s Charter Day, and we’re both about to get a teaching award, and we’re sitting next to each other in our fancy robes and our fancy hats. You said, “I’m so glad that I’m getting this award with you.”
Teresa: Oh, yeah, I do remember saying that. I remember being there. I remember that scene really well.
Mike: Yeah, and I was just like, “Wow. This is great. Why does Teresa like me?”
Teresa: Because you make things happen, and you’re smart and totally into the work.
Q: Well, now you both have moved into a role where you’re not just faculty but you’re also administrators. How is that? What are your goals as administrator/manager?
Teresa: Access to education. It’s about being able to understand, critique and move forward the purpose of a university. There’s a responsibility universities have to communities and to the world. We could write about it as scholars, but we couldn’t necessarily influence the university in the way we might be able to in administrative roles.
Mike: That’s true, yeah. I’ll answer your question by going back to your original question about mentorship.
I learned about mentorship when I was a student. I had a different undergraduate experience than Teresa. I remember back in the ‘80s classes would end and the whole campus would go down to Nags Head for Beach Week between final exams and graduation.
The thing that changed my life was after my junior year. I had left a note for Clay Clemens asking, “What is an honors thesis, and will you help me write one?”
Somehow—I still don’t know how he did this, because we didn’t have cellphones—I got a phone call at the beach house where I was staying two days after I arrived, and it was Professor Clemens.
He said, “Mike if you want to talk about writing an honors thesis for next year, meet me in my office tomorrow at 10 am.”
I was two and a half hours south on a beach with my girlfriend. But I got in a car and I drove up. Left at six in the morning. I met with Clay and talked to him for about two hours in his office.
He didn’t have to do this.
He talked to me for two hours about what would be a researchable topic and why would it make a contribution to our understanding of U.S. foreign policy. He convinced me it would be really interesting to understand how European allies shape U.S. foreign policy in the area of strategic defense—remember Star Wars and the Strategic Defense initiative and preventing nuclear missiles from hitting us.
I drove back down to the beach on Cloud 9.
Over the next year I would meet with Clay Clemons once a week. Seeing how he mentored me and taught me how to ask research questions and then how to answer them as a political scientist, was just a real eye opener. There was no Clay Clemens in my department in San Diego. No one was looking out for that 19-year-old kid who was at the beach.
So when I came back here, I immediately started working with my students on my research and on their research. I mentored a lot of honors theses my first ten years here. I figured out how to integrate students into two different research labs that I’ve been associated with. I was very, very active in co-authoring with students at William & Mary for about 15 years.
And then, as GRI grew and I moved into a more administrative position, I realized I can do more to get students high quality faculty mentorship, not by doing it all myself, which is what you do as a young faculty member, but by generating the resources and providing opportunities and a model for faculty to mentor the next generation of undergraduates.
So for me there’s a three-generation process where I’m the mentee, then I’m the mentor, and then I’m the person who has to try to build an ecosystem that will enable meaningful mentorship.
Some people are able to shift their energy and their tactics from being an outspoken college professor to being a responsible administrator pursuing the same goals. I think Teresa is a great example of that.
I do not have the same diplomatic skills that some other people do, so higher administration is probably not for me. Instead I’m just going to be like a dog with a bone. For me, it’s teaching students through research.
So that’s my passion now as a leader, as an administrator.
Q: What would a successful year ahead look like for you?
Teresa: I’m very happy to have been able to land at Reves when we’re doing strategic planning in a focused way. I would like to figure out the three things out of 10 that are on the action plan and make them go: creating a human rights focus in who we bring in for our guests; an expansion of the Reves faculty fellows in such a way that it bridges countries; and something around naming the three partner institutions around the world with whom we really want to build and strengthen relationships.
Mike: These are not necessarily in order, but I would say one would be truly broadening the range of research that’s being supported at GRI. We are still very heavy on economics and political science, and we’re very heavy in arts & sciences.
If our mandate from the Provost is to break down silos and reach across the university to develop multi-disciplinary collaborations, we have to be doing more with the professional schools—business, law, marine science and education. That means getting more faculty involved with doing student-faculty research outside the narrow range that we’re in now. So that’s one.
Two would be increasing the number and the quality of mentored research experiences for students.
To me, that is the comparative advantage of William & Mary and that is something where we could become the best in the world. In order to do that, people have to focus time and resources and effort on achieving that goal.
And then third, I really think William & Mary in general, but GRI in particular, punches below its weight, meaning the quality of the work we do is better than the recognition that we get.
We need to communicate in a strategic way to audiences outside of William & Mary and also outside of the ivory tower. What can we actually do in terms of applied research that will shape decisions and outcomes in the world?
Those are three things. If we did better in all of those, I would count it as a success.
Q: So how do you see the two of you working together? How do you see Reves and GRI intersecting or collaborating?
Teresa: Mike and I started off the year having conversations about this very question.
Research has been the central core of the GRI, and that is really important.
Research is also one part of Reves. It’s not the whole, and yet there’s a whole lot of research out there and there can be more among our faculty that Reves can make possible in new ways or by building on some of the foundations that are already there, like Reves Faculty Fellows, for example.
Also, looking at how students are part of the GRI research, it would be great if we can figure out new models where we have people overseas. They’ve just finished study abroad or an internship.
They’re also smart undergrads like Mike was when Clay Clemens made that phone call…
Mike: Many years ago…
Teresa: …who could be on a project for somebody who is actually here. So we can figure out some ways to pull together the people we have contacts with all over the world that complement GRI. We don’t want to repeat each other’s work, we want to be complementary, and I would say we’re getting started on that. We have a friendship and an agreement to make that complementary work happen, even though we don’t have the specifics quite nailed down yet.
Mike: You saw yesterday in “Beyond Research” [a live Zoom discussion with a researcher in Ukraine] we’re literally dividing the labor to coordinate on something we think is a public good at William & Mary. We are working together to find ways to continue a conversation about a benchmark event or a world changing event.
Being able to have partners to share the load and, and frankly, to broaden the conversation is crucial. Otherwise, we just stay in our own little silos.
Teresa: And also yesterday, we were talking about something very specific around Ukraine, but there will be more things. There will be more big events and we should step in with the urgency that’s required.
Mike: And I was going to say beyond public goods and research where we I think will increasingly collaborate and coordinate, GRI is moving more and more students and faculty, more and more staff abroad. We’re hiring people abroad. We’re moving people abroad.
GRI does not have the expertise or the capacity to make those types of collaborations happen.
That is clearly in the in the domain of the Reves Center. The Reves Center is in the lead and then coordinates with HR, Procurement, University Counsel, et cetera.
And so if we’re going to have a world class research institute at William & Mary, and we’re very hopeful that GRI is becoming that—then we need professionals and world class collaborators that can help us to internationalize the university.
William & Mary is a small university in southeastern Virginia. It doesn’t have all the same policies and pipes and procedures to support world class international research.
If we’re going to do that, we’re going to need Reves to help us to get there.
And in my view Reves would not just be helping GRI, but it will be helping any faculty who want to do that type of international work.
Teresa: And with partnerships, we are trying to work towards an increasingly open system of how we make knowledge. We can’t really do it by looking at what we have. We have to look up and out and get our people up and out.
Mike: That’s what I tell students, especially when advising freshmen. They come in, and I say within the first thirty minutes, “One of your objectives should be to get out of here. You need to go talk to the people at the Reves Center and learn about study abroad and other options to support your learning objectives. The Reves Center knows how to do that. You need to leave William & Mary.”
Teresa: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been teaching freshman [spring semester] and have been trying to help them look up, go to events, go to the many things that are around us. They’re very focused on their classes, and they’re very focused on succeeding and getting good grades, which makes a ton of sense. However, there’s a lot more that’s waiting for them.
Mike: Did you study abroad?
Teresa: I studied abroad my sophomore year. I went to Mexico, and it was the definitive moment for me. It’s not like your eyes just open; they explode open. I have very, very vivid memories of going to Morelia, Michoacán in Mexico. I took William & Mary back to that place where I had studied. I created a study abroad program there that included research projects.
Mike: That’s awesome.