July 20, 2020 7:14 pm

Sometimes a move is about the pull, not the push

Next month I’ll be leaving Texas A&M University and starting an appointment with the La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.

Spirit of Aggieland

Joining the Texas A&M political science department in 2013 was an inflection point for me, professionally and personally. In research, as in so many other walks of life, peer effects are huge: being surrounded by greatness forces you to raise your own game. That’s certainly been the case for me at A&M. Over the past seven years I’ve worked alongside extraordinarily smart, productive, and supportive colleagues. At Texas A&M I’ve also had the chance to teach and learn from some wonderful students. I got to teach introductory State & Local Government to thousands of Aggies and led graduate seminars with dozens of PhD students. I’ve had the privilege of advising David Switzer and Youlang Zhang to their PhDs (with Samantha Zuhlke coming soon!). I’ve learned so much from all of them. I am grateful.

I expected to join a great department before I came to College Station; I did not anticipate how much I’d love Texas and Texas A&M. Texan culture is vibrant and diverse—at once eclectic and traditional. There’s an industry and palpable optimism about the people of Texas that matches the expansive skies, prairies, and bayous. I’ve never felt more at home culturally.

Gonna miss you, Aggieland

And the Aggies! The traditions, core values, and most of all the commitment to service woven into the fabric of this institution are inspiring. In classrooms, at football games, and especially at Silver Taps, Aggies are wonderful human beings. I will miss them.

My time at Texas A&M coincided with a national awakening to the importance of water infrastructure policy. Having worked for decades on the technocratic topics of water regulation, management and finance, the sudden attention has been a bit bewildering—but also exhilarating and affirming. Texas A&M gave me the resources and platform to conduct crucial, path-breaking research on regulatory policy, affordability, and environmental justice. This work is having real-world impact. It feels more and more like we’re poised to make generational changes to the way that we manage and govern water in America.

The Wisconsin Idea

…which brings us to Wisconsin. In Madison I’ll join a La Follette School faculty dedicated to evidence-based public policymaking in the service of society. Steps from the Wisconsin statehouse and steeped in Wisconsin’s progressive tradition, public engagement and applied policy research are at the core of the school’s mission. I’m also joining UW at an inflection point for La Follette: I will be the eleventh(!) new professor to join the school’s (already amazing) faculty this year. The school just launched an undergraduate program. It’s a time of possibility and growth.

Hello, Badgerland!

The move to Madison is particularly portentous for my work on water governance. Utility regulation was born at UW more than a century ago; Wisconsin’s PSC is America’s original utility regulatory commission. Today Wisconsin’s data and regulatory frameworks continue to offer promising models for improvements to water regulation everywhere, as I’ve written before.

But perhaps most of all, I’m inspired by the Wisconsin Idea: that great universities exist in service to the public, and that education should better people’s lives beyond the classroom. I got chills when I first read about the Wisconsin Idea—it was like a mission statement for my professional life.

Northward bound

I’ll miss old friends, bluebonnets, brisket, tacos, and the Fightin’ Texas Aggies, but I’m looking forward to tall pines, Great Lakes, and a return to Big Ten country.* I could not be more grateful for where I’ve been, or more excited about where I’m going.

Thanks and Gig ‘em.

And On, Wisconsin!

*I’m a long-time, hardcore Michigan fan. It’s going to take a while to get used to rooting for the Badgers.

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