<< Front page News March 19, 2004

Fighting words and numbers

Politics candidate displayed his research
By Milena Evitmova

Michael Reinhard came from the University of Chicago and faced about 20 Oberlin students and almost the whole Politics department to deliver his lecture, titled “The Battleground of Ideas: Enlisting Words and Numbers in the War on Welfare” Tuesday. Reinhard is an American politics professor candidate. Students were asked to evaluate his presentation to help the Politics department decide.

Reinhard is completing his Ph.D. in Comparative American Politics. His research specializes in quantitative and rhetorical analysis of welfare policy. He speaks Japanese, a little classical Chinese and knows some sumo wrestling, as his presenter announced at the beginning of the lecture. He decided on not demonstrating this side of his talents before the lecture and moved on to using words and numbers in policy advocacy.

Despite his slight nervousness, the candidate for politics professor managed to construct anintriguing lecture on oratory methods. He talked about changes in policy concerning poverty in the U.S. and how these changes through the years have been presented in different ways to their audiences so that they are most convincing.

Some of Reinhard’s observations on people’s behavior were almost psychological.

“People dealing with verbal arguments cannot deal with numbers,” he claimed, explaining why graphics often confuse very good orators.

One of the concepts that seemed most interesting to many of those who attended was his so-called “fight or flight strategy.” The strategy involves fighting arguments or avoiding them, depending on how well the speaker can handle them. Reinhard gave examples from the presidential candidates, which amused his audience.

After his lecture, Reinhard opened the floor for questions. A student who misunderstood his lecture asked him what he had against quantitative arguments.

“Quantitative arguments are my life, that’s what my dissertation is on,” Reinhard objected. “I just think that people are disarmed by them.”

After an hour and a half of slides, lecture and question-and-answers, the presentation was finally over.

“Oh, my God, this was nerve wracking,” Reinhard commented. “But I am enjoying my visit here.”

Reinhard said that Oberlin is his first choice of employment.

“I have always wanted to go to a small liberal college,” he said. “People here are interested in what you are saying.”

If Reinhard is granted the position he would be on campus for a year, substituting for Ronald Kahn, who is going on sabbatical. The other vacancy in the department opened with the departure of Debra Schildkraut, who resigned and is taking a position at Tufts. Another candidate, Justin Buchler, will deliver a speech Friday at 4:30 in King 243.

“Most candidates for jobs would be asked to come and give a job talk and students would be invited to give input,” Politics Professor Sonia Kruks said.

“This is not in any way binding,” she added. “The final decision is still made by the faculty members in the department.”


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