CRASE Negotiating Book Contracts

During the CRASE Negotiating Book Contracts Panel, Monisha Bajaj from the Department of International and Multicultural Education, Keally McBride from the Department of Politics, Dean Rader from the Department of English, and Manuel Vargas from the Department of Philosophy and School of Law shared their experiences developing book proposals, negotiating contracts, and working with different publishers and editors. Collectively, their experience includes academic publications, poetry, edited collections, and textbooks.

negotiating book contracts

When beginning the book proposal process, all panelists emphasized the importance of considering why you want to write a book in the first place. Are you writing the book for tenure or promotion? Are you trying to raise your reputation as a scholar? The prestige of the publication press is important if you are writing for scholarly prestige. As you develop your proposal, be honest and realistic about the audience for the book, and target publishers who have previous experience with your research or topic area. Attending conferences will allow you to  know the press, field, and market, and to find editors. Another strategy shared by our panelists was to look at the acknowledgement section of books you enjoy where you may find names of people who are reputable in the publishing business.  Something to keep in mind is that the timeline for publication with a university press can be significantly longer. One panelist had a book that took 14-18 months and another took approximately 3 years. If you have a shorter timeline, other possible venues for publication include a commercial press or a book series, which can be good for networking and visibility.

As you develop your proposal, consider your audience. The editor who might initially review the proposal might not be a scholar, but for a scholarly book, the proposal will be sent to external reviewers. Your proposal should be targeted to the people who are reading the proposals, and the panelists discussed being courteous and cautious if sending simultaneous proposals because sometimes reviewers work with a few presses and might notice if they see your proposal multiple times.

When a press is interested, there are several elements up for negotiation in your contract including artwork customization, author discounts, number of free copies, timeframe for publication in paperback, copyediting costs, and copyright reversal. One panelists suggested asking the price of your book in your contract. Deciding what to negotiate is usually personal and depends on the book. For example, if accessibility for your students or field practitioners is important to you, having your book in paperback might be something to consider. During negotiations, you can be better positioned for negotiating if you have another publisher interested in your project, but you need to be mindful what you are using your leverage for.

Once your book is published, stay in communication with your press to help with advertising and marketing your book. While the marketing plan will be different for every project, there are things you can do to sell your work, which includes letting your publisher know if you attend conferences so they can make sure to stock your book and coordinate signings. Also, inform your publisher if you are on a panel or if you have articles published. If you publish a textbook, you can pitch your book to professors and department chairs.

At the University of San Francisco, scholarly communications librarian Charlotte Roh provides one-on-one consultations on book contracts and is a resource on scholarly publications. If you would like to see an example of a book proposal, please contact

Faculty Spotlight: Juliet Spencer

Juliet Spencer’s research focuses on herpes viruses and the way they manipulate host immune responses. During our conversation, we discussed the support from her family, how she views herself as a mentor, and how she became interested in viruses and cells.

Juliet Spencer, Biology


What started your interest in biology and biotechnology?

I always had a love for learning and fantastic teachers along the way. I was always very interested in DNA and molecular biology—that attracted me to Worcester Polytechnic Institute. They had an actual program dedicated to biotechnology, and it was a dream of mine to learn about biology and how to use it in a more applied way—learning not just for the sake of learning but also for the sake of doing something with that.

Did your family encourage your focus in biology? Were your parents scientists?

My mom was a clerk, and my dad ran a bar. They didn’t exactly know the scientist thing, but they knew I was very interested in science and encouraged me every way they knew how. I really appreciate that—it was something very vague and unknown to them and yet they gave me all the support. I hope that I can do for my son, to be very open and supportive of whatever he chooses even if I don’t understand what it is.

How did your mentors shape you and how does your experience come into your teaching or your lab when you are mentoring students?

I’ve been fortunate to always have great women role models, and I think it is important for girls, as they’re coming into the field, to see what a female scientist looks like and what a female scientist does and to have someone to identify with.

I’m a firm believer in mentoring. I think mentoring isn’t just working with students and training them but opening doors career-wise or exposing them to ideas. I also encourage college students to be mentors to younger kids and show what it’s like to be a girl in college in the science field. A fourth grade class visited recently, and we do enrichment activities with middle school kids. When the women I’m mentoring are placed in the position of being a mentor, they take themselves more seriously and start to think of themselves as a scientist not just as a student. I really like the mentoring process moving forward and backwards.

Did anyone ever tell you, if you’re going to do all this work, why do research? Why not go to med school?

I probably told myself that (laughter). I definitely had a crisis while I was in grad school because I was using my research skills for things with only the potential to improve human health. I decided to become an EMT and rode around in the ambulance for about a week, which was enough to convince me that I made the right decision—it was research for me and not necessarily direct interaction with patients or being in the hospital. I explored that option, but I’m much better at the bench working with my cells and viruses.

After getting your PhD, you worked at a biotechnology company before going back to academia. Was there a specific experience that made you think I would rather be in academia?

Well the opposite actually. When I was in college, I identified with my academic advisor, who was a fantastic professor and mentor, and I thought, “This is the job that I want.” I always wanted an academic career, but I also realized that if my goal was really to use my research skills for improving human health, that’s a very applied thing. To learn more and to teach people how to do that, I should experience it myself, so the impetus for going into industry was to understand better how to translate basic science research into deliverables—products that actually help people. Now I’ve come full circle, and I’m doing research that I hope will be translatable into actual products and have a human health impact.

So how did you get interested specifically in viruses and cells? What focused your research in that direction?

For some people, Biology is a very visual science because it’s trees and animals, things that you can really see, and I became very interested in the parts that you can’t see. My interest in viruses is that there is this thing that you can’t see that can take over a cell and change its behavior—trying to understand how that happens and trying to visualize things that are at the limits of what we can visualize.

What are some ways that you try to convey your passion for what we can’t see to your students?

I ask them to draw pictures and describe things. Even though I’m a scientist—I will admit that I am probably the absolute worst artist in the world—to me everything is really visual. Even if it’s not a picture of the virus, it’s a picture of what do we think is happening—the virus is going into the cell, the cell explodes. There’s trying to visualize what’s going on and once we have a visual of what we think is going on, then drilling down and figuring out what could be causing it.

What projects are you currently working on?

We have a few different projects in the lab. The Avon Breast Cancer Study was a big one. For that one, we explored the possibility that a common virus, Human cytomegalovirus (CMV), may be useful as a biomarker or parts of the virus might be useful for indicating the onset of breast cancer.

Other projects have to do with the virus and the way it manipulates the host immune system. We examined different viral proteins and the way they affect immune cells, the way they affect signaling pathways in the body.

What is the role of your students in the lab? How do you lure them into research?

I’ve been really lucky. The research projects touch on topics that people can relate to—breast cancer, the immune system. I get a lot of interested students, and I try to ignite the student’s interest and keep them interested by reminding them to step back. I always tell them there’s two parts about doing science, and the easy part, even though it doesn’t seem easy when you’re learning it, is the sort of technical steps involved in the lab and the manipulations. Sometimes the harder part is understanding the big picture. Why are we sort of doing all these manipulations? What is our real purpose and goal?

I teach them to conduct experiments and be proficient in the lab and learn skills that will be useful if they go on to work in industry or go to graduate school, but I also try to keep them motivated and thinking about the big picture goals.

What do you see as your role as a researcher and a mentor and a teacher?

Cheerleader. I think of myself as a cheerleader in the sense that I try to be really supportive of my students. I convey to them that if things don’t work out the way we had hoped, they’re still learning. If things do work out, I am positive and encouraging—this is taking us one step forward on our journey of this greater goal—and I try to make them see where they fit into the big picture. Even if they have a tiny sliver of a project, it’s part of a greater plan in the lab for addressing this important question. With teaching, I remind students that this isn’t about memorizing for a test, it’s about learning skills and concepts that you can apply to solve real world problems.

What is the big picture that you have for your research with public health?

The area I’m most interested in right now is diagnostics—how can we detect disease earlier, what are the clues that there is an imbalance or process going on in the body. In this day and age of big data, how can we integrate all the information and have predictive value or early diagnostic values so that people have the best possible outcomes? Of course prevention is always a worthy goal, but being realistic, how can we bring that information to people earlier?

Why did you decided to come to USF?

I went to a small school where I was really fortunate to have great mentorship and personal interactions with the faculty and that made such a big impression on me, especially since I didn’t come from a family of professionals or scientists. When I came to interview at USF, I felt that this is the same type of environment—people here really care about students, and they’re dedicated to developing those relationships with the students and seeing them growing and succeed. That fits perfectly with my personal goals and mission in life.

Do you take some of those ideas from your own undergraduate experience and apply them now that you’re a professor?

Absolutely! That’s something I think back on—what were the things I really enjoyed about my undergraduate experience and try to give those opportunities to my students such as doing independent projects. I tell the students that we’re going to spend half the semester learning basic microbiology and microscope skills, and then the second half they are going to come up with a problem that they want to investigate and use these skills independently. I’m blown away by the awesome projects that they think about that would never cross my mind, so it’s really fun to nurture that and encourage them to think outside the box and think big.

Faculty Spotlight: Sonja Martin Poole

Sonja Martin Poole’s research explores gamification and influencing behavior. During our conversation, we discussed her path to becoming a professor and how she navigates interdisciplinary research.

Sonya Poole
Sonya Martin Poole

When you started at the University of California Berkeley, were you focused on becoming an academic or did you consider going into business?

Even though I come from a long line of educators, I wasn’t focused on becoming an academic. My grandfather was a geography professor for many many years at Southern University in New Orleans, which is where I’m from, and my grandmother was an elementary school teacher. My mother is an elementary school teacher. I have an uncle and two aunts who are university professors. I wanted to do something different than everyone else in my family, so I initially went to college with the intent to be a lawyer. In the middle of freshman year, I decided that I wanted to go into business. However, I took microeconomics, one of the prerequisites of the business major, and said, “This is it. This is a new way of thinking. I love this.” I got a bachelor’s in economics and then later a master’s in public sector economics. I had no idea at the time what I would do with my economics training. I was just intrigued by it.

While I was in graduate school, I worked as a high school teacher in a public school. It was then that I started asking economic questions about educational institutions. I became interested in studying the ways in which education resources are distributed in our society and if there’s a way that we can develop educational systems that are more efficient. That’s what I studied in my Ph.D. program.

Somewhere along the way I then became intrigued by the ways that educational institutions strategically attracted students, maintained a student body, and communicated value. That’s a marketing question, so after my Ph.D., I did a post-doc in marketing.

Was it the experience in the classroom that made you want to change the world?

I really wanted to improve people’s lives, and I saw how educational systems can influence people’s beliefs, behaviors, and life trajectories. In graduate school, I wanted to study how we can improve these structures.

What work are you most proud of?

Right now, I’m looking at the ways in which games can influence people’s behavior. I first became interested in this topic when tracking devices for fitness came out like Fitbit. This device had a gamified aspect. Within the application, users can compete not only against themselves and their own progress but against others that you may or may not know. It presents an incentive to do more. I found myself drawn to this device and to the activity that the device personally encouraged me to participate in.

I then began to wonder if gamification can be used to influence other behaviors, ones that have a big impact on our environments and communities. Can we use it for getting people to recycle more, drive safer, or donate to charitable causes? What about using the tool to reduce or eliminate social problems such as racism, poverty, or disease? Can we get people to do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do just by making it fun? I am interested in the practice of influencing people to do things that are not only good for them, but also for society as a whole.

How does your research come into the classroom?

My students are the best people to run my ideas by because they’re honest, and they’ll give me hypotheses to test in my research. For that reason, I love dealing with students regularly because they bring fresher ideas to light.

A few years ago I developed a course called Marketing for Social Change. In this course we examine marketing strategies that can influence individual and collective behavior for social good, and while teaching this course, I identified my interest in gamification. Gamification was introduced as a possible means to encourage pro-social behavior and I got a sense from my students that it is worthy of further study.

Your work sounds very interdisciplinary. How do you navigate the different disciplines or how do you try to work between them or with them?

Economics is the basis of all that I do. It’s all about incentives, incentivizing behavior, and that is my foundation. When I was in my Ph.D. program, I got into educational policy with the idea that I was going to apply economics and economic decision-making tools to education policymaking. As a marketing professor, I now use behavioral economics to understand and explain consumer behavior. Marketing and education are both disciplines that are based on some other foundational discipline, such as psychology, sociology, or economics. We use the foundational disciplines to inform what we do in marketing and education. I tend to think like an economist.

How has being at USF impacted your research?

USF has been supportive of the kinds of things that I want to do. Every activity that I’ve been involved in has been not only encouraged but also supported through resources and collaborations and people wanting to help. I feel that spirit of helpfulness throughout everything that I’ve done here and almost every interaction at USF, and that includes writing retreats that are supported by the school to make sure that researchers get research completed and writing done.

USF also provides opportunities, such as the Ignatian Faculty Forum, to consider our role as professors, Ignatian values and mission, and how those things relate. The development opportunities help to shape my ideas around what I want to do in the classroom and in my research. In addition to that, I participate in different faith formation activities here at USF. They are particularly valuable for thinking people. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in those kinds of opportunities whether they be the Spiritual Exercises or silent retreats, or any other University Ministry activities. That’s really the unique aspect of being here at this University—finding out how your spirituality and your sense of self relate to your work. It’s very hard to separate that out—who you are spiritually and your vocation are intimately connected, or at least I believe they should be. I really appreciate those opportunities to think through and talk to other people about these ideas.

What brought you to USF?

I believe that the university mission is in line with my own personal mission. I came to USF because I wanted to be an agent of change. As long as the university continues to be about social justice and life-changing action, I will love being here.

A Visualization for Parents Navigating the SF Public Elementary School Admissions Process


As any parent in San Francisco knows all too well, enrolling your would-be kindergartener in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) system is a daunting process. The challenges include countless tours that often “sell out” and each last an hour or more. These tours culminate in showing up at the SFUSD office for an in-person paper application process that has taken at times over 3 hours to complete and makes the DMV look like a well-oiled machine by comparison. Parents largely suffer this time-consuming process out of love for their child but it is harder to imagine a more frustrating and anxiety ridden process to have your child attend kindergarten.

The single largest source of parental anxiety related to this activity is the amount of random chance in the process.  While we won’t review the lottery process in all its glorious detail, the process boils down to this: Each parent applies and ranks a large number of SFUSD kindergartens, each with an abysmally low probability, and hopes that one or more coins comes up heads. The highest-ranked winning pick (if a winning event actually occurs) is awarded to the kindergartener. Again, the process is more complicated than we have described and includes complex tie-break systems, as well as language categories bucketing, but ranking and low probability coin flipping is an essential feature of the process.

The information provided by the SFUSD is neither user friendly nor capable of easy digestion to help parents make informed decisions. In response to this, second year Analytics Assistant Professor Yannet Interian created the visualization tool  using leaflet, a java script library for interactive maps, to help parents navigate the complex application process by providing a brief but informative snapshot of each of the 72 schools in the system.

“I have a 2-year old and I thought about what information I would want to help navigate the complex application process. Putting all the relevant data together in a clear and easy to read format can help parents figure out how to rank schools more efficiently,” said Professor Interian.

She sorted through some of the information available about each school to identify the schools in high demand but also highlight how difficult and challenging it is to attend the best schools in San Francisco. After choosing a few set parameters such as number of applications, number of available seats and California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores, they developed a simple visualization system to understand the landscape of elementary schools plotted directly onto a city map of San Francisco. Professor Interian teamed up with software engineer Morgan Whitmont to build the first version of this prototype site.

While many “metrics” of school quality exists, Professor Interian developed a simple localized SF ranking using CAASPP Math and English scores, with the formula included in the visualizaiton. While more comprehensive measures of the health of a school than these two exist, for this first go around Interian and Whitmont created a data visualization tool that provides a partial — but important — overall picture of each school. One of the most important but depressing figures easily found by scrolling over each school is the percentage of applications that were accepted. For example, at Grattan Elementary, 1446 applicants vied for 65 open seats in kindergarten which is reported as 4.5%.  Sadly, the actual probability of applying and getting into Grattan for many parents is vastly lower once you factor in the tie-breaking system and it is likely sub 1% in the last round of the tie break.

Interian and Whitmont look forward to receiving feedback from SF parents on how to improve the visualization so that it becomes an essential tool in understanding the elementary school landscape. They have plans to incorporate diversity statistics as well as other metrics of the health of the school in future versions. In addition they would like to further separate and add to the visualization the different language tracks at the schools that have them.  For now, Interian and Whitmont hope the visualization allows parents to move forward armed with the information needed to make an informed, (slightly more) confident decision about their children’s education.

Faculty Spotlight: Amy Gilgan

Amy Gilgan works with students and faculty as a Gleeson Library reference librarian and education liaison. During our conversation, we discussed the issues she’s passionate about and how research shapes her teaching and activism.

Amy Gilgan


How did you end up at the University of San Francisco?

Initially, my background was in archives. I became interested in preserving queer culture while volunteering at GLBT Historical Society. As an archives intern, I processed collections on AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a direct action AIDS advocacy organization, and my internship lead to a grant funded position at the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Archives where I helped process the Kem Lee photograph collection. When the project concluded, I accepted a position as a librarian at an arts college in San Francisco. I did a lot of instruction there and discovered I have a passion for it. I also worked for a short period of time at City College of San Francisco as a reference librarian. When I was hired at USF as a reference and instructional librarian, I was excited to grow my teaching skills in an environment committed to social justice.

How did you first become interested in research?

I have always had an interest in science, art, and activism. Library science allows me to research across disciplines. I was drawn to the way librarians empower folks to learn about the world around them. Here at USF, I work primarily with students and faculty in the School of Education. It’s really rewarding to provide research support for folks invested in social change.

How did you first become interested in activism?

I grew up in a white working class community, and discovering the punk subculture was my gateway to activism. The subculture connected me to human rights organizations and the movement against neoliberal capitalism. Currently, I’m very interested in housing rights. I didn’t have a lot of resources growing up working class, but I never had to worry about not having a home. Moving to the Bay Area in 2003 really radicalized me around housing. I became more active around housing in 2008, when Proposition 98 threatened to overturn rent control in the state of California. Through political organizing, I learned a lot about the history of displacement in San Francisco. This isn’t a new narrative; working class communities of color have been facing displacement in the Bay Area for decades.

How does that play into your role here at USF?

One of the nice things about USF is the “Change the World from Here” emphasis on social justice. I really appreciate the opportunities to weave in my passion for community activism into the work that I do. In addition to supporting the research of faculty and students, I have created social justice resource guides to support the annual Critical Diversity Studies Forum and the Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach. I strive to not only connect students to information but also grassroots community organizations.

What is your role with the School of Education?

As the liaison to the School of Education (SOE), I make sure that students and faculty have access to the resources they need for their research. I also provide library research instruction for classes, particularly when the students are working on literature reviews. If students or faculty need additional help, I meet one-on-one to help them formulate search strategies and use citation management tools, like Zotero or RefWorks. I learn so much about teaching and facilitation from activist educators.

What other projects have you learned a lot from working on them?

For four years, I taught a section of the Information Literacy Class for the Muscat Scholars Program, an immersion program for first generation college students. As an instructional librarian, I often do single class sessions where I see the students for 1-2 hours. With Muscat Scholars, I got to work with the students for two weeks. I love learning about their experiences and interests, and the students have taught me a lot about resilience and hope.

It sounds like you inhabit a lot of roles here at USF—you help with research, you’re teaching, you’re also active in the community. How do you define your role or do you define it all?

As a librarian, my primary focus us to help folks connect to resources. I strive to help students not only learn about social justice issues but also connect to community organizations engaged in the struggle.

How do these roles play into Open Access and educating faculty and students about resources?

When faculty publish in a proprietary journal, their work is often placed behind a paywall that not everyone can afford to access. Open access publishing can provide a way for faculty to build their professional portfolio while making their research freely available to a much broader audience. I encourage faculty to work with Charlotte Roh, our scholarly communications librarian, to explore open access options.

I work with a lot of teachers K-12 teachers in the School of Education. Some of the schools they work for cannot afford subscriptions to scholarly databases. There is so much information that their students can’t afford to access. It’s a big issue.

How do you bring your own personal research into those interactions when teaching?

I am very open about my housing rights activism. I talk about my own biases and how they can affect my ability to find and evaluate information. I also give personal examples of times when my assumptions lead me to believe misinformation. I want students to realize that critical thinking will not only help you write a better research paper but also help you when strategizing for social change.

Tips for Creating a Semester Plan for Faculty Success in Writing and Research

At the CRASE Plan Your Semester workshop, 17 faculty and staff, including several new faculty members, worked on developing a semester-long plan. Below, Professor Christine Yeh summarizes key steps in creating a Semester Plan using materials developed by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD).

plan your semester

When creating a concrete Semester Plan, the main challenges academics often face include: (1) unstructured time, (2) varied and time consuming commitments, (3) prioritizing, and (4) underestimating the time required for research and writing. Due to these challenges, writing time often gets pushed aside and replaced by smaller but time-consuming tasks such as email requests, committee responsibilities, administrative reports, and student issues. Because we perceive having free time to write, we often allow these duties to take over in the hope of finding time elsewhere in our busy schedules, but it is important to prioritize our scholarship and personal goals.

To make a successful Semester Plan, know what you need and what you need to accomplish. Create a realistic plan to meet all of your needs including personal and professional goals, and build in support, structure, and accountability.

Five steps can help you create and implement a strategic Semester Plan:

  1. Identify your personal and professional goals
  2. Map out the steps and work to accomplish your specific goals
  3. Introduce your projects to your semester calendar and schedule them in
  4. Build in the support and accountability for completing these goals
  5. Work the Semester Plan

Identify Your Goals

People often start the process by identifying their goals and then stop, but it’s important to remember that according to NCFDD, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” When you start to put together a Semester Plan, identify both research/writing goals and personal goals. During the workshop, participants identified three research/writing goals and three personal goals to get the process started.

Once you’ve identified your goals, the next step is to make them SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-framed. By reframing goals as SMART goals, they become more concrete and realistic. An example of a personal goal would be to spend time outside, but once transformed as a SMART goal, it may look more like mountain biking once a week on Saturdays from 9-11 am or to try a new 3-hour hike on the first Saturday morning of each month.

Map out the steps and work to accomplish your goal

Working with the SMART goals, you can now write out the steps required to make each goal happen. For example, when developing a book proposal, you may need to draft different sections, create a table of contents, and select a publisher. Break down your goals to individual to-do tasks that you can schedule into your calendar.

Introduce your projects to your semester calendar

Now that you have the steps to accomplish each goal, it’s time to start scheduling them into your calendar. We recommend opening Google Calendar, or the system that works for you, and add each item into your calendar. It’s important to accurately estimate how much time the task will take. Scheduling tasks into your calendar will help you see how busy you are with other commitments such as mid-term grading and travel plans, and you can adjust your timeframe to match the semester.

Build in Support and Accountability

The next step is to make sure you have the support and accountability to make sure you get your tasks completed. Some ideas for support include making plans to write on-site, online writing groups, accountability group check-ins, or a writing buddy/coach.

Work the Plan

Once your strategic plan is complete, schedule a meeting with a mentor, writing friend, or accountability group and share your goals. As you work through your Semester Plan, some tasks may take more time than you estimated, but you can always adjust your timeframe. Understanding how long tasks will take will help when you plan future semesters.

Faculty colleagues who successfully completed their semester plans shared some helpful tips. These include the following:

  1. After entering writing tasks and goals into your calendar, color code them based on the type of writing project.
  2. Assign specific times to each goal so you can best estimate how much time to spend on them.
  3. Share your priority goals with collaborators so they are also on board with your time frame and deadlines.

It is important to be able to adapt and change your Semester Plan should you finish your goals early (or late). The plan is there for structure, accountability, and clarity about your goals, but it is also important to be flexible as you navigate the academic context. Personally, I look at my goals weekly to add and change things as they come up. I also create a plan for each semester to ensure I am prioritizing the important goals in my life.

Some Thoughts on Uber: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Professor Vijay Mehrotra in the School of Management discusses the concerns of highly automated and unfettered free markets for services and what he emphasizes with his students.

Vijay Mehrotra
Vijay Mehrotra

Uber in action feels like magic compared to the faith-based and stressful exercise of calling a dispatcher or trying to hail a cab especially here in San Francisco where there has always been a terrible shortage of traditional taxis. Beyond the convenience, I’m impressed and inspired by the way that several sophisticated technologies have been seamlessly stitched together by Uber. Among other things, the Uber experience depends on smartphone hardware and software, 21st century telecommunications infrastructure, increasingly sophisticated GPS systems, payment processing platforms, and good old email. The Uber platform – elegantly designed, smartly integrated – indeed makes the user feel empowered, lending some emotional truth to the company’s “everyone’s private driver” tagline.

So I am both joyful and amazed every time my Uber car pulls up. At the same time, there is so much about Uber that I intensely dislike. For starters, the company’s founder and CEO Travis Kalanick has a well-chronicled reputation for arrogance and misogyny. The company’s culture is known for its long hours, high pressure, lack of work/life balance, and utmost secrecy. None of this is unique to Uber, but there’s something about this particular San Francisco-based company that embodies the way that the tech industry and culture seems to have swallowed much of San Francisco almost overnight, with many of the diverse and creative people that inspired me to move here in the first place now priced out of an overheated real estate market that seems to be dominated by youngsters flush with tech dollars – all of whom seem to be constantly riding around in Uber cars.

As the company constantly expands, Uber’s reach extends far beyond its San Francisco Bay Area home base. Its basic approach is to thumb its nose at any/all local laws until eventually managing to get them changed in an Uber-friendly direction. As Tracey Lien wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times article, “It [Uber] punches itself into markets and spends big on advance teams, lawyers and lobbyists to fight opposition and gain a foothold in markets around the world.” Uber’s ambitions are vast, and its hiring of former Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe reflects the business importance of its constant combative campaigning.

Meanwhile, Uber drivers – the people who not only do the actual transporting of passengers but also are required to invest their own capital to purchase and operate the individually-owned vehicles that collectively comprise Uber’s fleet– are seeking to be treated as employees in California rather than independent contractors and have been granted the right to unionize in Seattle. Recently, Uber’s unilateral decisions to decrease its prices while also increasing its share of total revenues have led to sharp drops in income for its drivers. Its practices for screening the drivers in its network have also been under scrutiny, and its recent forays into the driverless cars suggest that they would rather not have to engage with any drivers at all.

Even though I teach in a business school, I don’t believe that highly automated and unfettered free markets for all kinds of services are inherently optimal. As Erik Sherman recently pointed out, there is “a systemic imbalance in favor of the company that can ignore or avoid regular conditions of doing business,” which sounds a lot like Uber when it enters a new market.

As a cautionary tale, consider Today, Amazon accounts for more than 40% of all book sales and over 65% of all eBooks – and, not coincidentally, the number of independent bookstores is now more than 50% lower than it was when Amazon was founded.   As its share of overall book sales has ballooned, Amazon has taken advantage of its market power to aggressively push the terms of its agreements with book publishers dramatically in its own favor, and now has an outsize influence over how books get published and distributed. In fact, book distribution has from the outset been only a small part of Amazon’s vision. The real prize has been the access to reams of consumer data and the ability to analyze this data for fun and profit.

Thinking of companies like Amazon and Uber, the futurist Jaron Lanier has pointed out that “information supremacy for one company becomes, as a matter of course, a form of behavior modification for the rest of the world.” This is exactly why I talk frequently with my MBA students about the potential downside of concentrating too much power in too few online procurement and delivery channels, especially with the valuable proprietary customer data that comes with controlling all those transactions.

Yet there’s also no real case for defending the traditional taxi industry either, certainly not here in San Francisco and probably not in many other places. As Uber’s relentless expansion into new markets continues, expect to see more battles with local taxi companies and drivers – and more passengers getting on the Uber app.

Hidden Stories in My Cluttered Office

Christine Yeh, Professor of Education and Psychology, considers the objects, notes, and items in her office and how the clutter reveals special relationships and different kinds of hidden and unfinished stories.

Christine Yeh's drawer

In my desk, I have a catchall drawer with a random collection of objects, some necessary—a pair of black shoes, bags of “healthy” snacks—and others perhaps confusing things—a small hand-carved boat from Samoa, a marble from El Salvador, and an intricate weaving made of scrap paper and yarn. These “confusing” and rather unacademic items each have a story connected to it, but I often wonder if I have gone too far in contributing to the chaos of my daily life.

When I moved into a new office last summer, I seized the opportunity to purge my space of boxes of forgotten files, old data, and things that do not fit into any obvious work related category (think a pile of heart shaped rocks in a bowl). I Googled photos of “Zen office spaces” and studied Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and paid particular attention to her thoughts on office cleaning. She offered the following insights and directions on how to create a space free of clutter:

  • Hold each book in your hand, and if it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it, keep it. Otherwise, it must go.
  • If you think you’ll read a book “one day,” discard it.
  • If an item doesn’t spark joy for you, but is necessary to get work done, you may keep it.
  • Discard all paper unless in use, is needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.

I contemplated the hundreds of pages and papers that could justifiably be recycled according to her rules. These included my 9 years of ideas brainstorms, and sketches kept in colorful Japanese notebooks, ethnographic notes and memos from my international research travel journals, and personally revealing artwork from past students exploring their identities and culture on paper. My most meaningful keepsake is the partially completed picture book drawn on scrap paper by a 5th grade boy in Western Samoa, depicting the story of how he lost his family in the 2010 tsunami. He gave me this precious book because I was the first person in more than a year to ask him to share his story. He left the last few pages blank—unfinished—because his future was still unsure.

As I inspected my belongings, I realized that much of my clutter included different kinds of unfinished stories—blank pages that serve as a reminder of the work that is yet to be done, experienced, or imagined. My scribbles and sketches comprise urgent notes to self, fights I have yet to fight, and emotional rants about inequity that hold me accountable. I also wondered if I am particularly drawn to works in progress rather than the finished, printed, or framed final pieces as they are glimpses of the creative process and moments of possibilities. Where do these unfinished, incomplete, in progress stories, doodles, and projects fit into Kondo’s rules about what to keep?

I could also not let go of many objects in my secret drawer because they are symbols of connections I have made that inspire me to be the best version of my self. I find these items are especially grounding when I am feeling overwhelmed by the busy work of academia. It occurred to me that perhaps in our creative and scholarly work, our criteria for what to keep and what to toss includes Kondo’s ideas but may extend beyond whether or not an object “sparks joy” or has use and I came up with my own guiding questions for creating an inspiring office space.

  • Does the object inspire you?
  • Does it tell part of an important story in your history?
  • Does it symbolize a critical aspect of your multiple identities?
  • Does it highlight a journey or process you are experiencing?
  • Does it serve as a reminder of your vision for your work?

When I began cleansing my office according to Kondo’s rule, I picked up each book to see if it would “spark joy” as she requires in her philosophy. But as I held each book, joy was not the predominant feeling. Rather, I thought about the books that were difficult, intense, and heart-wrenching. These were books that were painfully transformative in my thinking about justice. Seeing these books on my shelf (organized by color to spark joy) provided historical evidence of my evolving identity as a researcher. As I flipped through the pages, I was reminded of why I entered academia in the first place. I was reminded of conversations I had with friends and colleagues. I contemplated and grappled with ideas about equity, and I felt deeply inspired.

I also tried to organize my papers and notebooks using my new rules around organizing for inspiration. I appreciated reading through pages of my writing in notebooks –snapshots of urgent ideas and passions for my work. Sadly, many of these reflections and raw emotions remain hidden in these journals as they are regularly deleted from my manuscripts by journal editors during the review process because they are not seen as “scholarly.” Keeping them nearby feels refreshingly humanizing as they hold me accountable to my vision and to the communities I partner with.

Prehistoric bird sculpture
Prehistoric woodfired stoneware bird by Simon Levin on quarter sawn oak.
Photo credit: Estella Pabonan

Kondo believes that if something does not spark joy, then you must get rid of it. Similarly, I repeatedly asked myself, “Does this inspire me?” as I went through each object in my cluttered space. Finding inspiration is unique to the individual, but I did find that the guiding questions I listed above helped me make decisions about what to cleanse. For example, the art featured in my office are mostly photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures from people I am close to—a prehistoric wood-fired stoneware bird head mounted on a thick piece of oak wood envisioned and created by a potter friend? Definitely keep. Scribbled note in Chinese from a second grade student I taught in Nan’ao village in Taiwan? Keep. Old handouts from meetings, workshops, and schedules? Recycle.

Though the heart of my research is outside of my office and in local and international communities, I find I need to be very intentional about creating a space at work that attempts to reflect the collective voice of these relationships. After many iterations and attempts at office organization, I may not have achieved the sparse Zen office I originally thought I wanted, but I feel I have created a space of experimentation and inspiration. Like the blank pages of my precious picture book from Samoa, this new space has an openness to the possible stories that are yet to come.

Faculty Spotlight: Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales

Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales’s research has been influenced by the U.S.-Mexico border, Bay Area, and Central Valley. During our discussion, we discussed undocumented students in higher education and the work establishing the Undocu-Ally workshop at the University of San Francisco.

Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales

How did you first become interested in research?

My research is rooted in my upbringing and my political engagements around migration, young people, education, and border politics, and more broadly, racial politics in California. I grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border. I was in high school during an age of violence on the border and violence against migrants. That really shaped my political identity, my personal identity, my racial identity. When I came to graduate school, it only made sense that my research would be in conversation with those pieces of who I am.

What were some of the earlier political moments that shaped your interests?

I grew up in Chula Vista, which is just a few miles from the US-Mexico border. In the mid-90’s, there was a moment of scapegoating against immigrants—Proposition 187 tried to exclude undocumented residents of California from public services like public education and emergency medical services and Operation Gatekeeper developed a stronger, more lethal border fence. The racial undertones of those conversations are very explicit, and I don’t know if you can be a Chicano kid growing up in such close proximity to the US-Mexico border and not be aware of inequality and racism.

When I teach and when I speak, I often tell people that I’m a proud beneficiary of affirmative action, that I was admitted in the last class at UC Berkeley under affirmative action policies. Sometimes people say, “Oh, why are you selling yourself short? Why do you admit to something like that?” For me, it’s really a point of pride. There was something really significant about that moment in California when affirmative action policies were being questioned and ultimately legislated out. I landed on a college campus that was in the midst of major transformation, major social unrest, and student movements. My engagement in that work also shaped my trajectory academically.

How did this translate into your undergraduate and graduate studies?

As an undergraduate, I studied Ethnic Studies, Education, and Chicano Studies, and I found a passion in those disciplines. I ultimately decided to go back to graduate school. My dissertation work was about undocumented migrant students and, specifically, ways in which engagement around the Dream Act catalyzed broader political activism and the development of political consciousness. Now, my work is very interdisciplinary. I am in a School of Education, but I pull very explicitly from Ethnic Studies and Chicano Studies but also Anthropology, Sociology, and other fields.

What specifically pulled you to focus on undocumented students in higher education?

One piece of it was I wanted to look at social movements as a place where education “happens”, and undocumented students were leading the fight at that point. The other part was that I was working for a scholarship program advising underrepresented students of color on the UC Berkeley campus and learned about the unique challenges facing undocumented college students in the context of that work. I was working with these students, and I also had this connection to the ongoing struggles at the border and struggles around racism and xenophobia because of my own background and political work.

What is your current research about?

Currently, I study undocumented community college students in the Central Valley of California. There have been significant legislative changes in California around undocumented students and access to higher education in the last several years. It’s really been the movement of undocumented young people who have made these changes possible. There is this emerging story about California being the national model for service for undocumented students, but I think there’s a danger in telling and propagating that narrative about California as the national model because the reality is that not all students are benefitting from this legislation. I’m talking to undocumented students who qualify for the California Dream Act and are getting significant tuition assistance but who are living in such deep poverty that they can’t afford the bus ticket to school. Or they can’t afford not to work the two hours that they would be in class because their family depends on the wages that would be lost if they went to school instead. If we are actually going to situate California as a national model for servicing and supporting the educational trajectories of undocumented students, then we need to position political economy at the center of that analysis. We need to complicate the conversations around who undocumented students are, what they look like, what kind of work they’re doing, and what kind of barriers they’re confronting.

The access to higher education story is a very specific story within this broader conversation. I think we need to be able to situate it appropriately and connect it to these broader struggles in service of bringing about a more just immigration policy.

What originally drew you to USF?

I wasn’t always positive that I was going to be in academia, but I wanted to be in a place where socially engaged, social justice research was welcomed, and I also wanted to be in a place where teaching was valued. Both of those things led me to USF. When a position opened in Higher Education Student Affairs, I was really excited about it because I had all this practical experience in student affairs and it was in an institutional environment where social justice, racial justice, immigrant rights are things that are talked about explicitly. I have really amazing colleagues that made me feel at home right away.

What work you have done through the USF task force?

When I came to USF, I engaged in conversations on what support for undocumented students looks like here. There were many people on this campus who have been working to support undocumented students for many years but there was a new opportunity to try to coordinate it and bring it to the surface as critical work of the university community. I spoke with Mary Wardell, and she said, “Why don’t you start a task force?” To meet the needs of undocumented students at USF, we need data on how many students we have and what issues they struggle with.” We convened a task force of students, staff, and faculty across campus to collect data from undocumented students, and we made recommendations to the Provost Council about how USF can be a more hospitable environment to undocumented students.

Are you beginning to see some changes or implementations of those recommendations?

I’d like us to not only welcome undocumented students but engage in the broader public discourse and narrative around pushing for more just immigration policy, more comprehensive immigration reform. I also want to have real financial support for undocumented students, which will put the commitment to undocumented students in a structural, institutional grounded way.

There are a couple things that I’m proud of. One is that the task force worked together with the university web services to create a page on the USF website. We worked with the university to create a page on the website that not only has contact people and resources but also makes a very clear statement that says, “As a Jesuit university, we welcome all students.” That public statement of support is not only symbolically important, it’s also really meaningful in terms of student experience on this campus.

Also, last Spring we did an Undocu-Ally workshop. Faculty and staff across the campus could learn how they can serve undocumented students who may come to them whether that’s in the counseling and psychological services, in student advising, or in the classroom. We put out the call inviting people to attend a training that was facilitated by the head of the undocumented programming over at UC Berkeley. Because it was a really busy time of year, we were hoping we’d get 20 people to sign up for the workshop, and we had an overwhelming response from around 50 people and another 15 or 20 who said, “I really want to do this but I can’t make that date.” To me, it signified that there’s really an interest and a need on this campus for that educational work. People want to step up, and the faculty and staff want to integrate this into their work and live up to the mission of the university.

The CRASE OpEd Project

At the end of Spring 2016 semester, 20 faculty members from each school and college participated in the CRASE OpEd Project where they developed ideas for public scholarship by considering evidence-based arguments that are timely and have public value. During the two day workshop, participants learned about establishing credibility, structures of op-eds, and tips on refining and pitching their ideas.

op-ed project

When writing an op-ed, academics must first understand that their communication goals and style for writing are different than they write for scholarly journals. On the first day, much of the discussion focused on ways of establishing credibility through evidence, being right versus effective, and how to engage in larger conversations. The goal of an op-ed is to speak about your knowledge to a general audience without jargon and get the reader to say, “Tell me more.” Unlike traditional academic writing, it is useful to bring in your personal experience because it connects you to the reader in a way that data can’t.

In the op-ed, there’s a common structure to develop your argument with evidence. Start with a news hook to establish the case for why your op-ed is important now. Common hooks include employing a current event, anniversary, holiday, trend, release of new data, something in popular culture, or highlighting news that should be news. Throughout the op-ed, utilize various types of evidence and anticipate bias from the audience that you want to reach. An important component is to include the technique known as a “To Be Sure,” which addresses potential counter arguments in such a way that it is acknowledged but then persuasively dismissed.  For example, validate the counterargument and trump it with something more urgent or provide a personal caveat. It’s important to create a space to address your opposition with respect and to treat the audience as morally intelligent. In the conclusion, include a call to action that is specific and doable.

Using these ideas, participants developed drafts of their op-eds, and on the second day, they received feedback from their peers. The OpEd Project provides detailed resources on their website including basic op-ed structure, tips for op-ed writing, how to pitch, and submission information for over 100 outlets.

Many of our participants are currently working on their op-eds for submission.  Monisha Bajaj, Associate Professor of Education, published “Community Walks: A Day of Learning for Schools” on Teaching Tolerance. Violet Cheung, Associate Professor of Psychology, was featured on MTV News “The Stakes: Raw Heart Podcast Part 3.” Christina Chong, Assistant Professor of Law, published “Is Hollywood Still an All-White Boys Club?” with the American Bar Association. Lisa de la Rue, Assistant Professor of Education, published the op-ed “Teen in police scandal is a victim, not a ‘sex worker’” in the San Francisco Chronicle. Professor of Law Alice Kaswan published “As court weighs clean power plan, rule’s approach could reduce carbon emissions, improve public health” on The Hill. Assistant Professor of Education, Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales published “Democracy for Some, Not for All” on the Huffington Post. James Zarsadiaz, Assistant Professor of History, published “Why candidates should court Asian American voters” in the San Francisco Chronicle. Assistant Professor Desiree Zequera published “More than Nuance: Recognizing and Serving the Diversity of the Latina/o Community” on EdExcelencia Hispanic-Serving Institutions .