May 2020 Faculty Spotlight
May 2020 Faculty Spotlight with Professor and Faculty Director of the MPA, John Casey
Professor Casey talks his approach to teaching, his research projects (including one on skiing, which he describes as typically a “rich person’s sport”) and his time away on sabbatical.
How has your approach to teaching changed over the years?
The most obvious change is responding the impact of new technologies. About 6 years ago, I started using a class blog as a core element of course participation. Students have to post relevant items on the class blog at least 10 times during the semester. At first, I thought it would be a way for quieter students to “speak up”, through writing. Instead, I soon found that the students who blog earlier and more often are the same ones who speak up in up in class. I am still trying to figure out how to get quieter students to participate more. But probably the biggest impact has been how smart phones have shaped student interactions. I see it as a problem that when students arrive in the classroom, or as soon as they get a break, they pull out their phones and disappear into their own world instead of interacting with others. So now I have built into class time even more opportunities to interact. And it is needed. Last year, I did a “pair up with someone you haven’t yet talked to” exercise about 4 weeks into the semester. I noticed that most students just turned to someone near to them. When I reminded them that they had to speak to someone new, they admitted they hadn’t talked to the people near them.
Tell us about your new research on skiing in Maine.
I’ll start by explaining that from a NYC perspective, we generally see downhill skiing mainly as a rich person’s sport – and it does cost money to head off to the slopes from the city. But in Maine where there is snow on the ground up to 4 months a year, it’s just one of the outdoor activities you do in winter, along with snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice fishing. I spend a lot of time in Maine, as my wife works there, and I ski. One day I was checking the conditions at a ski area I hadn’t been to before and noticed that its website was Blackmountain.org. I was surprised because the extension .org is generally used only by nonprofit organizations, so I did some quick research. It turns out that of the 19 downhill ski areas in Maine, 11 are 501(c)3 nonprofit charities and that the state and local governments provide considerable financial support for skiing. I am researching what that tells up about what we consider to be a public service and the political economy of skiing as a public service.
You’re developing content on nonprofit numbers and activities in New York City, State, and the metro area – can you talk a bit about that?
How many nonprofits are there in New York? What do they do? Where do they get their money? The answers to questions like that are key to understanding the sector, for researchers and for professionals who work in the sector. In the late 1990s, there was an initiative at the CUNY Graduate Center called the New York Nonprofit Sector Project that collected and analyzed the data. It shut down in the early 2000s and no one has been doing that work since then. At our MSPIA Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management, we decided we needed to do it, so we started the Data Site. We are now collaborating with Nonprofit New York, the professional association of nonprofits in the city, to expand the project.
You were on sabbatical recently. How was it? What did you produce during your time away?
As I mentioned, my wife works in Maine, so I simply installed myself full-time for the year in her work city. (It was great not to be a commuter couple for a year!). All winter I skied often – all in the name of frontline research of course. But I also found the time to do the interviews and document gathering for the ski research and prepare the draft of an article on the topic. I also developed presentations about skiing in Maine that I have already given at academic conferences. I also worked on two other papers: on the relationship between nonprofit and for-profit international aid and development; and on media discourse about nonprofits. And I got to travel: to London for an international conference on nonprofit education; and to Beijing where I taught at Beijing Normal University for two weeks, hosted by Li Yang, a colleague from BNU who was with us recently at Baruch as a Fulbright Scholar.