Rehabilitating statesmanship

Paul Carrese, director of new ASU school on civic thought and leadership, brings passion for 'old-fashioned' concept

October 12, 2016

Paul Carrese thinks there’s an important concept missing from our current political lexicon: statesmanship.

It’s kind of an old-fashioned word, especially with something of a decline in statesmanlike examples in our hyper-partisan political environment and with the word’s implicit exclusion of stateswomen. Paul Carrese, director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership Paul Carrese wants to bring back the concept of statesmanship in American education, in the hopes of correcting what he sees as "great discontent and anger and polarization" in the country.

But there is something important there that Carrese wants to rehabilitate.

“In public affairs, I do think it would be helpful to bring back that old term and debate it,” Carrese said. “Why was that always held up as a term of honor and distinction?”

Carrese is well-positioned to consider statesmanship and all that it can mean. He is Arizona State University’s new director of the forthcoming School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, which will launch as a stand-alone academic entity within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in fall 2017.

One of Carrese’s goals for the new school is not only to create an environment for vigorous debate of topics in politics and civil society, but hopefully to develop some much-needed statesmen and stateswomen in the process.

So who exemplifies the virtues of statesmanship? Carrese notes that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln set an American standard, and says that more recent examples may include Ronald Reagan and former New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who also served as an ambassador and worked in several presidential administrations. There are also international figures like Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of the United Kingdom during the 1980s, and Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister from 1969 to 1974.

These are “men and women who are clearly a cut above in their commitment to service before self,” Carrese said. “It’s not that they’re not ambitious for greatness and distinction, but they’re committed to a larger set of principles, liberal democratic principles, in [the United States’] case.”

(When he refers to democratic principles, Carrese means democratic with a small ‘d’ — principles without preference for political party.)

Carrese himself could be considered something of a statesman. Not because of any political office he has held, but because of a dedication to the ideals of political thought, philosophy and debate that he has brought to his 19 years of service as a civilian professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, his current academic home. (He starts at ASU on Jan. 1.)

His parents were both in serving professions: His father was a teacher and guidance counselor; his mother was a nurse. Neither was too far removed from the immigrant experience, and both felt gratitude to be in the United States.

As such, dinner-table conversation often focused on public affairs, politics and history, which, Carrese said, primed him to study the humanities when he got to college.

His CV reads as well as any: Rhodes Scholar, post-doctoral work at Harvard, fellowships abroad and at home, a handful of books authored and edited on political science and political thought.

At the Air Force Academy outside Colorado Springs, Carrese was charged with designing and administering an honors program for high-achieving cadets.

After the attacks of 9/11, Carrese and his team felt that for all the success the United States was having technologically and economically, there was something missing.

“We were having international and national leadership, political problems,” he said. “And so we needed to come up with the right balance of excellence in STEM with excellence in social sciences and humanities, the foundations for political leadership and military strategic leadership.”

What emerged was a successful program that led Carrese, who has spent his entire adult life thinking and writing and arguing about political ideas and leadership, inexorably to his new position at ASU.

The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership will aim to prepare learners for future public policy and leadership challenges in several ways. One of the most important will have students explore the great works of political thought, and the great leaders of American history, with an eye toward turning their lives to contributing to the common good. There, Carrese can help.

“Paul’s background contains the exact combination of academic rigor and real-world problem-solving and leadership training that will make the new school such a success,” said Pat Kenney, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “As with most things we do, ASU is embarking on making a concrete, measurable difference in our society, and I am confident, with Paul’s leadership, we will.”

If successful, that difference has the potential to address a clear and present problem in American civic life: a political system that, to many, seems absolutely broken.

“There clearly is something not going so well with American political life right now,” Carrese said. “Great discontent and anger and polarization … So we all need to pull together as universities and civil society and government and public affairs to do better than we’re doing now.”

A challenge this university may be uniquely situated to address.  

“I’m very proud of ASU that it is innovating in this way.”

ASU theater students to premiere autobiographical play

October 12, 2016

Throw a group of grad students into a room, and tell them to make a play from scratch. Creating a cohesive work might be hard with around a dozen artists bringing their own ideas and identities to the project. But Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s MFA theater cohort used that potential hurdle as an asset when devising the MainStage production “Out of Many,” which premieres Friday, Oct. 14 at the Lyceum Theatre.

“We’ve been working on this play for about two years now together,” said Phil Weaver-Stoesz, one of the play’s three directors. “It’s one of the core components of the cohort process that all of the performers, designers and directors go through.” ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre play Out of Many Download Full Image

With the play’s run scheduled a few weeks before the election, the cohort began exploring themes of America and what it means to be American.

“As that developed over the course of the year it became more and more clear that what really mattered was the differences in the way that we all perceive what that means,” said Wyatt Kent, another one of the directors. 

The final play is a one-of-a-kind production featuring various vignettes devised by members of the cohort — told from different perspectives and in different ways.

“We wanted to make show about our identity in America and what that means to each of us,” said Kyra Jackson, also a director. “Because we obviously can’t agree on one identity that we all have in this wonderful, weird country.”

Weaver-Stoesz says the autobiographical nature of the show makes it unlike other shows and impossible to reprise.  

“This could only be done by this specific group of people,” he said. “This show could never be passed on and redone somewhere else with some other group of people. It feels so personal to us because it’s our own stories. It’s our own writing. It’s our own thinking.” 

He said working on such personal, and at times vulnerable, issues, everyone in the group keeps each other brave.

“Through the process of this development, which has been at times both beautiful and painful, we have had to square and come to terms with each other,” said Vickie Hall, a member of the cohort. “It’s making us, I think, ultimately stronger as a group of people who are making art together.”

Pulling their disparate identities together at a time when the country seems so divided is also part of what makes the play timely, according to members of the cohort. 

“I don’t think the show purports to have any clear answers as to here’s what it means to a citizen of this country or living in this country, but what it does do is shows interpretations of a wide variety of perspectives,” Kent said. “Looking into individual stories is one of the most valuable things that we can do in order to better understand the country as a whole.”

The stories range from football to food, from movement to dialogue, and from serious to funny. 

“I was really inspired by two of the people in the cast; one of them comes from Louisiana and one of them comes from Mississippi,” Weaver-Stoesz said. “And they both have this experience with gumbo — the food. I was interested in them talking about what gumbo is to them. The piece also plays with movement in terms of coming to the table, leaving the table, sort of separation and unity.”

Another story, created by a stand-up comedian, uses physical comedy to make a metaphor of Facebook’s targeted advertisements.

One of the more serious pieces deals with race and was inspired by an actual conversation between members of the cohort.  

“Basically it’s centered around an actual discussion between an African American and a group of Caucasian Americans,” said actor and creator Michael Alexander. “And we’re just talking. We’re hashing things out. We’re talking about stereotypes, and then it gets more serious.”

Conversation is exactly what Alexander hopes audiences get from “Out of Many.” 

“No one can get anywhere if no one talks to each other,” Alexander said. “And that’s what this entire piece is about – to start conversation on these different ideas, using art.”

How to watch

Catch one of the performances of “Out of Many” at the Lyceum Theatre, 901 South Forest Mall, on ASU’s Tempe campus: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 14-15, 20–22; 2 p.m., Oct. 16, 23.

Tickets are $16, general; $12, ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12, senior; $8, student. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts