Duke University

Kenneth Land, sociology professor at Duke University, speaks as part of the “Brown Bag Seminars.” Land’s research focuses on the impacts of various social indicators.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Kenneth Land, sociology professor at Duke University, discussed the social indicators movement during a lecture at the Population Research Center’s “Brown Bag Seminars” on Friday. 

According to Land’s research, “The Sociology of Social Indicators,” social indicators include unemployment rates, crime rates and measures of subjective well-being as a whole. Land, co-director of the Center for Population Health and Aging at Duke, said he wanted to use feedback from the lecture to further his new research, which he hopes to have published next year. 

“When ‘Social Indicators’ was published in 1966, it came out during the time of the space race,” Land said. “During all of this, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences worked with NASA to detect and anticipate the consequences the space program could have on society. Because of the lack of data at hand, this helped develop the idea of indicators.”

Land also discussed the general development of social indicators by showing their impacts in the different decades.

“During the ’70s, you have lots of data systems being initiated,” Land said. “In the ’80s, there was a concern that the field was dying. By the 1990s and the 2000s, there is a revival and
expansion.” 

Part of the reason for the expansion is because of the study on the quality of life, according to Land. From that idea, Land said social indicators can now be measured through the Human Development Index, also known as HDI. The index most commonly measures the human life expectancy after birth, years of schooling and living standards.

Land said economists are finally accepting the impact of people’s happiness on the economy.

Land also discussed the negative consequences that developments such as technology and the top-1 percent can have. The impact of the top-1 percent is an important aspect in his current research.   

Jim Walker, director of sustainability at UT, said he enjoyed the lecture.  

“I thought this was a good turnout,” Walker said. “I thought it was interesting how Land was able to take the University research and implement it into the community.”    

Sociology professor Robert Hummer said Land’s work has helped provide specific information on social changes.

“It was a great and interesting lecture,” Hummer said. “In terms of what Land has done for our field, he has shown how to better understand, measure and assess social changes. In his research, I would like to see Land really bring out the extreme wealth and show the broad measure on society.”

Roughly 3,900 boxes were stacked together in the shape of Bevo for America Recycles Day to demonstrate the University’s commitment to recycling.

Campus Environmental Center members began building the fort early Friday morning with the help of 800 volunteers and finished within a few hours.

The box fort was designed to break Duke University’s record of 3,500 boxes, which was achieved over the summer.

Emily Mixon, Plan II and geography senior and  Campus Environmental Center director, said the organization has been collecting boxes since August from various local businesses and dining halls around campus.

“I grew up in Austin and have been around this culture, but we have students who might not have come from a background where they realize the impact that waste has on the environment,” Mixon said.

 

The Campus Environmental Center also promoted UT’s switch to single stream recycling, a new system where no sorting is required for papers, plastics, glass and other materials. Mixon said this new system would hopefully make it easier for students to recycle.

Karen Blaney, the Office of Sustainability program coordinator, partnered with Campus Environmental Center to build the fort and run the sustainability fair in the afternoon.

“There’s a lot of confusion about whether UT is really committed to recycling or not,” Blaney said. “The message for the day is that we do it and care about it.”

The fair allowed students to learn about recycling on campus and participate in the fort’s deconstruction at the end of the day.

Chemical engineering sophomore Paul Benefiel is creating a UT chapter of television host Stephen Colbert’s half-serious political action committee, which will be called Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. The PAC is the first university chapter of Colbert’s PAC, which was created to raise awareness about the increasing influence of super PACs.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Following the lead of television host Stephen Colbert, chemical engineering sophomore Paul Benefiel is creating a UT chapter of the comedian’s half-serious super political action committee, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

Texans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, as the PAC will be called, is the first university chapter of Colbert’s PAC, which was created to raise awareness about the increasing influence of super PACs in local, state and national elections, Colbert said. A second chapter has also been created at Duke University, Bloomberg reports.

Benefiel said he pitched the idea of creating a university chapter to the producer of The Colbert Report last fall, and only discovered that he had been given approval to go ahead after seeing Colbert endorse the idea on his show last Thursday.

“I hatched the idea in my government class when Occupy Wall Street was starting, and talking with a few of my friends, I figured that this would be a better way to get the idea of change across,” Benefiel said. “The Colbert PAC had a national message, a figurehead to organize around, and college students naturally love and support him.”

After the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, PACs have been able to become ‘super PACs’ that are allowed to accept unlimited donations to support their chosen candidate.

This decision has allowed a few wealthy individuals and politicians to disproportionately influence elections, Benefiel said.

“We’re going to get out the message that Citizens United has changed the face of American politics in a very bad way,” Benefiel said. “We have to show people how politicians are using and abusing [the decision of] Citizens United.”

Although Colbert announced his blessing for the UT chapter, the two PACs will not be officially tied and will act as independent organizations, said Benefiel, who wants to use the PAC to raise awareness about Texas donors and issues.

Two of the largest political donors in the United States, billionaires Bob Perry and Harold Simmons, both reside in Texas. The two have independently made a total of $110 million in campaign contributions to various candidates and campaigns over the past 10 years, according to documents published by the Austin based nonprofit Texans for Public Justice.

In February alone, the two contributed a total of $3.1 million to Restore Our Future, Mitt Romney’s leading super PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records examined by The Daily Texan. In that same period, Colbert’s PAC raised a total of $219,139 from all donors.

The vast majority of that money came from Perry, who has been the single largest political donor in the United States for the past 10 years, said executive director of TPJ Craig McDonald.

“There’s a lot of concern from people who think democracy should be for all people, who don’t want a few rich individuals buying an election,” McDonald said. “People are outraged by Citizens United, and Stephen Colbert has been one of the most effective voices in bringing to light what’s been happening since the decision.”

Benefiel said he is currently seeking to create a student organization to organize the PAC around, and has already filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. He plans to begin meetings on how to raise and use money by next week.

“It would be in the University’s best interest to permit a student organization, because it shines a spotlight on the campus,” said Benefiel, who is still checking whether it is allowed by UT’s laws to have a student organization affiliated with a PAC. “If not, then we will just find another meeting place.”

Texans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow will also be making rounds to university organizations including the University Democrats, College Republicans and Libertarian Longhorns in the hopes of gathering support, Benefiel said.

“We certainly encourage students who wish to raise awareness about how money influences politics,” said UDems president Huey Fischer. “We look forward to seeing the work that Texans for a Better Tomorrow [has] set out
to accomplish.”

While he could not speak on behalf of the members of his organization, Fischer said the University Democrats support any group that encourages activism and political awareness among students.

“Transparency in our elections is an integral facet of Democracy that this party will always support,” Fischer said.

In the meantime, Benefiel said he has already gathered the support of up to 40 UT students and Austinites interested in the PAC, including some who have already offered donations and free legal advice.

“Of course, Democrats and their political views lean with getting political money out of politics, but Republican positions don’t support Citizens United either,” Benefiel said. “It creates a market where corporations have to spend their money on campaign finance when they would prefer to spend it on regulation reform. It’s a nonpartisan issue.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Lights, Camera, Political Action: Students begin first university chapter inspired by Colbert's super PAC