November 3, 2010

Professor finds freedom to flourish at Knox

From Romania to Haiti, Visiting Instructor of Political Science Daniel Beers’ interests span the field of international politics. Still, he feels at home at Knox, where the support for faculty development has helped him pursue his interests both here and abroad.

The Knox Student: How did you become interested in political science?
Daniel Beers: I started as a journalism major in college. As I went through the journalism program and understood what it meant to be a newspaper reporter, I discovered I was more interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the problems that concerned me. An academic career would let me really devote myself to studying what I was passionate about.
Then I studied abroad in Ireland, and I had to choose one subject to focus on. I chose political science and had a terrific experience. I had one professor who studied Russia and the former Soviet Union, and he was really inspiring. I was also traveling a lot during this period to Eastern Europe, and I fell in love with the region.

TKS: What did you do your dissertation research on?
DB: My dissertation is on the rule of law and judicial reform in Eastern Europe. My framework for looking at Eastern Europe was the process of democratization, and the more I studied it, the more I realized that the rule of law and institutional actors in transitional states was a fundamental pillar of that process. Constitutional courts in the region work really well, but the rule of law hasn’t taken hold, and the everyday courts aren’t protecting people’s rights…in a way that creates a truly law-based society.

TKS: How did you end up at Knox?
DB: They hired me (laughs). I actually have a funny connection with Knox. I had a friend whose roommate was the daughter of two Knox professors. When I was in graduate school, I had in mind that I wanted to teach at a small liberal arts school where the students were smart, interested…where teaching mattered. My model was Knox without [me] realizing it.

TKS: What do you think of Knox so far?
DB: I’ve been really impressed with the students. I’ve enjoyed the dynamic of the classroom. It really stands out to me the way the college, administrators and my department support me in pursuing what I’m really interested in. I don’t feel pigeonholed.
When I came to campus for my interview, I was asked what my dream course would be, and I said I wanted to teach a course on international development. They were all for it. I don’t think you’d find that in a lot of places.

TKS: What courses are you teaching this term?
DB: I’m teaching a comparative democratization course. We’re looking at political transitions through a theoretical lens and applying that to case studies. Each student chose a particular country and is researching the history of democratization in that country and proposing policy solutions. At the end of the class, we’re having a workshop and talking about the policies the students came up with.
The other course I’m teaching is Russian and Eastern European Politics. Partly for the class, I started Russian and Eastern European Politics Movie Night, which is open to all of campus.

TKS: What’s next for you?
DB: My international development course looks like it’s going to happen next fall. The class will focus pretty specifically on Haiti. My wife and I have done some volunteering there. We’re going back in December, and I’m hoping to firm up some connections so the class can do a trip over December break. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the culminating of a couple years of personal and professional growth…it’s really the start of the future for me.

Anna Meier

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