accountabilitybloke (old blog)

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The saga of an 11th edition….

Over the past several months, my co-authors (Alan Gitelson and Robert Dudley) and I have been working on a major revision of our American Government textbook. This will be the 11th edition, and our first with Oxford University Press. Among the major changes is the way we are approaching the treatment of public policy in a book that focuses on the institutions and political dynamics of American government. In the previous 10 editions we included two chapters at the end of the book focused on domestic and foreign policies respectively. The problem is that in the normal semester most instructors (including yours truly) end up cutting those two chapters due to time constraints.

In this new edition we are integrating short policy discussions (mini chapters?) after each major chapter, with the idea of leaving it up to the instructor to decide how to make use of those “Policy Connections” (PCs) Since I had primary responsibility for the two dropped policy chapters, I assumed primary responsibility for these 3000 to 4000 word Connections.

The new configuration is a bit of a risk in a market filled with books that vary very little in form. But one of the benefits of working with OUP is their willingness to allow us to try something different. We initially started with Houghton Mifflin — a class act among publishers, with one of the best political science editors at the time (Jean Woy) in overall charge. In a sense, Jean’s goal was to rebuild the political science offerings from scratch, and she had a three book approach regarding American government that (for the most part) succeeded. Led by Alan Gitelson (the order of authorship for Dudley and me was decided by a coin toss), our task was to put together a basic textbook that would work in the lower end of the college market –a paperback text that could be used in community colleges lieu of the more elaborate and sophisticated productions that brought in the big bucks at the larger state institutions. As it turned out, our first editions did well in the broader market, and even gained somewhat of a foothold in the expanding AP offerings.

Originally the plan was for our text to go through a new edition every three years, but we have actually ended up on pretty close to a two-year cycle (in addition to the 10 formal editions, there were a couple of “revised” in the mix). The big adoptions of the early editions were not repeated, primarily because of the continuous shake up of publishers. HMCO, for instance, purchased D C Heath as a “defensive move” when it looked like it was about to be taken over, and in the process several additional American government books were added to the “list” (including a best seller by James Q Wilson) and we soon became just one among many that the company marketed. Eventually we ended up as part of Cengage, and after a couple of editions under that imprint (actually Wadsworth) it became evident that our book was hardly an afterthought — one among so many that it was clear that the 10th was likely to be the last.

Facing that reality, the three of us decided to ask Cengage to release the rights to future editions to us so we might pursue an alternative publisher — one that was small enough to give our book the attention it was not receiving from Cengage, and yet willing to invest in the effort at future revisions. Much to our surprise and delight, the political science folks at Cengage were willing to do so, and while the process took a long time as it processed through their legal offices, we eventually obtained those rights. While we waited out the formalities (which took months), we received permission from the Cengage folks to market the book to alternative publishers. A number were interested, and each of them would have been fine.

It turned out our timing was perfect in two respects. First, in a scenario very similar to the HMCO effort headed by Jean Woy, OUP was launching its American government textbook line and (following the suggestion of its sales people who happened to stop by Alan’s office) we submitted a proposal to Jennifer Carpenter, the executive editor at OUP overseeing the development of the American government textbook line. For us, the advantages of OUP were obvious, for while the other publishers we spoke with were focused on publishing merely a revised update of the 10th, OUP was willing to consider the kind of reshaping and reconfiguring we thought ought to be done. Moreover, there is the advantage of a first rate imprint — the OUP reputation for publishing quality books is obvious. And yet despite that reputation, they are actually operating (editorially) at a scale closer to what we encountered in the early days at HMCO.

The second “timing” factor emerged a few months after we had finalized the rights transfer and started to work on the 11th edition. Cengage declared bankruptcy, and while in the long term this was a matter of financial strategy, the process would have frozen all assets — including all contracted rights. In short, we would not have been able to get those rights back for quite a few years, and thus would not have been able to sign with OUP or anyone else….

At this moment we are finalizing the drafted revisions, and OUP’s schedule has the book ready to go to the printer immediately after the 2014 midterm elections — and thus be ready for adoption for spring 2015 term classes. We are certain that OUP will do a terrific job marketing the book — and they will do so by highlighting the revisions as well as offering the book at a reasonable price.

That said, I have several other projects going (don’t ask) and the workload is likely to consume whatever plans I might have had for a summer break…. Still, very excited that the 11th edition will prove worthy of the efforts we (and OUP) are investing in it.

 

April 10th, 2014 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

#Lessig and Reform

As mentioned in the previous post, Larry Lessig gave one of his master presentations (does anyone else make such effective use of powerpoints as he does?) at the University of New Hampshire on March 31. The idea for the talk emerged from the fact that I am teaching courses on Congress and Corruption (yes, those are two courses, not one), and found myself requiring his Republic Lost book in both. Since he teaches just down the road a bit at Harvard, a colleague suggested that I might extend an invitation to talk to my classes (both meet on Mondays), and in short order he accepted and the class visits turned into a well attended campus event.

The talk was an extended version of one Lessig had prepared for his most recent TED presentation, and once you see that latest TED it will become clear why he was so quick and willing to accept my invite. Lessig is a man on a mission, and New Hampshire plays a central role in his efforts to mobilize a movement aimed directly at campaign finance reform and fixing what he terms a critical “flaw” in the US political system.

His devotion to that mission is single-minded, and he just might succeed given the intellectual and rhetorical powers he brings to the effort. He draws inspiration from his friend Aaron Schwartz and the memorable work of Granny D that is associated with the now emasculated McCain-Feingold reforms. His NHRebellion group is small but energized, and the Rootstrikers effort grows with each view of his latest TED. Moreover, he seems in it for the long haul (through 2016) and he might succeed if he can reactivate the now latent energy of the Occupy movement to his more focused cause.

Lessig’s efforts have me thinking more about reform movements and their role in American history. I suspect there was no more important force in the development of modern US government and politics than the Progressive Movement — a movement that essentially engulfed and altered our political system. While today one thinks of political movements in terms of rallies and “occupy”-like tactics, the roots of the American Progressive Movement is found in the work of Lessig-like lectures in the 1880s pursuing specific but critical changes in the way we conduct governance and politics. Consider the work of Woodrow Wilson, fresh from his PhD, giving lectures on the need to reform the business side of government; or the efforts of many others during what Richard Hofstadter has termed the “The Age of Reform”. That “age” lasted for several decades, and along the way it ran into opposition and morphed into several variants. One can imagine that happening again if folks like Lessig are persistent and able to push the message through the current channels that can reach an increasingly cynical public.

April 9th, 2014 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

Corruption in organizations and markets

In my seminar on Corruption and Integrity last evening, I highlighted the distinction between two forms of organizational corruption: an organization of corrupt individuals (OCI) and a corrupt organization (CO). Based on a 2008 article in the Academy of Management Review,* the distinction is really a simple but fascinating one that stresses whether collusive corruption within an organization is designed to benefit individuals or the collective body.

Immediately, the discussion turned to Congress and the current regime of campaign financing that has drawn so much attention in recent months. We have been focused on Congress for several weeks, and especially Lawrence Lessig’s argument about systemic corruption in the Republic Lost and his TED presentations on that topic. (Lessig was kind enough to offer an extended version of his argument at a lecture on the University of New Hampshire campus on March 31.) Putting aside for the moment Chief Justice John Roberts’ somewhat narrow version of corruption (i.e. as quid pro quo bribery), the question raised by the distinction is whether Congress is an organization of corrupt individuals or a corrupt organization. To say the least, an interesting question…

The distinction might also help us understand another interesting case making headlines. As more information emerges about the case of General Motors and decisions surrounding the faulty ignition switches in Chevrolet Cobalts, one has to wonder whether we are looking at an OCI or CO.

This morning I’ve been reading Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys, and it seems that the distinction can also be applied to entire markets. Accepting the premise that high-frequency trading (HFT) is a form of systemic corruption, one has to ask whether Wall Street operating under the HFT regime is a market of corrupt individuals or simply a corrupt marketplace.

Like I said, interesting.

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*Pinto, Jonathan, Carrie R. Leana and Frits K. Pil. “Corrupt Organizations or Organizations of Corrupt Individuals? Two Types of Organization-Level Corruption.” Academy of Management Review 33, no. 3 (2008): 685-709.

 

April 8th, 2014 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments

So much more to say….

In recent weeks I found myself posting longer and longer comments of Facebook? Perhaps it is time to get back to blogging mode….

April 7th, 2014 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments