Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New professor's research explores power of words in politics

If you want to parse the language of the latest political advertisements, Vincent Vecera will be happy to join the conversation. If you would rather talk about 1960s jazz music or more recent hip hop, he still would love to talk.

Vecera, a new political science professor at Randolph College, believes words become weapons in politics. He especially enjoys digesting political messages to see the power behind the words. “I don't really follow sports because politics is my sport,” he said. “Politics is the only sport where the trophy matters. The trophy is the order of human civilization.”

In graduate school at the University of Minnesota, Vecera studied the way language sways public discourse. He spent 3,000 hours reading newspapers from across the 20th century and recording the arguments made on a variety of legal issues ranging from abortion and gun regulation to rent control and marriage. He focused on how using the language of civil and political rights changed the discussion of those issues.

“What I showed in my dissertation is that the words we use matter,” Vecera said. He is now writing a book based on that dissertation.

His assessment of the current presidential election? It is more boring than usual, he said. “In one sense, the power of words has been decreased because there has been more material lying,” Vecera said. He predicts a much more interesting 2016 election with a comeback from the party that loses this year.

Vecera chose to teach at Randolph because of the spirit of community that he felt when he visited the campus. People around campus seemed to know and respect each other, he said. The dedication to the school’s honor code strengthened that feeling of community.

“Every college has an honor code, but I was struck by how, throughout my meetings here, people kept coming back to that,” he said. “It was a really wonderful testament to a culture here.”

“I always wanted to work at a small liberal arts college—Not only a teaching college, but a place that had a sense of community and values,” Vecera said. “That made my decision to choose Randolph, instead of a couple of other places, very easy.”

When he is not teaching or writing, Vecera has a passion for music. He listens to five or six new albums each week. He owns about 2,000 records, and he deejayed many parties in college. Some of his favorite genres include 20th century classical music, jazz from the late 1950s and 1960s, and underground hip hop, he said.

Since arriving on campus, Vecera has been impressed by how welcoming and warm everyone has been—and how warm the temperature has been to him since he is acclimated to Minnesota weather. He feels that he is in the right place. “A tenure track position at a place like this is, to me, like winning the lottery,” he said.