Fresh Faculty: Ruxandra Paul
Issue   |   Wed, 09/28/2016 - 00:31

Professor of Political Science Ruxandra Paul received her PhD from Harvard University, where she was also a postdoctoral fellow before coming to Amherst. Her interests include recent international migration patterns, especially in Europe, and the impact of globalization on national borders.

Q: What did you do before coming to Amherst?

A: I was a postdoctoral fellow in the government department at Harvard University. I taught classes on international migration and cyberpolitics there for two years after completing my PhD at Harvard. I got my PhD in comparative politics and government. Before that, I went for my undergraduate studies at a liberal arts college, northwest of here, that shall not be named. I arrived there as an international student, so I had no idea of the rivalries. I very quickly learned about it.

Q: What do you like about Amherst?

A: I really like the students. I think they are an exceptional group of individuals who are highly passionate about learning, so we share a lot of things. They’re bringing so much to the classroom. They are learning from me, I hope, and I am learning from them. It’s very exciting because learning works much better if it goes both ways instead of unidirectionally.

The political science department is very collegial and supportive. It’s great for fostering intellectual development and we’re thinking about our students. We are always engaged in conversations about how to make courses and experiences more meaningful and relevant to society today.

I like the fact that there is a lot that goes on in the classroom and outside of it. I am, in a parallel universe, also a certified group fitness instructor. I started teaching group fitness classes at Harvard, and I came to Amherst, but didn’t know if I was able to continue with this. I talked to the Wellness Center and we made it happen. Right now, I am teaching a barre class on the wellness schedule.

There’s learning and growth going on both academically and outside of that. It’s amazing that students and faculty are ready to try new things.

Q: Why did you decide to come to Amherst?

A: I’m a big believer in the idea of a liberal arts education. It’s something that all the universities that I’ve been in share, this commitment to the liberal arts. Amherst is an exceptional place for teaching and research.

Q: What are you primary academic interests?

A: I work on international migration. I am especially interested in transnational dynamics — flows that cross national borders that link political systems and societies, and even smaller communities and households, in transcendence to a nation-state. This kind of interest I developed first by looking into new flows of people across borders.

I think there is a very big difference between migrations we saw in the past … Right now, we are seeing a phenomenon where people are engaged in “high mobile migration.” They don’t see themselves as immigrants or disconnected from their country of origin. Instead [there is] circular movement across borders. They move back and forth between their country of origin and their destination country. They go there, climb up the social ladder at home, make money and bring resources back. We know a lot about the old types of migration and a lot of research has been done in that end. We know very little about “high migration.” I’m interested in seeing … how does [high migration] change politics in societies? I’m working on European politics. I am studying the effects of free movement in where the borders have become more porous. People have been crossing the border more frequently as if they are crossing over their own land … it’s not just the money they bring back but the ideas, views of politics and societies. That ends up transforming these places so that’s what I’m interested in.

I teach a seminar in cyberpolitics. There we explore several types of themes. We look at the effect the internet has on democratic political context, issues having to do with civil society and the crystallization of civil society on the global scale, going beyond the nation state … We look at cybersecurity on the whole spectrum, from cyber-incident to cyber-war. Defense strategies and national security in an era of digital threat, use of technology in authoritarian political contexts … how societies are using technology how democratic institutions use technology to make their political demands heard, how technology and societies oppose authoritarian rule.

Q: What other classes are you teaching?

A: I am teaching Building Nation-States, Markets, and Democracy in Europe this semester … Next semester, I will be teaching a class on international migration and the European Union.

Q: How did you get involved with these academic interests?

A: A big part of it has to do with [the fact that] I was a person who was crossing boundaries. I traveled internationally quite a bit. I am originally from Romania, and then I came to the US. I spent some time in Europe, in Oxford, and one year in Paris with a fellowship with the French government when I was doing my dissertation on my book on international migration. There are changes that are palpable and visible. To me they seem intriguing.

Q:What do you hope to contribute to Amherst?

A: I hope to share my passion for political topics with my students. I think that’s a privileged job, to have a love and share that love with others to get them to see why your subject is worthwhile and why it’s useful. Politics is not something we can avoid. I think it’s beneficial for students to be equipped with the tools they need to have a more meaningful and better understanding of what is happening … I will be able to help students see themselves as not as students and consumers of knowledge but rather producers of knowledge. There’s a lot of potential and ideas that people develop. These ideas that people develop are very precious.

The conversations in political science, especially in my field, are ongoing conversations. Students should approach it like entering a room where there is a discussion going on. Students are in the position to make contributions and make a difference. There is very empowering and has kept me in interested in academic research and in the topic.

Q: What hobbies do you have outside of barre classes?

A: I am a long distance runner. I like foreign languages, art, photography, old movies and I obviously like books a lot. I love music — I play piano, guitar, and I sing.

Q: What languages do you speak?

A: I speak French, Romanian, some German and Italian, and I understand some Spanish.

Q: Amherst or Williams?

A: What can I say? Both. I graduated from Williams and I now am here at Amherst. The tension will be forever be there. I think the competition makes us better as we try to outshine the other.