Faculty Experts: Media Consultants, Policy Advisors, Museum Curators and More

Photographed in the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibition Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, for which he was principal investigator, David Gruber is an assistant professor in Baruch’s Department of Natural Sciences and an expert in biological oceanography.

Many of Baruch’s professors and administrators are sought by the media and city institutions to share their insights and talents with us all

And Now a Word from Our Experts

Faculty Make Their Mark as Media Consultants, Policy Advisors, Museum Curators, and More

Faculty Make Their Mark as Media Consultants, Policy Advisors, Museum Curators, and More

When asked how he prepares for media appearances, Lawrence N. Field Professor of Entrepreneurship Edward Rogoff says, “I straighten my tie.” His cool confidence comes from years of experience: now chair of the Zicklin School’s Department of Management, Rogoff (right) had his first foray into the world of media in 1980, when he was a Columbia University doctoral candidate writing a dissertation on regulated industries, using the New York City taxicab industry as a case study. Rogoff had testified against a proposed fare hike, citing flawed Taxi and Limousine Commission data; a New York Times reporter called with a question and wound up asking him to write an OpEd piece—with a three-hour deadline.
Rogoff wrote the piece, dictated it over the phone (“the way it was done in those days”), and the Op-Ed was in the paper by 9 that evening. “It was a highly pressured situation,” remembers Rogoff. His dramatic initiation as a media expert proved influential: “Apparently the Koch Administration took note. The fare hike was revoked.” Since then Rogoff has been interviewed for television, radio, print, and blogs hundreds of times.

When a news story hits, the media regularly turn to a Baruch College expert—often a professor or administrator—for insight into a complex event or trend. The College’s many media experts are so well versed in real-world fields and in the needs of journalists that they have become the go-to resource to clarify topical issues.

What’s the challenge of being a media expert? According to Rogoff, “It’s to reduce your comments to the basics—to say it in a sentence or less. Writing academic papers is the exact opposite. . . . Experts sometimes need to jump to a conclusion that is substantiated by evidence.” (Read Q&A with Edward Rogoff.)

The need for expert analysis has grown with the proliferation of media outlets, mobile media, and the 24/7 news cycle and is never more apparent than during the weeks leading up to a presidential election. It’s David Birdsell’s busiest time of the year.

Late one Friday evening this fall, well past “quitting time,” Birdsell, the dean of Baruch’s School of Public Affairs, was in his office fielding inquiries from the Huffington Post, NPR, Fox News, and NY1. Birdsell’s academic work centers on the nexus of communication, media, and information technology in politics, government, and nonprofit administration. But he is most widely known as an expert and guest commentator on political debating.

“Media interviews offer a chance to share an academic perspective on topics that might otherwise get only the ‘popular wisdom’ treatment, which is often wrong,” says Birdsell, who estimates that he has been interviewed well over 1,000 times. “The trick is to place that perspective in the vernacular of modern television—or tweets, or blogs—and make sure that a nonacademic audience stays around to get the insight.”

Of his first major interview, with CNN in 1988, he recalls: “I didn’t know where to go or how to sit or whom to look at but learned very quickly that getting called back means moving deftly back and forth across the clutter of the studio floor, not demanding attention off camera, and never questioning the to-the-second tyranny of the clock. And occasionally saying something smart.”

It’s clear that in this role Birdsell sees his job as making the journalist’s job easier. “As a group, journalists are smart, dedicated, and tell the best stories that they have the resources and the time to tell,” he says. (Read Q&A with David Birdsell.)

There’s a certain amount of fearlessness needed to put oneself at the disposal of the media as an expert. Linda Allen, the William F. Aldinger Chair in Banking and Finance in the Bert W. Wasserman Department of Economics and Finance, routinely comments on risk management, bank regulation, and management of financial institutions. For a Crain’s New York article last spring, Allen (left) predicted that big banks would be tightening credit for small businesses through the next two to three years.

Is Allen ever concerned about going on the record for a high-profile media outlet? (At the writing of this article, she was being interviewed by a producer for 60 Minutes for a segment on continued problems in the mortgage market.) “I never shy away from going on the record,” she says. “We’re not in an ivory tower; we’re in a business school. The market informs our theoretical and empirical academic work and puts our research to the test.” Allen has just co-developed a systemic risk model that forecasts macroeconomic downturns six months in advance, potentially providing “an early warning signal that would allow regulators in the U.S., Europe, and Asia to take actions to mitigate the severity of future financial crises.” She wants to share the results of her research and have it make a difference, and being a media resource is one means to that end.

The Expert on the spot

Our faculty experts make themselves available to the media anytime and anywhere. Cubanologist and Associate Professor Ted Henken (right) was interviewed by NPR for Talk of the Nation by cellphone while on his honeymoon in Spain last August. The experience left him impressed by the new iPhone app that allowed NPR to get studio-quality sound in the aired interview. “You’d never believe that I was thousands of miles away talking on a cellphone!” he says. Henken holds a joint appointment in the Departments of Sociology and Anthropology and Black and Hispanic Studies and is frequently interviewed by leading newspapers and media outlets on Cuba—its economic reform, race and ethnic relations, and social media and Internet use. In the last two years, there’s been a spike in media interest in his areas of expertise, which he attributes to economic changes in Cuba and greater possibilities for travel to the island. “In one year, I was interviewed by the New York Times four times,” says Henken. He’d never been interviewed by the newspaper previously.

Natural Sciences Assistant Professor David Gruber (topmost photo), an expert in biological oceanography, has even put himself in harm’s way to help journalists get the story as they want it framed. Last August he was with a scientific expedition in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific searching for novel biological fluorescence on coral reefs. “It was during one of our first night dives, and we pondered how the reef animals would react to our bizarre bright blue lights,” recalls Gruber. “To compound matters, we were diving in a site aptly called Shark Point. Just as I entered the inky water, a cameraperson for National Geographic decided to have me surface and conduct an interview. I felt like a piece of bait and wondered what could possibly be a more stressful interview.”

The role of media expert may well be an acquired taste. Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas, the Valentín Lizana y Parragué Chair of Latin American Studies in Baruch’s Black and Hispanic studies department, calls many of her interactions with the media “so rushed, so quick. . . . Those experiences have a way of fading.” Ramos-Zayas (left) has been interviewed on such topics as critical issues for Latinos and Latin American studies, race, and anthropology of affect by Sirius Radio and ABC Tiempo, among others. She has found journalists who are genuinely engaged with the topic at hand and willing to work to get the article right, although she laments that “they can get frustrated with me. Sometimes I can’t give or approve of a catchy quote that sells.”

Is the inconvenience, interruption, discomfort, and potential danger worth it? “I love the ability to get my ideas and analysis out into the public sphere,” says Henken. “It’s especially gratifying for a scholar, since much of the work we do is done in isolation and obscurity.” Ramos-Zayas concurs, noting that she relishes “the chance to reach an audience outside the university, especially through Spanish-language outlets.” Says Gruber, “The media plays an essential role, conveying information from those who know to those who need to know. They always bring it back to the larger picture and often ask insightful questions that can even make me see the larger landscape differently.”

The Expert as Advisor

Many Baruch faculty offer expertise that reaches beyond their individual research and encompasses the broader resources of the College’s 16 academic centers and institutes. Distinguished Public Affairs Professors James Krauskopf, director of the Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management (CNSM), and Micheline (“Mickey”) Blum, director of Baruch College Survey Research (BCSR), are two noteworthy examples. Krauskopf (left) and Blum (right) oversee research on behalf of government and nongovernment organizations, nonprofits, and for-profits.

In 2011 Krauskopf’s expertise was tapped by N.Y.S. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who invited him to join a 32-member statewide Leadership Committee on Nonprofit Revitalization. Within the year, the task force presented recommendations that informed the attorney general’s Nonprofit Revitalization Act, passed by the state legislature in May 2012. “These reforms will be important over the long run,” says Krauskopf. His expertise was engaged in a more public venue in October 2012, when he was invited to give testimony before the City Council on the Mayor’s Management Report. “The center is committed to exploring and expanding the relationships between theory and practice and undertaking real-world challenges,” he explains. “So it’s very healthy for us to work with public officials.”

Real-world issues are at the heart of the work of Baruch College Survey Research (BCSR). Under the directorship of Blum, BCSR designs and conducts polls and surveys for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, media, and academic partners on a wide range of public affairs topics. High-profile BCSR surveys and polls for 2012 include the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene surveys to assess public attitudes toward the restaurant grade card initiative and smoking policies. BCSR results are frequently cited by such media outlets as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, CBS New York, NY1, and City and State.

Exhibiting Their Expertise

Assistant History Professor Brian Murphy guest-curated Capital of Capital: New York’s Banks and the Creation of a Global Economy. He also led tours of the Museum of the City of New York exhibition.

Mitchel B. Wallerstein, president of Baruch College, has said, “One of the best ways for Baruch to deepen its engagement with the world outside the campus is through our world-class faculty.” Professors called on to curate museum exhibitions, in addition to their more traditional roles, are another perfect example of this outreach.

David Gruber, our media expert who swam in shark-infested waters (reported above), is also the principal investigator and co-curator for Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, an exhibition currently at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Creatures explores the diversity of organisms that generate light and shows how scientists like Gruber study this natural phenomenon. “Already it is one of the most popular temporary exhibits to premier at AMNH and is on course to break attendance records,” says Gruber with excitement.

Of the simulated night dive section of the exhibition, which represents Gruber’s greatest contribution, he says, “This is probably one of the closest experiences you can get to actually scuba diving on a coral reef as magnificent as the Cayman Islands’ Bloody Bay Wall.” Via touchscreens, museumgoers shine a spotlight on bioluminescent and biofluorescent reef dwellers. Once Creatures completes its New York City run in January 2013, it will travel to Chicago, educating museumgoers there as well.

Gruber isn’t the only current faculty-curator on staff. Assistant History Professor Brian Murphy guest-curated Capital of Capital: New York’s Banks and the Creation of a Global Economy, which ran through October 2012, at the Museum of the City of New York. Murphy has taught U.S. economic history and the history of corporations at Baruch since 2008.

Under his stewardship, Capital of Capital offered a comprehensive survey of New York’s development as a financial center, with objects on display ranging from early bank notes to signs from Occupy Wall Street.

Of the exhibit’s educational purpose, Murphy explains: “You can’t understand American politics and the American economy today without understanding something about how the country’s financial system works, and to understand that you have to have some kind of context for how it became that way.” With Capital of Capital, Murphy became a history teacher for the entire city. (Read more on Brian Murphy and Capital of Capital.)

Don’t be surprised if the next time you check your iPhone, read your newspaper, or watch television news, you see one of Baruch’s experts being quoted in the Wall Street Journal, interviewed by Channel 7 WABC for breaking news, or noted as the member of an important government panel or curator of a top museum exhibition. Many of Baruch’s professors and administrators are sought by the media and city institutions to share their insights and talents with us all.

—Diane Harrigan

Contributing photographers: Andrew Hinderaker, Elena Olivo, Franklyn Roa (’07), Manny Romero, and Jerry Speier

Curious about our faculty experts?
Meet them by area of expertise at www.baruch.cuny.edu/pressroom/sme.htm

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