Four Must-Read University of La Verne Faculty Books
by Natalie Sirna
photography by Melody Blazauskas
Did you know that some of your favorite University of La Verne professors are also published authors? When they’re not busy grading papers or giving lectures, these professors are culminating their own projects and putting in long hours of writing and research. Dr. Allyson Brantley, Professor Ian Lising, Dr. Kenneth Marcus, and Dr. Jason Neidleman are four University of La Verne professors who have each put out books in recent years. The following reviews of their books share their unique experiences and academic interests as published authors.
Dr. Allyson Brantley, “Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and “Remade American Consumer Activism (Justice, Power, and Politics)” (2021)
In her book, “Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism (Justice, Power, and Politics),” Dr. Allyson Brantley, University of La Verne assistant professor of history and director of honors and interdisciplinary initiatives, takes readers through one of the most tumultuous consumer boycotts in 20th Century America. This is the story of how union members, progressive students, Black and Chicano activists, Native Americans, feminists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community came together to unite against one common enemy: the Coors Brewing Co. Coors’ ties to antiunionism, discrimination, and the conservative party led to a series of explosive and scandalous lawsuits fueled by the power of working class consumers.
Dr. Brantley started writing this project in graduate school as a history student. In a Latino and Chicano History class, she read a textbook with a tiny blurb quickly mentioning the Coors boycott. Surprised by this event that took place in her home state of Colorado, she began doing research in Colorado archives the summer after her first year at graduate school. It was then that she realized she stumbled upon a highly interesting story. Researching the boycott inspired her to keep digging and asking questions. “It demonstrated to me that boycotts can work, and I didn’t think a lot of people were writing about boycott activism over a long period of time.”
The Coors Brewing Co. was and still is a huge presence in the state of Colorado, which was partly why the boycott was so significant. The company was founded in the 1870s, and by the 1950s, it had become a household name with virtually every family having a case in the refrigerator. Dr. Brantley recounts the start of the first major conflict in the 1950s, stemming from tense labor relations at its main brewery in Golden, Colorado. “Labor union members and workers called out the mistreatment they were receiving and started to call for a boycott. This emerges a narrative that Coors is anti-worker and anti-union.” Additionally, minority groups were experiencing mistreatment from the company. “Black and Chicano groups found it difficult to get hired, and this added a discriminatory narrative to the company.” This malpractice from the company struck a chord with people during the era of the civil rights movement. “Additionally, in some investigations, there were allegations that the company was trying to keep gay men and lesbians out of their workforce. That galvanizes gay people to label Coors as a symbol of oppression.”
The issues that these different groups had with Coors banded them together, and there is strength in numbers. “They can all identify some sort of problem with the company. It becomes easy to see themselves as having a common cause.” The decision to go with a boycott of Coors products proved to be the best course of action in getting the company to change its practices. “Because Coors was such a rich powerful entity, the traditional means of accountability such as union organizing, going through the courts, and governmental regulation, just wasn’t working. The boycott ended up being the most effective tool.”
The beauty of a boycott is that the power lies in the consumer. “In the Coors boycott, the consumers were in control. It was easy to get involved, and it quickly picked up momentum.” However, Dr. Brantley notes that “In order for a boycott to work, you have to have a common objective. There’s a lot of enthusiasm behind boycotts, but if you don’t know what you’re doing it for, it’s easy to lose momentum.” The organizers and participants in a boycott need to have a mutual understanding of why they are boycotting a company in the first place. This sense of purpose motivates people to continue their fight against a powerful corporation.
As for their ability to make real lasting change, Dr. Brantley thinks boycotts are “a really good place to start. Boycotts have been around for a long time, in their general form for around 150 years. and they’ve been a community action. A boycott has its most power when lots of people do it.” If you decide to boycott a certain product or company, don’t stop there. “The next step is convincing other people to do the same thing. Because if enough people do it, we’ve seen that these actions can be very successful. They can impact companies and politics.” While it may be easy to lose momentum when you’re doing it alone, having support will help ensure the boycott’s likelihood of success. “If you add up all the decisions that people make, and understand that other folks are doing the same thing, it can be really effective.”
The Coors boycott was in part fueled by the consumers’ disapproval of the Coors family politics. Dr. Brantley notes that “The Coors family, who owns the brewery, became very prominent in conservative politics in the 1970s.” In 2021, many companies and brands decide to publicly disclose their political affiliations. The decision not to may be perceived as negative or out of touch. However, no matter what side of the aisle a company is on, backlash will likely ensue from the opposing side. “In the case of the Coors boycott, the consumers wanted the company to have different politics than the Coors family. But whatever stance a company takes, they’re going to have people opposing them.” In this boycott, the consumption (or lack of) Coors’ products became a way for consumers to proclaim their politics. “A beer bottle can be a symbol of politics, and if you decide not to drink it, it means something political.” Ultimately, the choices consumers make become a means to signal their politics. “The consumer action is about politics, it’s not just about politics that you want to change, but about politics that you want to demonstrate that you have.”
The Coors boycott came to an end, if only in the legal sense, in 1987. The “AFL-CIO and Coors came to an agreement in 1987, ending the official union boycott. But grudges against Coors continue, even though the company has an improved record of hiring minorities and women, and has reached out – both financially and through marketing – to communities that once actively boycotted its products,” wrote Dr. Brantley in an article in CPR news. Dr. Brantley notes that there are many people who still boycott Coors. In her book, she interviews many founding members who organized the boycott. “There’s a lot of people who still boycott Coors. Most of them have never, ever, touched Coors since the 1980s, and some told me they won’t let their kids bring it into the house. There’s still a deviation to the boycott.”
Dr. Brantley encourages consumers to take a deeper look into the companies they buy from. “Look at the kind of money that a company is spending, not just on advertising, but look at public philanthropic and lobbying records. You can see if the company is actually acting on the views they put out, or if they are just trying to attract new consumers.” Because some companies may want to hide their political ties, it is worth seeing where your money is going and what you may be supporting. “Unfortunately, a lot of companies have practices or politics that might be disagreeable to a lot of people. But in most cases, you can do a little bit of digging to see what’s happening behind the scenes of these larger corporations.” You can buy “Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and “Remade American Consumer Activism (Justice, Power, and Politics)” on Amazon and Uncpress.org.
Professor Ian Lising, “The Spin Doctrine” (2019)
In 2021, it feels utterly impossible to have a civil and productive conversation about politics, or simply about differing opinions. The art of conversation and debate has transformed into a mission to vilify the opposing side. Complicating things further is the use of the terms “fake news” or “alternative facts.” These words are hurled in an attempt to invalidate and obfuscate truth. But Ian Lising, University of La Verne assistant professor of speech communications, knows that the phrase “alternative fact” is actually an oxymoron. “There’s no such thing as an alternative fact. It’s very difficult for people to ascertain what is actual and what is opinion circulated and disguised as truth. ”
Lising has cultivated a successful career in the world of debating and speech communication. He coached teams from Ateneo de Manila University and the University of La Verne, and led them to the World Universities Debating Championships (WUDC). From 2002-2008, Lising served as the World Debate Council Chair and was later named World Council Member Emeritus. He is a six-time WUDC Grand Finals Adjudicator and has been a WUDC Finalist as a debater himself. Lising has since retired from coaching debate, but continues his career as a seasoned educator of speech communication and rhetoric. His latest book is “The Spin Doctrine: Communicating Belief, Truth, and Fact.” In it, he describes the ways in which we can all be more effective communicators, as well as how to have those difficult conversations with those who hold very different views than ourselves.
Before we can understand how to effectively get our point across in a conversation, Lising argues that we have to be able to differentiate between types of information. “I noticed that people would use belief, truth, and fact interchangeably, and would present their beliefs as if they were factual.” This is in part why it has become so difficult to tell fact from fiction. This confusion is a result of spin doctoring, or using information in a way that favors a particular side, or otherwise has an ulterior motive aside from just presenting unbiased information. And although the phrase carries a negative connotation, Lising argues we are all spin doctors, architects of our own narratives. We all carry our own unique biases that contribute to the way we interpret as well as communicate information. Knowing this, we can learn how to use rhetoric to our advantage and further fact rather than fiction.
One of the main things people underestimate about a conversation is how their delivery of information has a profound effect on the listener. “Someone could believe or not believe something based on who said it, when it was said, and how it was said, but it’s the same information.” When we recognize this bias, it can be easier to tell when we are being misled, especially by those who have an agenda to deceive. “Those in power have realized how easily manipulated large masses of people can be. People are looking for the fastest way to get information, and at the same time, they are being fed manipulated information.”
When we fail to do thorough research and just blindly accept the first answer thrown our way, we put ourselves at risk for manipulation and deception. If those in power know that people are willing to accept information unquestioningly, then this allows them to push biased agendas and further the spread of false information. It is imperative we understand that the most popularly held belief is not always the truth. It’s our responsibility to be informed citizens and diligently fact-check the information circulating in politics and popular media. Too often do we welcome agreeable opinions with open arms and without a second thought.
Lising doesn’t subscribe to the idea that ignorance is bliss. Those who choose to be willfully ignorant are ignoring the privilege of living in the age of the internet. “Never before has this much information been at our fingertips. Yet people can’t be bothered to press the “next” button at the bottom of their Google searches, not realizing that companies pay a top dollar to get their websites in the first results.” Of course, not everyone has access to information and education. But for those of us who do have access, many fail to take advantage of the treasure trove of information readily available. Instead of utilizing the infinite sources on the web, we look for the top result, the quickest answer that pops up, and accept that as fact. “In many ways, we’ve become lazy. We want people to process information for us and then give it to us fast, in a ‘buzzfeed’ sort of way. We want a TikTok video. We want something really quick.” This mode of thinking is dangerous because it perpetuates the fallacy that the most popular, easy-to-understand information is synonymous with fact.
A key part of engaging in debate is actually possessing a willingness to hear the opposing side. Although this sounds obvious, it’s something most of us lack. “The American population as a whole has been unwilling to engage in difficult conversations. We’ve become so diametrically opposed to one another, that we don’t want to listen to the other side. We’ve demonized the other side so much, and the hatred is so deep. Because we put each other at such extreme distances, we see no middle ground.” Some may question why it’s so important to listen to the side we don’t agree with. Can’t we just live separately? The answer of course is no, and that wouldn’t actually benefit any of us. When we write-off those with differing views as simply ignorant, uneducated, or unintelligent, we perpetuate a black and white society. It puts others and ourselves in boxes, with no ability to grow and change. Using sweeping, general labels is an easy way to avoid a productive conversation and put up more barriers between us.
Engaging in difficult conversations does more than just let us live amongst other people harmoniously. When we engage with different ideas, perspectives and opinions, we actually diversify our thinking and grow intellectually. When we talk to people with different experiences and worldviews than ourselves, “We are able to elasticize our mindset. When we actively listen to others, we add value to our lives and learn alternative ways to approach issues.” This enriching process is called “cognitive diversity.” It’s precisely what we miss out on when we write off opposing ideas as invalid. “If I throw everything out that someone has to say, I am not affording myself the ability to have a broader perspective. It’s painfully ignorant to assume we are always in the right.” The way that we grow not only as a society, but as individuals, is by surrounding ourselves with a diversity of ideas. Lising points out that it is futile to only surround yourself with people who are familiar and think similarly to you. “It’s really hard to think out of the box if everyone’s in the same box.” Cognitive diversity is absolutely necessary to move away from herd-mentality thinking into a more nuanced and open-minded approach to life.
However, many people wrestle between cognitive diversity and cognitive dissonance. It’s easy to defend the choices you are personally invested in and disregard other points of view. The more we are emotionally invested in something, the more strongly we feel about it and are more vehemently apt to defend it. When Lising coached debate, the worst thing for him was a stubborn debater who could only see things from one side. “Many times, debaters have to defend the side of an issue they personally dislike or disagree with.” Practicing defending the other side is one way to foster cognitive diversity, but many of us are too unyielding at first. Lising urges everyone to “start with open mindedness. Ask yourself, ‘Can I look at things from a broader perspective?’” When we entertain the idea that we don’t have all the answers, we allow an opportunity for learning.
In a world where it seems like we only grow farther apart from one another, “The Spin Doctrine: Communicating Truth, Fact, and Belief” offers a way to navigate a road back to mutual understanding. Unlike Lising’s 2010 textbook “Across the House,” which was designed specifically for coaching and teaching debate, this book is accessible to anyone, not just competitive debaters. Readers will reflect about how they perceive information, and will be able to utilize this knowledge in everyday conversational settings. “For example, ask yourself, how do I have a conversation with my neighbor who has a completely opposing view?” For Lising, he felt his book was a timely response to the surmounting stress of today’s world. “I think the most important thing is diffusing all the tension we have in the world right now. I wanted to find a way to diffuse.” With so many prevalent issues in politics, it’s important that we know how to keep fighting for justice and use debate as a tool to help us get there. “We’re all feeling advocacy fatigue. It’s not that these things aren’t worth the endeavor, they absolutely all are, but there’s so much material. We need to know how to process information without getting overwhelmed.” “The Spin Doctrine: Communicating Truth, Fact, and Belief” is available at the University of La Verne bookstore and Amazon.
Dr. Kenneth Marcus, “Inside the Caltech Community” (2019)
“Inside the Caltech Community” is what Dr. Kenneth Marcus, University of La Verne professor of history, calls his “project of joy.” Dr. Marcus, a cultural historian, who holds music and the arts as his main academic interests, stepped out of his comfort zone into the wonderful world of science and history. In a project more personal than his usual endeavors, Dr. Marcus shares with us, “Inside the Caltech Community,” a compilation of articles written by his mother Laura Marcus, from 1987-1995, and edited into a hardbound book by Dr. Marcus and his father Rudolph Marcus, Caltech professor of chemistry and Nobel laureate. The articles contain interviews that Laura Marcus conducted of notable women who played important roles in shaping the scientific community at Caltech. Utilizing her journalistic skills, Laura Marcus brought to light some of Caltech’s most hidden female figures who were instrumental in Caltech’s success. All of Laura Marcus’ articles derive from interviews with either the subject themselves, or an acquaintance of the subject.
The wife of a prominent chemistry professor, Laura Marcus belonged to the Caltech community for about 10 years when she first started writing articles. Dr. Marcus says his mother was “fascinated with the Caltech community,” but especially fascinated with the women belonging to the “Caltech Women’s Bulletin,” a newsletter published by the Caltech Women’s Club, with membership of faculty and staff wives. A member herself, Laura Marcus began writing about the women in the “Caltech Women’s Bulletin,” whose devotion to the University often went unnoticed. Dr. Marcus notes, “Caltech is an admirable institution, but so much of its history is male dominated. The women who had key roles in the institution rarely got much attention, if any.” Laura Marcus strove to showcase the brilliance of the women behind the scenes of Caltech, such as faculty wives, staff members, and the few female faculty members.
“Inside the Caltech Community” is a story about remarkable women, Laura Marcus included. As you thumb through the articles, you will gain a sense of not only the important Caltech women and their contributions to the community, but you will get to know Laura Marcus as well. Writer, journalist, loving wife, and doting mother were just some of the many important roles she played in life. Dr. Marcus remembers his mother as a kind and modest person. “She was always so supportive of us. That genuine warmth, pleasant nature, and ‘down-to-earthiness’ is something I’ll always treasure.” While Laura Marcus is remembered as the quintessential warm and loving mother, she was yet so much more. She “played a critical role” in her husband’s career, to which Rudolph Marcus always agreed. Everyone who knew Laura Marcus could attest to her personable and easy-going nature.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a science aficionado to enjoy and appreciate the content of Laura Marcus’ articles. Dr. Marcus notes that his mother was known for her “concise, clear writing style,” saying, “She could explain often very complicated lives in very down-to-earth terms.” She kept the reader’s attention and wrote about science in a digestible way, leaving out the usual jargon. Dr. Marcus says, “She really could not stand pretense or people putting on airs.” Anyone, scientist or not, could read Laura Marcus’ work and be interested. A gifted journalist, she knew how to take all the great information from her interviews and condense them, while still retaining the important parts. Dr. Marcus recalls his mother’s dedication to her work. “I remember seeing her in the kitchen, where she typically worked, with her tape machine, writing everything out, listening and going back. She would pull the best quotes, the ‘nuggets,’ and then do her own background research.” The workload she took on was no small feat. “What she did was staggering. She recorded all of these interviews on tape and transcribed all of them by hand. It’s mind boggling.”
Compiling Laura Marcus’ articles was a family effort. Dr. Marcus, his father, and his brothers all played a role in creating this ultimate testament to Laura’s life and work. Altogether, “Inside the Caltech Community” contains 25 of Laura Marcus’ articles. Dr. Marcus was surprised at the extent of his mother’s work. “We really had no idea it was that many when we started out.” He and his father discovered that Laura Marcus kept physical copies of all her articles, as well as digital files on her old Apple Mac computer. Family members each offered their unique contribution to the book, filing in gaps and adding details to Laura Marcus’ life. Dr. Marcus’ older brother, a filmmaker, aided in selecting the photos of their mother for the book. Dr. Marcus’ father clarified the science aspects of the book and provided feedback for accuracy in Laura Marcus’ biography. Altogether Dr. Marcus and his family worked on this project for 2 1/2 years. It could not have been done without Sean Carlson and Raffi Zinzalian of the University of La Verne Graphics Department, who were instrumental in the process of scanning and converting the articles. George Keeler, professor of journalism, performed the role of copyreader.
Ultimately, Dr. Marcus’ emotional journey of putting together “Inside the Caltech Community” proved incredibly rewarding. “It was a project of love to bring this together, for both my father and me.” Dr. Marcus had always talked to his father about putting this together as a testament to Laura Marcus. As their idea came to fruition, the family discovered new details about Laura Marcus’ life. “In the process of putting together these articles, my father and I, to our great surprise, discovered some things about my mother’s life that we just didn’t know.” He shares that his mother would have been pleased to see her work compiled in a book, saying, “She was an amateur historian, but never saw her work in a published book form.” It’s been more than 15 years since Laura Marcus passed, but her work remains timeless. People will now have the pleasure of reading her articles and getting to know her in the process.
“What an extraordinary community Caltech is. It really is a product of the women and men who have made it,” says Dr. Marcus. He stresses that it is not just about the top leading scientists, who undoubtedly play an important role, but the institution is much more than that. The important work of Laura Marcus reflects a time when women in top universities like Caltech were not given the credit they were due. But after 30 years, slight progress has been made. “The culture of Caltech has definitely changed. Without question, there are a lot more women hired since my mom started these articles. I would say they have diversified and improved their hiring practices, and I think they’re making steps in the right direction. But is it still male dominated? I would say, ‘yes.’” It’s a reflection of the unfortunate truth that more men go into STEM fields than women. “There are a number of reasons why women are dissuaded, criticized or put-down, usually very early on in high school or earlier. But in fact, there is no evidence to suggest that should be the case.” As you read “Inside the Caltech Community,” the inspiring stories of brilliant women, both in the field and behind the scenes, prove undoubtedly that women belong in the scientific community. You can find Dr. Marcus’ book for sale at the Caltech bookstore.
Dr. Jason Neidleman, “Rousseau’s Ethics of Truth: A Sublime Science of Simple Souls” (2016)
“Vitam impendere vero.” It’s a saying that the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau adopted from “Satires” by Juvenal, meaning to dedicate life to truth. Hailing from Geneva, Rousseau was a revolutionary thinker who helped shape modern social, economic, and political theory. Dr. Jason Neidleman, University of La Verne professor of history, was inspired to do research on Rousseau after attending Professor Stanley Hoffman’s seminar on French political thought as a Harvard graduate student. “I didn’t initially think of myself as a Rousseau scholar. But once I started working on Rousseau, became a board member of the Rousseau association, and published papers and journals on Rousseau, I basically developed a research agenda out of that. I haven’t really stopped since.” Dr. Neidleman currently serves as the secretary and treasurer of the Rousseau association, and has become a leading expert on the philosopher. Although Dr. Neidleman’s research isn’t exclusively on Rousseau, his keen interest in Rousseauian philosophy has culminated into him writing “Rousseau’s Ethics of Truth: A Sublime Science of Simple Souls,” a book about what it means to consecrate our lives to truth. “I do believe we should dedicate our lives to truth. Of course, a lot hinges on how we understand truth, which is one of the primary themes of my book.”
Dr. Neidleman explains one of Rousseau’s main philosophies: “The basic theme in Rousseau, his fundamental principle, is that everything is good by nature, and becomes corrupt in the hands of man.” Rousseau argues that our human ancestor, whom he calls “the noble savage,” existed in alignment with the natural world and possessed an innate goodness, or childlike innocence. He was without morals, and as Dr. Neidleman puts it, “He simply followed his instincts. Rousseau points out that his needs were very minimal, and entirely in balance with his faculties.” However, the development of society and civilization caused the noble savage to become self-serving and ego-driven. Over time, humans lost touch with the natural world and became concerned with the demands of their society. The complexities and corruption of the modern world replaced a once simple existence.
As humans evolved, their cognitive functions expanded to be able to think critically and compare ideas. “What caused us to exit the state of nature and move into society was the development of the faculty of comparison and reason,” says Dr. Neidleman. However, he stresses that Rousseau did not want to renounce reason and intellection or reject the advances of society. Rather, he saw the value in restoring some of the savage’s positive attributes, and learning from his way of life. “Rousseau believed in finding the remedy in the disease. He wanted to recuperate the wholeness of the savage within these divided, competitive, unequal, modern commercial societies.” In “Rousseau’s Ethics of Truth: A Sublime Science of Simple Souls,” Dr. Neidleman describes the various ways that we can do just that. One method is through what Rousseau calls communion. Essentially, it is a spiritual connection with nature and the divine, a connection that modern man lacks. “Natural man was not alienated from nature, but we are, and that’s why we must recuperate it.” Communion with nature involves rejecting the wealth and excess characteristic of modern societies, and instead going back to basics. Embracing the solitude and the simplicity of nature is one of the ways that we can restore wholeness in ourselves.
Dr. Neidleman talks about Rousseau’s idea of reverie, and the role it plays in reconnecting with nature. “Reverie is a kind of emptying of your mind. Rousseau talks about “interior sentiment” which is basically the heart, instead of your reason, telling you what to do.” He describes the nature walks that Rousseau would frequent by himself. “He would go on these nature walks, seeking a return to nature as a way of recuperating the immediacy that the savage had in his environment and surroundings. We’ve lost that in modern society, but we can recuperate it in these reveries in nature.” Even if you don’t have the time to ponder your existence in solitude like a modern day Thoreau, you can still experience the joy of reverie. “It’s more of a mindset that requires us to connect with nature, which you can do without fully detaching from society. And it’s not just about connecting with nature outside of us, but inside us too.” In his book, Dr. Neidleman speaks about the beauty and power of reverie. “The mute voice of nature will reemerge, if you can silence the noise that has gone on in society. Your original voice will emerge.”
Dr. Neidleman acknowledges that it is not entirely popular to consider oneself as a Rousseauian in 2021. Because while Rousseau may have carved out an ingenious path toward an enlightened and simple existence, some of his political theories appear quite dated and ill-fitting for modern-day society. Rousseau’s definition of equality, for example, would not entirely accommodate our present standards. “Rousseau says to build society on a foundation of what we all share, and leave behind that which divides us. In other words, only base our legislation on the basis of what we share in common.” This homogenous approach to politics would perhaps erase some of the differences we aim to acknowledge in an equitable society. Dr. Neidleman mentions Rousseau’s theories were “very accommodating with diversity, but the stuff that divides us had to be privatized. It couldn’t be the basis of legislation.” In the political sphere, Rousseau stressed the importance of homogeneity and purity. “He envisioned small societies, I don’t think he thought you could have freedom in a large society.” Regardless of how he thought politics should operate, Rousseau recognized the ill effects of a society plagued by a perpetual quest for commercial gain. “His diagnosis of modern society survives, but his prescription is more difficult to defend.”
In “Rousseau’s Ethics of Truth: A Sublime Science of Simple Souls,” Dr. Neidleman undertakes the complex task of dissecting Rousseau’s philosophy of truth-seeking. He then outlines the ways in which we can apply Rousseau’s wisdom in the pursuit of human happiness. Reverie in nature is but one pathway to discovering truth; Dr. Neidleman charts three more ways to align oneself with “Vitam impendere vero.” Ultimately, the point of Rousseauian philosophy is not to return to a more primitive era, but rather, “to recuperate the attributes that natural man had with the faculties that we have developed in modern society.” You can find “Rousseau’s Ethics of Truth: A Sublime Science of Simple Souls” on Amazon and Routledge.com.