AUSTIN, Texas–When the election season rolls around, reporters call on hired gun political gurus for analysis, speculation, spin and sound bites summing up the trends.But when they want objectivity and perspective, they often call the department of government at The University of Texas at Austin. That’s why voters will see the names of UT Austin professors such as Dr. Bruce Buchanan and Dr. Janice May cropping up in newspaper and other media reports at this time of year.
Buchanan’s opinion and political analysis pieces have appeared in The New York Times,the Miami Herald and the Atlanta Constitution. Buchanan, the former executive director of The Markle Commission on the Media and the Electorate and an expert on presidential politics, also has been quoted in media reports nationwide.
For Buchanan, who says he has never to his knowledge been misquoted, talking to the media has been more pleasurable than perilous.
“I’m kind of a news junky. I spend two hours a day reading at least three newspapers and tracking occasional television programs,” he said. “I love to talk about these issues outside my immediate professional milieu. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. They (reporters) don’t realize I’m getting as much out of the exchange as they are.”
Buchanan wound up on media source lists through his work with the Markle Commission in the late 1980s. Prominent Washington, D.C., journalists covered the commission’s meetings and began to call him for quotations.
May has been on media hit lists since the 1970s, when she served on a 1973 commission to revise the Texas Constitution. At UT Austin, she specializes in courses on American state government and politics. Her publications include articles, monographs and books on civil rights, election law, Texas government and state constitutional amendment and revision.
Active in such civic organizations as the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women, May also has written articles and gathered data on state constitutions nationwide for the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Ky.
May said reporters look to academic experts, in addition to political consultants and the proverbial spin doctors, because they want “more objective information. We do the kinds of research that others do not really have the time for. We do lots of studies on the electorate and we also get an historical sweep of things that is lacking when you are concentrating on the current situation.”
Buchanan said government professors and political consultants “are fellow toilers in the vineyard in some sense. I suppose what I lack that they have is direct access and participation, hands-on experience of one sort or another that gives them sometimes better, more accurate, more up-to-date information.”
In contrast, Buchanan said that as a government professor, he can offer reporters detachment and perspective. “I am looking at the big picture through no particular lens. I have no particular ax to grind,” he said.
Buchanan is a Montana native who earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University. He teaches courses on presidential campaigns and elections, news media and American politics, the presidency, the executive branch and organization theory. He has been a consultant for the PBS program Frontline.
His books include Renewing Presidential Politics: Campaigns, Media and the Public Interest, published by Rowan and Littlefield in 1996, The Citizen’s Presidency: Standards of Choice and Judgement, Congressional Quarterly Press 1987, and The Presidential Experience: What the Office Does to the Man, Prentice-Hall in 1978.
May’s most recent book is The Texas State Constitution, a Reference Guide, published by Greenwood Press in 1996. For 15 years, she has contributed biennial surveys of state constitutional developments to The Book of the States.
A native of Minnesota, May earned her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota. She has served on two Texas constitutional revision commissions and as a member of the Citizens’ Commission on the Texas Judicial System and a public member of the board of directors of the State Bar of Texas. May was a member of a legal delegation to The People’s Republic of China in 1986, and to the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Conference on Bilateral Economic Relations and the Rule of Law in Moscow in 1990.
For more information, contact Dr. Bruce Buchanan and Dr. Janice May at (512) 471-5121.