Letter from the Executive Director

The Public Eye - Summer 2004 - Vol. 18, No. 2

I came to Political Research Associates (PRA) as Executive Director on July 12 with the daunting charge "to take over where Jean left off."

No one can replace Jean Hardisty.

For almost 25 years, Jean guided this organization to the unique position PRA now occupies among the constellation of progressive think tanks, both in the United States and abroad. No one does what PRA does in quite the same way. With quixotic strokes, Jean, Chip Berlet and a small but dedicated staff not only aimed at windmills; they also struck down some that were blowing the wind in the wrong direction.

Mindful of Jean's imminent transition from PRA, changing conditions and new needs in the 21st Century, PRA engaged in a long-range planning process during 2003. As a result, an exciting new strategic plan was elaborated for the next 3-5 years.

It is this plan for future development that I have come to PRA to help implement.

Let me introduce myself: I come to PRA with experience in the academy, in the movement, and doing public policy work. I finished my Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard just as the Women's Movement was beginning to attract attention, and since then, the struggle for women's advancement has been a constant in my life. In my first university appointment (Assistant Professor of Hispanic Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh), a small group of us organized for the New University Conference (progressive academics) and an even smaller group of us started "Women's Liberation" on campus. The following year, several graduate students and I taught Pittsburgh's first class in the soon to emerge field of Women's Studies. Highlights of my academic work were the opportunities to direct the first full-fledged Women's Studies Program at San Diego State in 1970-71 and to be a member of the Modern Language Association's first Commission on the Status of Women. I have also taught Women's Studies and Hispanic Literature and Culture at the State University of New York, Old Westbury and Pennsylvania State University-Erie. As an academic administrator, I was Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, Director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Penn State-Erie, and most recently, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Southern New Hampshire University. I also spent five dynamic years doing public policy work at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

Spanish has been an intrinsic part of my life since I was a teenager. During my college years and afterwards, I lived for over five years in Spain and more recently, have traveled on numerous occasions to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guyana, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations. At different moments in my life, I have worked with Caribbean communities in New York City. Enough about me; now let's look at the exciting plans evolving at PRA.

The Next Years...
  • While PRA's research emphasis will remain the Right and its activities as a social movement, we now will conduct our research with a wider lens—following the lineage of racist, xenophobic, sexist and homophobic policies and campaigns, as well as other forms of systemic oppression. We also will expand our focus to include the international activities of the Right and its antidemocratic colleagues. Through this international lens, we will be better informed about the globalization of rightist ideas and be better equipped to analyze aspects of globalization itself.
  • We will give priority to "Action Research." That is, we will increase our participation in strategic alliances, coalitions, and networks to ensure that activist collaborations and partnerships help set PRA's research direction. By basing more of our research direction on the expressed needs of grassroots colleagues and honing our skills in the challenging art of popular education, we will be able to communicate PRA's analysis to multiple audiences.
  • We will raise our public profile by building on existing contacts, creating new ones, and using state-of-the-art technologies. In this way, we will increase the distribution of our analysis of the ideology and agenda of the political Right and make our work more accessible to a wider audience.

The United States is at a crucial juncture as we advance toward the November 2004 elections. Many of the developments on the Right that Jean and Chip (and other PRA staffers) warned about over the last twenty years are now, unfortunately, a reality we have to deal with. The work that PRA does is needed more than ever, and I am delighted to join the staff to help in any way I can. I hope all of you will continue to support us and to call on PRA to aid your work.

Warm regards,
Roberta Salper

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