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Why I Returned To Texas Southern University In Houston After All These Years

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It has been three weeks since I rejoined the faculty at Texas Southern University in Houston as the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. My first stint at Texas Southern University was in the 1970s and 1980s. Houston, and especially Black Houston, was subject of my early environmental justice research and policy work. I wrote two books on Houston: Invisible Houston: The Black Experience in Boom and Bust (Texas A&M University Press 1987) and Houston: Growth and Decline of a Sunbelt Boomtown (Temple University Press 1991) and started the research on another, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality (Westview Press 1990), while at TSU.


My return to the univesity completes a full circle in my academic career. Although I had other options, I made a conscious choice to return to an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to continue my research, policy, and community engagement work in the areas of environmental justice, public health, housing, transportation, land-use planning, regional equity, smart growth, sustainability, equitable development, food security, disasters, clean energy, climate, civil rights and human rights--all seen through a racial equity lens.


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Since Texas Southern University is the school that launched my professional career, it was my first choice. Now, it's time to give back. While at the university, I was able to work with my sociology graduate and undergraduate students to develop some groundbreaking and cutting-edge research and policy work around race, environment, and waste that grew out the 1979 class-action lawsuit, Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp., a lawsuit filed my wife, attorney Linda McKeever Bullard, who represented a group of African American Houston homeowners opposed to a plan that would locate a municipal landfill in the middle of their Northwood Manor subdivision.


The Bean case was the first of its kind in the United States that charged environmental discrimination in waste facility siting under the civil rights laws. Linda asked me to conduct a waste facility siting study and serve as an expert witness on the case. No study like this had ever been undertaken by anyone. At the time, I was an untenured assistant professor. In short, my wife had sued my employer--the State of Texas. We knew then as we know today, taking on this case was the right thing to do--no matter the risks. Clearly, I owe my career trajectory to Linda and the Bean case.

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The School of Public Affairs takes pride in preparing the next generation of leaders in the spirit of the two iconic figures from which it takes its name--Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland, both of whom graduated from Texas Southern University. For students interested in formulating and shaping public policy, the School offers many opportunities for learning, research, professional development, community partnerships, and public engagement. As we chart the School of Public Affairs way forward, it is imperative we address some key challenges--increasing student enrichment and career development opportunities; becoming more innovative, "cutting edge," and entrepreneurial; promoting and disseminating work completed by our faculty, students, and alumni; getting a seat at the table as a stakeholder at various public policy decision-making levels; strengthening and realigning the two research centers to support opportunities for faculty and students to put their knowledge to work on research, policy and technical assistance projects sponsored by public, nonprofit, and private sectors; and increasing fundraising and development. Working together, I am confident we will step up and meet these and other challenges.


Much has changed at the university since I left in 1987. The university offers degrees (BS, Masters, and Ph.D.) in the areas of Administration of Justice, Public Affairs and Administration, and Urban Planning and Environmental Policy with a focus on a broad range of topics, including voting behavior, American foreign policy and international relations, political communication, criminal justice, police violence, race and crime, race and governance, policy studies, leadership, E-government, fiscal responsibility of urban governments, homeland security, natural and human-made disasters, urban transportation, housing and community development, environmental planning, environmental justice, smart growth, sustainability, food security, green energy, climate, and Disapora studies.


The School of Public Affairs is a community of scholars, policy analysts, and practitioners dedicated to excellence in research, teaching and service in public policy and public management. Given TSU's history and mission as an urban university, the School is uniquely situated to lead the way in integrating the study of politics, administration of justice, urban planning, environmental policy, and practice that respond to urban problems and social inequality in the United States and around the world. Thus, the School is firmly committed to incorporating social justice in its teaching, research, and service--a lens that brings to the surface the systemic, institutional and structural conditions that constrain opportunity, advancement and development.

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Since no one discipline or sector holds the key to these challenges, we emphasize multidisciplinary research, policy, education, and community engagement. The School of Public Affairs also encourages multidisciplinary collaborations among all of the university's professional schools, other institutions, industry and government to ensure we are well positioned to succeed in a rapidly changing world defined by globalization. We are educating our students to compete in this globalized world.


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Robert D. Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion (more...)

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