Political science professor is a ‘lifer’ in activism career

Joseph Schwartz has been involved in politics since the 1970s.

Political science professor Joseph Schwartz advocates for causes like single-payer healthcare, civil liberties and fair pay for adjunct instructors and non-tenured professors at Temple. MICHELLE GOLDSBOROUGH FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Joseph Schwartz’s career in activism began as a high school student at an anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington D.C. in 1969. Nearly 50 years later, he is the vice-chair of the Democratic Socialists of America — the largest socialist organization in the United States.

“I was very concerned about inequality in America, particularly along the lines of race and class when I was growing up in the Bronx,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz is a political science professor, the former department chair and the former director of the Intellectual Heritage program. He won the Temple University College of Liberal Arts Alumni Association Eleanor Hofkin Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2010.

Schwartz is also a member of the Temple Association of University Professionals — a union of faculty members that negotiates collective bargaining agreements and is working toward better pay, benefits and working conditions. He said providing fair pay for adjunct and non-tenured professors is a struggle at universities across the country.

Schwartz said the Democratic Socialists’ progressive political goals, like single-payer healthcare and equal pay, makes the group different from traditional Democrats. Democratic Socialism “attempts to expand democracy from the political sphere into the economic sphere,” he said.

“What touches all should be governed by all,” Schwartz said.

He said Democratic Socialism got attention during Sen. Bernie Sanders’ run in the 2016 presidential election. Now, Schwartz is involved in building a post-Sanders movement with the DSA that advocates for the election of progressive candidates on the state and local level through social movements.

At the DSA, Schwartz is currently focused on defending immigrants’ rights, fighting the Republicans’ effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and funding policies for public education — all things he thinks aren’t being pushed far enough by the Democratic Party.

He has been involved in political organizations since he was an undergraduate at Cornell University in the 1970s when he joined the New American Movement — a socialist organization that formed in 1972. He took two years off from his doctoral studies at Harvard University to become the first campus organizer for the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, an organization that merged with the New American Movement in the early 1980s to become the DSA.

Instead of the traditional set-up where each student sits at an individual table or desk that faces the professor, the students in Schwartz’s classroom all share a conference table with him. There is no hand-raising in his class, and he said he strives to create a discussion-based environment.

Taylor Taliaferro, the president of the Political Science Society and a senior political science major, said she enjoyed being a student in Schwartz’s Introduction to Political Philosophy course.

“It’s very relaxed, but it’s still stimulating at the same time,” Taliaferro said. “He’s still able to cultivate a very comfortable classroom, and he allows everyone to speak their mind on topics.”

Maya Jackson, a senior political science major, said Schwartz is “knowledgeable in everything that he teaches” and he’s “one of the most understanding professors.”

After being offered to teach at Washington University, a private institution in St. Louis, Schwartz said he chose Temple because it is a public university in an urban setting.

“I’ll be a lifer,” Schwartz said. “I’m 62 and I don’t have any plans to go anywhere else. … I’m very happy here, I have a family here and I’m very committed to the Democratic mission of Temple.”

Kashiki Harrison can be reached at kashiki.harrison@temple.edu.

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