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Lori Desautels
Butler Experts

How to Care for Children’s Minds During COVID-19

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Apr 17 2020

Emotions are contagious.

During a time of crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s natural to feel scared. It’s normal to feel stressed, anxious, or angry. But especially for teachers, parents, and other adults working closely with children, Lori Desautels says it’s important to understand how those feelings can affect those around you.

The Butler University College of Education Assistant Professor, whose work in educational neuroscience focuses on strategies to help students who have experienced adversity or trauma, is now developing new resources specific to this time of pervasive fear and uncertainty.

“When this started, we were all thrown,” Desautels says. “Even in that first week when we started seeing places close, schools began reaching out to me, concerned about how to support their students through the switch to e-learning.”

For many children, school is a safe place. It’s where their friends are, where they’ve built connections with teachers and other adults outside the home. For those who were already dealing with adversity, this global pandemic can add another layer to the trauma.

Families are already seeing the effects, Desautels says. Children are growing scared, restless, or angry about all they’ve lost this year. When it comes to schoolwork, some are just shutting down.

So over the last few weeks, school districts across Indiana and as far as Iowa and Colorado have asked Desautels to help with this transition. She is now creating weekly videos on topics related to COVID-19—like this one where she discusses the power of nonverbal communication, or this one with strategies to help calm the brain.

“I’m trying to keep up with emails from schools asking how they can help their families and their teachers,” she says. “We are seeing a collision of roles: Teachers need to also parent, and parents need to also teach. Some parents have lost their jobs or are feeling other pressures, putting them in a survival state of just trying to function. This is where emotional contagion is happening. The stress of all of this is felt by our children.”

According to Desautels, there are three conditions that the mind just can’t handle, and the COVID-19 pandemic hits all of them.

 

  1. Chronic unpredictability: To help ease the stress of this widespread uncertainty we’re experiencing, Desautels recommends building and following routines wherever possible. Even if kids can’t know when they’ll be able to go back to school, parents and teachers can create predictable schedules for things like meals and play time. Desautels also suggests setting up at-home “amygdala first aid stations”—designated areas where children can go to relax.

 

  1. Isolation: Desautels says building connections with students should always be a priority for teachers, but now more than ever, maintaining those relationships is key. When you can’t see kids in person each day, this means being extra intentional. “If you can,” she says, “reach out with a phone call or text. Remind students you are only a keyboard away if they need you. You could also use this time to write a letter of gratitude to each student, sharing a memory of them you will always cherish. Focus on connection: Academics should come second during this time.”

 

  1. Physical and emotional restraint: Look for opportunities to get moving and stay active. “I’m also encouraging teachers and parents to give kids a lot of choice, grace, and emotional wiggle room at this time,” Desautels says. “Give them some space. Let them feel safe with you.”

 

And just as parents and teachers try to ease their children’s anxiety, Desautels emphasizes the need to care for their own minds, as well.

“It takes a calm brain to calm another brain,” she says. “The good news is that our brains are built for resiliency. They are built to repair and to heal. They are constantly trying to find that balanced place where we can think clearly, pay attention, and focus.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

Lori Desautels
Butler Experts

How to Care for Children’s Minds During COVID-19

COE's Lori Desautels offers guidance for educators and parents as pandemic causes uncertainty, isolation, and restraint

Apr 17 2020 Read more
Guy holding rolls of toilet paper
Butler Experts

COVID-19 to Affect Global Supply Chains for Years to Come

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Mar 26 2020

The image of shoppers desperately filling their carts with toilet paper has become a go-to representation of the COVID-19 outbreak. In grocery stores across the nation, panic buying has also emptied shelves of other necessities and staples, such as bread, eggs, dairy products, and meat.

But the supply chains that put food and home products in your grocery aisles are still strong—for now.

Matt Caito
Operations Instructor Matthew Caito

Matthew Caito, Butler University Operations Management Instructor and expert in the field of global supply chains, does recommend stocking up for your family in order to limit trips to the store. Still, he says you shouldn’t buy more than you actually need, as hoarding can have a negative impact not only on your community, but on the efficiency of industries worldwide. Hoarding leads to inefficient distribution of scarce products, making scarcity more of a problem, like with toilet paper being a rare sight in stores. If we want to avoid long-term consequences, consumers must be rational in the months ahead.

“I’m confident that we will have enough toilet paper,” Caito says. “We’ll have enough toothpaste. We’ll have enough food.”

Consumers should still be vigilant, Caito adds, as the COVID-19 pandemic is making new headlines every day. The strength of supply chains can be altered at any time with policy changes or civil unrest.

Before his tenure at Butler, Caito helped manage food production and distribution for businesses and was used to dealing with “snow scares” in the Midwest and “hurricane scares” in Florida—temporary spikes in buying to ensure consumers’ families had plenty of food to weather out storms. But the COVID-19 pandemic is “uncharted territory.”

Caito says aisles will refill, but the crisis will affect global supply chains for years to come.

Question: What has been the biggest operational challenge during the pandemic so far?

Matthew Caito: If you look at the problem from an operational perspective, what we’re really fighting for is capacity. Do we have enough capacity in our healthcare system? If we don’t have enough capacity in our healthcare system, what can we do about it? We can increase our national capacity, which is going to be really hard to do as soon as we would like.

This is what we hear the politicians talking about now—that we don’t have enough respirators, don’t have enough masks, don’t have enough hospital beds. Alternatively, we can work to decrease the demand, which is exactly what we can do if we come together as a country and practice social distancing by working remotely and sheltering in place.

I’m a little bit surprised the government hasn't pulled the trigger faster on trying to increase the production of essential medical devices, but I think it’s just a matter of time before that comes along, and industries will find ways to meet the challenge.

Q: What are some best practices for Indiana consumers right now?

MC: At some point, people will have bought enough toilet paper. That demand will stop. What I watch as a consumer, and because I have a large family, is what’s happening in places like New York and Washington state. If there’s a shortage of products in those areas, Indiana is just a couple days behind it. So we need to really pay attention to what's going on around the world to help us anticipate what our needs are.

Q: Just how well are grocery stores doing?

MC: The grocery markets are doing an outstanding job. The food supply chain is doing an outstanding job. But what you need to keep in mind with food is that roughly 45-55 percent of all meals are typically eaten outside the home—at restaurants, schools, offices, convenience stores, and on the road. When you shut down all of the restaurant channels, where are people going to get their food?

There’s going to be an instant and dramatic increase in consumer demand at retail grocery stores for months to come. People have got to eat. I think the grocery chains have been understandably caught a little by surprise, but to their credit, nobody could have predicted this.

As retailers try to get back on balance with their inventories in the midst of higher demand over the next several months, we’re going to have to ask the question, “Where’s that food going to come from?” The capacity of the retail grocery industry is going to be strained. But frankly, this is going to make grocery stores a lot of profit because they’re going to see nearly twice the amount of sales for almost the same fixed cost. Fortunately, I don’t believe retailers are gouging consumers, and I don’t think they will.

Q: Are there concerns over the movement of goods in the supply chain?

MC: From a transportation perspective, we’re going to run into problems because, even though companies want to move things, even though trucks don’t know if there’s a pandemic, drivers at some point are just not going to take the risk. They don’t want to be away from their families, and there’s just no guarantee that they can remain healthy on the road. At some point, the distribution chain is going to get really strained. When that happens, you’ll see freight rates skyrocket.

Q: How long will it take for operations to get back to full-strength after this pandemic dies down?

MC: If I were a betting person, I’d say years. You’re going to have a lot of companies that just don’t have the cash on-hand to sustain business. There’s going to be massive unemployment, unfortunately. There’s going to be a massive realignment of the economy. There isn’t going to be enough cash to save every business.

But once the dust settles after months of rational hindsight, I think you’ll see a much more robust supply chain. There’s going to be a strategic rethinking about how much medicine we want to import. Strategically, how many vital electronics do we want to import? Strategically, how many auto parts do we want to import? It’s going to make a significant difference for large companies as they work to protect their supply chains from future disruptions. 

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

Guy holding rolls of toilet paper
Butler Experts

COVID-19 to Affect Global Supply Chains for Years to Come

Toilet paper will return to aisles, but the pandemic will cause industries to rethink operations, says LSB’s Matthew Caito

Mar 26 2020 Read more
$100 with medical mask
Butler Experts

Butler Professor: U.S. Economy Shifting to Help Businesses, Citizens

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Mar 25 2020

As COVID-19 presents a public health crisis, the U.S. economy has reacted in kind.

Economics Professor Bill Rieber says the nation’s economy is enduring hardships it last experienced during the 2008–2009 recession. But instead of the recession starting in the economy and real estate sector, this downturn is the side effect of a global health pandemic.

“This is so different,” he says. “In 2009, we wanted people to go out and spend, spurred by government fiscal and monetary measures. Here, we don’t want people to go out. We want them to stay at home and be safe.” 

In times when there is no health crisis or recession, Rieber says the nation relies on a market economy that combines cooperation—industries producing products—and competition—consideration of price, product, place, and promotion—along with some aspects of a sharing economy, such as welfare, Medicaid, and social programs.

Now, borders are closing, businesses are on hold, and some workers are laid off. The longer the COVID-19 crisis extends, the longer it will take for the economy to return to normal. Until then, Rieber says, the United States will strive to ensure its citizens are taken care of.

Question: What steps are being made to keep the economy afloat?

Bill Rieber: Banks will be sensitive to businesses, allowing them to miss some payments. There are also many people and organizations sharing their wealth with those hurt most by the pandemic. We can do that, in my view, because of the mix of a free enterprise economy, democracy, and cooperation and competition that has led to some Americans having high incomes that they can now share.

Q: What about smaller businesses? What will happen to them during the COVID-19 crisis?

BR: The central bank—the Federal Reserve—can inject reserves within the commercial banking system. Most of our businesses were quite healthy. The economy was strong, but businesses don’t have the funds in a liquid sense—the revenues and the cash to keep going in some cases. That’s where the central bank could put more reserves with local commercial banks, who then will have more reserves and funds to help local business. 

Q: How is the federal government helping?

BR: At the federal level, we can deficit spend, which means spending in excess of revenue. That is fine. There’s nothing wrong with deficit spending during emergencies. That’s always been the case during economic downturns. But how do we do that here, and how do we get the funds to the people who need them the most?

Since the Great Depression, Americans have agreed that deficit spending during recessions is warranted, but exactly what that looks like is more open for debate. That’s always difficult. That’s what Congress and the president are negotiating now. 

Q: When will we rise out of this sharing economy status?

BR: Fundamentally, it’s our health that’s most important. That’s what we have to be concerned about first. So, if it’s not healthy to go out and spend, we should stay at home and stay healthy. When the public’s health improves, things like the economy will improve, too. That’s the real connection here.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

$100 with medical mask
Butler Experts

Butler Professor: U.S. Economy Shifting to Help Businesses, Citizens

COVID-19 pandemic has government making steps it hasn’t made since the 2008 recession, Economics Professor Bill Rieber says

Mar 25 2020 Read more
working from home
Butler Experts

Butler Management Researcher Offers Advice for Productive Telecommuting

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Mar 20 2020

As millions transition from the office to working from home, certain practices can boost productivity, reduce distractions, and establish a separation of work and home life under the same roof.

Craig Caldwell, Associate Professor of Management and Associate Dean of Graduate and Professional Programs for the Lacy School of Business, says working from home effectively takes dedication to not only the physical space, but also to the worker’s mental space—especially during a time of uncertainty as the world shifts to telecommuting and social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Craig Caldwell
Associate Professor Craig Caldwell

As people scramble to keep up with the pace of new information about COVID-19, practicing mindfulness in the home is a good first step. Practitioners of mindfulness concentrate on the present moment while acknowledging their feelings, thoughts, and surroundings.

“Mindfulness can help you self-identify the main issues you are struggling with,” Caldwell says. “This entire field of mindfulness is something I find increasingly helpful for working at home. For example, folks inclined to procrastinate will tend to procrastinate even more without a boss or peer pressure. Mindfulness can help you explore why you procrastinate and offer solutions to overcome it.”

Many industries have been disrupted, but limiting the disruption from affecting job performance at home can be achieved with thoughtful efforts to understand the nature of the work, the emotions of the employee, and the work space requirements.

‘Latitude’ adjustment

Caldwell says current circumstances require patience from supervisors and workers alike. Deadlines may be more difficult to meet. Suppliers may be unavailable. Productivity could wane, at least at first. Supervisors must give latitude to their workers, and the workers must give themselves the same as they get used to a new work routine.

Workers may not have the same administrative, IT, or peer support that they had at the office, but the work will get done if people utilize more patience and commitment on projects. Now is not the time to eliminate workers who are struggling with productivity. Developing existing employees is cheaper and faster than hiring new ones, Caldwell says.

Save the home environment

For many, working from home isn’t foreign. Caldwell says Fortune 500 companies and small start-ups have effectively worked outside of the traditional office for years. Small companies with fewer than 10 full-time employees often utilize coworking spaces for their rare, face-to-face meetings, but working from home is most common.

But even these workers must make adjustments as family members that used to go to an office or school are now working from home. The house is getting crowded with telecommuters and online students. Caldwell says setting parameters early on is key.

“You may need to have substantive conversations with your family,” he adds. “‘Here is what is happening: When I’m at this particular desk, when my headphones are on, when the pink Post-it Note is on the door, it means I’m not available.’ What was once a person working from home, now it’s four people all working at home on their projects and school work.”

And working from home doesn’t mean sweatpants 24/7. Grooming and dressing as if you were heading into a professional setting helps with home productivity and mood, Caldwell says.

Extended hours

The 9-to-5 concept didn’t apply to many workers before COVID-19, but working from home now should come with the mindset of being available and online for a wider range of times, according to Caldwell. Factoring in breaks to prepare kids’ lunches, walking the dog, or being online late to handle that teleconference with Japan will spread out the work day more.

Caldwell recommends relying heavily on keeping that Outlook calendar full with work-related tasks and projects. Don’t just log your meetings: Log the independent tasks, too. A busy calendar will maximize productivity and reduce distraction.

“Any device, tool, and app that keeps track of what you're doing as opposed to allowing a black hole of a day is good,” Caldwell says. “Literally schedule your day so you have a full day of work at the office. The mentality of being productive in that particular space is really important. Set hours for when you are going to to be ‘in the office.’”

New tools, new skills

Working from home should still include the development of new skills, as well as the exploration of new programs and applications.

“Maximize downtime,” Caldwell says. “Self-development can be highly motivating. Skill up with a new certification of some kind. Pursue continuing education online for that skill you always wanted to acquire. Why not dig into it now?”

Caldwell recommends working in Trello, an online management tool, to keep track of projects with your remote team. Slack is an app that allows for smoother communication between colleagues, particularly for more casual interactions.

The norm, for now

Already, “crisis management” should be added to resumes worldwide. Work has continued for many industries, and workers being nimble in this transition are keeping businesses afloat. The dramatic shift to work life at home will continue for months.

“If there’s a silver lining at all, it’s this: You’re developing a new skill in how to effectively work remotely with a high level of productivity,” Caldwell says. “Since we can’t control it, get comfortable. Be in tune to how you are feeling and how others may be reading you. There’s still a lot of connecting taking place, and that should continue.

“We need to be extraordinarily charitable right now, and I think we’re going to get through this and be a stronger society for it. This will be one of those things that pulls us together and unifies us.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

working from home
Butler Experts

Butler Management Researcher Offers Advice for Productive Telecommuting

Efficient work from home starts with the right mindset and physical space, Associate Professor Craig Caldwell says

Mar 20 2020 Read more
Iowa caucus action
Butler Experts

Iowa Caucus Debacle Could Affect Voter Turnout Come November, Says Butler Political Scientist

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Feb 06 2020

In a presidential election year, the Iowa Caucus is usually the first momentum push for a candidate, but what if there is no clear winner until days after the event?

The confusion and technology glitches following the February 3 Iowa Caucus will likely result in a lot more than just delayed final results, Dr. Gregory Shufeldt, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Butler University says. The failure to announce a winner during the caucus could impact the November 3 presidential election.

Greg Shufeldt
Dr. Gregory Shufeldt

“People need to have confidence in the election to participate. If you don't trust the process, you might not participate,” says Shufeldt, who has published research on voter confidence and electoral integrity. “The things that happened in Iowa aren’t good. Even if it was from honest mistakes, it could affect the efficacy and enthusiasm in voting, and when a winner is announced, some might question the legitimacy of the results.”

After about five days of delay, Pete Buttigieg was announced as the Iowa Caucus winner on February 9, narrowly defeating Bernie Sanders. The candidates were in a virtual tie for the week as the final votes were tallied.

Following the 2016 Iowa caucus, which saw Hillary Clinton narrowly win over Bernie Sanders, candidates wanted more transparency in the process. The Iowa Democratic Party decided it would now announce three sets of results: initial head count, final viability headcount, and delegates allocated. What was supposed to be the clearest route to a winner slowed the process down as the data did not line up, says Shufeldt, who is teaching a U.S. Presidential Nominations course this semester.

In each of the precincts, caucus leaders collect “preference cards” from attendees, showing which candidate each participant favored. These exist in case a recount is requested, but they also provide a backstop for any technical reporting issues.

“Every four years, everyone updates their process on what they learned last time,” Shufeldt says. “In 2016 and before, they normally only released the final delegate results, which is all that matters for winning the nomination.”

Shufeldt says the media attention could be squandered for the winner as the focus will be on the flawed process, President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address February 4, and pending impeachment vote on February 5. It could also bring the end to the early caucuses and change how we nominate presidential candidates in the future.

“Iowa’s role as first in nation for caucuses will be revisited,” Shufeldt says. “That’s bad news for Iowa and then New Hampshire might lose some of their privileged status. There’s a whole host of concerns—how representative and inclusive they are—and that will affect the process of future elections.” 

An issue after the muddied process in the 2020 Iowa caucus is that it will cause voters to stay home on November 3. The combination of a flawed process and the lack of the voter’s preferred candidate could affect voter turnout. Shufeldt says a streamlined, accurate voting process is crucial, especially with political pundits debating the accuracy of the Electoral College versus the popular vote.

“The concern is if you feel your side lost the primary due to mistakes, will you support another candidate or stay home?” Shufeldt asks. “The Democratic candidate needs every vote, especially in states that have history of going back and forth between Republican and Democrat, like Iowa.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

Iowa caucus action
Butler Experts

Iowa Caucus Debacle Could Affect Voter Turnout Come November, Says Butler Political Scientist

Delayed results will make some voters distrust the election process, says Assistant Professor Gregory Shufeldt 

Feb 06 2020 Read more
Wallabies in burned landscape
Butler Experts

Butler Biologist: Australia’s Ecology to Suffer for Years

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 17 2020

“Catastrophic” was the first word Butler University Biological Sciences Professor Carmen Salsbury could attach to the ongoing Australian bushfire devastation.

More than 1 billion animals have perished, along with 29 humans in the estimated 100 blazes that have ignited since September, burning 46 million acres as of mid-January. The ecology of Australia will never be the same, at least not for a very long time, says Salsbury, who has researched forest mammals and urban wildlife for decades.

Professor Carmen Salsbury talks in her office.
Professor Carmen Salsbury says the Australian landscape will be forever changed.

“The unfortunate thing is that the catastrophe has just started. Once the fires are out, it’s not over,” Salsbury says. “There is some evidence that we may lose some species altogether to extinction because of this tragedy.”

The researcher says climate change is the biggest culprit behind the historic loss of environment. The combination of extreme heat, wind, and drought has been ramping up for years in Australia, and the conditions have allowed for continent-wide blazes.

While the plants will grow back and animals will return in time, the ecology in some areas will take many years to fully recover. Animals like the endangered glossy black cockatoo and the dunnart, a mouse-sized marsupial, are now thought to be extinct, according to Salsbury. New predators, such as feral cats, may move in to rattle the food chain as shelter and food becomes scarce for surviving prey animals. The “connectivity” of the ecology has been severed.

“Species rely on one-another in lots of different ways—for food, shelter, etc.,” Salsbury says. “You pull one of those things out, and it ripples through the ecosystem and has major impacts on other species.”

The lack of vegetation will enhance erosion and the chance of mudslides. The sediment could invade watersheds, affecting drinking water as well as aquatic life.

“Even after things start to green up,” Salsbury says, “we’re still going to see some serious impact on many of the plants and animals, all of those things at the base of a functioning ecosystem.”

The different roles of wildfires

Western parts of the United States have experienced similar wildfires. In October, 10 wildfires engulfed 113,931 acres of California forest in flames, killing three, and destroying 517 homes and other buildings.

The 2019 events and Australia are tragic byproducts of climate change, but smaller wildfires have their place in ecology, Salsbury says.

“There are a lot of plant communities that have actually evolved to be fire tolerant. In fact, there are some plants that require fire for their seeds to germinate,” she adds. “A lot of plants are meant to burn and some of them have terpene compounds in their wood to promote fire.”

The fires happen naturally from lightning strikes and manmade controlled fires, and serve to replenish small ecosystems. Controlled burns eliminate fuel that would cause larger, widespread burns.

“The point is that intermediate levels of disturbance are actually good things for biodiversity in ecosystems,” Salsbury says. “The problem is when you get really wide-scale, broad, and frequent types of disturbances. And that's what we're seeing now in our part of the world (California) but especially in Australia.”

Biology Associate Professor Andrew Stoehr and Biological Science Professor Travis Ryan will lead a March controlled burn of the Butler Prairie near campus. It will be the first burn of the three-acre natural prairie space in seven years. Weather conditions will play a factor when the burn takes place but Stoehr concurs that control burns are advantageous in rejuvenating some ecosystems.

“Ideally, it would be every spring,” Stoehr says. “One of the main effects is that it cuts down on the gradual invasion of trees. Gradually, prairies convert from grassy species and wildflowers over to wooded area. Burns also kill other kinds of invasive or undesirable species. By gleaning off all of that vegetation, it exposes the soil to more sunlight in springtime. The soil will warm up earlier, which tends to benefit the desired prairie plants more than the undesirable species. The seeds are already in the soil and will start to germinate after the clearing.”

But not every ecosystem benefits from controlled burns and many of those have been affected in Australia, like tropical forest. The fires are too widespread to cause anything but negative impact on the continent.

How to help

As of mid-January, more than $200 million has been raised to help fight the fires and to aid injured wildlife. Salsbury says donating to the causes are a positive step, but so is reducing your carbon footprint.

“These fires,” Salsbury says, “are a textbook example of what happens when you have a lot of factors that come together and make the perfect storm and the No. 1 factor, of course, that’s really compounding the problem is climate change.”

Minimizing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses and other practices in fighting climate change can reduce the risk of such widespread fires occurring again, Salsbury says.

“If there is anything good that can come from this, it is that it could motivate people into action,” Salsbury adds. “Unfortunately these type of events may help us direct our focus a little bit. Maybe it will highlight the desperate need. It’s past due.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

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Wallabies in burned landscape
Butler Experts

Butler Biologist: Australia’s Ecology to Suffer for Years

Professor Carmen Salsbury says the loss of ‘connectivity’ will devastate ecosystems after bushfires are extinguished

Jan 17 2020 Read more
Two Butler professors explain what's going on in the trade relationship between the United States and China.
Butler Experts

Understanding the Trade War

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Aug 09 2019

When China weakens its currency, lowering the yuan’s value in comparison with the U.S. dollar, what exactly does that mean for America? It seems like the move would only damage the Chinese economy, right?

Even if the yuan’s sliding value does hurt China in some ways, says Butler University Professor of Economics Bill Rieber, it could be a strategic play in the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.

“And in the concept of a war,” Rieber says, “no one is really gaining.”

Rieber, an expert in international economics whose research focuses mostly on Asian economies, explains that a weaker Chinese currency means cheaper Chinese products. This seems appealing on the surface—American companies who trade with China can buy more for less money. And the savings trickle all the way down to consumers, who pay less for the final product.

But for businesses selling American-made goods, that competition can be hard to beat. Rieber says products might need to be priced cheaper than they would be otherwise, which essentially ends up lowering the wages of some American workers.

In response, President Donald Trump has placed tariffs on Chinese imports, trying to make these otherwise cheap goods less appealing. But China is playing the same game, Rieber explains. The nation’s recent decision to stop buying U.S. agricultural products threatens a vulnerable part of the American economy, which Rieber says could put a new kind of tension on Trump.

“It may be that [China is] trying to retaliate in those states that were big supporters of President Trump during the election,” he says. “They are trying to hurt agriculture in the Midwest.”

But Su-Mei Ooi, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Butler and an expert in U.S.-China relations, says we should be careful not to make assumptions about China’s adversarial intentions toward the U.S. Within her studies about the ways China is depicted within American political rhetoric, she’s found U.S. politicians and media outlets often villainize China in a way that exacerbates conflict between the two countries.

For example, Ooi’s research has analyzed whether China intentionally devalues its currency to give Chinese exports an unfair advantage and make it impossible for the U.S. to close the trade deficit it has with China. She says American leaders often frame it that way, painting China as “a cheat” in order to justify their own actions in the trade war. In the past, China has devalued the yuan to give Chinese goods a competitive advantage, but Ooi says this no longer holds true.

“There was a time when China was manipulating its currency,” she says, “but that has been long gone. In fact, more recently, economists have claimed that China’s currency is overvalued compared to similar economies.”

That’s because China’s government has been intervening in currency markets, buying and selling currencies in ways that have made the yuan’s value artificially high. This is the very opposite of what they are being accused of now, Ooi says. She explains that the yuan’s recent drop in value was actually an appropriate market response to the new round of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Villainized ideas about China within “popular imagination” have fueled a lot of unfounded anti-Chinese sentiment among Americans, Ooi says. And that’s what has helped U.S. leaders justify their actions in the trade war.

“There needs to be some kind of justification, right?” she says. “Some kind of rally around the flag effect to motivate people to suck up the costs of this trade war. And I think it’s the use of these kinds of tropes that perpetuate misunderstanding and allow the current administration to do that.”

Ooi explains that this political technique of “othering”—capitalizing on fear of difference to unite supporters—is nothing new. But she says within Trump’s presidency, it’s been a little more blatant, fueling long-held stereotypes about China.

“These are powerful assumptions that we hold that we don’t question,” she says. “‘Oh, of course China is a rival power and must want to dislodge us from our pedestal.’ But this may or may not be true—we are inferring China’s intentions from a deep-seated fear of our own decline.”

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)

Two Butler professors explain what's going on in the trade relationship between the United States and China.
Butler Experts

Understanding the Trade War

Two Butler professors explain what's going on in the trade relationship between the United States and China.

Aug 09 2019 Read more
Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.
Butler Experts

Butler Prof: ‘Local Newspapers Near Crisis Point’

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 30 2019

To understand media mergers like the proposed one between Gannett and GateHouse Media, Nancy Whitmore says “you need to understand the state newspapers are in. And it is a sad state.”

Whitmore, a Professor of Communication at Butler University, explains that mergers are often meant to help papers hold on long enough to figure out a more permanent business model for surviving the digital age. In the time when local print papers provided the main source of information, advertising dollars were key. Now, as most of that money goes to big technology companies such as Google and Facebook, more newspapers have tried to hold their ground with funding from subscriptions. Whitmore says this model mostly works for larger national outlets, but local newspapers struggle to convert readers into digital subscribers.

So mid-sized and smaller papers are “really in a tight spot.” Gannett and GateHouse both focus on these sorts of local outlets.

Horizontal mergers between similar companies can help save money, often by combining and sharing human resources, editing, design, and printing teams. The combined company would also be able to boast a more widespread audience—a draw for advertisers looking to reach the most people.

But good journalism will still be expensive, and combining companies usually means cutting jobs. Whitmore says it’s hard to tell how many layoffs a Gannett-GateHouse merger could cause, since most local newsrooms are already spread thin, but some job cuts would be likely. And there would be consequences.

“I think we are almost at a crisis point here,” she says. “If you’re not getting local journalism, you are losing the independent voice that is monitoring those in power.”

According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans working in the newspaper industry has been slashed almost in half since the early 2000s. Wages are down, closures are up, and many of the papers that survive have started to publish less frequently.

While mergers and acquisitions can keep some struggling outlets on their feet, about 1,300 communities in the United States have lost local newspaper coverage altogether.

Whitmore says ethical concerns sometimes surround the idea of big companies owning so many media outlets, but a financial need to merge for the survival of local journalism might start to outweigh those worries. Plus, since GateHouse and Gannett own mostly local papers that aren’t in direct competition with one another, Whitmore says combining the two companies might not raise regulatory concerns.

“But mergers are expensive,” she goes on to explain, “and they don’t always work out well. You’ve got different cultures—different ways of doing things. It’s not always smooth sailing.” 

Whitmore predicts that, if anything holds back a merger between Gannett and GateHouse, it will probably be the financing. Given the already-dismal state of local outlets, she’s not sure a deal can be done. But for the sake of local newspapers, she hopes it works.

Because without journalism, even at the most local level, Whitmore says communities will be left vulnerable to “people in power doing unseemly things.”

 

Nancy Whitmore (Professor of Communication at Butler University) specializes in research and teaching about the laws, ethics, and economics surrounding the media industry.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell) 

Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.
Butler Experts

Butler Prof: ‘Local Newspapers Near Crisis Point’

Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.

Jul 30 2019 Read more
Of the 37 climate scientists Carol Reeves has interviewed across the United States, all of them feel a moral obligation to help save the planet.
Butler Experts

Global Warming? Climate Change? How do we talk about what’s happening? Butler prof looks to set the rhetoric record straight

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 22 2019

Of the 37 climate scientists Carol Reeves has interviewed across the United States, all of them feel a moral obligation to help save the planet. All of them want to tell the world how bad things will get if we don’t take better care of our Earth. The thing is, not all of them have the right words to make people listen.

An English Professor at Butler University, Reeves studies how climate scientists communicate with one another, with policy makers, and with the public about their research findings. While not a climate scientist herself, she teaches courses about the rhetoric and language of science. Through working with students on how to talk about climate change, as well as through interviewing climate scientists over the past several years, Reeves has learned about the nuanced challenges scientists often face in discussing their research.

“In science, you don’t talk about absolute facts: You talk about evidence,” Reeves says. “But normal people listen to dramatic claims. They have trouble getting that we have loads of evidence from research to support that we are heading into a really terrible time if we don’t do anything about it. We are going to have more extremes, more heat waves and draughts, more heavy rains, more wildfires, and stronger hurricanes.”

Reeves says we might view this summer’s heat waves as a sort of “test run” for what climate scientists are warning about the future, and how that heat will continue to affect us.

“Extreme and prolonged high temperatures place an enormous burden on communities and citizens, especially the most vulnerable,” she says. “If you’re wealthy enough to be sitting in your cooled home, you may dismiss this very clear sign of climate change. But if you’re poor, or if you have to work outdoors, you probably wish someone would get to work on the problem.”

Starting in 2008, Reeves decided to start conducting interviews with climate scientists to gain more background for the unit of her class that discusses climate change. She focused on those scientists involved in writing climate assessment reports for the United Nations—reports that analyze where the climate is now, and what will probably happen in the future. These scientists also look at how climate change is already affecting the Earth, and they build recommendations for what humans can do to help.

Researchers see a stark future in the data, but they struggle to spread the word. Reeves says policy makers and members of the public often misunderstand the concept of climate change, especially the way scientists talk about it. This has caused climatologists to sometimes disagree among themselves about what kind of language to use when sharing their research.

“You have a set of data,” she says, “but you have to write about that data, and you have to decide how strong your language is going to be.”

Reeves explains that scientists need to balance the ethical responsibility to stay within their data with their desire to help the public understand.

“It is a tenuous balance between explaining the science in a simple and clear way without simplifying and over-stating,” she says.

But it doesn’t matter what the studies show if people don’t want to think about the future. Scientists want to convince the population that, even though we are facing so many other problems, we need to put climate change at the top of the list. They just aren’t sure how.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)