When Theory Meets Practice
by Gregor Krause
What do a couple of roadwork specialists, an
expert witness, a public relations coordinator, and a terrorism
expert have in common? They're all professors at CSU, Chico.
many people relish the idea of sitting in the witness chair in a
high-profile criminal case—but Ed Bronson does. “Testifying is a
tricky skill,” says Bronson, Department of Political Science. “The
whole point of cross-examination is to make you off-balance and
uncertain and defensive—to make you look like a complete jerk.”
He pauses, then says, “But I love it.”
He’d better. As a nationally renowned expert witness
for more than 30 years, Bronson (above) has taken the hot
seat in some of the highest-profile legal cases of our times. In
the last few years, he’s testified in the trials of Oklahoma City
bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski,
Polly Klaas murderer Richard Allen Davis, accused synagogue arsonists
and murderers the Williams brothers, and the San Francisco dog mauling
case, among others. Bronson’s principal area of expertise is change
of venue in capital cases, so the stakes and the pressure are incredibly
high. Even so, he loves the challenge: “I probably enjoy cross more
than I do direct testifying.”
But Bronson’s responsibilities when he takes on
a case go far beyond mere testimony. After all, he has to have case-specific
material to testify about. For the survey that provides that material,
Bronson must select a cross-section of the jury-eligible population
in the trial venue and “attempt to assess awareness, prejudgment,
knowledge, and feeling” about the case at hand. He also testifies
in matters involving discriminatory charging of the death penalty,
compositional challenges (where data indicate that either petit
juries or grand juries don’t reflect a fair cross-section of the
population), and severance of joined co-defendants (trying them
separately), especially in capital cases.
“The sort of stuff I do takes a weird amalgam
of background,” notes Bronson. “You have to have a social science
background for credibility. And you have to be very comfortable
with the law.” Bronson studied law as an undergraduate, subsequently
graduated from law school, and then went on to earn an L.L.M. (master
Today, he regularly takes on pro bono cases, and
he travels to the Third World to help minority and disadvantaged
students get into American law schools. That’s in addition to both
his teaching and his paid expert testimony. “This is all I do anymore,”
he says. “I don’t watch TV; I don’t go to movies.” His expert witness
work is so consuming that Bronson had cut his teaching load to half
time even before he took retirement in 2000 from CSU, Chico.
Although retired from the university, Bronson
still teaches civil liberties classes. His students benefit directly
from Bronson’s work outside the classroom. The outside work, he
says, “keeps me very involved with the law—on the cutting edge of
these issues. Even in law school, they’d be considered cutting edge,
so for undergraduates it can be pretty challenging.” Students also
sometimes work on the surveys or on research projects related to
the cases he consults on. “One great thing about Chico State,” he
says, “is that undergraduate students get to be involved with this
level of work.” Work done by Bronson’s undergraduate students has
even been cited by the California and U.S. Supreme Courts.
Proceed with caution
Without the work of CSU, Chico Engineering Professors
Tom Ferrara and A. Reed Gibby, people might still believe that crosswalks
make intersections safer for pedestrians.
In the early 1990s, through the California Public
Works Studies program they initiated in 1988, Ferrara, Gibby, and
a number of their students executed an extensive survey evaluating
the accident experience in marked vs. unmarked crosswalks at non-signalized
intersections and found that the unmarked crosswalks were safer.
It sounds counterintuitive to a layperson.
“Well, it makes sense when you think about it,”
says Gibby. “Drivers can’t
really see marked crosswalks from any distance, so there’s very
little difference between the marked and unmarked ones for a driver.
But a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk believes that it’s safer.
So pedestrians are lulled into a false sense of security in the
marked ones.” As a result of the Gibby and Ferrara 1994 study, Caltrans
and municipal and city governments around the state quickly began
removing some crosswalk markings.
Ferrara, Gibby, and their students have conducted
a number of investigative surveys with direct impact on the lives
of Californians who use the state’s roadways in just about any conveyance.
With titles like “Collision Experience with Speed Limit Changes
on Selected California Highways” and “Statewide Study of Bicycles
and Pedestrians on Freeways, Expressways, Toll Bridges, and Tunnels,”
no one’s going to mistake the final reports for Stephen King novels,
but few people are going to remain unaffected by the results, either.
This work provides vital analytical bases for everything from significant
Caltrans budget, project, and policy decisions to legislative proposals.
And it is largely conducted by CSU, Chico students—very often by
our undergraduate civil engineering students.
“In transportation engineering research, no place
else gives undergraduates this amount or quality of experience,”
“Chico State students get top-level experience”
on these projects, seconds Gibby. Student involvement is high at
every level, from doing actual pedestrian counts at intersections
to technical analysis and writing the ongoing working papers and
the final reports.
Even for the students not directly participating,
the civil engineering professors’ critical involvement in these
significant projects is of immediate benefit. The findings and results
of the surveys are often incorporated into what Gibby calls his
“evolving textbook on transportation engineering,” and the projects
provide a variety of material for both Ferrara and Gibby as well
as their students. Through the projects, says Gibby, “You stay right
on top of the subject areas—you’re dealing with problems Caltrans
is having right now, not conceptual things that won’t prove out
for some time.” Ferrara, too, uses examples from their real-world
projects in his project management courses.
Ferrara and Gibby alternate in the role of project
director. Each in his turn selects and hires students to do portions
of the work, then supervises and ensures that the components are
completed. Most of the projects run 12 months, but some have run
as long as two years. The projects sometimes buy out portions of
both professors’ teaching loads, paying for release time, but neither
man cites money as a reward for the extra work. Says Ferrara, “I
like the things that our former students/employees go on to do as
a result of both the real-world experience and the instruction they
get here. When they leave, they get good jobs.”
Lessons in diversity
Journalism Professor Katie Milo’s specialty is
public relations. She knows that perception can be everything. “When
a poster went out for a field test, some Asian groups found the
use of three family members in the photograph culturally insensitive
because the number three represents bad luck,” says Milo. The poster
was redone, of course, but more important to her as a professor,
says Milo, was the lesson learned. “The commitment of our journalism
program to preparing students to work in diverse cultures is directly
affected by the challenges I encounter on these projects.”
“These projects” are the Child Support Project
(founded in 1992) and the CalWORKS Family Planning Project (since
1996), statewide media campaigns aimed at fostering personal growth
and effective parenting skills. “It’s a real multimedia environment;
we do everything from a poster or a brochure for a new county service
to door hangers to public-service announcements to newsletters to
refrigerator magnets to a four-month campaign for radio and TV,”
Administered, shaped, and nurtured by Milo since their inception
nine years ago, the two projects are examples of how everyone benefits
from good partnerships. The communication skills and experience
it takes to create the campaigns dovetail with the content of undergraduate
education in journalism and communication arts.
Each of the two off-campus projects requires a
full-time project manager and a staff person, who are CSU, Chico
graduates of communication arts and journalism. Milo directs. “I
do strategic planning, guiding,” she explains. “I introduce the
staff to the challenges before us to solve communication problems.”
Milo is also chair and intern coordinator of the Department of Journalism.
“I have a hectic yet fairly flexible schedule, and if I don’t have
the time, I make the time,” she says.
Project managers Claudine Payne (B.A., Journalism,
’91; M.A., Communication, ’01) and Debra Johnson (B.A., International
Relations, ’90; M.A., Public Communication, ’92) speak highly of
Milo as a “great mentor” and the driving force behind the projects.
“Throughout the years, she’s contributed her public relations knowledge
and expertise,” says Payne, Child Support Project manager. “What
I really like is that she’s always willing to give feedback, and
she’s always encouraged our creativity.”
Johnson, CalWORKS Family Planning Project manager,
agrees: “Katie gives the staff the freedom to be creative, hyper,
and outlandish at times. She encourages everyone to think beyond
the traditional government form of communication.”
Milo emphasizes the value of staying involved
in these projects. “I believe that professors really need to stay
connected to their disciplines,” she says. “I haven’t lost my creative
chops, so to speak, and this is a very creative process. It’s a
real multimedia environment, and our challenge is, ‘How do you make
the messages evergreen and attractive to a wide audience?’ We have
to communicate education and awareness so that groups and populations
receive the information they need.”
But the rewards go even deeper than that. The
three-person photo faux pas is only one example of how Milo is able
to use her experience on the public projects in her classroom teaching.
“On a weekly basis,” she says, “I’m able to bring in examples of
problems we’re working to solve on behalf of our clients. It’s a
When theory meets reality
For Professor Jim Jacob, it was a work morning
like many others over the course of the past two decades. He was
delivering a PowerPoint presentation on terrorism. He wasn’t in
California, though, teaching his political science and international
relations classes at CSU, Chico; he was in Florida, lecturing as
an expert before an audience of military and civilian personnel
from throughout the federal government at the U.S. Air Force Special
Operations School, the largest course on terrorism offered by the
Department of Defense. On this day, he was serving not in his capacity
as a university professor but rather as a 20-year veteran consultant
to the Defense Department.
About halfway through his presentation, Jacob
called a break, as he routinely does in long presentations. But
things were about to become decidedly nonroutine. The morning was
Sept. 11, 2001.
All of a sudden, pagers and beepers began going
off all around the auditorium, cell phones began ringing, and people
were quick-marching out of the room to get better reception outside.
The course director came into the auditorium and said, “Sometimes,
the things we talk about happen even as we speak.” With that, he
switched the monitors to CNN—just in time for everyone in the room
to see United Airlines Flight 175 smash into the second tower of
the World Trade Center. As the news footage shifted to scenes of
the destruction at the Pentagon, the matter became even more personal
to Jacob’s listeners. Those on ready alert announced that they’d
been recalled; they left to fly home.
Jacob developed a fascination with cross-cultural
communication issues and their relationship to terrorism when he
was studying in France during his junior year at UC Berkeley. While
teaching at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio (from 1978 to
1995), Jacob was asked to speak on cross-cultural issues at the
U.S. Air Force’s Wright Patterson base nearby. That eventually led
to his current schedule of one or more lectures a month—before audiences
of individuals whose very survival may depend on the information
Jacob is there to present.
Jacob, dean of the College of Behavioral and Social
Sciences at CSU, Chico from 1995 to 1999, makes time for his Department
of Defense consulting by scheduling his class load to leave Mondays
open. He flies out on the weekend, delivers his terrorism lectures
Monday morning, then flies back in time to be at class in Chico
Tuesday to teach his courses on international relations. Such a
schedule can be grueling, but it offers singular rewards. “I don’t
know anyone who does this, who does it for the money,” says Jacob.
“The greatest reward is the opportunity to give something back to
the country that guarantees all of us the freedom of speech and
the freedom to dissent.”
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he says, transformed
his classes that semester. “A course in international relations
quickly became a course in important current events,” he observes.
“I began the course by saying that international relations was the
study of change. But no one could have predicted how much change.
And I’ve been greatly impressed with the students’ quality and intensity
of interest in the subject area. Students who hated high school
civics have seen not only the importance but also the fascination
of international relations. We’re all bystanders in the drama of
Jacob says that Americans are surprisingly unfamiliar
with foreign cultures and customs. “The current conflict in Afghanistan
reminds me of a great quote from Ambrose Bierce: ‘War is God’s way
of teaching Americans about geography.’” Studying foreign cultures,
says Jacob, helps students think not only about those cultures but
also about “what makes us tick—what values we hold most deeply as
About the author
Gregor Krause is a writer and editor who lives in Chico.