Hello, I am Dr. Magic Wade, an Associate Professor of Political Science in the UIS School of Politics and International Affairs. I joined the faculty at UIS in 2015. Prior to this, I attended the University of Minnesota to earn my PhD in 2015 and taught as an adjunct instructor at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.
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The first thing many people ask when we meet is the story behind my name. Magic is indeed my given name and stems from my upbringing in rural Alaska. I was born in the early 1980s and during that time, a lot of Alaskan parents named their kids celestial, hippy-reminiscent names. Being called “Magic” seemed ordinary to me until I left Alaska for college and started meeting new people. Growing up in a home without running water or electricity, where we relied on an outhouse and generator, also seemed normal until I asked around and learned that my childhood was incredibly unique. It was this uniqueness, growing up in a small town in an unpopulated state far-removed from mainstream American life that cultivated in me a deep interest in politics and public affairs. As a child, my connection to the “lower 48” of the United States was primarily sustained through watching nightly news and discussing current events with my parents, who urged me to take an interest in affairs outside of my small town.
This interest in public affairs and politics blossomed when I left Alaska for college. While studying for my bachelor’s degree in Government at Eastern Washington University I determined I wanted to be a college professor. Then, while pursuing my PhD in political science at the University of Minnesota, I discovered my passion for researching politics and public policy at the state and local levels of government. I wrote my PhD dissertation on state-level policies pertaining to the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions during the Great Recession. My research on state labor laws, teachers unions, and public safety unions has since been published in the Journal of Labor Studies and the Journal of Labor and Society. More recently, I have taken an interest in criminal justice, public safety, and urban politics. Related to this, in 2021 I published an article in the Journal of Prison Education about prison-based higher education programs, security clearance policies, and disputes between colleges and prisons over controversial curricula and book bans.
Currently, I am working on a project that examines the rhetoric of Black mayors in response to protests and unrest over racial injustice during the summer of 2020. The inspiration for this project came from my experience teaching a graduate course entitled, Urban Politics and Public Policy (PSC 521) where students learn about the political and policy responses of urban leaders in response to unrest and violence during the 1960s-1990s in Washington, D.C., a city with a strong legacy of Black leadership on the City Council and in the mayor’s office. My research analyzes the rhetoric of Black mayors about high-profile police killings of Black men, including the urban protests and civil unrest that surrounded them. My data set includes 290 public statements given by 35 Black mayors in speeches, press releases, interviews, and other media in 2014 and 2015, responding to the officer-involved killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, and 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd. I consider whether mayoral rhetoric during these eras embraced the discourse of “respectability politics” compared to its anti-thesis, Black Lives Matter. I find that Black mayors in 2020 were substantially more likely to reject respectability politics and embrace the ideas of Black Lives Matter than in previous years. Nonetheless, I caution against calling this a paradigm shift. Political expedience arguably characterizes the rhetoric of all mayors. I conjecture that the increasing racial diversity of their constituencies will have a growing impact on how Black mayors speak about race, diminishing the potential of a complete BLM-inspired paradigm shift.
Additionally, I am currently studying urban leaders’ responses to escalating and disturbing gun violence in their cities since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. My research on this examines how cities are utilizing Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds authorized under the American Rescue Plan, which provided an unprecedented $350 billion in emergency funds for eligible state and local governments to address various needs. Cities are utilizing these funds for a wide variety of public safety initiatives, including community-based violence prevention and interruption programs, expanding surveillance technology, and hiring additional police officers and detectives. I propose to examine the budgetary choices of cities with attention to their investments in violence prevention programs versus traditional public safety approaches and will aim to correlate these investments with subsequent trends in gun violence in these cities.
My research directly and continually informs my teaching. This is demonstrated explicitly in Urban Politics and Public Policy (PSC 521), Comparative State Politics (PSC 512), and Policy Analysis and Implementation (PSC 410). These courses explore contemporary policy problems understood by scholars and practitioners as “wicked problems” for which there is no singular, agreed-upon cause or tidy, linear solution such as urban homelessness (PSC 410), urban gun violence (PSC 521), and the appropriate balance between state and local control of public policy (PSC 512). Then, in the fall of 2022 I am teaching a new course, (PSC 518) Seminar on Public Policy examining the problem of mass incarceration in the United States. This course challenges the conventional wisdom about the causes of mass incarceration, examines the proliferation of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing swelling prison and jail populations, and considers the rise of so-called “progressive prosecutors” and their impacts on criminal sentencing, incarceration rates, and public safety.
The topics addressed in these courses directly relate to my scholarship on state politics, urban politics, prison reform, and gun violence. Moreover, since I teach many graduate-level courses I structure my curricula around three primary skills and learning outcomes:
1) Scholarship analysis and literature review;
2) Research design; and
3) Independent data collection and analysis utilizing primary sources.
My scholarship informs all of my course, then, because I introduce students to my methods of research design including the comparative states method, qualitative discourse analyses, and quantitative analyses utilizing state and local legislation and characteristics as outcomes of interest and explanatory variables. Assignments in my courses also familiarize students with the types of primary data sources I use in my research including state legislative databases and the National Conference of State Legislatures, National Gun Violence Archives and the Chicago Sun Times Homicide Database, and Nexis Uni print and video media archives.
Creating my curricula and engaging in conversations with students gives me ideas for new scholarship, which in turn informs my classroom teaching by giving me additional insights to draw upon in lectures, readings, and assignments. This synergy between my scholarship and teaching cultivated through student-centered teaching is what I love most about being a faculty member at UIS! If you are a prospective student, I encourage you to learn more about the political science BA and MA programs, which are offered both online and on campus, and the public policy BA program, which is on campus with options for online courses.