Craig Calhoun, KNFP-3 President, Social Science Research Council
This article was published in the February 2003 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Craig Calhoun Quick Fact: Craig Calhoun was named President of the Social Science Research Council in 1999. Prior to joining the Council, he served as Chair of the Sociology Department at New York University, where he remains Professor of Sociology and History. Calhoun has written or edited more than a dozen books and authored over eighty scholarly articles, including the prize-winning book Neither Gods Nor Emperors: Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China (California, 1994). His topics range from nationalism and democracy to the Chinese student movement, information technology, public communication, and September 11.
What sustains you in your practice of leadership and your commitment to change?
I'm tempted to answer: "coffee." But seriously, I can't imagine not wanting to work as hard as possible on important social issues. I'm moved by the belief that we really can't make the progress we should in practical action without working hard to improve our understanding of the issues involved. And I'm sustained by the sense that understanding does grow. It's a joy each time I feel a sense that my picture of how social life works has come into clearer focus.
What do you consciously say to yourself or do that helps you stay on track with your goals?
You can't do everything. Of course, saying this and acting on it are two different things. One of my strengths is seeing the importance and interconnection of many different concerns. But accomplishing anything means setting priorities, deciding to focus on certain things and not others. It also means recognizing that on many tasks others wilt be able to do a better job.
What is your passion?
In general, my passion is the idea that better understanding enables us to choose more of how we live together rather than just have it happen to us. In particular, at this moment, it's the global challenge of HIV-AIDS. In parts of Africa 30% of people are infected. The pandemic is now striking women more than men--and also orphaning a generation of children. Its costs mount, not only in human life and economic resources but in family structure, cultural continuity, and political stability. And this is not just about Africa, but about the whole world, as Infection rates are beginning to explode in Russia, India, and China, and not just among so-called "high risk groups". There are two problems with the global response. One is that there isn't enough of it. The US and other countries made big promises with the launch of the Global Fund, but their contributions have been small. The Gates Foundation has shown impressive leadership, but most of the philanthropic community has failed in its responsibility to lead. The second problem is equally important but more complicated. The responses have almost all focused on prevention or cure--both of which are extremely important. But it is a fantasy to think that the disease will be eliminated--or even greatly reduced--in the next few years. Even if a vaccine is found tomorrow, it will be at least a generation before it can reach all who need it--and that assumes no further mutations of an already multi-stranded disease. This means that there needs to be much more work on the social conditions that shape life and death in the era of AIDS. Poor nutrition hastens the onset of symptoms. Health care systems are overwhelmed (and the situation is worse because of years of cutbacks in public funding). Women bear a disproportionate burden of care for AIDS victims, and this takes them out of the workforce and education. School systems are destroyed because with traditional approaches teachers can't be trained fast enough to replace those who die I'll stop myself from going on, but the simple point is that many of the actions that would save the most lives, and do most to save economies and families and the social fabric in general, are neither medical nor matters of promoting safe sex and other forms of prevention They are efforts to strengthen social institutions that help people cope and end conflicts that not only spread the disease but prevent effective responses to it I'm passionate not only because the need is so acute but because people who should be doing something aren't And here I include my own community of social scientists, which is just waking up to the fact that this is one of the most important issues in the world and yet left on the margins of most academic disciplines.
How do you practice good self-care?
I'm not sure I do. I always mean to exercise more, eat better and spend more time with my family. But doing work I really believe in is a kind of self-care too.
How do you measure success?
In action generated, which in my world means new ideas and thus the research and thinking that keep improving them, the educational work that ensures regeneration, and the broader public conversations that both test the best ideas in debate and bring them to policymakers and citizens.
If you had to give an aspiring leader one piece of advice, what would it be?
Do it now, don't spend forever getting ready, but keep learning while you do it.
Are you a better leader than you were five years ago? How do you know?
Maybe, but I really don't know. I have some new skills. But I'm also more conscious of some of my weaknesses. Besides, just to say 'yes' would sound even more pompous than I probably already do in this interview!