Pearson Cross comes to UL from California, New England, and Monroe, Louisiana. He has become a much sought-after commentator on Louisiana politics, supported by his quick sense of humor, and perhaps, by the insights he derives from his background in Jazz and improvisation. He currently serves as Department Head for Political Science at the University of Louisiana. He spoke with ultoday.com about his background, and the Department.

Pearson Cross, Political Science, University of LouisianaTell us about yourself.

I grew up in Santa Rosa, California. I'm the only child of two public school teachers. My mother was also a piano teacher, and I started playing piano early. I was somewhat of a bright but indifferent student. After a couple of desultory years in college, USM first, then Santa Rosa Junior College, I dropped out of school and played music for 10 years on the road.

Then I went back to school, life on the road started to get old. At San Francisco State I took a few courses, and found I liked it. Then I took a course in political science, only because it was a 6-unit course that satisfied several education requirements. But to my surprise I found it I absolutely loved it, it was my favorite class up to that time. That lead me to major in political science at San Francisco State.

I had planned to go to law school, but found out I hated the study of law. I had one of those John Houseman types, he treated us like we were already in law school. That whole thing about being called on like a trained seal and then being humiliated if you didn't have the right answer turned me off to law school somehow.

However I was still getting great grades, and one of my professors suggested that I consider graduate school in political science. I applied all around the country to different graduate school programs, and went to the university that was most advantageously located for juggling graduate school and a musical career, and that also offered me the most money. That was Brandeis University.

I loved graduate school, and spent the next 11 years pursuing a PhD. The number of years is an indication of two things: my ability to procrastinate, and my true love of the life of being a graduate student.

Then right off the bat I got a one-year teaching position at Fitchburg State in Massachusetts, one thing lead to another, and eventually I was offered a position at ULM. I applied to about 50 jobs that year, I got zero, no interviews, no calls. The only offer was a summer program for gifted kids.

I applied at ULM on the basis of my work at Fitchburg State, they gave me a job. Moving from Boston to the South wasn't as big a deal for me as some people, because my mother was from Mississippi. I had grown up eating Southern food and I understood the culture.

An interesting story about me is that apparently I've been the beneficiary of affirmative action, in graduate school at Brandeis, and then at ULM. I was told by one of the Brandeis faculty on the basketball court a few years later, that I unwittingly gave them enough of a hint-- because I played piano and studied in Mississippi-- that they assumed I was African-American. Then at ULM I was hired in part, to enhance cultural diversity as well... coming out of Brandeis and Fitchburg State, they thought I was a Yankee.

I taught at ULM and enjoyed the experience. Then this opening appeared at UL, and I jumped on it. I was pres of the Louisiana Political Science Association, and the Vice President at that time was Bryan-Paul Frost, a UL faculty member. In casual conversation, he mentioned the opening at UL to me, and I immediately applied and got the job.

Now I'm Department Head.

You get interviewed a lot about Louisiana politics.

The press will talk to anybody.

Should I take that personally?

Only if appears self-reflecting.

Again, it was just situational. The reason I started talking to the press a lot, and the reason they started talking to me, is that the editor of the Monroe News Star, Kathy Spurlock, mentioned my name to John Hill, who at that time had a column that ran in five Gannett-owned newspapers, and he started using me as a source of expertise on Louisiana politics. That really started it. Because I follow Louisiana politics, and taught Louisiana and Southern politics, more journalists around the state have sought me out for my comments.

I find the opportunity to contribute to be a rewarding experience. I try, to the extent I can, to be a dispassionate observer of the ever-entertaining world of Louisiana politics.

You still play piano.

I do and I frequently play around the Lafayette area for different occasions. I try not to do it to an excessive extent now that I have a young family. I exclusively play Jazz, Mainstream, Be-Bop, standards, some Blues. I'm still deeply involved. I just love Jazz.

What is your reaction to UL and South Louisiana?

South Louisiana is great. Since I've moved here, I've found myself welcomed, and I enjoy the food and the music, and the friendliness of the people. It's been a great experience.

As for UL, I have great admiration for my colleagues and the administration here. I think we are well-positioned to ride the current economic storm and emerge relatively unscathed

What are your goals for the program?

We've gone through a generational shift, and we now have a group of young, energetic faculty who are dynamic, and who are attracting students in large numbers.

What we hope to do is expand our services to the UL community. We are actively seeking to become less 'ivory tower', and more user-friendly for students and the Acadiana community.

We are looking to develop ties with other entities in the UL community, including the TV stations, papers, other media, foundations, in order to create a greater connection between UL and the community at large here in Acadiana. Some of the ways we are trying to do this is through the presentation of political forums, through invited speakers, through the creation of internship programs with national elected officials, but also with the state Legislature.

We put on our first forum last year with Charles Boustany and his challengers in the 7th district. Ryan Teten is taking the lead on developing an internship program with the state Legislature. We're in the early process of creating a chair of public affairs in the political science department that would specifically create opportunities for greater community-University interaction.

So if there's one direction that the Department is moving toward, it's greater interaction with, and service to, the Lafayette and Acadiana community.

Just as the media has turned to me for political analysis at state and local level, you will also see some of my colleagues in the department becoming more prominent in various media outlets. That makes us more of a department that serves the the general public, as well as a general student population.

I think that's the big vision, to try to increase the public side of what we do.