5 Questions with Faculty: Patricia Strach

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 12, 2017) — Patricia Strach is an associate professor in the Departments of Political Science and Public Administration & Policy at UAlbany’s Rockefeller College, and the deputy director for Research at SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government. A California native — and, as such, a taco lover — she’s been at the University since 2004.

Patricia Strach is researching 19th century garbage collection and corruption for a book she's writing with Kathleen Sullivan.

What are your working on now?

With my co-author, Kathleen Sullivan, I’m working on a book about 19th-century trash and corruption (really)! Although most folks raise their eyebrows at first, it’s actually a great topic to study. As Americans moved to cities in the mid-19th century, individual solutions for getting rid of trash — burning it, burying it or feeding it to hogs — just didn’t work anymore. Trash piled up in vacant lots and in streets in cities across the nation. It was clear that somebody had to do something, but not clear who would act or what they might do.

Although most scholars think about corruption as hindering the provision of goods and services, we’re looking at four corrupt American cities to uncover which forms of corruption are better or worse for building capacity to provide essential city services (like sanitation). We also look at the impact of corruption on access and inclusion.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

After I graduated from college, I worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. I really liked politics, and public policy in particular. But working for an elected official is an eye-opening experience. Although they work really hard, they don’t have a lot of time for reflection about what the “best” policy might be or what the right direction to take is. I wanted to go to graduate school to learn more.

When I was in the political science PhD program, I worked with an undergraduate who put in 40 hours a week during the academic year and 60 hours during the summer. Her parents made over the threshold for financial aid, but they chose not to support her. I was really interested in learning more about how government uses our private lives for policy ends (my first book was on the role of family in the policy process).

What’s your favorite class to teach?

For the undergraduates, I like teaching American Political Development, because I like introducing students to new ways of thinking about concepts (like time) and issues that have a big impact on them but they think — at first — is “boring” (tax policy). For the graduates, I like teaching qualitative methods — because it is fun.

What do you see as the challenges confronting those in your field?

As a political scientist, there are a lot of challenges right now. The 2016 election exposed the way that scholars in my field were both right about what was happening in the United States and not so right. We can do a better job of trying to understand politics from the ground level.

Dinner tonight with anyone, living or not: Who, and why?

Johnny Cash! I think he’s an interesting person. I’d like to hear him play music, and my colleague, Sally Friedman, would think I’m cool.

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