Faculty Spotlight

April Faculty Spotlight with Assistant Professor, William Casey Boland


In this month's faculty spotlight we speak to Assistant Professor, William Casey Boland about his punk rock past, how the teachings of punk rock relate to public affairs, and his interest on state and federal public policies on higher education.

You toured the world as a guitarist in the punk rock band, Hot Cross. Tell us about that.
Yes, instead of pursuing more gainful employment or enrolling in graduate school at the average age for most grad students, I spent the majority of my 20s traveling the world in a punk rock band. It was nowhere near as glamorous as some might think, given depictions of rock bands in mass media. But it did allow me to travel the U.S. multiple times as well as Canada, Europe, and Japan. Japan in particular was a definite highlight. It might be difficult to discern any commonality between performing hundreds of shows and then becoming an academic, but I certainly learned a lot about interacting with others and handling all sorts of unexpected situations (vans breaking down in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, being warned not to go out in public in Hiroshima due to the Yakuza looking to kidnap U.S. musicians for ransom, etc.). I suspect these experiences also helped with getting in front of people to teach and give presentations. And I also read a lot during these travels – that had to help with grad school and earning a doctorate.

What parallels do you see between the ethos of punk rock and what we set out to accomplish at the Marxe School?
My first response is “none,” but the more I ponder the question, the more I do see some similarities. What Marxe ultimately seeks is to better understand how public affairs and public policy can change the world for the better. This is a huge and largely unquantifiable goal, but this should be the ultimate aspiration for any school committed to public affairs. Punk bands – at least the more politically-minded ones – also seek to inform their audience on the pressing socio-political issues of the day with the hope that this could have a real-world impact. Something I learned and what drew me to becoming involved with punk rock as a subculture was the notion that I could form a band, put on shows, publish fanzines, raise money for causes, and create a record label to release records. I think Marxe and its many disciplines also emphasize that students themselves have the ability and the power to go out and make change through applied research and direct action.

Why did you join the Marxe School?
17 Lexington! Actually, two major Marxe qualities lured me in. First, the student body is quite diverse. It’s so diverse that the school is eligible for a federal grant as a minority serving institution (MSI). As I explore how policy can best advance students of color and low-income students, it would contradict my focus as a researcher and an educator to not situate myself in a diverse institution. Second, Marxe is a school hosting a wide array of faculty interests revolving around public policy and public affairs. While I am affiliated with the higher education administration program, I work alongside folks focusing on lots of different research. This could be health policy to urban policy to political communication. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by such different topical and methodological vantages. I didn’t know it before I started working in Marxe, but I now realize there are amazing people here too.

How did you become interested in higher education and begin to study the impact of state and federal public policies on higher ed?
I’ve always had an interest in politics and political science. I came around to working in higher education and then researching higher education after pursuing other work and life activities (such as the band). It was during my time as a master’s student and then a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania that I discovered an interest in studying higher education public policy and higher education finance, particularly how these issues have an impact on traditionally underserved students and in MSIs. This was the consequence of doing one independent study with Dr. Marybeth Gasman on the impact of state public policies on historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and another simultaneously with Dr. Joni Finney on California’s Master Plan for Higher Education. Both projects made very clear to me that the widest impact on higher education occurs at the level of public policy. And what’s driving public policy is politics, an area I intend to focus more attention on with future research.