Faculty spotlights

New faces and new places: Two new scholars join VCU POLI faculty

August 15, 2018

Michael Paarlberg and Alex Keena

Michael A. Paarlberg, Ph.D., comes to us from Georgetown University’s doctoral program in political science (2017). Dr. Paarlberg is also an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and spent last year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Immigration at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Paarlberg is currently working on a book project on transnational elections and diaspora politics in Latin America. Within the last 30 years, voting rights for citizens residing abroad have been adopted by the majority of countries in the world, yet voting rates among diaspora communities are almost universally low. Using original data on party travel documents, surveys of both migrants and home country voters, and interviews with politicians, party officials and campaign strategists, he is examining diaspora campaigning by parties in the top three migrant-sending countries to the U.S. relative to population: Mexico, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Paarlberg also lends his expertise as a journalist writing about labor, immigration, social science and classical music. Check out some of his recent contributions to The Guardian:


Alex Keena, Ph.D., is a Virginia native with Richmond roots, though he joins us most recently from a visiting professor position at the University of North Florida. Keena earned his doctorate in political science from the University of California-Irvine (2016), where he focused his research on issues of political representation, Congress and elections.

Dr. Keena’s current research interests address gerrymandering, the politicized redistricting process; his research is timely and important given the questions that have been brought to the courts over the past few months. In June 2018, a panel of federal judges in Virginia ruled 11 state legislative districts were unconstitutional because they were drawn in a way that discriminated against African Americans. Also in June 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States was asked to rule on the issue of extreme partisan gerrymandering, but they largely sidestepped the issue, allowing the state maps at the heart of the question intact, while also leaving the door open for further challenges.

Dr. Keena’s book "Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the Future of Popular Sovereignty" (available on Amazon) offers a new standard for gerrymandering that is both constitutionally grounded and legally manageable. It argues the scientifically rigorous partisan symmetry measure is an appropriate legal standard for partisan gerrymandering, as it is a necessary condition of individual equality and can be practically applied.

Dr. Keena is also a contributor to The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog. Check out his recent article: