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Signature Course Class Gives Away $100,000

A Signature Course seminar group of thirty UT students gave $100,000 to five charities this week. It’s not their money, or the University’s; it comes instead from an anonymous foundation that wants to do good simultaneously in two ways—give to charity and help students learn the ways of generosity. Philanthropy: The Power of Giving, led by Dr. Pamela Paxton of the Population Research Center in the College of Liberal Arts, centers around student discussion on:

  • What is generosity?
  • Is it always a good thing?
  • What kinds of benefits can charitable giving provide?
  • How should we decide among different kinds of good things: arts, education, public health, poverty relief?

A similar course was taught by Dr. Paul Woodruff, inaugural dean of Undergraduate Studies, in the spring of 2012. The Art of Giving also centered around giving away $100,000 to the charity or charities that students determined were most deserving. Read more.

The course also covers the history and current state of American giving and volunteering, American giving in comparative perspective, the causes and consequences of philanthropy, and how to evaluate charitable programs. At the end of the course the students decide, on their own, how best to use the money. Dr. Paxton explained that she “focused on how to evaluate charities, and how to evaluate when charities are effective in their programming, because some charities are effective and some are not.”

About the Professor

Dr. Paxton has intersecting research interests in pro-social behavior, politics, gender, and methodology. She is the author of articles and books on social capital, women in politics, and quantitative methodology. Her research interests focus on gender stratification in politics, pro-social behavior, and quantitative methodology. Dr. Paxton is currently contributing to the burgeoning literature on generosity to explore how individual and country-level contextual factors interact to produce generous behaviors such as giving and volunteering. She is also exploring the reciprocal relationship between social capital and health behaviors and health outcomes.

In gender stratification, Dr. Paxton has explored the determinants of women’s political representation across countries, explaining women’s political achievements and setbacks over more than a century. Recognizing that a focus on recent cross-sections limits women in politics research, she has advocated for the use of longitudinal theory, data, and methods. For example, using longitudinal data on women’s political representation from 1893 to 2003, Dr. Paxton explained how the growth and discourse of the international women’s movement affected women’s acquisition of political power over time. Her new research demonstrates how domestic women’s movements combined with international agents to produce policies that benefit women’s representation (gender quotas for women).

Dr. Paxton also continues her long-standing interest in pro-social behavior, specifically social capital, associations, trust, and generosity. Her research has stressed the need to distinguish membership in voluntary associations that are connected to other associations from membership in isolated associations. She has shown that connected, but not isolated, associations produce democracy, and that having more connected associations in a nation increases trust, while having more isolated associations decreases trust. In collaboration with Jim Moody, Paxton has worked to integrate the literatures on social capital and social networks. Their edited two-volume special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist identifies points of connection in the two literatures, suggests insights from each literature that can help clarify the other, and nudges the two fields toward a more comprehensive social theory.

Her research has appeared in a variety of journals, including the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Comparative Politics, Sociological Methods and Research, and Structural Equation Modeling. She is the author of Women, Politics and Power: A Global Perspective (2007), co-authored with Melanie Hughes and of Nonrecurisve Models: Endogeneity, Reciprocal Relationships, and Feedback Loops (forthcoming 2010), coauthored with John Hipp and Sandra Marquart-Pyatt.

Written by: 
Julia Moskow Ferguson