Career Profile: Michael Broadway
Michael Broadway is Professor and Chair of the Northern Michigan University Geography Department. Michael earned his bachelors degree in education from Nottingham University, his master’s degree in geography from London University and his doctorate in geography from the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign (1983). Focusing on social and agricultural geography, he has published more than forty refereed articles, fifteen book chapters, and numerous reports and monographs. Along with co-author Don Stull, he recently published his second book on the meatpacking industry, entitled Slaughterhouse Blues (Wadsworth: 2004). His research has often been cited in the mass media, including Forbes Magazine and the New York Times. He has served as an issue analyst for a U.S. Congressman, as an expert witness in court cases in Canada and in the U.S. regarding the hog and beef industries, and as a consultant to state governments regarding social services to refugee workers. His research was featured in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary in 1998 that aired on The Journal. In the future Michael plans to apply for a Fulbright Fellowship to Australia to undertake a study of the meat industry for comparison to his research in Canada and the U.S.
This profile was published in 2003. Michael is currently the Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor and Head of the Geography Department at Northern Michigan University.
AAG: Documentaries…newspapers… court testimonies–you really take your work out there.
Michael: To me, that is what geography is all about: the world beyond the classroom, the world beyond the ivory tower of academia. My work has always had an applied focus. It is about dealing with, and applying my knowledge and expertise to real world problems.
AAG: How did you find yourself as an expert witness?
Michael: The first case involved a group of Mexican American workers in southwest Kansas who brought a class action lawsuit against what was at that time the world’s largest meatpacking company, for creating a “hostile” work environment. The plaintiffs’ attorneys reckoned that jurors needed to be educated on what were Mexican Americans doing in meat packing in rural America.
AAG: How would you assess that experience?
Michael: My deposition by the company’s attorneys took all day. What was interesting was that the judge had to order them to pay my expenses. I wasn’t the only expert witness that was dealt with in the same way.
AAG: It was somewhat hostile then?
Michael: Oh my goodness, yes. Ph.D. prelims, orals, defense . . . nothing compared to this!
AAG: What about the documentary?
Michael: The TV documentary focused on what happens to a small town when a meatpacking plant opens up. It took place in Brandon, Manitoba; Austin, Minnesota; and Brooks, Alberta where I’ve been following events since 1996. The producers had come across an article I wrote and asked to tag along when I went on fieldwork.
AAG: How did that turn out?
Michael: From the community’s point of view, I lost some support, because they blamed me for bringing negative attention.
AAG: Did the same thing happen in Kansas?
Michael: No. There, a minister saw our research and the attention it drew as an opportunity, and in the early eighties, led the community in doing wonderful things to cope with the influx and accompanying social problems, and in providing service to non-English speaking populations, such as housing and health care. But I think it was a successful outcome because of our longevity—living there and building up a strong rapport.
AAG: How do you manage to connect these experiences with the university?
Michael: I think any geographer to be an effective teacher has to be intellectually engaged in their discipline, which means research. So I’ve continually been involved in research even though I have chosen to be at a primarily teaching institution.
AAG: What are you teaching?
Michael: Right now, I teach our capstone course entitled, “human impact on the environment” – it is a theme broad enough to unite human and physical geography in one course. I use it to explore agricultural geography and social geography, and I hope to bring my enthusiasm for those topics to my classroom.
AAG: How are your close links to communities and the public sphere viewed within your academic environment?
Michael: I think it helps. As a teacher, any time that you can bring the real world and your own personal experience to the classroom it enlivens and engages the students more.
AAG: And administrators?
Michael: It helps elevate the profile of the university. For example, in this documentary, the name of the university was mentioned under my name.
AAG: You work has a sense of humor and a readable style, which can inspire students and reach a broader audience.
Michael: Well, [laughs] . . . I think ultimately we all want to make a difference, whether it’s through our research or our teaching, or a combination of the two. Geographers have this wonderful opportunity, because we are dealing with the real world and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Dr. Patricia Solis, 2003