LU News Archive

LU honors James Esser as 2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer

Lamar University has honored James Esser, university professor of psychology, as the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2012.


“Negotiating with Terrorists” will be the topic of his lecture to be presented at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the University Theatre.  The Lamar University Faculty Senate will host the lecture, which is open to the public without charge.
        Esser is the 26th recipient of the honor – one of the highest accorded a Lamar faculty member. A committee of faculty, staff, students and community representatives makes the selection.
        “I have been doing research on what I think is a timely and broadly interesting topic – negotiations with terrorist groups,” Esser said. “So I thought it was worth offering as a lecture topic. Now that I have been selected, I am eager to put together the talk.”

        A resident of Beaumont, Esser has been a member of the Lamar faculty since 1976, now serving as head of the industrial/organizational psychology master’s program. Esser earned the bachelor of science in psychology (with honors) from the University of Iowa in 1971 and the doctor of philosophy in social psychology from Indiana University in 1975.
        His honors at Lamar include selection as University Professor in 2000 and Teaching Bonus Awards in 1994, 1996 and 1998. He is a previous Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, having been selected in 1995 for his presentation, “Groupthink from Pearl Harbor to the Challenger: Failure of Decision-making Groups.”
        Esser plans to argue in his upcoming lecture that it is sometimes possible and sometimes desirable to negotiate a resolution of a conflict that involves terrorists.
        “First, however, we must identify which types of terrorists are better or worse candidates for negotiation,” according to his proposal. “For example, conflict with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, whose aims are highly ideological and rigid, should be very difficult to resolve; on the other hand, when the terrorist group’s goals are more pragmatic and flexible, like those of the Irish Republican Army, negotiation may be more feasible.
        “Second,” Esser said, “we must determine when the time is ripe for a successful negotiation. According to readiness theory, negotiation is more likely when the motivation to end the conflict is high (that is, when the conflict is seen as unwinnable and/or too costly) and optimism about the success of negotiation is high.”
        Third, Esser will discuss how such a negotiation might proceed – including the tactics to be used and the utility of third-party intervention.
        To illustrate the ideas he outlined, Esser said, he will discuss examples of successful negotiations with terrorists. These include the Northern Ireland peace process that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 – an agreement in the process of being implemented – and the negotiation between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that produced the Oslo Agreement in 1993. The latter agreement was never implemented, primarily because some relevant parties, such as Hamas, were not included in the negotiations, Esser said.
        He then will discuss an example of a failed negotiation, he said, namely the conflict between the central government of Spain and the Basque nationalists, who include non-violent moderates and a minority that supports the violent terrorist group ETA. Esser was granted developmental leave in summer 2005 to study the Basque nationalism/independence movement in Spain, including attendance at a Basque language school.
        Esser has covered or touched on his lecture topic in a number of conference presentations and publications. He is the co-author of several books on statistics as they relate to behavioral science.
        Esser’s teaching responsibilities differ from those of most faculty members at Lamar, he noted. He teaches almost exclusively graduate-level courses and, as head of the industrial-organizational psychology master’s program, he has taught 11 different master’s-level courses, which includes all the graduate courses in statistics and research methodology and all the required courses in the industrial-organizational psychology specialty.
        He has chaired more than 50 completed master’s-thesis committees, served as a committee member for more than 60 additional completed theses and has supervised more than 75 practicum projects completed by graduate students in industrial-organizational psychology. Esser serves on the Graduate Faculty Review Committee and University Personnel (Tenure and Promotion) Committee.
        His community service involves arranging practicum projects for local organizations and supervising graduate students who work on those projects. Each semester, teams of two to three graduate students under his supervision provide free industrial/organizational psychology services to local organizations. These clients include hospitals, refineries, a waste management company, the local power company, the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Port Arthur Police Department, Jefferson County Juvenile Probation and Management Information Systems, Family Services of Southeast Texas and other for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
        George Irwin,  associate professor of physics, was the 2011 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer. Other honorees, in addition to James Esser, have been Donna Birdwell, anthropology; Keith Carter and Jerry Newman, art; Richard Harrel, biology; Rafael Tadmor, chemical engineering; Jean Andrews, deaf studies/deaf education; Jim Jordan and Jim Westgate, earth and space sciences; R.S. “Sam” Gwynn and Jim Sanderson, English; Kenneth Rivers, French; William Pampe, geology; John Carroll, Ronald Fritze, John Storey, J. Lee Thompson and Naaman Woodland, history; Dianna Rivers, nursing; Joe Pizzo, physics; Terri Davis, political science; Dorothy Sisk, professional pedagogy; and Christine Bridges-Esser, Spanish.