UW Retirement Association

What’s the Big Idea?

“What’s the Big Idea” programs are discussions about a hot current topic with an expert to facilitate. There is no formal presentation; rather, the experts throw out provocative questions and participants are invited to respond. Prior to the program, participants are referred to readings on the topic to help spur their thinking.

Groups meet in B70 Gerberding Hall from 10:30 a.m. – 12 noon, unless otherwise noted. In order to encourage discussion, groups are kept small and preregistration is essential. Registration for each discussion opens two weeks prior to the event. Look for the ‘Register’ button on the event post on the UWRA calendar.


Wednesday, February 26: All Politics may be Local, but News Isn’t Anymore. Does it matter?

A study in 2018 by the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism found more than 1,300 news deserts—areas not served by a daily newspaper—in the United States. Of the 3,143 counties in the U.S., more than 2,000 no longer had a daily newspaper and 171 counties, with 3.2 million residents combined, had no newspaper at all. People who live in news deserts tend to be poorer, older and less educated than the average American, according to the study. Does not having a newspaper mean that residents are ill informed about matters of importance to them? How well are broadcast and online news filling the gap? What do local newspapers offer, beyond information? Is there anything to be done to address this situation?

Facilitator: Doug Underwood is a Professor of Communication at the UW. Before joining the university, he had a 13-year career as a political and investigative journalist for The Seattle Times, the Gannett News Service’s Washington, D. C. bureau, and the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal.

Suggested reading:


Pen America

How the Collapse of the Local News is Causing a Crisis in America

The Decimation of Local News has Lawmakers Crossing the Aisle


Registration will open February 12.


Wednesday, April 29: Who Profits from Student Athletes?

Facilitator:  Jennifer Hoffman, Professor in the College of Education and in the Center for Leadership in Athletics

Registration will open April 15.


**Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020: Is the basic nature of the U.S. government changing?

There has been much recent discussion that the United States is drifting away from its fundamental democratic principles. Some have argued that we are coming ever closer to becoming an oligarchy or plutocracy instead of a democratic republic. Are those concerns legitimate or are we just in a cycle of the ebb and flow of political belief in this country?

Facilitator: Michael McCann, UW professor of political science, the Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship, former department chair and chief architect of the Law, Societies, and Justice Program.

Suggested reading:
Is America Becoming an Oligarchy?

Big Business Is Overcharging You $5,000 a Year

What we get wrong about Ben Franklin’s “a republic, if you can keep it”


Oct. 16: How can our nation reduce gun violence?

Ali Rowhani-Rahbar

In 2019 alone, more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 20,000 people have been injured in incidents of gun violence in the U.S. — not counting suicide. Given the current political climate and polarization over interpretation of the Second Amendment, what can be done realistically to quell gun violence in our country? Registration for this discussion begins October 2.

Facilitator: Ali Rowhani-Rahbar is the UW endowed associate professor for the study and prevention of gun violence and co-director of the Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program.



Nov. 6: Whose Stories Get Told: Inclusion of Women and Minorities in the Arts

Valerie Curtis-Newton

Of the top 100 films in 2018, only sixteen were directed by African Americans, four by Asian Americans and four by women. Statistics aren’t much different for live theater and television. The stories we hear and see have overwhelmingly been told by and centered on white men, and despite recent inroads the situation hasn’t changed much. Why does this matter? How do stories influence our lives, and what can we do to promote the inclusion of voices that have historically been left out? Registration for this program begins October 23.

Facilitator: Valerie Curtis-Newton is a professor in the UW School of Drama and head of its Directing Program. She is a founder of Seattle’s Hansberry Project, which celebrates, supports and presents the work of black theater artists.

Contact UWRA for more information.