Immigration scholar advises presidential campaigns and provides canine therapy

Wayne Cornelius ’67 volunteers time during pandemic

March 23, 2021   /  

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Wayne Cornelius ’67 has stayed busy, serving as an immigration advisor to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and providing canine therapy to critical care patients, nurses, and doctors in hospitals in Portland, Oregon.

Wayne Cornelius ’67
Wayne Cornelius ’67 (right) with Pete Buttigieg whom he advised in his political campaign.

During 2019 and 2020, Cornelius, a distinguished professor of political science emeritus and the Theodore Gildred Professor of U.S.-Mexican Relations emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, worked full-time as a volunteer policy adviser in both the Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg campaigns. Cornelius is an expert in evaluating existing immigration policies, but had never designed original policies until serving as an immigration advisor. Cornelius drew on the liberal arts education he received at The College of Wooster to tackle the considerable research that advising the campaigns required. “You can’t possibly know, from the get-go, enough about enough facets of a big, complex issues like immigration and asylum policy to be effective in advising a presidential candidate,” he explained. “That requires drawing on the tool kits of multiple disciplines, intellectual traditions, and moral perspectives, which is what a top-quality liberal education does.”

At Wooster, Cornelius majored in political science and Latin American studies and wrote his Independent Study on political attitudes and behavior among middle-class Mexicans, a project that helped him get into the political science Ph.D. program at Stanford University. “It was definitely noticed by the admissions committee and taken as evidence of my capacity to do serious research,” Cornelius said. He also wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Mexican politics which led him to do field research in Mexico on labor migration to the United States.

Throughout his career, Cornelius’s research centered around “how various kinds of immigration control policies influence individual-level decisions to migrate or to stay at home, with special attention to the efficacy and unintended consequences of tougher border enforcement.” However, Buttigieg and Biden’s campaigns needed proposals on issues that Cornelius was largely unfamiliar with. “These campaigns were happening in the aftermath of the 2018 ‘migration crisis’ at the border, which mostly involved asylum-seekers, not economic migrants,” he explained, which required him to delve deeply into refugee policies for the first time.

In his spare time over the past year, Cornelius has been providing canine therapy with his therapy dog Bentley. Cornelius is an expert on the science and practice of canine therapy, having done it for nearly a decade at hospitals in San Diego before moving to Portland and acquiring Bentley. Cornelius calls himself an “evangelist” for canine therapy, seeking to educate medical professionals about the potential benefits and how the therapy can be applied in a broad range of clinical settings. “The scientific evidence on how canine therapy improves medical outcomes is abundant and convincing,” he said. He lectures annually to nursing students at the University of Portland, encouraging them to request canine therapy programs wherever they end up being employed.

Cornelius has been providing canine therapy with his dog Bentley
Cornelius has been providing canine therapy with his dog Bentley during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Cornelius has felt a sense of duty in continuing to visit patients with his dog. “There aren’t that many therapy dogs in action especially during the pandemic,” he said. “We have a double responsibility to continue doing this in a way that’s reasonably safe.” He and Bentley do not work directly with COVID-19 patients but they do their best to cheer up the super-stressed nurses and doctors engaged in treating them. And there are plenty of seriously ill, non-COVID patients to work with. “Just because there is a pandemic it doesn’t mean that people stop having heart attacks, strokes, emergency surgeries, and babies,” Cornelius noted.

As Cornelius learned advising the presidential campaigns, “You need to be willing to stretch yourself well beyond your usual bounds of professional competence. That’s often scary, but it can also be very rewarding.” By providing canine therapy, he has continued to stretch himself to do something that has become deeply meaningful to him. “Providing canine therapy is the best thing I do,” he said. “But I’m just the enabler; Bentley does all the real work.”