Serving as a global expert and dedicated scholar, while advocating for digital human rights, recently earned SUNY Oswego communication studies professor Ulises Mejias the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.

Nominator Christopher Chagnon, a Ph.D. researcher in global development studies at the University of Helsinki in Finland, noted that Mejias has produced a “prodigious body of excellent work” that created “far-reaching impacts across multiple academic disciplines.”

Chagnon and other nominators particularly cited the importance of the Stanford University Press book “The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism,” which Mejias co-authored with Nick Couldry of the London School of Economics.

“The Costs of Connection” is “one of the most insightful and widely acclaimed books in social theory,” wrote Clarice Marinho Martins, a professor of creative industries and law with Catholic University Pernambuco in Brazil. “I cannot overemphasize how relevant Prof. Mejias' text has been to contemporary social theory and how positively it has contributed to the struggle in resisting data colonialism.”

The book and much of Mejias’ work focuses on how much access large international organizations have to private data, and suggestions for how to ensure that individuals can keep their information as private as possible.

In addition to its impact across classrooms, news media and journals around the world, “The Costs of Connection” changed the course of Chagnon’s studies. “He has had an absolutely fundamental impact on my research, as well as on the research of numerous others in this growing field around the world,” Chagnon wrote.

“The book and the concept of data colonialism brought it all together for me, merging history, communications theory, global development theory, sociology, and decolonial theory,” Chagnon noted. “I was immediately inspired to switch my Ph.D. topic completely to studying data colonialism in the global South, specifically in Zambia.”

Chagnon had just returned from starting field work in Zambia at the time of writing the nominating letter, using Mejias’ concept of data colonialism. 

“Zambian experts and stakeholders found the research to be the first of its kind in the country, something that is seriously needed, and they expect the findings to be impactful on Zambian policy and practice,” Chagnon said. “This field work and approach is inspired by the work of Ulises, and he also has been kind enough to talk with me about how to approach it. I know that we will also be in touch as I progress in my analysis and findings.”

Mejias’ first book –- “Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World,” published in 2013 by University of Minnesota Press” –-  was “an early entrant into the discussion of the ways that the digital world is changing our understanding of the actual world,” SUNY Oswego political science professor Lisa Glidden wrote.

‘Dedication to scholarly work’

“Dr. Mejias has been consistently productive during his time at SUNY Oswego, has developed both a national and international reputation, and is a mentor and role model to other faculty,” wrote Jessica Reeher, chair of communication studies at SUNY Oswego. “His continued dedication to scholarly work is demonstrated through an impressive record of scholarly publications.”

Reeher noted the interdisciplinary work of Mejias’ work, spanning such fields communication, the humanities, human-computer interaction, information studies, the social sciences and more. 

“Moreover, its relevance to modern issues related to privacy, data collection, social media and the potential impacts of technology on our lives, makes his work particularly significant in light of the current challenges that users of new media face,” Reeher said. 

“He has increased not only his scholarly output as he has matured in his career, but also in the quality of venues, as evidenced by impact factors, journal rankings and indices,” Reeher said of his more than 20 years of scholarly achievements. “His work is regularly cited, downloaded and referenced by others in his field. Additionally, his scholarly work is relevant, timely, and important to our world.”

The more than 2,000 citations for Mejias' works reflects a high impact factor and influence, Martins said, including more than 500 for “Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data's Relation to the Contemporary Subject,” also co-authored with Couldry.

“Dr. Mejias has a sustained record of scholarship and public scholarship and a national and international reputation, which are evidenced by this publication record and its impact, fellowships and invited talks,” Glidden said. “His scholarship has beneficially impacted our campus community, both in terms of how it has shaped his course offerings to his work as director for the Institute of Global Engagement.” 

Mejias has written op-eds or spoken with international media outlets including the BBC, Forbes, Wired, The Atlantic, MIT Technology Review, Financial Times and TechCrunch, to name a few. He has provided dozens of conference presentations and book talks, as well as more than 100 invited talks and interviews locally, nationally and internationally on his areas of expertise. 

Glidden explained that Mejias had earned several fellowships, principally in the Fulbright Specialist Program, because of his work and international reputation. Mejias also had a two-month residency at the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, as well as fellowships with the University of Amsterdam Business School’s Program for Research in Information Management and the St. Petersburg Institute of Linguistics, Cognition and Culture. 

Creative engagement

For the university’s Institute for Global Engagement, Mejias is an enthusiastic champion of the entity’s goals and mission while finding new ways to reach people, Glidden noted.

“Dr. Mejias sought creative ways to engage faculty and students in public scholarship as director of the Institute for Global Engagement, including starting a blog and a podcast,” Glidden wrote. The blog encouraged faculty and students to post on aspects of their education abroad experiences. The podcast invited discussions on current issues.” 

Mejias is a “much sought-after as a keynote speaker by distinguished academic institutions on all continents including in North America, Europe, Central America and South America, and in China and India,” Martins wrote. “Additionally, his works have been translated into many different languages, which clearly evidences the reach of his academic output and the international relevance of his research. His work is of clear and critical importance to studies that integrate critical theory, economics, history and media studies.”

Martins also noted that Mejias has created and led organizations to combat the data colonization he studies, as co-founder of Tierra Comun (Common Ground) and the Non-Aligned Technologies Movement

“Dr. Mejias represents the ideals of a scholar who is committed to high-impact, relevant and significant contributions to the scholarship of his field,” Reeher said.

Mejias earned his Ed. D. in communication, computing and technology in education from Columbia University, as well as both a master’s in organizational communication, learning and design and a bachelor of fine arts in photography and visual arts from Ithaca College.