A Ranking of Political Science Departments at
417 Four-Year Colleges and Universities in the United States
With Regard to How Lesbian-and-Gay-Friendly
Their Core Faculty Members Are
(as of August 2013)
Daniel R. Pinello
Department of Political Science
John Jay College of Criminal Justice of
The City University of New York
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Why rank college and university academic departments with regard to how friendly they are to the civil rights of lesbian and gay Americans? What’s the point?
As with any collegiate rankings, such as those by U.S. News and World Report and the National Research Council, these lists provide useful information for prospective students to chose which colleges and universities are the most appropriate for them.
Indeed, lesbian and gay students have to be especially careful where they go to school. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for instance, describes how, according to a 2009 survey of more than 5,000 people at about 100 institutions of higher education nationwide, “people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender [LGBT] report significant harassment at their colleges and discomfort with the overall campus climates.” The tragic suicide in September 2010 of Tyler Clementi -- an accomplished violinist and gay Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his dorm roommate surreptitiously streamed on the Internet Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man -- points out how carefully lesbian and gay students need to select campuses with welcoming environments for sexual minorities.
This ranking of how gay-and-lesbian-friendly political science departments (called government departments at some schools and politics departments elsewhere) are, therefore, is intended to provide helpful, concrete, and explicit data both for lesbian and gay high school seniors planning for college, and for gay and lesbian college seniors intending to do graduate studies in political science.
Moreover, although the emphasis here is just on government departments, the ranking also suggests how welcoming the colleges and universities of which those departments are a part generally are. Gay-and-lesbian-friendly politics departments are not likely to be found at schools where everyone else on campus is indifferent, or even hostile, to sexual minorities. The local factors at some colleges and universities that foster welcoming climates in political science are equally likely to be reflected in the attitudes of professors in other fields of study on those same campuses.
In truth, political science serves well as a bellwether discipline in the liberal arts for sensitivity to the civil rights of lesbian and gay citizens. Among professors in all fields of study, political scientists are the best suited, in terms of professional training, to be alert to issues of civil rights and liberties. Government departments typically offer both undergraduate and graduate courses on American constitutional law (often with an entire semester devoted to U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealing with topics in civil rights and liberties), international human rights, and the philosophical and political underpinnings of ideas like equality and justice (frequently drawing on the writings of John Rawls). Thus, gay and lesbian students looking for welcoming American colleges and universities may turn to those institutions’ politics departments as reliable guides to campus climate.
In addition, LGBT graduate students and junior faculty can rely on this ranking to identify hospitable departments for job placements.
A final objective of the information offered here concerns lesbian and gay alums who donate money to their alma mater. They may confirm that such financial contributions are well deserved.
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The Empirical Basis for the Ranking
Between 2007 and 2012, I asked political scientists across the United States to boycott the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA). The reason for the embargo of that academic conference was because it took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 2004, 78 percent of voters in the Pelican State -- including 55 percent in Orleans Parish, where New Orleans is located -- approved a harshly antigay state constitutional amendment called a Super-DOMA which endangers the well being of gay people living in or visiting Louisiana. [See this link for examples of how Super-DOMAs affect same-sex couples and their families on a daily basis.]
I sent at least four separate e-mail messages to political scientists at more than 400 colleges and universities across the country informing them of the problems with siting the 2012 APSA Annual Meeting in Louisiana and asking them to support a boycott. All core faculty members of the government departments at ranked schools received repeated requests from me to endorse the embargo. (Core faculty hold the titles of assistant professor, associate professor, or professor and do not include adjunct, affiliated, retired, or visiting professional staff.) In addition, boycott signatories themselves asked colleagues to join the cause.
Moreover, in 2008, the APSA itself sent e-mail messages to all of the Association's members advising them of the conference-siting debate and soliciting their input about the controversy. The organization directed members to pages on its website setting forth the facts and circumstances surrounding the location of the 2012 conference, as well as assorted statements from interested parties. On December 2, 2011, APSA President G. Bingham Powell, Jr., sent an e-mail message to all Association members reaffirming the decision by the organization's Council to keep Louisiana as the 2012 convention site, despite the controversy surrounding that venue.
In short, the overwhelming majority of American political scientists had substantial and continuing notice of, and information about, the Louisiana siting dispute and boycott. Likewise, they had ample opportunity to join the embargo.
More than one thousand political scientists publicly endorsed the boycott. Those signatories form the basis for ranking their departments as gay-and-lesbian-friendly. The more boycott signers in a department, the more sympathetic it is to the civil rights of sexual minorities. Thus, the highest rank goes to the politics department with the most core faculty members who are signatories. Second place goes to the department with the next largest number, and so forth. At the bottom of the ranking are 145 departments without any boycott endorsers.
When departments have the same absolute number of signatories, the relative proportions of core faculty members in such departments backing the embargo resolve ranking ties.
The Inspiration for the RankingI’m researching a book on the implementation and effects of Super-DOMAs. The investigation requires me to conduct in-depth interviews of same-sex couples living in the seven most populous Super-DOMA states. Michigan was the first place I traveled to, in January 2009. To identify interview subjects, I asked editors of LGBT newspapers in the Wolverine State to publish announcements of my visit.
A gay college student at
Michigan State University read the news about my trip and asked to see me
because he wanted advice about where to attend graduate school. He and I met at the MSU student union
I noticed that he brought a printout of the online Louisiana boycott
statement, which then had about 300 signatories. He was tabulating which schools
had the most faculty members endorsing the embargo.
“Oh my god!” I thought. “How obvious! The Louisiana boycott can be used to rank colleges and universities with regard to how gay-and-lesbian-friendly faculty members are.” This student saw something that had eluded me.
Collecting public endorsements of the Louisiana boycott over several years, I often wondered why political scientists at some schools responded more willingly than those elsewhere. For example, early in the signature gathering, I received numerous favorable responses from unexpected places, like Johns Hopkins University and the College of William & Mary. I call them “unexpected” because superficially there’s nothing about these institutions to indicate they’d be especially supportive of sexual minorities’ civil rights. If a friend had said to me at the beginning, “Some of the political scientists who will be the most responsive to the boycott are at Johns Hopkins and William & Mary,” I would have responded, “You’re joking, aren’t you? After all, William & Mary is a public college in Virginia, a conservative Southern state. And Hopkins is known more for advances in medicine than in civil rights.” Nonetheless, many political scientists at such unforeseen places quickly jumped on board the embargo.
In contrast, I did anticipate that professors in government departments at institutions like Columbia University and New York University would be especially receptive to the boycott, if only because those schools are located in Manhattan, an urban area with one of the most highly concentrated LGBT populations in the country. I thought it reasonable to expect that political scientists living and working among so many openly gay people would be that much more attuned to their civil rights needs. Yet surprisingly, among 417 schools, Columbia is just in 118th Place and NYU, 271st.
So what is it about some schools that makes them so sensitive to lesbian and gay civil rights while others are not? Honestly, I don’t know. I have no complete or even partial answer to that question. Yet the variation in rights support across schools is real, despite an inability to explain the observed phenomenon.
And it’s vitally important that gay and lesbian students know about these differences when they choose where to attend college or graduate school. As in the case of Tyler Clementi, their well being may depend on it.
Because of its methodology, the ranking does not directly measure faculty sensitivity to, or sympathy with, issues involving gender expression or identity. Even so, an inference that professors who are especially lesbian-and-gay-friendly are also transgender-friendly is reasonable.
Alternative Approaches to Ranking
A different plan of action to rank political scientists as gay-and-lesbian-friendly would be to count the number of books and journal articles they publish on LGBT topics. This strategy of quantifying the LGBT-related scholarship of political scientists would be entirely legitimate.
Several years ago, in fact, I wrote a confidential assessment letter on behalf of a candidate seeking promotion to full professor. I performed such a quantitative analysis of the published works of 30 political scientists in the field of LGBT politics. By my calculation, the candidate was among the top five most productive scholars in that area of expertise.
Yet this alternative ranking strategy does not tap the depth of support for the civil rights of lesbian and gay Americans among all political scientists. Rather, the published-scholarship approach focuses only on those political scientists whose research interests happen to deal with LGBT politics, while ignoring everyone else in the discipline, regardless of how strongly they support LGBT rights.
Indeed, two of the five most productive scholars in LGBT politics (as determined for my confidential assessment letter) are not signatories of the APSA boycott statement. Whereas, hundreds of political scientists who have never published research on LGBT politics publicly endorsed the Louisiana embargo.
A second alternative ranking approach involves examining departmental course descriptions for classes in LGBT politics or related topics. Yet this strategy is defective in the same way that counting published scholarship is. Elective courses outside bread-and-butter political-science-major offerings reflect more on the research and teaching interests of individual faculty members than on the sympathy for lesbian-and-gay civil rights of departments as a whole.
Just because one professor among many in a department develops a class on, say, the law and politics of sexual orientation does not necessarily mean that a substantial portion of her or his colleagues are gay-and-lesbian-friendly. Rather, many departments take a live-and-let-live approach to new courses: “If you want to develop a class in your area of expertise, and can get enough students to enroll in it, then offer what you will.”
Likewise, a department with no LGBT courses does not surely mean its faculty members are unsympathetic to lesbian-and-gay rights. Rather, none of the professors may have the requisite expertise to mount such an offering. This phenomenon is especially true for small departments.
Thus, the current ranking system, with its focus on how political scientists everywhere responded to an exceptional circumstance that was external to individual government departments and their faculty members, is a much more reliable indicator of personal support for gay-and-lesbian rights among all political scientists in the United States. In addition, the method provides a uniform measure of sympathy across all departments and political scientists and thereby ensures meaningful comparison among them.
Variation in Gay-and-Lesbian Friendliness
APSA members may have had numerous reasons not to endorse the Louisiana boycott. For instance, in light of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction in 2005, some political scientists may have given first priority to helping New Orleans out financially by attending a four-day conference there in 2012. Others may have felt that rural and suburban Louisiana imposed the state Super-DOMA on an unwilling city -- even though 55 percent of voters in Orleans Parish approved the state constitutional amendment in 2004.
Whatever the reasons that some political scientists may have had not to support the Louisiana embargo, however, those professors who did in fact sign the boycott statement plainly revealed that their number one commitment was to honor the relationship rights of same-sex couples.
In truth, going to the annual meetings of the nation’s premier political science organization may be key to professional development and advancement in the discipline. Graduate students and junior faculty have the opportunity at conferences to present research papers to peers and thereby to develop contacts and reputations. Failure to attend APSA meetings on a regular basis may hinder career success in the field. Thus, through their willingness to risk such adverse consequences, the government professors who signed the Louisiana boycott statement were unequivocal about their vigorous devotion to equality and justice for sexual minorities.
The ranking is fundamentally comparative. Just because some professors don’t appear in this list doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unsympathetic to the civil rights of lesbians and gay men. Rather, the issue is one of intensity of commitment to those rights. The political scientists who do appear here made their steadfast dedication to equality and fairness abundantly clear through public endorsements of the boycott statement. In a nutshell, they literally put their names on the line when others were unprepared to do so.
No doubt, looking to the endorsement of the Louisiana boycott as the litmus test for indisputable sympathy with lesbian-and-gay rights is a blunt instrument, especially when gay friendliness as a personal attribute may well be a continuous variable (that is, with many variations and hues) and not a dichotomous one (where people either possess the attribute or not). Equally important, such sympathy is difficult to observe as well as to quantify.
Nonetheless, at one end of that spectrum unquestionably are people like Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, whose academic writings and interest-group activities over many years reveal him to have unrelenting hostility to gay-and-lesbian civil rights. When the Republican Party controlled Congress in 2005-2006, for example, Professor George single-handedly organized American clergy members to lobby the House and Senate for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have banned recognition of all relationships (marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, etc.) between same-sex couples. (Fortunately for gay and lesbian Princeton students, the university has five other political scientists who are lesbian-and-gay-friendly.)
At the opposite end of the gay-and-lesbian-friendly continuum are people like Professors Katherine Tate of the University of California-Irvine (who wrote when endorsing the Louisiana boycott, “The time has come to stand up firmly in opposition to state discrimination against gays and lesbians.”) and Richard Haesly of California State University-Long Beach (“There are no justifiable reasons to hold conferences in cities or states that are so willing to deny citizens their fundamental rights and liberties.”)
In the middle of the vast range between Professor George, at the terminus of greatest intolerance, and Professors Haesly and Tate, on the most welcoming side, are thousands of political scientists whose positions are potentially less well formed and certainly not as easily observed.
In any event, as imperfect as the ranking’s measure for lesbian-and-gay friendliness may be, the metric here is one of few objective proxies available to gay and lesbian students. In fact, it’s the only reliable comparative guide of which I’m aware. As such, it provides valuable information for an audience with potentially high vulnerability on college campuses. Without this ranking, these often defenseless students just have vague reports about attitudes from campus to campus, none of which may usefully be employed to compare hundreds of American schools with each other.
Response to the Ranking
Prospective undergraduate and
graduate students have found the ranking to be helpful, as indicated by one of
several unsolicited e-mails:
I just wanted to say a quick thank you for making your ranking for LGBT grad students. Professor [Jones] at [a highly ranked graduate program] knew that a big factor in me choosing where to apply for PhD programs was the openness to LGBT students and studies and referred the article to me. It's weird because many of my professors and peers didn't realize how important such a consideration is for me, but I'm still lucky enough to have advisers/professors that helped me factor it in when considering programs.
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