the latest at wustl

As many of you know, Washington University decided to reestablish a sociology department after notoriously shutting theirs down some two decades ago. The Chronicle of Higher Ed has reported that the university has chosen the department’s first chair and associate chair — Steven Mazzari, a macroeconomist at Wash U., and Mark Rank, who started in Washington’s sociology department before moving to the School of Social Work in 1989.

This seems like a surprising decision. The Chronicle writes:

Administrators had considered appointing a senior figure in American sociology to be chair, but, “lacking an obvious candidate,” as Mr. Fazzari puts it, they turned to him. Along with several teaching awards, he has six years of experience as chair of the economics department, and has done stints on campus-planning and hiring committees. He was a member of the campus advisory panel formed last year to consider how to revive sociology.

“There is much overlap between the problems addressed by economics and sociology,” he says. “Economics also provides a firm grounding in technical modeling and data analysis that is part of much advanced work in many social sciences, including sociology.”

I can imagine various reasons they might have taken this approach. Luring a top senior person in to build a department from scratch has to be a challenge. Still, Washington has a lot of resources and is a highly respected university (outside of sociology, where it has no presence). And there are some definite downsides to launching the department without a highly visible sociologist at the helm. I’m curious what the back story is here but, having no inside information, will leave it to you to speculate.


Written by epopp

October 23, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Posted in academia, sociology

4 Responses

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  1. Best of luck to them. I hope they return to their former heights. On an orgtheory note, I wonder if this will become a hard core quant center given that economists will be running the show for a few years. That can be a good thing since soc has no unambiguous quant center. If they are creative and lucky, they might get a sociological version of the Cal Tech social science grad program (quant/econ/poli sci). Wouldn’t be hard to cobble together survey people, networks, simulators, and big data in a program.

    Liked by 1 person


    October 23, 2014 at 5:06 pm

  2. It is certainly easy to speculate. (1) Dean Schaal is making a huge commitment of salary monies that would otherwise be shared among the extant college departments. This is politically risky. She chose two respected members of her college, Fazzari and Associate Dean Roediger, to manage a process that respects the property rights of the College more than attachment to the same highly fragmented discipline that caused the Department to implode a quarter century ago. The College also named an external advisory panel of senior and respected sociologists as a sounding board for the five-year process of building Sociology into a small, but functioning department. (2) WashU is already paying Dr. Fazzari. Hiring a senior sociologist into a non-department is indeed speculative. Moreover, it is costly. Why not outsource the midwifery to people already on the payroll who have expressed interest in repopulating the discipline on campus? (3) They intend to hire 2-3 people per year, beginning with established associate professors. After a few years of this, it may be easier and more fruitful to search for a sociologist to be chair, when the incumbent faculty and the candidate pool can have more information about the “right” person for the job.

    Liked by 1 person


    October 23, 2014 at 5:14 pm

  3. On the one hand, Fazzari is REALLY popular at WashU, and he’s become famous since the financial crisis (he was one of Hyman Minsky’s students and everyone wanted his advice). He’s also known as the writing guru in the econ department…when I was there he had a reputation for being the only econ professor who could explain anything without resorting to jargon. I think I actually had to enter a lottery to get into his Current Events in Macroeconomics class.

    Still, from the outside it seems like a strange decision. Personally, I think anthropologist John Bowen would be the obvious choice, since he used to chair their social thought program and was part of the group that introduced Bourdieu to the US (along with Brubaker, Lamont, Calhoun, etc etc). I took 3 classes with John and he was probably about as well-read in contemporary soc as anyone I’ve met since I actually entered a sociology program.

    Liked by 1 person


    October 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm

  4. It’s worth noting that WUSTL embarked on a rebuilding of their economics department 5 or 10 years ago in which they hired many senior economists (with truly massive salaries). This new guard is not particularly friendly to the style of economics that Fazzari practices. So, speculatively, it might be that he was looking to move in some way.



    October 24, 2014 at 8:52 pm

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