Political science professor Rogers Smith, a prize-winning teacher and expert on civil rights and constitutional law, will leave Yale to join the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania next academic year.
After 21 years at Yale, Smith said he is leaving partly because of the career path of his wife, Mary Summers, who also will take a job at Penn. His departure comes in the midst of the Political Science Department’s rebuilding efforts.
“It’s one of those difficult situations for a two-career family,” political science chair Ian Shapiro said. “It is a credit to him that he has the priorities that he has.”
Summers, a postgraduate associate at the Institute for Social and Policy Studies, is working on completing her political science doctorate at Yale, Shapiro said.
Smith, the Alfred Cowles Professor of Government, said Yale did make what he called an excellent offer to Summers. But he said she decided to go to Penn to work with the young Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, which sponsors workshops and interdisciplinary courses at that university.
Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, said the University had been aware of the situation with Smith and his wife for about a year and had been trying to find a solution that would keep the distinguished political science professor at Yale.
“For all universities, as we live in the world of two spouse careers, it becomes an issue,” Richard said. “It’s more of a challenge for Yale because New Haven is a relatively small city than it is for other universities in large cities with other universities and more job opportunities.”
Smith has taught “Constitutional Law” and “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties,” popular classes that have packed some of the campus’ largest lecture halls, among others.
“I will certainly greatly miss the students,” Smith said. “I certainly have regrets.”
Smith took a leave of absence in the fall semester and did not teach his two popular lecture classes this year, which instead were taught by professor Michael Ebeid.
Smith has garnered praise and awards for his written work on issues including American citizenship and the civil rights movement.
One of his most recent books, 1997’s “Civic Ideals,” won six awards and was one of three finalists for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History. The book was also the first non-historical book to win the Merle Curti Intellectual History Award of the Organization of American Historians.
Smith assisted author Philip A. Klinkner for his most recent book, “The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America,” which has won the Horace Mann Bond Book Award.
Smith also won a Yale College distinguished undergraduate teaching award during his time in New Haven.
“I just enjoyed the way he presented,” said Phillip Williams ’02, who took Smith’s constitutional law class last fall. “He definitely had a firm grasp of the subject.”
The departure of Smith raises some questions about the rebuilding of the political science department, which has been working on a new initiative called “Rethinking Political Order: The Nation-State in the Emerging World.”
“Rogers Smith had been an important player in planning the political science initiative, and for that and a hundred other reasons he’ll be very sorely missed,” Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said. “[Political science’s] building plans had been very ambitious and they’ve been very successful in carrying them out.”
Smith expressed confidence that his departure will not hurt the renaissance of the department.
“I think it will continue successfully without me,” Smith said.
Smith said he hopes to work to build Penn’s political science department along similar themes as those mapped out by the Yale initiative.