With four senior appointments in the last three years and searches to fill more top spots ongoing, the Sociology Department is coming back from the dead.
As it continues its massive, and thus far successful, rebuilding effort, Sociology is enjoying a vitality that seemed improbable — if not impossible — only ten years ago. After years of uncertainty, longtime faculty said the department is finally optimistic.
In the past three years, the department has made 11 offers to sociologists around the world, and two have been accepted. Eight sociologists declined, but one offer, made to the University of Pennsylvania’s Elijah Anderson, is still pending.
“He did not turn us down, but he did not accept,” department chairman Ivan Szelenyi said. “As time is going by my hopes are getting dimmer.”
But Szelenyi was quick to add that two acceptances out of 11 offers “is not a bad rate.”
Despite the recent influx of new faculty, the Sociology Department still has four vacant senior appointments in the fields of social inequality, ethnography, cultural sociology, and comparative and historical sociology, Szelenyi said.
He said the department has sought approval from the administration to begin searches to fill those vacancies.
“I hope soon they will unleash us [to continue vigorously recruiting],” Szelenyi said.
Luring Szelenyi himself was the first major milestone of the department’s revitalization. He came in 1999 from the University of California at Los Angeles, which has one of the nation’s premier sociology departments. Szelenyi, who became chair of the Department of Sociology at Yale in the fall of 1999, previously headed the sociology departments of UCLA and the University of Wisconsin. Paul Gilroy joined the Sociology Department that same year from the University of London.
Szelenyi soon made the 11 offers. In 2000 Roger Gould agreed to leave the University of Chicago for a tenured position at Yale. And in January 2001, Jeffrey Alexander, formerly at UCLA, also accepted a senior position in the department.
Szelenyi said Sociology’s offers and hires in recent years have caught the attention of the academic community and will help spur further growth in the department.
“The quality of people we are trying to bring in appealed to people,” Szelenyi said.
In rebuilding, professors say the department’s focus has been on historical and cultural sociology, because the Sociology Department can draw on the resources of other departments like History and Political Science.
“The strategy is to go with strength,” said sociology professor Deborah Davis, who served as chair of the Sociology Department from 1992 to 1997.
Sociology major Jared Milewski ’03 said he has noticed the good things going on in the department.
“There is tons of new faculty,” Milewski said. “It was really nice to open up the Blue Book and have a lot more opportunities.”
During the dark fiscal days of the early 1990s under former University President Benno Schmidt, the Sociology Department, along with Linguistics and Engineering, was slated for abolition. When current President Richard Levin took office in 1993, the administration reversed the decision to cut the department and instead committed to supporting it.
After fighting its way back from the brink, the future looks brighter for the department.
“[I] sense — excitement among our faculty and our students and among sociologists about what is happening at Yale,” Szelenyi said.