FSU Celebrates 90 Years of Sociology by Examining Where it Was and Where it Is
Irene Padavic, Florida State University
As Florida State University (FSU) moves closer to its centennial, it takes a look back at the last 90 years. The Department of Sociology at FSU was founded in 1918 at what was then the Florida State College for Women. Raymond F. Bellamy served as the first chair, a position he held for the next 32 years. His unpublished history of the department, written in the mid-1950s, describes the lively controversies surrounding the department in its early years. More than once, legislators, colleagues, and local ministers demanded Bellamy be fired, and they banned his use of certain textbooks. He was accused of teaching evolution and of saying there is no god. Although Bellamy was repeatedly sanctioned for teaching controversial topics, FSU President Conradi refused to fire him. Reasons his enemies gave for seeking to fire him, as summarized by Bellamy, included "teaching evolution, being Pro-German (a serious charge at that time), being a Bolshevik (they would say Communist now), teaching free love, teaching atheism, and being a Dam Yankee." Despite these dynamics, Bellamy never avoided controversial issues, and he actively fostered a critical perspective on society, establishing principles our faculty affirm and embody today. The sociology department and the College of Social Science are currently housed in a building that bears Bellamy’s name.
The post-World War II change from a women’s college to a university saw the department grow, as returning veterans on the GI Bill prompted expansion, and the growth continued as baby boomers began flooding institutions of higher education. The PhD program was inaugurated in 1954, and by 1968, the department achieved its present size, with approximately 22 full-time faculty members. The graduate program also has expanded tremendously, and currently is comprised of 42 full-time and 16 part-time students who specialize in one of the department’s four major areas: Social Demography, Health & Aging, Social Psychology, and Inequalities & Social Justice.
Florida State’s Status Today
FSU is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a research university with very high research activity. Sociology faculty and their students are known for publishing high-quality research that speaks to pressing social issues. Much of the department’s research has policy implications, which is one reason faculty have succeeded in obtaining substantial external support. In fiscal year 2006, grant awards totaled $6.5 million, almost half of which came from federal sources.
Changes in faculty personnel have been dramatic since 2000, and as of March 2008, most of the faculty is "new." Only five were here in 2000 (Karin Brewster, Ike Eberstein, Irene Padavic, Jill Quadagno, and John Reynolds). The recent retirements, transitions, and deaths of a number of faculty required extensive recruitment, leading to 14 new members—three full professors, one at the advanced associate level, several assistant professors, two newly tenured associates, and nine assistant professors. Each brings excellence to the department’s core research areas, and all are proficient teachers and dedicated mentors and advisors to our students.
The 2005 US News and World Report rankings placed FSU 42nd among sociology departments and 27th among public universities. It was 10th among all departments in the specialty area of Sex and Gender and 14th in the area of Sociology of Population. The November 16 Chronicle of Higher Education published results of a Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index in which FSU’s nine faculty Health and Aging program ranked 6th in the nation when compared to other departments of sociology.
The stature of FSU Sociology faculty members is also indicated by the national awards and recognition they have received in recent years. Collectively, between 2001 and 2005, sociology faculty members received a grand total of 38 awards for research, averaged eight presentations, and served as officers and committee members for national, international, and regional professional sociological associations. Due to her path-breaking research on the U.S. health insurance crisis, Quadagno was invited by U.S. Senator Harry Reid to address the Democratic Senators at their 2006 annual issues workshop and by Ira Flatow to serve on a panel for National Public Radio’s Science Friday on end-of-life issues. Patricia Yancey Martin, emerita faculty since 2008, won ASA’s Jessie Bernard Award (2007) and the Distinguished Feminist Lecturer Award from Sociologists for Women in Society (2001). R. Jay Turner received the Leo G. Reeder Award for Distinguished Contributions to Medical Sociology (2002).
Today’s department’s intellectual community is vibrant. The new Director of Graduate Studies, John Reynolds, ensures that students (and faculty) experience many opportunities for intellectual exchange. In addition to regular department-sponsored colloquia, both the Pepper Institute on Aging and the Center for Demography and Population Health—with which many faculty are affiliated—offer regular speaker series and brownbag seminars. FSU scholars bring their expertise to the graduate and undergraduate classrooms, and many have won university-wide teaching and mentoring awards.
The faculty, staff, and students at FSU have come a long way since 1918, and eagerly anticipate many more years of progress! For more information on the department’s progress, see www.fsu.edu/~soc.