July-August 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 6

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David Bills to Edit
Sociology of Education

by James Rosenbaum, Northwestern University


David Bills

One of the great things about the ASA Section on Sociology of Education is the extent that so many of us identify with it. That is also one of the burdens. We expect a lot from the editor of the Sociology of Education journal. When we say we want administrative efficiency, what we really want is something much more subtle. We want efficient management—someone who will ruthlessly badger, cajole, and embarrass delinquent reviewers to expedite the reviewing process. We want somebody who is able to say "no" but do it nicely. We want someone who responds often enough to reviewers’ suggestions so that they will consent the next time they are tapped, but an editor can’t respond to all of reviewers’ concerns, or papers would never get published. If an editor has all of these qualities, they will get the job done, and that is no easy feat.

In addition, we seek great vision and judgment about which articles will make intellectual contributions to our field. We don’t voice this desire very often, and sometimes it seems too much to hope for. Indeed, the review process is occasionally described in terms of passive editors counting votes. But that is not what our great editors have done, and we have had many great editors. While listening to the reviewers, a great editor will take a broader view, considering articles in context of the major issues across the field.

The Early Years

David Bills is well suited to take on that important responsibility as the Sociology of Education Editor. David has conducted research in many fields: education and the workplace, labor markets, technological and organizational change, educational demography, and social inequality. In some of his earliest work, he took on one of the most important works of the time—the Bowles-Gintis correspondence principle. His conceptual and empirical review brought to light the limitations of the model, and the original authors have subsequently recognized some of his points.

I met David soon after he received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, where he was advised by William Sewell. At a time when the field was enthralled with the Wisconsin status attainment model, David took it seriously, but saw beyond it. I was impressed by his vision that the trajectories of individuals, and the apparent "impact" of individual attributes, were shaped by factors outside the model. He published important research on how employers make the decisions that shape individual attainments.

His recent book, The Sociology of Education and Work, is a masterful analysis. He takes on many of the fundamental issues in our field, brings together a wide variety of research from different parts of our discipline, and judiciously and insightfully weighs the evidence. He sees the underlying phenomena underneath our studies, and he thoughtfully puts together quantitative studies of large-scale surveys and qualitative micro-analyses of the underlying dynamics in ways that address major issues in the field.

In addition, he recently published two edited volumes on topics of great concern today. One is on job training for Research in the Sociology of Work and the other is on comparative social stratification for Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. The latter was a Feschrift for Arch Haller. He has also written on the use of information technology in graduate education.

Right Skills for the Job

As for the more basic need of administrative effectiveness, his academic responsibilities suggest strong skills in these areas and a willingness to take on responsibility and challenge. David is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Programs in the University of Iowa College of Education and Professor of the Sociology of Education, with a courtesy appointment in the Sociology Department. David served as the Chair of the Educational Policy and Leadership Studies Department from 1994-99. He has served on the Faculty Senate and Faculty Council at the University of Iowa as well as many other university committees and task forces. He has directed 50 dissertations.

In terms of professional leadership, David has had numerous professional responsibilities. He was the Iowa Director for the Midwest Sociological Society from 1997-99 and chaired the Society’s Publication Committee from 2003-04. He directed the ASA Honors Program from 1988-94, is the past chair of the ASA’s Committee on Undergraduate Education, and served on the ASA Task Force on Community Colleges. He recently chaired the Nominations Committee for the ASA Section on Sociology of Education. He has also served on other committees for ASA and the Midwest Sociological Society.

As for being able to juggle multiple demands as an editor, David has had much experience at that. He has been active in many professional activities, including the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility (RC28), the Iowa Academy of Education (2006-present); the Scientific Review Board, Population Review (2007); the Editorial Board, Sociology of Education (2002-04, 2007-10); the Editorial Board, The Sociological Quarterly (1999-2007); the Technical Review Panel for 1999 and 2001 National Household Education Survey (1999-2000). He has also served as consultant on ACT Work Keys Program, 2001. He also takes pride in contributing to his local community, serving on an evaluation of Iowa City Community School District’s Senior High Alternative Center.

He has also branched into comparative international research. He spent the fall 2003 semester at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (Social Science Research Center-Berlin) to collaborate on a project examining trends in the hiring and training practices of German and U.S. employers over the past 20 years. He is also collaborating with colleagues at the Federal University of Minas Gerais on a study of social stratification in Brazil.

David’s most important qualification for this job—his ability to impart useful feedback—doesn’t appear on his résumé. Many people, from full professors to graduate students, say that David has given them useful comments to their presentations at sociological conferences. This is what conferences are supposed to be about. For a seasoned senior researcher to receive such thoughtful comments on new work is gratifying. For a nervous graduate student giving a first presentation, receiving comments from someone other than an adviser is a memorable experience. David has been preparing for this editor role for a long time.

As if this weren’t enough, David is now completing a Sociology of Education textbook, which will be completed before he takes over as SOE editor. The intellectual breadth and insight in his work provide strong reassurance that we have gained an editor who possesses intellectual vision and judgment. His many activities suggest that he has the administrative skills and professional commitment to lead our journal in a way that will strengthen our field. We are fortunate to have gained an editor with such qualifications.

SOE provides a forum for studies in the sociology of education and human social development. It publishes research that examines how social institutions and individuals’ experiences within these institutions affect educational processes and social development. The journal presents a balance of papers examining all stages and all types of education at the individual, institutional, and organizational levels. logo


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