March 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 3

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Task Force Issues Recommendations on Sociology and Criminology Programs

by Dennis MacDonald, Saint Anselm College

Should sociology departments offer criminology or criminal justice majors, minors, or concentrations? Does the proliferation of stand-alone and interdisciplinary criminology and criminal justice programs threaten the viability of the sociology major? Are criminal justice programs too vocationally oriented and insufficiently grounded in the liberal arts and social sciences? Has sociology "given up" on criminology and criminal justice? Are resources and responsibilities equitably shared among sociology and criminology in joint departments? Are Separate programs better?

These are some of the many questions and issues that preoccupied the members of the ASA Task Force of Sociology and Criminology Programs since its establishment by the ASA Council in August 2006. The Task Force completed its work and has issued its report and recommendations. Although it was well beyond our scope to provide answers to all of the important questions and issues posed, the report and recommendations should be useful to sociology, criminology, and criminal justice faculty, as well as deans and other administrators as they attempt to answer such questions for themselves.

Past, Present, and Future Context

The report describes the historical context of both the collaboration and the conflict among sociology, criminology, and criminal justice. It also describes the types of sociology/criminology/criminal justice program arrangements common today and the extent to which problems and issues are experienced differently across those types. Based on broad consultation with stakeholders, a survey of department chairs, and review of existing data and literature, recommendations are offered to help departments make informed and intentional decisions about program arrangements, curriculum, and course content.

Although the report focuses extensively on the problems and issues that have sometimes characterized the relationships of sociology, criminology, and criminal justice, our dominant theme is that the disciplines have much common ground and much to gain through greater collaboration. The Task Force recognizes the need to better understand the factors that shape crime and society’s response to it. While sociologists claim no monopoly on criminological knowledge, such understandings have long been the object of sociological investigation and insight. We recognize as well the need for educated and engaged professionals and the important role of academic institutions in preparing these professionals. Criminology and criminal justice programs (CCJ)—whether part of sociology departments or stand-alone—have much to contribute.

The Task Force offers 15 recommendations that we believe will lead to greater collaboration and more harmonious and effective relationships among sociology, criminology, and criminal justice. We also believe that sociology, criminology, and criminal justice programs will be strengthened by careful consideration of these recommendations:


  1. Before creating, or separating, joint programs, consider fully the many issues that will arise. While the immediate gains of a programmatic change may be appealing, the long-term impacts should also be weighed carefully.
  2. Be explicit about the nature of the program. Department names should accurately reflect the program(s) offered. This carries through to brochures, course descriptions, and even supporting photos. Part of the curriculum should teach students about the differences between program types. That said, look for ways to create a balance between liberal arts and vocational orientations.
  3. Develop student learning goals for methodological, theoretical, and vocational outcomes at the department or college level that apply to students in sociology as well as criminology and/or criminal justice. Begin this process by asking each disciplinary area to create independent learning goals, then come together to examine areas of similarity and difference.
  4. When criminology or criminal justice is offered within a sociology department, continue to require all students to take the core sociology courses. The long term interests of the students and the university, as well as the discipline, will be served in doing so.
  5. When criminology or criminal justice is offered in a department separate from sociology, consider how the examination of structural factors such as race, class, gender, social context and social process can become bridging points and promising areas for integration and collaboration that will lead to an increasing breadth of vocational preparation.
  6. Strengthen the visible ties between the sociology major and employment opportunities. Encourage and facilitate internships for all sociology majors, not only those in criminology or criminal justice. Stress research and data analysis skills throughout the curriculum. Teach majors how to explain and market their skills. This may help reduce the disparity in number of majors between sociology and CCJ programs. At the same time, pursue the fundamental mission of the discipline and higher education in developing a critical perspective.
  7. Track the careers of majors longitudinally. Use the data to measure program performance and to help the program remain vital in the midst of a changing labor market. Moreover, when contact is maintained with program alumni, they can become sources of internship opportunities and provide excellent employment advice for majors.
  8. Advising loads should be fairly distributed across the department; disparities inevitably damage morale and have potentially negative impact on retention and promotion of junior faculty. Neither sociology nor criminology or criminal justice faculty should be the only connection between students and real world employment advice. Consider using internship programs and vocational mentorships to foster connections between practitioners and students—for sociology, criminology and criminal justice programs.
  9. Departments should weigh carefully the potential benefits and costs of applying for ACJS certification for their criminology or criminal justice programs. The ASA has not engaged in program certification largely because such processes would not respond to the range of accredited institutions of higher education and academic contexts in which sociology is taught. Given the constraints that ACJS certification requirements place on the autonomous decision making of departments and programs, there is a strong possibility that compliance with ACJS standards could erode the social science base of sociology and criminology, and undermine the potential benefits to the programs and students.
  10. Promote an interdisciplinary culture. When hiring, be explicit about the interdisciplinary nature of the collaborations between sociology and criminology or criminal justice programs and express interest in research areas that complement both areas. Include faculty from both areas on search committees and include students from both areas as participants in the process.
  11. When perceptions of inequity and faculty tensions are emerging, consider how structural conditions may contribute to the problem, or could help ameliorate it. Are there disparities in the distribution of resources or workloads? Are all parts of the department represented in department leadership and governance?
  12. Recognize that criminology and criminal justice programs are sometimes seen as revenue-generating opportunities by administrators, especially when the programs are to be primarily staffed by adjuncts or individuals who have not completed a PhD for whom there are low research expectations. Sociology, criminology and criminal justice faculty should work together to educate administrators about the long-term needs of their students and their programs. Drawing on the principle of faculty governance and working with the faculty senate, they should insist that new programs be given adequate resources to maintain academic integrity.
  13. Create structural opportunities for faculty to become more familiar with each others’ work. Sponsoring research and practice colloquia (and encouraging all faculty to attend) is one relatively simple, low-cost way to do this. Make sure that part-time and adjunct faculty are welcomed. Another approach involves establishing a department club that includes students and faculty from both programs.
  14. Departments should consider ways to ensure research and publication requirements for full-time sociology and criminology or criminal justice faculty are equivalent. Departments should also work to ensure sociology and CCJ faculty have basic familiarity with the journals and their rankings in their own and their colleagues’ research areas at institutions where such rankings are factors in promotion and tenure decisions. It is especially incumbent on those central to tenure and promotion decisions to gain an extensive familiarity with relevant journals and their impact factor scores and be prepared to defend the quality of publications in all departmental decisions to administrative bodies as needed. The ISI Web of Knowledge provides journal citation reports and is a place to start gaining the needed familiarity. Evaluation criteria should be clearly written to apply appropriately to both basic and applied scholarship in all fields.
  15. Decisions regarding research resource distribution should be made on a fair and transparent basis to foster both individual scholarship and a synergistic community of scholars.

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