guest post: who hires whom?

analyzing from where sociology’s top 10-ranked programs hire their faculty

The following is a guest post by Michael O. Emerson, Provost, North Park University and Senior Fellow, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

I remember when I decided to apply to graduate schools in sociology. I knew almost nothing about where to apply, so I met with my sociology advisor. He told me how sociology programs were ranked in a hierarchy, and that if I ever wanted to work in a top ten department I would need to go to a top ten program; if I wanted to work in a top twenty program, I would need to go to a top twenty program, and so on.

I took his advice to heart and earned my MA and Ph.D. from North Carolina, Chapel Hill, ranked then and now in the top ten. I ended up teaching for fifteen years at Rice University where we started a Ph.D. sociology program about six years ago (too early to be ranked), before becoming provost at my current university.

Although I have always found my sociology advisor’s advice to be qualitatively true, I often wondered how true it is quantitatively. Specifically, for professors working in the top ten ranked sociology programs, where did they earn their Ph.Ds.? Using the 2017 ASA Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology, with just a bit of work, the answer is fairly straightforward.

I first relied on the US News & World Report’s 2017 Best Sociology Graduate Programs. Although we all know we can quibble about specific rankings, and this is but one version, the top ten programs according to this report align well with what traditionally are thought of as the top programs, regardless of who is doing the ranking. In alphabetical order, UC-Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

For these programs I used the ASA Guide for the list of professors, and classified each professor by the current rank of the Ph.D. program from which they earned their degree. I could have gotten more sophisticated and attempted to classify the program based on its rank in the year each person earned their degree. But in addition to having a day job, the extra work did not seem necessary. The top programs have largely been the top programs for many decades now.

VIEW ONE

I classified the Ph.D. program of every full-time, part-time, affiliated, joint, and emeritus faculty member listed for the top ten programs in the ASA Guide, if the professor graduated from a U.S. institution (which almost all did). Figure 1 show the results of the raw count.

The single most common place to earn a Ph.D. and be employed at a top ten program is Harvard (52 professors), followed fairly closely by UC-Berkeley (45), Michigan (44) and Chicago (43). There is a gap between the big four and the next three: Wisconsin (25), Princeton (23), and Stanford (21). The next highest are UCLA (16) and Northwestern (12). So the top nine most common places from which those working in top ten programs earned their Ph.Ds. are all top ten programs, just like my sociology advisor suggested many years ago.

FIGURE 1: Placement of Ph.D. students in Top 10 Departments, Absolute Number: Full Time, Affiliated, Joint, Emeritus, and Part Time

fig1

NOTE: Using the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, the Top 10 Sociology Programs in alphabetical order are: Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

The only program missing from this list is my alma mater, UNC, which comes close at number eleven. Two Ivy League schools—Columbia and Cornell—and UT-Austin are slightly higher. Also of note, despite the hundreds of professors employed at the top ten programs, and despite their being nearly 130 universities offering a Ph.D. in sociology, other than the top ten programs, only seventeen other programs have three or more of their graduates employed at top ten programs.

VIEW TWO

But of course the raw count is in part shaped by how many graduate students a program has. Perhaps a fairer—or at least a logically alternative—perspective is to ask which programs are most likely to produce sociologists in top ten departments relative to the size of their graduate program. Again, I could get fancy and attempt to locate the actual graduate school size for each year a person from the program earned the Ph.D. That would be lots of work and not wholly possible. As a reasonable alternative, given that the size of graduate programs is relatively stable over time, I use the 2017 ASA Guide report on the number of graduate students for each program.

FIGURE 2: Placement of Ph.D. students in Top 10 Departments, Relative to Number of Ph.D. Students: Full Time, Affiliated, Joint, Emeritus, and Part Time

fig2

NOTE: Using the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, the Top 10 Sociology Programs in alphabetical order are: Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

Figure 2 shows these results. Again Harvard is the most likely place from which professors at top ten programs have earned their Ph.D., followed by Michigan, Chicago, UC-Berkeley, Princeton, and Stanford. As before, these six programs are all themselves top ten sociology programs. That string is interrupted by Cornell and Brandeis, which are ranked sixth and seventh respectively.

VIEW THREE

But I then wondered if the results would be the same if I only categorized professors who are employed full-time in the sociology departments of the top ten programs, rather than also include part-time, joint, affiliated, and emeritus appointments. Figure 3 reports universities from which only full-time sociology professors earned their sociology Ph.Ds. In this case, UC-Berkeley is the most common (29), followed by Chicago (26), and Harvard (25). A gap exists, and the next most common are Wisconsin (15), Princeton (14), and Stanford, UCLA, and Michigan (13 each). Again all of these programs are top ten ranked programs. The first exceptions to this pattern are three Ivy League schools (Cornell (8), Columbia (7), and Penn (5)), the latter of which has placed as many in top ten programs as UNC and Northwestern.

FIGURE 3: Placement of Ph.D. students in Top 10 Departments, Absolute Number: Full-Time Faculty in Sociology Only

fig3.png

NOTE: Using the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, the Top 10 Sociology Programs in alphabetical order are: Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

VIEW FOUR

We might ask what the pattern looks like relative to the number of Ph.D. students in each program. When we use this approach, Harvard is number one, followed closely by Chicago, UC-Berkeley, and Princeton. The other top ten programs are all fairly high in the list as well, but there are some non-top ten ranked programs that do well, including Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Penn, Penn St., Stony Brook, and Brown.

FIGURE 4: Placement of Ph.D. students in Top 10 Departments, Relative to Number of Ph.D. Students: Full-Time Faculty in Sociology Only

fig4

NOTE: Using the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, the Top 10 Sociology Programs in alphabetical order are: Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

VIEW FIVE

I looked at one more way to classify who hires whom. I was interested in examining the hiring of only recent Ph.Ds. I needed to go far enough back to have a sufficient sample size, but still stay recent. I chose to look at just those who have earned their Ph.Ds. since 1990. Truth be told I selected this date because I earned my degree in 1991 and like to think I am still part of the younger generation (do I deceive myself?).

Figure 5 reports the results. Even when limiting to full-time sociology professors who earned their Ph.Ds. since 1990, the most common eight programs are all top ten ranked programs, just as we have seen before.

FIGURE 5: Placement of Ph.D. students in Top 10 Departments, Absolute Number: Full-Time Faculty in Sociology Receiving Ph.D. 1990 or After

fig5

NOTE: Using the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, the Top 10 Sociology Programs in alphabetical order are: Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

VIEW SIX

And of course, for good measure, Figure 6 reports the recent Ph.D. hirings relative to each department’s graduate student size. As before, the top programs in placing their graduates in top ten ranked programs are themselves top ten programs, with some familiar exceptions like Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Penn, and Penn St.

FIGURE 6: Placement of Ph.D. students in Top 10 Departments, Relative to Number of Ph.D. Students: Full-Time Faculty in Sociology Receiving Ph.D. 1990 or After

fig6

NOTE: Using the 2017 U.S. News & World Report Rankings, the Top 10 Sociology Programs in alphabetical order are: Berkeley, UCLA, Chicago, Harvard, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, and Wisconsin.

VIEW SEVEN: THE FINAL VIEW

Given the variety of ways to measure who hires whom, I created a composite measure. I simply combined the six measures (as present in Figures 1-6) and took the average ranking. Doing so gives us a rough overall picture.

As shown in Figure 7, the “big three” programs from which the top ten ranked programs hire their professors are Harvard, Berkeley, and Chicago. The next cluster includes Princeton, Michigan, Stanford, Wisconsin, and UCLA. All of these of course are themselves top ten programs. But instead of UNC and Northwestern being next, we find Cornell, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Penn, and UT-Austin. Then UNC (tied with Yale), Brown, Penn St., and Northwestern (tied with Washington).

FIGURE 7: Composite Ranking of Previous Six Rankings

fig7

INTERPRETATION NOTE: The lower the score, the higher the average rank of the program. For example, a 1.8 can be interpreted as ranking between first and second, on average, in the six previous measures.

THE PATTERNS AND THE EXCEPTIONS

Thus interestingly, we can say with confidence that when it comes to hiring, top ten programs overwhelming turn to eight of the other top ten programs to do their hiring, with the exceptions being UNC and Northwestern. Learning why these latter programs’ graduates are not as likely to be hired at top ten ranked programs would be an interesting study in itself. I also find that when not turning to one of the eight top ten programs for hiring, these schools often turn to Ivy League programs not ranked in the top ten (Cornell, Columbia, Penn, Yale, Brown), Johns Hopkins, and UT-Austin. Just a few other schools have placed more than one of their graduates in top ten programs.

Clearly, a distinct hierarchy exists. One wonders if graduates of other programs simply never are up to the standards of top ten ranked programs, or if there is some sort of elimination happening by search committees in these departments such that they will not consider applicants from programs other than those listed in the Figures.

On occasion, we can find exceptions. At Harvard for example are two professors with Ph.Ds. from programs not found on our list thus far: SUNY-Albany (ranked 36th) and Washington State (ranked 42). The names of these professors are well known—Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson. According to the findings here, and the reality of their career trajectories, neither would have been considered for hire at Harvard when coming out of graduate school because no matter their abilities, they simply did not earn their Ph.D. from a program in the sphere considered by top ten programs. Only after having highly influential careers elsewhere were they subsequently recruited to Harvard. Robert Sampson started at Illinois (ranked 47th) and William Julius Wilson started at UMass (ranked 30th), both moved on to Chicago, and then to Harvard.

A FINAL QUESTION

Based on the above, I was led to ask one final question in the “who hires whom” saga. I took the ranking of each full-time professor in each top ten ranked program, and calculated the average rank of their hires. In short, who is most exclusive? I did this after removing exceptions (in Harvard’s case, Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson are the exceptions), as programs can and do sometimes hire people from lower ranked programs because of their success elsewhere. Also, for comparison, I did this same calculation for ten other universities, one each from those ranked in the twenties through the one hundreds.

With exception of Wisconsin (averaging a rank of 11), all top ten ranked sociology programs, on average, have faculty who average coming from the top ten programs. The programs hiring their professors from the most highly ranked programs are UC-Berkeley (averaging a rank of 4.3), followed by Harvard, Michigan, and Chicago (5.2 to 5.4). This is simply another way to show what we have already learned.

But how do these hiring practices compare to non-top ten programs? The bottom of Figure 8 reports the average rank of the graduate departments from which their professors earned their Ph.Ds. There are exceptions, but the secular trend is that the more highly ranked the program, the narrower the schools from which they hire, and the higher the average ranking of the programs from which their professors earned their Ph.Ds. For Maryland (ranked 24th), Notre Dame (32nd), USC (40th), and Boston University (47th), they all average hiring their professors from top fifteen programs. Notre Dame, which has been rising up the rankings, averages an 8.7, making it even more selective than top ten programs North Carolina, Wisconsin, UCLA, and Northwestern.

FIGURE 8: Average Rank of Departments FT Sociology Professors’ Ph.D. Programs (After Removal of Outliers): Top 10 Ranked Programs and 10 Others for Comparison

fig8

INTERPRETATION NOTE: The figures above indicate the average ranking of Ph.D. programs of all full-time professors of a department (minus outliers—see below). So if a department has an average ranking of 10, it means the average faculty member’s Ph.D. program was ranked 10th nationally.

NOTE: Ranking of Outliers for each school: UC-Berkeley (71); Harvard (36, 42); Michigan (36, 36, 40); Princeton (28); Stanford (40); UNC (40,42,47); Wisconsin (32, 32, 67, 100); Chicago (27); UCLA (47, 87, 87); Northwestern (32, 40); Maryland (42, 42, 87); Notre Dame (32,32, 67); USC (none); Boston University (none); Florida (102, Not Rated); Nebraska (80); Utah (80); Loyola of Chicago (none); Tennessee (87, 96); UNLV (102,102).

The next four programs (Florida, ranked 57th, Nebraska, ranked 63rd, Utah, ranked 71st, and Loyola of Chicago, ranked 87th), all average hiring from top 30 programs. And finally Tennessee (ranked 96th) and UNLV (ranked 102nd) hire, on average, from top 45 programs.

BRINGING IT HOME

My sociology advisor’s advice, given in the 1980s, holds true today. Top ranked departments, with almost no exceptions, hire their faculty from highly ranked Ph.D. programs. In fact, we might wonder if there isn’t a rather strong correlation between the average ranking of one’s faculty and a department’s ultimate ranking in the hierarchy of Ph.D. programs, perhaps stronger than actual publication productivity or influence. We also learned that the large majority of Ph.D. programs in sociology—perhaps 100 of the nearly 130 programs—do not place their graduates in top programs. Their students often instead go to teaching schools, regional state universities, and the private sector.

In the final analysis, for a discipline which often sees understanding and overcoming inequality at its core, we have managed to create it rather well.

SOURCES

American Sociological Association. 2017. ASA Guide to Graduate Departments of Sociology. Washington, D.C.

U.S. News and World Report. 2017. Best Graduate Sociology Programs. At https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-humanities-schools/sociology-rankings. Accessed November 10, 2017.

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