The best ranked online sociology programs

I am not familiar with many online sociology programs but has a ranking of the top options:

New Mexico State University’s distance education bachelor’s degree in sociology was ranked 10th in the nation for 2015-16 by, an independent organization that focuses its ranking system on quality of programs, types of courses provided and faculty strength as well as school awards, rankings and reputation…

NMSU was listed on among the top 10 on’s top 25 list for online sociology undergraduate programs behind schools such as Arizona State University, University of Colorado Denver and Oregon State University…

“Most of the faculty members are doing work on social issues that reflect life on the border or in the desert Southwest. So a student who lives in Toronto, Canada will take courses, not only on the basics of Sociology, such as social theory, methods, statistics, deviance, the family, etc., but they also will have an opportunity to take courses that reflect a part of the world that is so politically relevant. And they are taking these courses from faculty members who are living in that place of study. We are here.”

NMSU’s distance education bachelor’s program in sociology has grown since it began in 2003 and now serves approximately 120 majors.

See the full list of top sociology programs according to here. There is an interesting mix of research schools (including several state system flagship schools) alongside other public and private options. The programs were selected according to these criteria:

We selected the degree programs based on the quality of the program, types of courses provided, and faculty strength, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Not surprisingly, there is not much overlap between this list and rankings of sociology programs according to sociologists and other academics. Yet, this second set of rankings is typically based on Ph.D. programs which is not going to be of use to many undergraduates. Is this list then that unusual if solely focused on sociology bachelor degrees?

Sociology departments “holding steady” across American colleges

Inside Higher Ed summarizes a new report from the American Sociological Association on the state of sociology departments across the country. A few highlights:

“We’re doing relatively well,” said Roberta Spalter-Roth, director of research and development for the ASA. “We aren’t doing as well as we would like to be, but we’re doing relatively well compared to other disciplines,” such as physics and foreign languages, which have seen widespread closures in recent years…

One noticeable finding is that bigger sociology departments actually have decreased their employment of adjunct faculty, bucking a long-term, national trend toward hiring more adjuncts across disciplines. That probably accounts for the fact that tenure-line faculty workloads at those kinds of institutions have gone up, Spalter-Roth said. She called the latter trend “problematic.”…

There also was a slight “graying” of the faculty, the survey notes, with the most growth in the associate professor ranks. In 2001-2, departments had, on average: three full professors; two associate professors, and two assistant professors. In 2011-12, they had: 3.7 full professors, three associate professors; and 2.6 assistant professors. The study calls the distribution pattern an “inverted triangle,” with more full professors than assistant professors…

Spalter-Roth said the data was mostly for internal use to report on the data-driven profession, but would also be available to individual departments to report back to their institutions. The association usually surveys departments on different matters every five years, she said.

See the full report here.

It is too bad there aren’t similar figures from other disciplines to compare to. Without good comparisons, the ASA can only compare to ten years ago and not assess the relative movements among disciplines. Isn’t that probably what sociologists really want to know?

It is a little amusing that the ASA collects such data and produces a number of reports on things like mismatches between graduate student subject area interests and jobss and the state of jobs in the discipline. Should we expect much different from a data-driven discipline? At the same time, shouldn’t other disciplines collect similar data to better serve their members? I don’t know what kind of personnel or offices are required to pull off such research but I assume there is some added value to collecting it and distributing the results.

Uptick in sociology job market?

Inside Higher Ed summarizes a ASA report that suggests the number of open jobs in 2011 were near 2008 levels:

In 2011, the number of faculty jobs posted either for assistant professors or positions for which any faculty rank is possible was just 4 percent below the level in 2008, the year in which the economic downturn hit in the fall. And so many of the openings announced in 2008 were canceled that it is possible there were more actual openings in 2011. There are among the results in a new job market report issued by the American Sociological Association.

The number of faculty jobs in 2009 fell 35 percent, and the 2010 total was 14 percent below the 2008 level, so the new figures represent a significant rebound in job openings.

The data are based on openings listed with the ASA. Not all departments list positions there, so the totals don’t reflect every opening, but sociologists say that the ASA reports accurately reflect trends in the discipline, even considering positions listed elsewhere.

The top 5 specialties in demand: social control/law/crime deviance, open, race and ethnicity, medicine and health, and work/economy/organizations. The bottom 5 (last being the lowest): comparative and historical approaches, sociology of culture, education, qualitative approaches, and application and practice.

Overall, this would seem like good information though it will likely take some time to sort through the backlog of candidates who couldn’t find jobs in recent years.

Just a thought: I wonder what exactly the job figures from year to year tell us. Overall, is there a better way to get at whether the discipline is expanding or is doing well? Is it better for big departments to get bigger? For new schools to add sociology undergraduate and graduate programs? For the beginning of new graduate programs? For existing faculty to get more recognition or better salaries? To compare the growth in sociology to other disciplines?

Harry Potter conference in Ireland cosponsored by sociology department

The University of Limerick in Ireland this week hosted a Harry Potter conference. Interestingly, this conference was co-sponsored by the sociology department.

An International Academic Conference exploring the cultural influence of the Harry Potter books and films entitled ‘Magic is Might 2012’ took place at the University of Limerick this week.

The two-day event, which concluded on Wednesday, featured 20 presentations on papers showcasing international research on multiple aspects of the impact of the Harry Potter series from literature, to education, law to digital media. Speakers from over 10 countries presented their work on Harry Potter and the conference also included the live trial of controversial character Dolores Umbridge in the University of Limerick Moot Court exploring her crimes and debating the severity of her punishment…

“The characters’ relationships, the political and social systems, and cultural commentaries woven into Rowling’s writing are just some examples of what makes the Harry Potter series an exciting framework for academic discourse in a number of areas.  We will encourage intensive and lively discussion and debate around the papers. We are delighted that Wizards, muggles, established academics and postgraduate students have submitted papers, and we will put the collection of papers together into an e-book after the conference. We are also very excited to host the first Harry Potter conference to take place in Ireland” she continued…

The Conference was hosted by UL’s Department of Sociology in collaboration with UL’s Interaction Design Centre and the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems.

I’m sure this is not the first or last Harry Potter conference. Yet, I wonder why the sociology department was behind this. I know I don’t read or see all that sociologists publish but I haven’t yet run across any sociological works on Harry Potter. A few ideas why a sociology department might sponsor such a conference:

1. Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon and this is what sociologists study.

2. The sociology department liked the idea of being tied to an international phenomenon. In other words, this is good marketing.

3. The series itself has a number of sociological themes (though the same could be said about other media).

I’d be interested to hear more about the consequences for the sociology department…

Chicago Tribune suggests the University of Chicago is the birthplace of sociology

In a column about how Chicago could better market itself to the world, there is a bit about sociology at the University of Chicago:

Chicago’s reputation has consistently lagged behind reality. Who among us traveling abroad hasn’t mentioned his or her hometown only to hear: “Al Capone! Bang, bang!” It happened to me in Beirut, while the Israeli army and Yasser Arafat’s forces were battling in 1982. Lebanon’s capital has been fought over so many times that keen-eyed inhabitants would point to pockmarked walls, dating them as “old damage” or “new damage,” depending on how recently tanks had shelled them…

Perhaps an image consultant can give us a municipal makeover. Chicago’s motto, “Urbs in Horto” — City in a Garden — is too namby-pamby. It doesn’t inspire anyone to grab the next flight to O’Hare.

Gilding the lily doesn’t work either, as the University of Chicago found when it hired a hotshot adman who pitched it as a “fun” campus. You can’t sell the birthplace of atomic energy and sociology with an “Animal House” image.

The birthplace of sociology is at the University of Chicago? A few qualifiers might be in order:

1. Perhaps the birthplace of American sociology. Other schools might want to debate this.

2. Perhaps the first academic department in sociology. Again, I don’t know the exact history here.

But to suggest that sociology was founded at the University of Chicago misses a lot of the early thinkers, like Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Spencer, that helped make that early department possible. Of course, the U of C department has had a large impact on sociology but the founding claim is off.

Side note: this reminds me of some of the international visitors my dad used to host in Chicago. They, too, were very interested in Chicago’s mob past and wanted to see places where Al Capone and others had been.

David Simon, The Wire co-creator, to receive William Julius Wilson award

The Wire has been used in a number of college courses (one example here) and now David Simon, co-creator of the HBO series, will be awarded the William Julius Wilson award from Washington State University:

David Simon, co-creator of the HBO television series “The Wire,” has been named recipient of the Washington State University William Julius Wilson Award for the Advancement of Social Justice…

Wilson received his doctoral degree in sociology from WSU and is one of the nation’s leading scholars in the fields of African American studies, race, civil rights, poverty and social and public policy issues. He was the first person to receive the award named in his honor in 2009. He is scheduled to attend this symposium…

“We are honoring David Simon with this award because of his significant and innovative contributions to promote social policy, in particular by raising the public’s awareness of systemic social inequality, poverty and the complex way that social surroundings affect individual-level decisions,” said Julie Kmec, associate professor of sociology and chair of the committee organizing the event…

Three Harvard scholars, including Wilson, recently pointed out that the series has “done more to enhance both the popular and the scholarly understanding of the challenges of urban life and the problems of urban inequality than any other program in the media or academic publication.”

Several questions:

1. I wonder if this award for Simon, also a former journalist, is part of a larger trend (the ASA has been doing this for a few years now – David Brooks was the latest to be recognized) of sociologists recognizing journalists as key people/gatekeepers for spreading sociological ideas.

2. What other television shows accomplish similar things to The Wire?

3. I had forgotten that William Julius Wilson received his PhD from Washington State since he is more commonly associated with the University of Chicago or Harvard. Of prominent sociologists, how many have received degrees from places like Washington State versus the typical top-ranked programs (Harvard, Chicago, Berkeley, Wisconsin-Madison, etc.)?

Evidence of sociology being viewed as an easy major for athletes

It is about that time of year when broadcasters and fans start poring football media guides. One enterprising fan of the University of Arkansas posted some tidbits from this year’s guide and one involved sociology:

Do you know what Greg Childs, Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton, and Joe Adams all have in common? Well, besides being stars on the offense. They are all majoring in sociology. Arkansas actually has twenty players who are majoring in sociology with sports and recreation management being the second most popular choice. I can assure you that all those players didn’t come to the UofA with a desire to learn more about sociology. No doubt, someone in the athletic department has told them that sociology is a “football friendly” major.

I wonder how the sociology department at the University of Arkansas might respond.

On the whole, I don’t think having the reputation as an “easy major” helps the broader discipline of sociology.

World rankings of sociology departments

If ranking sociology departments in the United States is not enough (see here and here regarding the NRC rankings), now one can look at world rankings. Seven of the top ten programs are in the United States as are eleven of the top twenty. It also appears there is quite a bit of variation in the “employer” score for schools in the top ten with a range of 41.7 to 100.0

At the bottom of the page: “Since 2004 QS has produced the leading and most trusted world university rankings. Focusing globally and locally, we deliver world university rankings for students and academics alike.” Does anyone pay any attention to these world rankings?

Academic Progress Rates, Auburn, and sociology departments

Even though its football team is set to play for the National Championship next week, Auburn University is in the New York Times today for a more dubious feat: a large drop in their Academic Progress Rate.

Auburn’s drop in the Academic Progress Rate, a four-year assessment of the movement toward graduation for a team’s players, is the third largest in college football since 2006, behind Mississippi’s (to 113 from 18) and Florida State’s (to 105 from 17). Since 2006, both Florida State and Michigan have endured academic scandals, with Michigan’s ranking falling to 84 from 27.

Among all the bowl teams this season, Auburn has the highest disparity in the graduation rates between white players (100 percent) and black players (49 percent), according to a study at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

Jim Gundlach, the Auburn sociology professor who uncovered the academic abuse, saw the decline in the team’s ranking as progress. “A genuine consequence to this has been that the people who want to do things right have gotten a bit more grasp over what the university is trying to do,” he said.

Graduation rates for Division 1 football and basketball male athletes is an ongoing issue. But this article brings up another issue: the disparity in graduation rates between white and black athletes. How much concern will this draw amidst all the National Championship hoopla that dominates ESPN every day?

Also, the Auburn sociology department doesn’t look too good in the explanation of how Auburn fell in the rankings:

In 2006, Auburn football was No. 1 among public universities in the academic ranking, alongside private institutions like Duke and Boston College. But some irregularities had caught Gundlach’s attention two years earlier.

He saw on television that an academic football player of the week was an Auburn sociology major, yet Gundlach was surprised that he had never had him in class. He asked two other sociology professors, who also did not recall having him as their student. Gundlach dug through records and soon found that Auburn football players were graduating as sociology majors without taking sociology courses in the classroom.

He found that 18 players on Auburn’s undefeated 2004 team had taken 97 directed-reading course hours — independent study-style classes — from Thomas Petee, the sociology department’s highest-ranking member. Petee taught 252 independent studies in one academic year, 2004-5, astounding Auburn faculty members, who said that overseeing 10 independent studies would be considered ambitious.

In investigating the situation, the university found that another professor, James Witte, had taught an inordinate number of directed-reading classes. The investigation did not find fault in the athletic department because the courses were available to and taken by all students.

Sociology often has a reputation of being an easy major – isn’t it all just common sense (an issue I try to tackle in day 1 or 2 of Intro)?. Stories like this don’t help this image.