Word is that a few graduate students here are upset about the US News ranking Wisconsin Sociology #1. Or, at least, they are bothered by the upbeat comments that our chair made in response to a local media query about the rankings. Apparently, she was supposed to talk about how some of our recent faculty losses make the ranking undeserved and, moreover, what we actually practice here is a systematic reign of cruelty over our students. Or something like that. Maybe The Truly Discontented around here will get together and write a letter to US News about the horrors of the department at the top of their sociology list. That would make for some good academic theater for the months before I'm headed off to my exile to Harvard.
Truthfully, at least a couple of my colleagues have expressed surprise that Wisconsin has remained #1 despite some of the losses we've had. News of losses, of course, spreads slowly and incompletely, and, besides, at least one apparent departure happened after the survey was in. That said, at least from my recollection of scores in the last rankings, the change from the previous Wisconsin-Berkeley tie to the present Wisconsin #1 outright is not a matter of Wisconsin's score going up, but Berkeley's score going down. For which, a plausible suspect can be named in three words: Public Sociology backlash. As I discussed in my last post, the top of the rankings are determined more by avoiding dis-adoration than by culling especial reverence, and, whatever you think of the public sociology omelet, it wasn't made without breaking some eggs.
In any case, at least if you look at the Berkeley website, being the premier home of "public sociology" seems to be taking over the vision of that department, or at least its graduate program. Which is all well and good until you remember that Burawoy's formulation of "public" sociology sets it apart from "policy" and "professional" sociology (not to say that Berkeley doesn't offer opportunities for "policy" or "professional" sociology, of course; but, in my opinion, their website makes them look narrower than they are). I was talking to somebody recently who visited Berkeley's Visit Day this spring as a prospective student. I asked him if they did a lot of talking about "public sociology", and he said they did, but then he mentioned that it would have been more helpful if someone had explained what "public sociology" was. Wow: leave it to sociology to turn even its banner phrase for engaging the public sphere into a matter of insular jargon.
In any case, one of the things about this place that drives me to despair is when students complain about this department being "narrow." Not having more faculty members doing what you specifically would like does not make a department "narrow." Whatever you want to say about other vectors of "quality" of a graduate program, Wisconsin has been, over the last five years, the most intellectually diverse of the top departments. Don't believe me? Here's a test: go to Dissertation Abstracts and get the titles of the last 25 Ph.D.'s defended at each of the top departments. Make a list of titles for each department that removes their names ("Department A", "Department B"). Show them to a few people who are not sociologists and ask them to rank the lists in terms of which seems the most diverse. My guess: Wisconsin wins hands down.