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Sociology at Iowa State University Lee Burchinal Department of Sociology Iowa State University June 2012 The roots of sociology at Iowa State University (ISU) reach back nearly 100 years to 1913 when George von Tunglen joined the economics faculty as the first sociologist at what was then the College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. The initial sociology curriculum consisted of a single course in rural sociology. Two years after von Tunglen arrived, the rural sociological research program started under the auspices of the Iowa State Agricultural Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beginning an unbroken history of rural sociological research, first at the College, and now at Iowa State University (ISU). The presence of sociology on campus and in the state of Iowa expanded further when, in 1922, the first rural sociology extension specialist was hired. Thus, within nine years, sociologists at the College were performing the three historic functions of a land grant university: teaching and learning, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels; research/discovery with the support initially of the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station and, later, in cooperation with numerous other public and private organizations; and outreach/extension activities, through a set of evolving set of strategies and communication channels. Given the initial location of sociology in the Department of Economics and the latter’s location in the Division of Agriculture of the College of Agriculture and Industrial Arts, it is not surprising that the first sociology course at the College was Introduction to Rural Sociology; what is surprising perhaps is that sociology courses other than ones with a rural orientation, even from the beginning, grew apace along side rural sociology. Several years following the initial rural sociology course, two other sociology courses – Applied Sociology and Urban Sociology – were added to the fledgling sociology curriculum. The addition of these two courses, no doubt, contributed to the far-sighted decision to create joint administration of the sociology program by the then Division of Agriculture and the Division of Industrial Science, the forerunners of the current College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This early fusion of agricultural sciences and practice, reflected in the rural sociology program, and what became liberal arts and sciences, laid the foundation for developing sociology as a scientific discipline with specialization in various areas, including rural sociology, and as the underlying discipline for the development of robust sociological research and outreach programs. Hereafter, “sociology” refers to the discipline by that name; “rural sociology” denotes one of the many specialized areas within the broader discipline of sociology. The development of the present day Department of Sociology is the story of the fusion of rural sociology as the early focus and strength of the sociology program in its first decades followed by expansion to the full range of sociology programs commonly taught at major American universities. In the process, each side of the department reinforced and strengthened the other: rural sociology brought strength in depth in a specialized area and support for a robust sociological research effort; the ultimately larger sociology side offered enhanced theoretical and methodological strength for all sociological activities – rural sociological research and outreach as well as sociological research on other issues and concerns to Iowans, the nation, and the international community.

By 1920, the rural sociology curriculum consisted of three courses - introduction to rural sociology, advanced rural sociology, and rural community organization – and two sociology courses – applied sociology and social legislation. Even at this early stage, credit was offered for thesis research and for conducting “research in absentia.” Under the latter arrangement, advanced students, mainly clergymen, received research credit for conducting sociological surveys focused on issues in their communities. Students selected an issue to investigate and worked with a member of the sociology faculty in completing their research. An additional course, “Advanced Economic and Social Principles,” listed as an economics course, was taught jointly by an economist and sociologist. However, this experiment in joint instruction was not repeated. Thereafter, economics and sociology, although in the same department, pursued separate curricula development, although ISU economists and sociologists frequently united in joint research and outreach activities, as in response to the farm crisis of the 1980s and currently in the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. In 1998, a new jointly taught course, Ethics and Agriculture was established and continues yet today. In the formative years the rural sociology and sociology curricula evolved together, although with varying levels of competitive and creative tension. Each curricula was marked by the introduction of various courses and seminars, some of which lasted only a few years, like rural recreation, while others, with constant updating, became core courses in the expanding sociology curriculum. For example, Rural Population, introduced in 1926 as a rural sociology course, gave rise to two courses, each of which remain in the current sociology line up, Population Problems and Society at the undergraduate level and Demographic Analysis, Projections and Modeling at the graduate level. Also, the original course in rural community organization gave rise to constantly updated instruction on the transition of farming and rural communities under pressure from changes in Iowa’s agriculture and industrial sectors and stimulated sociology courses on communities, leadership, and development issues. Growth in the number of courses, in both rural sociology and sociology, was modest in the early years of the program compared with the substantial increases that marked development of each program in later years. Rural sociology courses in the 1920s and 1930s expanded to include rural leadership and research in rural sociology, each of which has continued as elements in rural sociology courses since then, while on the sociology side new courses included survey research methods, history of social thought, social theory, and the first course on sociology of the family, seen then as an example of applied sociology, and introduction of sociology, which remains the basic course for all sociology students. These and other courses remain part of the current sociology curriculum. By 1930, the curriculum included more sociology courses, six, compared with five rural sociology courses. Thereafter, while the number of rural sociology courses continued to increase, still more sociology courses were added each year. Of the two administrative bodies responsible for sociology, the agricultural side led in granting both undergraduate and graduate degrees. In 1919, just six years after the first course in rural sociology was offered, the Division of Science authorized the Bachelor of Science degree in sociology. Two years later, the first Master of Science in rural sociology was awarded. Further recognition of the presence of sociology on campus came in 1924 when “Sociology” appeared for the first time in the title of a department, as in the Department of Economics, History and Sociology. Several other important events occurred near the end of this “early” period in the development of sociology at ISU. Sociology became a bit more prominent at the University level when, in 2

Sociology at Iowa State University

1931, history was split off from the Department of Economics, History and Sociology, leaving the department title as Economics and Sociology. Also, recognizing the expanded curriculum in sociology, the Division of Science, predecessor to the present College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, authorized granting a Bachelor’s of Science degree in sociology in 1935, sixteen years after the Division of Agriculture authorized granted the similar degree. Beginning in the 1950s, the pace of development in the sociology curriculum gained momentum: the number and variety of courses in both rural sociology and sociology expanded substantially at the undergraduate level and particularly at the graduate level; ISU-trained faculty launched a vigorous and nationally recognized research program; and an expanded rural extension staff implemented innovative outreach programs based on knowledge and conceptual social action models developed by ISU sociologists. The number of rural sociology and sociology courses increased from 8 in 1940 to 32 in 1950, edged up slightly to 34 in 1960. In 1966 the Board of Regents accepted the recommendation from ISU President Robert Parks that the Department of Economics and Sociology be divided that created the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. In a few short years the number of sociology courses jumped to 57 in 1970, alongside of expansion of the faculty to 14 rural sociologists and 19 sociologists and anthropologists. The rural sociology curriculum was enriched by the addition of courses on agricultural movements, rural institutions and organizations, farmers’ organizations, farm legislation, and detailed analyses of early and, separately, the current status and organization of rural communities. In the same period, sociology offerings expanded substantially, moving toward the variety of undergraduate and graduate sociology courses commonly taught at large American universities. These courses included sociology of the family, community organization, race and culture, social stratification, and a set of social work courses, which later developed into a minor only to be dropped when accreditation was not renewed. The roots of the current interdepartmental program on criminal justice, now administered in the Department of Sociology, can be traced back to this period, marked by the beginning of instruction related to juvenile delinquency and correctional institutions. Other important additions to instruction in this period, as demonstrated by the creative and robust research program that developed in the following years, were undergraduate and graduate level courses in sociological theory and research methods. The first course in anthropology, “Introduction to Anthropology,” was introduced in 1941. Subsequently, the anthropology curriculum developed to the point that a separate Department of Anthropology was established in 1990. Reflecting the development of a strong rural sociology instructional and research program, the Ph.D. in rural sociology was authorized in 1940, but with the intervening years of World War II, the first Ph.D. in rural sociology was not granted until 1946. Two years later the Master of Science degree in sociology was authorized. Completing the set of graduate degrees, the first Ph. D. in sociology was granted in 1961. In 1971, students majoring in sociology were given the choice of pursuing course work leading to either the Bachelor of Science or the Bachelor of Arts degree. Since then, students majoring in rural sociology or sociology have been able to earn the full range of undergraduate or graduate degrees. The immediate results of strengthened research training became evident in the 1950s when ISUtrained sociologists, Dr. George Beal and Dr. Joe Bohlen, launched their groundbreaking research on the adoption and diffusion of hybrid corn and other farm products and services. Knowledge and conceptual models based on their research provided the foundation for a greatly expanded sociological research program at ISU. ISU sociologists, some of whom had been students of Drs. Beal and Bohlen, Sociology at Iowa State University


applied adoption/diffusion and social action models, developed from previous research at ISU, to a variety of national and international issues such as improving civil defense (remember the Cold War and the threat of immanent destruction), smoking and other health issues, and, further, to analyses of farming issues and conditions in many countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Research conducted by this team and their graduate students gained national and international recognition for sociology at ISU. Also, adhering to the land grant model, knowledge and conceptual insights gained from their research were organized as courses on “Adoption and Diffusion of Innovations” in 1969 and on strategies for organizing community development and social action campaigns. Courses on these topics remain in the undergraduate and graduate curricula. With expansion of research horizon to the nation and the world, research support was sought and found among a wide number of state and national agencies and private foundations. Titles of just a few of the dozens of supporting organization suggest the range of topics that were and continue to be explored: National Institutes of Abuse and Alcoholism, various branches of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Mental Health, Iowa Department of Human Resources, Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Iowa Department of Transportation. The greatest change in the undergraduate rural sociology program occurred in 1969 when a new undergraduate program, “Public Service and Administration in Agriculture,” was established and became the basis for granting the Bachelor of Science degree in rural sociology. This course has consistently attracted talented students, mainly from rural communities, who, after graduating become leaders in private and public organization primary concerned with agriculture. Along with a vigorous national and international research program, ISU sociologists have focused as well on local issues. At the regional level, ISU sociologists have participated in various rural research projects sponsored under the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development. The ISU Sociology Department also served as headquarters for this regional program from 1970 to 2009. But the most important, extensive and continuing body of sociological research conducted at ISU began in 1982 when Dr. Paul Lasley, now the chair of the Sociology Department, launched the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. The “Farm Poll” continues as the longest running rural sociological research program of its kind in the nation. This unique survey of rural households provides current perspectives on agricultural and rural issues for Iowa stakeholders and the public. As a longitudinal study, the Poll also provides data for discovering and projecting trends in opinion and knowledge on issues affecting rural communities and the State as a whole. Results from the Poll also enhance instruction programs at ISU and outreach programs. As a consequence of the expanded research program graduate training in sociology at ISU was further strengthened through training on conducting sociological research. Additional sociological theory and methods course and seminars were added to both the undergraduate and graduate levels of instruction. These included introductory and intermediate methods of social inquiry, intermediate theory construction, advanced theory construction and causal modeling, qualitative research methods, social measurement, social impact assessment, advanced sociological theory, and construction for analyzing categorical outcomes. In recent years, instruction has benefited from newly gained knowledge from sociological research in the United States and abroad, particularly on issues in rural areas in developing countries. One set of new courses addressed agricultural and rural issues. Among these were: sociology of agriculture4

Sociology at Iowa State University

related industries, sociology of rural development, and sociology of adoption/diffusion of innovations (which was initially taught by ISU pioneers in research on this topic). Instruction in rural sociology was further broadened to reflect concerns for systemic issues related to agriculture and food systems and the environment, agriculture in transition, rural development here at home, and societal and technological issues related to developing sustainable food systems. Dozens of new sociology courses were added in the past several decades to long-standing courses and seminars, bringing sociology offerings on par with what is commonly taught at large American universities. A few of the new areas of instruction were various courses in social psychology, group dynamics, social action processes and models, analysis of complex organizations, small groups, and the sociology of the life cycle. Still, another set of additions to the sociology curriculum dealt with emerging societal issues and concerns, such as sociology of poverty, social order and social conflict, sociological aspects of environmental concerns, race and minorities, and gender and income inequalities. Additional new courses, stimulated by ISU – led international research and development activities, focused on social change and international development, third world problems and development, models and skills for planned change, and technology innovations, social change and development. Courses with these or similar themes remain among the 31 courses and seminars offered in the latest academic year (2011-2012). Growth in the number of graduate students was fueled primarily by the expanded research program, beginning in the 1950s, and the increased number of research assistantships that followed, along with additional teaching assistantships. The combined number of masters students in rural sociology and sociology increased from 117 1960-1969 to 188 in 1990-1999. Owing to the national recession, reductions in state appropriations, and emergent views that students should shoulder more the costs of graduate education, and a soft job market for graduate trained sociologists, and increased difficulty of international students gaining admittance to US programs, the number of graduate students in the program has declined to 94 in the 2000-2009 decade. The decline in the number of graduate students has allowed the department to be more selective admission standards and sharpen its focus, providing even higher quality training. Two other changes occurred in the graduate student body since 1950; the balance shifted substantially from rural sociology to sociology, although the graduate rural sociology program remains one of the strongest in the nation; and the backgrounds of students changed from coming mainly from Iowa to a mix of students from other states and foreign countries. Graduate students in the 2011-2012 academic year, for example, hail from China, Viet Nam, Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, Mexico, Ukraine, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Uruguay. Based on decades of experience, the Sociology Department at ISU now offers graduate students eight areas of concentration. Rural sociology, the original area of interest and concentration, remains as an area of specialization, now joined by family, life cycle and aging; mythology; social change and development; social deviancy and mental health; social issues and public policy; and social psychology. Sociology students also have the opportunity to participate in five interdisciplinary programs. As noted earlier, the Sociology Department is responsible for the administration of Criminal Justice Studies. This program has experienced exponential growth increasing from about 50 undergraduate students in 2000 to nearly 500 major in 2010. In addition, the Department has faculty with split appointment in ethnic studies programs and provides courses in support of Environmental Studies, Women’s Studies, Latino/Latina Studies, and African and African-American Studies. Sociology at Iowa State University


Outreach activities associated with sociology have a long history at ISU, going back to 1922. However, thirty-six years passed before the first sociologically trained extension agent was hired in 1958. Major expansion in the rural extension program occurred beginning in the 1960s as extension personnel applied social action models based on research by ISU sociologists. In 1958, the Iowa extension staff pioneered the development and implementation of a multi-county extension effort under the name of TENCO which included 10 counties in southern Iowa that were targeted for special assistance in achieving rural community development. This innovative program quickly became a model for improving extension activities in other states. In another major initiative, extension sociologists established CD-DIAL (Community Development: Data, Information, Analysis Laboratory) that provided assistance to local community leaders who were conducting surveys on key issues in Iowa communities. The Iowa Farm Poll, already mentioned, continues to provide current information to key interest groups in Iowa. Currently, outreach efforts are focused on leadership development, rural and community development, and sustainable businesses in rural areas. The ISU sociology outreach effort also benefits from joint administration by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Working together, staff from each College has learned the art of interpreting, integrating, and applying research results for use in outreach efforts. The ISU sociology outreach program has earned the rating of the U. S. Department of Agriculture as “one of the best, if not the best” in the country in interpreting and applying research results for improving outreach activities. The current sociology program maintains the tradition of innovative teaching; creative research of issues important to Iowa, the nation, and the world; and continuing a vigorous outreach effort based on emerging knowledge about issues important to Iowans in these times of rapid economic and social change. The rich history of the Department of Sociology is deeply rooted in the land grant mission of teaching, extension and research. This tripartite function has served the citizens of Iowa, the nation and world for nearly a century since the first sociologist was hired in 1913. A distinguishing feature of the Department has been its commitment to not only understanding society but also applying emerging knowledge for improving society. Combining the liberal arts tradition from the College of Liberal Arts and Science with the mission focus and problem solving orientation of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Department has provided key leadership on many of the most vexing and complex social issues of the day. From the early work on understanding the factors that contribute to adoption of best management practices and products, to work on stimulating rural economic development through collaboration and cooperation, sociologists have been at the forefront of improving the state and nation. The Department has been a national source of trained sociologists at the graduate level. Between 1970 and 2010 the Department has graduated 368 Master degree candidates and 275 PhD candidates. Many of these ISU sociology graduate students have emerged as major intellectual leaders throughout the nation and world. The legacy of the Department reflects the ISU motto of “science with practice”. Throughout its 100 year history, the Department has consistently demonstrated the value of social sciences in addressing the most pressing state, national and international issues. While the history of the department has been marked by occasional budget reductions, and struggles over how to best serve students and the citizenry, the foundation of the department is solid. The department is well positioned to retain its leadership in addressing both disciplinary and practical issues.


Sociology at Iowa State University

Sociology at Iowa State University  

A background of the Sociology discipline at Iowa State University. Compiled by Dr. Lee Burchinal

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