Political Scientist and Former APSA President, Sidney Verba, Dies at 86

“He never believed he was better than anybody else and treated everybody as equal. He considered himself the luckiest man,” said Sidney Verba’s wife, Cynthia Verba. Jon Chase/Harvard file photo

Sidney Verba, former President of the American Political Science Association (1994-1995), passed away on Monday, March 4, 2019 at his home in Cambridge at the age of 86. As a pioneer in the political science field, Vebra worked closely with APSA leadership serving on numerous committees dedicated to issues around social science research, educational planning, election behaviors and much more.  He was also an active member of several APSA organized sections including sections on Political Psychology, Human Rights and Comparative Politics. Verba was beloved and well-known for his tremendous dedication and contributions to the discipline.

Sidney Verba, one of the world’s most prominent political scientists, taught at Harvard for 35 years, holding several key administrative posts and leaving a lasting influence beyond the classroom.

Verba, who was the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor Emeritus and research professor of government, undertook pioneering research on democratic participation, civic life, and political inequality. He wrote more than 20 books that examined citizen engagement and activism in democratic political life in the U.S. and around the world.

His work, done in collaboration with many scholars over five decades, showed that people with higher income and education levels tended to be more active in civic and political life, revealing, in groundbreaking studies, that political inequality is deeply embedded in American society.

“He was one of the greatest political scientists of the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st,” said Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard. “Sid had a passion for American democracy. He, along with his chief collaborators Kay Schlozman and Henry Brady, developed over the years the definitive theory and empirical research to understanding civic and political participation in the United States.”

Verba’s work was driven by his concern for bringing equality to the American political system to allow all citizens to participate in civic and political life, said Gary King, the Weatherhead University Professor and director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

“If you had to say one word that Sid was about,” said King, “it was equality. … It’s not only a good thing that we have a democracy, but what really matters is the roles of people in it. He showed very often that the poor, even though they officially have the same number of votes as the rich, they have much less say in what goes on in government.”

Verba retired from teaching in 2007 but continued to work as chair of the Committee on Human Rights at the National Academy of Sciences until just a few years ago as a way to keep pursuing his intellectual interests in equality and justice.

Read the full memorium on The Harard Gazette.

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