In Memoriam: Lyn Ragsdale

In Memoriam: Lyn Ragsdale

The discipline lost a passionate scholar, teacher, administrator, and mentor in December, with the passing of Lyn Ragsdale, the Radoslav A. Tsanoff  Professor of Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science at Rice University.

Lyn was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the eldest child of Elywin Ragsdale and Carolyn Mantei Ragsdale.  In 1963, the family moved to Tempe, Arizona, where she developed her passion for politics, perhaps from her daily childhood ritual of watching the evening news and thoroughly reading the local newspapers.  Lyn graduated from Tempe High School in 1971.  The first in her family to go to college, she obtained a B.S. in Political Science with high honors from Arizona State University, 1974; MA 1978, and Ph.D. University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI., 1982, in political science.

In 1983, Professor Ragsdale joined the political science faculty at the University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.   From 1988-1991 she served as Director of the University of Arizona Survey Research Center.   She was the head of the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois, Chicago from 2001-2006.  From 2006-2016 she served as the Dean of Social Sciences at Rice University, the first woman to hold this position.

“When Lyn arrived at Rice to become dean of Social Sciences, I had never before had a woman as my chair, dean, provost or president,” Ashley Leeds, chair of Rice’s Department of Political Science, told Rice News. Ragsdale became an invaluable source of support and a role model for Leeds and other women in administration.

“Lyn’s tenure as dean significantly expanded the School of Social Sciences’ academic and research programs and fostered significant connections between the university and the larger Houston community,” said Robert Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science.  “She will be remembered as an exceptional academic leader, scholar and teacher.”

Susan McIntosh, Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Anthropology and interim Dean of Social Sciences, noted that Ragsdale was also a mentor to many faculty, especially women, and was generous with her support and time.

“Lyn’s understanding of internal dynamics on campus was especially helpful to me as I stepped into the role of interim dean in 2019,” McIntosh said. “I, along with many other faculty, am enduringly grateful for her kindness and generosity as a mentor.”

In 2017, after stepping down as Dean, she returned to her true passions of teaching, researching and writing.  Lyn greatly enjoyed mentoring her Rice students, and seeing them grow in their intellectual pursuits.

“As students, we would just fill pages and pages of notes when she talked,” said professor of political science Leslie Schwindt-Bayer, who was a graduate student at the University of Arizona during Ragsdale’s time there and would later work side-by-side at Rice with her former teacher. “She ran an amazing American politics core course and her historical knowledge of the American politics field was second to none.”

“I’ve modeled my graduate courses on her approach for years, though I doubt I come close to being as successful at it as she was,” said Schwindt-Bayer, who said Ragsdale taught her how to write research papers. “Her ability to help students revise and reshape their writing was invaluable.”

Lyn was past president of the Western Political Science Association (1998-99), and served as co-editor of Political Research Quarterly from 1996-2000.  She was an APSA Congressional Fellow (William A. Steiger Fellow) in 1990-1991 and a Russell Sage Fellow in 1984-85.  In 2019, Professor Ragsdale received the Betty Moulds Award for Contribution to the Profession from the Western Political Science Association.

Ragsdale was a scholar on American politics, the presidency, and electoral behavior.  She authored The American Nonvoter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) with Jerrold G. Rusk, Vital Statistics on the American Presidency (4th ed. Los Angeles: Sage Press, 2014), Presidential Politics (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1993), and The Elusive Executive: Discovering Statistical Patterns in the Presidency (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1988) with Gary King. At the time of her death she was actively working on her latest book, Shattered: Donald Trump and the American Presidency.

Colleagues and students remember Ragsdale as a passionate educator, researcher, administrator and mentor.