Virginia Sapiro – 2016 Frank J. Goodnow Award Recipient

Sapiro 300 dpiThe Frank J. Goodnow award is granted each year to a person for distinguished service to the profession and the American Political Science Association.  Its intent is to honor a person or organization for their outstanding role in the development of the profession itself and the building of the association

Our honoree this year is Virginia Sapiro, professor of political science, Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Boston University.  She began her career as an Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin, in the mid 1970s after finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.  She has served the profession with her scholarship, her intellectual contributions, and her service to literally dozens of different aspects of the American Political Science Association.

Perhaps most notable is her contribution to opening the profession and the Association to women and to the subfield of women and politics.  As is the case with most of the academic disciplines, women have been exceptionally rare among the ranks of political scientists, as was scholarly work on women’s role in political life. In the 1970s, when Professor Sapiro finished her degree and began what became an outstanding career, the decision to focus on women in politics was controversial.  This was not an established field of study.  Who would want to spend their time studying women in politics (some still thought this an oxymoron) where the possibilities for publication and recognition for one’s work were slim?  But it is to Professor Sapiro, and others like her, who took the risk of creating excellence in a new field, that we owe such a debt of gratitude for the continuing and difficult efforts to ensure equal opportunity for women and minority scholars.

Creating a path for women in the profession requires not just advocacy, but scholarship that meets the standards of the discipline and contributes to our understanding of politics and democracy.  Professor Sapiro exemplifies that standard.  In 1975, the same year she finished her Ph.D., she won the Chastain award for best paper on women from the Southern Political Science Association.  In 1978 she won that same award from the Western  Political Science association and in 1983, she received the best paper on women award from the Midwest Political  Science association.  In 1993 she won the Victoria Schuck award for best book published on Women and Politics (A Vindication of Political Virtue).  Her work has had a profound impact on the direction of the field, beginning perhaps with her 1981 APSR article, “Are Interests Interesting,” that made a sophisticated argument for the representation of women by women.  Her 1986 PSQ article on “The Gender Basis of American Social Policy” and her 1993 AJPS article with Pamela Conover on “Gender, Feminist consciousness, and War” have been highly influential as has her text, Women in American Society:  An Introduction to Women’s Studies, now  in its fifth edition.

Advocacy, organizational skills, and leadership also are required, however, to build a subfield in the discipline and Professor Sapiro excels in these as well.  She played an important role in getting the Women’s Caucus for Political Science started and sustained. The Caucus became the place where women could attend a meeting of the APSA (or the Western, Southern, Midwest) meetings and feel like they “belonged” even as they sat in panels day after day where all the presenters were male.  She founded the organized section on Women and Politics Research for the APSA, an investment of time and energy that has been critical for the development of scholarly work on women and politics.

The development of a subfield in a discipline requires journals that will set high standards, mentor young researchers, and bring visibility to the field and its contribution to the broader study of politics. One of her nominators (Professor Jane Mansbridge) points out that Professor Sapiro served on the search committees for an editor or editorial team for the journals, Women and Politics, and then Politics and Gender, five times from 1983 to 2007!.

She has served the profession more broadly,  also,  as secretary of the APSA,  Vice President of the Association, Chair of the 1998 Annual meeting,  She has served on the editorial  board of eight different political science journals.  She has been the director and Principal Investigator of the American National Election Studies and on its Board of Overseers. Her work on the ANES is especially notable, as it came during a time when the National  Election Studies was having problems.  The ANEW for years has been a staple for students of voting behaviour. Earlier in her career her tie to the ANES was as a product of the Michigan involvement where the university tended the fieldwork and design and made sure that its students benefitted accordingly. In the late 90s, however, the ANES was being challenged, as on one hand, newer and cheaper data collection modes were undermining its claim to distinctive value and, on the other, the NSF was questioning the costs. Michigan itself was struggling to identify an internal PI. In 1998, Professor Sapiro stepped into the breach as acting PI and was critical to keeping the ship afloat

Professor  Sapiro has also been  recognized for her outstanding scholarship and leadership  to the field of political psychology where  just last year she received the Harold Lasswell award for distinguished scientific contributions in the field of political psychology from the International Society for Political Psychology.

As one of her nominators said, “In short, this is a woman who time and again has plugged in where the profession needed her, helping to found and sustain many of the institutions in the profession that have furthered women’s interests and many of the institutions that have furthered the interests of all.”  The Goodnow Award must have had her in mind, and we are delighted to award it to her.

Special thanks to our committee Anne Schneider (Chair), Arizona State University; Tom Remington, Emory University; Richard Johnston, University of British Columbia