April 12, 2005

Former U of C political scientist will return from Harvard in July

In July 2002, Michael Dawson—a prominent scholar in the field of African-American politics and culture—left the University of Chicago to join the faculty of Harvard University. After three years, however, Dawson has announced his return to Chicago. Dawson, an African American, is one of several prominent minority scholars to leave Harvard in recent years, and his return to Chicago is attracting significant attention in the academic community.

Dawson's stay at Harvard lasted only three years. As of July 1, 2005, Dawson will once again return to the faculty of the University of Chicago. Dawson was unavailable for comment on reasons for his return, but in an article published on April 6 in the Chicago Sun-Times, Dawson said that his departure is partly because of dealings with Larry Summers, the president of Harvard University. Dawson said his parting from Harvard is also due to significant changes in personnel. "Four of the people I thought I'd be working with are no longer at Harvard," Dawson told the Sun-Times. "The research environment at Harvard is radically different than when I accepted the job."

In the Sun-Times article, Dawson also mentioned that the University of Chicago offered his wife, Alice Furumoto-Dawson, a position at the University's Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research.

Dawson originally came to the University of Chicago in 1992 as an associate professor. Before he left for Harvard in 2002, Dawson founded the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and served as the chair of the political science department. According to Mark Hansen, dean of the social sciences division, Dawson was well respected by his colleagues. "Then as now," said Hansen, "Michael was admired as an innovative and rigorous scholar working on some of the most important intellectual issues of our time. He was an effective leader both as the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and as department chair. I found him a great colleague, intellectually one of my closest colleagues. Lots of others would say the same."

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an assistant professor of political science who worked with Dawson before he went to Harvard, discussed his impact on the University. "As chair of the department he had been largely responsible for reconstituting it as one of the finest collections of young scholars in the country," Harris-Lacewell said.

In an article in the Maroon in February 2002, Dawson cited both professional and personal motivations as his reasons for going to Harvard. Dawson believed he would be "able to do more work directly on survey research [and] on racial attitudes in the United States, as well as in Cambridge, collaborating with [his] new colleagues in the African-American studies department." According to the 2002 article, Harvard also offered to hire Furumoto-Dawson as an epidemiologist. At the time Dawson said, "The joint offer [to my wife and myself] was better at Harvard than at the University of Chicago."

The administration at the University of Chicago is welcoming Dawson with open arms. "We very much wanted Michael to stay at Chicago and made it clear that we hoped he might someday return," said Hansen. "A first rate scholar who enhances the profile of the department is coming back. I don't see how anybody could be anything other than delighted about that, and I don't know of anybody who's not."

Excitement is also running high among the faculty in response to Dawson's return. "Haven't you noticed the political scientists and Race Center faculty doing cartwheels on the quad? We are thrilled," Harris-Lacewell said.

Administrators are optimistic about the impact Dawson's return will have on the University. "Michael's return is great news for the entire [Social Sciences] division," Hansen said. "He adds significantly to an already estimable faculty, and his presence will help to attract top-flight students and other top-flight faculty. I expect that Michael's influence will be felt throughout the division, and beyond throughout the University."

"[Dawson's return] signals that the social sciences at the University of Chicago remain among the finest in the nation. The fact that we were able to lure Michael back is testament to the strength that already exists here. There is no African-American Studies department but there is a vibrant Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture. Michael is the founder of that center, but the faculty and students associated with it have done enormous work in the years Michael was gone to solidify and improve the center. I think Michael will be very pleased with how we have cared for his brainchild in his absence," Harris-Lacewell said.