Newly appointed Associate Dean of Social Sciences Rogers Smith is bringing the values of his hero Abraham Lincoln to his new post in the School of Arts and Sciences.
Smith, a political science professor, said his primary research interests include issues of civil rights and the Constitution. He continues to consider himself an “Abraham Lincoln Republican” and displays a framed portrait of the former president on his office wall directly across from his desk chair.
Smith was raised in Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Ill. In 1968, he was the head of Teens for Nixon in Illinois in 1968 , which he later “came to believe … was a horrible error in judgment.” He became disillusioned by what he saw as a deviation from Lincoln’s commitment to civil rights during the era of the Nixon administration and the Vietnam War. “I felt I was on the wrong side of the greatest issues of the '60s,” he said.
To make matters worse, Smith’s family from South Carolina, where he was born, got into arguments with his family from Illinois over issues of civil rights when he was young. “I realized that a lot of people that I loved and that were in many ways good people were nonetheless working to maintain socioeconomic and political institutions that were fundamentally wrong,” Smith said.
He sought refuge from his conflicting political views in research when he entered college. Although he didn’t expect to become a professor, “I realized to my horror that I was fundamentally a nerd who enjoyed research and writing more than anything else,” he said.
Staying true to his passion for civil rights and equality, Smith plans to seek out and take advantage of opportunities to increase diversity within the social sciences, although he is still in the early stages of learning about his position and does not yet have anything concrete worked out.
As associate dean, Smith will oversee the departments of Anthropology, Criminology, Economics, History and Sociology of Science, Political Science and Sociology. He will also supervise the building of the Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics, set to be completed in 2017 in the West Philadelphia Trust Building on the 3600 block of Walnut Street. The building will provide new space for social science departments and centers, such as the interdisciplinary Penn Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism, which Smith currently chairs. In addition, Smith will work on SAS Dean Steven Fluharty’s strategic plan to be published in the fall.
As a professor, Smith has demonstrated his commitment to social justice and the advancement of those with fewer resources through his involvement with the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia. He helped create the program, which joined the League of Teachers Institutes in 2007, and serves as co-chair of the organization's Advisory Council.
TIP is a companion program to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, which Smith skeptically joined while a professor at Yale. To his surprise, he found that disadvantaged local public school teachers really benefited from the seminars on curriculum and other topics at the institute. When he came to Penn, he collaborated with Penn President Amy Gutmann to create a comparable program in Philadelphia.
Chair of the Sociology Department Emilio Parrado recognized Smith’s willingness and capability to communicate with people of different backgrounds from his own from his experience working with Smith on the executive board of the DCC program.
“For somebody who is so well-written, he is very personable, very open-minded and easy to talk with,” Parrado said.
“The great thing about being associate dean is being able to work with people across the University,” current Associate Dean for the Social Sciences Susan Lindee said. Lindee will be teaching at the University of Hiroshima in Japan next fall before returning to the History and Sociology of Science department at Penn.
Smith will take over as associate dean on July 1. “I agreed to this job because it allows me to have my teaching and research keep going, though at a reduced level,” he said.“I love teaching and research so much that I always feel that I’m getting away with something. People actually pay me to do this instead of getting a real job."
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Smith was the chair of the Teen Age Republicans. He was the head of Teens for Nixon in Illinois. He is also the co-chair of the Advisory Council for the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia, not co-chair of the actual program, as the previous version stated.