Nancy Burns to direct U-M Center for Political Studies at ISR
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Nancy Burns has been appointed Director of the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR). A political scientist who has studied the reasons for gender differences in political participation, she is the first woman selected to lead an ISR center since the Institute was founded in 1948.
"Nancy is a scholar's scholar and a scholar's advocate who will galvanize a new intellectual esprit d' corps, expand the portfolio of the Center's funded programs, and recruit a younger generation of new scientific leaders who share her passion for top-notch scholarship and who derive joy from mutual collegial support," said ISR director David Featherman, who appointed her to the position at the unanimous recommendation of her colleagues. "It may have taken nearly 60 years for one of ISR's strong women scientists to be chosen to lead an ISR center. But we are all very privileged that Nancy has agreed to take on these duties for the next five years."
"It's a tremendous honor to direct the Center for Political Studies," said Burns, who is the Warren E. Miller Collegiate Professor at the U-M.
Burns has been affiliated with the ISR Center for Political Studies since 1990, when she came to Michigan as an assistant research scientist in the department of political science and the ISR. She received a B.A. degree in political science from the University of Kansas, an M.A. from Harvard University in 1988 and a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard in 1991.
Her most recent book, co-authored with Kay Lehman Schlozman and Sidney Verba is "The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation," published in 2001 by Harvard University Press. The award-winning book explores the question of why, after several generations of suffrage and a revival of the women's movement in the late 1960s, there remains a disparity in most kinds of political activity between men and women in the U.S.
Using a variety of survey data, Burns and colleagues assess the explanations usually given for women's lower level of political activity. Among them: women are too busy, they're too distracted by child rearing, and they've been socialized not to participate in political action. "We found that the problem is really created outside of politics because people make gender matter in all kinds of settings from the family to schools to religious institutions and workplaces," Burns said. "The sum of many small inequalities adds up to a systematic difference in political participation by women. But these small inequalities are both hard to see and hard to change.
"In addition, women are a little less interested in politics than men are. But we found one thing that caused women to become more interested in politics and that is when a woman is a politician. That matters to women, and when that happens, their political interest goes way up."
Since 1999, Burns has been co-principal investigator, with UM political scientist Don Kinder, of the National Election Studies (NES). Now funded by the National Science Foundation, the studies started in 1948 and provide the longest unbroken time-series of electoral attitudes and behavior in the world, allowing scholars and pundits to track long-term trends and unravel the political impact of historical events.
"The NES is unique," said Burns. "We work very hard to make sure our samples, the details of our methods, and a core of our questions are exactly the same from year to year. That means we can learn what is ordinary about any election and what is extraordinary. Without this attention to the details of the time series, any comparison is a fake comparison and scientific knowledge is severely compromised."
"She will be an absolutely great director. She has boundless energy, is a proven scholar, and a person with proven leadership qualities—as exemplified by her leadership of the National Election Studies," said William Zimmerman, former director of the Center for Political Studies. "I was surprised to learn that Professor Burns is the first woman to direct an ISR Center. Since a major strand in her distinguished research career has pertained to the quantitative analysis of gender studies, it is perhaps fitting that such is the case."
Contact: Diane Swanbrow