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American Today

On Campus

Conversations with New Leaders Across Campus: Part II

By Mike Unger

An impressive array of new administrators have joined AU this summer, and American Today wanted to get to know these accomplished people a little better. This is the second in an occasional series of Q&As with the newest members of the AU administrative team.

Jennifer Lawless (Director, Women and Politics Institute)

What excited you most about coming to AU?

I was very happy at Brown University and I loved Rhode Island. But the opportunity to join the AU faculty and the Women and Politics Institute was simply too incredible to forgo. Almost everything I have done personally, professionally, and politically for the last six years has been geared to increase women’s political representation. The Women and Politics Institute, and its location in Washington, provide the unique proximity and platform to broaden the scope and reach of my research, as well as shape the national dialogue regarding women and politics. I can think of no better place to achieve these goals.

What role will you be playing with Women and Politics?

As director, I work to close the gender gap in political leadership. We provide young women with academic training that encourages them to become involved in the political process. We facilitate faculty and student research so as to enhance our understanding of the challenges women face in the political arena. We offer the only graduate and undergraduate certificates in women, policy, and political leadership. And we give women the skills necessary to run for public office, pursue a variety of political careers, and develop their leadership capabilities.
What is your primary academic interest, and how did you develop a passion for it?

The majority of my research centers on gender as a critical vehicle to examine the legitimacy and inclusiveness of U.S. campaigns, elections, and political institutions. My book and most of my current work focused on the gender gap in political ambition. Based on data from a national panel study I conducted, I find that women, even in the highest tiers of professional accomplishment, are substantially less likely than men to demonstrate ambition to seek elected office. Women are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office. They are less likely than men to think they are ‘qualified’ to run for office. And they are less likely than men to express a willingness to run for office in the future.

This gender gap in political ambition persists across generations. Despite cultural evolution and society’s changing attitudes toward women in politics, running for public office remains a much less attractive and feasible endeavor for women than men.

This work is so important to me because the United States ranks 85th worldwide in the percentage of women serving in the national legislature. When the 111th Congress convened in January 2009, 83 percent of its members were men. Three-quarters of statewide elected officials and state legislators are men. Men occupy the governor’s mansion in 44 of the 50 states, and they run city hall in 89 of the 100 largest cities across the country. Moreover, whereas the 1980s saw a gradual increase in the number of women holding public office, and the 1990s experienced relatively dramatic surges, the last several election cycles indicate a plateau at the state legislative level and only very marginal increases at the federal level. Unless we understand the reasons for women’s exclusion from the political arena, we will not be able to identify the factors that could close the ambition gap.
Have you ever lived in D.C. before?

In college, I interned for a semester on Capitol Hill. I lived in Alexandria, but that’s the closest I came to living in D.C.

What museums or sights are you most looking forward to visiting?

I’m excited to take it all in—nothing in particular. It’s just a great city and I’m thrilled to be living here!

Jeffrey Hakim (Associate Dean for the Sciences, College of Arts and Science, Professor since 1989)

What excites you most about your new position at AU?

The new AU administration is committed to building up the sciences and the research profile of AU. I find that exciting, and I want to do what I can to contribute.

What does your role as associate dean for the sciences entail?

I don’t have a precise job description. So I have the freedom to pursue the things I believe will most benefit the sciences. Here are some priorities: (1) we need to assure that our science laboratory facilities allow researchers in the sciences to do top-notch research, (2) we need to increase our grant production to support science research and education, (3) we need to partner with AU’s professional schools to create new interdisciplinary initiatives in areas such as science policy, (4) we need to foster an academic community in the sciences that facilitates learning (undergraduate and graduate) and research, (5) we need to investigate our options for creating quality doctoral programs in the sciences.

What is your primary academic interest, and how did you develop a passion for it?

I am a mathematician. In college, I was an electrical engineer for a semester, then a physicist for a semester, and then number theory drew me to mathematics. In a strange way, the mathematics used by electrical engineers, physicists, and number theorists all come together in the field of representation theory, the area of my research. That is probably why it seemed natural to me that I should study representation theory.

What first drew you to AU?

Back in 1989, there were personal reasons and an attraction to D.C. that made me want to come to AU. These days, the department and the university are much better, and it is more important for me to be at AU rather than to be in D.C.

What are some of your favorite museums or sights in D.C.?

I have a two-year-old daughter. So going out on the town is going to a playground or a zoo. Check back with me in a few years.