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Karen O'Connor Jonathan N. Helfat Distinguished Professor of Political Science Department of Government

Additional Positions at AU
Founder, Women & Politics Institute
Women’s Field Hockey Faculty Advisor
Honors 101 Faculty Advisor
J.D. State University of New York, Buffalo<br>Ph.D. State University of New York, Buffalo<br>B.A. State University of New York, College at Buffalo

Languages Spoken
Favorite Spot on Campus
Ward South
Book Currently Reading
Pink or Blue

Karen O’Connor is the Jonathan N. Helfat Distinguished Professor of Political Science at American University, where she previously served as Chair of the Department of Government. She is an expert on American politics, the courts, women and politics, and interest group politics. Along with Larry J. Sabato, she is the author of the best-selling American Politics textbook in the U.S., now in preparation for its 14th edition. Named in 2010 – 2016 by the Irish Times as one of America’s top 100 Irish lawyers (along with Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy), O’Connor twice headed the American Political Science Association’s Organized Research Section on Law and Courts. She has also testified before both the House and Senate judiciary committee subcommittees on the Constitution on the issue of reproductive rights, an area in which she has published extensively. She has also briefed various members of Congress on women’s issues including Title IX. She is currently working on a study of presidential electors based on original survey data provided electors in the 2004 – 2016 presidential elections.

She is the founder and former director of the American University’s Women & Politics Institute, which she headed for eleven years, while also serving six years as editor of Women & Politics and as president of the APSA’s Organized Research section on Women and Politics. Additionally, O'Connor served as president of the national and southern Women’s Caucus for Political Science. O’Connor is the coauthor of the leading textbook on women and politics, now in its 5th edition. She's been the editor of several books on women and politics, most recently, the two-volume Sage Handbook on Gender and Leadership, which contains more than 100 commissioned chapters on a range of women’s leadership issues from international relations, comparative politics, and American politics. She serves or has served on the editorial boards of several journals including the Journal of Politics and Women, Politics and Policy.

O’Connor is past president of the National Capital Area Political Science Association and the Southern Political Science Association. She has served on convention programs committee for the SPSA, APSA, and NCAPSA several times including chairing the SPSA’s 2000 annual meeting. At Emory University, where she taught from 1977 to 1995, she was the first woman in its history to receive the university-wide teaching award. She has published multiple times with more than 20 former students, who include a member of Congress, several judges, law professors, congressional chiefs of staff, and well-respected political scientists. She was AU’s Scholar/Teacher of the Year in 2002. She has been honored by several associations as most outstanding woman in political science and public administration as well as by the Southern Political Science Association for her contributions to the discipline. A graduate of SUNY Buffalo, where she received a JD and PhD, she was honored in 2010 as the Department of Political Science’s Most Outstanding Graduate, the first graduate student to receive that award.

For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.


Spring 2023

  • GOVT-282 Intro to Women and Politics

  • GOVT-485 Topics in Women and Politics: Politics of Reproductive Rgts

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Selected Publications

  • American Government: Roots and Reform, 10th Ed. Longman, 2008.

  • Gendering American Politics: Perspectives from the Literature, Longman, 2006.

  • Women, Politics and American Society, 4th Ed. Longman, 2004.

  • Women and Congress: Running, Winning, and RulingHaworth, 2002.

  • No Neutral Ground: Abortion Politics in an Age of Absolutes, Westview Press, 1996.

Numerous refereed journal articles, monographs, and book chapters


Professional Presentations

  • Numerous presentations for the American Political Science Association and Southern Political Science Association

  • Numerous Presentations for the Women’s Caucus for Political Science, and the National Social Science Association

  • Panelist, Gender, Power, and the Presidency, Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 60, 2008.

Media Appearances

  • Quoted in USA Today, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Financial Times, Boston Globe, etc.

  • Appearance on C-SPAN, 2008.

  • Quoted in People Weekly and TIME magazines

Congressional Testimony

  • The Scope and Myths of Roe v. Wade, U.S. House Judiciary Committee, 2006.

  • The Consequences of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 2005.

Work In Progress

  • SAGE Handbook on Women and Leadership, two-volume series

  • Official book on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • Joan Fiss Bishop Award for Contributions to the Advancement of Women in Public Administration, 2007

  • Honors Faculty Member of the Year, 2007

  • Faculty Research Award, 2006-2008

  • Manning J. Dauer Jr. Award, Southern Political Science Association, 2007

  • Jonathan N. Helfat Distinguished Professor of Political Science, 2006

  • Distinguished Professor of Government, 2006

  • Marion Irish Award for Best Paper on Women and Politics, 2005

  • Nardin Academy Hall of Fame, 2004

  • Scholar/Teacher of the Year ( American University and School of Public Affairs), 2002

  • Outstanding Woman of Achievement, Midwest Women’s Caucus for Political Science, 2002

Grants and Sponsored Research

  • Middle Eastern Peace Initiative, 2008

  • Open World Program for Russian Women Leaders, 2002-2007

  • Sloan Foundation, Work/Life/Law Project

  • NEW Leadership DC Program, 2003

  • Kellogg Foundation, 2001

  • Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission


  • Twenty-Four Little Words: The Story of the Equal Rights Amendment, 2008.

Executive Experience

  • President, National Capital Area Political Science Association, 2000-2001

  • President, Southern Political Science Association, 1999-2000

  • President, Women’s Caucus for Political Science, 1990-1991