CHICAGO -- Last year, a study  in Georgetown Public Policy Review exposed the extent to which a relatively small number of graduate programs in political science dominate placement in Ph.D.-granting departments. The study looked at the 116 universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report for political science graduate programs, and examined where all of the tenure-track or tenured faculty members earned their doctorates. The top four institutions in the magazine's rankings of departments -- Harvard, Princeton and Stanford Universities and the University of Michigan -- were the Ph.D. alma maters of 616 of the political scientists at the 116 universities (roughly 20 percent of the total). The top 11 institutions were collectively responsible for the doctoral education of about half of those in tenured or tenure-track positions at the 116 universities.
On Saturday, the author of that study -- Robert L. Oprisko of Butler University -- presented expanded findings here at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. The paper argues not only that some departments may have more historical dominance but that others may be on the rise right now (judging from the number of assistant professors they have placed). While Oprisko is critical of a system that seems to place so much emphasis on Ph.D. pedigree, he also argues that this information needs wider circulation to help would-be graduate students make informed choices. (Oprisko earned his Ph.D. at Purdue University, not one of the dominant institutions). The paper -- also by Kirstie L. Dobbs of Loyola University Chicago and Joseph DiGrazia of Indiana University -- may be found at the website of the Social Science Research Network. 
The data presented Saturday looked at the Ph.D.s of all faculty members who are tenure-track or tenured at institutions that grant Ph.D.s in political science, but also at how many of those placements are at the assistant professor level. Because assistant professors would have been recently placed, they reflect the current ability of department graduates to land good jobs at research universities.
Harvard tops both lists, but while it has a large lead over the second place University of California at Berkeley in total Ph.D. alumni at research universities, Harvard is ahead of Berkeley by only one in the assistant professor category. This suggests Berkeley is gaining ground on Harvard in what Oprisko argued is a key factor in graduate program desirability.
Oprisko acknowledged that the study does not count the many political scientists who find meaningful careers at teaching oriented institutions that don't award Ph.D.s (some of whom challenged him on this point at the session here) or in careers outside academe, but he said that Ph.D. programs have greater influence on the field (by training future professors) and that many who enroll in Ph.D. programs want research-oriented careers.
And the study finds that some institutions that may not have been historically at the very top in Ph.D. placement have been doing much better lately.
For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Cornell University are 12th and 13th, respectively, on the list in terms of number of Ph.D. alumni in political science working as tenured or tenure-track faculty members at research universities. But they have more placements of assistant professors than does the University of Chicago (ranked 5th).
And Florida State University, while ranked 30th over all in jobs held at research universities by its Ph.D. alumni, also has more assistant professor placements than all but three of the institutions ranked 15th to 29th, and several ranked above 15.
Oprisko stressed that he still thinks political science hiring is too focused on elite institutions -- and could benefit from less emphasis on hiring from elite programs. He said it is "possible, but very, very unprobable" that all of the best candidates come from the most highly ranked programs. And he said he believes others' perspectives are lost by this pattern.
Here are the top programs, by number of Ph.D. alumni on the faculties at the 116 universities that award Ph.D.s in political science.
Top Political Science Programs in Placing Ph.D.s in Tenure-Track Jobs at Research Universities
|Rank (Total)||University||Total Ph.D. Alumni Placed||Total Placements of Assistant Professors|
|2||U. of California at Berkeley||216||45|
|3||U. of Michigan||170||32|
|5||U. of Chicago||155||21|
|11||U. of Wisconsin at Madison||93||18|
|12||U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||91||25|
|14||U. of Minnesota - Twin Cities||84||17|
|15 (tie)||Indian U. at Bloomington||74||12|
|15 (tie)||Ohio State U.||74||22|
|17||U. of Rochester||64||16|
|18 (tie)||Duke U.||61||23|
|18 (tie)||Northwestern U.||61||11|
|20||Washington U. in St. Louis||56||12|
|21||U. of California at San Diego||53||25|
|22||Johns Hopkins U.||52||12|
|23 (tie)||U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||47||12|
|23 (tie)||U. of Texas at Austin||47||15|
|25||New York U.||42||11|
|26 (tie)||U. of Iowa||41||9|
|27||Michigan State U.||41||10|
|28||U. of Virginia||40||7|
|30||Florida State U.||38||17|