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CJ Doctoral Programs Seek To Establish Academic Purpose

Are criminal justice doctoral programs the Rodney Daingerfield of academia?

The lack of respect for one of the nation's fastest growing disciplines is one of the issues directors of approximately 30 of those programs are addressing at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Tex. this weekend as they meet at the university's Criminal Justice Center to formally organize.

"Criminal justice is an area where knowledge directly pays off in quality of life," said Todd Clear, distinguished professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York and one of the organizers of the meeting.  

"Because of recent advancements in education in the field of criminal justice, we now have a set of initiatives involving crime prevention that have all come out of experiments done within the last few years. We now have a set of identification procedures for identifying suspects through lineups and eyewitness testimony. We have an array of classification devices for identifying which offenders, including sex offenders, should receive the most resources, all which have been done by social scientists doing studies.   Money spent in this area leads to new ideas."

The directors have been meeting informally since the mid-1970s when there were less than 10 criminal justice doctoral programs nationwide.   That number has more than tripled, and directors of the programs, which have named themselves the Association of Doctoral Programs in Criminology and Criminal Justice, feel the time has come to develop some common goals and a plan for direction.   Participants include those from well-established programs like the one at Sam Houston State University, which launched the criminal justice doctoral program in 1971, to those which are newly established.

Each year, as the directors met, they noticed how quickly the discipline was changing, not only in terms of record growth, but also in the demands that were being placed on faculty and graduates to meet the expectations of society. Six years ago, the group began to survey peer programs to determine such information as Graduate Record Examination scores, race and ethnicity of students coming into the programs and graduating, salaries, number of applicants, faculty funding awarded, and race and ethnicity of faculty members.

"We felt that having this information would help us do our jobs better," said Clear. "This kind of feedback shows each program where it stands in comparison to its peers."

Because the field of criminal justice is relatively new in higher education compared to traditional fields such as the arts, sciences, business and humanities, the group is aware of the need to define itself as a legitimate academic area.

"Although other fields have longevity over us in terms of existence, we are often one of the top five majors on many college campuses," said Clear.   "We have experienced enormously rapid growth, yet in some ways we are still not taken very seriously as an academic field in the same manner as those fields which have been around for a long time such as, English, history or psychology."

The fast growth of the criminal justice field has attracted a lot of attention from other disciplines on campuses, but Clear said that some of the attention has not been very friendly.

"We want to define and show what we do," he said.   "We have compared our publication rates to those in other disciplines, and frankly, we have found that our faculty members are as productive, and in some cases more productive in high impact journals and books, than faculty members in disciplines which are similar to us such as political science and psychology."

Two of the key targets of the group's attention-getting campaign are the public and private sectors that concern themselves with evaluating doctoral programs---the U.S. News and World Report and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The Association of Doctoral Programs feels like we've made a strong argument to be included in the NRC's ranking of doctoral programs," said Clear.   "In many respects we have the characteristics in which they are interested.   But previously when they've produced their rankings of academic programs, criminal justice has been left out.   They haven't counted our graduates or our programs correctly and underestimated the number of programs we have.   Also, they don't understand what our graduates do."

Clear said that the perception is that criminal justice doctoral graduates go on to work in such professional programs as law enforcement and corrections.   In fact, most Ph.D. graduates go on to teach in higher education, and the discipline has grown so rapidly that there are consistently more teaching positions available at colleges and universities, than there are graduates to fill them.

"The fact that most of our doctoral graduates are employed in entry level assistant professor positions makes us look more similar to traditional academic disciplines like political science or sociology rather than public administration," said Clear.

"Therefore, we are aware of the need to educate our external environment about what we do," he said, "and that is important on our own individual campuses."

The group is also very much aware of the influence of doctoral program rankings in the U.S. News and World Report.   But Clear doesn't give much credence to the way the ranking is currently done, and he would like to see the evaluations done with more substantial and accurate data.

"Right now, it's peer evaluation," he said. "But it does help establish a program's reputation, and it helps with leverage when your administrators are asking for funding.   Even though it's not a good way to do a ranking, it's better than no ranking at all."

Another goal the association has is to strengthen doctoral programs to be more influential in their own campus politics.   Clear cited some examples of situations where criminal justice programs have recruited students, and other disciplines have benefited from their recruitment efforts.

"We don't resent other programs getting the benefits of our work," he said, "but we do resent not being considered a serious program on our own campuses.   We have discovered that sometimes, we are viewed as being the program that attracts weaker students, and that's just not true."

A number of papers are being presented at the conference, which will discuss various ways to evaluate criminal justice doctoral programs.   And although one of the group's purposes is to establish common goals, Clear quickly pointed out that each program shouldn't be identical.

"Not everyone marches to the same drum," he said.   "Each program has its own strengths, and the strengths should be played to.   Some programs are stronger in research, some in teaching, some faculty as a whole are viewed as more conservative or liberal than others.   Students need to go where they can find the best fit for themselves."


SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
May 19, 2006
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