When distinguished researcher James Jackson takes over as director of what is often called the best social research institute in the world, he will face the task of maintaining its considerable reputation.

Beth Dykstra

“This is one of those cases that we often have at Michigan when we have the best program in the world — the first course of business is always keeping it the best,” Provost Paul Courant said.

Courant announced last week that distinguished researcher James Jackson will take over as director of the University’s Institute for Social Research, effective July 1.

Jackson currently directs the ISR’s Research Center for Group Dynamics, the Program for Research on Black Americans and the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies. He is also a social psychologist and the Daniel Katz Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

“He’s been at the University for over 30 years and has an international reputation as one of the leading social researchers of our time,” Courant said. “It’s a long list of accomplishments. He’s a very, very able man.”

In 1980, Jackson directed the first-ever survey with a nationally representative sample of black Americans. Finding blacks to survey in the rural South and urban areas was easy, but surveyors wanted a truly nationally representative sample, including blacks in mainly white, sparsely populated areas such as Montana and Wyoming.

Going door-to-door would have been too expensive and taken too long. Jackson’s idea to ask whites in the area, who knew exactly where all the black families lived, solved the problem. He dubbed the procedure the Wide Area Sampling Procedure — WASP.

He has published many books and articles, most notably on race relations, aging, health, immigration and African-American politics.

As the head of ISR, Jackson will lead over 600 regular staff members and more than 1,000 temporary employees involved in fielding surveys all over the country. He will also be in charge of a budget of about $75 million a year.

Jackson will replace current ISR Director David Featherman, who is stepping down after his second five-year term as director. He will remain in ISR, becoming the director of its Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society.

“I am very pleased that James will guide the institute through what could be a challenging period for the institute’s scientific leadership because of tighter federal funding,” Featherman said in a written statement. “He will be a strong advocate for the importance of social science in national conversations about important policies like Social Security and Medicare.”

Jackson will also aim to increase collaboration among the different centers under the umbrella of ISR.



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