Paula D. McClain
For the past 45 years the Academic Council has served as a the leading governing body within Duke University, pressing reforms in harassment issues, salary comparisons, and recruiting and retainment of minority faculty. Yet in those 45 years there have only been two female Chairs, Anne F. Scott in 1977, and Nancy Allen in 2002. There had never been an African-American Chair, until 2007 when Political Science professor Paula McClain was elected. The significance of her new position is not lost on McClain,
“By 2007, I thought we would no longer be talking about “firsts;” but, in academe, the number of black faculty is still very low. The same applies to women of all races on faculties across the country. Thus, it is not surprising that my election as Chair of Academic Council would still fall into the “first” category. I think it more substantive to view my election in terms of the confidence that my colleagues have placed in me rather than the “firsts” it represents. I also do not think the “firsts” associated with my election present any more or different challenges than those faced by my predecessors.”
McClain came to the Duke Political Science department in 2000, following a teaching career at the University of Virginia and having written several books including co-authoring the award-winning Can We All Get Along? Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics. In 2000 Michael Munger, chairman of Duke's political science department, said "Paula is the centerpiece of the race and politics program at Duke. (…) Having her here makes it possible for us to say, 'If you want to study race and politics, Duke is where you need to be.'"
She teaches such courses as Race and American Politics and Racial
and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics, and leads research, centered
in Durham, on the effect of the growing Latino population on the political climate
and the relationships between Blacks, Whites and Latinos in southern states.
About the changes she has followed for the past decade and the differences she has experienced in the classroom, McClain said,
“Can We All Get Along? is in its 4th edition (2006) and the content has changed as the social and political demographics have changed. The differences between 1995 and 2007 are far more complex and nuanced than the increase in the Latino population would suggest. As we know from decades of research, population size does not necessarily translate into political power, for example, citizenship status is central to the question of being able to participate in the electoral process.
What I have seen since arriving at Duke in 2000 is the change in the composition of my undergraduate classes and the increased interest in the politics of blacks, Latinos, American Indians and Asian Americans. Classes that use to be composed of primarily black and white students are now composed of all racial groups from the US and a number of foreign students. Moreover, the significance of the politics of America's racial minority groups to the larger political process and the politics of states with both significant minority populations and electoral votes have become more important and essential to understanding the American political process.”McClain’s experiences with such organizations as the Southern Political Science Association, the American Political Science Association and the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, as well as currently co-directing the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences, have made her an integral part of the academic, social and political diversity offered at Duke.