Sixteen Years of ‘Onward & Upward’
Director Fay Lomax Cook to step down in August
David Figlio (r.) presents Fay Lomax Cook with a trophy to make her tenure
As one of her first acts when she became director in 1996, Fay Lomax Cook changed the organization’s name from the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, or CUAPR, to the shorter Institute for Policy Research, or IPR.
“As you can imagine, it was not an easy task,” Cook recalled. “Because many people—especially the established faculty—liked that name, CUAPR. But eventually they came to see that the Institute for Policy Research was memorable, and it fully captured what we were doing here.”
Like most of the decisions that took place under Cook’s leadership, this one was not unilateral, but rather a product of consensus building and tenacity—two of the traits that have served her well during her 16 years as IPR’s longest-acting director to date.
At a May 10 reception to honor her tenure as director, Northwestern University Provost Daniel Linzer singled Cook out for her “glass-half-full sense of optimism,” her “tireless cheerleading” and championing of IPR in the upper echelons of University administration, and her dogged persistence.
More than 80 current and former IPR faculty, students, and staff, in addition to Northwestern colleagues and friends, turned out for the event. Several spoke about working with her over the years, in particular regarding her efforts to recruit and retain the most promising social scientists for IPR and the University.
Hiring the Best and the Brightest
Two deans of the schools that IPR works most closely with recalled their dealings on faculty recruitment with Cook and how the Mississippi native’s soft-spoken Southern demeanor masked a resolute recruiter—or as one dean put it, “her Steel Magnolia part.”
“She was really positive and engaging when she wanted to woo, but then she’s a tough negotiator,” said Penelope Peterson, dean of the School of Education and Social Policy. “She never gave up. She would always bounce right up.”
Sarah Mangelsdorf, dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, listed the names of the 14 faculty that she and Cook had worked together to either recruit or retain over the past four years.
“Can you imagine this University without those people?” Mangelsdorf quizzed. “She always had a clear sense of what she thought was best for the Institution and worked tirelessly to achieve it.”
Another innovation under Cook’s leadership has been the creation of a small number of permanent IPR fellow positions, in addition to term fellows, who are appointed for three years and can be renewed. “Though representing a very small number of the overall faculty, these positions ensure continuity in our faculty and research leadership,” Cook said.
Cook has not only presided over an expansion of IPR faculty but has also worked to push forward the Institute’s mission to “stimulate and support excellent social science research on significant public policy issues and to disseminate the findings widely—to students, scholars, policymakers, and the public.”
She is particularly proud of the IPR policy research briefings, which were initially supported with a grant from the Joyce Foundation and always organized by an IPR fellow. The briefings were seen as a way to connect academics, policymakers, and the public, and to act as a conduit to “carry to a broad audience our evidence-based perspectives on crafting policy solutions for pressing social issues,” Cook said.
Featuring IPR researchers, 15 of these have been held in Chicago and Washington, D.C., since 2003 on a wide variety of topics, from No Child Left Behind and the social safety net to state fiscal crises and housing policy outcomes.
Enhancing Research Programs
In addition to bringing policy-relevant research to the greater public, Cook was also instrumental in launching a program to increase the involvement of undergraduates in research. IPR started its Summer Undergraduate Research Assistants Program in 1998, giving Northwestern undergraduates a real experience in the conceptualization and conduct of policy-relevant social science research. Beginning its 15th year, the program welcomes between 20 and 25 undergraduates annually.
“The whole project has really changed my perspective on how research is done,” said Northwestern alumnus Bill Russell (BA ‘12, Economics/Philosophy), who was in the program last summer, “but it also helped me learn more about what I’m interested in and how I can find a job doing something I enjoy, which is really what’s most important.”
Part of the Institute’s success in remaining relevant and forward-looking in terms of its research over the years has been Cook’s willingness to critically re-examine the Institute’s research programs and end, combine, or start new ones as needed. Besides the undergraduate research program, two major new research areas were launched in the last eight years: IPR’s Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health in 2005, and IPR’s Center for Improving Methods for Quantitative Policy Research, or the Q-Center, in 2006.
“We saw a need to link the life, biomedical, and social sciences to chart new directions in understanding the origins and consequences of disparities in physical and psychological health,” said IPR developmental psychologist Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
, who was C2S’ founding director. “Fay was instrumental in getting C2S off the ground, not just in providing funding but also by supporting an entirely new vision of how we, as researchers, can examine inequality and deliver policy-relevant solutions.”
Celebrating 40 Years of IPR Research
IPR's five directors reunited: (from l.) Raymond Mack,
Burton Weisbrod, Louis Masotti, Fay Lomax Cook,
and Magaret Gordon
Nowhere was this more evident than at the IPR 40th anniversary conference, “Dynamics of Inequality in America from 1968 to Today,” which Cook took the lead in organizing in April 2009.
“Inequality has remained a major theme woven through much of our faculty research over the years,” Cook said at the time. While some progress had been made, she noted that much more remains to be done to reduce inequality in the United States. “The IPR model of rigorous, interdisciplinary, and policy-relevant research is critical to understanding inequality and forging creative and coherent policies to tackle disparities,” she said.
The two-day conference welcomed more than 200 participants and 20 national experts who examined a variety of themes, including housing, social disparities and health, political participation, race, urban studies, and education. Many of those who spoke were either current or former IPR fellows, such as sociologist Sandy Jencks and political scientist Jane Mansbridge of Harvard, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, and University of Chicago sociologist Charles Payne.
Another one of the former faculty members who returned for IPR’s 40th, and also for the reception to honor Cook, was Yale economist Joseph Altonji.
“Very few people are able to lead a complex institution like IPR,” said Altonji, who was Cook’s first associate director from 1996 to 1998. He enumerated some of the reasons for her success, including her mentoring of graduate students and faculty, her “leading by example” with her scholarship, her ability to listen and recognize opportunities, her genuine interest in social processes, and finally, her “off-the-charts” ability as a “kind, caring, and skillful people person.”
Cook, who is also a professor of human development and social policy, continued to teach and research while director. She broadened her areas of expertise in public opinion and Social Security, which included publishing two books and more than 30 journal articles and chapters while leading IPR. She will carry on with these scholarly pursuits once she steps down, in addition to teaching graduates and undergraduates.
Fay Lomax Cook Monday Colloquium Series
At the end of the reception, IPR education economist David Figlio —who will succeed Cook as director—announced that the Institute’s signature Monday colloquium series will be renamed the “Fay Lomax Cook Monday Colloquium Series.”
“Since she instituted it, the series has become one of the great IPR traditions,” Figlio stated.
In thanking him for the honor, Cook noted, “The foundation that we all stand on at IPR was put into place by the people who directed IPR before me,” citing Raymond Mack, Louis Masotti, Margaret Gordon, and Burton Weisbrod.
“To repeat my mantra, as I go ‘onward and upward,’ I could not be happier to be leaving IPR to my dear friend and wonderful colleague, David Figlio,” Cook said. “I have no doubt that he will surpass me in every way in leading IPR ‘onward and upward.’”