Faculty Spotlight

Jalalzai sees 'huge opportunity' for growing department

Farida Jalalzai had chaired the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Department of Political Science for two years when she came to Oklahoma State University for a non-administrative position in August 2015. Thanks to a recent promotion, she is now head of OSU’s Department of Political Science.

Jalalzai served as interim department head from July 2017 to July 2018, when she accepted the promotion. She is excited to utilize her experience at both universities to oversee what she calls a “moment of reflection” for the Department.

“We have a huge opportunity because we have some positions to fill and we could grow up to 50 percent over the next few years,” Jalalzai said. “We are establishing a five-year strategic plan. We have invited three external reviewers from different universities across the country to observe what we’re doing and help us determine what we should do in the future. We want to build on the things we do uniquely well.”

The Department’s strengths include teaching and research about American political behavior, campaigns, elections, minority politics, and conflict and security studies. Jalalzai wants to ensure the plan reflects that without falling into the trap of assuming the best choice is always to maintain the status quo that led to past success.

“It’s easy to move through, year to year, without a clear path,” Jalalzai said. “That’s tempting to do, but you won’t progress that way. Our department doesn’t have a lot of institutional memory, which can be challenging. We are at this really important moment of introspection before rolling up our sleeves and doing something new. We are committed to taking some clear ideas that we have really discussed as a faculty and throwing them out there for criticism by people from some of our aspirant peers.”

Jalalzai expects that feedback to boost the faculty’s creativity in determining how and where to go next. And what they do is key for society because of their subject matter.

“We are the department that studies policy, policy-making and political institutions,” Jalalzai said. “That’s huge. We can train the next generation of policy leaders. We are good at providing students first-hand experiences that link theoretical knowledge with real-world application. The discipline of political science is really important because politics has so many implications.”

As an example, look no further than Jalalzai’s research focus: gender politics worldwide, and especially women becoming top executives – prime ministers and presidents. Despite what the polls said and what her gut was telling her, Jalalzai’s expertise indicated that Hillary Clinton would lose the 2016 presidential election.

One aspect of the race that resonated with Jalalzai personally was Donald Trump’s comments about immigrants and Muslims. She is one of six children born to a Muslim couple who immigrated from Pakistan, settling in northern New York in the early 1970s. Her father, a physician, was recruited to America, where his career thrived.

Jalalzai is also thriving, professionally and personally. Her husband, Chad Hankinson, is also a Department of Political Science faculty member. They have two boys – Elam, 9, and Idris, 2.

Along with becoming an administrator at a second university, she has written two books and edited a third about women’s political empowerment.

Jalalzai earned all three of her political science degrees in the State University of New York system – a 1996 bachelor’s from The College at Brockport, and both a 2000 master’s and 2004 Ph.D. at the University of Buffalo.

She taught at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny College in 2004-05 before moving on to St. Louis. She was there for a decade until she saw OSU had an opening for the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair. As the chairholder, Jalalzai receives resources to promote diversity in research, teaching and service.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds like what I’m already doing, but now I will have funding to do things like bring in guest lecturers and help students trying to become leaders,’” Jalalzai said. “Obviously I got the job, and this endowment helps me do even more of something so important to me.”

Atkins (1923-2010) was the first African-American woman elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature. She later served simultaneously as Oklahoma’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Social Services. She advocated for civil and women’s rights, education, and improvements in health care, including mental health. She also taught at OSU, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University.

The Department of Political Science honored Atkins in 1992 by creating the endowed professorship, later boosted to an endowed chair. The funding came from many donors, including the Friends of the OSU Library.

Jalalzai added the Hannah Atkins Memorial Lecture Series in September 2016. It features on-campus presentations from researchers improving understanding about political empowerment of minority groups and traditionally disadvantaged peoples.

“I am proud to be affiliated with Hannah Atkins’ legacy,” Jalalzai said. “She was a political trailblazer.”