by Alexis Lee
A Texas A&M University professor is beginning his 50th year at the university ranked among the world’s top political scientists.
Dr. Arnold Vedlitz, professor of public service and administration at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, has been included in Research.com’s 2023 rankings of political scientists, at number 420 worldwide and 237 in the United States. The site, a prominent platform for academics and researchers, mentions Vedlitz’s expertise in public policy, climate science and social issues.
Vedlitz is the director and a Distinguished Research Scholar of the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy (ISTPP) and holds the Bob Bullock Chair in Government and Public Policy at the Bush School. He has served at the Bush School since its opening in 1997 and played an integral role in its creation.
Vedlitz’s career in political science began with his interest in the political movements of his youth. “I’m a child of the ‘60s,” Vedlitz said. “I graduated high school and college in the ‘60s, and so I was part of the women’s movement, and the civil rights movement, and the human rights movement.”
Vedlitz graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Louisiana State University. His plans to attend law school to become a civil rights attorney were foiled due to limited funds and because of the lack of law school night classes at that time. So, Vedlitz secured a teaching job and began taking night courses in political science, constitutional law and civil rights, eventually earning a master’s degree from Louisiana State University in 1970. Vedlitz’s graduate adviser convinced him to pursue a Ph.D.
“He came to me, and he said, ‘You know, you could be a good lawyer, and maybe you’ll make a difference in civil rights, but you’d really make a good social science professor. You really should consider getting a Ph.D. in political science,’” Vedlitz said. “So I said, ‘How would I pay for that?’ He said, ‘They will pay YOU to go to school.’ So, I applied for graduate school, and he was right, they did pay me.”
Vedlitz received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston and shortly thereafter, came to work at Texas A&M, where he helped develop the doctorate program in political science before joining the Bush School.
“A&M was young when I got here,” Vedlitz said. “It only had about 16,000 to 17,000 students, if I am remembering correctly. Its programs in the humanities and social sciences were immature, they were still growing in excellence and developing their sense of who they were. But it really was a great fit for me because A&M is a very entrepreneurial place. When I came to Texas A&M, there was no political science Ph.D. program here; it was very much an undergraduate-oriented program. The whole idea was to build a nationally recognized Ph.D. program in the political science department. So, I helped that, and I was a political science professor in that department for 30 years until I switched to the Bush School. ”
It was because of Vedlitz’s role in the political science department and leadership programs that he was recruited by the Board of Regents to aid in the creation of the Bush School. “My history with the Bush School is ancient — before the Bush School ever existed,” Vedlitz said.
Shortly after President George H.W. Bush was elected in 1988, the Board of Regents and other influential Aggies expressed a desire to host his presidential library at Texas A&M. At that time, Vedlitz was the executive associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts. The Board of Regents contacted Vedlitz and other leaders at Texas A&M to begin plans for building a proposal. In the brainstorming process, the idea arose to include a school of public affairs as well.
Vedlitz detailed the moment the idea for the Bush School was born: “We were at a restaurant and wrote it on the back of a napkin, the idea of having a school, something that would make our proposal unique and special. It was at the old Café Eccel on Church Street. It’s a big parking garage and apartment complex now. But we were there. There were three of us — Bryan Jones, George Edwards and myself.”
Vedlitz considers the creation of the Bush School one of his proudest accomplishments. His other achievements at Texas A&M include starting the Eisenhower Leadership Development Program, creating the Center for Public Leadership Studies that would become integrated with the Bush School and eventually become the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy (ISTPP), and serving as executive associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and of the Bush School several times. He has also taught multiple courses.
“I was wearing many hats,” Vedlitz said. “As director of ISTPP, I supervised a large staff. It was a big enterprise, and took a lot of effort to make it the internationally known institute it is today. I am very proud of my excellent staff and colleagues who helped make that happen.”
Vedlitz has significantly encouraged students and the Texas A&M community. “It’s been an honor…to mentor faculty and staff and to push out students who go to work for local, state, and federal governmental agencies, or who go to work in academics, or who go to work for nonprofit agencies, and carry the things that we teach them, the good values, the good skills, the strong work ethic. That means your work lives on after you are gone.”
Vedlitz emphasized that his ranking as a top political scientist does not come from work in isolation. He listed several mentors and colleagues, including Sam Kirkpatrick, Paul Van Riper, Richard Murray, Sam Brody, Carol Goldsmith, Bryan Jones and Xinsheng Liu, among others.
“Everything I’ve accomplished is shared with them. I could not have done it without their help, without their excellence,” he said.