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Political Science grad student finds his academic best fit at UH

Robert Ross, PhD in Political Science, has accepted a tenure-track appointment at Utah State

Mr. Robert Ross

Robert Ross was completing his master’s degree in political science at the University of Chicago when he realized he needed to be in Houston.

“Based on my research interests, my master’s thesis advisor in Chicago recommended that I attend UH specifically to work with Dr. Jeremy Bailey,” he said.

Ross reviewed Associate Professor Bailey’s articles and books and found a political science scholar interested in the same slice of early American political theory and gamesmanship that intrigued him.

“Dr. Bailey’s method of approaching early political history called American Political Development is unique,” Ross said. “There are not a lot of scholars who study and do this method.”

Ross hedged his bets and applied to the UH political science doctoral program and several others, including the University of Texas, The University of Notre Dame, University of Indiana, University of Virginia, Boston College and University of Toronto.

“I received a few offers, but I felt that Houston was the best fit for what I wanted to do,” Ross said. “I did not consider staying at the University of Chicago because I didn’t think it was a good fit for my research project.”

While at UH, Ross worked with Dr. Bailey as a teaching assistant and a research assistant, including infrequent stints teaching Dr. Bailey’s classes when the professor was out of town.

“Working with Dr. Bailey definitely refined my own thinking about the founding and the framers of the Constitution,” Ross said. “In a way, it both confirmed and challenged my previous understanding--I always felt as if I was learning something new, but it all felt very familiar.  It was a credit to Dr. Bailey that he was able to take where I was with my theories and push the limits of what I thought I understood.”

Ross’s research focuses on early American constitutional development. His dissertation is titled, The Constitutional Development of Political Parties: A Theory of Emerging Structures and Reoccurring Patterns of Political Opposition.

Dr. Bailey said, “Robert's dissertation takes on a sacred cow in political science and in the history of the early republic. Specifically, he finds evidence to challenge the long dominant view that the American Founders created a ‘Constitution-against-parties’ and that the parties did not become accepted as a positive part of political life until the 1830's.

“Instead, Robert shows how members of the founding generation revised their understanding of parties as they revised the rules of their constitutional politics. And by showing that the Constitution is not against parties, Robert reveals a solution to constitutional controversies regarding parties today.”

In between his research and working towards his doctorate, Ross maintained a busy personal life. He and his wife are raising their 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

“Finding a balance between work and family was one of my biggest challenges,” said Ross. “I got married as an undergraduate, we had our son when I was in my Master’s program, and our daughter was born when I first started here at UH.”

Ross said his children have learned to recognize when he needs to work and when he’s able to play.

“My wife is at home with our kids, so she has the harder job. She has been a great support,” said Ross, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University.

As his family’s primary wage earner, Ross said his graduate student stipends did not provide for extras. He was awarded a fellowship from an outside organization to complete his dissertation last year, which he says helped a lot. Even so, Ross says living on a student’s income was tough.

“We had to stay on a very fixed budget, and we kept weekly expense reports to make sure we stayed within the budget,” he said. “I also worked as much as I could during the summers to help cover expenses and provide additional money throughout the year. We did rely on some student loans when the stipend, my summer earnings, and the little my wife made occasionally babysitting were not enough.  Overall we had to forgo a lot of conveniences, but we always seemed to have enough to make ends meet.”

Soon after being awarded his PhD on May 9, 2014, Ross and his family will relocate to Utah. He has accepted a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at Utah State University.

“They needed someone to teach constitutional law within their law and constitutional studies program,” he said. “While at UH, I specialized in public law and political theory. They needed classes filled in those areas, so it was an ideal fit for me.”

The career move also has the added benefit of bringing the family closer to his wife’s relatives, allowing his children to grow up near their extended family.

Once in Utah, Ross will turn his attention to getting his dissertation published and starting research on what may be his next book – the  meaning of an early constitutional text and how it can further our understanding of current, contemporary politics.

- By Monica Byars