Timothy Luke Returns as Chair of the Department of Political Science

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Timothy Luke
Timothy Luke

Timothy Luke, a University Distinguished Professor, returns as the chair of the Department of Political Science for the fourth time since joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 1981.

He first served as acting chair from 1991 to 1992 when the department was part of the College of Arts and Sciences. A decade later, his peers elected him department chair in arts and sciences from 2001 to 2002, and then again from 2010 to 2016.

“For me, working as the chair is a service position,” he said. “I agree to fill this position when I think I’m needed in this capacity.”

Although he will still pursue his own research and work in political theory and environmental politics, he finds his time in academic leadership lends itself to his intellectual interests. Luke said that as a behavioral scientist, the ideas and processes of production, restructuring, territoriality, and sustainability on any scale fascinate him.

“Reorganization is something we do a lot at Virginia Tech with various waves of crosscutting initiatives,” Luke said, citing a current project he is working on with the provost’s office. “For the past several years, I’ve been working on the Stakeholders Committee for the Integrated Security Destination Area, for which political science will be the anchor advising point, with a cross-listed gateway and capstone class with business information technology and computer science for a new Pathway’s minor.”

Two assistant professors in the department, Aaron Brantley and Eric Jardine, are taking the lead on these classes, which stress transdisciplinary experiential learning. The destination area is opening doors to collaboration among the Pamplin College of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Science, the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, home to Luke’s department.

As a long-time advocate for transdisciplinary studies pushing across academic boundaries, Luke became active with the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost starting in 1998. He served for five years as executive director of the Institute of Distance and Distributed Learning, now Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies. During that time, he helped establish the first online master’s degree in political science in the United States. This program remains among the top-25 best degrees of this type on several ranking websites.

Luke was a senior fellow of arts, humanities, and the social sciences from 2003 to 2015, also through the provost’s office to help develop new academic programs and organizations.

Luke, as an associate dean in arts and sciences, helped the restructuring of the new College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences when the College of Arts and Sciences split in 2003. He soon followed this by founding and directing the Alliance for Social, Political, and Ethical, and Cultural Thought. This graduate-degree program brings political science together with three other College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences departments: history, philosophy, and religion and culture.

Between 2003 and 2016, Luke also helped establish the governmental and international affairs program housed in the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. He then served as that program’s chair and graduate director for the master’s in public and international affairs as well as the doctorate in planning, governance, and globalization. With these programs now being increasingly refocused in the National Capital Region, he maintains his role as associate chair for the Blacksburg location.

All these programs, he said, began with another interdisciplinary project he started with colleagues in biology, English, and computer science in 1993 — the CyberSchool.

“The university saw this experiment as a way to keep summer school alive by taking many of the classes into a sustainable, online environment,” Luke said. “It gave the students much more flexibility. They could go home in the summer, do internships, or work. They would not have to stay in Blacksburg to continue their studies.”

He added that as college costs were increasing, summer school enrollment in face-to-face courses decreased during the 1990s.

“We tried to find a way to quicken progress to degrees that would require fewer physical teaching facilities,” Luke said, “and that would allow us to experiment with new technologies and teaching modalities.”

These areas of Luke’s service to the university are just a few of many during his Virginia Tech career. He is the author of eight books, with another under contract, and co-editor of six. He has published numerous book chapters and journal articles, presented at many national and international conferences, and received numerous grants and fellowships.

Among his honors and awards are the Charles A. McCoy Career Achievement Award from the American Political Science Association; the Best Paper Award in Environmental Political Theory from the Western Political Science Association; and a General Nonfiction Honorable Mention at the London Book Festival.

His many Virginia Tech honors include the William E. Wine Award, the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the XCaliber Award for Excellence in Technology Assisted Teaching and Learning. In 1999, he was named a University Distinguished Professor, a preeminent faculty rank bestowed by the university’s Board of Visitors upon faculty members whose scholarly attainments have attracted national and even international recognition.

Luke holds a doctorate and a master’s in political science from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s in political science and a bachelor’s in government and English from the University of Arizona.

In the past when Luke was the chair, the department began other experiential learning programs, such as Hokies on the Hill, the Washington Semester in Global Engagement, and an exchange program for social science graduate students with Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany.

Admittedly, Luke said, he and other faculty members in the department, individually and together, cannot rest on past accomplishments. Even with the largest number of student majors in the college, the department addresses a range of issues, from global to national to personal.

“From public policy, to national security and foreign affairs, to international relations,” he said, “our department touches on so many areas that are critical to everyday life.”

Written by Leslie King