Christopher Uggen

Regents Professor

Sociology and Law, College of Liberal Arts, 2016

Regents Professor Christopher Uggen, Distinguished McKnight Professor and Martindale Chair, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts (CLA), is a pioneer in the study of crime and punishment over the life course. He ranks among the nation’s most cited and productive criminologists. He is perhaps best known for his scholarship on felon disenfranchisement in the United States: the practice of denying voting rights to persons with criminal records even after they have served their sentences. Moreover, Uggen and political scientist Jeff Manza were the first to document the astonishing fact that over five million American citizens were denied the right to participate in the political process by voting and that in several states, felony disenfranchisement affects one in four African-American men. According to Ross Matsueda, Blumstein-Jordan Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, “Uggen’s work shook the foundations of the criminal justice system.” Since he began writing on felon disenfranchisement in 1998, 26 states have moved to re-enfranchise over a million voters. With Devah Pager of Harvard and other scholars, his research on the effects of low-level arrest records on employability galvanized the state of Minnesota and 23 other states to adopt fair hiring policies for people with criminal records. Uggen is considered to be one of the few scholars who is not only driving the conversation within his area and discipline, but is also bringing these insights to other disciplines such as political science, law, and economics. 

Uggen is a prolific publisher of his research on topics ranging from prisoner reentry to sexual harassment, and from deportation to felon disenfranchisement. In the past year alone, he has published eight peer-reviewed articles in top journals, four edited volumes, and several book chapters. He has been profiled, cited, and photographed in the New York Times, and regularly writes op-eds and conducts interviews with the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and the Washington Post. With Doug Hartmann, he edited the popular Contexts magazine and founded the TheSocietyPages.org. This multimedia social science site draws approximately one million readers per month and has thus far led to six volumes that cover the field on crime, race, politics, debt, and culture, and gender. His landmark volume with Jeff Manza, Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, is considered to be a classic in the fields of sociological criminology and political sociology. Uggen’s work is so important that he is frequently called upon to testify in the highest levels of government such as the U.S. Capitol on work and crime, the White House on parental incarceration, and the U.S. Supreme Court on felon disenfranchisement. Uggen’s next book with Oxford University Press, Prisons and Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration, is expected to become the definitive monograph in the field. 

Uggen is described as an amazing teacher and mentor who has served as a primary advisor for a new generation of “movers and shakers” in sociology and criminology. In addition, his research is a model for his students. He is known for building undergraduates into his research teams and publishes with undergraduate as well as graduate students. In fact, Uggen’s graduate and undergraduate students are often credited with first-authorship on influential papers. The list of his students who have gone on to get their doctorates at the University and in other top graduate programs is impressive, as is the number who have gone on to tenured faculty positions. One former student who is now a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote, “Chris’ influence extends into almost all aspects of my professional life. The time he gave me during my formative intellectual years impacts how I think, write, and evaluate other research. His influence is clear in all my published work and the intellectual core of my best ideas are directly linked to him.” In 2015, the American Sociological Association honored him with the Krivo-Peterson Mentoring Award, which recognizes outstanding mentoring of graduate students. 

Uggen’s leadership and service at the University of Minnesota and in his professional community is exceptional. His research and volunteer work with the Minnesota Department of Corrections has influenced criminal policy reform within the state, as well as drawn national attention. As co-chair of the University’s Strategic Plan workgroup “Embracing Excellence and Rejecting Complacency” Issue Team, he played a key leadership role in shaping the University’s future direction. He was recommended by his colleagues and served as the only faculty representative on the Board of Regents Athletics Oversight Committee and the General Counsel Search Committee. He has also served as vice-chair of the Faculty and Senate Consultative Committees, and chaired the CLA Council of Chairs. In addition, he has held numerous other leadership positions, including serving six years as chair of the Department of Sociology. He has served as a member on several committees, including the All-University Tenure Committee, the Research and Scholarly Advisory Panel, the CLA Engagement Committee, and the Executive Advisory Board of the University Research Outreach Center, to name a few. 

Uggen is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Distinguished McKnight Professorship (2006) and the Equal Justice Award for Research (2011), and he was named a Fellow of the American Society of Criminology (2013). He has received awards from the American Society of Criminology and International Society for Criminology for his early scholarly work, as well as first prize paper awards from major sociological and criminological societies. Uggen was recently elected vice president of the American Sociological Association. 

Professor Uggen’s career is exemplary, and we are fortunate to have him as part of our intellectual community. (Updated, 2016)

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