Political science professor Lee Sigelman passes away

Political science professor Lee Sigelman passed away Monday night after a two-year battle with colon cancer. He was 64.

Lee Sigelman. Courtesy of Political Science Department.
Lee Sigelman. Courtesy of Political Science Department.

Sigelman is credited by peers with helping to transform the political science department during his time as department chair and after. He was a prolific author with five books and hundreds of peer-reviewed articles to his name but will be remembered by his “family” at GW for his sense of humor and devotion to students and junior colleagues, friends said.

His profile on the Political Science Department’s Web site has been updated by department chair Forrest Maltzman to reflect his passing:

Lee’s passing comes almost two and a half years after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. During that time, Lee published a book, edited another one (forthcoming), published a dozen articles, helped to start one of the most successful academic blogs in the country, directed GW’s honors program, chaired two different university professor searches and the department’s chair selection committee, served as a member of the department’s Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure committee and American politics search committee, took the lead coordinating numerous academic program reviews throughout the college, and regularly ate a large cookie in the department’s lunch room.

To his colleagues within the department and well beyond, Lee was the perfect colleague and role model. Lee left us all a generous gift: a department that values high standards and pursues a vision of excellence, disciplinary pluralism, collegiality, decision-making based upon open debate and analytical reasoning, transparency, mutual respect, and a sense of humor. Few people have touched as many other people in such a positive way as Lee. He was an institution builder, scholar, mentor, and friend. His wisdom will live on within us and will shape our department in the years ahead.

Maltzman added in an e-mail to The Hatchet that the political science department had “thrived” under Sigelman’s direction.

“In addition to publishing a great deal, Lee came to GW with the mandate to build a top-ranked political science department,” Maltzman said. “He succeeded.”

Fellow GW professor and Monkey Cage founder John Sides, who has written a series of posts about Sigelman describing everything from his penchant for oddball articles to his “quasi-grandfather” status, agreed.

“Lee built a department that is an unusual combination of collegiality and intellectual excellence.  Some departments have smart people.  Some have nice people.  We have both,” Sides said in an e-mail.

Sigelman was devoted to the department and remained active in University life even as he battled cancer and underwent chemotherapy, Sides said.

“That selflessness sets him apart from many faculty, for whom administrative appointments and committee work are to be avoided at all costs,” Sides said.

Professor Eric Lawrence also wrote a colorful and moving piece in Sigelman’s memory, remembering an arranged visit for the close-knit department to visit Sigelman in his last weeks.

“The next day, John and I shared our common impression of how remarkably similar our conversation had been to a normal lunch conversation,” Lawrence wrote. “The only difference, for me, anyway, was that instead of going into my office to work, I got into my car and cried. Lee will be greatly missed.”

On Monkey Cage, other students, colleagues and some family members left their thoughts and condolences.

“He was a wonderful mentor,” read one entry. “And, if he’s out there reading this in the great beyond, I promise I’ll never use the word impact as a verb again!”

Another noted, “The best compliment I can give him, I think, is that one would never have known he was fighting cancer.”

The department has established a fund to help junior faculty with their research endeavors, The Sigelman Fund for Political Science, in Sigelman’s name. More details can be found here.

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