ISU Headlines

ISU political science professor Nilson retires after 20 years serving University

Posted August 12, 2009

After “20 glorious years” Idaho State University political science associate professor Douglas Nilson is retiring with emeritus status.

“It has been an event-packed 20 years and an awful lot has happened,” said Nilson, who has contributed a great deal to the university, community and his profession.

Doug NilsonNilson has taught a variety of courses about American government and politics as well “special courses” in modern political analysis. Three of the special courses he said most interested him was a “Spirit of the ‘60s” class that focused on that tumultuous decade, “Fathoming the Fifties,” and a course he helped teach on practical campaign politics, which produced some successful campaign managers.

Teaching all of the classes has had its own satisfaction: “I felt rewarded teaching about every class,” Nilson said. “Students at Idaho State are very courteous, very interested and very bright, capable people. I was deeply touched that a group of students and ex-students threw a retirement party for me.”

His primary research areas have been disaster preparedness and environmental politics.  Prior to coming to ISU Nilson worked at Arizona State University studying earthquake phenomena and how policy is made with regard to seismic safety and hazard mitigation with respect to other disasters. Before ASU, he worked at the University of Redlands and, along with a colleague, received the first National Science Foundation Grant on seismic safety and the public policy processes. He received a Founders Award from Cal-Tech University for work in establishing the Southern California Earthquake Safety Preparedness Program.

At Idaho State University he has focused more on environmental politics and some of his studies have been widely read, including one he co-authored with another emeritus ISU political science professor, Ralph Maughn, on what is “old and new about the ‘wise-use’ movement.”  

“I’ve received a lot of attention for not only my scholarship, but also for my activism,” Nilson said.

With Mary Jane Burns, another emeritus political science faculty member, Nilson traveled to Ecuador to appraise programs in civic education.

Noting that  “once a Peace Corp volunteer (as he was in the 1960s as a public health worker in Micronesia), always a Peace Corp volunteer,” Nilson recounted how important public service has been to his career. On campus, he served 11 years on the ISU Faculty Senate, including an intense three-year period as vice chair, chair and past chair.

“I was deeply involved in the affairs of the Faculty Senate,” he said. “I think it is easier to be chair of it if your are a political scientist. That job played to my strengths.”

Nilson was named Idaho State University Distinguished Public Service Award recipient in 2005 and received the 2009 Pi Sigma Alpha Educator of the Year Award. Pi Sigma Alpha is the national political science honor society.

He was active in professional organizations. He is the current president of the National Social Science Association and former president of the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association. Nilson has given lectures, including keynote addresses, at a wide variety of professional meetings nationally and abroad.

Beyond ISU and his profession, Nilson was an active community member as well. He has been and continues to be very active in the Democratic Party at the local, state and national level. Highlights to his service to the Democratic Party include going to the Democratic Convention in Boston 2004, serving as State Committeeman for Bannock County and serving as a member of the Executive Committee for the Idaho State Democratic Party. In 1976 Nilson was a congressional candidate in the 37th District for the state of California.

Nilson also has been active the last 20 years with the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations on the local, state and national level.

Raised in the Bremerton area in Washington State, Nilson earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington, and his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

He will remain in Pocatello after retiring on July 31.

“One thing I plan to do a lot of is reading. I’m more interested in reading interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work than a specific discipline,” Nilson said. “And I want to read a lot of good fiction. I suspect I’ll have some time for that.”

Nilson observed that travel is his only hobby and he will be traveling pretty regularly. Of course, he will continue his public service work. He said he plans to take seriously his emeritus faculty status, keeping close ties with the University.