Northwestern’s Fay Lomax Cook Tabbed to Head SBE


Fay Lomax Cook
Fay Lomax Cook (Photo: Leslie E. Kossoff-Nordby/LK Photos)
Northwestern University social policy professor Fay Lomax Cook has been appointed to head the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences. From 1996 until 2012 she headed the university’s respected Institute for Policy Research; she’s also been president of the Gerontological Society of America, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation.

Cook, who starts in starts her new role in September, will take over for acting Assistant Director Joanne S. Tornow, who has been serving since historian Myron Gutmann left the leadership role last year. Tornow will return to her job as deputy when Cook arrives.

The directorate, known as SBE, has been in the news this week as the U.S. Congress wrestles with the budget for NSF. One of seven directorates at NSF, SBE currently receives about 3.5 percent of the agency’s $7.2 billion budget, but Republican lawmakers would like to see it cut even more. A bill they introduced Monday and amended this morning would allocate $200 million to SBE, a cut of 25 percent. Despite the by D.C. standards small numbers, NSF reports that the directorate provides 56 percent of the federal funding that the academic SBE community receives for basic research from Uncle Sam.

SBE includes the Divisions of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences and Social and Economic Sciences, the SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities, and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

The new assistant director, as the head NSF directorates are designated, has a long list of accomplishments. Cook has been a member of the Expert Panel on Performance Outcome Measurement, U.S. Administration on Aging; a member of the Ford Foundation’s research advisory committee on Social Welfare Policy and the American Future; a scientific consultant to the National Institute on Aging; and a member of the North American Program Committee for the International Congress on Gerontology. She’s written five books, the latest being 2009’s Talking Together: Public Deliberation and Political Participation in America.

As described in an announcement from the NSF, her research focuses on the interrelationships between public opinion and social policy, the politics of public policy, public deliberation, energy policy, and the dynamics of public and elite support for programs for older Americans, particularly Social Security.

“Her deep experience and expertise in these areas will be of great value to NSF and to the research community,” an NSF release quotes the agency’s acting director, Cora B. Marrett.

“Fay demonstrated extraordinary leadership in building IPR into one of the finest institutions of nonpartisan, interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research anywhere,” David Figlio, who took over the center when Cook left, was quoted in a press release from Northwestern.

Assistant directors at the NSF generally serve for two to four years in Washington, D.C.


Michael Todd

Social Science Space editor Michael Todd is a long-time newspaper editor and reporter whose beats included the U.S. military, primary and secondary education, government, and business. He entered the magazine world in 2006 as the managing editor of Hispanic Business. He joined the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy and its magazine Miller-McCune (renamed Pacific Standard in 2012), where he served as web editor and later as senior staff writer focusing on covering the environmental and social sciences. During his time with the Miller-McCune Center, he regularly participated in media training courses for scientists in collaboration with the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS), Stanford’s Aldo Leopold Leadership Institute, and individual research institutions.

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