Jeffrey Ian Ross, Ph.D.
Class of 1985 – Innis
Innis Alumnus, Jeffrey Ian Ross, took the road less travelled to begin his academic career. An award-winning author and academic within his field, Ross is currently a professor of Criminology/Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore.
In a few words, please outline your career path.
At 17, I dropped out of high school. Disliking the structured classes and atmosphere, I followed a more creative path to better suit my needs. After traveling, working, and living on my own, I completed the pre-university program (now called the Academic Bridging Program), based out of Woodsworth College. Upon completion, I enrolled at Innis, majored in Psychology, but soon shifted over to Political Science. After earning a Masters and then a Ph.D. in Political Science at University of Colorado, I worked for three years for the National Institute of Justice in Washington, DC, before becoming a professor of Criminology/Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore where I’ve remained for the past 16 years.
What is your preferred area of criminology and criminal justice to study? Why?
I have a number of interests spanning multiple fields of criminology, criminal justice and other social sciences like sociology and political science. These include policing, corrections, political crime, violence, and American Indian communities. Increasingly, my research focuses on urban social problems like graffiti and street art, international comparisons of correctional facilities, and the portrayal of criminal justice issues in popular media (e.g., Orange is the New Black).
What area of criminology and criminal justice do you feel should have more resources allocated to for research?
Policy relevant research. It’s important to understand theory, but at the end of the day, you want to make a real world impact, and that is through the creation of informed public policy and practice. I like to think in terms of questions that need solutions, rather than simply branches of criminology and the criminal justice system. So addressing decreasing public funding, strategic goal oriented planning by organizations, changes in sentencing, and preemptive crime prevention are areas I’ve been working on, as well as exploring the tie in to graffiti and street art. Immediate and long lasting solutions to these challenges need to be researched and translated into well thought out policy and practice.
As a professor, do you notice any commonalities between your students who excel in your classes? Do you have any tips for students who are struggling in their academics?
Students who do well typically have a passion for the subject matter, have a good idea of why they are in university, and are relatively clear about their career goals. True, some professors struggle to provide content that they believe their students will find interesting, but if a student thinks that the instructor is not engaging, I would advise them to diplomatically communicate this to the professor and even suggest alternative methods before giving up. If something isn’t working, it is the student’s responsibility to take charge. Any instructor who cares about teaching wouldn’t feel threatened and will actually appreciate this kind of honest feedback. After all, not every student’s learning style will click with every professor. Healthy communication is the true key towards finding common ground.
What is the most important lesson you have learned during your career?
Tenacity. Keep trying until you accomplish your goals.
What is your favourite memory from your time spent at Innis College?
Innis provided an exceedingly welcoming community. I enjoyed the core programs that Innis offered. I benefited from being routinely insulted by Fuzz (Michael Friend), but in a good way, and spending countless hours in the writing lab with Roger Riendeau, learning how to craft a sentence, paragraph, and essay. Innis gave me an excellent foundation to explore graduate school, and parts of the work world that were inaccessible to me before I started my studies there.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with current Innis students?
Read a lot (especially the classics), write a lot, subject your work to constructive criticism, and take classes that truly interest you. It’s important to realize that there are few original ideas, but understand that the core of your argument will help you innovate for the future and build upon the past. Keep trying and never give up.