Paper by Everett Wilson, 1996
Prepared for the celebration of the Department’s 75th anniversary, March 29, 1996)
The Department has changed remarkably since 1824. As you will surely recall, the 1824 catalogue provided the entire roster of the faculty (5 professors, three tutor), the entire curriculum for every student for four years; and every text for every course—all on one side of a single sheet of paper. Languages—English, Greek, Latin, and mathematics—dominated with slight attention to philosophy and science. Alas, there was no sociology. Sociology was a sudden happening almost exactly a century later.
At long last, as St. John puts it, came the word; and the word was with Howard Washington Odum. As founder of the Department, he marks the first of three stages that Glen Elder (see above) sees as framing our Department’s history. This Georgia farm boy (Chicago’s Osburn was also a Georgian) did an undergraduate major at Emory in classics. He went north for two doctorates, one in psychology at Clark (1909) and the other one year later in Sociology from Columbia. The following two years he worked at the Philadelphia Bureau of Municipal Research. Then (1913) back to Georgia, first to the Universaity at Athens as Associate Professor in Educational Sociology (surely the best kind) and Rural Education. But after six years he was induced to return to Emory as Dean of the School of Liberal Arts.
Emory’s Chancellor was Methodist Bishop Warren Candler. He and Odum were, each to the other, as burr under the saddle. Candler’s position was that the university must be above all an evangelical agent. But Odum saw the university as a source of reliable knowledge in the service of secular reforms to realize the South’s potential for wisdom and virtue. He had a trunkful of projects and programs to be instituted instanter. In the early stages of building a university Candler was wary of costly—and, as he might see it, hare-brained—enterprises. He commented ruefully that Odum seemed to want to build a university before breakfast—and build it in his own way. Clearly, it was not a tenable relationship; so he must have been happy to accept the invitation to join the faculty at Chapel Hill in 1920. He had the mission and the drive to organize the Department (1920-21): and beyond that, to set up a number of other programs. One of these was Social Forces (1922). Within two years its circulation exceeded 1,700. (We’re now around 4,500 and go to most states and to 90 foreign countries.)
Beyond his quite remarkable energy we remember Odum for his clear emphasis on empirical studies of conditions that jeopardize the well-being of folks in North Carolina and the Southern region. A like concern has been echoed through the years by sociologists in this Department. His pattern of though and work summed to a crystal-clear purpose. For the sociologist it was rigorous, date-based analysis of social failures; and for the person, the cultivation of ideas and action that make for responsible conduct in the universal role of citizen. Hence the early emphasis on civic problems: equity for Negroes, as blacks were then called; the assimilation of immigrants; the problems of mill towns; poverty; public welfare; and crime. The locus of study was of course the region, including Chapel Hill and Raleigh. The methods were surveys and descriptive statistics. Jesse Steiner’s title is a clue to the Department’s purpose. He was “Professor of Social Technology.”
Despite so many irons in so many fires, Odum apparently was an effective administrator, not beguiled by power or prominence except as they derived from learning, its dissemination and application to problems confronting fellow citizens. But he was not alone. He had the effective support of Rupert Vance (like Odum, a President of the American Sociological Association), Guy Johnson, Gordon Blackwell, Harriet Herring, Katherine Jocher, and a little later, Elizabeth Fink. These women were impressive contributors to sociology in the South. Furthermore, in Social Forces Odum had a collective product that helped to reinforce a sense of common purpose. That was the case, too, with the AJS at Chicago in 1895 and with Durkheim’s Année Sociologique in 1898. In his Harvard dissertation on Odum, Wayne Brazil reports H. L. Mencken’s great admiration of Odum and his journal. Others were not so taken with the Chairman. The Department had its detractors.
Indeed, one mark of a distinguished department is the fire it draws. Back in the ‘20s a Rev. McCorkle of Burlington, along with a few fellow clerics, attacked the University for sponsoring a journal (Social Forces) that condoned masturbation. Apparently a book discussing auto-eroticism was favorably reviewed. Guy Johnson whose help was acknowledged by Gunnar Myrdal in his preface to An American Dilemma was excoriated for advocating personal respect and social equity for blacks. Among some colleagues Ernest Groves’ work in marriage and the family earned him the facetious title of “The Pelvic Oracle.” And one staff member carefully avoided identifying her department lest she be tarred with the libidinous libel conferred by Groves’ work on receptive minds.
So our forerunners had enemies. But one must suppose that such attacks served to strengthen the Department. In their defense our eponymous ancestors had to define good purpose and seek the best means for achieving it.
In thinking about Odum’s successors, one might call Weber’s discussion of the routinization of charisma. Odum left much to routinize. That was the task of Charlie Bowerman, following a short interim stint by Bill Noland. Routinization has unhappy connotations: the repetitious, banal, and boring. It should not be so construed. For it must enlist the imagination to create a social template for collaborating in the service of department goals. The Chair and the faculty follow the scholar’s required translation of concept into precept, the abstract purpose into concrete procedures. Concurrently, means and ends are helped or hindered by changes in resources: in reputation, funding, administrative support and the like. One must admire a department chair with the wit to contrive the social arrangements that actualize aspirations.
Bowerman himself attributes the Department’s success to its reputation developed under Odum (as a base for garnering financial support), effective University administration and recruiting of promising students and faculty. Most important, he writes, was the “departmentally-oriented unity of the . . . faculty. Too often a group of talented individuals focus on promoting their own interests and reputations, and see the department as merely a vehicle for achieving their own ends. Basically, we had the reverse of that.”
Elder’s last two stages in the Department’s history align with two post-Odum blips on the recruiting screen. These he identifies with stimulating new departures. One runs roughly from 1957 to 1969, the Bowerman era. The second spans most of Kasarda’s tenure from 1980 to 1990. During Bowerman’s 12 years the Department welcomed such newcomers as Blalock, Lenski, Elder, two Wilsons, Udry, Eckland, Cottrell, Hawley, Namboodiri et al. In this period there were both continuities and innovations. Extension of the old included a stronger and more effective sequence on the study of methods, an in increased demand for sophisticated tools of inquiry and some concern for application (as in work in the sociology of medical organization; and the requirement of novice instructors that they confront problems of sociology instruction). But there was a discernible shift on several fronts. Perhaps one might use Merton’s term, a change in the relative weight according the local and the cosmopolitan, regional interests losing a near monopoly and research sites increasingly stretched to include nation (nation-wide data sets) and occasional work with foreign data, as in Landsberger’s research. In addition both faculty and students were drawn quite selectively from much larger pools.
Student cohorts included some very strong professionals such as Karl Alexander, Bill Corsaro, John Freeman, Michael Hannan, Jack Kasarda, Clark Roof, Linda Molm, Pam Oliver, et al. This listing prompts Elder to note the under-representation of women, and the extent to which the field has changed over the past 25 years. We can extend his observation: among our graduate students, the sex ratio (M/F) averaged 1.54. But since 1980, the ratio has dropped to .86.
Jack Kasarda served two five-year terms. About this period Elder sees the Chairman as a competitive recruiter with the Department’s national standing in mind. A roster of people who joined the Department during this period indicates how successful he was. Consider, for example: Aldrich, Judith and Peter Blau, Calhoun, Entwisle, Nielsen, and Rosenfeld. Were Odum, Steiner, Jocher, and Herring to step in for a look at curricula and publications, they would find much to please them—the concern with social and cultural change, the linking of demographic features and social structure, the lively interest in historical inquiry and the exploiting of a wider range of methods and data.
Two developments, long under way, emerged more clearly in these years. Both relate to the distinction of the faculty both at home and abroad. Both produce ambiguous outcomes. The first is the extent to which faculty are coopted for administrative tasks and work in other departments. The second outcome also stems from recruiting the most eminent, assuring them of the support needed to advance their special research. Thus the very qualities for which they were recruited and supported serve to make them visible and valuable to others outside the University. And so they are coopted for service far beyond Chapel Hill—for consulting and as resources for regional and national professional organizations. The danger is one of increasing centrifugal forces in the Department as internal gives way to external needs. The wonder is that the Department has been able to make do despite extended service beyond its boundaries.
There is another problem marked by three successful waves of recruiting. This is the matter of succession. To look at the majestic oaks that adorn the campus, many of about the same age, is to see what we are up against. Owing to demographic bursts, war, changes in the labor force and the link between national interest and higher education, population cohorts and our pattern of recruiting have moved in spurts;
while tenure works against a faculty that is au courant for long periods of time. Smooth successions consonant with new developments in sociology and cognate fields are not easy to manage. So geht’s: ohne tsoris haben sie nicht.
The sequence of Chairs include several serving shorter terms: Cramer (acting), Lenski, Simpson, and Namboodiri (1, 3, 3,, and 5 years). They did yeoman service for the Department in times that were often trying. Bowerman’s legacy included a marked growth both in numbers and range of intellectual interests. Then the short-tenured Chairs and Namboodiri’s five years, followed by the two ten-year tenures of Kasarda and Kalleberg which will carry the Department across the bridge into the twenty-first century. But it would be misleading to tell the tale of the Department simply in terms of discrete nominal scale points when in fact there were variables at work that continuously informed the Development of Sociology and Carolina. Change continued in at least two dimensions. One is sheer numbers—of faculty, students, administrators, staff et al. The second variable is diversity, much of it owing to national, sometimes international, recruiting. Many faculty were academic carpetbaggers. The disproportionate advent of such aliens led our colleague, historian Bill Powell, to express alarm at an imbalance threatening preference for the cosmopolitan over the local.
Since Odum’s time the Department—and, indeed the whole University—has been a cynosure drawing its faculty from distant sources. In 1995, over 90% of the Department faculty in non-TarHeel. Among University faculty (1987), highest degrees (usually the Ph.D.) were awarded by 246 universities, 105 of them from nine foreign universities. It’s fair to assume that diversity of place can be taken as likely surrogate for the variation in belief, knowledge, tastes, and skills that mark urban-rural, regional, and organizational differences, even back to childhood socialization. This is true of the town, too. Over four decades 1950-1990, of substantial population increase, the part of growth contributed by net migration has gone from 16% to 51% to 76%. The growth in number of Department faculty has gone from an average of 3.6 in 1921-25 to 26.5 in 1995-96.
This last figure inflates the resources the Department can tap, however; paradoxically, as the Department has gained in strength and stature, its faculty are increasingly coopted to serve the University in sectors other than the Department.
Other data show the growth in number of Ph.D.s awarded over 75 years. About half of these were conferred in the last third of that period. As a matter of interest, growth in University enrollment and town population show comparable slopes. But more to the point is the growth in number of faculty publications and students’ research represented in theses and dissertations. In 1920-25, the five-year mean of faculty publications was 2.4; and these were 16 master’s thesis and zero dissertations. In 1971-80, the figures were 4.1, 82, and 114, respectively.
The growth of our Department is hardly accidental. It is a necessity born of our search for learning. We are a one-company town dominated by a single enterprise. But, unlike mill or mining towns with aggressively defended boundaries, our company must seek outside resources—material, of course, but above all intellectual, especially new fields, new theories, new data, new hypotheses. Without the simulation of differing but complementary ideas, of critical but reciprocally supportive colleagues, no department can create the yeasty setting needed for discovery.
So when we ruminate on change in our Department, we look beyond sheer growth to metastasizing diversity. We shall never again see the commensal simplicity of the 1824 curriculum, the likeness in commitment and learning induced by intellectual experiences identical for every student. Symbiosis rather than commensalism is the more exact term for the source of integration and the outcome of learning which is some highly refined specialty.
There is a bit of diversity in space. Our 501 Ph.D.s come to us from far and wide. The other side of the coin is that our graduates are spread out over the land and beyond. Five hundred and one Carolina Ph.D.s in Sociology have addresses in 41 states, plus D.C., and 32 are in foreign countries. Among those in the states, 27% are still in North Carolina. With five additional states—California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania—we have another 24% for over half of all our Ph.D.s
The chief source of influence differentiating our graduates’ positions in place, status, and vocation is what happens to them in their graduate training. And in that setting, in both University and Department, the range of choice and degree of specialty is ever greater.
A bumper sticker once read, derisively: “If y’all from Carolina (i.e., UNC-CH) honk; from State? Then Moo.” Around the country, ever since the Morrill Act of 1862, “State” schools have been treated as inferior vocational colleges. If they ever were, it is certainly not so now. With a dozen professional schools, more than 60 graduate departments, and a plethora of Programs, Institutes, Curricula, Centers, and Consortiums, we are heavily vocational. It helps to know what we’re about even though we inherit a term traditionally deprecatory—perhaps because we’ve forgotten the etymology of the word vocational.
Graduate work emphasizes special learning that we do not share with others. This is in contrast to undergraduate work fixing on what students have in common, matters linked with knowledge needed by all citizens. The Department is a bridge between the civic universals and the special needs of the workplace. Graduate work is the road to earning a living, more oriented to the marketplace than the civic forum. So we would expect to find the Department reflecting, in some of sociology’s 40-plus subfields, the exquisite specialization that increasingly marks the labor force. Indeed this shows up in the Department’s course offerings. In the first year, 192-21, there were 14 courses; twenty years late, 42; and today, 105 (not all concurrently taught). Among those taught, graduate offerings have come to outnumber the undergraduate courses. Over the years the ratio of UG/Grad fluctuated slightly, in the ‘40s and ‘50s approaching 1: the number of undergraduate courses just slightly larger. Through the ‘60s the ratio dropped and in the last decade reversed 50 years of undergraduate dominance in numbers—about 3 to 1. Comparing enrollments in the undergraduate college with those in graduate plus professional school confirms the priority of graduate work in numbers, and doubtless resources as well.
Intellectual interests multiply. Maybe it’s true that the larger the island of knowledge, the greater its perimeter exposed to the sea of ignorance. The greater the exposure, the more likely that curiosity-provoking differences will be revealed. At the same time the crescive nature of culture increases the likelihood of complementary conceptions which, when identified and articulated, advance our knowledge.
Odum’s department emphasized sociology’s central aim as seeking reliable knowledge—the research function. That goal will be unimaginably realized at the intersection of global exchange among researchers drawing on an exponentially growing backlog of culture.
The tendency toward intellectual provincialism encouraged by specialized vocational training has been offset in this Department by the cosmopolitan interests of faculty who are active in this country and abroad. At home, seven and nine of our faculty, respectively, have presided over the affairs of the ASA and SSS. Lenski should be regarded as a past president, too; since as VP he had to play that role in ASA affairs while the elected president, Reinhard Bendix, disported himself in Europe. Hawley, Lenski, and Elder were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Some have presided over other professional associations, as Landsberger did with the Latin American Studies Association and Hawley did with the PAA.
A recent letter from Krishnan Namboodiri asserted with some satisfaction that ”the Department has a lot of things to crow about.” He was referring to the National Research Council’s rating of graduate sociology departments. A first reaction was that crowing is unseemly conduct. A second, that crowing is altogether justified. And a third that, if we’ve accomplished a good deal, it’s because in Newton’s aphorism (and as Merton informs us, from many earlier sources) “If we see farther, it’s because we stand on the shoulders of giants.” (See RKM’s “vicennial edition” of “A Shandean Postscript.”)
But this delicate compromise between modesty and gloating soon gave way to indignation (righteous, of course). It is true that the NRC study of the quality and effectiveness of graduate work in more than 100 schools rated our Department above Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and 90 others. Nut inexplicable errors in calculation placed five others above us, separating us from Jack’s #1 (Chicago) by .46 in quality of graduate faculty and .26 in effectiveness of program. We expect this appalling error to be rectified in the next round.
Actually, there is a familiar ring in the kudos bestowed on the Department. It was far back when the Department of nine members was only 13 years old that it was judged to be “distinguished,” the only department so classified on the campus. About 50 years late, the National Academy of Sciences, through its Conference Board of Associated Research Councils appraised graduate programs in the U>S> The comparison of our Department with 92 other graduate programs produced the highest score on quality of faculty and effectiveness of program—highest scores, that is, among 29 departments at UNC-CH.
Some might wish to dwell on what may be a better measure of worth. That is the extent to which our work is exploited by our peers. After tallying citations across 24 issues of ASR and AJS—the years were 1984 and 1989—Ronald Burt found that ten of our faculty were among the leaders in frequency with which their research was cited. This was confirmed in a 1993 study of full professors in which the work of four was cited more than 100 times; and that of eight of our faculty was cited more than 30 times.
Such a clamor about a very good Department! Still it is not a matter of protesting overmuch; much less a way “to lend verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing tale,” as the Lord High Executioner puts it. It is a quite consistent tale from past to present with good reason to forecast a future of exemplary research, teaching, and service, in order that
The continuity of scholarship . . . may remain unbroken, to clarify our ever changing present and to inform the future with wisdom.(from the inscription on the Robert Woods Bliss Medieval Museum and Collection of pre-Columbia Art, run as apart of on-going research under Harvard’s auspices, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.)