James Edward Gruber
James E. Gruber, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, passed away peacefully June 26, 2019, at the Residence of Arbor Hospice. Born on December 31, 1946, in Marshfield,
Wisconsin, he is survived by his loving family: wife Sheryl Pearson of Ann Arbor; mother Mildred Kafka Gruber of Marshfield, WI; step-daughters Lee Pearson of Washington, D.C., and Perry (Darin) McKeever
of Birmingham, MI; granddaughter Ruby McKeever; and sister-in-law Jan Sherman of Canton, MI. In addition, he is survived by three cherished half-siblings he met in mid-life: Nancy (Louis) Duellman of Fountain City, WI; Judy (Don) Duellman of Marshfield, WI; and Don Ledden of Green Bay, WI. His father, Edwin Gruber, pre-deceased him.
Jim was an exceptional scholar and beloved teacher and mentor. He was a faculty member in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at UM-Dearborn from 1979 to 2016, a founding member and teacher in the Women’s and Gender Studies program, and held numerous administrative and faculty governance positions, notably as Associate Dean of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies, Chair of Behavioral Sciences, Director of Sponsored Research, and Chair of the Faculty Senate.
It is difficult to imagine a career more distinguished. His research was path-breaking and socially consequential, his teaching transformative, his service engaged and generous. In numerous articles, conference papers, book chapters and books, his scholarship on sexual harassment and bullying was particularly influential, putting those issues into the public domain—internationally as well as nationally–decades before the Me-Too movement. Current scholars on sexual harassment, bullying, and the treatment of women in the workplace consider his work foundational. Even after his passing, his phone continues to ping daily with announcements that yet another scholar has cited one of his articles. His work led to his frequent testimony as an expert witness on behalf of both male and female plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. He was engaged to work on over 40 such cases, the last on behalf of the EEOC.
His courses on gender roles, social problems, and social psychology were transformative for generations of students—many of whom contacted him over the years to tell him of his influence on their social awareness and career paths. He was particularly proud of the student who first became a district attorney, and later a public defender; the student who went on to become a tenured professor of sociology also specializing in social justice issues; the student who thought grad school was beyond his reach until Jim encouraged him, but then became a distinguished health psychologist…and so many others. His interest in the treatment of women, and in poverty and inequality, arose partly out of the experience of his mother, who was a factory worker and a union steward under particularly harsh conditions, and later a day-care owner with her sister. He was inspired and motivated by her self-reliance, her strength, her optimism, and her sense of empowerment in the face of many social challenges.
Jim made a pilgrimage a couple of years ago to Chapel Hill, NC, where he had attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina, in order to visit and thank one of his academic mentors, Prof. Richard Cramer, long retired. He would want his students to know that he was part of a long chain of nurturing teachers, and that caring begets more caring down the road. He often talked about one of the earliest intellectual influences in his life, Father Thomas Etten, a highly educated Jesuit priest who chose to teach religion in a rural high school in an inspiringly enlightened way. Jim felt that this man’s deep reading, curious and questioning nature, and intense critical thinking about the major questions of human experience set him on a path to his own areas of academic focus. Like his mentors, Jim was deeply humane and open-minded, and also intellectually rigorous. He once wrote that he became a sociologist “in order to understand the root causes of social and economic inequality….I have tried through my research, teaching, and public service to advocate for justice and to give a voice to those who are silenced because of prejudice and discrimination.” He honored that goal throughout his professional and personal life, studying (and advocating for change around) issues of poverty, homelessness, and hunger; bigotry and hatred; and mass incarceration. In service of his values, he worked with Habitat for Humanity, taught in a women’s prison, and supported a host of social justice organizations.
Among his many honors, Jim was the recipient of both the UM-Dearborn campus’s Distinguished Research Award and Distinguished Service Award. For his work and advocacy on gender issues he was named the campus’s first male recipient of the Susan B. Anthony Award, and he was honored with the University of Michigan’s system-wide Sarah Goddard Power Award, granted for “significant achievement in contributing to the betterment of current challenges faced by women.” In 2012, he was awarded the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters’ first Collegiate Professorship, the Frances Cousens Collegiate Professorship, named for a pioneering woman and a UM-Dearborn sociologist.
A passionate birder, an avid enthusiast of the outdoors, a dedicated and patient fisherman, and a lifelong learner, Jim was a singularly good man. He was quiet, steady, and full of empathy. He spent 60 years returning every summer to his beloved cove on the Wisconsin River, fishing and communing with his best friends, Henry David Thoreau, St. Francis, and fishing buddy Joe Chenier. He lived his life in joy and awe, embracing travel, nature, and service to others. May he rest in peace, with companionable birds and muskies circling quietly around him.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to any of the following: the UU Congregation, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the Human Rights Campaign, Ann Arbor Safe House, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Arbor Hospice, or the ACLU.