Howard Aldrich (2003-2014)

I assumed the chairmanship in the spring of 2003, taking over from Arne Kalleberg, who in turn had stepped in as interim chair (2002 – 2003) when Rachel Rosenfeld became too ill to carry on as chair. We were indeed fortunate to have Arne available to step in, as I know he had not planned to return to the job after stepping down in 2000! I certainly was not ready to immediately step in in midyear, and so he performed an incredibly valuable service to the department by serving as interim chair in the transition from Rachel to me. Over the spring of 2003, as I gradually learned the job, Arne turned over more and more of the reins to me.

Social Forces: reorganizing and stabilizing the production and finances

In 1922, Howard Odum established our department’s Journal, Social Forces, in cooperation with the University of North Carolina Press. For decades, that arrangement worked very well, and the Odum Institute housed the managing editor of Social Forces and played an intermediary role between the Journal and the press. The Journal also had a cooperative relationship with the Southern Sociological Society, although it was never the “official” Journal of the society. Instead, the cooperation with the society was informal, operating through an understanding that the society could have some influence over the trajectory of the journal. The Department made reports to the publications committee of SSS at its annual meeting. When I became chair in 2003, I began to look into all aspects of the journal’s production and cooperative relationships.
We eventually parted ways with the Southern Sociological Society, which went on to establish its own journal.

I discovered that over the years, the Journal had actually been earning a surplus and the money was being held for the Journal in the accounts of the UNC press. When I became chair and after taking advice from Arne Kalleberg, I told the Institute that we wanted to cleanly separate the Journal from the Odum Institute and take over the production within the department. The Institute was reluctant to accept the proposed new arrangement, especially because the managing editor of the Journal was also a full-time employee of the Institute and earned about half of his salary for duties on Social Forces.

I looked into the historical records of the Journal and discovered that there was never an agreement that gave the Odum Institute official control over the Journal or even spelled out what the relationship should actually be. A series of meetings ensued, involving UNC’s lawyers, who looked up the records, before we finally resolved the issue. We eventually agreed to a new arrangement, with the current managing editor of the journal staying with the Odum Institute as a full-time employee, necessitating that the Journal hire a new person. UNC Press agreed with our interpretation of the documents, and as a goodwill gesture, we made a payment to the Institute for its role in ensuring that the Journal had been well-managed and had accumulated a surplus.

After the Department began directly managing the journal, we continued to use UNC Press to publish the Journal and engage in some marketing activities on our behalf. Mostly, however, they just managed the subscription process and the printing of the journal. They also were charging us a yearly fee to hold the Social Forces surplus in one of their accounts. Upon the advice of the journal’s internal advisory board, I began to explore the advantages of discontinuing our relationship with the UNC Press and moving to a self-publishing model. Our new managing editor, Jane Shealy, was experienced in the publishing industry and helped us set up a procedure for publishing the Journal ourselves. As with the Odum Institute’s relationship to the journal, many issues had to be resolved before we could cleanly separate ourselves from the Press, and again UNC’s lawyers were involved. We eventually created a new endowed fund in the department where we placed the surplus we had earned from the journal, and begin depositing our subsequent earnings.

We contracted out the printing of the journal to an outside press. We also began to do our own marketing but continued to use the press for subscription fulfillment.

Word got out that we were a profitable journal and that we were also a self-publishing journal. Commercial and university presses began soliciting us as a potential customer to either be acquired or to enter into a contract relationship with them. I received several unsolicited proposals and they piqued my curiosity with respect to how well we might do with a larger operation handling our publication and marketing. After resisting for a number of years, conversations with the managing editor and the internal advisory board convinced me that we should seriously explore contracting out the publication of Social Forces. Accordingly, the managing editor (Jane Shealy) helped prepare an incredibly comprehensive request for proposals which we sent out to the publishing world.

We received six serious proposals, including one from UNC Press. After reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of the proposals, we narrowed the field down to two: Duke University Press and Oxford University Press. Despite the intense rivalry between Duke and Carolina, we took very seriously the Duke University proposal but ultimately decided to go with Oxford University Press. Three factors were decisive: they promised a signing bonus; they convinced us that their global marketing apparatus would increase the visibility of the journal; and they had extensive experience with professionalizing journal production. By this point, Arne Kalleberg was the journal’s editor and he had a strong plan for globalizing Social Forces’ editorial board, as well as the content of the journal.

Between the surplus already accumulated by the Journal in the years we were managing it ourselves and then the signing bonus, we were able to create a large endowed fund. That fund generated a substantial amount of interest each year, benefitting the department in a variety of ways. Since signing with OUP, the Journal has gone global, with affiliates in many countries and an international editorial board. Through OUP, we also gained professional marketing operations, access to their considerable journal expertise (including analytics), and other benefits. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.

Endowed Funds: a new direction for the department

When I became chair, we had only two endowed funds– – the Odum fund, established back in the 1950s by an alumnus in honor of her professor, Howard W. Odum, and the Doris Selo Fund, in honor of a student who had been in the graduate program. I knew from talking to other department chairs that more could be done. The first new fund was created by the Rosenfeld family in 2004, in honor of Rachel Rosenfeld, and the fund quickly grew to the point where it was able to support many teaching activities in the department, including purchasing teaching magazines and journals and supporting students in the senior honors’ thesis program. Another early fund we created was the Jack W Daum Fund, created by Penny Daum Aldrich in honor of her late father, with the funds used to support departmental workshops. Almost since its inception, that fund has been used to pay for the annual budget of the culture and politics workshop. Other funds followed.

Eventually, the development office suggested to us that we be more proactive about raising external funds and I set up a committee of eminent faculty and alums to explore the possibility: Glen Elder, Amos Hawley, and Ray Mack. They suggested creating a fund to be called the Fund for Faculty Excellence, and we set about soliciting donations. They set an ambitious goal – – $100,000 – – which the fund has yet to reach. However, we discovered that many alumni were very willing to donate to such a fund, and a few large donations have pushed the fund closer to its target.

We now have nine named funds in the department. Most are structured so that the funds can be spent at the discretion of the chair, except for the Odum Fund, which supports the Odum Professorship, and the Gary Grosball fund, which must be spent on Management & Society activities.

Reorganizing the Departmental Administrative Structure

In 2003, the department was in the administrative “dark ages,” in terms of information technology. Everything was archived as paper records, communications within the department were all on paper, and the department’s website was rudimentary. Given that the College was also in the “dark ages,” everything they sent to us was on paper, as well. In addition to an administrative manager, student services manager, a part-time accountant and a receptionist, there were also three secretaries for a faculty of about 20 people.  Over the next few years, all of that changed.

In the middle of my first year on the job, our department manager decided to retire and she was replaced with someone who had been a staff member but not a department manager in another department. In the first few months on the job, she made major changes in the department, beginning with a staff shakeup. It looked like there was simply not enough secretarial work to justify keeping three secretaries busy, and so we made a deal with the College to downsize the department secretarial staff in exchange for being able to offer more hours to our accounting technician. Needless to say, this change was not well received by some and it took a while for the dust to settle.

For a year or two, I tried to keep up with filing paper copies of memos and documents in the metal file cabinet that I inherited, but I eventually realized it was hopeless and gave up. We gradually moved the department away from paper copies of documents into digitizing documents and saving them on the College server. Over the next decade, we upgraded the department’s webpage several times, eventually creating a departmental intranet on which we put all official documents, including all official procedures, reports, and rules and regulations. It also became the repository of the minutes of faculty meetings. Prior to 2003, it was really impossible to discern what happened in faculty meetings by way of governance decisions, but eventually, with meeting notes being archived and committee reports being archived as well, a digital trail was established.

I also created an extensive directory structure on the hard drive of the chair’s computer and archived all communications. This made it possible for the next chair to look up correspondence regarding recruiting, appointments, and college matters, without having to track me down and asked me orally what it happened! Max Weber was right: good bureaucracies keep good files, although not on paper anymore.

Procedures for making decisions on awards were standardized and written down and then digitized and archived. For example, we set up procedures for choosing the Odum award winner and the Wilson award winner, and then made sure that they were followed from one year to the next. Job descriptions for various positions were formalized, such as the assistant to the director of undergraduate studies.

The department benefited from a change in College policy regarding a department’s ability to carry forward unused funds from its instructional budget to the next year. Historically, the college “took back” unused instructional budget funds, but by the time I became chair, that had changed and departments were able to hold onto funds they hadn’t spent on instructional budget. The instructional budget could only be used for graduate teaching assistants and adjunct and temporary instructors. In allowing the department to carry forward the funds, we were able to smooth out somewhat the year-to-year fluctuations in the size of the instructional budget due to people getting buyouts from grants and administrative assignments. However, as our faculty succeeded in winning ever larger research awards, the size of our surplus grew each year and the college came to us with a proposal: we could “sell back” some of the surplus to the college, in return for a bump up in the permanent allocation they gave us in our instructional budget. That turned out to be a very good deal for us, and over the course of my tenure as chair, we essentially doubled the size of the permanent instructional budget through these deals. The College no longer allows buy-backs of surplus funds, unfortunately.

We made big changes in the physical plant of the department. The chair’s office was eventually broken into a smaller office for the chair and an office of nearly equal size for the Odum professor, with a new entrance for just the Odum professor. The mailroom area was reorganized and redone several times, and the kitchen was completely rehabilitated, under the watchful eye of a subsequent department manager (Sandy Wilcox). Sandy was very good at designing livable spaces; for example, she also created a new graduate lounge as part of the Odum lab on the second floor.
Other departments have expressed envy when they’ve seen that look of our department, with its sleek kitchen, streamlined mail area, coffee machines, and graduate lounge.

Growing the Faculty

Prior to 2003, the size of the department had fluctuated somewhat over the past few decades. It had dropped to around 20 full-time equivalent faculty when I assumed the position of chair. I received assurances from the Dean that we could begin replacing some of the people who’d retired or left, and began to do that in part by finding opportunities to collaborate with other programs on campus. For example, we made joint hires with the Carolina Asia Center and with the Lineberger Cancer Center. These two hires facilitated the department’s global orientation in its teaching and research, as well as expanding our reach into health and social welfare issues.
At our highest point, we were back up to nearly 26 full-time equivalent faculty members. Unfortunately, other universities have taken advantage of our excellent recruiting and have hired away several of our faculty.

However, we were able to eventually replace our retired Odum professor, Glen Elder, with a stellar hire: Robert Hummer, whom we hired from the University of Texas. As Bob reminded me recently, we pursued him for almost seven years before he finally said “yes” to us. He wanted to finish out his obligations at Texas, a great sign that we hired a scholar of strong personal integrity for the job. Strictly speaking, Glen is not really considered “retired,” because he maintains a research professor position at the University and in 2016 he was still active in research and working with students.

Life After Chair

In the fall semester, 2014, Penny and I visited Denmark and Sweden. I was a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business school and then spent several weeks in Sweden, first at the Stockholm School of Economics and then at the University of Lund. The visit gave me a chance to renew old friendships and finish several papers that I’ve been working on with my former student, Tiantian Yang, who is now at Duke. My friends know that over the past 25 years or so, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Scandinavia, initially mostly in Norway, but over the last decade, mostly in Denmark and Sweden. I have to admit that great restaurants are one of the attractions of the region, but their governments also collect massive amounts of longitudinal data on the citizenry, creating datasets which are incomparable in terms of coverage.

I continue to offer my sociology teaching seminar which all of our graduate students must take before they can teach their own course. Graduate students also come to me with their teaching problems, and I’ve been using what I learned through my teaching of this course to write occasional blog posts, as well as contribute a column to The National Teaching and Learning Forum. I’ve taken on the post of Director of Undergraduate Studies, which enables me to supervise the year-long sociology honors thesis course. Working with students who are undertaking major research projects for the first time has given me new insights into the issues of concern to our sociology majors.

Penny and I have two sons, Steven and Daniel, both of whom were Morehead scholars at Carolina. Steven majored in physics, spent several years working in investment banking, and then after earning an MBA at Stanford, spent the past 25 years with various startups in Silicon Valley. Having a serial entrepreneur as a son has been great for my research program, as almost all of my publications over the past few decades have been about entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial teams, and the startup process. Steven and his wife Allison live in the San Francisco Bay area with their son, Jackson, a ferocious soccer player, just like his father. Our other son, Daniel, majored in political science and Asian studies at Carolina, earned a Master’s degree in Asian studies at UC Berkeley, and finished his education with a PhD in government at Harvard. He’s currently a Professor of Political Science and Public policy at Northeastern University, in Boston, and runs a Center for the Study of Resilience. He and his wife Yael have four children, and with Boston being a one half hour direct flight from RDU, we see them fairly often. When I eventually retire, one of my projects is to make sure that as many of my grandchildren as possible become proficient as fly fishermen.
Submitted November 2016

*At the time of this preparation in 2015, the following were deceased chairs: Odum (1920-54); Noland (1949-57); Bowerman (1957-68); Namboodiri (1975-80); and Rosenfeld (2000-2003)