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Michael Thomas

Ph.D. 1969

Although I was a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I graduated from Baylor University in 1958 with a major in Philosophy.  During my senior year I was a pastor of a small rural Baptist church near Gatesville, Texas.


I attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC for a year. The next two years I attended Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass, and graduated in 1961.  No Southern Baptist church would give me a position and so I returned to Southeastern to study, to have the needed credentials to get a position in a Southern Baptist church. A year later (1962) I was accepted by a church in Virginia.


But I was fired 9 months later for being active in the civil rights movement.  This helped me decide that some other career was more appropriate for me.  Since I did not know what to do other than go to school, I decided to go back to school.  Although I’d never had a sociology course,  I persuaded the Sociology Department at the University of Alabama to admit me into their Master’s program. Two of my professors were Al and Ruth Schaefer.  Luckily for me, Al directed my MA thesis and taught me research methods. I received my master’s in 1966.


I decided to pursue my Ph.D. in sociology, and Al recommended me to UNC.  Jerry Carr was a fellow student and we began UNC at the same time.  I was anxious about my ability to do PhD level work since I had taken only 6 courses in sociology, all at the master’s level.  I was bolstered by knowing that I had been accepted into the program.  I My wife and I moved into an apartment in Odom Village and I walked to and from Alumni Hall each day.  I took Statistics under Bowerman, Theory under Vance and Anthropology under John Honigman. I graded papers for Harry Crockett’s social psychology course and helped Dick Udry in Maternal and child care complete his text on Marriage and Family.


In September 1965 I began teaching two undergraduate sections of Social Problems while taking 3 PhD level courses including Blalock’s statistics course.  I had a cubicle in Alumni Hall.  The following year I took Blalock’s causal inferences course, while continuing to teach undergraduate courses. I shared an office with Charles Longino and Russell Curtis.


Several ex-clergy were there at this time:  Bert Adams, Donald Ploch, Clark Roof and John Seidler.


In 1967 I began teaching at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.  I taught Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, Anthropology, and Sociology of Religion.  The following summer I returned to UNC to write my dissertation directed by Gerhard Lenski. The title was “Southern Protestants and Social Change” I successfully defended it in 1969 and, with my Ph.D. in hand, joined the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland.


While at the University of Maryland I discovered Evaluation Research and contracted with The Interfaith Metropolitan Theological Education   to help them devise an evaluation system that would be acceptable to the AATS.  It was an experimental theological seminary that was intentionally interfaith:  Protestant, Catholic and Jewish. It was based on a mentorship program in which each seminarian was under the mentorship of local pastors, priests and rabbis.  They had received a $100,000 grant from the Lilly foundation and the American Association of Theological schools, the accrediting agency for theological education which had advised them to devise an alternative to exam-based grades for students.   Although the students took classes and tests together, they were not graded by their mentors. This was my beginning experience as a part-time consultant


My article “American Civil Religion” in the journal  Social Forces with Charles Flippen of the University of Maryland was published in 1972. It was a test of Robert Bellah’s Civil Religion theory and consisted of the content analysis of the editorials of a national sample of US newspapers.  I was pleased to see it quoted for the next 10 years.


In 1972 I accepted the position of chair of the Department of Economics and Sociology at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC. During this time, in addition to teaching classes, advising students, directing at the department, and developing a program in organizational behavior at Salem and teaching sociology and organizational management..  During this period I began being trained as an organizational development consultant at the NTL (National Training Labs) at Bethel, Maine.


I was at Salem until the fall of 1977 when I accepted the position of Associate Director of the NC Governor’s Program for Executive and Organizational Development in North Carolina state government. While there I graduated from the Program for Executives in State and Local Government at the Kennedy School at Harvard. During this time I also became an Adjunct Professor at NCSU, teaching courses in organizational behavior in the Department of Public Administration and Industrial Engineering.


In 1979 I accepted the position of the first Assistant Secretary for Human Resource Management in the Department of Transportation. I left that position to become Associate Professor in the School of Business at Western Carolina University. Later I became a management consultant to private sector organizations, consulting in 14 states and also in Canada, Great Britain and South Africa.


In 1990 I wrote and self-published a book Getting Commitment at Work:  A Guide for Managers and Employees. It was reprinted several times and translated into Spanish.


When I became tried of traveling I starting consulting in the Triangle area, focusing on helping individuals with life and career planning and coaching in job searches. I retired from working in 2013.


Family: My wife Pat (married 22 years) was Human Resources Director for the Town of Chapel Hill when I met her and served in that role for 21 years.  She commuted to that job from our homes in Raleigh, then Cary.  After her retirement from Chapel Hill she did HR consulting with local governments all over NC.  She’s recently retired from THAT role, and we live in a wonderful retirement community inside the Beltline in Raleigh.


My older son Scott lives in Asheville and takes advantage of all the outdoor opportunities there; he’s hiked the Appalachian Trail (2100 miles), the Pacific Crest Trail (2600 miles), and 2200 of the 3100 miles of the Continental Divide Trail.


My younger son Paul lives in Jamestown NC and owns a very successful Domino’s franchise there.  His wife Cathy runs the day shift, while he runs the night one.  That allows them to share child care for our wonderful 7 ½ year old second grader granddaughter Natalie.  Paul coaches her soccer team.

Submitted November 2015