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Ph.D. 1972

I entered as a graduate student in spring 1969 as a cohort of one! I thought this might mean this might mean that I would be lonely, but, as it turned out, the cohorts on either side of me both kind of “adopted” me. I soon got to know and like all of the other graduate students who were ahead of me and many of those who came after I entered grad school. (I didn’t get to know all of those who followed.)

I remember well that I came in as the Viet Nam War was heating up, and the graceful way Gerry Lenski handled the chairmanship. I also remember that I was in the cafeteria when the Black Students came in, and people started running to one end of the cafeteria or the other. I finally grabbed a student as he went by, and asked him “Why are people running?” to which he replied, “Good guys to one end and bad guys to the other.” Wanting to be with the good guys, the person I was with (I can’t remember who it was) and I followed in his wake, We assumed he was heading for the “good guy” end, and we wanted to be among the good guys. Later on, things got out of hand–one person got hit over the head with a sugar shaker, and somewhere about that time, the troops showed up.

Another thing I recall was the epic story of Reese Trimmer and his motorcycle. Anyway, Reese bought a cycle and when he got home to park it, it fell over and broke his arm. As far as I know, the cycle then went up for sale. He later took a job with the Durham police. It was an interesting time to be at UNC: troops on campus, one of the vice-presidents out filming the demonstrations, and the number of high school students who turned out in support of the demonstrations (or because it was an excuse to cut classes). But the best thing about being at UNC was the extremely high calibre of the Sociology faculty: Charlie Bowerman, who was chair brought in from Michigan Blalock, Hawley, and Lenski. Either that or the group decided at the same time to move to a warmer climate. Dick Cramer, Glen Elder, Al Jacobson, Peter Uhlenberg, and Ev Wilson were already at UNC. By the way, Ev Wilson showed me what it meant to be a college professor. He would assign a one-page paper, and give about two pages of comments back.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention as least some of the good friends I made. Jack Kasarda got me into Dr. Hawley’s population course, and I will be forever grateful for that advice. Ginny Hiday (I know she might spell it “Ginnie’ but my spell check won’t accept that spelling), who has remained a close friend over all the years, Karl Alexander, and so many more that I remember fondly. I cannot proceed without mentioning Tim Schwartz and the basketball we played together.

I don’t know how many people know this, but I was able to finish up (after coming to UNC with only a BA) in 3 and a half years. This was essentially because of one person, Gerry Lenski–and my Dissertation Committee. Dr. Lenski invited me into his office one day, and asked me what I was going to do about my MA Thesis. I began to outline what I intended to do regarding Mexican Americans. He said something like: “Parker, why don’t you spend some more time on a paper you turned in for my Stratification course and use that as your MA Thesis–save the Mexican American work for your dissertation.” I took him up on that immediately. I then turned to Dick Cramer, who had taught the course in Race/Ethnic Relations and asked him to chair my dissertation–and he kindly agreed. I drew shamelessly on Al Jacobson for his technical expertise. And that, boys and girls, is how you get a Ph.D in 3 and a half years.

At the time I took the faculty position at UT, I retained my interest in the ranch. In fact, while in grad school, I returned to Texas every summer to work on the ranch. And I continued to work on the ranch ever since. Yes, I’ve slowed down a bit as I’ve grown older, but I still keep a few cows. In fact, I just bought 11 pairs (cows with a calf at side) last month. I had a great horse that I could reign with my knees.

Cattle prices have “gone through the roof” this year (as I predicted) for those who kept cows through the drought–I don’t if we’re out of it yet, but we had a wet spring. All this time I managed to accomplish enough academic work to become a Full Professor. I don’t mean to minimize academia in any way. It just didn’t seem I should stay in Austin over the holidays to hear the news first. There was nothing I could do at that point that would change the Committee’s minds.

I recall that we were building fence when Dudley Poston called to tell me I had made Associate Professor. He couldn’t believe I had left town without knowing. My father came driving up to tell me. He didn’t know how academia works and he said “Ol’ Poston called and said you were now an Associate Professor.” He drove on, and I returned to digging post holes. It’s worth mentioning that he always asked me how Ol’ Poston was doing–never asked how I was doing.

Anyway, I got into the area of infant outcomes and NICHD; the Department, and UT were very good to me. They seemed to have appreciated my work on infant mortality, low birth weight, and length of gestation. At the same time, I published ecological research with “Ol’ Poston.”
Submitted November 2015