Ph.D. ’76

I arrived in Chapel Hill in the fall 1969 with an M.A. from the University of Minnesota and three years’ experience teaching at a small liberal arts college in South Dakota.  As I remember it I had a choice of UNC or the University of Michigan.  Having grown up in the Midwest and never having been to North Carolina I was interested in trying something different.  The size of the UNC Soc. department also appealed to me.  I’m glad I made the choice I did. 

After almost fifty years my recollections of graduate school are pretty hazy.  I do remember my Statistics and Causal Inference classes with Tad Blalock, Henry Landsberger’s Developing Societies course, Gerhard Lenski’s Societal Evolution course and Richard Simpson’s Formal Organizations course.  I also remember the lunchtime bridge games, although I’m not sure who all the players were.  And I remember exams being cancelled in the spring of 1970(?) because of protests against the Vietnam War. 

In 1973 when I had finished my course work Tad Blalock invited me to come to the University of Washington and work with him and a couple other graduate students on a theoretical project of relevance to race relations. This culminated in the publication of Intergroup Processes:  A Micro-Macro Perspective (Blalock and Wilken, 1979).  Coincidentally my dissertation for which Prof. Landsberger was the adviser was published the same year as Entrepreneurship:  A Comparative and Historical Study.  

I finished my dissertation and got my degree in summer 1976.  In the fall of that year I started in the Department of Sociology at the University of Virginia along with five or six other new Assistant Professors.   The odds of all of us getting tenure were slim or none, and in early 1982 while I was on a sabbatical at McGill University in Montreal I was informed that I was one of the “nones”.  To make a long story short I ended up in fall 1983 in the Sociology Department at SUNY-Potsdam after a long job search. 

It wasn’t too long before things took a fortunate turn, however.  In 1987 the position of Director of Institutional Research became available at SUNY-Potsdam and I moved into that.  I soon discovered that I enjoyed the work even more than teaching and that a Ph.D. in sociology was a perfect background for it.  That change also marked the end of my connection with academic sociology—I found it impossible to keep abreast of developments in two different areas.   In 1990 I took the same position at Metropolitan State College of Denver where I stayed until my retirement in 2003.  In 2004 my wife Jane (the best thing to come out of Charlottesville for me) and I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where we currently reside. 

I guess the moral of my story is that apparent setbacks can unexpectedly turn into opportunities.  Not getting tenure turned out not to be the end of the world for me and eventually opened the door to a new and equally or more satisfying career. 

wilkenp@hotmail.com 

Submitted August 2017