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Richard Cramer (1968-69)

In the summer of 1968, I was thrust into the role of Acting Chair of the Department when Charlie Bowerman surprised us all by leaving to accept the Chair position at Washington State. Charlie had been instrumental in bringing me to Chapel Hill as a research associate and assistant professor just seven years before. And I had served him as the Department’s first Assistant Chair for just one year. Gerry Lenski agreed to take over the Chair position in 1969, but I was given the responsibility for filling in for one year while Gerry was on leave.

Four faculty members joined the Department during that year: Cora Bagley, Al Jacobson, Henry Landsberger, and Robert Wilson. Cora was our first Africa-American faculty member. Unfortunately, she stayed for just the one year. She became engaged to Louie Marrett, a poultry scientist working for Upjohn in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I tried very hard to find a position for him at North Carolina State, but that never worked out, and Cora left after that year to get married and to join the faculty at Western Michigan. She later returned to her Ph.D. school, Wisconsin, and has subsequently worked for many years at the National Science Foundation, where she became its Acting Director before retiring in 2015.
Jacobson stayed until the mid-‘70s, when he went back to graduate school for a degree in Public Administration at Stanford. He then settled in the Boston area where his career took him into finance and applied organizational behavior.

Landsberger and Wilson remained on our faculty until retirement.

What made my year most memorable was the campus turmoil over opposition to the Vietnam War. This turmoil spilled over to the classroom where at least one of our graduate classes was disrupted by invading protesters. Some of our junior faculty were particularly supportive of the broad-based student movement and were inclined to heed the occasional call to cancel classes at the times of anti-war rallies. I was put into the uncomfortable position of being asked by the University Administration to make sure that all scheduled classes were held while my own inclinations were strongly anti-war. When the Provost put out a directive requiring chairs to report any missed classes, I finessed my response in this way: I asked faculty to report any classes that were not held, but I did not personally try to check on particular classes taught by particular faculty members. While I suspect that some classes did not meet, no faculty members volunteered this information to me, so I had nothing to report to the Provost.

After leaving the Chair position, I served Lenski as his Assistant Chair and solidified my niche as advocate for the Department’s mission for undergraduate instruction. I served as director of undergraduate studies in the Department for most of the time before I stopped teaching shortly after the turn of the century. I headed our undergraduate Honors program for most of that time and was pleased to see a number of our graduates go on to successful careers in Sociology, as well as in other fields. (I invite readers to see the reports from some of our Honors students towards the end of this Reminiscenes website.)

Until 2014, I worked part-time as an academic advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences, where I was an Associate Dean in the 1980s. A restructuring of that office took that appointment from me. But after some health problems, I am back into some professional activity—in particular, working on this addendum to the Department’s website history section.
My family includes wife Jane Gabin, who has returned to Chapel Hill after working in New York City as a college counselor for the past ten years; daughter Philissa (editor of Chalkbeat, a blog covering the public schools in a number of cities) who is moving to Newburyport, MA with husband, Ben Resnick, a newly ordained rabbi and their son (first grandchild) Jonah; and son William, who runs Ever Laughter Farm north of Hillsborough NC.

Updated July 2016