GOOD SENSE, SMARTS, AND STABILITY
DESPITE THE SOCIAL TURMOIL OF THE TIMES, 1968-1973
I resided in Chapel Hill 1968-1973 while I was a graduate student in the UNC Sociology Department, from which I received an M.A. (1970) and a Ph.D. (1975) under the superb guidance of a wonderful fellow and eminent scholar, Distinguished Emeritus Professor Gerhard Lenski.
My sense is that the Sociology Department had enough faculty, staff, and graduate students who had enough good sense and “smarts” to keep the Department stable, balanced, and productive despite the social turmoil of the times on so many college campuses, in U.S. society, and so many other places in the world during those years. A short list of some of the national and international events of 1968 that impacted campus affairs includes:
The U.S. war in Vietnam, particularly the NVA’s devastating Tet Offensive, the siege of the Khe Sanh combat base by NVA forces (echoes of the siege and capture of the French Army fortress at Dien Bien Phu in 1954), and rumors of a massacre of Vietnamese peasants at My Lai by U.S. Army Forces,
President Johnson’s stunning announcement that he would not stand for re-election that year,
Controversies and conflicts about Black Pride, Black Power, Women’s Liberation, and Anti-War social movements,
The assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by a white racist in Memphis,
Widespread urban race riots, looting, and arson in Harlem, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC and other U.S. cities,
Student protests and “takeovers” of university administrative offices on campuses in the U.S. and Europe,
The assassination of presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy,
The invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army,
Bloody protests in the streets of Chicago around the Democratic National Convention
The election of Richard M. Nixon as President and Spiro Agnew as V-P on a platform of “law and order,”
The Apollo 8 Astronauts orbiting the moon.
Chapel Hill and the UNC campus were trying to adjust to other changes as well. Black students were just starting to be admitted and integrated into university life. If I recall correctly, the first Black basketball player on scholarship, Charlie Scott, was just starting his junior year on campus and there were reports of racist taunts against him. Student subculture was flush with “alternative life styles,” clashing political interest groups, and easy access to “The Pill” and a variety of “recreational drugs” including the supposedly “liberating” LSD.
Despite these controversies and challenges on and beyond the UNC campus, my sense is that the Department’s stability and good sense was because of the maturity and wisdom of Professors Lenski, Blalock, Hawley, Simpson, Everett Wilson, Bob Wilson, Glen Elder, and Babe Andrew, who was the Department Office Administrator during those years. These people had enough wisdom derived from the greater turmoil of WWII and the Cold War to sense that the perplexing changes and social revolutions of the 1960s and early 1970s could be endured and perhaps even be beneficial for U.S. society in the long run. (By the way, all but one of the twenty Sociology faculty members were White males. Most of them had conservative Eurocentric, Protestant origins. The four office staffers were gracious, able, White ladies of the South, to my way of thinking.)
At any rate, these people also allowed me plenty of time to find my way in sociology, so to speak. I certainly needed a lot of time as well as tolerance on their part. I had just completed four years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, including sixteen months in infantry and recon units in Vietnam and a year teaching tactics at the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. I had only taken two introductory level sociology courses when I was an undergraduate. I thought that graduate courses in sociology could help me to understand some of the perplexing differences and problems I had witnessed in small rural communities and massive metro areas in the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam as well as the social and political changes that were occurring in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Sociology courses were very popular on many college campuses in 1968. Graduate education in sociology was funded generously by various agencies of the federal government. The Sociology Department at UNC was able to hire four new junior faculty, several mid-level and senior faculty, and provide considerable financial support to most of the members in my cohort of about thirty-five or forty incoming graduate students. My cohort included ordained priests and nuns, attorneys, Masters level sociology instructors from small colleges, missionaries, MBAs, and a smattering of activists, objectors, mischief-makers, and outliers, let us say. All of them were White. About 70% of them were male. Perhaps 30% were native Southerners. Most of the members of my cohort had undergraduate or Masters Degrees in sociology. Many of them had just completed their undergraduate degrees. Eventually, many of them dropped out of the Department and out of touch. Perhaps only nine or ten of us stayed long enough to receive a Ph.D. degree in sociology.
Fortunately, and rather surprisingly, I did not experience much if any overt hostility or ostracism because of my military background–not that I advertised it. In fact, I had developed deep reservations about U.S. military operations in Vietnam, in part because I had witnessed far too many unnecessary and misguided bombings by U.S. forces, including napalm bombings of small, remote rice-paddy villages in broad daylight and with little evidence of enemy forces. In the name of “liberation” from the threat of Communism the U.S. was wreaking havoc on innocent, poor, peaceful, rice- paddy peasants.
It took me at least three semesters to find my way and get the hang of sociology and grad school. I’m grateful that the Department and most of instructors allowed me the time to do so. I also had the good fortune of getting an unconditional acceptance, without revisions, (by The Sociological Quarterly) of the first paper I submitted for publication after only four semesters at UNC. It was based on my M.A. thesis. That acceptance led me to think that I could be a productive researcher in sociology if I continued to work towards a doctorate in sociology at UNC. This was fortunate because, in retrospect, my M.A. education was relatively weak and the courses were not very compelling or expansive. Fortunately the Ph.D. courses were much more valuable, especially the courses in sociological theory and the societal evolution and stratification courses of Gerhard Lenski. The first edition of his extraordinary sociology textbook, Human Societies, had just been published (currently in its 12th edition). It remains as the most valuable sociology book I have ever read.
Perhaps you can tolerate a few admittedly “hard-nosed” and somewhat old-fashioned suggestions based on my five years at UNC and more than forty years teaching and doing research at more than five additional universities. In general, I suggest a movement “back” to the more rigorous requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. that were eliminated during the time I was at UNC.
(1) Try to select junior faculty and graduate students who are older, more mature, more broadly educated, and more willing to tolerate a wide range of theoretical perspectives and methodical approaches to teaching and research, rather than “profess” only or primarily within one or two perspectives and research methods. While I was at UNC there was far too much of a shift from broadly educated and life experienced faculty and grad students to those who were narrowly specialized in their interests and abilities. The required first courses in theory and in methods were almost worthless because the newly hired junior instructors did not know how to teach and they espoused only behaviorism and experimental design — and not very well, at that. Probably these were the worst courses I have ever had at any level. Senior faculty should not have allowed this to happen. Also, senior faculty should not have allowed one of the junior faculty members to approve M.A. thesis research by two of the young, mischievous male graduate students, under the guise of studying “sexual arousal.” These two fellows convinced some very vulnerable first semester females in introductory sociology courses to recite explicitly pornographic passages from men’s sex magazines. At least one of these “test subjects” then became involved in a much more interactive “experiment,” so to speak, with one of the “experimenters.”
(2) Require a minor concentration in some discipline other than sociology for both the M.A. and Ph.D.
(3) Try to select graduate students who have conversationalability in a least one language (preferably two languages including Spanish) besides “everyday” conversational English, and in addition to academic reading ability in at least one language besides English.
(4) Comprehensive written exams should be far more rigorous. They should be administered and closely monitored on campus. No one but the examinee should have any access to, or influence on, the exams from start to finish.
(5) Require grad students to take a rigorous course on how to teach undergraduates, including how to manage courses, choose grading formats, and write highly valid and reliable exams. Do not assume anyone knows how to do this in an informed and honest manner, including grad students who have been teachers and college instructors.
(6) Also require grad students to participate in a seminar on how to get along, after UNC, with a wide range of colleagues and critics throughout their lives.
(7) Strongly encourage or require Ph.D. candidates to teach or co-teach at least one undergraduate sociology course under close supervisor of a senior faculty member.
(8) Strongly encourage or require Ph.D. candidates to collaborate with a tenured faculty member in preparing a research article for publication in a major academic journal.
I don’t know that I ever intended to have a conventional career in sociology, in academia, or anything else, for that matter. Since leaving UNC I’ve had faculty appointments (non-tenure track) at the University of Delaware, Brown University, Providence College, the University of Connecticut, the University of Rhode Island, and a few other universities and colleges. I’ve also worked as a researcher at social science consulting firms in Boston and Cambridge, MA, and I’ve been Executive Director of the Center for Energy Policy in Boston and the Anti-Arson Task Force in Providence R.I. I’ve published a handful of research articles in sociology as well as four books, two of which I consider to be decidedly sociological and one of which I believe to be very useful for understanding how the people and the community of Buffalo Creek, West Virginia have tried to recover from the infamous coal-mining flood disaster of 1972.
Currently I’m working on two manuscripts: “Violence in the Holy Books of the World Religions” and “Poverty and the Poor in the Holy Books of the World Religions.” These are sequels, of sorts, to my book War, Terror & Peace in the Qur’an and in Islam: Insights for Military and Government Leaders(2004) (Special discounts for UNC sociologists on orders of 100 or more!).
I’ll close by conveying once again that I have always felt indebted to the UNC Sociology Department for the education I received there, 1968-1973, but also for the support that I have received since then, from time to time, from the department and from some of its former members, especially Gerhard Lenski and John Shelton Reed, but also Henry Landsberger, Jack Kasarda, Glen Elder, Dick Cramer, and the late Amos Hawley, Everett Wilson, and Robert Wilson.
Let me also encourage current and future leaders and members of the Sociology Department to do their best to “keep in touch” with former members of the department and to continue the rich, balanced, stable, and very smart heritage of the department. I am glad, and lucky, to have been part of it.
Thanks again. Timothy Philip Schwartz-Barcott, firstname.lastname@example.org, 157 Weaver Hill Road, West Greenwich, RI 02817
Submitted September 2016