April 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 4

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Obituaries

Deaths

Robert J. Stevenson, a former academic and more recently an independent scholar who published on deviance and criminology, died unexpectedly on March 17, 2011, at the age of 64.


Obituary

Norval D. Glenn
1933-2011

The renowned sociologist Norval Glenn died on February 15, 2011, after battling Myelodyspastic Syndrome (MDS) for two and a half years. He is survived by his wife Grace Glenn and his stepson Erik Schmitt.

Norval received his doctorate from the University of Texas-Austin, then taught at Miami University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after which he was invited to return to the University of Texas-Austin in l963. He was a member of the faculty for 47 years, becoming Professor Emeritus in January 2011.

I knew him for over 50 years. Norval was a product of both the old and the new departments at Texas (he even composed a brief essay on that transition). Although we traveled in rather different sociological orbits, we greatly respected each other’s scholarly activities and were long-standing friends.

Norval was born on the Glenn Ranch in Lea County, NM, on August 13, l933. He attended schools in Tatum, NM, and received his BA from New Mexico State in Las Cruces. He then served in the U.S. Army for four years and went on to graduate studies in sociology at UT. A memorial, honoring his scholarly contributions, was held by the Department of Sociology at the University-Austin, and a scholarly award named in his honor is being established for graduate students.

Norval was a soft spoken, self-effacing person who seldom talked about himself and his manifold accomplishments. His personal style served him well within the department in which he played a major role for over four decades. He was deeply committed to enhancing the position of the department locally and nationally. Norval was a keen listener who grasped the multiple personal and intellectual differences that inhere in any large, complex sociology department. He was a master in brokering or reframing ongoing debates (public and private) that occurred. He thus improved the quality of scholarly life for all members of the department.

Norval’s role in the department was greatly enhanced by his national and international acclaim, contributing as he did in telling ways to such realms as the family, survey research and cohort analysis. I would add public sociology.

First and foremost, Norval Glenn was a master analyst of survey research. His technical prowess has often been underestimated. I recall in the late l970s talking with him in his office when he discussed letters being exchanged among certain major statisticians of that era. He was more a recipient than a participant in this exchange. Two names come to mind: Otis Dudley Duncan and Stanley Lieberson. Duncan had, it appears, complimented Norval on his skills and for not becoming caught up in the shifting fads within statistics. Furthermore, Norval combined his statistical know-how with a broad- ranging knowledge of sociological issues as well as an ability to express himself in writing. He was a master at shaping the flow of an argument, at times adding his own artistic touch.

All the aforementioned talents are highlighted in his ground-breaking book on cohort analysis, which went through two editions.

Norval Glenn was also a central figure in the family values debate that divided social science as well as the larger public in the latter part of the 20th and early years of the 21st centuries. Within this frame, his contributions to public sociology came to the fore. I once inquired of him: Is there anyone in sociology who does what he does in this realm? Speaking carefully, he indicated that he knew of no one in family studies but was reluctant to generalize beyond the area he knew best.

His form of public sociology brought together technical survey and demographic data as a standard for evaluating the ongoing debates (especially empirically unacceptable claims) in the field. That he could present these so as to be understandable by a larger educated public audience set him apart from lesser mortals.

Norval’s scholarly impact on the international scene deserves special mention. Two illustrations bring certain patterns to the fore. He gave a speech to members of the Australian Parliament regarding the role of the family today.. Also, after the Soviet Union was dissolved, many Western experts visited the new Russia to assist Russian professionals in upgrading a wide range of social activities. Norval traveled there and presented a paper (1989) on lessons from the United States for survey research in the Soviet Union. When he returned we talked about his role. He found that Russian survey researchers were really quite up-to-date in their practices.

Many honors flowed Norval’s way. He was Ashbel Smith Professor as well as Stiles Professor in American Studies. He received a graduate teaching award from the university (he helped launch the careers of numerous graduate students). He was editor of Contemporary Sociology and the Journal of Family Issues. And in 2007, he received the Warren E. Miller Award from fellow social researchers. These honors (and others not mentioned) signify Norval Glenn’s scholarly importance. Still, in my judgment, his lasting contributions will be seen as producing some basic sociological knowledge. It is in this realm that history will treat him most kindly.

Gideon Sjoberg, University of Texas-Austin

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