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American Sociological Association: Robert Dentler Award Statement
Robert Dentler is one of the great, exemplary figures in the practice of sociology over the last half century. His career has stretched from his role as a crime and court reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau in 1949 to his present position as Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Dentler’s most important contributions have been as a sociologist engaged in the struggle for racial justice, particularly in relation to the desegregation of pubic schools, in which he has played a major role since the 1960s. In following this track Dentler has walked in the footsteps of such great sociologists as W.E.B. Du Bois and Robert Park.
Dentler’s own role in this struggle is the stuff of legend. His 1960s doctoral seminar at the Teacher’s College, Columbia University on urban sociology and education, dealing particularly with racial issues, rose in enrollment from 15 students in1962 to 200 in 1967. He became staff director for a team working at the direction of the New York Commission of Education, aiming at the desegregation of New York public schools as early as 1963. This was followed by an endless stream of work as an advisor, analyst and expert witness in desegregation efforts all across the country: New York, Buffalo, Rochester, White Plains, New York; Bridgeport and Stamford, Connecticut; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Los Angeles and San Bernadino, California, and in may other communities. In 1972 he became Dean of Education and University Professor of Education and Sociology at Boston University. Within a year he had been appointed to the Boston Mayor’s Commission on the Public School, and was engaged for years in the intense battle for desegregation in Boston. In the 1980s he worked as a desegregation consultant in cases in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; Little Rock, Arkansas; Mobile, Alabama; and De Kalb County, Georgia. In 1979, he worked on the desegregation of the sixteen campuses of the University of North Carolina system. In 1994 he worked on desegregating the schools in Rockford, Illinois.
In all of these years Dentler produced a steady scholarly stream of books, articles and reports. He has published 15 books with such titles as Big City Dropouts and Illiterates (1967), Schools on Trial: An Inside Account of the Boston Desegregation Case (1981), University on Trial: The Case of the University of North Carolina (1983) and Practicing Sociology (2002). He has published dozens of articles and reports, including articles in The American Sociological Review, Daedalus, The Urban Review, The Sociology of Education and many others.
A very remarkable aspect of Dentler’s career has been his unswerving devotion to the idea of sociological practice. He has served as President of the Society for Applied Sociology and as Chair of the Sociological Practice Section of the American Sociological Association. He was Editor of the American Sociological Association’s Sociological Practice Review from 1989-1992. He has also served from 1989 on as Associate Editor of Equity and Excellence in Education and as Associate Editor of Evaluation Review from 1982-1985. In recognition of these achievements he received the Distinguished Career Award from the Sociological Practice Section of the American Sociological Association in 1993 and the William Lloyd Garrison Award of the Massachusetts Educational Opportunity Association in 1992.
A nomination letter for Dentler by Joyce Ann Miller, President of Keystone Research Corporation stated:
As one of his missions in life, his work involving school desegregation provides a model for all applied sociologists. It shows a dedication to a cause, his use of sociological knowledge and skills to analyze a problem area, and an intellectual capacity to understand how to apply his analysis to affect change. His life’s work as a sociologist also illuminates the ways in which the practice of sociology can contribute to the betterment of the human condition.
The Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology is not meant simply to honor an individual’s life achievements, but also to inspire and inform others who might seek to devote their career to sociological practice. It would be hard to imagine a better example of what sociological practice is than that offered by Robert Gentler.