January 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 1

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Stanford Sociology Celebrates
50th Anniversary of Its Renewal

by W. Richard Scott, Stanford University

On August 8, 2009, the Department of Sociology at Stanford University held a reception for current and former faculty and doctoral students to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Reorganization and Renewal of the Department in 1959. Chair Karen Cook welcomed more than 150 attendees to the event, held in conjunction with the ASA Annual Meeting of the ASA in San Francisco.


Stanford University's six "founding fathers":
Joe Berger, Frank Camilleri, Buzz Zelditch,
Dick Scott, Sandy Dornbusch, and Bernie Cohen

The history of Stanford's department is both complex and contested. Following the founding of the university in 1891, sociologists were quickly included among its faculty. Its first faculty member was E.A. Ross, appointed in 1892, followed by Mary Robert Smith in 1893 and, sometime later, George Elliott Howard. However, at this time (and for a very long time thereafter), a separate academic unit devoted to sociology did not exist. Ross and his colleagues were members of the Stanford Department of Economics and, later, the Department of Economics and the Social Sciences.

The appointment of E.A. Ross was fateful to the subsequent development of sociology at Stanford. Ross, an imaginative and engaged "conflict theorist, decided to conduct research on the conditions of migrant Chinese labor in California, including their role in the building of railroads. This interest did not escape the attention of Jane Lathrop Stanford, who took great umbrage at the temerity of her "employee" in investigating the details of labor practices of the Southern Pacific Railroad, owned by her husband, Leland Stanford, founder of the university.

Then-university president, David Starr Jordan, attempted for several years to defend the rights of faculty to pursue their scholarly interests, but by 1900, Jordan concluded that he would have to choose between Ross and Stanford University. He elected the latter, and Ross was fired. George Howard, along with several other faculty members, resigned in protest. Ross went on to become the founding member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin and both Ross and Howard subsequently served as president of the ASA. More important, with Roscoe Pound and John Dewey, Ross was instrumental in creating in 1915 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to protect academic freedom.

The Turnaround of 1959

At Stanford, for several decades thereafter a handful of sociologists, including Charles Nathan Reynolds and Richard T. LaPiere, continued to offer courses in sociology. However, it was not until 1948 that an academic unit carried the word "sociology." In that year, the Department of Anthropology and Sociology was founded. This entity remained in place until 1957 when the Department of Sociology was granted autonomy, and, in 1959, the university was determined to make a serious investment in its future. That year, Sanford M. Dornbusch was invited to join the faculty as chair and allowed to bring with him four new faculty members: Joseph Berger, Santo F (Frank) Camilleri, Bernard P. Cohen, and W. Richard (Dick) Scott. Morris (Buzz) Zelditch arrived the following year. This was the event—a moment of reorganization and renewal which launched the modern era of sociology at Stanford—that was celebrated 50 years later in San Francisco. All of the members of the founding cohort were present at the celebration and each spoke briefly about their recollections.

The newly appointed faculty created a relatively distinctive curriculum and graduate training program. Students received rigorous training in research design, methods, theory, and theory construction. Substantive courses were concentrated in four broad areas: Social psychology and interpersonal processes; organizations and, later, social movements and economic sociology; stratification, inequality, and gender; and comparative and historical sociology. A series of seminars and "workshops" tied to ongoing research programs provided important vehicles for training. The "Stanford model" of graduate training in sociology gradually became widely recognized in the discipline.

Tenured faculty at Stanford before 1959 included William McCord, Richard LaPiere, Edmund Volkart, and Paul Wallin. In addition to the faculty joining the department in 1959-61, John Meyer and Dudley Kirk arrived during the decade of the 1960s. They were soon joined, during the 1970s, by Patricia Barchas, Elizabeth Cohen, St. Clare Drake, William Goode, Michael Hannan, Alex Inkeles, Seymour Lipset, James March, and Nancy Tuma. During the 1980s, new tenured members included David Grusky and Henry Walker. In the 1990s, new faculty included James Baron, Karen Cook, Mark Granovetter, Doug McAdam, Susan Olzak, Cecilia Ridgeway, Matt Snipp, and Andrew Walder. And, during the first decade of the new century, tenured faculty included Larry Bobo, Shelly Correll, Paula England, Michael Rosenfeld, Gi-Wook Shin, and Xueguang Zhou.

During the five decades since the reorganization of the department, more than 340 graduate students received their doctoral degrees. As it celebrates 50 years and counting, the Stanford Department of Sociology appears well positioned for continued leadership as we enter a new century. logo_small

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