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Profile of the President

The Massey Odyssey

by Ed Stephan, Western Washington University

As his undergraduate mentor, I have been asked to tell you about Doug Massey. The word “mentor” bothers me, even in its original sense—Odysseus leaving his friend Mentor safe at home to teach his son, while he and his men sailed off on the wine-dark sea toward their fabled adventures. Why exclude them from his “odyssey”? As with our similarly inaccurate term “socialization,” “mentor” also suggests Locke’s passive “tabula rasa,” Yoda’s Skywalker; the protégé is always far more active than such terms suggest, an emerging being with a prior history.

When I first met Doug Massey I didn’t know that he was the eldest of three children; that his mother, who had a degree in economics, quit her job when he was born (1952, Olympia, WA), went back for a teaching certificate when his younger brother entered school; she became a full time schoolteacher when Doug was in junior high. I wouldn’t have believed that he was a shy kid or that he played Little League and went out for school sports but didn’t excel at them. I was unaware that he taught himself guitar and formed a garage band in high school or that his grades suffered when he discovered dating. I didn’t know that his extended family’s dinner conversations involved heated discussions about the Vietnam War, Cambodia, Nixon, the War on Poverty, the draft, or that these topics spilled over into the music his group played at school functions.

When I first met him in my office in the attic of “Old Main” at Western Washington State College I didn’t know that Doug was less than a year from completing three majors (Spanish, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology) in four years with a nearly perfect transcript (two B’s his freshman year). All I knew was what I saw and heard: a tall kid with his feet in the hallway and his bearded, bespectacled face peeking into my office, softly uttering: “Um, they cancelled the class in demography (scheduled for another professor), so I was wondering if you could direct an ‘independent study’ for me.”

I hope I was very busy at that moment. I’m normally not so curt with students. I said, “Read Bogue.” He said, “Excuse me?” I said, “Read Bogue, Principles of Demography; then come see me.” He said, “Yes, sir.” When I looked up he was gone. That was October of 1973. The following January he reappeared. Barely inside my office this time, he said, “Excuse me, Dr. Stephan, but I’ve read Bogue. What do I do now?” I said, returning to my work, “Well, now you know more demography than I do.” You couldn’t accuse me of “mentoring.” While still an undergraduate, Doug co-authored his first published paper with another student, Lucky Tedrow. He graduated magna cum laude, the Outstanding Student in Sociology, 1975. During his senior year he knew he had an academic calling, but with characteristic shyness he didn’t think he was ready, so he stayed an extra year studying computer programming, mathematics and statistics. At Princeton he realized this preparation was overkill. He later told me that his fellow seminar members at Princeton laughed when he introduced himself as coming from Western Washington State College; they weren’t laughing when the year was over. He got the highest score on the demography qualifying examination, finished his coursework in a year, completed his exams the second year, and was awarded a special dissertation fellowship in his third year. He completed graduate study in three years and received the PhD in 1978, age 25.

I don’t want to convey the notion that Doug was a learning/performing machine. He worked hard at academics, but he played hard, too. He visited after his first year at Princeton and, after catching me up on his life and downing several martinis, he suddenly got the idea that we should drop in on our university president. He grabbed my guitar, overruled my reticence, and we regaled the occupants of the official residence with a very extended version of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” along with other ditties. Doug could party.

In the Fall of 1977 he met his future wife, Susan Ross, a biochemist. A postdoctoral fellowship took Doug to University of California-Berkeley 1979-80 and Susan to UC San Francisco 1979-82. When his fellowship year was over he became Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, Susan’s alma mater; two years later, on another postdoc, she joined him at Penn. They were married. When Susan took a faculty position at the University of Illinois at Chicago, they commuted back and forth for four years. In 1987, Doug accepted the position of Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago.

In addition to marking his departure from graduate school, 1979 was the year Doug published his first articles as sole author. One dealt with patterns of migration from a central Mexican town to the United States, the other with residential segregation of Spanish Americans in U.S. urbanized areas. Hispanic migration and ethno/racial residential segregation would form the major themes for his scholarly research and publishing during the remainder of the century.

Doug’s initial articles and his early fellowships and grants grew from his doctoral dissertation, a comparison of Latino and Black segregation in the largest urban areas. This was not a component of a larger project, as many dissertations are. In fact, Doug was considered a real eccentric at Princeton since no one studied human ecology or migration. His advisor, Jane Menken, paralleling my “mentoring” experience with him, readily admitted that Doug knew more about those topics than she did. Typically, he defined his interests, then taught himself what he needed to know in order to pursue them.

At some point I must make explicit reference to Doug’s impressive curriculum vitae. It lists 91 articles in refereed journals—Social Forces (5), Sociology and Social Research (5), American Sociological Review (6), Population and Development Review (6), Social Science Quarterly (7), Social Science Research (7), International Migration Review (8), American Journal of Sociology (9), Demography (11). Funded grants total nearly $8,000,000. He has ten books, not to mention partial reprints or translations of his works into Spanish and French. As with his articles, most deal with Mexican or international migration and with segregation/stratification. A notable exception, in spite of its title, is Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States (with Jorge Durand). This is really a very original and attractive art book, dealing with a form of Mexican folk art, which Doug almost single-handedly introduced to non-Latin America. It won the Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association.

His best-known book is American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (with Nancy Denton), of which Michael Katz has said “Better than any other book [it] explains the origins, persistence, and consequences of racial segregation in American housing.” Reynolds Farley notes that it provides “unambiguous evidence that residential segregation is the major factor accounting for the black underclass.” It won the 1993 Critics’ Choice Award, American Educational Studies Association, the 1994 Otis Dudley Duncan Award of the ASA Population Section, and the 1995 Distinguished Publication Award of the American Sociological Association.

While all this was going on, Doug’s personal life changed dramatically. In October of 1991 he and Susan agreed to adopt a Paraguayan girl, Vanessa. After their initial court hearing, in April, they had to return to the United States. As the court proceedings bogged down, however, Doug ultimately returned to Paraguay to care for Vanessa alone in a hotel room for five weeks (a crash course in fatherhood) before they were allowed to leave the country. They arrived home on July 16, the day after Vanessa’s first birthday.

Either of two accomplishments listed among Doug’s contributions to the profession would be enough for a lifetime. The Population Association of America elected him as its President in 1996. Two years later he was chosen to join the nation’s scientific elite as a member of the National Academy of Sciences. We now add a third jewel to Doug’s triple crown: President of the American Sociological Association. In 1994, Doug returned to the University of Pennsylvania as the Dorothy Swaine Thomas Professor of Sociology, partially so that Susan could get a better position in Penn’s medical school. Unfortunately this effort to save his marriage failed, and in October of 1998 they separated.

The Homeric use of “mentor” suggests that inaccurate phrase, “those who can do; those who can’t teach.” But teaching is a particularly seminal form of doing, and Doug has taught many undergraduate and graduate students. Their success is further testimony to how well he has done. He has, through his research and publication, also done much to teach the rest of us. And he has “done” in the other sense of that awful phrase as well: from adopting Vanessa to advising Congress, he continues to make a difference in the world. We are all indeed fortunate to be participating in the ongoing Massey odyssey.