History of the Department

Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro: The First 100 Years

A Centennial Reflection

            The academic year 2013-2014 marked the 100th year of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Over the past century, the Department of Sociology has grown from a small department made up of a few white young women led by an equally homogeneous faculty of white men to one of the largest and most diverse departments in the College of Arts and Sciences led by a diverse and engaged faculty. With initial roots in the study of rural life and social work, the academic content of the department’s offerings also has grown and diversified to include sociological analyses of the family, religion, democracy, health and health care, memory, disasters, the environment, the education system, politics, crime and the criminal justice system, and the global society in which we now live. Cutting through and holding together this seemingly disparate set of concerns has been a century long commitment to sensitizing students of sociology to larger issues of inequality and social justice that sit at the core of each of these areas of sociological analysis. Because of this department’s long-standing commitment to these two broader issues, we have chosen to highlight them in our centennial year with a series of programs organized around the theme of “Inequality and Social Justice in a Changing World.” Here, we offer a brief history of the sociological enterprise in which the students, staff, and faculty of our department have been mutually engaged over this past century.

Sociology on this campus was part of the early wave of new social science programs throughout the country. It is rooted in two honored traditions: (1) the centrality of “rural” sociology in the early educational programs of America’s Land Grant related colleges and universities; and (2) a climate in North Carolina that – unlike most states in the region – was  receptive to a discipline that provided students insight into the rapidly changing society in which we lived. This nurturing climate for teaching and research in mainstream sociology allowed for the rise of nationally ranked programs in the state early on, programs that concerned themselves with the moral, political, and socio-economic issues of the region through creative teaching and scholarly research. These important intellectual currents have been reflected throughout this Department’s evolution.

In the fall of 1913, the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial College (the original name for UNCG, established in 1891) instituted a Department of Rural Life and Economics headed by Ernest Elwell Balcomb (Head, 1913-1918).  This soon became the Department of Economics and Sociology under the chairmanships of H. H. Beneke (Head, 1918-1919) and E.C. Lindeman (Head, 1919-1922).  During this early stage in the Department’s history, the curriculum expanded well beyond its initial focus on rural life. New course offerings centered on labor issues and women in the work place, social institutions, community organization, and social psychology, areas still fundamental to the discipline.

It also was during this early stage that the Department became enmeshed in one of the most controversial matters in the school’s history. The controversy centered on Department Head E. C. Lindeman, a highly regarded scholar of urban sociology and social research methods.  Rumors circulated that Lindeman and his wife had entertained black guests in his home, a quite controversial claim given the times. This rumor garnered the attention of the local chapter of the KKK, which sent a letter to then Chancellor Julius Foust (1907-1934) pressing the University to fire Lindeman for this behavior, which he refused to do. Chancellor Foust would later confess this to be the most difficult situation he dealt with during his career as Chancellor. The “Lindeman Affair,” as it is commonly referenced, ended with Lindeman giving his resignation because of the swirl of negative press surrounding the “situation,” a decision which both Foust and Lindeman noted as voluntary.

By 1921, UNCG was known as the North Carolina College for Women, and the Department joined with the Departments of History and Political Science to form the Social Sciences Faculty of the new College of Liberal Arts and Science. Sociologist Glen Johnson was hired as Department Head in 1923, a position he retained for thirty years. He began expansion of the curriculum and faculty at once. Within his first year, courses in race relations, criminology, deviant behavior, the family, anthropology and social services were among the expanded offerings. The course on race relations remained the only course dealing with black-white relations in the College curricula for the next four decades.

The mid- to late 1930’s and ‘40s was a seminal period for what was now called The Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, commonly referred to as “WC.” In 1936-37, Sociology and Economics became separate departments, and among the Department faculty were two new members – highly respected and powerful women – who were to make major contributions to the campus, the state, and higher education throughout the region. Dr. Lyda Gordon Shivers, with a degree in law[1] and a Ph.D. in sociology, was hired in 1933 to teach in the areas of criminology, delinquency, and family relations. Mereb Mossman was brought from the University of Chicago in 1937 to direct the Department’s applied program in child welfare and social services field work—a nine hour sequence “firmly grounded in a liberal arts tradition” that was to remain one of the department’s sequential offerings for the next forty years.

Dr. Shivers became head of the Department in 1954. Under her leadership, a social studies sequence was added for students wishing to teach in secondary schools, the faculty was expanded, and offerings in both sociology and anthropology grew. In 1963, the name of the Department was changed to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. It remained a joint department for ten years. The legacy of Dr. Shivers lives through the Lyda Gordon Shivers Scholarship, given in alternate years to a sociology and social work major.

Dr. Mossman became Dean of the Faculty in the early 1950’s and, ultimately, the first Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. She served with distinction, contributing much to the stability and excellence of campus life, and providing a strong, respected link to UNC system President William Friday and the Consolidated University Administrative staff. Upon her retirement as Vice Chancellor, she returned to teaching; her calm, professional presence served as an example of excellence for her junior colleagues. In 1978, the present administration building was named in her honor. She retained a keen interest in departmental and university progress until her death in 1990.

The decade of the 1960’s proved yet another watershed for the College and the Department. The school became The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It was henceforth to be both interracial and co-educational; the student movement, and consequent unrest, had left its mark. A Graduate School was established, and Dr. James S. Ferguson, who later became one of the school’s most widely respected Chancellors, was hired as Dean of the College. Dean Ferguson directed the Department to establish a graduate program. Several new faculty members with strong credentials and regional and national visibility joined the Department. Dr. Wayne Thompson, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Social Science Research Center at Cornell University, came as the new Head in 1968 to direct the Department’s move to graduate work. Resisting pressure from inside and outside the University to establish a Ph.D. program, the Department faculty elected to build a strong M.A. program which they felt was needed within the region.

It also was during this period that the Department hired Dr. Joseph Himes. Dr. Himes became the first senior level African-American faculty member at UNCG. He came to UNCG as an influential and highly regarded expert in the area of race and ethnic relations whose work had been used to facilitate school desegregation in the North Carolina public schools. While at UNCG, Professor Himes won numerous prestigious awards, was elected President of the Southern Sociological Society, and founded the North Carolina Sociological Association, serving as its first President. Dr. Himes grew up legally blind under Jim Crow segregation and went on to become one of UNCG’s most accomplished scholars and one of the Department’s most beloved faculty members.

After the resignation of Wayne Thompson as Head, Dr. Harriet J. Kupferer became Acting Head until Alvin Scaff of the University of Iowa was recruited to lead the Department in 1972-73. His decision to separate Sociology and Anthropology became effective in the fall of 1974 when Anthropology became an independent department under the leadership of Dr.  Kupferer. Three years later, the faculty and administration approved a plan to make the social work sequence a separate program as well, thus creating the Department of Sociology as a stand-alone department. During Dr. Scaff’s tenure, the Department continued to strengthen its undergraduate course offerings, its graduate program, and its cooperative relationships and activities within the broader University community. Dr. Scaff had the foresight and generosity to start the Department Enrichment Fund.

Upon Dr. Scaff’s retirement in 1978, the Department has been led by Dr. Daniel O. Price, who came to UNCG after serving as Director of the Social Science Research Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dr. Price worked with other senior professors in the department to bring increased national attention to the department through a greatly increased level of research activity. Following Dr. Price, Dept. Heads James K. Skipper, Jr., David J. Pratto, William E. Knox, Steve Kroll-Smith, and Julie V. Brown have continued in this tradition. A sampling of faculty research during this period includes: the effects of higher education on students; professionalization and health care in Post-Soviet Russia; dating and cohabitation patterns among youth; housing discrimination patterns in Guilford Co.; and obstacles to reintegration faced by innocent individuals wrongly convicted of crime.

In the latter part of the 1990’s, the Department again expanded its curriculum by adding two new concentrations. Criminology was added as a concentration for both undergraduate and graduate level students beginning in 1998, and a second concentration in Social Problems in a Global Society was added at the undergraduate level in 2004. These concentrations continued the focus on issues of inequality and social justice that have always undergirded the curriculum. The addition of these concentrations expanded the student base of the department and has contributed to a doubling in the number of majors in a short ten year period.

Since its inception, the Sociology Department has helped strengthen other disciplines and programs within the University. It is, however, particularly proud of its role in nurturing the intellectual and personal growth of thousands of students, many of whom have made significant contributions to state and nation. Both Bachelor and Master’s Degree students are found among the ranks of outstanding civic and political leaders; they serve as administrators in a wide variety of governmental, community, and business agencies; they are data analysts, programmers, medical researchers, social workers, teachers, principals, playwrights, musicians, detectives, and university faculty members. Many of its Master’s graduates have earned the Ph.D. and gone on to academic careers in teaching and research. The accomplishment of its students is an indication of the Department’s strength.

The involvement of the faculty in major professional associations has been another of Sociology’s strengths at UNCG. Four faculty members from this Department – Drs. Elaine Burgess, William Noland, Joseph Himes, and Rebecca Adams – have served as President of the Southern Sociological Society; two faculty members have held terms on the prestigious American Sociological Association’s Executive Council. Dr. Daniel Price served as President of the Southern Demographic Association, and Dr. David Pratto was the first sociologist to serve as President of the North Carolina Association for Research in Education; Dr. Pratto, and Drs. Paul Lindsey and William T. Markham also served as Presidents of the North Carolina Sociological Association. Dr. Paul Luebke, a specialist in political sociology, has served as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives. Such leadership roles, extensive faculty participation in professional meetings, acquisition of grants, fellowships and scholarships, and the continued publication of scholarly work are – when combined with the success of former students – the marks of a solid and respected program both within the state and throughout the South. It has indeed been an eventful and productive 100 years, and we look forward to working with students, colleagues, and the community in shaping the future as we move into our next 100 years.

Offered by:

William E. Knox

Elaine Burgess

Emily Birchett

Saundra D. Westervelt

August 2013


1 She was the first woman to attain a law degree at the University of Mississippi.

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