Marvin Cummins Dies; Led Fight to Keep Wash U Sociology Department

Article excerpt

Marvin Cummins, who died last week at age 77, was the last chairman of the sociology department at Washington University. He helped lead the unsuccessful fight to keep the university from abolishing it.

Beginning in the 1960s with protests against the Vietnam War, the sociology department became a center of activism, especially among graduate students and junior faculty members. Higher-ups at the university came to view the department as highly controversial.

The rancor got old for the university, Professor Cummins told the Post-Dispatch in 1991, the year the university officially disbanded his department.

Most of his colleagues in the department left Washington University, and Professor Cummins helped them find positions at other prestigious institutions.

But he stayed on, as a tenured professor in the political science department. He was a popular teacher, and his classes included a course in homicide and the law, in which he showed that the judicial system sometimes fails and innocent people are executed.

Marvin Jay Cummins died Friday (March 1, 2013) at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in Town and Country. He was diagnosed with a rare blood disease in late December, the month before he was to begin teaching his latest classes, his family said Monday.

Washington University once had a thriving sociology department, with 75 graduate students and 25 faculty members, 14 of them tenured.

Members of the department studied alcoholism (Professor Cummins original specialty); the old Pruitt-Igoe housing complex that was eventually blown up; and homosexual activity in public restrooms.

That last study brought the ire of the administration, which denied a doctoral degree to the candidate who wrote the study on the ground that the activities hed studied were felonies under Missouri law at the time. …