I came to Columbia as a graduate student just as Chuck moved uptown from the New School. I chose Columbia in part because I was interested in social movements and activism, and heard that he was going to be there. I hadn’t heard of many academics who wrote about activism, but besides Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward (with whom I also managed to take a course), I had heard of precious few. Chuck was one of them.
But I had no idea what I was getting into. So many of these tributes attest to Chuck’s extraordinary work ethic, output of scholarly work, willingness to test new ideas, allergy to dogmatism, openness to constructive criticism, and dedication as a teacher and as a mentor. Having been the beneficiary of all of these, I second them heartily. Chuck’s marvelous talent was in modeling this behavior, so that it could spread. And yet, knowing that all of these were meant to be emulated meant a certain amount of pressure. There was nothing more difficult for me than telling Chuck that I had missed a deadline.
What really stands out for me in my interactions with Chuck at Columbia, however, is the concern he showed for setting up an intellectual community. This is no small thing. Columbia’s sociology department could be, at times, a model of anomie. When I arrived, there was no space for students to interact or work. For his part, Chuck argued that advanced graduate students needed at least some office space to work, and that a faculty office (which were large at Columbia) should be allocated to students and configured for sharing. Thus began a steady improvement in the conditions for dissertation writers and with it, a concurrent improvement in their (our) productivity. Some of the most lasting friendships I made at Columbia were with fellow students with whom I shared the office next door to Chuck’s, with its bookshelves stuffed with back issues of Chuck’s journals.
The place that epitomized Chuck’s concern for mutual development of ideas and research was his Workshop on Contentious Politics, which ran, in some form and forum or another for forty years. At Columbia, the Workshop had its ups and downs, additions and subtractions, but there was always a core of people who kept coming back, and who formed intellectual and affective bonds. The Workshop became my intellectual home during my six years at Columbia, and for the six years after that. When I haven’t been able to make it to the workshop, I have felt homesick. When I work on an article, the first place I think of bringing it is the Workshop. The Workshop was special because it was an institution fully infused with Chuck’s ethos of basic generosity and democracy. Everyone is supposed to have done his or her homework, and to have read the paper beforehand. Graduate students are prioritized in the speaker/question queue so that they may join the conversation as colleagues. Criticism is expected to be constructive and to be offered in that spirit. The author is expected to take criticism seriously and not to be defensive or dismissive of critics. When any of these norms is broken, it’s palpable, and Chuck, or someone else, would work to mend the situation. There are not too many forums like this, and where they exist, have often been founded by Chuck’s students or colleagues.
Thus, when I think about Chuck, I will always remember the moments when his own intellectual abilities were on display, such as the time when, in a seminar, he offered trenchant comments and bibliographic references to two students, one of whom wrote on 16th Century Dutch maritime policy, and the other of whom wrote on criminal code reforms in late 19th Century Brazil. And I will think about his many books and articles that I find—and will continue to find—enormously instructive. But even when I don’t think about Chuck directly, but think about my friends and colleagues from graduate school, or how I run a seminar, or comment on student work, Chuck is inevitably involved, too. That the wisest observer of contentious politics was also the ablest facilitator of cooperative scholarship is simply astounding. And for this, in my own less astounding ways, I am bound to try to pass this on, to, in Chuck’s words, “adopt the norm.”
City College of New York