Gold (Advice) and (Horace) Silver

Doug McAdam

I had the great fortune of spending a lot of time and working closely with Chuck (and another collaborate of his, Sid Tarrow) over the last 13 years of his life. The collaboration started with a three-year Mellon-funded series of seminars on “Contentious Politics” held at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. The seminar was intended to encourage a much broader, interdisciplinary conversation among scholars studying social movements, revolutions, peasant rebellions, terrorism and other forms of non-routine politics. The project began with six core faculty from three disciplines—history, sociology, and political science—but over its life expanded to include 15 graduate fellows and over 40 invited scholars. It led to the creation of the highly successful (and still very active) Cambridge University Press series on “Contentious Politics,” as well as a host of specific publications by various combinations of project participants. In all, Chuck, Sid and I collaborated on two books and at least six articles. Indeed, I was literally editing page proofs for one final McAdam-Tarrow-Tilly piece when I got word that Chuck had died.

I have countless wonderful memories from this period, but want to share a very different story with you. It’s the story of my very first encounter with Chuck. I tell it because it so beautifully captures what made this man so remarkable, interpersonally, no less than intellectually. It’s the story of how an already established academic star treated an unknown, first-year assistant professor whom he had never met.

Right after I defended my Ph.D., I sent my dissertation to the University of Chicago Press and much to my surprise and delight, they sent it out for review. As we know all too well, this process can take six, seven, eight or more months to complete. But in less than two months, I had two reviews in hand. One was a diffusely positive, but generally unhelpful, review of less than a page. As is convention, it was anonymous. The other review was 12(!) single-spaced pages, generally positive in tone, but offering LOTS of criticisms and difficult challenges to be confronted in any new draft. It was also accompanied by a note from Chuck to the editor at Chicago, Doug Mitchell, saying he didn’t believe in “hiding behind the mask of anonymity” and asking Doug to let me know that he was the author of this particular review.

I was, to put it mildly, flabbergasted by—and deeply grateful for—the obvious time, energy, and creative intellectual thought that Chuck had put into the review. (It remains the very best and most helpful review I have ever received on any piece of work I have done.) My first instinct was to immediately send him a note to that effect, but I worried that this might be interpreted as currying favor, since Chicago had decided to withhold a final decision on my book contract, pending receipt of a new draft.

I labored for another six months or so, trying as best I could to respond to the many difficult challenges posed in Chuck’s review. I then resubmitted the draft and set about anxiously awaiting news from Chicago. It came in a matter of weeks, along with a second review from Chuck, urging publication of the book. This review was much shorter: “only” five single-spaced pages! Chuck’s review was accompanied by a letter from Doug Mitchell, offering a formal contract for the book.

Flying high and no longer afraid that my actions would be misinterpreted, I dashed off a quick note to Chuck—whom I had never met—offering effusive thanks for the two reviews. I got a note back within a week. The key part of the note—which I still have—reads as follows: “No need to thank me. This is part of our job as scholars. But if you still insist on thanking me, consider adopting this style of reviewing as your own. Don’t allow your reviews to be anonymous and try to take the review as seriously as the author has the manuscript.”

To the best of my ability, I have participated in Chuck’s “adopt a norm” program throughout my career. But no one has ever done it better than Chuck. In most things academic, no one has done it better than Chuck Tilly.

(On a less laudatory note, I’d love to tell you how Chuck’s penchant for playing Horace Silver at 5:00 in the morning almost ruined our friendship, but I’ll save for another time.)


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