87 year old Indian man wants to pursue sociology degree

I was intrigued when I saw a story describing the interest an 87 year old Indian man has in pursuing a sociology degree:

Sudan is perhaps the oldest man in the country to appear for the BA (Part II) exams of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). The students and invigilators could not hide their joy at seeing the old man bubbling with enthusiasm to pass the examination.

Born in 1925, Sudan completed his matriculation in 1941 and soon got a job in the postal department.After retiring from services in 1983 as post master for Jammu circle, he started his own life insurance marketing services…

“I got excited when I watched my grandchildren studying. I wanted to emulate them and so I decided to join them and pursue my higher education,” said Sudan…

Sudan wants to pursue research in sociology after completing his graduation and masters. “My first target is graduation and then masters. If I am alive I will go for research in this subject,” he said.

It would be interesting to hear why exactly this man is interested in sociology. Did he realize after 87 years that there is still plenty to learn about human interaction? Is there a particular puzzle about people that still interests him? Is there something in particular that he saw that he wants to explain? His explanation could also be related to a common charge against sociology: “it’s just all common sense.” One can assume this 87 year old man is not happy enough with his “common sense” and wants to find out more.

Another question of mine: does the average 87 year old have more insight into human nature and behavior than younger people? In other words, how much does life experience really contribute to understanding the world? I would guess life experience can get you somewhere but simply growing older doesn’t necessarily lead to wisdom.

Another famous sociology major: Arne Duncan

Occasionally I highlight famous sociology degree holders such as Ronald Reagan or the current President of Ireland or Martin Luther King, Jr. Add the current Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to the list:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan leads this year’s class of inductees for the Academic All-America Hall of Fame that was announced Tuesday by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

Duncan was a basketball co-captain at Harvard and the Crimson’s leading scorer at 16.9 points a game as a senior in 1986-87. He was first-team Academic All-American that year, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in sociology.

He tried his hand at pro basketball from 1987-91, including a stint in Australia.

Some students want to know that sociology majors can make a difference in the US government or in large organizations. This is a good example: Duncan built upon his degree and parlayed into a career in education.

The title of Duncan’s senior thesis at Harvard sounds like something that might come out of a William Julius Wilson text:

Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools[2] and later Harvard University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. His senior thesis, for which he took a year’s leave to do research in the Kenwood neighborhood, was entitled The values, aspirations and opportunities of the urban underclass.

It would be interesting to hear Duncan talk more specifically about how a sociology degree has helped him see the world differently and get involved in and move up within government organizations.

Can you imagine what might happen if Duncan, working out of personal experience as well as an administrator, led a charge to include sociology in curriculum?

Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins has a master’s degree in sociology

I’m always on the lookout for famous people with sociology degrees. Being the President of a country counts: Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins is considered a sociologist.

Higgins holds a graduate degree in sociology.In his academic career, he was a Statutory Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at University College Galway and was a Visiting Professor at Southern Illinois University. He resigned his academic posts to concentrate fully on his political career.

Higgins received a master’s degree in sociology from Indiana University in 1967:

“On behalf of Indiana University, I would like to congratulate IU alumnus Michael D. Higgins upon his election as the ninth president of Ireland and culmination of a long and distinguished career as a politician, lecturer, author and human rights activist,” McRobbie said. “Over the course of four decades, President-elect Higgins has dedicated himself to championing Irish culture and passionately defending human rights causes in many parts of the world. He is also renowned for the many intellectual contributions he has made to modern political, philosophical and literary discourse. All of us at IU wish him the greatest success as he prepares to apply his extensive knowledge and experiences to his new role as Ireland’s senior ambassador.”

Higgins received a master of arts degree in sociology at IU Bloomington in 1967.

Higgins is also apparently an honorary life member of the Sociological Association of Ireland.

I wonder if anyone has done a study on the effectiveness of leaders with sociological degrees. Sociology is an unusually broad field, containing insights for many areas of social life as well as for social interactions. I would hope that sociologists can do unique things because of their training…

From NFL player to sociologist

Occasionally, I highlight unusual paths people take to become sociologists. Here is another example: an 11 year veteran of the NFL who became a sociologist. Here are the broad details of Ken Ruettgers’ path:

After graduating from USC, Ken was drafted in the first-round of the 1985 NFL Draft (7th pick) by Green Bay where he remained throughout his professional career. Ken was the Green Bay Packers’ 1989 offensive MVP. He began the 1996 season on the Physically Unable to Perform List. He was activated after four games, but injuries had taken their toll and he could not finish the season.

Ruettgers has a B.A. in Business Administration from USC’s Marshall School of Business, and an MBA from California State University, Bakersfield. He recently received a Ph.D in sociology from Oxford Graduate School in Dayton, Tennessee in 2007.More recently he has begun teaching Sociology classes part time at Central Oregon Community College.[3] He has also began coaching football at a local high school in Sisters, Oregon.

Here Ruettgers is briefly quoted talking about the recent scandal at Penn State:

Former NFL player and COCC Sociology Professor Ken Ruettgers says the Penn State case and the one at Syracuse are opening people’s eyes. “I do think it’s been somewhat of a watershed moment. Up until this, those with the title of coach weren’t questioned. This has tarnished that image and brought that into questions and maybe that’s a good thing. Don’t give free pass just because you’re a good thing because. While its sad, I think it’s a good thing it’s been exposed.”

I’m sure this was an interesting transition. Do students sit up and pay a little more attention in intro to sociology classes when they learn their professor is a former NFL player? Are there skills from his football days that easily translate into the academic realm?

By the way, the Oxford Graduate School has an unusual Ph.D. program that is titled ” Sociological Integration of Faith and Society.”

Stanford student bristles at question: “What are you going to do with a sociology degree?”

A Stanford student writes about having to answer a question common to sociology majors:

What annoys me, however, is when people ask “So what are you going to do with a Sociology degree?” Within the phrasing and intonation of this question are often a number of subtle assumptions and judgments. The first is the implication that I’ve chosen a useless degree because it doesn’t give me a clear path or job field to enter after college. The second is the assumption that my undergraduate degree determines my next steps; that because I am getting a B.A. in Sociology, I will pursue work in this field. The ultimate frustration I have with this question, one that often comes out during the course of the conversation, is the need for the person asking me the question to fit my answer and future plans into a discrete career label such as teacher, lawyer or lobbyist. In reality, none of these is true. My degree is not useless. Nor am I required to pursue things related to sociology. In fact, my job will probably not have any sort of neat label at all.

I find these issues crop up when talking to Stanford students as well, and I often feel looked down upon for not having chosen a more pre-professional path. I’ve had numerous conversations with techie students in which it is clear that they look down upon fuzzy majors. The culture among Stanford students lauds techie degrees as practical, which ends up framing fuzzy majors as useless. Although it is true that a Stanford engineering degree offers higher salaries and a guaranteed job right out of Stanford, a liberal arts degree is not a death knell. Liberal arts degrees have tremendous value even though they don’t shepherd the student into an obvious career trajectory and throw money at them.

My degree opens up a world of possibilities to me. Although the skills I’ve gained are less quantifiable than those from techie majors, my time at Stanford has vastly improved my writing, my critical thinking skills, my research skills and my ability to put together a coherent and convincing argument. All of these are qualities that employers look for and make me a valuable commodity on the job market. Every company that employs those high-paid CS majors also needs people to do marketing, HR, management and public relations. Any and all of these options are available to me with my liberal arts degree from Stanford.

People forget that many Americans have jobs have little to nothing to do with their undergraduate department, so it’s of little concern to me that my job be related to sociology. Some of my relatives get this and some don’t, but as our conversations continue they struggle to find a job label for the future me; do I want to be a consultant? A social worker? I should be a teacher! It’s like they’re grasping at straws for a name that they know and understand, failing to realize that jobs don’t always fall into these labels. Like most adults, I will probably have a job that has a title that you’ve never heard of and that doesn’t fall cleanly into any category. What’s important to me is that I find a job that accomplishes something that I believe is a valuable use of my time; the end goal is what’s important, not the name.

Some of this argument sounds very common to the perspective of millennials  such as a career needs to be “a valuable use of my time.” But she is also making a common defense of the liberal arts and the need for these skills in the workplace.

I don’t know that I would tell students that they could do anything “with my liberal arts degree from Stanford” (is the Stanford part here much more important than the liberal arts component?) or that it should be “of little concern to me that my job be related to sociology.” I think there is plenty to sell about sociology which she hints at: a way of looking at the world that is difficult to find in other majors. The broad overview and theoretical approach sociology offers that gets at the complex patterns present in society through a set of data collection and analysis skills is very valuable. Of course, this can be packaged and used in a number of different fields but sociology is simply not just a “fuzzy major” or just another major option. In a globalized society marked by increasing levels of complexity and dynamic change, we need more sociology majors.

A bad week for sociologists in prominent government positions?

Two stories from this week suggest it might not have been the best week for sociologists who are in prominent government jobs.

First, in Greece, George Papandreou resigned as Prime Minister. From earlier this week:

“Today I want to send a message of optismism to all Greeks. Our road, our path, will be more stabilised. Our country will be in a better situation. We will be stronger,” Mr Papandreou said in the televised address.

Philippos Petsalnikos, current speaker of the Athens parliament, has been widely tipped to replace Mr Papandreou as prime minister. Although Mr Papandreou did not name a successor, he added:

“I want to wish every success to the new PM and the new government. I will support this effort with all my strength.”…

Pressure has mounted on Greece’s two main political parties this afternoon to wrap up three days of critical power-sharing talks and name a new prime minister to take over at the helm of an interim government.

Papandreou has a sociology background.

Second, here is a fairly critical review of Ireland’s president-elect:

Michael Higgins, the President-Elect of Ireland, has lived a very comfortable life sucking on the government teat. He began his adult life as a sociologist in academia. He then moved into politics, and for decades enjoyed lucrative pay as a member of the political elite (well above $100,000 annually in recent years).

Now he’ll pull in more than $300,000 per year for a largely ceremonial job as Ireland’s President. As the old saying goes, nice work if you can get it. This guy’s definitely part of the top 1 percent.

He’s also an economic illiterate or a cynical hack who apparently thinks noble poverty is a good idea for the other 99 percent.

Here is a quick overview of Higgin’s academic background from Wikipedia:

Higgins holds a graduate degree in sociology. In his academic career, he was a Statutory Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at University College Galway and was a Visiting Professor at Southern Illinois University. He resigned his academic posts to concentrate fully on his political career.

Perhaps Anthony Giddens can ride in and save the idea for prominent sociologists in higher levels of government?

Earnings of sociology majors on list of “Best College Majors for a Career”

The Wall Street Journal has an interactive feature where you can see income by college major according to 2010 Census figures. Here is how sociology fared: out of 173 majors (some of which I did not know existed), it was 19th in popularity, had a 7.0% unemployment rate, and median earnings were $45,000 with a 25th percentile of $33k and 75th percentile of $67k.

For median income, sociology is at roughly the 30th percentile.

In popularity, sociology ranked ahead of journalism, mathematics, architecture, chemistry, and music (among others). Top 10 in popularity: Business Management and Administration, General Business, Accounting, Nursing, Psychology, Marketing, Communications, Elementary Education, General Education, and Computer Science.

Are these figures better or worse than people would have expected for sociology?

Of course, we could also discuss if earnings are the only or best way to evaluate college majors. Other possible outcomes to consider: return for one’s money, value to society, specializing vs. having a broader focus.

How do the numbers on this list fit with the recent New York Times article that said American college students study STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in such low numbers because they find them too difficult?

A sociology ph.d. becomes a New York state legislator and New York Supreme Court judge

Since students often ask what students can do with sociology degrees, I like to write about sociology majors (like Ronald Reagan) or sociologists who go on to intriguing careers. Here is another case: a sociologist who became a New York Supreme Court judge.

Sidney H. Asch, a New York judge with a Ph.D. in sociology who wrote scholarly works about civil liberties and made notable decisions about landlord-tenant law, employment of gay people and a man’s right to get his hair cut in a women’s beauty salon, died on Sept. 1 in a nursing home in North Carolina. He was 92…

Judge Asch, who wrote eight books, was modest about his academic credentials when he began his public career as a member of the State Assembly in 1952, and he seemed almost apologetic about them when interviewed a few years later, after he had won election to a Democratic Party leadership position in the Bronx…

Notwithstanding his effort to blend in, The Times found a scholar’s rise in city politics so unusual that it put its article about his election on the front page under the headline “Democrats Pick Ph.D. Egghead as District Leader in the Bronx.”…

In his decade in the Assembly, Judge Asch, who earned his doctorate from the New School for Social Research, promoted legislation to ban corporal punishment in schools and to require that cigarette packaging carry health warnings. Neither bill passed — though the objectives would later be met — before he left in 1961 to accept appointment as a New York City municipal court judge.

Sounds like an interesting career. I wonder if Asch ever spoke openly about how sociology influenced the decisions he made as a legislator or judge.

Ronald Reagan was a sociology and economics major

I occasionally run into stories about famous people who were sociology majors in college (these are often professional athletes) and found another example yesterday: President Ronald Reagan was a sociology and economics major. And this came from an unlikely source, Newt Gingrich, who was speaking at Reagan’s alma mater, Eureka College:

Gingrich, who announced last week he is seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2012, braved rain and wind to speak to about 140 students at Eureka College in western Illinois.

The former House speaker said the small liberal arts college was one of the most influential institutions of the late 20th century because of its ties with Reagan. The 40th president graduated from the school in 1932.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union began here in 1928,” he said to audience members. “The resurrection of general economics and the development of American economic growth and jobs for 25 years began here when Dutch Reagan took a degree in economics and sociology.”

I had never heard this before so I did a little digging into this:

-The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation says Reagan was an economics major: “Ronald Reagan officially majored in Economics at Eureka College, but unofficially minored in extra-curricular activities.”

-The Reagan portal for Eureka College gives a lengthier explanation:

Academically, Reagan’s major area of study was Economics and Sociology in which he received his degree in 1932. Somehow, blinded by the lights of Hollywood, this academic element has been overshadowed in history, yet, as U.S. President, it had a powerful intellectual impact on Reagan. Eureka College taught Economics and Sociology as a joint degree purposefully as a pure reflection of the College’s goals reflecting “the mutual development of intellect and character” or Economic=Money and Sociology=People or How Money Effects People. The servant leadership focus of the College founders still pervaded the culture and curriculum of Eureka College.

Several thoughts quickly come to mind:

1. Would it be bad for Reagan, probably the foremost conservative in the late 20th century, to be known as someone who studied sociology as opposed to economics? (I am thinking of the Presidential Library emphasis on economics while Eureka explains how the two disciplines were combined.)

2. Would it be possible anywhere these days to have a joint major in economics and sociology? These two often seem to be placed at opposite poles of thought.

3. It strikes me that having a former US President as an alum could be a huge boon for a small college. However, it does mean that Newt Gingrich wanted to visit…

The problems in one of the best American communities, Falls Church, VA

Newspaper editorials or commentary that discuss how wonderful a particular community is can be interesting. I recall one humorous article about Naperville from the early 2000s that defended the community for “wanting the best.”

This editorial about Church Falls, VA moves from the positives to things that still need to change:

With the release of data by the U.S. Census Bureau, it is now official. As we reported in last week’s edition, the City of Falls Church is officially Number One in the entire U.S. of A. in the categories of median household income, and percentage of the adult population with college and post-graduate degrees.

These statistics don’t lie, although some could argue that degrees in political science and sociology aren’t of the same gravitas as physics or biology. But still, given that it’s lawful that political majors are more prominent here, given our proximity to the nation’s capital where almost everyone works, the puzzle is all the more pronounced.

It’s this: How can the smartest, most politically savvy, best-off people in the nation turn out barely a quarter of its registered adult population to vote in local elections?…

Then there is the issue of affordable housing and a serious commitment to diversifying the community, economically and socially. Clearly, being “well off” financially does not correlate with generosity. This City’s leadership has permitted embarrassing repudiations of these principles, in practice, and no one seems to mind.

Of course, the school system in Falls Church is second to none, but not without a ferocious struggle by administrators, teachers and staff to maintain it in the face of recent years’ funding scale backs, and if that process continues, something is going to give fairly soon.

Even as the schools’ quality is above reproach, however, the issue of the well-being of the students in it, operating as they do under enormous pressure to perform at a high level in academics, athletics and everything else…

If that’s the case, then it may be that a lot of people in Falls Church should be reassessing their priorities in life.

From the outside, it looks like a town filled with self-indulgent people who care for nothing but their home values, on the one hand, and their kids’ SAT and other test scores, on the other. And this, ladies and gentlemen, this is the crème de la crème of America.

Several quick thoughts about this editorial:

1. This editorial comes off as fairly negative. Do the majority of Falls Church residents agree with this assessment about things that need to change? Or is this newspaper arguing for more than the community would be willing to tackle?

2. Is the concern over these issues the mark of a well-educated, wealthy community? If these are the primary concerns and things like a lack of jobs, bad schools, crime, high taxes, and stretched local budgets are not really an issue, then this community is indeed in good shape.

3. The quip that “political science and sociology aren’t of the same gravitas as physics or biology” is intriguing. What exactly do they mean? People take biologists and physicists more seriously? They are seen to be doing “real science” versus interpretation or commentary? They make more money and therefore deserve more respect? And this comes from a newspaper that admits that political science degrees are more prominent due to its location near Washington, D.C.