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.