Syracuse University Magazine

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Kudos: My Indebtedness To Certain Mentors and Models

By Peter I. Rose

In 2003, the year before my 50th college reunion and my official retirement from nearly as many years of teaching, I published Guest Appearances and Other Travels in Time and Space, a book of essays that included “Once an Orangeman…” In that story, I reflected on my time at Syracuse and how a naïve freshman who started out at Skytop, hoping more than anything to become a professional skier, soon found there were other things in life worth pursuing.

This past fall, I shared a fuller portrait of my life as a sociologist, ethnographer, writer, and travel journalist in Postmonitions of a Peripatetic Professor (Levellers Press). There again, I paid homage to my alma mater.  But what I failed to do was to say much about some of the faculty members who most influenced me, especially three men to whom I will forever be indebted.

The first was anthropologist Douglas Haring. He had spent much of his early life in Japan, the subject of his best- known work. It was a society I would get to know—and write about—many years later. I first went there as a Fulbright professor and taught a course that reflected much that was in the title of one of his most important publications, “Racial Differences and Human Resemblances.” As I wrote in the preface to Postmonitions, “For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by ethnic differences and cultural responses to common human needs, wants, and fears.” Haring was the guy who first encouraged me to follow this interest in a systematic way. 

The second was Nathan Goldman, my undergraduate advisor in the department of sociology and anthropology. Originally a clinical psychologist, he had practiced in Boston and as a naval officer in World War II, but his experiences with people from many walks of life led him to change fields. After the war, he studied for his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago. I took every course he offered at SU and, through him, became imbued with “Chicago sociology”—a combination of urban anthropology, ethnic studies, and human ecology. In addition to my fascination with race and ethnicity, I was intrigued by differences between those “on top” and others. Goldman’s doctoral thesis, “Differential Selection of Juveniles for Court Appearance,” starkly revealed the power of often unearned privilege and the different consequences of criminal acts committed by those having privilege in contrast to those without it. 

The third was Michael O. Sawyer, an instructor of a Maxwell course required of all first-year students. Under his guidance, we discussed several challenging events in then-recent American history: the Sacco and Vanzetti case; the relocation and incarceration of 110,000 Japanese Americans in 1942; and the riots that took place in Peekskill, New York, in 1949 when the African American singer, actor, and activist Paul Robeson returned to the United States after receiving the Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviets. 

If Doug Haring and Nate Goldman were mentors, Mike Sawyer was more of a model. What I admired most about him was his dedication to teaching and the skill with which he helped us to broaden our horizons, think outside the box, and carefully listen to the arguments of those with whom we fervently disagreed. 

As many Syracusans know, Sawyer rose through the ranks, eventually becoming vice chancellor. I last saw him around 25 years ago when I was invited back to SU to give the Chancellor’s Lecture.  It turned out that because Chancellor Melvin Eggers was away, Sawyer was asked to introduce me. (I’m sure the planners had no idea how much that meant to me.) After his generous introduction, I turned to the audience and said several things about my memories of a young Mike Sawyer, including the fact that in my time he was the only Republican on the Maxwell faculty. Mike interrupted me and said, sotto voce, “I still am.”  

There were a number of others with whom I studied and also admired, but none—save perhaps for ski coach and architecture professor George Earle, who urged me to realize there was a wide world beyond the slopes—were as memorable or as important to me as these three. 

Peter Rose ’54, the Sophia Smith Professor Emeritus and Senior Fellow of the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute at Smith College, is the author of many books, including most recently Postmonitions of a Peripatetic Professor (2013) and They and We (seventh—and 50th anniversary—edition, 2014).