Walt Gove, Ken Land, Charlotte, and the SSS

Walter R. Gove in his "native" Alaska as captured by Alfred Darnell.

Walter R. Gove in his “native” Alaska as captured by Alfred Darnell.

Another spring, another Southern Sociological Society meetings. This time in Charlotte, an off reservation site. This year I was busy, since both my former colleague Walt Gove and my old mentor Ken Land were receiving the highest award in the society, induction into the SSS Roll of Honor. It was a not entirely comforting experience. I learned in this process that many of the “younger” scholars are not very aware of or impressed by serious academic talent. It was disturbing to see throngs of participants and especially students attending panels with half-baked papers from dissertations and avoiding being educated about the careers of two of the most productive scholars of the latter half of the twentieth century. The arrogant indifference to excellence also seemed to permeate some quarters of the leadership of the association, and I find that troubling. But, fuck those people, they’re losers.

What matters is that we had great panels for both Walt and Ken. I was really glad that  Alfred Darnell could come down for Walt’s award, and Mike Hughes performed yeoman’s work on the organization of his panel, and award, and for other intangibles. Well, I guess I should say “tangibles.” You see, what was most disturbing about this last week, perhaps for me, was the near complete abandonment of  Walt Gove by Vanderbilt. Only Jay Turner, who never overlapped with Walt at Vanderbilt, came to Walt’s session or reception, and  the department only offered a token contribution to pay for the reception. They were too busy having a party for their 80th anniversary. I wasn’t aware that 80th anniversaries were that big of a deal, and if they were, I would think they would have flown out Walt Gove, who spent his entire 35 year career at Vanderbilt and put them on the map. Walt is the reason why Vanderbilt had high empirical rankings, far exceeding the overall prestige of the program. Gove published more articles in ASR, AJS, and Social Forces (before it sucked) than anyone from the late 1960s until 2000.. More than Anyone.  Both Mike Hughes and I tried to get Vanderbilt to do the right thing and properly honor Walt, but that didn’t work. I won’t go into detail, but let me just say that anyone who tells me that Vanderbilt can’t afford a paltry $2k for a reception is a liar, and if you think for one second that I believe you then you are the stupid one. I COULD HAVE FOUND THAT MONEY AT SIU WITHOUT EVEN ASKING MY DEAN.  We are the brokest of the broke and the poorest of the poor in the PhD granting university department, and if Lew Hendrix was getting an award, we’d be having a party. Thankfully, Walt has lots of friends, colleagues, and students who contributed to making sure we could have a nice reception, and thanks to people like Sue Hinze, Jim Wilson, Peter Wood, Peggy Thoits, Shirley Laska, Bob Crutchfield, Deb Umberson,  Karen Campbell, Mike Hughes, Pam Hull, Gabrielle Chapman, and Candi Batton (and maybe some others I’ve missed), we were able to have a reception—though it was scheduled at the same time as Ken Land’s…..

In contrast to the lack of support for scholarly acclaim at Vanderbilt, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva at Duke did the right thing for Ken Land, as he deserved. Eduardo popped for the full open bar bash, he encouraged his faculty to attend, Ken was nominated by his senior colleague, Lynne Smith Lovin, in collaboration with his long-time colleague and dean Angela O’Rand (who also attended all functions for Ken). Several people from Duke came only to show support for Ken. Eduardo led the Ken Roast, which is now a Duke Tradition. Duke did everything right, and it was great to see many of my former professors and fellow students, as well as the next generation of Duke.

I think the best part of my trip to Charlotte (other than the 65 mile bike ride with my old teammate Ben Miller) was standing next to Ida Harper Simpson at Ken’s Roast, and then having her sneak back into Walt’s reception (they were “unfortunately” scheduled at the same time, remember). It meant a lot to Walt for someone like Ida to ditch her own department’s reception and come over to pay homage. Lynne did the same, I know. And of course, Ken and Walt congratulated each other on their well-deserved accolades.



5 Responses to “Walt Gove, Ken Land, Charlotte, and the SSS”

  1. Kristi Williams (@kristexanite) Says:

    I’m happy to hear that Walt Gove was honored. I wish I could have been there. When I was fresh out of grad school, Walt came up to me at ASA after I accepted the Mental Health section’s dissertation award (for work inspired by Gove’s research on gender, marriage and mental health), introduced himself, and asked for a copy of my paper– a gesture that meant more to me than the award. He is a giant and, it sucks that he is not more widely recognized (especially by his own department. As Deb Umberson’s former student, I’ve always been incredibly proud of my Govian intellectual heritage.

    • Hee-Choon Shin Says:

      I was his graduate student between 1985 and 1988 at Vanderbilt. Nina and Walt were so nice to my family when we were there. In my humble opinion, he is one of few great contemporary sociologists.

  2. sherkat Says:

    Walt was always like that. He was way more interested in people’s ideas than in status concerns. I know Deb wanted to be there, but couldn’t.

  3. Naydene Maykut Says:

    HI: My husband and I are old University of Washington college friends. We are trying to contact Walt to ask him about his heart operation since my husband is due to have the same. Would you help us find his contact information? Naydene Maykut

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