Gayl Ness (1952)

Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan

I came to Berkeley first as an undergraduate in 1950, after doing three years in Forestry at Oregon State College (now University) in Corvallis. In those first three years, I found myself becoming more interested in people than in trees. As a Berkeley undergraduate I gravitated to Sociology through the influence of Wolfram Eberhard, Robert Nisbet and Kenneth Bock. On graduation, I was drafted into the US army in February 1953, destined to serve in the Korean War. But apparently the powers that were wanted to win that war, so they sent me to France. I served out my term, met a fine French woman who became my wife, and then on discharge, won a Fullbright Fellowship to study in Copenhagen. There I continued work I had done for my BA honors essay on the US and Scandinavian cooperative movements. Organizational sociology had got into my blood. In 1956, with French wife, a new baby and University of Copenhagen degree, we returned to Berkeley to resume graduate studies.

Those were heady times. All of us had been out between undergraduate and graduate studies, and some before, mostly in some kind of protest movement. Friedland, Stinchcombe, Alford, Blauner, Daniels and many others were part of that cohort. Someone mentioned benign neglect. That was certainly the faculty orientation toward us at those times. If there were brown bags, we students organized them. If there was something for those fine visiting professors like Rene Koenig, we students organized it. Faculty had offices without names on their doors. We could see them 2 hours a week in the 'bull pen' where open desks found them at obligatory 'office hours.'

Four of us accidentally formed a 'sub-seminar' at the beginning of one of Shibutani's classes. Bill Friedland, Dorothy Anderson (now Mariner), Ernest Landauer and I fell in together and met regularly every Wednesday evening for the rest of our studies. We taught each other a great deal; I wonder if it was more or less than we learned from our professors. Our professors were superb scholars: Bendix, Eberhard, Lipset, Selznick, Smelser, and I learned economic development from Chou Ming Li, later Vice Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They did inspire and they imparted knowledge, but it was our peers who provided a far more fundamental kind of intellectual sustenance.

On graduation I was fortunate to receive a four-year post-doctoral grant with the Institute of Current World Affairs. This was primarily the work of Wolfram Eberhard, who seems now in retrospect to have been the only professor even thinking about students' next steps. By this time my wife and I had a second child and we spent the next four years steeping ourselves in Southeast Asia and having a third son.

From Malaysia we came to Ann Arbor, to the University of Michigan. I was hired sight unseen and became one of Michigan's 13 new assistant professors in 1964. Michigan proved to be something of an antithesis to Berkeley. There, we were roughly 200 graduate students left to fend for ourselves. There were three teaching Assistantships and one department fellowship. At Michigan I found 200 graduate students all supported by department grants. Faculty at Michigan entrepreneured for their students, finding foundation and government grants to support graduate students. I'm not sure which was best. At Berkeley we were all old organizers, so the lack of faculty leadership was no problem. We organized and learned. At Michigan students were drawn in and shepherded through their studies. I see advantages and disadvantages at both ends, and have no idea how to produce a net effect.

At Michigan I found a fine Sociology department, with great resources, superb colleagues, and support for whatever I wanted to do. I also found the single best university in the world to study Asia, and have been involved there ever since. I have maintained work in Southeast Asia. This would have been impossible had I returned to Berkeley when I had an offer in 1965. Remember that then even Bendix had to leave the department due to the intense and acrimonious disputes, where, as he put it, 'there was no milk of human kindness.' Michigan was less radical and less destructive. The Vietnam War tore Berkeley apart. At Michigan it produced a highly creative form of protest, 'the Teach-Ins.' This provides a good question for organizational analysts: why destructive protest in one university and constructive protest in another. (Michigan is older, of course, and with Harvard in the 1890's was at the forefront of another national protest in the Anti-Imperialist League.)

And so I stayed, teaching courses in the sociology of economic development; taking organizational analysis into national and international development organizations, into international population planning, policies and organizations, and finally into the intricate realms of population-development environment analyses. I have continued to work in Asia, even in retirement.

Berkeley gave me the joy of the sociological imagination, as we called it then; it gave be Wolfram Eberhard who led me into the rich life of Asian societies; it gave me fellow students who taught me much and have remained life long friends. That it a heady mixture indeed.

Dissertation Title: 
Central Government and Local Initiative in the Industrializaiton of India and Japan