Mary Colwell (1973)

Lecturer and Activist. Organizer and Consultant to Non-Profit Groups

I was an older student with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Social Science from San Francisco State when I arrived at Berkeley. As a married woman, with a big family, and many years of experience in volunteer work and paid work, I was not in sync with the other students who came in at my time. While I was there, I also worked part-time as the Executive Director of a small philanthropic fund which gave money away both locally and nationally to nonprofit activist organizations working on civil rights, environmental issues, peace, women's issue, and other social justice causes. That introduced me to the many organizations founded by the radical students of the 1960s who had gone on to try to do something worthwhile with their ideals. The faculty were all bemoaning the lack of activism on campus without really knowing anything about all these groups. For that, and other reasons I was not really in sync with the faculty, either. However, I struggled through and finally finished.

I will never forget two experiences. My first interview with a faculty person I explained that a lot of my interests arose from my work in the civil rights movement and research I had done on white ethnic groups and the backlash to the poverty program. This distinguished professor literally looked down his nose at me and said being at Berkeley would cause me to have a broader perspective. And when the time came to do my dissertation on philanthropic foundations my first, logical, choice for an advisor told me to read a set of expose articles in Ramparts magazine about the Rockefellers and if I agreed with their political analysis and approach he would be willing to be on the dissertation committee but not otherwise! I did not continue that effort.

The book which resulted, Private Foundations and Public Policy: The Political Role of Philanthropy, was published in 1991, 10 years after the dissertation. Since Berkeley, I have continued to be involved in the nonprofit world - as foundation staff, consultant to donors, fund raiser, interim director of an activist organization sending volunteers to Nicaragua in the 1980s. I did major research on the peace movement in the 1980s and many articles and some student dissertations have been written using the unique data I gathered. I taught several courses at the Nonprofit Organization Management Institute at the University of San Francisco. I still serve as senior faculty adviser for the M.A. thesis work of a few students at the same USF program. Over these years I have taught one course at a time (social psychology, social movements, peace movements) at three UC campuses: Santa Cruz, Davis, and Berkeley. My last teaching at Cal was in the Peace and Conflict Studies Department. I am now essentially retired, although I have had a small research project focusing on environmental activists in the Arcata region of Humboldt County underway for several years. My husband died in the second year of this effort which caused a hiatus in that work. I have recently moved to a retirement community in Oakland and hope to at least finish that project.

Addition: While doing graduate work in Sociology at UCB I worked in the philanthropic foundation world and the topic of my dissertation was public policy and philanthropy. Garland published a revised version of that in1993. After the PhD I continued to work for a few years as a consultant to donors and small foundations and as a fundraiser for the Sierra Club Foundation for a short time. In the late 80s I did a survey of peace movement organizations nationally, with a lot of help from graduate sociology students at Catholic University of America, when John McCarthy was chair of the department, and colleagues like Sam Marullo at Georgetown University and published several articles growing from this research. The data were quite rich and many of those who worked on the project also published articles based on them. I also taught one or more courses at UCB, UCSC, UCD, and USF during the 1980s and early 1990s. I started a new research effort on nonprofits working on environmental issues in the later part of the 90s but gave up this work after my husband died in 1999 since we had planned it as a joint project. I now serve as a volunteer advisor to the Data Center, a social justice research group in Oakland, live in a very active community, St. Paul Towers and have served as a Resident Representative to the Episcopal Senior Communities Board and am currently in my second term as a board member of the Aging Services of California Board

Dissertation Title: 
Philanthropic Foundations and Public Policy: The Political Role of Foundations
Dissertation Book Title: 
Private foundations and public policy : the political role of philanthropy
New York