I am going to resist the temptation to recite my professional achievements, culminating with a humble encomium to my professors for making me the great sociologist that I am. Instead, in the Berkeley tradition, I am going to inject a dissident voice. I'm skeptical about the logic behind this Berkeley Alumni Project. Not that I am immune to the innocent pleasure of peering into lives attached to names from the distant past. But I have a gnawing sense that the real purpose of the Alumni Project is to develop a cult around UC, Berkeley. Either this is elitist at its core, or it is a fundraising gimmick, or it is just plain silly: an evocation of 'old school' spirit, even though we passed through Berkeley at different times, did not know each other, and have nothing in common except for a nominal institutional affiliation. Don't get me wrong: I have nothing but positive memories of my years at Berkeley, both the university and the charms of Northern California. But when I returned last summer after living in New York City for three decades, I felt like Woody Allen's character in Sleeper, awakening in a strange place, save for some enduring physical markers and a few senescent professors (joke!). For me, 'Berkeley' is not a place that invites nostalgia or self-congratulation, but rather an injunction to go forth and change the world. With this caveat, however. As Godfrey Hodgson wrote in America in Our Time with reference to SNCC in the 1960s: 'Success is not the only test. Since, in the end, failure is the fate of most human endeavors, what matters is with what enterprise and in what spirit one fails.'
Professor of Sociology, Graduate Center, City University of New York
The Religious Factor in American Higher Education.
Dissertation Book Title
The academic melting pot; Catholics and Jews in American higher education