In Honor of Karl F. Schuessler on the Occasion

 of the Naming of the Karl F. Schuessler Institute for Social Research

May 9, 2003

We’re here today to name the Institute of Social Research in honor of Emeritus Distinguished Professor Karl F. Schuessler. Now Karl is not someone who likes a lot of fuss being made about him and he’s made me promise that this occasion will be more circumstance than pomp, so I’m going to try to honor that request, while also expressing my great admiration for him and what he has meant to the department.

Forty years ago this year, the Institute of Social Research was established as the research arm of the sociology department. As chair of the department from 1961-1969, Karl Schuessler recognized the need for a research institute. Through his efforts and with the support of the College, the Institute was created in 1963 and found a home here in the old Phi Kappa Psi fraternity--the Greek letters of which can still be seen on the gutter downspouts on the front of the building.

Since 1965, the Institute has been the home of the Sociological Research Practicum (SRP), originally called the Indianapolis Area Project, which was also established while Karl was chair. The SRP has had a tremendous effect on the productivity of our faculty and the training of our graduate students. It has been the basis of hundreds of MA theses, dozens of dissertations, and numerous articles and books.

The Institute was also the home base of most of the major research projects in the department over the last four decades.

In 1982, the Center for Survey Research was founded as part of the Institute to support the research of the sociology faculty and other researchers at IU. Over the last fifteen years, under the very able direction of John Kennedy, the Center has joined the ranks of the premier academic survey centers in the country.

More recently, the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research, directed by Bernice Pescosolido, and the Center for Education and Society, directed by Pam Walters, were founded and housed in the Institute, carrying on the tradition of excellence in research and teaching established at the Institute during Karl’s tenure as chair.

There are many other reasons why it is fitting that we name the Institute for Karl.

Karl was one of the department’s first Ph.D.’s, receiving his degree in 1947 after his graduate career was interrupted by four years of service during World War II. He was a navigator on a Navy Attack Transport ship that participated in the Solomon Islands campaign. In 1947, Karl finished his dissertation research, which was a study of the effect of socio-economic background on musical tastes. Notably, Karl’s dissertation was based on interviews with 1200 subjects from Evansville, Indiana, where he grew up. His dissertation combined his life-long love of music with his equally strong commitment to sociology. A methodological innovator from the start, Karl didn’t simply ask his subjects what their musical preferences were, he had them listen to samples of a wide range of musical forms--classical, popular, and what was then called “hillbilly,”and then asked them to classify the pieces and rate them. Karl’s dissertation shows how one’s personal interests and background can provide a “sound” basis for one’s scholarly work.

In 1947, Karl joined the faculty at Indiana as an Instructor, earning the hefty salary of $3,600 a year! According to a note in Karl’s file written by then-chair Edwin Sutherland, the salary represented Indiana’s successful bid in a competition with Berkeley, where Karl could have gone for the same amount! Obviously, Berkeley–then as now--could not provide the congenial atmosphere for scholarship that is available here at IU!

Over the next 38 years, Karl rose through the ranks from Assistant, to Associate, to Full Professor and was promoted to the University’s highest rank, Distinguished Professor, in 1976.

Throughout his long career, Karl wrote numerous articles, chapters and books on methodology and on criminology. Because of his reputation for rigorous scholarship and methodological expertise, Karl was selected to serve as editor of both the American Sociological Review and Sociological Methodology. Some of Karl’s books are now on display in the foyer of the Institute.

“Public sociology”–sociology that is directed toward bettering people’s lives and that has implications for public policy–has become of great interest to many of us, as we can see in the Social Action League that the graduate students have formed and the department’s new Social Action Award. As a research intern at the Illinois State Prison in the late 1930s, Karl was actually doing “public sociology” even before he wrote his dissertation. This was later followed up by work as a consultant to the Indiana Department of Corrections, the Governor’s Commission on Mental Health, the Indiana Department of Public Health, and many other public policy bodies.

Karl was also a teacher and mentor to generations of graduate students at IU, wrote several textbooks on statistics that were widely used in classrooms both here in the United States and abroad, and funded the Schuessler Award for Graduate Research, establishing a legacy that will reward the scholarly efforts of IU graduate students for generations to come.

During his nine years as chair, from 1961 to 1969, Karl held the Sociology Department to the highest standards and set the department on a course of excellence for the future. Professor Delbert Miller, who wrote a history of the department, called this period “the Schuessler Era.” Sixteen faculty were hired during Karl’s years as chair--more than during any chair’s tenure before or since. But far more important than the sheer numbers of faculty was the agenda that Karl set for the faculty of producing research of the highest quality, and his establishment of institutional milieu in the Department, the Institute, and the Indianapolis Area Study that continues to facilitate the research of the faculty and graduate students even today. Professor [and former chair] Sheldon Stryker wrote of Karl upon his retirement: “More than any other person, he defined the character and tone of his department.”

Besides his many academic accomplishments, Karl plays clarinet in the Café Jazz Society, who have been entertaining us this afternoon. In fact, one of Karl's very first jobs was in 1929 at the Bloody Bucket, a speakeasy in Evansville, Indiana. He was too young to drive, so his older sister had to pick him up after the gig. Later, as a high school and college student, Karl played clarinet on riverboats going up and down the Ohio. And Karl and our guest [and former chair] George Bohrnstedt were part of a jazz combo that entertained participants at the ASA meetings for many years.

I know that Karl would be the first to say that much of what he has accomplished wouldn’t have been possible–or at least wouldn’t have been half as meaningful and enjoyable–without the support of his beloved wife, Lucille, and their sons, Tom and Brian. Karl is much loved by all of us; he’s a humane and gentle person, with a wry wit, and a wisdom far beyond even his many years–somehow I suspect that Karl was wise from a very early age. All this makes me very pleased that today we can recognize our debt to Karl Schuessler by naming the Institute in his honor.

Robert V. Robinson
Chancellor’s Professor and Chair
Department of Sociology
Indiana University