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Remembering Professor Pock

By Randall S. Barton on February 22, 2012 04:00 PM

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John Pock, emeritus professor of sociology, passed away at the age of 86 on Saturday, February 18. A long-time member of the Reed community, he served as a faculty member of the sociology department from 1955 to 1998.

John came to Reed College from the University of Illinois, where he earned his PhD and taught for several years. Though he had been hired to teach at Reed for only one year, he stayed on, delighted to work with undergraduates who behaved like students in graduate seminars.

Reed students were more serious than the ones he had left behind in Illinois. They took intellectual risks and were driven to figure out how things worked.

"They asked all the right kinds of challenging 'stupid' questions and were more interested in actively producing their own education than in collecting the bookkeeping notations of 'schooling,'" John said. "They seemed to be responsive to the notion that books contained ideas, and ideas are weapons."Sociologist Martina Morris '80 said that the things John taught her remain important to her to this day. "As soon as I got in his class it was like, 'Oh, my god, of course this is what I want to do," she said.

The conference method was particularly conducive to John's teaching style. Students read different materials and took reading notes, which they shared with each other. One student took the position of the author to argue a point and was opposed by another student defending another of the author's positions. The idea was to turn everything into a falsifiable hypothesis.

John was quick to challenge students with comments that could sting. At the end of his thesis-writing process, Matthew Bergman '86 asked John what he thought of it.

"It's boring shit," John replied.

"And he was right," Matthew said, "it was. But that kind of unsparing honesty and intellectual integrity helped me, working through John, to develop additional academic work and get several articles published."

Donald Treiman '62, professor of sociology emeritus at UCLA, remembered John as, "the best translator of big ideas into empirical questions. There was a sense of tremendous excitement in his classes."

Nine years after he retired, John's former students honored him by endowing the John C. Pock Chair, currently held by Mark Schneiberg [sociology 2000-]. Previously his students had nominated him for the American Sociological Association's Contributions to Teaching Award, which he won in 1982, and produced a festschrift in his honor in 1996.

More than 70 of John's students have gone on to earn doctoral degrees and establish professional careers as sociologists.

"It is quite astounding," says Neil Fligstein '73, who is now a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. "There is no single undergraduate teacher that has had such an effect on the discipline."

Reed College salutes this singular professor who took such pride in his students' accomplishments. He will be sorely missed.