REED HOME Gryphon icon
reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

Matthew Bergman ’86 and John Pock at the Amanda Reed Society Dinner in


New Chair Named for Sociology Professor John Pock

When Emeritus Professor of Sociology John Pock came to Reed from the University of Illinois in 1955, McCarthyism was in full swing. While his students at Illinois were busy with panty-hose pranks and other hijinks, his new students at Reed were more serious. “They seemed to be responsive to the notion that books contained ideas, and ideas are weapons,” Pock says. “I was always interested in kids who were ambitious, who were curious about how things worked, who were intellectual risk-takers.”

Now, 52 years after his arrival at Reed and nine years after retiring, several of Pock’s former students have honored their mentor by establishing an endowed professorship in his name (such professorships require a minimum endowment of $1.5 million). The John C. Pock Chair will be awarded with preference to a faculty member within the Division of History and Social Sciences, with further preference to a faculty member with a specialty in innovative social science quantitative methodology and theoretically based empirical social research.

Pock’s achievement and legacy were celebrated at the Amanda Reed Society Dinner in October (held annually to honor trustees and donors of more than $10,000). Matthew Bergman ’86, a successful trial lawyer in Washington State who was Pock’s thesis advisee at Reed, told the gathering that Pock conveyed “an absolute sense of academic integrity and an absolute work ethic.”


John Pock in the 1970s


During his teaching career, Pock says, he found the conference method particularly conducive to the intellectual habits of Reed students. “You have to be deeply embedded in the Socratic dialogues,” he says. “The conference is a conversation, so that the student does the work. The objective is to have the student take a position and argue the point of the author. And you try to guide that conversation and induce some other student to take the author’s other position. I used to try to get ‘hold of someone who was adamant about something, and I would challenge them with some evidence they had ignored. In the end, you always answer a question with a question. You should always end up with more questions than when you started.”

Martina Morris ’80, a sociology professor at the University of Washington, remembers conferences where Pock asked each student to bring a précis of a different chapter of a text. “It’s extremely efficient, but you are now totally dependent on other people,” she says. “It’s a little bit of field work, participatory observation, where you say, ‘Oh, this is what Marx means when he’s talking about the division of labor. This is what Durkheim means by the difference between mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity.’ I’ve never run across anybody who has taught that way since. It was eye-opening.”

Pock’s style inspired devotees, but it didn’t meet every student’s comfort level. Morris remembers some of the knocks she took in Pock’s classes. “He would say things that were meant to challenge you,” she says, “things that very few faculty members would have the temerity to say. You often learned things about yourself that, on the one hand, were very painful to learn, and on the other hand, allowed you to move past them.”

Bergman recounted just such a stinging rebuke in his remarks at the Amanda Reed Society Dinner, though decades later he is without rancor. “John treated his students as graduate students,” Bergman said. “There was no coddling involved. At the conclusion of my thesis-writing process, I foolishly asked John what he thought of it. He said it was ‘boring shit.’ John was right: 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. I asked him what he thought of one piece, and he said, ‘Well, that was pretty good.’  With that kind of honesty, I knew that it really was pretty good, and I knew that I had achieved something I hadn’t thought possible.”

Pock inspired researchers in the public sphere as well as in academia. “The fact that I pursued a profession in applied social science—in public health—owes itself to a growing awareness of how values shape people’s actions,” says Richard Conviser ’65, a math major at Reed who went on to take a Ph.D. in social sciences and spent years running an HIV/AIDS bureau in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In fall 1964—Conviser’s senior year—a death penalty referendum was put to Oregon voters, and Pock assigned his students to gather first-hand data in the community. The students found widespread confusion about the referendum. Based on that research, anti-death penalty advocates issued an ad clarifying that a “yes” vote was a vote to abolish the death penalty, and the proposition carried. “It was in John Pock’s class that I first realized that as a scientist, I could select issues for study whose scientific answers would inform policy decisions,” says Conviser.

Dean of the Faculty Peter Steinberger spoke at the Amanda Reed Society Dinner of Pock’s devotion to academic freedom and his long-term influence on the college. “John has been the true embodiment of the sociological tradition at Reed,” said Steinberger, “taking seriously the idea that there are social facts that are not reducible to the traits of discrete individuals, that the scientific, largely causal analysis of interactions between social facts is fundamental to our understanding of society.”

Pock’s former students nominated him for the American Sociological Association’s Contributions to Teaching Award (which he won in 1982), and also produced a festschrift in his honor in 1996.

And what does Pock make of his latest honor? “I take great pride in what they’ve done, but I take greater pride in this,” he says, pulling from his bookshelf a bound doctoral thesis recently sent to him by Christine Schwartz ’96, one of his last students to go on to graduate school. “I make a collection of these dissertations,” he says. “I take more pride in their accomplishments, in their achievements.”


reed magazine logoAutumn 2007