Thursday, March 23, 2017

Forgiveness and the Shack: Remembering My Old Antagonist, The Late Timothy E. Cook

Trish and I watched The Shack last weekend. I think the movie's emphasis on forgiveness is timely and well worth reflecting upon, especially for me as I review my negative experience as a young academic teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts.

I have to admit that I have been guilty of wishing ill upon those who misrepresented the quality of my work as a young man simply to get rid of me. This habit seems particularly pointless right now because I recently learned, to my surprise, that one of the people I have hated the most, a tenured political science professor named Timothy E. Cook, had died of cancer over a decade ago. He was only 51. By dying so young, Cook inadvertently added to the perception and scientific evidence that gay married men live substantially shorter lives than straight married men.

As I recall, Cook had the honor of being the first openly gay tenured professor in the political science department at Williams College. (At the time, I remember about 25% of the department was gay.) At the high point of his career, Cook served as the Treasurer of the American Political Science Association (APSA). I remember being impressed with Cook's organizational skills, disgusted by his poor personal hygiene, and unimpressed with how his loud and proud Democrat party activism was only barely disguised by the thin veneer of being an objective political scientist. I vividly remember the Republican students on campus shared with me that Cook had turned a standard statistics course into an unrelenting leftist/feminist indoctrination seminar.

When I got news of his death, I was confronted with the unshakable reality that those who are the object of our hate are entirely unaffected by it.

As the story line in The Shack recommends, I am supposed to start on the path of forgiveness by reliving the insults I suffered due to Cook and his leftist allies at Williams College. The part of their behavior that bothers me the most is that they sought to diminish the quality and significance of my biggest academic achievement at the time, my doctoral dissertation. As you may know, they didn't fire me. They just took me off the tenure track and offered me another paid year to find another teaching position. The excuse I received from the department chairman is that my dissertation research was not up to the standards of the department.

I suppose that in a nation in which young Republican students are bullied by their leftist peers, it should not be surprising that the institutional dissing of my doctoral dissertation would still be in the news 28 years later. I was a little surprised myself to learn that if you Google the phrase “political science at Williams College” about 20% of the first 10 articles refer explicitly to my story of abuse and woe. I guess my critics can diminish me as much as they wish, but still the irrepressible algorithms speak for themselves.

The way Cook disparaged of my doctoral dissertation still ticks me off years later, especially as I recall the sheer difficulty of my journey. As I recall, I wrote the majority of my award-winning thesis while living in poverty, working as a gardener, and surviving without the safety net of health insurance. Completely without family support -- emotionally or financially -- I endured anxiety, jumpiness, hyper-vigilance and chronic depression. My thesis was initially rejected by the most senior political scientists at Cornell University, including Theodore J. Lowi. At first, no one thought it was possible that a graduate student could unwind and straighten out forty years of settled science on the origins of the welfare state. Accordingly, I still bristle when anyone tries to minimize achievements which brought me to the nation’s #1 liberal arts college, secured for me the highest possible recognition from the APSA, and got my work published by the same publisher used by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

You can check out a review of my published work, the same one dissed by the political science department at Williams College, in the following article, Thomas R. Barton, “Exploring Human Dimensions of Welfare Reform,” The Journal of Intergroup Relations, Winter 1996-97. Here is the portion of the review that refers to me and my contributions to successful edited volume.
While the authors in Welfare in America set out an ambitious goal for themselves which ultimately disappoints, The American Welfare System: Origins, Structure, and Effects, edited by Howard Gensler, does not make such an attempt and is ultimately a more satisfying read. 
The American Welfare System is not a usual collection of pieces written by several different authors, as is the case with Welfare in America. In Gensler’s collection, the first nine chapters are written by John Drew; the next three by Gensler; and the final chapter is written by D. Eric Schansberg. 
Drew’s section, which is the bulk of the book, is entitled “The Origins of the American Welfare System.” In his section, Drew provides an overview of several theories of the emergence of the United State’s welfare system and offers his own explanation. Other explanations of the emergence of our system, which he discusses, include conflict theories, working class organization theories, and evolutionary theories. Drew contends that all of these explanations have ignored or overlooked the importance of children’s programs, our changing views on children, and child labor laws in influencing the development of the welfare system. 
Drew’s chapters trace the historical development of the welfare system, with an emphasis on children and child labor laws, from Colonial America through the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935. Gensler’s section, entitled “The Structure and Effects of Welfare” examines the country’s current income maintenance system and concludes that it is fundamentally inadequate. Based on his examination of Department of Commerce and the Census’ Current Population Survey data, he further concludes that “The American social safety net is full of holes” (p xii). Gensler and Schansberg argue that the country needs to adopt a negative income tax system. 
Overall, I found Drew’s contributions to be the most interesting and important. He rightly concludes that histories of the social welfare system have tended to ignore or downplay the importance of child labor legislation in the formation of mother’s pensions and ultimately the Social Security Act of 1935. The historical chapters of this book make an important contribution to our understanding of the history of welfare in the United States.
This thesis seems to have a life of its own as it ends up being cited by scholars almost immediately after I wrote it. See, for example, by Paul E. Peterson and Mark C. Rom, Welfare Magnets: The New Case for a National Standard, (Brookings Institution Press, 1990). For the record, the thesis was credited in other publications as well:

Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, (Harvard University Press, 1992).

Skocpol, Theda, et al. “Women's Associations and the Enactment of Mothers' Pensions in the United States.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 87, no. 3, 1993, pp. 686–701.,

Andrew J. Polsky, The Rise of the Therapeutic State. (Princeton University Press, 1993).

Howard Gensler, "The Effect of Race and Sex on Welfare Benefits," Cato Journal, Fall/Winter, 1995 Vol. 15 No. 2.

Judith Sealander, Private Wealth and Public Life: Foundation Philanthropy and the Reshaping of American Social Policy from the Progressive Era to the New Deal, (JHU Press, 1997).

Kriste Lindenmeyer, A Right to Childhood: The U.S. Children's Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912-46, (University of Illinois Press, 1997).

Elliott J. Gorn, Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America, (Macmillan, 2002).

Scott W. Allard, Competitive Pressures and the Emergence of Mothers' Aid Programs in the United States, The Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 32, No. 4, 2004.

Thomas A. Krainz, Delivering Aid: Implementing Progressive Era Welfare in the American West, (UNM Press, 2005).

Megan Birk, Supply and Demand: The Mutual Dependency of Children's Institutions and The American Farmer, Agricultural History, Vol. 86, No. 1 (Winter 2012), pp. 78-103

It has also been mentioned nearly 30 years after I wrote it including in a relatively new book, Megan Birk, Fostering on the Farm: Child Placement in the Rural Midwest, (University of Illinois Press, 2015).

Objectively, the dissertation that Williams College dismissed as inadequate was actually one of the extremely rare doctoral dissertations which still gets cited by other scholars 30 years after its publication. I only wish I had this information in 1989. I might have believed him when Theodore J. Lowi told me, “You don’t realize you’re a great political scientist.”

I distinctly remember Cook suggesting to me, at a faculty event, that Williams College could ruin my career and my life if I did not play by their rules. I remember telling him, with complete confidence, that there was nothing they could do to hurt me. In retrospect, I was wrong. They could hurt me. It would have been nice at the time, however, to know that Cook would be dead 17 years later. As Trish says, my current frustration is probably because I inadvertently missed out on a whole decade of knowing that he pre-deceased me. With her help, let the healing begin.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

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