Sociology Professor Emeritus and “Independent Spirit” Nathan Glazer Dies at 95 | News - Wishevoke

Sociology Professor Emeritus and “Independent Spirit” Nathan Glazer Dies at 95 | News

When filmmaker Joseph Dorman interviewed sociology professor emeritus Nathan Glazer at City College on 137th Street in Harlem, he offered to call a taxi or order car service to take the then-90-year-old professor wherever he was going wanted next.

Glazer declined the offer.

“He said, ‘Absolutely not, I want to take the subway home,'” said Dorman, who wrote and directed the film “Arguing the World,” which starred Glazer and three of his fellow New York intellectuals. “This was at a time when they were just starting to produce subway art in every subway station, and he basically wanted to stop at all the stations on the way home to see the subway art to watch.”

Glazer, who died at his home in Cambridge on Saturday at the age of 95, tackled issues of race and immigration, often examining them from a global perspective. According to Dorman, he is considered one of the first sociologists to focus on ethnic studies. But Glazer also explored topics beyond sociology, venturing into diverse fields such as education, architecture, and urban planning. His work often touched on city life.

According to Jason Beckfield, chair of the sociology department, Glazer’s free-spirited attitude allowed him to connect his studies to a variety of different fields.

“He couldn’t commit to a particular school or discipline,” Beckfield said.

Nathan Glazer, Harvard professor emeritus of education and social structure, died Saturday at his home in Cambridge at age 95.

Glazer began his career in academia, teaching at the University of California at Berkeley in 1963 before moving to Harvard in 1969, where he taught in the sociology department. During his time at Harvard, his courses spanned three schools: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Education, and the Graduate School of Design.

Tufts history professor Reed T. Ueda, one of Glazer’s students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, called him a “true thinker” and an “independent spirit.”

Glazer wrote several books, including “Beyond the Melting Pot,” which examined the plausibility of assimilation as a goal for immigrants. He concluded that complete assimilation of minority groups was impossible and that America would never be a country of “non-segregated Americans” but rather would encompass multiple identities.

The city was often the inspiration for Glazer’s work, according to several people who knew him.

Dorman said Glazer’s research shows attention and care for the specifics of city life and its realities.

“He really observed on the ground, he wasn’t a man of grand theories,” Dorman said. “He really despised grand theories in many ways because he saw how grand, abstract theories obscured a person’s ability to understand the specifics of life… all of these details added up to something greater than any overarching theory could achieve .”

Glazer’s appreciation for the “quirks of the city,” according to Dorman, led him to disagree with modernism’s bleak views of city life.

“In that sense, he really had a wonderful eye and a love for what makes a city a city,” Dorman said.

Glazer grew up in New York City and lived in East Harlem and the East Bronx as the child of Jewish immigrants from Warsaw. Although he left the city after his marriage to writer Ruth Gay ended in divorce, Glazer remained “absolutely fascinated by New York City,” according to his daughter Sophie B. Glazer ’74.

“Long after he left New York, he came back specifically to make sure we saw a special architectural wonder that he enjoyed,” Sophie Glazer said.

To celebrate Glazer’s 80th birthday, the two took an architectural walk through Harlem’s former Jewish neighborhoods, looking at the changes that had taken place since Jewish families left there for the Bronx.

Early in his career, Glazer became involved in radical politics, joining a group called the New York Intellectuals when he was in his twenties. He later gained a reputation as a neoconservative, a label that Dorman says was used “incorrectly.”

“He was always a kind of independent, rising neoconservative. He never stopped being one, but he was in no way a pure human being,” said Eugene J. Dionne (Class of 1973), Glazer’s undergraduate thesis advisor.

Dionne said that while Glazer takes a neoconservative approach to academic policy research, he cares deeply about economic injustice and is anti-war.

According to Peter N. Skerry, a political science professor at Boston College who worked with Glazer as a graduate student, Glazer was not afraid to change his stance on political issues. College student.

“Nat Glazer was always a man who constantly re-evaluated his views, particularly his political and policy views,” Skerry said.

Dorman said an example of Glazer retracting a previous position was when he changed his stance on affirmative action. Glazer initially strongly opposed affirmative action and even wrote a book on the subject of “Affirmative Discrimination” in 1987. Eleven years later, Glazer published “In Defense of Preference,” an article in which he argued that the country had not yet reached a point where affirmative action was unnecessary and could be dismantled.

“He was very, very comfortable with contradictions, with the contradictions in his own thinking,” Dorman said.

Glazer retired in 1993 but continued his research and shifted his focus to architecture. Even as he neared the end of his days and his eyesight made it difficult for him to read printed books, Glazer continued to read history books on a computer screen.

“He always said he was lucky to do what he did,” Dionne said.

Correction: January 29, 2019

In an earlier version of this article, Eugene J. Dionne was incorrectly quoted as saying, “He was always a kind of independent-rising neoconservative.” In fact, he said, “He was always an independent-minded neoconservative.”

Correction: January 29, 2019

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Glazer was in his 90s when Dionne offered to call a cab for him. In fact, Glazer was in his 70s.

– Employee Rebecca S. Araten can be reached at

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