Remembering Charles E. Bidwell, 1932–2016

Nov 11, 2016

Today, we learned the sad news of the passing of NAEd member Charles Bidwell, who died earlier this week. The following in memoriam is from the Division of Social Sciences, University of Chicago:

Charles E. Bidwell LAB’46, AB ’50, AM ’53, PhD ’56, William Claude Reavis Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology, died November 6 at age 84. He was a lifelong Hyde Parker, born here in 1932, attending Lab School, and receiving his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago.

Throughout his distinguished career as a sociologist of education, Bidwell studied the organization of education and instructional processes, making important contributions to the field. In 1965 he published a chapter in the Handbook of Organizations entitled “The School as a Formal Organization,” which became the impetus for a career-long study of the social dynamics of schools and its effect on academic productivity. He served as editor of Sociology of Education from 1969 to 1972, the American Journal of Sociology from 1973 to 1978, and the American Journal of Education from 1983 to 1987. A longtime member of the National Academy of Education, he eventually chaired a section and became secretary of the organization.

Bidwell’s impact upon the Division of the Social Sciences is profound—he held appointments in two departments and served as chair for each.  His vision and his taste in hiring shaped the trajectory of the Department of Education and Department of Sociology. He was also a deeply engaged teacher, chairing 39 dissertations and serving on 30 committees in the Department of Sociology alone. Evidence of his lasting impact on students is summarized in a nomination letter for the 2012 Norman Maclean Award written by Kenneth Frank PhD ’93 (Education):

As I look back on my own career I have growing appreciation for what Charles did for me. He demonstrated a disposition that was at once professional as well as indicative of an outright love and belief in what he was doing. His approach urges the student to constantly engage, and rethink, just for the sake of getting it absolutely right. This spirit means that work will be novel, but also endure.

Across the entirety of his long career here Charles Bidwell embraced the intellectual culture of the University. As he put it in a 2009 interview, “We all hold very high standards for each other…. It is hard to put your ideas out there to such a tough audience. But it was worth it. I have received the most extraordinarily supportive criticism of my work and ideas…. This critical, intense intellectualism has been absolutely continuous, and I think it’s marvelous. This is the culture of the place and it is one of the reasons why I stayed here all these years, that and the quality of the students.”

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