Obituary: Marvin J. Cummins, longtime faculty member, 77

WUSTL professor emeritus Marvin J. Cummins, who passed away March 1, 2013, at the age of 77, is shown here in a photo from 1976. (Credit: WUSTL Photo/Richard N. Levine)

Marvin Jay Cummins, PhD, a longtime member of the Washington University Arts & Sciences faculty in sociology and political science, died Friday, March 1, 2013. He was 77.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m Tuesday,
March 5, at Congregation Shaare Emeth, 11645 Ladue Road, Creve Coeur. His
family suggests contributions to the Missouri Recovery Network.

Cummins was chair of the Washington University Department of Sociology and one of three tenured faculty in the department when it was closed by the university in 1991.

Cummins joined Washington University in 1967 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Community Mental Health Research Training Program in the university’s Social Science Institute.

In 1970, he was named an assistant professor in sociology and served as acting chair there until 1976. He was named associate professor of sociology in 1975 and directed the Social Science Institute from 1976 until 1985, when he was once again named acting chair of sociology.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, English and education in 1958 and a doctorate in sociology in 1967, both from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He taught at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from 1965-67 and at the University of Oregon from 1968-1970.

His early research focused on issues of drug abuse, addiction and alcoholism and he was active in advisory roles with a range of local drug response task forces, including the Metropolitan Drug and Substance Abuse Council of Metropolitan St. Louis, Acid Rescue and Mental Health Association of St. Louis. He had a long-term interest in social deviance and the institutionalized responses of social control.

In 1991, with the closure of the sociology department, Cummins became an associate professor of sociology in political science. He taught courses in Sociology of Law (jointly listed in the Social Thought & Analysis Program), and Controversies in Contemporary Homicide Law, and participated in the College of Arts & Sciences Freshman FOCUS Program by teaching the yearlong Law & Society Focus seminar.

Cummins retired as an emeritus associate professor of political science in 2002, but continued to teach here as an instructor for many years, including a fall 2012 course in American Culture studies.

“Marvin was a major contributor to undergraduate interest on this campus in law and legal matters,” said longtime colleague David Konig, PhD, professor of history and of law. “He ignited students’ intellectual curiosity in his freshman seminars in Law and Society, where his background in sociology made legal issues into human questions.”

Another colleage, Itai Sened, PhD, professor of political science, remembers “Marv” as “a very special colleague” to all of us.

“His students always marveled on his unique ‘old school’ teaching practices,” Sened said. “His stellar good spirits and the comfort zone that always surrounded him coupled with his reputation as a beloved and respected teacher brought all of us to want to extend our conversation with him longer than anyone ever had time to do.

James V. Wertsch, PhD, the Marshall S. Snow Professor in Arts & Sciences and director of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University, credits Cummins with setting an example for other faculty.

“His observations about the events of the day were always heartfelt, yet humorous,” Wertsch said. “His intelligence and sense of justice were impressive, but he never took himself too seriously — and encouraged the rest of us not to take ourselves too seriously either!

“He was a fixture in early morning campus life at Danforth University Center as he read his New York Times, always with something to say to everyone who worked there or just was passing by his table. The campus won’t be the same without him.”