Honoring Lisa McIntyre, her career and unforgettable character

Former professor and chair, Lisa McIntyre retired from WSU at the conclusion of the 2018–2019 academic year.

Lisa McIntyre shown from the shoulders up, wearing a blue and white plaid shirt, and standing in front of a microphone.
Lisa McIntyre

Dr. McIntyre—OK, everyone in the department called her Lisa, as she was never much for formal titles, so we will continue that tradition here—Lisa arrived in Pullman in 1987, after earning her doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago. Her early research at WSU focused on the sociology of law, highlighted by the publication of The Public Defender: The Practice of Law in the Shadows of Repute (University of Chicago Press, 1987), a book that received recognition from legal scholars and sociologists, including an Honorable Mention from the C. Wright Mills Book Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems.  Lisa went on to publish several other books and influential articles related to the Sociology of Law. Additionally, Lisa identified interest in the areas of the sociology of work, social theory, and methods, especially qualitative methods.  In addition to her research, Lisa took on the most demanding service roles within the department. She served multiple terms as both director of Graduate Studies and chair of the Department of Sociology.

Lisa exhibited an incredible passion and skill for teaching. She published six editions of the very popular introductory textbook, The Practical Skeptic.  The reviews on popular internet booksellers are overwhelmingly positive, a rare feat for an academic textbook. As one public reviewer puts it on amazon.com, “Even if you’re not taking a sociology course, this is an excellent read for understanding humans in terms of how we are socialized, how we form social institutions, and how we interact with one another; you’d be surprised to find just how much of our lives are influenced by social forces.” Lisa also published the well-received methods textbook, Need to Know: Social Science Research Methods (2004).

A teal colored textbook called, "The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology, Sixth Edition" by Lisa J. McIntyre.
Lisa’s popular Sociology 101 textbook, The Practical Skeptic.

The quality and popularity of these textbooks underscored Lisa’s dedication to teaching. Lisa regularly taught the large (500+ student enrollment) and demanding Sociology 101: Introductory to Sociology class. At the graduate level, she taught Qualitative Methods, the Sociology of Law, and the Teaching Proseminar that helped train graduate students for the classroom. Her dynamic, engaging, and friendly teaching style continually received positive reviews from students and colleagues alike.

Her students, colleagues, and administrators at WSU recognized Lisa’s teaching brilliance in a series of teaching awards over two decades. Early on in her career, she won a department award, the “Student’s Choice – Top Professor” four times in a five-year period. She won the prestigious William F. Mullen, Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, from the college in 1992.

In 1999, Lisa was recognized by the Disability Awareness Association of Washington State University—for “Outstanding Service for Students with Disabilities.” In 2005, she received the WSU Sahlin Award for Excellence in Instruction. Lisa was the first recipient of the Graduate School Mentoring Academy Award for Excellence, in 2016.

While Lisa’s research, service, and teaching contributions will certainly be missed in the department, the absence of her unique character and personality also will be felt in her retirement. Lisa’s office—adorned with all manner of posters, political buttons, artwork, knick-knacks, toys, and a sample of her extensive collection of PEZ dispensers— was always a welcoming place. Pens, flashlights, and all manner of other items labeled with slogans from Lisa that were bound to encourage discussion, such as: “There are no emergencies in sociology.” And who can forget the colorful décor of her office door? We suspect that Lisa would like you to keep one of the messages posted on her office door in mind, as it continues to be relevant today (see accompanying photo at the start of this article). For anyone who had the honor of working with, being a teaching assistant (TA) for, or generally interacting with Lisa daily, we all know what a life-changing, and often entertaining, experience it was.

Lisa McIntyre standing, shown from the waist up with a black sweater on. She is holding a frame teaching award given to her at a ceremony.
Lisa receiving the Graduate School Mentoring Academy Award for Excellence in 2016.

Lisa’s care for graduate students in the Sociology department was unmatched. She would always make sure that each of us had access to the necessities—shelter, food, transportation, etc. If we didn’t have access, she would help us find it in any way she could. Being a TA for Lisa’s SOC 101 course was the introduction to teaching for many WSU sociology graduate students. And what an introduction it was! There was never a dull moment. Lisa, with her famous all-blue outfits (don’t forget the tie!), the blue stripe in her hair, and of course her cup of Coca-Cola (Diet Coke, to be exact!), made sociology relatable and entertaining to the masses of undergraduate students. Let’s face

it, it is difficult to keep all students focused in a 500+ person class! Anyone who asked Lisa how her day was going would be likely to receive a snarky, sarcastic comment that left you smiling or laughing. All graduate students who were lucky enough to work with Lisa were blessed in a way we will never truly be able to communicate.

Lisa is one of a kind, and her impression left a unique mark on each of our hearts and minds. We love you Lisa! And we miss you dearly. Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement!

The newsletter editors asked Professor Deborah Thorne (WSU Sociology BA ’94, MA ’96, PhD ’01) to share some memories of Lisa McIntyre. Lisa was Dr. Thorne’s dissertation chair. Thorne has general sociological interests in stratification and inequality, with a specific focus on negative debt and personal bankruptcy. After earning her PhD at WSU, she was a post-doctoral fellow and project director of the Consumer Bankruptcy Project at Harvard University.

A front facing photo of Deborah Thorne, from the shoulders up. She is looking into the camera.
Dr. Deborah Thorne

Following this position, she was a professor at Ohio University for over a decade, where she followed in Lisa’s footsteps by winning multiple university teaching awards. In 2016, she returned (home) to the Palouse and is currently an associate professor of sociology in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Idaho. We thank Dr. Thorne for taking the time to write this highly engaging, personal essay. We hope her reflections bring back your own memories of Lisa McIntyre.

The older we get, the more we come to realize, and maybe even accept, that nothing is permanent. Despite that, I was still floored when I heard that Lisa McIntyre had retired. How is that possible? Wasn’t it just yesterday? Lisa was my mentor and dissertation chair back in the 1990s, and when I reflect on that time and place, thoughts of Lisa are front and center.

In so many wonderful ways, Lisa was an unconventional academic. For example, her publications were atypical for an R1 institution like WSU. Rather than an abundance of mainstream, and all-too-often inaccessible, top-tier journal articles, Lisa’s publications reached and influenced thousands of undergraduates. You see, she wrote two excellent textbooks that continue to be read in university classrooms around the country. The Practical Skeptic: Core Concepts in Sociology is an extraordinary introductory text that I have used my entire academic career. Faculty and students alike love it. It’s small, accessible, straightforward, funny, relevant, and Lisa’s voice, passion for sociology, and sense of humor are on every page. When textbook representatives drop by my office and ask what text I’m using in my intro course, it is a full-stop when I tell them, McIntyre’s Practical Skeptic. They know that her text is one-of-a-kind, and few folks who use it are interested in switching. Lisa also published a research methods text: Need to Know: Social Science Research Methods. For so many of us who crave an engaging and concise methods text, this is a lifesaver—and students actually read and understand it. With these two smallish books, Lisa has taught thousands of college students the foundations of our discipline and the value of social science research—what an incredible accomplishment and contribution that is.

For those of us graduate students who (secretly) loved teaching as much as our research, Lisa happily and unabashedly nurtured our love of the classroom. When we sought a role-model for how to negotiate the classroom, we turned to Lisa. She taught a broad range of classes, but it was her introductory class that I remember most. She typically taught 400 students in a single (very large) room. And she taught it so well. I was her teaching assistant for this class back in the day, and she showed me how to actively engage students and teach them to think sociologically. To this day, I teach introductory classes of 300 or so, and Lisa’s ways of teaching are laced into how and why I teach.

Back then, the academic culture in the department was not terribly hospitable toward qualitative research. But for those of us who wanted to learn this method, Lisa was our go-to. She did not prioritize one type of method over another, but she knew and shared the value of Weber’s ways. Three decades later, and thanks to Lisa, I teach my students the value of both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

On a more personal level, I have so many everyday memories of Lisa that always bring a smile to my face. She gave me a C- on my first writing assignment when I was an undergraduate in her theory class. (That paper is in my cedar chest—it keeps me humble!) That poor grade, which I earned, embarrassed me so badly, but, oh, did it motivate me to improve my writing. Lisa was the first woman I ever met who wore ties—and what awesome ties they were! And she kept her keys on a chain that was attached to her beltloop.

A close up photo of a cork board full of colorful pins and buttons.
Lisa’s cork board of buttons.

On the cork board in her office were dozens and dozens of buttons. Some, but certainly not all, were political. “Big Foot is a Washingtonian,” “I became a feminist as an alternative to being a masochist!” “Against Animal Testing,” “Don’t Call Me a Girl, I am a WOMAN,” and finally, one that reads “No Buttons.” In a similar vein, Lisa had the coolest collection of PEZ dispensers—she even built a glass case where they were displayed. I remember that when we would get in a panic over something, Lisa would (predictably) say, “There is no such thing as an emergency in sociology.” She had this line printed onto book bags that she gave to some of us graduate students. I still have mine. And always, I remember her Diet Coke.

Finally, as serendipity would have it, I was recently chatting with Dr. Marta Maldonado—she and I were in graduate school in Sociology at WSU at the same time. When I mentioned that I was working on this reflection, Marta shared the following. She described Lisa as one of the strong women of academia, and as a deeply dedicated teacher whose teaching style was “magic.”  When she reflected on her experience in Lisa’s Qualitative Methods course, Marta told me Lisa taught her that the written word is the basic anchor of research, that qualitative methods are the link to critical epistemologies, and that “if you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” Marta wrapped up her comments with, “I will always be grateful to her. She will always have my admiration and gratitude.”

When I was asked to write this reflection, I was truly grateful. I doubt that any other scholar has influenced my life course as much as Lisa. Lisa was central to the Department of Sociology at Washington State University. Her passion for our discipline shaped thousands of students, graduate and undergraduate alike. Undoubtedly, I, and so many others, are better sociologists because of her.