Remembering Charles Tittle (1938-2021)
Charles Tittle, professor of sociology at WSU from 1988 to 2000, passed away in May of 2021. Charles was my friend, colleague, and co-author. He was a very serious, hard-working scholar who could perhaps seem imposing to those who didn’t know him, but Charles was incredibly kind and generous. Below, we hear from a few of Charles’ students and colleagues who generously wrote memory pieces in his honor. Charles Tittle’s many accomplishments and contributions are documented in this obituary released by the American Society of Criminology. –Tom Rotolo
By Lisa Broidy
When people ask why I became a criminologist, I reply without hesitation that it was because I wanted to work with Charles Tittle. Most criminologists then assume I was drawn to Charles because of his prominence in the field. But the reality is I wanted to work with Charles well before I had any sense of what a first-rate academic he was or how well respected he was in the field. When I first met Charles, I was visiting WSU to learn more about the sociology PhD program. He had volunteered to house me and show me around Pullman and WSU. His love for the place was infectious—he was a wonderful ambassador for the program and for Pullman more generally. At the time I had never heard of Charles Tittle, had never taken a criminology course, and had not settled on any substantive focus for my graduate studies. But the time I spent with Charles that weekend endeared him to me—so much so that I chose to go to graduate school at WSU and to study criminology just so I could work with the friendly conversationalist, tour guide, and host I had met that weekend.
Upon starting graduate school, I saw a different side of Charles, a serious scholar who was not quite so soft around the edges. I recall the first day I went to TA his undergraduate criminology course and he began his introduction to the students by saying something to the effect of: “This is a serious topic and a serious course. I do not tell jokes and am not here to entertain you. My job is to educate you.” I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a bit intimidating,” but I also remember being rather awestruck by his ability to command respect in the classroom. He could be similarly intimidating as a graduate instructor. Some of my colleagues and I still recall a graduate seminar in criminological theory during which he decided we would not leave until everyone in the room said something insightful about the topic we had been discussing. He kept us an hour past the official end of class, going around the table countless times until everyone had said something that met his criteria for insightful. It was a high bar and at the time the exercise felt both stressful and tedious. But on reflection I am struck by the fact that he knew we were all capable of meeting the bar he had set and would not give up on us until we realized it too and rose to the occasion.
The Charles I came to know was a perfect blend of these two seemingly distinct personas. As my academic mentor, he pushed me to work hard and to be the best scholar I could be. What I respect most about his mentorship is that, as long as I was willing to put in the work, it was unconditional. He supported and pushed me despite lamenting my interests in gender and crime as, at least at that time, too far outside the mainstream. As my colleague and friend over the years, he was similarly supportive. When I was run over by a Lincoln Town car on an early morning run during our national meetings, I remember him coming by my hospital room to make sure I was really ok and to see if I needed help with the hospital bills. When I would visit him over the years, he always went out of his way to make sure I was well taken care of. He would cook my favorite meals, take me to his favorite sights, and organize gatherings with friends and colleagues he thought I would enjoy. He would also map out running routes for me—sometimes he would even drive me to a starting point and pick me up 10 miles later if he thought I would enjoy a particular stretch of trail or road (and maybe to ensure I did not have to traverse any dangerous intersections).
In the last few months before he passed, I was lucky to be able to have a few long phone conversations with him. His eyesight and hearing were failing, but he remained in good spirits and always enjoyed catching up. He would ask about my work and my life more generally and would regale me with entertaining stories about his friends, family, and colleagues. We also talked about the end of life, which he knew was coming. He told me he had heard so many stories over the years about what happens when we pass that he was rather looking forward to finding out. I hope the experience met all of his expectations, especially since I know how high his expectations generally are.
Lisa Broidy is the department chair and Regent’s professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico and holds concurrent appointments at Griffith University. In 1997, she received her PhD in Sociology from WSU, where Charles Tittle was her advisor. Her research interests and publications are in the areas of crime, law, gender, and social control.
By Steven Cureton
Long before diversity, equity, and inclusion became trendy, the Sociology department at Washington State University offered an initiative to recruit graduate students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s). This initiative led to at least six African American students’ becoming part of the fall 1990 cohort. The domino effect of my recruitment began with my undergraduate mentor, Dr. Robert Davis, a WSU alumnus. I am an alumnus of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. The forerunning narrative of HBCU’s is academic growth and personal maturity aligned with positive interpersonal appraisals that result from cultural immersion.
Coming to WSU would mean academic growth but not necessarily personal maturity aligned with positive interpersonal appraisals within the context of cultural immersion. I indeed suffered cultural shock related to the routine challenges that were indicative of contesting my racial cultural regalia in an environment that was predominantly white. To this end, I had secretly prepared to terminate my academic endeavor after just one semester at WSU.
I have not figured out to this day how Dr. Jim Short got wind of that notion. In December of 1990 he had placed a bag of huge oranges on my desk in the graduate lounge with a note: “Give us one more semester.” I did, and that is when Dr. Charles Tittle entered my life. Dr. Tittle was academically strict and very direct. If I did not measure up, I knew it immediately, in harsh terms but with a soft resolution. Dr. Charles Tittle never in my experience pointed out a problem without offering solutions. Dr. Charles Tittle became more than my mentor, he became Charles, a man who cared about me.
My experience at WSU was racially charged and I was moving in directions that could be labeled militant. Dr. Charles Tittle pulled me in his office and “apologized” for all that I had been experiencing, but he then quickly pivoted to: “We did not bring you out here to become a militant, we brought you here to become a sociologist.” With that statement, Dr. Tittle became Charles! Caring, aware, but keeping an eye on the prize of becoming a good sociologist. Charles is responsible for my seamless promotion to professor at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. No matter when he and I talked, he always gave me homework assignments, some publication ideas, and would say “press on.” I shall miss that academic mentoring along with his cooking. He always said I looked like an athlete, and, well, he fed me like I was an athlete. To me and for me, I was blessed to have been mentored and understood by Charles to the point where I make it known that I am a Tittle Disciple.
Steven Cureton is a professor of sociology at UNC Greensboro. He received his PhD in Sociology from WSU in 1997. His research interests and publications focus on race, crime, and deviance, and African-Americans’ life chances, behavioral outcomes, and equity and justice.
By Jane Gauthier
I first met Charles in April 1995. I had just been accepted to the Sociology PhD program at WSU and decided to visit the school before making my decision to attend. The night before I was to meet Charles, several other students warned me that he could be intimidating, but they told me not to worry. Of course, this had the opposite effect, and I was very nervous to meet him and even more nervous to work with him once I had decided to attend. And while there is no doubt he could be intimidating, especially if you made the mistake of coming to class unprepared, this is not how I remember Charles. Instead, the Charles I remember had fun at the department picnics at the beginning of each year, and he and Debbie always invited students over to his house, and even played jacks, at the end of each semester. He was serious about academics, but he could also be fun and caring with his students.
Charles impacted the person and professor I am today in so many ways. Not only did I take all the graduate classes he taught, I served as his TA and worked for him as assistant to the editor for the journal Criminology. Through it all, he served as a great role model and consistently challenged me to do better. And, perhaps most importantly, he always supported me. His support continued as he served as my dissertation chair even after he moved to North Carolina. While he always gave generously of his time, it was difficult to write my dissertation while we were 3,000 miles apart. So, he and Debbie opened their home to me so I could work with him in North Carolina for a couple of weeks. This extra attention meant everything to me and was just the thing I needed to get my dissertation back on track. Even after I graduated, every year at ASC he made a point of taking me aside to see how I was doing. Even though I was no longer his student, he truly cared how I was doing in my life and career. Throughout my time at WSU and even after I finished, Charles was my teacher, advisor, and mentor.
Jane Gauthier is an assistant professor at CSU LA in the School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics and director of the Criminal Justice Graduate Program. She received her PhD in Sociology at WSU in 2004. Her research interests include hate groups, hate crimes, and bias-related incidents.
By Clay Mosher
Charles was a prolific and impactful scholar, a consummate professional, and one of the hardest working and most caring people I have ever known. He held himself and his colleagues and graduate students to high standards and never shied away from a good debate.
Before I interviewed for an assistant professor position at WSU, one of my graduate school mentors (who was thrilled that I had been short-listed for a position at WSU) warned me to be prepared for my job talk or else Charles would “skewer” me. I thought my talk was fairly well received and I responded to a number of questions from the various faculty attending the talk. Somewhat curiously, however, there were only a few minutes left and Charles had not asked me a question. I figured, “Gee, maybe he thought my talk was good.” I looked over to him and noticed him rubbing his chin—he then said, “I’ve got undergraduates who’ve got better theory than you.”
Skewered indeed. After the talk, I met with the chair, Marilyn Ihinger-Tallman, and thanked her for how well I had been treated during our visit to Pullman, but mentioned that, given how my talk had ended, I certainly did not expect to be offered the position. She commented something to the effect of, “Oh, don’t worry about that. That is just Charles being Charles.”
Of course, it turned out that I was offered the position and, yes, Charles was just being Charles—challenging me to do better work, as he did with others. I would see several other examples of this over the years—particularly with graduate students. I won’t name names (the individuals in question know who they are!), but a few of my favorites: At one thesis defense, as a graduate student attempted to explain some of the key findings of his dissertation, Charles commented, “You’re like a man stumbling around in a jungle where no one else has been before.” At another defense, Charles remarked, “Well, that’s the spin you’re putting on it, but I’m not so sure.”
But that was just one side of Charles.
On the day we arrived in Pullman, Charles showed up at our house with milk and homemade cookies (which were delicious) and helped us unpack some boxes and move some furniture. This was my introduction to another side of Charles—he loved to cook and entertain, and over the years, I was fortunate enough to be included in the circle of people who were invited to dinners at his house. These dinners almost always included delectable fare—from homemade soups to desserts and all the good things in between and, of course, excellent presentation.
But I do recall one dinner where quail was being served and Charles told us all to be careful because “there might be some buckshot in the quail.” Oops, it was a bit too late for me—I had already taken a bite.
Although I regrettably did not get a chance to publish with Charles (largely, I suspect, because there was not a great deal of overlap in our research interests), he was a great mentor for junior faculty (and graduate students). He was encouraging and expected everyone to work hard.
One of my favorite memories was when Charles decided he would like to take up golf and wanted me to give him some “lessons.” We hit a few buckets of balls and I attempted to coach him, but, of course, he wanted to know a bit about my theories on how to properly swing a golf club. Recall that I have no theory, but I can tell you that my “mentorship” of Charles in this realm was not terribly successful—we never did play an actual round of golf.
I and many colleagues, as well as former graduate students, will sorely miss seeing Charles at the WSU lunches that occurred annually at the American Society of Criminology meetings. I will forever value his mentorship, friendship, and generosity.
Clayton Mosher is a professor of Sociology at WSU Vancouver as well as the program leader. He received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 1992. His areas of research are criminology, law and deviance, law and society, and substance use and policy. He has co-authored numerous books on these topics, including Drugs and Drug Policy: The Control of Consciousness Alteration; and In The Weeds: Demonization, Legalization, and the Evolution of U.S. Marijuana Policy.