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WSU Department of Sociology Sociology News

The James F. Short Professorship: Interview with inaugural awardee Jennifer Schwartz

Jim is seated and softly smiling with his arms crossed on his knees. Behind him is his full bookshelf.
James Short in his WSU office in 2009. Photo by WSU Photo Services.

James F. Short, Jr. (1924-2018), was a preeminent and pioneering figure in the field of sociology and criminology, particularly known for his work on urban gang behavior in Chicago. Jim’s life and many achievements and contributions were summarized thoroughly in this ASA article; notably Jim served as president of both the American Sociological Association (1984) and the American Society of Criminology (1997) and as editor of the American Sociological Review (1972-74). He was appointed co-director of research for President Lyndon Johnson’s Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (1968). Jim arrived at WSU in 1951 and stayed in Pullman for his entire career. He became one of the University’s longest-serving and most-distinguished faculty members. Past editions of this newsletter featured memorial pieces written by Don Dillman and Lorine Hughes as well as a College of Arts and Sciences article on his accomplishments.

Jennifer is forward facing and smiling in front of her full bookshelf.
Jennifer Schwartz

Following Jim’s death, the James F. Short Professorship in Sociology was established to honor his legacy of scholarship and dedication to students as well as his indelible mark on the Sociology department and WSU.

The first awardee of the James Short Professorship is Sociology’s Jennifer Schwartz. Jen arrived at WSU after earning her PhD at Penn State University in 2003. Her research interests include gender and crime; violence; drugs and alcohol; and fraud and white-collar crime.

We spoke with Jen about the James F. Short professorship, her current research and important rural jails project, and what it’s like to now be working out of Jim’s infamous office in Wilson-Short Hall.

The rededication plaque for Wilson-Short Hall. Photo by WSU Photo Services, 2009.

(Yes, the former “Wilson Hall” was rededicated and became “Wilson-Short” in 2009 to also honor Jim.)

If you would like to support the James F. Short Professorship, gifts are welcome and appreciated and can be made securely online here. You may also contact the College of Arts and Sciences Development Office at cas.development@wsu.edu or 509-335-1096 to support the Short professorship or other Sociology programs and initiatives through the department’s Excellence Fund.


Tom: Let’s start by extending our congratulations to you as the inaugural awardee of the James Short Professorship!

Can you give us some background on your relationship to Jim and tell us what you knew about him before coming to WSU?

Jen: Before I came here I’d of course read Jim’s name in textbooks. I knew he was a gang researcher and a pioneer of the self-report method which, as a methodologist, was meaningful.

When I came to interview here, I saw Jim Short’s name, but he was emeritus, so I didn’t realize how active he still was. I did my job talk and everyone asked questions and grilled me, and Jim Short was there in the corner, but I didn’t even realize it was him. It was intimidating to realize suddenly at the end of my job talk who this figure was sitting quietly in the corner of the room. But I’m glad I didn’t know who it was beforehand because I would have been scared (laughs). He of course asked the nicest and most complimentary question.

Something I’ll always remember and appreciate about Jim is how supportive he was, especially of junior faculty and graduate students. He was so encouraging and insightful in his comments, and he could deliver them so nicely, even when they were scathing critiques.

Tom: He was emeritus when I got here as well, but he was completely involved in everything, and I think that is highly unusual for emeritus. It’s a reflection of his dedication. He had such a huge legacy here that didn’t go away. He was such a remarkable figure in the field, and he continued to be involved in so many activities; he was serving on committees, talking to students, advising faculty, and being supportive, as you said.

Can you expand on how he was supportive and continued to be active in his career after becoming emeritus?

Jen: What I most appreciate is that he would always invite me to share my papers with him. Not only did he quickly give me comments, but they were also really great comments, and he was doing that for many people, which I thought was amazing.

Jen is pictured peeking beyond her door, which shows her name plate.
Jennifer Schwartz

I’ve since moved into his office, and most of it was cleared out, but there were a few file folders that remained and notes from other scholars years and years ago thanking Jim for his comments on their papers. He could so concisely and accurately get to the heart of the matter. So that was really neat and, again, not just my experience but everybody’s experience with him.

I only regret that I didn’t take more advantage of his generosity. I don’t think I could believe it was real, but it was. Every time I had the guts to share something with him, he was great about giving feedback. And he would always check in on me, ask how my day was going, that sort of thing. I always appreciated that support.

Tom: Can you speak about what the professorship means for you personally and professionally? Were you aware this professorship award was in development for you?

Jen: I had no idea that anything like this was in the works. One day I got a note from the dean marked urgent and I was like, “Oh this isn’t going to be good. Probably another committee….” So I click on it and, “What?! There’s a Short professorship? And I got it?!” (laughs). It was exciting and fun to find out that way. Good news over email is not common, so that was nice (laughs).

Practically it means that I get a stipend to further criminology here at WSU for three years, and it’s supposedly renewable. I report to the dean each year to tell them what I did with the stipend. It’s been tough because I got the award right as the pandemic came on. My intention is to support the criminology research that’s going on here, helping graduate students buy data and things like that.

My best use of it so far has been bridging grant funds. As you know, Jenn Sherman, Clay Mosher, and I have this project on rural jails to try to diagnose why they’re growing and possibly shifting in population toward more women and things like that. [Editors’ note: This interview was conducted prior to the passing of Professor Clay Mosher. We have left references to Clay in the interview unchanged.] We’ve been working with local sheriff’s departments in eastern Washington counties and trying to get them to share their data and think about collective solutions to their problems. Graduate students and I have been analyzing jail data on drivers of rural jail growth, so that’s how we’ve been investing the funds thus far.

Michael Short, Jim’s son who’s a photographer, was working with us which is a neat connection that came full circle. Right before the pandemic, Michael set off to photograph the rural communities in which we are working to capture what it means to be rural and how disadvantaged populations in rural communities live. In the future I hope that we will get to use his photojournalism skills and his ability to connect with people, as well as his artwork. It’s featured on our website right now.

A view down Main Street in Pomeroy, Washington in Garfield County. Photo Copyright ©2020 by J. Michael Short

Tom: Can you tell us more about the rural jails project and what you hope to do with it?

Jen: Originally it was funded by Vera Institute of Justice and Arnold Ventures. There were two teams of researchers; ours and a team studying rural Georgia, so we’ve kind of worked in parallel for the last few years developing policy oriented briefs about what’s happening.

Recently we were awarded a National Institute of Justice grant to carry on the work for the upcoming three years. We thought we’d have to bridge the funds more, but the Short Professorship helped in between and helped augment some of the activities that grants can’t fund and to get more students involved.

Our intention is to continue to diagnose the issues that rural jails are struggling with and then adopt community-based solutions by bringing together councils of people who are concerned. This could be substance abuse counselors, family counselors, the Health Department, and certainly people all throughout the criminal justice field, building broader coalitions of people who care about disenfranchised groups in local rural communities. This is a unique project in that it is focused on rural places. That’s important from a criminology standpoint because a lot of the national growth in our incarcerated populations is coming from rural places, but it’s a hidden problem in a lot of ways.

Tom: What are your plans for the future? Specifically, how do you hope to carry on Jim’s legacy in the department?

Jen: I guess that it should be intimidating to have these shoes to fill. I hope that I can continue to support graduate students’ research and activities in the spirit that Jim did.

A farm a couple of miles west of Pataha and Pomeroy, Washington in Garfield County. Photo Copyright ©2020 by J. Michael Short

Of course, I’m going to continue working on the rural jails issue, and I think it’s really neat community-engaged research that is in the spirit of what Jim did. He went to Chicago and embedded himself in a community and got to know the people there and the gangs, looking at it from so many different angles, from the gang members to the social workers. You’re trying to help them from an academic standpoint and his ability to blend all those things together is just incredible. So I’m hoping to use him as a model in the work moving forward. With the rural jails project, I can be engaged in my local community like he was and try to make places better than they were in the past. It’s hard to see too far down the road but certainly for the next three years I see myself continuing to engage in this work.

Also, Professor Jenn Sherman’s qualitative work is a really neat aspect of this. We get to do this mixed methods project, which again is similar to what Jim had done. I never thought I’d be able to do something like that, where you draw all these different methods together to get a more holistic view of what’s going on. I’ve always found his ability to do that impressive, and so it’s exciting that I get the chance to collaborate with others who have the skills. Jenn’s work lends a voice and realness to the work that wouldn’t be there if I just had the quantitative data alone to rely on, so that’s exciting.

Tom: So this isn’t a solo project. Can you talk more about those in Pullman and Vancouver working on this?

Jen: We have the perfect team. I’m the quantoid, Jenn does the qualitative work, and then Clay brings the policy angle and understands how to disseminate a message in a compelling way to lawmakers. As far as the graduate students go, we’ve had a whole rotating cast of characters. We also have several graduate students involved as research assistants.

Jim short is seated at his desk with his back to the camera. Two students sit across from him looking towards him. In the background is his packed bookshelf.
WSU Journalism students interview Professor Short in his office in Wilson-Short Hall in 2018. Photo by J. Michael Short 2018.

Tom: I know you recently moved into Jim’s old office in Wilson-Short Hall. Can you describe it for the newsletter audience? It is an unusual office compared to other office spaces in the department.

Jen: It looks a lot different than when Jim was there because he had stacks and stacks of papers everywhere and big boxes and full file cabinets and shelves. He had two doors to his office, and one was essentially closed off because he had too much stuff around it.

I’ve reoriented things and it looks a lot different now, but I kept the door he always used with his name on it, and I use the other door and put my name on that one (laughs). So that’s still the Jim Short office and it always will be. I don’t have as many books and papers as he did, but eventually it will start to look that way (laughs).

Jen is standing next to her desk and smiling towards the camera. Most of her office is in view.
Jennifer Schwartz now occupying Jim Short’s office.

Tom: For people who didn’t know Jim, what would you want them to know about him?

Jen: How brilliant and empathetic he was. I think those are two things that don’t often go together. Some of my past work looked at white collar crime and narcissistic CEOs who want to win at all costs and the contrast is you don’t need to be a jerk to be successful (laughs). Jim had an amazing ability to put himself in other people’s shoes and I think it helped him as a scholar and a researcher, and is a testament to his person. Jim really embodied what it meant to be a scholar in all ways.