Former sociology chair dies at 77
The memorial service for longtime Washington University sociology and political science professor Marvin Cummins, who died last week at age 77, took place Tuesday at Congregation Shaare Emeth. Cummins was diagnosed with a rare blood disease in December, according to his obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Cummins established the Law and Society freshman FOCUS program and taught it through the 2010-11 school year.
“There are people to this day who say they go to law school because of him,” colleague David Konig, a professor of history and law, said.
Cummins served as the last chairman of the University’s sociology department, which was disbanded in 1991 amidst conflict with the administration and dwindling faculty ranks. He joined the department in 1970 after three years as a postdoctoral fellow in the Community Mental Health Research Training Program. After serving as acting chair from 1970-1976, he regained the position in 1985.
Following the controversial closure of his department, Cummins assumed a position in the political science department, teaching courses such as Sociology of Law and Controversies in Contemporary Homicide Law.
Junior Matt Lauer, a student in Cummins’ final Law and Society program, remembered him as a challenging professor, requiring students to write six-to-10-page papers every three weeks.
“He was asking a lot, but every single time I went into class, I was excited to talk about the cases—excited to hear about what his opinions were on them, which was very hard to come by,” Lauer said. “He wouldn’t really show his hand in what he believed.”
Lauer also took a course with Cummins in the fall of his sophomore year, called The Legal Landscape in a Changing American Society.
Both Lauer and Konig remembered Cummins as a dynamic presence in and out of the classroom.
“Marvin wore these half-glasses, and he would look up at you over these half-glasses and pause for a moment and then come up with the perfect response—understated but chuckling, combining this profundity with humor,” Konig said.
“He was the best professor I’ve had so far at Wash. U.,” Lauer said.
Cummins is survived by his wife, Mary Boeger, a son, Fredrick, a stepdaughter, two stepsons and five grandchildren.