Charles Hohm: Pacific Sociological Association President
Plans Annual Conference
Charles Hohm, dean, College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences and professor of sociology, has begun his term as president of the Pacific Sociological Association (PSA), which runs from March 2006 to March 2007. He is the third CSU faculty member to be elected president in its 77-year history; most PSA presidents have come from major research universities, such as the University of California, USC, and Stanford. Founded in 1929, PSA is the largest and most prominent of the regional sociological associations, encompassing the western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the western provinces of Canada and western states of Mexico.
Hohm, who presented “Pursuit of Curricular Excellence in Sociology: A Dean’s View” at this year’s annual meeting in April titled “Playing with Sociology: Pedagogy, Postmodernism and Popular Culture,” is responsible for organizing next year’s event. “Sociology in the Academy: Its Current and Prospective Position,” will take place in Oakland, CA, March 28-April 1. The former San Diego State University professor was inspired to choose this theme based on his experiences with the 1992 layoffs of 120 tenured and tenure-track faculty, including seven sociology professors, of which he was one. Although the professors were reinstated five months later in the wake of national attention due to protests from students and colleagues, the experience impressed on Hohm the vulnerability of his discipline and its faculty, particularly those with tenure.
“That’s when I really got interested in how administrators view departments in general,” he recalls. “I asked myself, ‘How do they reach those decisions?’ We met with the president on two different occasions. We found out that there was a lot of money he could take from our salaries to hire assistant professors for half that amount and put the rest in the university account.”
“The last thing I would do is lay off tenured and tenure-track faculty, and I’d probably resign before I did that,” he says. “One of the things that attracts people to teaching is the security, and the real security is knowing that you can say what’s on your mind. Academicians like to think of themselves as liberals, and they tend to be politically. But in terms of change, they’re a relatively conservative group and kind of reluctant to do risky things. So if you could lose your job because you say something really controversial, you’re not going to do it if you don’t have tenure. And who’s the loser on that end? I think it’s the students. They should be able to have professors who say what’s on their minds, even if it’s unpopular.”
The PSA conference draws more than 1,200 attendees each year. In planning next year’s event, Hohm will explore the perceived value of sociology in the academy through a survey of 1,600 deans and in-depth interviews with 12-15 deans, provosts, and presidents, some of whom are sociologists. He and his colleague, Paul Sargent of San Diego State University, will ask them to rank their institutions’ majors in terms of factors such as rigor of program, student issues, research, inter- and multidisciplinary work, community and international involvement, and overall prestige. CSUDH students in Ricky Bluthenthal’s (professor of sociology and director, Urban Community Research Center) research methods class will have a hand in number-crunching and organizing the data findings.
“No one studies the discipline of sociology as something that exists in a context,” says Hohm. “Most of the time, we’re studying families or games or banks or societies or cultures. But we don’t often look at ourselves and ask, ‘How do we operate in the system? What do we contribute? How are we viewed by other academics? What could we do better?’”
Other CSU Dominguez Hills colleagues who will participate in next year’s PSA meeting are Bluthenthal, associate professor of sociology and NCAA faculty athletic representative Sohaila Shakib, who are serving on the program committee. Fumiko Hosokawa, chair and professor, Sociology Department; Matthew Mutchler, assistant professor of sociology;Alan Ryave, professor of sociology;Clare Weber, assistant professor of sociology; and Shakhib will also be presenting sessions.
Hohm hopes to also include CSUDH students in the experience.
“PSA is very student-friendly,” he says. “We really want them to be involved. It’s a matter of socializing students. They can take classes, but they need to do research. With their professors’ help, they learn to do it correctly. They need to learn how to present that research, and the first way to do it is at a conference, with people in the audience who may get quite critical. But you learn to defend your thesis, your findings, and your interpretation of your findings.
“More than anything, it’s a socialization process for students. It’s part of becoming a professional. What do sociologists do? What do they look like? In a university, you just have your department. But, at a conference like this, you’ll see over a thousand of them, many of them famous in the world of sociology.”
Hohm’s desire to involve students in the conference stems from his belief that the sociology major “speaks directly to their lives. It tends to look at the underbelly of society, at vested interests. Sometimes the issues that sociologists get into put institutions and people ill at ease because their power and what they’re doing with it in a particular situation is exposed.”
He touts the versatility of a sociology degree that can be parlayed into a variety of fields.
“Right now, the vast majority of people who get a Ph.D. in sociology end up being professors,” he says, “but there’s an increasing number who are going into research and are working for think tanks. People can work for the cities and counties, and nonprofits. That’s actually where a lot of sociology students with B.A.s and M.A.s end up working. Back at SDSU, we did a survey and were surprised that a vast majority of our students were involved in business.
“What most businesses really want are people with college degrees who are articulate, can write well, and have good analytical, mathematical, and statistical skills. A good sociology program will produce all those attributes. Any company can train you into the specifics of the company. A sociology graduate can bring a real empathy and knowledge of social structure, and an understanding of various cultures and ethnicities and an empathy toward those cultures.”
Hohm was influenced as an undergraduate by the president of Tabor College, a small liberal arts college established by the Mennonite church in Hillsboro, KS. Hohm was so influenced by an introduction to sociology course that he changed his major from pre-med to sociology.
“I was questioning a lot of things when I was growing up, but I was never able to have anyone put a focus on it,” Hohm says. “Sociology explained my life story, I was able to look at my life, my family, and my community, and everything made sense, like a ray of light had come in.”
- Joanie Harmon