Sociology professor Gould dies at 39

A year after being diagnosed with leukemia, sociology professor Roger Gould passed away April 29 in New York City. He was 39.

Gould, who left the University of Chicago for Yale in the fall of 2000, was on leave at Columbia University as a Russell Sage Foundation visiting scholar at the time of his death.

Sociology professor Deborah Davis said Gould’s death came as a surprise to many in the Sociology Department and has had a visible effect on the department in recent days.

“We all are totally devastated,” Davis said. “We all thought he was going to pull through. People are walking around the department grieving.”

Acting sociology chairman Jeffrey Alexander has proposed that the Sociology Department honor Gould by holding a memorial in conjunction with the imminent release of Gould’s second book.

“We’d like to have a memorial and a celebration of Roger’s life as an intellectual,” Davis said. “Everybody I know feels this would be a really wonderful way for his colleagues to show his wife and his mother and brother how much he meant to us.”

Yale sociology chairman Ivan Szelenyi said Gould, a specialist in historical and analytical sociology, was “one of the very top sociologists of his generation.” Although Gould was only at Yale for a year before his death, he was a vital component of the Sociology Department’s massive rebuilding effort, Szelenyi said. In his first year at Yale, Gould served as the department’s director of undergraduate studies.

Following a summer 2001 diagnosis, Gould’s cancer treatment was initially successful, leading to an almost full recovery by December, Szelenyi said. However, the cancer re-emerged a month later and Gould’s health continued to deteriorate until his death.

“He was a very realistic man,” Szelenyi said. “He measured the danger and he understood early on that he had a chance to survive, so he fought back.”

“At one point, he told me, ‘I did not join you just to check out right now,’” Szelenyi added.

Gould was remarkably unpretentious and low-key for a scholar who had achieved so much at such a young age, Szelenyi said. In addition to earning tenure at the University of Chicago at an early age, Gould was the editor of the prestigious American Journal of Sociology before coming to Yale.

Sylvia Mitraud GRD ’05, who had Gould as an adviser, said his youthful spirit helped create a healthy, yet somewhat informal, student-teacher relationship.

“It was always good to have him in the room,” Mitraud said. “He was a very accessible man. He would play basketball with the students and every now and then, we’d have gatherings at someone’s house and he’d come and have a few beers with us.”

With Gould’s passing, another senior professor slot has opened up in the Sociology Department – a void Szelenyi said he hopes is filled with a scholar similar to Gould. This summer, Szelenyi will step down from his post as chair, yielding hiring responsibilities to his successor, Alexander.

“[Gould] was a very important appointment for Yale in terms of moving Yale’s department from humanistic sociology to more empirical sociology,” Szelenyi said. “I hope very much that what Roger Gould stood for will be represented in the department’s future appointments.”

Davis said Gould’s loss has been devastating not only for Yale’s Sociology Department, but for the field of sociology.

“He was really a national figure,” Davis said. “Sociology has suffered on a national scale.”

Gould is survived by his wife Erin Graves Gould, his mother Lois and his brother Tony. Gould’s funeral will take place in New York City on May.

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