Wheeler, forerunner in law, dies

Stanton Wheeler, former master of Morse College and Ford Foundation Professor Emeritus of Law and the Social Sciences, died of complications from a cardiovascular condition at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven on Dec. 7. He was 77.

Wheeler, who co-authored 10 books and was one of the earliest non-lawyers on a major law-school faculty, was noted for his pioneering scholarship combining law and the social sciences. He served on the faculties of the Law School and the Sociology Department, teaching courses on criminal justice, white-collar crime, sociology of law, sports and the law and music and the law.

“Stan Wheeler was a prolific scholar who helped pioneer the integration of law and social science, turning the focus away from rules and judicial doctrines and toward empirical studies of how legal actors actually behave,” Law School Dean Harold Koh said.

Wheeler conducted several “groundbreaking” studies and helped found the Law and Society Association, the leading organization in the field he helped establish, said Lauren Edelman, a law professor and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley.

Yale Sociology professor Philip Smith said Wheeler was a pioneer in the consideration of cultural and sociological implications for jurisprudence.

“His work was important in uncovering the role of informal norms in judicial sentencing,” Smith said. “It was a study of how culture influences the operation of the judicial system.”

In addition to his scholarship, Wheeler was extensively involved in student life, athletics and music at Yale.

As the master of Morse from 1995 to 2001, Wheeler “brought a spirit of vitality and warmth,” said his successor, Frank Keil.

“He was without question a great master,” Keil said. “There were tremendous bonds of affection between him and the students that were palpable as [my wife and I] came on board.”

Wheeler served as a member of the Athletics Executive Committee and the Faculty Committee on Athletics. He chaired the latter body for eight years and also headed the search committee that brought the current athletic director, Tom Beckett, to Yale.

“He’s a true scholar and a gentleman, and he helped to shape the present course of Yale athletics,” Beckett said.

Wheeler, who had a lifelong passion for jazz, also played trumpet with the Yale Jazz Ensemble for many years. Along with friends he made in the band during the 1980s, Wheeler formed the Reunion Jazz Ensemble, said wife Marcia Chambers, a fellow at the Law School.

Wheeler was born on Sept. 27, 1930, in Los Angeles, where he spent his childhood, and graduated from Pomona College in 1952.

His college roommate, Stephen Reinhardt, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, said Wheeler was “a warm, good and very popular person always. He never said anything unpleasant and never made any enemies.”

Reinhardt said he particularly remembers his friend playing the tune “Blue Moon.” At a time when Pomona had only one black student, Wheeler ventured into what was then called LA’s “Negro district” to play with the jazz musicians there, Reinhardt said.

Reinhardt said Wheeler’s interest in sociology grew out of this early experience with race relations. Wheeler even spent his junior year at Fisk University, an historically black institution.

After receiving his degree from Pomona, Wheeler went on to earn a master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University of Washington in 1956 and 1958. He taught at Harvard between 1958 and 1963, taking a leave in 1960-’61 on a Fulbright research scholarship at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Wheeler reached Yale as an associate adjunct professor of law and sociology in 1966. He became a full professor two years later and became the Ford Foundation Professor of Law and the Social Sciences in 1982. Excepting a two-year leave to serve as president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles in 1985-’87, he continued teaching at Yale until retiring in 2002.

But through all his accomplishments, Wheeler’s affability never changed, Reinhardt said. When Reinhardt visited his friend last year, Wheeler was playing his trumpet outside his home in Branford, Conn., and he was still as genial as ever, Reinhardt said.

Kevin Green ’09, the trumpet section leader in the jazz band, said he was impressed by Wheeler’s “easygoing demeanor.”

“You just got along with the guy,” Green said. “He will be missed by the many friends he made in the group.”

In addition to his wife, Wheeler is survived by his sister, his brother, three sons and five grandchildren.

The funeral service will be held today at 1:30 p.m. at the Grove Street Cemetery.

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