Skip to main content

Department History



Sociology was a relative early course of study at Houston Junior College, the institution that ultimately became the four-year institution known as the University of Houston in 1934. Between 1927 and 1931, Houston Junior College offered two courses in sociology, an introductory course and a course on “Race in the South,” that were taught by social science and social studies faculty under the directorship of Wallace H. Miner, M.A., chair of the division. In 1931 (or 1933 according to Nicholson), Joseph S. Werlin, originally from Pearland, who did his undergraduate work at the Rice Institute and received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago, became the first full-time sociologist. 

On April 30, 1934, the Houston Independent School District Board of Education authorized the creation of the University of Houston as the parent institution along with the Houston Junior College. Both institutions remained under the jurisdiction of the HISD board. Sociology at UH was within the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Community Service. At this time, Joseph Werlin expanded the course offerings in sociology, creating two courses on “Family and Child Welfare”. 

In 1935, UH became a full-fledged four-year institution, with Sociology housed in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Social Science. The department contained courses in history, economics, psychology and sociology. The 1935 academic year saw nine sociology courses offered by Werlin and his colleagues in the Department of Social Science. These included Sociology 231 (Intro.), 232 (Social Problems), 331 (Race and Population), 332 (Crime and Its Treatment and Prevention), 333 (Urban Sociology), 334 (Culture Change and Contrasts), 431 (Families and Family Adjustment), 432 (Problems of Child Welfare), and 433 (Problems of the American Farmer).

By the 1936-37 academic year, Joseph Werlin offered students who traveled to Mexico with him one additional credit-hour for Sociology 333 (Urban) and 334 (Culture Change). Additionally, Sociology added three more courses: Sociology 338 (Eugenics), (435 and 436) Biology and Family Relations, parts I and II, and (531-32) Principles of Social Casework. In 1938-39, the Department of Social Science expanded to also include the areas of government, philosophy, and social studies. The sociology offerings in the early 1940s included courses on European Life (Sociology 631) and Contemporary Civilization (Sociology 461). 

On March 12, 1945, the University of Houston separated from HISD, and The College of Arts and Sciences at UH was under the direction of Dean Charles Hiller. A new course in Sociology was offered that year under the title Principles of Public Health (Sociology 233). 

In 1947, the Department of Social Sciences became was under the chairship of M.A. Miller, another historian. That year saw Sociology offer courses in Criminology (Sociology 335 and 336), Social Control (338), Human Migration (339), and Contemporary Civilization: Guatemala (380). A course on Problems in Mexico was added in 1948. The 1947-48 academic year saw the authorization to hire a second sociologist to work alongside Werlin. Everett D. Dyer had graduated from UH in 1941 and had just completed his MA at the University of Texas when Dean Miller offered him a position on the faculty. Dyer was the first graduate trained sociologist at the university, and he and Werlin added additional courses including Contemporary Civilization: Cuba (Sociology 373) and Social Movement (Sociology 461).

In 1951, Balfour Daniels became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and he appointed Chris B. Ransom as chair of Social Science. Werlin and Dyer continued to expand the Sociology offerings to include Sociology 467 (The Sociology of France), Sociology 475-476 (Vital Forces in the Development of the 20th Century), and Sociology 337 (Mexican Folklore), which was offered only in the field in Mexico.

During the 1952-53 academic year the University and the College of Arts and Sciences granted departmental status to Sociology, although the Social Science Chair, Christopher Ranson remained head of the department until the next year. That year (1953) the department was authorized to offer an M.A. degree in Sociology, and Werlin became the first departmental member to become part of the university’s graduate faculty. 

The following year, Clyde Vedder who was trained as a sociologist became chair and served in that capacity until 1956, when he left for the University of Arizona. Vedder was instrumental in getting an Alpha Kappa Delta (National Sociology Honor Society) chapter at UH. When Vedder left Houston, Everett Dyer became the chair of sociology, serving from 1956 to 1972. Dyer had been on leave of absence in the early 1950s while he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin.

Anthropology was added as course offering in the Sociology Department in 1957 and by 1961 the departmental title was changed to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.  Sol Tannebaum joined the faculty in 1958 and remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1993. In the 1960s Werlin died and the department added Art Gallaher as a sociology/anthropology full professor.  Others added during the decade included Howard Kaplan (whose principal affiliation was Baylor College of Medicine and later Texas A&M), Jules Schrager (social work), Henry Monson, Ewell Williams, Gilbert Kushner (Anthropology), David Richmond, A. Waldner (social work), Pauline Kolenda and Norris Lang (both anthropology, both of whom remained in anthropology until their retirements), and Robert Carrick.  Others who remained in the department for many years included Jack Dodson, Harold Nelson, Julius Rivera (who founded the Center for Mexican American Studies), Roger Nett, and Sam Schulman.

By 1967-68, the year that the first Werlin Award was given to a graduate student, the department had 10 full-time faculty. In 1970 the Anthropology department separated off as an independent department. The faculty size in 1971 was 11, growing to 13 by the 1972-73 academic year.  Under the brief chairship of the criminologist Gresham Sykes, who had left the University of Denver to come to Houston, the department was authorized to add three new faculty members, one at each rank, and to create a Ph.D. program. David Gottlieb, who had been at Penn State and had worked for Senator Robert F. Kennedy was the full professor; Gary Dworkin was appointed an associate professor, and Helen Rose Fuchs (later Ebaugh) was the assistant professor. Sykes, however, left the department prior to the beginning of the 1973-74 academic year and the new Ph.D. program in Sociology was never created.

The department was then chaired by Janet Chafetz (University of Texas Ph.D.). Chafetz served as chair until 1976 and was again elected chair in 1994, serving until 2002. At the end of her first term as chair Chafetz was replaced by Zena Blau (Columbia University Ph.D.) who had been at Northwestern University. Blau served one term but remained in the department until her retirement in 1995. Following Blau the department elected Allen Haney (University of Florida Ph.D.) as chair. Haney, a medical sociologist, served two terms as chair and remained in the department until his death in 2000. Helen Rose Ebaugh (Columbia University Ph.D.) assumed the chairship in 1985 and served a single term until 1988. Gary Dworkin (Northwestsern University Ph.D.), then assumed the chairship and served two terms until 1994. He was replaced by Janet Chafetz who served until 2002. After Chafetz, Nestor Rodriguez (University of Texas Ph.D.), who co-founded the Center for Immigration Studies in the department, assumed the chairship in 2002. Rodriguez served for almost two terms, leaving for a professorship at the University of Texas in 2008. Joseph Kotarba (University of California, San Diego Ph.D.) was then elected chair in 2008, but accepted a position at Texas State University in 2010.  In 2010, Xavia Karner (University of Kansas Ph.D.) was elected chair. Karner served until 2017, when Amanda Baumle (Texas A&M University Ph.D.) assumed office. Karner returned to the chair position in 2021.

The department has built an Immigration Research Center and the Sociology of Education Research Group (SERG), which serves as an outsourced research department for school districts that otherwise cannot afford research. SERG is directed by Gary Dworkin and Jon Lorence. The Department also has the Small Groups Laboratory, overseen by Scott Savage, which provides a space for the experimental study of small group behavior.

Faculty size in Sociology has fluctuated over the past 85 years. It had grown from a single faculty member (Joseph Werlin) in 1931 through 1947 to 22 members in 1976, to an average of 13-15 members in the 1990s and early 2000s. Currently, there are 11 full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members, two non-tenure track teaching faculty, and 10 lecturers.

Prepared by Gary Dworkin

[1] Inspection of catalogues of Houston Junior College and the University of Houston from 1927 through 2011 provided the information for this history. Additionally, Patrick J. Nicholson’s In Time: An Anecdotal History of the First Fifty Years of the University of Houston (1977) supplemented the historical record. Finally, more recollections were collected from a telephone interview of Everett D. Dyer, the department‘s first faculty member trained as a sociologist, and departmental chair from 1956-1972.