Former government professor Wood dies
Former Wesleyan professor Robert C. Wood died of stomach cancer at his home in Boston on April 1. Wood was the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democratic Institutions and the Social Order from 1983-1991 and the John E. Andrus Professor of Government from 1991-1993.
“My understanding is that he was a giant in terms of his influence on his colleagues and Wesleyan students,” said Director of Communications Justin Harmon. “He affected a lot of people here and had a substantial career before he came here. He was a very committed teacher and member of the community.”
Wesleyan has established a Robert Wood Memorial Fund in his honor.
According to the Wesleyan website, while at Wesleyan, Wood was part of the advisory committees for the Center for African American Studies and the Graduate Liberal Studies Program and a member of the Faculty Planning Committee. His courses were amongst the most popular in the government department.
“He taught courses on the presidency, on policy implementation, and his field for which he was best known was his work on urban politics,” said former colleague Professor of Government Richard Boyd. “By the time he had come to Wesleyan he had shifted his interests to the American presidency and national public policy, and most of the courses he taught here reflected that interest.”
Wood was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1923 and grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. His father was a shoe salesman and his mother was a teacher. His studies at Princeton were interrupted by army service in Europe during World War II, and Wood received a doctorate in government and political economy from Harvard.
Before coming to Wesleyan, Wood served as a Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1957-1966, and then worked as the undersecretary and the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Washington D.C.
Over the next fifteen years, he was chairman of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, president of the University of Massachusetts, a senior associate for the Joint Center for Urban Studies at MIT and Harvard University and the superintendent of Boston Public Schools.
Wood was the first superintendent in 66 years to be selected from outside of the Boston public school system, according to the Wesleyan website.
From 1981-1983 he was a professor of political science and director of Urban Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
Throughout his career he was an advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He published 10 books on government, politics, and the economy. His most notable work, “Suburbia: Its People and their Politics,” was published in 1959.
Wood was well-received by the Wesleyan community due in part to his extensive background in academia and public service.
“We recruited him as the Henry Luce Professor, and we spent two years in that search. He was, of course, a notable scholar and public figure so we were very pleased to recruit him. He was an extraordinarily well-known figure,” Boyd said.
“One might have expected that someone who had such a distinguished career, and coming to Wesleyan later in his career, might have wanted to work with mainly the best students in smaller classes,” he added. “Instead he taught very popular classes and had one of the largest average class sizes.”
Wood's highly-enrolled courses were “The Political Economy of American Cities” and “Education in Industrial Societies.”
Wood is survived by his wife Margaret and his three children. There was a memorial service held in Boston on Monday.
“I think the most important thing about him is that he had passionate political commitments to good public policy,” Boyd said. “He was interested in supporting public education in all ways possible, and so people who shared those interests in public policy certainly found him such an articulate advocate of their purposes. They will remember him for a long time for his efforts.”