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Raymond W. Mack, Expert on Race Relations, Dies at 84

Mack led Northwestern as provost and as founder of highly regarded urban affairs center

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August 29, 2011 | by Megan Fellman

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Raymond Mack in the 1970s.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Raymond W. Mack, a former provost at Northwestern University who in 1968 was a founder of the University’s Center for Urban Affairs, now the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), died Aug. 25 in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 84.

“It’s hard to imagine anyone who has had such enduring influence on race relations and urban policy as Ray Mack,” said John McKnight, the first associate director of the Center for Urban Affairs and professor emeritus of communication studies. “His disciples are everywhere building on the foundation he provided us. We are academics, activists, socially oriented business people, appointed and elected officials -- each a grateful part of Ray Mack’s legacy.”

A professor of sociology for 40 years and a highly regarded expert on race relations and inequality, Mack also will be remembered as a transformative administrator -- as well as a “pretty good drummer.”

Mack, who served as provost under President Robert Strotz, was a key leader in founding and supporting many of the University’s early interdisciplinary programs and centers. 

“Building upon the foundation laid by Payson Wild, his predecessor as provost, Mack worked to bring Northwestern into the top group of American research universities,” said John Margolis, professor of English in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and former dean of Northwestern University in Qatar. “His own scholarship led him to nurture interdisciplinary teaching and research that have become hallmarks of Northwestern. Beneath his consistently jolly public face was a scholar and administrator of deep principle and uncompromisingly high standards.”

He also was a knowledgeable jazz aficionado.

“Ray Mack was a pretty good drummer, a very good sociologist and the world’s greatest university administrator,” said Howard Becker, professor of sociology at Northwestern from 1965 to 1991. “He was smart, sensitive, fair and always worked to get things done in a way that advanced the common good.”

After Mack helped found the Center for Urban Affairs in 1968, he became its first director. For the first time, researchers from a number of disciplines around the University came together under one roof at Northwestern to understand the real-world sources and consequences of urban poverty and problems. The center was founded, Mack recalls, because “we needed to be addressing urban problems and expediting teaching, research and action on those issues, something not easily done within a departmental framework.”

“Ray Mack transformed the social sciences at Northwestern University,” said Andrew Gordon, a faculty member at Northwestern for 19 years and professor emeritus of public affairs at the University of Washington. “From the time of his elevation to chair of the sociology department, he pursued the twin goals of excellence and relevance uncompromisingly, earning respect for his efforts and talents throughout the University -- and the world.

“Of all the many urban research centers founded with support from the Ford Foundation in the late 1960s, Northwestern’s Center for Urban Affairs, now IPR, is by far the most successful and longest surviving -- due almost entirely to the design implemented so skillfully by Ray Mack. He was one of a kind, and he will be missed, including by many who benefit from his legacy but do not know his name.”

Mack joined the Northwestern faculty in 1953. He was director of the Center for Urban Affairs from 1968 to 1971. Mack served as the University’s vice president and dean of faculties from 1971 until 1974 when he became Northwestern’s provost. In 1987, Mack left administrative work and returned to full-time teaching and research. He retired from the University in 1992.

Mack wrote numerous articles and reviews for professional journals, especially on topics relating to social class, race relations, industrial conflict and occupational specialization. He also wrote, co-authored or edited several books: “Sociology and Social Life” (with Kimball Young, 1959), “Principles of Sociology: A Reader in Theory and Research” (also with Kimball Young, 1960), “Race, Class and Power” (1963) and “Social Change in Developing Areas” (1965).

Mack received an A.B. degree from Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, in 1949. He received his M.A. (1951) and his Ph.D. (1953) from the University of North Carolina. Mack taught briefly at the University of Mississippi before joining the faculty of Northwestern.

Mack is survived by his wife, Ann; son, Donald (wife Susan); daughters Meredith, Margaret Hart (husband Allen) and Julia (partner Debbie Hill); two grandchildren; and his sister, Betty Mack (partner Carol Taylor).

A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations in Mack’s name can be made to the Chicago Urban League, where he was a board member. The address is 4510 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60653.