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Driver, Edwin D.

Just 23 years old in the fall 1948, Edwin Douglas Driver was hired by the Sociology Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, becoming the first person of non-European descent to join the faculty and, along with Ruby Pernell of the University of Minnesota, one of the first two African Americans hired onto the faculty of a state flagship university in the twentieth century.[1]

Born in Gloucester, Virginia, and raised primarily in Philadelphia, Driver received his BA from Temple University (1945) and MA from the University of Pennsylvania (1947) and in 1948 was progressing toward his doctorate at Penn while working at Philadelphia's Department of Public Assistance.[2] At Penn, Driver met Frank Hankins, a visiting professor and Head of Sociology at Smith College, who encouraged Driver and arranged for him to interview for a position at Smith. Although that job failed to materialize, Driver was directed to an opening in the tiny Sociology Department at UMass.

One of 64 additions to the faculty that fall, Driver's appointment as Instructor coincided with the surge of veterans on campus as the end of the Second World War and the concomitant expansion of the curriculum to meet the changing interests of the students. He was, for many years, the only African American. “It was a very different time,” he noted fifty years later. “There was an understanding, an expectation, that black professors could teach only at black colleges. But I rejected that.”[3] Prior to his arrival there “quite a bit of discussion” regarding housing and social life, and the fact that he was unmarried, he added, “was bothersome to people.” Neither the university nor the town were universally welcoming, and his marriage one year later to an Indian graduate student at Smith College, Aloo Jhabvala, did not ease matters. During his first year at UMass, he had rented an apartment in Amherst from a Professor of Agronomy, but after his marriage, he was unable to find housing in Amherst, locating a place in Northampton only when the landlady mistook him for being Polish. Much of his social life, he noted, was provided after he was “adopted” by a fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi.[4]

One of only three sociologists at the university at the time, Driver helped build the department, teaching 12 credits per term. Yet despite this load, he progressed in his career, earning tenure and promotion to Assistant Professor in 1954 and completing his doctorate at Penn in 1956 for Administrative Control of Deviant Conduct of Physicians in New York and Massachusetts.

His early research included work in the sociology of mental health and criminology, but grew to include projects in demography, urbanization, and comparative sociology. By the later 1950s, he developed a specialty in South Asia, particularly central and south India. Fulbright awards (a total of three) placed him as a visiting lecturer at Nagpur University in 1957-1958 and at Madras University in 1965-1966, and he was a recipient as well of a Danforth Fellowship. He held visiting appointments at several institutions, including Smith College, the University of Wisconsin Madison, the University of Minnesota, Brandeis, UCLA, Hawaii, and the University of Vermont. Among his noteworthy publications were Differential fertility in Central India (1963), The sociology and anthropology of mental illness: a reference guide (1965), W. E. B. Du Bois on sociology and the Black community (edited with his colleague Dan S. Green, 1978), and Social class in urban India: essays on cognitions and structures (edited with wife Aloo E. Driver, 1987). He served as United Nations Senior Advisor to the Iranian government (1977) and as consultant to the Ford Foundation (1968-1975), the Rockefeller Foundation, the OECD (Paris), and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.

Driver remained at UMass Amherst for his entire career, earning emeritus status upon his retirement in 1987, witnessing glacial progress in the percentage of African Americans on campus. The hiring of geologist Randolph Bromery in 1967, nearly twenty years after Driver's arrival, made the future Chancellor only the sixth African American faculty member, while at the time there were only 36 African American students in a population of nearly 17,000. When the assassination of Martin Luther King propelled the university to respond to the lack of representation, Driver became one of the founders of the Committee for the Collegiate Education of Black Students (CCEBS).

Driver's wife, Aloo Jhabvala (1927-2014) was a native of Mumbai, India, and the child of an academic family. A sociologist like her husband, she received her doctorate from Columbia and began her career at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is noted for having introduced the first Asian language course to the university, Hindi, in 1962, but left UMass for American International College in 1969. The Drivers had three children, who have followed in academic distinction.


References

1. JBHE Chronology of Major Landmarks in the Progress of African Americans in Higher Education, Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. Accessed June 5, 2016.

2. Collegian profile no. 31, Massachusetts Daily Collegian 1949 Dec. 8.

3. “Edwin Driver notes increase in minority presence on campus,” Daily Hampshire Gazette 1998 Nov. 6.

4. “Edwin Driver's life and times as the University's first Black professor,” Campus Chronicle, 1989 Mar. 10.

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