April 28, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 17

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    Coleman receives first Phoenix award

    James Coleman, University Professor in Sociology, has received the first Phoenix Prize from the Social Sciences Division in recognition of his career achievements in expanding the research horizons of the social sciences.

    The award was presented at a dinner in Coleman's honor earlier this month. A conference on his work was also held, at which colleagues praised his theoretical and quantitative contributions to the study of sociology and education.

    "This award is to be made only at rare intervals, to honor those who, over many years, have wrought fundamental changes in the way in which significant parts of the social sciences are practiced," said Colin Lucas, Dean of the Social Sciences Division.

    "This award honors the work of those who, like Jim Coleman, have identified whole new problems for social-science research and changed the way we conceive of the problems we inherited from our teachers," Lucas said. "There is a crucial cycle of intellectual renewal, symbolized by the phoenix crest of the University of Chicago. The crest symbolizes the function of renewal with which society charges its universities and recognizes the continuing vitality we need to meet that mandate."

    Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics, was among the colleagues and former students praising Coleman at the conference. "Jim's main contribution to the social sciences has been his creativity," Becker said. "Jim has always come up with new ideas and new perspectives and then tried to see how well they work out with real data.

    "He has been a leader in forging social theory, particularly education theory and practice," Becker added. "He has had to endure enormous hostility within the profession as a result. The policy implications of what he has proposed have been very unpopular. But he has handled the response bravely. He has not backed down from his position. Time has shown that Jim was usually right and his critics were wrong."

    Coleman was Assistant Professor at the University from 1956 to 1959, when he joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He was a faculty member there until 1973, when he returned to Chicago as Professor in Sociology.

    Coleman is the author of nearly 30 books and monographs. Much of his work has explored the connection between schools and society, and this work has often generated heated debates among researchers as well as among leaders of schools and educational interest groups.

    His work has included "Equality of Educational Opportunity" (widely known as the Coleman Report), published in 1966, as well as an examination of high school achievement that led to the books "High School Achievement: Public, Catholic and Private Schools Compared" (1982), which he co-authored with Thomas Hoffer and Sally Kilgore, and "Public and Private High Schools: The Impact of Communities" (1987), with Hoffer.

    Coleman and his colleagues found that Catholic-school students outperform students at other schools because the Catholic schools create a sense of community among parents, teachers and children. Students in Catholic high schools are also more likely to take a heavily academic core of courses, while public-school students often take less-demanding classes, he said.

    In 1980, he headed a research team that launched the largest American survey ever conducted on the effects of schooling. The study, "High School and Beyond," continues to be conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. The study surveyed 25,000 high school sophomores and seniors in 1980, following up every two years since then to examine the impact their education has had on their lives and careers. The survey includes former students of 1,100 private and public schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The body of data generated by the study has been a source of information for thousands of research projects across the country.

    Coleman's work concerning the development of modern society is continued in the book "Foundations of Social Theory" (1990). The book explores the differences between the natural communities that emerge from family and informal associations, and such constructed communities as large corporations and unions, which are organized for specific purposes.