Peter Rossi '39
Born December 27, 1921, in New York City, Peter Rossi (1921-2006) was Stuart A. Rice Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Son of Italian immigrant parents, he was a graduate of Townsend Harris High School in 1939 and the City College of New York (1943). He obtained his PhD in Sociology from Columbia University on the GI Bill in 1951. He held faculty positions at Harvard University, University of Chicago (Professor), and Johns Hopkins University (Professor and Department Chair) prior to his appointment at the University of Massachusetts.
Author of more than 40 books and 200 scholarly journal articles, he was highly regarded for his work on evaluating social programs. He was elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was past president of the American Sociological Association and former director of the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. His textbook, Evaluation: A Systematic Approach, now its 7th edition has become the classic text in the field of evaluation of social programs.
His work on the evaluation of social programs has earned him world-wide recognition. Included in this work are his controversial studies of the homeless problem in America (Down and Out in America: The Origins of Homelessness, University of Chicago Press). In this research, he made Sociological Research on Health Disparities Is Core of NIH Conference the first systematic attempts to count the homeless, finding dramatically smaller numbers than claimed by advocates for the homeless. He found that homelessness is largely a temporary rather than permanent problem and, therefore, that short infusions of aid could make a large difference. Most recently, he focused on federal food programs (Feeding the Poor: Assessing Federal Food Programs). His work on assessing the severity of crimes via surveys of the American public (Public Opinion on Sentencing Federal Criminals and Just Punishments: Sentencing Guidelines and Public Opinion Compared) has influenced the U.S. Sentencing Commission. His studies of how cities in America responded to the riots of the late 1960s (The Roots of Urban Discontent) grew out of work for the Kerner Commission. His efforts on evaluating public welfare and anti-crime programs was highly influential and was frequently cited by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and other policy makers.
He has received numerous awards. These include election into the Townsend Harris Hall of Fame (1998), the Common Wealth Award for distinguished contributions to Sociology (1985), Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology (1999, ASA), and the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Award for contributions to research methodology (1995, ASA), and the Chancellor’s Medal at the University of Massachusetts.
In addition to his scholarly works, he was a valued colleague and mentor to generations of doctoral students in sociol-ogy, many of whom went on to lead distinguished careers in academe and public service.
Highlights of his academic career, spanning four institutions and six decades, include his stewardship of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the Social and Demographic Research Institute at University of Massachusetts. As director of the National Opinion Research center, he brought the center to national prominence and promoted the development of many top scholars in the field of sociology.
He served in the United States Army in World War II as a forward artillery observer and as a military policeman.