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Remembering YLS Professor Stan Wheeler

The following reflections were submitted in memory of Yale Law School Professor Stanton Wheeler, who passed away December 7, 2007, at age 77. If you’d like to add your memories of Stan, email to


I met Stan Wheeler when I attended, as a graduate student, the Law and Society Association meetings in Amsterdam in 1991. We first spoke only briefly over dinner, at a jazz club, with one of his students whom I had got to meet. The topic was, of course, jazz as much as sociology and law. I saw him again the next day, but he had little time to talk because he had to get a trumpet for someone. When I attended my next Law and Society meeting, the following year in Philadelphia, I was more than pleasantly surprised when I noticed that somebody had left a note for me on the meeting's public notice board. The note was from Stan, asking me to meet. Imagine being a mere graduate student, on one's first trip in the US, and being asked by a professor to meet. Talk about taking students seriously! I met Stan and his wife for lunch, and we talked, of course, mostly about music. When Stan heard that I was staying in the country a few more days (in anticipation of what would become my permanent move later that year), he invited me to spend a day at Yale. I remember very fondly my train trip to Connecticut and Stan's gracious hospitality during my visit on the Yale campus. I vividly recall the somewhat intimidating but mostly exhilarating feeling of walking down the halls of the Yale library, all because a professor had thought it worthwhile to invite a student. Over lunch, we talked about music some more. While we did not get a chance to meet again thereafter, I have always remembered Stan's welcoming generosity. Those little things can matter a lot. I can only hope that I will not forget that, and that I do not fall short all too much in motivating students as well as Stan did.
Mathieu Deflem
Associate Professor of Sociology
University of South Carolina


I first got to know Stan Wheeler in the fall of 1973 when, as a Russell Sage Fellow post-doctoral fellow in Law and Social Science, I came to Yale Law School. Stan presided over a suite of offices tucked away at the end of a long corridor on the law school's third floor, offices occupied by other Russell Sage fellows and such future law and society luminaries as Neil Vidmar, Bob Kagan, Malcolm Feeley, and Jack Katz. Presided though may not be the right word for what Stan did, since it suggests a kind of distance or disengagement. Stan was neither. He went out of his way to facilitate the work of others, helping to shape and promote the work of young scholars. He inspired by example, and he was dedicated to promoting scholarship of the highest quality. Stan shared with us a vision of the field of law and social science which was then still in its infancy. Rather than a presiding officer, Stan was a mentor, an example, a colleague, a friend, and a class act in everything he did.

I arrived at Yale a bit intimidated by my first encounter with the Ivies and awed by the proximity of the law school's bevy of superstar academics. Stan responded with just the right mix of humor and compassion, going out of his way to make me feel welcome. In one of our early conversations, Stan advised me to close my office door and "just do your work." He talked in self-deprecating terms about his own role at Yale, saying he was the "in-house consultant on social science methods" to whom his colleagues would turn whenever they had a question about how to design a survey or analyze some data.

Stan was a large-spirited man, ready with a laugh, generous with his time. He had a remarkable smile that came easily and often, and a relaxed easy manner that invited conversation. At the same time, he had exacting standards and was constantly working to improve his own scholarship and research, and that of those he mentored.

And, he was a lot of fun. A man of wide ranging interests, he had a special loved for music and sports. He was an accomplished jazz musician and superb golfer. He eagerly shared his passions and often invited me to join him at some jazz club when we found ourselves together at a Law and Society meeting. Mostly I kept a polite distance from jazz, but, on the few occasions when I joined him, he was as warm and generous in teaching me about music as he was in teaching me about the right ways to do law and social science.

In truth I have no way of knowing how good he was with jazz, but I do know that he was a superb sociologist and an advocate for our field. Stan was instrumental in developing the field, bringing to it a passionate sociological interest and a dedication to helping younger scholars.

As Bryant Garth and Joyce Sterling tell it, "Wheeler came to sociology through an interest in race relations developed from playing jazz with black musicians in high school in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. He received a Ph.D. degree from the university of Washington in 1958 and taught at Harvard and the University of Washington...." before joining Sage in 1964 and moving in 1968 full time to Yale as the successor to Red Schwartz. Stan was an early pioneer in law schools, holding a tenured position even though he had no law degree.

Through his time on the staff at Russell Sage, he helped to set up the infrastructure for the law and social science enterprise. As Garth and Joyce note, Sage "provided key funding at the critical moments, funding....four centers (at Yale, Northwestern, Denver, and Wisconsin), The Law & Society Review, and a number of publications....."

In the mid-1980s, Stan took a short break from Yale to return to Los Angeles as President of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles. During his career, he also played key roles as a member, then as Chair, of the National Academy of Science/National Research Council's Committee on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice and as a member of the Committee on Law and Social Science, Social Science Research Council. He served for a long time on the Research Committee of the American Bar Foundation and also served as President of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. He directed the Yale Studies in White Collar Crime and was a co-principal investigator on the state supreme court project. And anyone who knew him knew of his long-standing interest in Scandinavian prisons.

He authored and edited many important books, including Social Science in the Making: Essays on the Russell Sage Foundation, 1907-1972, (with David C. Hammack); Crimes of the Middle Classes: White Collar Offenders in the Federal Courts (with David Weisburd, E. Waring and N. Bode); Sitting in Judgment: The Sentencing of White Collar Criminals (with Kenneth Mann and Austin Sarat); Law and the Social Sciences, (with Leon Lipson, eds.); Social History and Social Policy, with David J. Rothman; Socialization After Childhood: Two Essays, with Orville G. Brim, Jr.,; On Record: Files and Dossiers in American Life; Controlling Delinquents; and Juvenile Delinquency: Its Prevention and Control, with Leonard S. Cottrell, Jr. He published more than 40 articles.

This list of his academic distinctions cannot capture Stan's brilliance and the largeness of spirit that made him so special. I had the good fortune to co-author a book with him and saw up close how much he cared for the simple but crucial scholarly virtue of getting things right. He was an exacting collaborator, but never more demanding of his co-authors than of himself. When I was a student at the law school, Stan invited me to co-teach his Sociology of Law class. Very much in my constitutive theory phase, Stan willingly revised his syllabus to incorporate material representing that perspective. Though he disapproved of my turn away from the "empirical," he was eager to learn as much as he could about new perspectives.

When, almost a decade ago, a group of Stan's colleagues, friends, students, and former Russell Sage fellows gathered to honor him, he glowed in our company. He took great pride in our accomplishments and typically tolerated little of our efforts to praise him for all he had done for us and for our field. As Patricia Ewick, Robert Kagan, and I wrote in the introduction to the book that came out of that gathering,

"The symposium was... an opportunity to honor Stanton Wheeler, Professor of Law and of Sociology, at Yale Law School for his longstanding leadership in socio-legal studies and for his singular contributions to nurturing scholars and scholarship dedicated to bringing social science to the service of social policy. At the heart of Wheeler's vision of law and social science is a conviction that, as law becomes more deeply implicated in societies everywhere, empirically grounded studies of law-in-action are more important and more consequential as a way of generating basic knowledge of society and of in informing policy-makers. Social science applied to the understanding of law would be a form of enlightened critique, but also an aid to social and legal reform."

Stan's vision and his legacy remain, and they are as important now as they have ever been.

Austin Sarat
William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science
Amherst College


Equally if not more important than his own scholarship was Stan Wheeler’s institutional contribution to the sociolegal studies movement. As the energetic program officer of the Russell Sage Foundation’s Law and Society Program (even as he simultaneously headed the program centered in Yale Law School), Wheeler was responsible for the funding of successful sociolegal Ph.D. programs at Northwestern University and Wisconsin as well as at Yale, along with initial funding of the Law & Society Association and the Law & Society Review. Under Stan's leadership, the Russell Sage granted fellowships that enabled young Ph.Ds from many disciplines to study law, while also funding lawyers (like myself) who sought Ph.Ds; alumni and alumnae of the Wheeler-guided Russell Sage Fellowship Program soon came to constitute an important cadre of scholars in the field. Stan was widely appreciated as a thoughtful, probing, and constructive evaluator of research ideas and methods. For many years, Stan also served on the advisory committee of the American Bar Foundation, a vital source of valuable sociolegal research, and on the Law and Society panel of the National Research Council. He was a peerless, supportive mentor of Ph.D. students at Yale and sociolegal scholars elsewhere, and a strong influence on a whole generation of scholars and teachers in the United States, Europe and Japan. 

Others have already commented on Wheeler's thoughtful, well-crafted scholarship, which began with the empirical study of prisons and corrections in the United States and Scandinavia, on legal socialization as an aspect of adult socialization, and on privacy issues raised by public and private assemblage of dossiers concerning individuals. I had the honor and pleasure of working with him, legal historian Lawrence M. Friedman, and Bliss Cartwright on the first large scale quantitative history of American state supreme courts, charting the changing substantive focus of their caseloads, opinion-style, and outcomes from 1870 to 1970, and inspiring the creation of similar databases by subsequent appellate court scholars. 

One small memory from the state supreme court project: we faced the challenge of selecting 16 American states from whose opinions we would pick a statistical sample of some 6000 cases to code. But how could one pick a sample that would be reasonably representative? I remember Stan's delight when he discovered, in conversation with a professor of statistics, a sampling technique that had been developed to group bird species according to similarities on a large number of variables (beak shape, size, type of wings, feathers, eating patterns, mating patterns, and many more). What works for the ornithologists, Stan said, with his broad smile, will be good for us! The kind of delight he took in that kind of intellectual discovery, in the craft of scholarship, in making new connections, was exactly the kind of delight he took in telling stories about jazz greats, in hitting a straight, long drive off the golf tee, in describing sportscaster Howard Cosell's visit to Stan's seminar on the sociology of sport, in talking about his sons, and in relating Marcia's latest bit of investigative reporting. Stan's expansive warmth, enthusiasm, and unflagging common sense was a gift to all of us. 

About 10 years ago, Austin Sarat and I organized a conference, held at Yale Law School, that honored Stan as a scholar, teacher, and mentor. I am glad we had the opportunity to do that while he was alive and able to take pleasure in it. Stan Wheeler drew me into academia, gave me the confidence to undertake my Ph.D. research, and served as my model for how to be a teacher and scholar. I owe him a great deal. I will miss him greatly.

Bob Kagan
Professor of Political Science and Law
University of California, Berkeley


Stanton Wheeler, a founder of the modern sociology of law, was known in particular for his ground-breaking studies of white-collar crime.  In the 1960s Wheeler became a key participant in the fledging Law and Society movement, which refocused the study of the legal system away from judicial doctrine or statutory rules, and towards empirical investigation of legal actors and institutions. Wheeler’s work laid the groundwork for contemporary sociology of law by encouraging careful empirical analysis of how judges and other legal actors make principled decisions, how access to resources may encourage criminal activity, and most importantly, how social context shapes the actions of individuals both within and around the legal system.  As director of the Yale White-Collar Crime Project, a major empirical study of the social control of white-collar crime, Wheeler and his collaborators published numerous monographs and articles that provided novel insights into the lives of both white-collar offenders and the judges who sentenced them, insights that have shaped the direction of policy and research.  One of the central contributions of the Yale Crime Project was Wheeler’s 1988 book Sitting in Judgment: The Sentencing of White-Collar Criminals (with Kenneth Mann and Austin Sarat), which used in-depth interviews with federal district court judges to examine judicial culture and its implications for sentencing white-collar offenders.  Wheeler and his colleagues found that there was a deep consensus that sentencing should be based on the harm produced, on the blame-worthiness of offenders, and on the consequences of sentencing on the offender and on other potential offenders.  They also suggested, however, that despite the consensus in judicial thinking, there was considerable disparity in sentencing due to the difficulty of evaluating these factors as well as the difficulty of translating those evaluations into a sentence.  Wheeler’s Crimes of the Middle Classes: White-Collar Offenders in the Federal Courts (with David Weisburd, Elin Waring, and Nancy Bode, 1991) showed, in contrast to the widespread notion that white-collar offenders are high status elites, that most white-collar offenders are ordinary members of the middle-class who have access to important resources by virtue of their location in the organizational structure.  Wheeler also helped to foster institutions that funded or encouraged empirical studies of law (notably the Russell Sage Foundation and the American Bar Foundation), and he was mentor to many students who themselves went on to become highly successful scholars.

Lauren B. Edelman
Agnes Roddy Robb Professor of Law and Sociology
Director, Center for the Study of Law and Society
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall)


Stan and Marcia were galvanizing forces in Morse college, where they were Master and Associate Master for 6 years.  As always when Stan did anything, he threw himself wholeheartedly into residential college life, in close partnership with Marcia, and gave himself to it completely.  He was not someone who did anything half way.  He brought the same care, attention, discipline, and meticulousness to mastering that he brought to the study of law and teaching or to proofreading a document (he was a master proofreader).  He always told me laughingly that he knew that some of his colleagues in the Law School thought he was stark raving mad to undertake being master and could not understand why he and Marcia would do it.  (Of course he never would have undertaken it without Marcia!) But they not only did it, they thrived, they loved it—and everyone loved them.

Actually, college mastering, when done well, is not a job but a vocation.  Stan and Marcia took to this vocation with energy, grace, style—and a sense of fun.  Together they formed an unbeatable team, putting Morse on the undergraduate map, forging a true community, hosting scores of study breaks, teas, and other events, making their Morse house a center of music and fun, becoming mentors and friends and confidantes to Morsels from every part of the country and world.  Who knows how many people they fed, salvaged, consoled, celebrated with, and nurtured over the years of their time in Morse—suffice it to say, the number was well into the hundreds, and many of these remained in touch with them years after graduating.

Stan's interest in athletics, and his 8-year chairmanship of the Faculty Committee on Athletics, his close relationship with Tom Beckett and all the members of the Faculty Committee on Athletics, and his investment in individual coaches and athletes gave another dimension to his work in Yale College.  He chaired the special committee that brought Tom Beckett to Yale 13 years ago and they remained close. You could always count on seeing Stan not only at the big well-attended games in football, men's hockey and basketball games—but also at less well-attended games as well. He was an inveterate attender of women's basketball. You could often find him standing on the side of the field hockey game, on the golf course (playing or watching!), and he was a big devotee of track and field (one of his sons had competed at the Division I, varsity level, as he continually reminded anyone who would listen).

In the councils of the Faculty Committee on Athletics, he brought his wide professional knowledge to the table—after all, he had a lot of experience. From 1985 to 1987, he took leave from Yale to serve as president of the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, a private, nonprofit institution created by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to manage Southern California's endowment from the 1984 Olympic Games.  Stan knew a great deal about sports, loved them (especially basketball, golf, and track and field), taught a course in sports law, wrote articles on the NCAA and amateurism—and in general, as a kind of polymath, he understood as much about the world of athletics as he did about jazz and white collar crime. Marcia's interest in journalism meant that she became a resource to Daily and Herald reporters, bringing undergraduates sorely needed professional mentoring.  She formed a knitting club—and it was very moving to see the most cerebral of Yale students knitting away in the Master's house under her expert tutelage.

The Wheeler/Chambers household became a second home (and sometimes a first home!) to many Morsels who became deeply involved in the Wheeler family, and in the continuing saga of their two beloved dogs, Basie and Zelda, who benefited from having 350 godparents who slipped them tidbits under the table, took them for walks, and generally made them a part of the Morse expanded family.

As is always true with Masters, Marcia and Stan also became involved in the wider life of Yale College, coming to understand its complex politics, participating in the life of the Council of Masters, and becoming integrally involved in the entire magical community that makes up undergraduate life. They brought Yale College and the Law School together—who will ever forget their famous Christmas parties in Guilford, in the Morse Master's House, or in Branford, filled with Law School and FAS faculty and Stan's jazz friends, sharing the community dishes everyone brought, listening to great jazz with Stan brilliantly on the trumpet, and mingling and celebrating together with Basie and Zelda in dog bliss, enjoying the food everyone was sharing with them? These were memorable events of great community feeling. In fact, they define the true meaning and spirit of community.

Whatever Stan's contributions to the Law School, it is fair to say that—albeit over a shorter period of time—he and Marcia together made as great a contribution to Yale College, where they will always be held in enduring esteem and affection.

Penelope Laurans
Associate Dean, Yale College
Special Assistant to the President


Stan was a big man in every way—big physically, full of life and vitality, cheerful, helpful, brimming over with ideas and insights, invariably generous and understanding. Like many other people, I have fond memories of Stan—and perhaps most specially, memories of collaborating with him as a member of the "Gang of Four," the team that worked on the state Supreme Court project—Stan, myself, Bob Kagan, and Bliss Cartwright.  It was a tremendous pleasure to work with Stan; and Stan liked to reminisce about those days when we talked and argued about the project, particularly one meeting of the group that took place (believe it or not) at Fong's grocery in San Francisco.  Stan meant a lot to so many of his colleagues, students, and friends.  He was, of course, a key figure in the law and society movement.  He left behind a body of important work.  He loved music, sports, and sociology.  But above all he loved people.  And people, in turn, loved him. Our deepest sympathy to Marcia and the family.

Lawrence M. Friedman
Marion Rice Kirkwood Professor
Stanford Law School


The support that Stan provided me as a Russell Sage Resident at Yale Law School in 1973-74 was crucial in my education as an interdisciplinary scholar focusing on the intersection of social science and law.  He was warm and generous with his time but, nevertheless, offered some advice about the direction of my scholarship that I was, at first, reluctant to follow.  However, I did eventually take it to heart and discovered that he was right.  I know that he offered similar counsel to many others.  Stan helped to create a camaraderie among the others in the Russell Sage program that year, and it exists among us to this day.  Stan was helpful to me on several occasions in subsequent years, still generous with his time and input.  He was an outstanding scholar and a leader in law and society scholarship. Like my other colleagues, I salute his scholarly contributions and his friendship. 
Neil Vidmar
Russell M. Robinson II Professor of Law
Duke Law School


Stan Wheeler opened doors to new worlds for me.  He invited me to the Yale Law School as a Russell Sage Fellow in Law and Social Science in 1973, telling me as he offered the invitation (by telephone, of course) to tell Harry Scheiber that good things happened because Wheeler spent more time on the phone than in the library.  Indeed.  Generosity was Stan’s strongest suit.  He listened to others and knew just how to make them comfortable and productive.  He took me to a couple of New York Giant football games (the Giants played at Yale Bowl in 1973-1974) and, on several occasions, to the Yale golf course.  Stan, more than anyone, helped me adapt to life on the east coast.  I never studied the sociology of law with him or collaborated with him on a project, though I did read drafts of the initial state supreme court studies.  Instead, he encouraged me to connect with Grant Gilmore, Bob Cover, and Quinton Johnstone—to get the kind of legal education that a first-rate legal historian required.  When my first article won a prize in 1974, Stan bought the drinks; when I got the Virginia job the following year, he bought the drinks again.  Stan Wheeler was one of the outstanding entrepreneurs in the history of American academic life, and nobody benefited more from his many deals and promotions and courtesies than I did.  My gratitude is everlasting.

Charles W. McCurdy
Professor of History and Law
University of Virginia