Champion of faculty governance, academic excellence retires

Looking back on the significant accomplishments and 48-year career of Jim Richardson

Cynthia and Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson and his wife Cynthia were feted at a recent retirement reception.

Champion of faculty governance, academic excellence retires

Looking back on the significant accomplishments and 48-year career of Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson and his wife Cynthia were feted at a recent retirement reception.

Cynthia and Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson and his wife Cynthia were feted at a recent retirement reception.

The mix of attendees at Jim Richardson's retirement reception reflected the story of his career. Among the more than 100 faculty and staff members, friends, students and family members who joined together in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center's Faculty and Graduate Room in May to celebrate Richardson's 48-year career were several current and former elected officials, judges, Faculty Senate chairs and University presidents.

Richardson stepped down from his positions as director of judicial studies and foundation professor of sociology and judicial studies at the University of Nevada, Reno at the end of the spring 2016 semester.

An accomplished teacher and researcher, Richardson played an integral role in creating the Nevada Faculty Alliance, strengthened faculty governance statewide and nationally, developed innovative and successful graduate-degree programs for trial judges, led the University's Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies for many years and promoted greater understanding on the part of elected officials of the role of higher education and the contributions of faculty to their institutions, society and students.

"From my point of view, if one puts together all of his major accomplishments in the last 48 years, Jim Richardson ranks as UNR's most important faculty member during that long period," Joe Crowley, University president emeritus, said.

The roots of the creation of the Nevada Faculty Alliance extend into Richardson's own experience with the promotion process.

"There was a time decades ago when the Board of Regents used to handle personnel decisions, including tenure and promotion, in private personnel sessions," Richardson recalled.

After being turned down for an early promotion, Richardson took legal action. "I managed to get (attorney) Paul Bible to represent me. A group of my friends provided financial support, and this contributed to formation of a precursor of the Nevada Faculty Alliance," he said. He eventually won the suit, was awarded promotion and was granted tenure two years later.

Richardson served as the first president of the National Faculty Alliance and guided the organization's initial affiliation with the National Society of Professors. Today, the Nevada Faculty Alliance is an affiliate organization of the American Association of University Professors and represents faculty and staff at all eight institutions of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

With the formation of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, Richardson also took on the role of lobbyist. He represented the concerns of faculty and staff before the Nevada State Legislature for 14 sessions over 29 years.

He went on to serve two years, 1998 to 2000, as national president of the AAUP, becoming the organization's first elected president from west of the Mississippi.

"I think I've helped make faculty governance work," Richardson said. "Governance works in this state better than it works in many states. I know that from my travels while with AAUP."

On the academic front, an "interesting confluence" set Richardson on a journey that blended his expertise in sociology with judicial studies. Richardson completed his law degree in 1986 and passed the Nevada Bar Exam that summer, just as the University was creating the Master of Judicial Studies degree program. Neal Ferguson, dean of the College of Extended Studies which hosted the degree, asked Richardson to direct the program in 1987 after its first year of operation.

"It needed to be taken in hand by an academic with administrative and diplomatic skills," Ferguson said.  "Jim, with a newly minted J.D. to add to his Ph.D., was just the person. The man and the moment combined to produce spectacular results. The M.J.S. program quickly attracted judges and students from more than 40 states. Jim grew it into a Ph.D. program as well.

"Judicial Studies, existing in the matrix provided by UNR, the National Judicial College and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, is a truly unique program," Ferguson continued. "It is no exaggeration to say than Jim invented a new academic discipline -- judicial studies."

Over the years, the productive degree programs have produced 150 graduates at the master's level and 14 graduates at the Ph.D. level. The programs are now housed in the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies which is located in the National Judicial College Building on campus and is part of the College of Liberal Arts.

Richardson's areas of specialization include the sociology of law, sociology of religion, social psychology of law, social movements, and social and behavioral science evidence. Richardson has authored or coauthored twelve books, more than 250 articles and book chapters, and he has made nearly 350 presentations at professional conferences in almost 30 countries. He remains involved in many research projects and has his eye on several possible books and articles for the future. He will present some of his research findings at the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in Seattle this summer.

Richardson and his wife Cynthia have always enjoyed traveling and look forward to continuing to travel in retirement.

In the wake of Richardson's retirement, Shawn Marsh has been named the new director of the Judicial Studies Program and associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in social psychology. Marsh, who joins the University July 1, holds a Ph.D. in social psychology and a master's in guidance and counseling from the University. He joins the University from the National Council of Family and Juvenile Court Judges where he was chief program officer for juvenile law programs.

"I am delighted that Shawn will become the new director," Richardson said. "He has a wealth of experience working with judges and has the background and training needed to continue the success of the judicial studies and justice management graduate degree programs."

More observations on the significance of Richardson's contributions follow:

Marc Johnson, University President: "Jim set a particular and positive tone for campus. When we encounter differences or issues, at this University the faculty, staff and students come together to negotiate and find solutions, and we move forward in a unified way. Jim established and modeled this atmosphere of collegiality. His length of service demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to campus; he has been a bedrock and will be missed."

Kevin Carman, Executive Vice President and Provost: "I vividly recall meeting Jim during my open forum when I was interviewing for the provost position. He sat in the front row of the Joe Crowley Student Union theatre and came up to greet me after the presentation was over. He offered to provide information should I be chosen for the position. True to his word, shortly after accepting the position, I received a hefty packet of materials that contained useful information about the University and state government and with a disproportionately large amount of the material about the Sawyer Center and the Judicial Studies program. Throughout my three-and-a-half years in Nevada, Jim has provided good counsel and a steady stream of articles from the New York Times, Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, etc. Jim is a legendary figure in the history of the University, and the institution is measurably better for his many contributions.  I expect that his 'retirement' will be somewhat symbolic, as I know he will keep close ties to the Sawyer Center and to the University."

Harry Reid, from remarks delivered to the U.S. Senate and published in the Congressional Record: "Mr. President, today I wish to recognize the career of Dr. James 'Jim' Richardson, who is retiring from the University of Nevada, Reno, UNR, this year. ... His commitment and dedication to the judicial studies and justice management programs have been invaluable in preparing students for careers in the justice system. Dr. Richardson has enriched the lives of hundreds of students, including the many undergraduate students he introduced to the field of sociology and the doctoral candidates he mentored as they completed their dissertations. ... In addition to his teaching activities, Dr. Richardson has been a prolific researcher and writer. ... He has been praised for his interdisciplinary approach to sociology, particularly for his incorporation of subjects such as law, psychology, and economics into the study of religion. Through his work, Dr. Richardson has made important contributions to the scholarship of sociology and has enriched academia as a whole."

Joe Crowley, University President Emeritus: "I have known Jim, as friend and colleague, for 48 years, which is to say, since the time he arrived at the University. We have worked together on many occasions, for example, in meetings with governors and important staff, and with key legislators, on system budget matters over the course of a number of biennia. Jim is a very able, well-informed and well-regarded lobbyist. The positive results of his efforts, and those of others, were experienced for decades to come. Jim has been an innovator as well, in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most notable has been the successful graduate-degree (Masters and Ph.D.) programs for judges from around the country. This initiative brought together the university with the two judicial entities that made their homes on campus, and instructors from other universities as well as from UNR. Jim also contributed greatly to the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies, a significant research entity. He is a man with endless energy who has been in demand across the world for his own research and the books, articles, and papers yielded thereby. There is much more to be said about his contributions to knowledge, his innovations and spirit of collaboration, his leadership within and beyond the university, his national and international standing."

Neal Ferguson, Emeritus Dean of the College of Extended Studies: "Jim became an email maven in the late 1980's. He had always been a fierce memo warrior. His memos were prized like Samurai swords-deadly in expert hands. Email provided him with a revolutionary opportunity and produced extraordinary results. Now he could circulate his voluminous thoughts and accumulated bibliographies more often to more people in his network. When I say 'more often' I mean any time of the day or night. As his purported supervisor for his judicial studies gig, I often received two or three emails per day from him. Wherever Jim was - Reno, Australia, Slovenia, Moscow, the Cook Islands, to name a few - if he had access to email, his friends, colleagues, political friends and not-so-friends could still be certain than Jim would keep them in the loop. The extent of his networks, interests, and knowledge was wide and deep."

Mary Stewart, Director of the School of Social Research and Justice Studies, Professor of Sociology: "Jim is one of the most approachable and comfortable people I have known, appreciative of others, inclusive and supportive.  As he moved up the academic ladder, he kept one foot on the bottom rung-nothing was so insignificant that he couldn't be bothered. While serving as president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion at the national level, he would still make time to have coffee with a faculty member who could use his mentoring on tenure or promotion or volunteer to serve on a department committee devoted to some mundane or tedious task. His seemingly boundless energy benefitted those of us who worked with him in every capacity - he not only accomplished a great deal during his long career, he provided foundational support for dozens of students who became successful professionals, and he did it all with  grace, ease and good humor."

Bob Dickens, Associate Professor of Political Science, Former Director of Governmental Affairs: "On the lobbying team (Crowley, Richardson, Dickens), Jim served as the bellwether. Joe and I were the optimists. Jim worried. We knew that if Jim was worried, we were OK; if he was optimistic, we were in trouble. ... Jim gets hungry, early. Lunch cannot wait until noon. The call comes about 11:00. That time coincided with floor sessions during which we would often dine if there was nothing of significance scheduled during a floor session. Jim knew every restaurant in Carson City, especially the ones with menus that offered his favorite:  mashed potatoes, gravy, and meatloaf."

Glenn Miller, professor of natural resources, president of the University's Nevada Faculty Alliance chapter: "Jim Richardson has been the face of the Nevada Faculty Alliance since the early 1980's when it was formed by him and colleagues from the system. He has held every position in the NFA, but most importantly, has been the voice of Nevada faculty in the legislature. One of his most important 'wins' was a discussion with former Governor Dick Bryan that resulted in faculty merit pay being included in nearly every governor's budget, except for the last few years during the economic downturn. Faculty salaries during that period were very competitive, and every faculty member should thank Jim for his efforts. ... He knew effectively everybody who was important to higher education, including most of the Regents.  He made sure that the NFA kept talking to them when difficult decision needed to be made. We will miss him, and always wonder how he accomplished all of the things he has, while still being an internationally known scholar."

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