Charles Tilly Dies at 78

The Columbia Spectator
By Maggie Astor
PUBLISHED MAY 1, 2008


Charles Tilly, Columbia's Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social
Science and founder of the noted Workshop on Contentious Politics, died
April 29 after a 20-year struggle with cancer that fluctuated in severity.
He was 78.

A vigil was held in his memory Tuesday night in front of Fayerweather
Hall, as an intimate group of about 10 candle-bearing students and
colleagues gathered beneath his office window to share memories both
humorous and heartrending.

Sun-Chul Kim, GSAS '08, recalled working in Fayerweather each night until
4 or 5 in the morning-around the same time Tilly would come in for the
day. Tilly said "good morning" each time Kim came in-"But he said one
time, 'Goodnight!'" Kim explained, laughing.

Other stories were more profound.

John Krinsky, GSAS '02, recalled one day about eight years ago when he
looked around Tilly's library-like office and asked why the professor
owned and wrote so many books."He said, 'I'm just trying to collect as
many pieces as I can before I die,'" Krinsky recalled.

At the time, Krinsky said, he laughed. "I said, 'You're one of those guys
who'll live to be 110. You'll outlive me!' He probably knew something I
didn't."
Tilly was born in Illinois in 1929. He received his B.A. and Ph.D. from
Harvard and taught sociology at Harvard, the University of Michigan, and
elsewhere before coming to Columbia in 1996. He published 51 books and
more than 600 articles, and his curriculum vitae spans 30 pages.
"It seemed that he could write, interpret, and explain virtually anything
to curious minds," University President Lee Bollinger wrote in a statement
released Tuesday. Tilly "literally wrote the book on the contentious
dynamics and the ethnographic foundations of political history," Bollinger
wrote.
During his 12 years at Columbia, Tilly advised 101 Graduate School of Arts
and Sciences Ph.D. candidates-of whom Kim and Cecelia Walsh-Russo, GSAS
'08, were the last.

Walsh-Russo, who was also present at the vigil, said she had expected her
March 6 dissertation defense to proceed without Tilly, who had been in the
hospital.

"All of a sudden, there's Chuck in the doorway," she said. The panel
offered to let Tilly ask his questions first, so he could leave early if
he got tired. "But he didn't get tired," Walsh-Russo said.

Tilly was perhaps best known for his trademark Workshop on Contentious
Politics, held regularly at Columbia and various other universities.
Students and professionals from across the northeast and even the world
attended to share their work.

"It became an institution. It's what Charles Tilly started and everywhere
he went he took it with him," said Mona El-Ghobashy, GSAS '06 and a
professor of political science at Barnard. "Whatever I learned in graduate
school, I learned at the workshop. It wasn't a class, but people took it
even more seriously than that."

There was a much-praised rule at the workshop that required non-Ph.D.
attendees to share their work first. The goal was "to include the young
people and teach them how to be scholars," El-Ghobashy said.

Despite some trepidation, those at the vigil vowed to continue the
workshop despite the loss of the "name in lights" Tilly gave, Walsh-Russo
said.
The workshop "will go in new directions, and that's what Chuck would
want," El-Ghobashy said.

While there were some tears, the overall tone of the vigil was one of fond
remembrance.

"His intellect comes once in a hundred years," Francesca Bremner, GSAS
'04, said. "He wouldn't show his feelings very much, but when you needed
protection, you'd see how deeply he cares and how fiercely protective he
is."