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Remembrance: Professor Allan P. Sindler

By Dean Henry E. Brady

The Goldman School of Public Policy mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor Allan P. Sindler in October 2015. Professor Sindler was Dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy (now the Goldman School of Public Policy) from 1977 to 1987.

Professor Sindler’s scholarly work on race and politics followed the course of American politics in the middle of the twentieth century. His first book, Huey Long's Louisiana: State Politics, 1920-1952 (1956), developed out of his 1953 dissertation at Harvard University. This book set the stage for his lifelong interest in race and politics in America. In it he noted that “Even those who deplored his actions and objectives recognized in the Kingfish [Huey Long] a man of unusual talents” who “expressed the yearnings of the ‘have-nots’ for a material level of living consonant with the equality of citizens proclaimed in the Constitution.”  During the Depression, Sindler concluded that Long’s policies primarily helped poor whites, but his support for better roads and schools also helped poor blacks. Moreover, unlike other southern demagogues, Long eschewed racial appeals. Sindler argued that Long’s greatest contribution was breaking up the corrupt and racially oppressive control of politics by big business and planters in Louisiana. Long replaced it with a populist corruption of his own, but the net result was a permanent change in the state’s politics and perhaps a somewhat better life for its farmers, its poor people, and its black citizens.

In subsequent work Sindler continued to provide trenchant and illuminating commentaries on race and American politics. In the edited collection on Change in the Contemporary South (1963), Sindler added a concluding chapter in which he recounted how economic changes were forcing political changes in the South, making it harder to maintain its system of racial oppression. At the same time, he also put forth a skeptical perspective on the “Negro-ethnic analogy” that was often made in the 1960s, noting that African Americans simply had a much different history than most immigrant groups—not the least of which was the forceful suppression of their political and civil rights in the south and elsewhere. And while he clearly supported the advancement of voting rights, he warned against their “panacea implications” put forth by some proponents. Through his in-depth study of Louisiana, Sindler understood the depth of the problems faced by blacks in America. Voting rights were important, but they were not a panacea. Much more had to be done.

From 1965-1970, Sindler was at Cornell University, and he was among a group of faculty who were greatly affected by the April 1969 takeover by black students of a campus building. Sindler’s move to Berkeley was precipitated by this event, and along with his background as a Jew in America, it shaped his final book which was on affirmative action in university admissions. Bakke, De Funis, and Minority Admissions was widely praised as an even-handed treatment of a difficult issue, but it clearly reflected its author’s doubts and concerns about affirmative action that involved quotas. These doubts were rooted in Sindler’s life as a Jewish student at Harvard in the 1940s (Sindler graduated with a B.A. in 1948) where he knew first-hand about Harvard’s quotas limiting the number of Jewish students that had persisted at least through the 1930s.

Sindler wrote on other topics as well including the selection of Vice Presidents and American public policy. His series of edited “case-study” books on American Political Institutions and Public Policy went through a number of editions and they were mainstays of the political science curricula throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

When I came to Berkeley in 1978, Allan had been dean for a year. I valued his mentorship and guidance, and learned a great deal from his thoughtful scholarship. He was a man who wrestled with the complicated questions of race and ethnicity in America, and he tried to find a path that improved the lot of the downtrodden and that accorded with Constitutional principles of fairness and non-discrimination. Among his achievements as dean was the establishment of the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute that has, for 35 years, brought promising students from underrepresented communities to the Goldman School during the summer between their junior and senior years in college, with the goal of encouraging them to become public policy students. This program has produced several generations of leaders, including the current President of Fresno State University, the under-Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and our Dean of Students, Martha Chavez.