Iowa State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Celebrating 150 Years of Excellence in Agriculture at Iowa State

Essays on the College of Agriculture's History

Rural Sociology

by Willis Goudy, university professor emeritus, sociology

Willis Goudy,
university professor emeritus,

Editor’s Note: Willis Goudy served Iowa State University for 30 years as a faculty member of the sociology and anthropology department from 1972-2002. Goudy writes about his time at Iowa State in the newly formed department of sociology and anthropology and participation in processing of census data into valuable publications.

The discipline of rural sociology has a long history at Iowa State University, one that began in the second decade of the 20th century when George Von Tungeln became a member of the faculty of the College of Agriculture. Von Tungeln and other sociologists who were added through the mid-1960s were part of Department of Economics and Sociology.

By the time I joined the faculty in 1969, rural sociology had a strong presence in the college. George Beal had become the chair of the recently created department of sociology and anthropology, which was funded through two colleges, and hired at least 13 colleagues the year I arrived and the next, thereby doubling the number of sociologists on campus. My initial appointment was in the College of Sciences and Humanities and involved a relatively heavy teaching load; the quarter system was in place and classes met six days a week. New faculty often taught all six, with some M/W/F classes and a T/R one as well. That was the first of what I consider to be six stages during my career at ISU. Many faculty members have much the same appointment from the day they arrive here to the day they leave. That was not my case.

The second stage began when I was given an opportunity to interview for another position in the department, one that was funded by the College of Agriculture. That change gave me a chance to focus on rural sociological research, although I continued to teach, especially courses in community. Research related to rural issues began with what was called the "older workers" study. That team effort received funding from the Social Security Administration and added a second wave to a study of older men living in small Iowa towns. Numerous publications, including a book, resulted from that work.

I also studied 27 communities in north-central Iowa in the 1970s with the support of College funding. This involved mailed questionnaires on a variety of issues residents faced in those towns and yielded publications in leading journals. It provided an opportunity to further my interest in providing data to local residents from such studies. The work I did in social gerontology and community studies led to promotions to associate and full professor by the end of the 1970s.

Early in the 1980s, the College sought someone to assist with disseminating census data in Iowa from the decennial census that had been completed in 1980. I was selected to take that role, which led to the third and longest stage of my ISU career, during which I directed a unit called Census Services from 1983 to 2002. With the help of graduate students and later Professional & Scientific (P&S) staff members, huge amounts of Iowa data were processed and made available after the 1980, 1990 and 2000 censuses. This outreach effort was greatly appreciated by residents of the state, who then asked for more help with using the data.

This led to a series of brief fact sheets with data from state and federal agencies. Later, users benefited from finding information brought together in one source — the 13 annual volumes of “Iowa's Counties: Selected Population Trends, Vital Statistics and Socioeconomic Data” that I co-edited. It began modestly with 110 pages in 1989 but quickly grew so that the last three averaged 575 pages. Contacts through these publications led to requests for presentations. These, too, blossomed, so that I gave more than 300 talks on population change to various groups throughout Iowa. It probably was the combination of the research publications and outreach using census data that led to my appointment as a university professor in 1993, the first year that rank became available.

This long third-stage was interrupted for five years when I served as chair of the department of sociology from 1994 through 1999, which I'll call the fourth stage. That time saw continued growth of the department and lessening of some tensions that accumulate in any unit. The interruption continued with an unanticipated fifth stage, which was brief. Immediately following completion of my term as chair, I was asked to serve in a one-year interim administrative position. I'll label that year, the lost stage.

The sixth stage of my ISU career was when I returned to most of the same responsibilities I held earlier regarding analysis, publications, and presentations related to census data. This lasted from 2000 to 2002, when I retired.

Much gets lost in thinking of a career in stages, of course. For example, teaching occurred throughout my years and provided much joy. Although I never thought of myself as anything more than adequate as an instructor, student evaluations tended to be strong and always surprised me. Another way in which I worked with students was through co-authoring publications and papers read at professional meetings, including 10 undergraduates and 40 graduate students. These should be added to about 40 in P&S positions and 50 faculty members who were co-authors, most of whom were colleagues at one time or another here. Obviously, I have many individuals to thank for any success I may have enjoyed.

The College of Agriculture must be thanked as well. The College provided the resources I needed to teach, conduct studies and extend the knowledge gained to Iowans and others. The College also made it possible for me to spend sabbaticals for a year (1978-1979) with the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., and six months in 1987 with the University of Glasgow in Scotland, as well as a shorter leave with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service in 2001. And administrators were supportive of my activities in the Rural Sociological Society (RSS), my professional home other than ISU. For example, the College was gracious with its help when I edited journals for 10 years and when I held appointed or elected roles in the RSS.

I take pride in having been a member of ISU's College of Agriculture for more than 30 years of its 150-year history. Those leading and serving the college deserve the continued support of the state of Iowa for how well it meets its mandate of research, teaching, and extension.