Manchester University
Oak Leaves

April 15, 2016

Sociology Professor Dr. Robert Pettit 

Dr. Pettit Says ‘Goodbye’ to Manchester

Carly Kwiecien

Dr. Robert Pettit has been a professor of sociology at Manchester University since 1981, and at the end of this school year, after 34 years, Pettit is saying “goodbye” to Manchester.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and religion from Baylor University and went on to receive his Master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. Pettit then entered a doctoral program in religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

“At the time, my interest was in intersection of religion and society,” Pettit said. “It was then that I discovered Peter Berger, a sociologist who is what I call my patron saint of sociology. I applied to doctoral programs in sociology. My first choice would have been the school where Peter was, but I ended up at Columbia University in New York. Fortunately, my second year there, Peter came up to Columbia as a visiting professor so I had the chance to study with him after all.”

After completing his doctorate, Pettit taught in Oklahoma for a couple of years and then moved to Lafayette to finish his dissertation and apply for teaching positions.

Soon after, Pettit received a phone call from the chair of the department of sociology and social work at Manchester College and accepted their offer of a one-year position. He continued on this one-year position for four years. Then, Manchester was looking to hire a tenure track position that Pettit did not fill; so, after four years, Pettit took a year off and was on the lookout for other teaching positions.

“I was in New York attending the American Sociological Association Convention that August when I got a call from my wife who said the dean at Manchester was looking for me,” Pettit said. “They were in desperate need of a sociology professor after their recent hires fell through. I’ve been here ever since.”
This was right around the same time IPFW hired Pettit as a part-time professor. He continues to teach Principles of Sociology, a night class at IPFW.

“Even though I am retiring from Manchester, I will continue to teach the night class at IPFW,” Pettit said. “I can’t imagine giving up my professional role and identity cold turkey. So I will still have a classroom. I will still have students. I will still have a course to teach. I will still be able to call myself a college professor.”

Although Pettit will still be a professor at IPFW, he will miss Manchester’s community the most. 
“I can’t imagine finding a better fit for myself at any school anywhere than here at Manchester,” Pettit said. “In many ways, it is a real community of people who care about one another, who believe in the values of this institution, faith, service, peace and social justice and share their commitments. This community can’t be replaced, so I’m going to have to find other ways to fill that hole.”

He will also miss his January Session trips to Disney that he has been taking every even-numbered year since 1990.

His fascination with Disney is strong. He grew up a “Disney kid” and his love for it has grown ever since.  
“As I got older, I became more appreciative of the artistry, the technology, the advancements as well as the heart for Disney,” Pettit said.

He continued to read and expand his knowledge about Disney by collecting every book about Disney and attending conferences.

“When I was in graduate school, there was a two week conference about the art of Disney held at the Lincoln Center where there were animators, past and present, historians and movies being screened that had not been made public for years,” Pettit said. “This conference gave me hope that Disney was a perfect object to study as well. Once I became a sociologist, Disney became a perfect case study for American culture and society.”

Pettit has published study guides to accompany documentaries about Disney and has presented at the Popular Association Conference.

He has also been a longtime supporter of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, the TRI-Ess Society for the Second Self and was one of the first sponsors of Friends for Sexual Awareness, a group now known as United Sexualities.

Since the 1980s, a group of transgender individuals from Chicago have ventured to Manchester University to educate students about different sexualities.

“They have served as a bridge for our students who don’t have access to resources on campus to get the information they need,” Pettit said. “They have done research, they’ve read up on their literature and have lived on both sides of the gender divide. They have become colleagues and good friends of mine.”
Pettit has always been very committed to United Sexualities, and has attended the drag show at Manchester University for many years.

“I finally relented to student requests and I am going to be in the drag show this year,” Pettit said. “It seemed like a good idea and I agreed to it, so that is going to be my swan song to Manchester and go out with a splash. My choice and decision to do this was one of great love and affection for United Sexualities and the students who have been in it over the years.”

Once Pettit retires, he looks forward to dedicating more time to his hobby of recording radio shows, movies and documentaries.

“One of my major tasks will now be to start watching everything I have recorded over the years,” Pettit said.

He is also eager to spend more time with his family.