Witold Krassowski

Witold Krassowski

Sociology - Past, Present, and Future

As Sociology prepares to welcome a new chair, the Department's first graduate, Ron Andersen '60, reflects on the program's founder, Dr. Witold Krassowski (pictured left).

This fall, the Department of Sociology welcomes Enrique Pumar as its new chair. Pumar, currently associate professor and chair of the Catholic University of America’s sociology program, brings impressive credentials (see sidebar) that includes extensive scholarship on Cuba, Latin America, migration and immigrant communities.  

In anticipation of Pumar’s arrival, the College of Arts and Sciences reached out to Ron Andersen, Ph.D., the Department of Sociology’s first graduate (class of 1960), for his memories about the Department’s founder and first chair, Witold Krassowski. Andersen, Wasserman Professor Emeritus in the UCLA Departments of Health Policy and Management, and Sociology, shared his thoughts while en route to his cabin in Michigan.

Andersen recalls that Krassowski was imprisoned in a German concentration camp after Poland surrendered to Germany in 1939. After eight months of captivity during which he survived on pumpkin soup and water, Krassowski escaped and joined the Polish underground. He worked to sabotage German communications and rail transport throughout World War II.  After becoming seriously wounded during the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, he received the Virtuti Militari, an award equal to the American Medal of Honor.

After the war, Krassowski emigrated to Britain and then the U.S. He studied at Purdue University. “He began in engineering,” Andersen recalls, “but realized he would rather analyze people and organizations than loads [of engineering deliverables] so he switched to sociology.”  Krassowski’s master’s thesis on carnival workers (“carnies”) was featured in Time magazine in 1956, the same year Andersen began at SCU.

Like Krassowski, Andersen planned to major in engineering.  That plan changed when Andersen decided to take a sociology class to fulfill a core curriculum requirement. It also helped, Andersen adds, that several female students from O’Connor Nursing School were enrolled in the course. That course prompted Andersen to change his major to sociology, where he was one of three majors.

“Dr. Krassowski taught every sociology class. I took criminology, social theory, that introductory course  and all the other classes from him.”  Andersen served as Krassowski’s teaching assistant for many of those courses, and as his research assistant (Krassowski was completing his Ph.D. at UCLA).  Outside of class, Krassowski taught Andersen an important life lesson. “I learned how to drink coffee from him,” Andersen adds with a laugh.

Andersen wryly asserts that he was Santa Clara’s first sociology graduate, a benefit of having a last name that begins with “A.” As graduation approached, Andersen considered going into social work. Krassowski instead encouraged him to consider an academic career in sociology.  “Without him, I would have been a social worker, and not a good one at that,” says Andersen.

Following his mentor’s advice, Andersen enrolled at Purdue to study medical sociology. Krassowski continued to help Andersen by recommending he serve as the study director of a new program at the University of Chicago in medical use and expenditures. “I wasn’t really qualified. I hadn’t finished my dissertation. But Dr. Krassowski...thought I could do it.”

At the University of Chicago Andersen began a 45-year career studying access to medical care. He developed the Behavioral Model of Health Services Use, an influential modeling tool that has been used extensively globally as a framework for medical utilization and cost studies.

In the 1990s, when a new dean at the University of Chicago announced that he wasn’t interested in studying health, Andersen again followed his mentor’s lead and moved to UCLA’s  Fielding School of Public Health.

After a storied and influential career shaping public health policy, Andersen hopes that he will be remembered for something he learned from Krassowski: his mentorship of promising students. “Wonderful mentors helped me, starting with Dr. Krassowski. Likewise, I have sought to mentor my own students.I have given away my professional library of books, all except [his students’] dissertations. Helping them has been important to me.”  

In 2014, his affection for Krassowski and SCU prompted Andersen and his wife of 52 years, Diane, to set up the Witold Krassowski Student Research Assistant Endowed Award in the Sociology Department. The award is to support faculty research activities during one or more terms of the academic year, including the summer. In 2016, Andersen added an additional donation to the award endowment, which allowed the first faculty award.  The award allowed its inaugural recipient, Dr. Laura Robinson, to hire three sociology majors as research assistants. Seniors Óscar Quiroz-Medrano, Jenna Harrison, and Nicole Speciale worked with Dr. Robinson on projects centering on the Latin America. The works explore issues of media innovation, social movements, and societal change in Brazil and Latin America.