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Dr. Edward L. "Mac" McDill, Hopkins professor

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Edward L. "Mac" McDill, former chairman of the Johns Hopkins University's sociology department who was also the founding director of the Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools, died April 25 of prostate cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson.

The Mays Chapel resident was 82.

"Mac was a friend and a mentor. He was the pillar of the department and held it together when we went through some pretty rough times," said Karl Alexander, who succeeded Dr. McDill as department chair.

"He set the tone and was chairman of the department for 15 years and still holds the record," said Dr. Alexander. "His staying power was quite impressive, and his leadership was very important to the department."

The son of a cotton buyer and a bookkeeper, Edward Lamar McDill was born and raised in Gadsden, Ala., where he graduated from high school in 1948.

He earned a bachelor's degree in 1952 from Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala. From 1952 to 1954, he served as an Army artillery officer in Korea.

After being discharged with the rank of lieutenant, he earned a master's degree in 1956 from the University of Alabama and his Ph.D. in sociology in 1959 from Vanderbilt University.

Dr. McDill, who was a member of the Vanderbilt faculty from 1959 to 1965, completed postdoctoral studies in the sociology of education with James Coleman, an acknowledged expert in the field.

He returned to Hopkins as a visiting professor from 1963 to 1964, and the next year joined the faculty at Homewood as an associate professor of sociology.

Dr. McDill was professor of social relations and was named chairman of the department in 1970, a position he held until stepping down in 1985.

He was founding director and principal research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Hopkins from 1966 to 1969 and was co-director from 1976 to 1993.

His primary research interest throughout his career was the sociology of education, with "a focus on how the formal and informal organizational properties of schools influence the cognitive and affective development of students," according to a Center for Social Organization of Schools profile of Dr. McDill.

In recent years, he had focused his research on how the current reform movement in American education affects the academic and personal development of disadvantaged students.

His collaboration in this area with Gary Natriello and A.M. Pallas resulted in the publication in 1990 of "Schooling Disadvantaged Students: Racing Against Catastrophe."

"His research into the sociology of education certainly influenced the tone of the discussion and that the atmosphere of a school can make a big difference in making students be the best they could be," said Dr. Alexander. "The school climate was a very prominent factor."

In the 1970s, Dr. McDill and Dr. Coleman concluded that student violence could be blamed largely on family and societal factors and that schools play an independent role rather than "being simply the setting where the problem appears," observed The Baltimore Sun in a 1975 article.

Their research also revealed that grades and report cards in schools contributed to the problem of violent juvenile crime.

The researchers told the newspaper that "all indications we find show that a large number of students receive poor grades in most of their subjects and for all of their school career. Report cards as they are presently administered in most public schools have created a group of students who are the perpetual losers."

"To a great extent," Dr. McDill told The Evening Sun in 1977, "what happens in the schools reflects what's happening in the rest of society."

Doris R. Entwisle, a semiretired Hopkins professor of sociology, was a close friend of Dr. McDill's for more than 50 years.

"His research proved that social stratification of high schools and the social status of students could affect them," said Dr. Entwisle.

"In those days, it was a very different world in what schools were doing in terms of achievement that contributed to the emotional and social development of students," she said. "The environment had a lot to do with them doing well."

Dr. Alexander recalled that when he arrived at Homewood in 1972, Dr. McDill was a welcoming presence.

"He made me feel welcome immediately as a person just out of graduate school. He made sure that my voice would be heard," he said.

"He was really a people person in every sense of the word," said Dr. Entwisle. "He was very kind and just got along well day to day with the people he worked with. He got along well with the academics and the administrators, and that doesn't always happen with a department chairman."

Dr. McDill was the author of numerous monographs and articles published in the American Sociological Review and Sociology of Education.

He was the author of six books, including "Strategies for Success in Compensatory Education," "Structure and Process in Secondary Schools," "Violence in the Schools," which he edited with James McPartland, and "Schooling Disadvantaged Children."

Even though Dr. McDill retired in 2001, he served as a member of the National Research Council's Committee on Increasing High School Students' Engagement and Motivation to Learn.

He was a member of the American Sociological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Educational Research Association and the Southern Sociological Society.

The former Guilford resident was an avid football fan who enjoyed spending weekend afternoons watching games, said his wife of 29 years, the former Johanna Van Helden, a retired Hopkins librarian.

In addition to being a Baltimore Colts and Ravens fan, he was a world traveler.

"He enjoyed reading military history and visiting such sites as Waterloo, Normandy and the demilitarized zone in Korea," his wife said.

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road, Rodgers Forge.

In addition to his wife, Dr. McDill is survived by a son, Mark E. McDill of Alexandria, Va.; a daughter, Ellen K. McDill of Montreal; and a sister, Amy Rutledge of Gadsden. An earlier marriage to Mary J. Sexton ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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