Joel B. Grossman, retired Johns Hopkins University professor of political science, dies

Joel B. Grossman was a Johns Hopkins University professor of political science and expert in constitutional law.

Joel B. Grossman, a retired Johns Hopkins University professor of political science who was a New York native and a staunch fan of the Yankees, died June 2 from liver cancer at his Quarry Lake home in Northwest Baltimore. He was 81.

“His expertise was in constitutional law, and he was esteemed in his field,” said Dr. Steven R. David, a professor of international law at Johns Hopkins who lives in Stevenson. “As a colleague, he was warm, generous, kind and always had time for his students and colleagues. He was a kind person that you could trust.”


“He cared deeply for his undergraduate and graduate students that he steered toward their Ph.Ds. His strong legacy is his scholarship,” Professor David said. “You felt relaxed in his presence because he was so incredibly down-to-earth. I would describe him as a real mensch.”

Dr. Erin Ackerman, former assistant professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and now adjunct professor of political science and social sciences librarian at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, studied with Professor Grossman at Hopkins.


“I was his dissertation student No. 44,” Professor Ackerman said with a laugh. “He was remarkable. I think in life it is so rare that you get the complete package, but he was a great scholar, master teacher and a person who could engage both his students and colleagues. He was a really fine person who cared about his students, family and community.”

Joel Barry Grossman was born and raised in New York City. He was the son of Joseph Grossman, an accountant, and Heloise Bercovici, a homemaker who died when he was 4 years old. His father remarried Selma Bloch, a teacher, who helped raise her stepson.

After graduating from Stuyvesant High School, he obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1957 in political science from Queens College in Flushing, N.Y.

He studied political science for a year before transferring to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he graduated in 1960 with a master’s degree in political science. He remained at Iowa and in 1963 obtained a doctorate Ph.D. in political science.

He was a Russell Sage Faculty Fellow at the University of Wisconsin from 1964 to 1965, and was a fellow in law and political science at Harvard Law School from 1965 to 1966.

During summer 1966, he was a visiting assistant professor of government at Harvard, and from 1968 to 1969 was a visiting Fulbright professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1973, he served as a visiting fellow on the faculty of the University of Stockholm.

From 1963 to 1967, he was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then an associate professor from 1967 to 1971. He was named professor in 1971.

He was an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School from 1980 to 1996. During a career at Madison that spanned 33 years, he taught constitutional law and other legal subjects, chaired the political science department from 1975 to 1978, edited the Law & Society Review from 1978 to 1982 and was also chair of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.


Dr. Peter Eisinger, an associate chair of the department of political science at Wisconsin when Professor Grossman was chair, said, “We hit if off right away and became close friends.”

“Joel was not only a good friend but also a wonderful professional colleague. When he was chair, here was a guy who never got ruffled and was perfectly calm in the face of all the tensions of academic life,” said Professor Eisinger, an urban policy specialist who is now retired and divides his time between homes in New York City and Wellfleet, Mass. “He never took umbrage while others seethed. He approached problems in a calm, accommodating and adaptive way.”

He said Professor Grossman took a lead role in establishing the Law & Society Review at Wisconsin.

“It was a socialized approach to understanding the role of law in society and its impact and how economics shape the law. Wisconsin was famous for that and Joel played a huge role in its founding,” he said. “He trained dozens and dozens of graduate students and more Ph.Ds than anyone else in the department.”

Dr. Austin Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, earned his doctorate from Wisconsin and studied with Professor Grossman.

“At the time, political science was divided between those who did constitutional law or the judicial process — Joel Grossman could do both,” said Professor Sarat, an Amherst, Mass., resident. “He was a dedicated teacher and mentor, and a leader in his field. He was the kind of teacher who inspired students.”


Professor Grossman arrived at Hopkins in 1995 as a visiting professor and was offered the chance to stay, he recalled in a 2009 interview with the Johns Hopkins News-Letter.

“My daughters were settling on the East Coast and my elderly mother was on this coast as well, so my wife and I decided it would be a good time to move,” he said.

He said in the interview that while he majored in political science, he hadn’t planned for an academic career. A basketball player, his “fantasy was to join the NBA. But then I realized that was pure fantasy, and I decided to be a sportswriter. I actually was a sportswriter part-time in college, but there were few jobs then.”

He worked for a year in insurance, then quit and returned to graduate school.

“He was the kind of professor who is really attentive to students and helping them achieve what they want to do,” Professor Ackerman said. “It just wasn’t about his own scholarly agenda. He loved teaching undergraduates and getting them engaged in the material. He told stories about legal cases and made them come alive.”

“He had a deep and abiding interest in people and scholarly conversations and he often said he learned as much from his students as he did from his research,” she said. Professor Ackerman recalled how he came to visit her after she broke an ankle, wanting to know what she needed and what support he could offer.


”He arrived bringing his version of soul food — lox, bagels and cream cheese from Zabar’s in New York City — and brain food, a new book from our field that he thought I’d find interesting,” she said.

In addition to his work at Hopkins, Professor Grossman was an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, where he led a comparative constitutional law seminar and a Supreme Court seminar.

He retired from Hopkins and Maryland in 2013.

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He was co-editor of “The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court,” and was author of “American Politics: The People and the Polity,” “Constitutional Law and Judicial Policy Making,” “Law and Change in Modern America” and “Frontiers of Judicial Research,” among others.

He was also author of numerous articles, monographs and review essays relating to the Supreme Court, federal judges and constitutional law.

He was a longtime resident of the Charlesbrooke neighborhood of Baltimore County, and moved to Quarry Lake four years ago.


“His hobbies were teaching, doing research and following the New York Yankees and Wisconsin Badgers,” said his wife of 53 years, the former Mary Hengstenberg, a director at the The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics.

Services are private.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Daniel A. Grossman of Savanna, Ill.; two daughters, Alison Grossman of Alexandria, Va., and Joanna Grossman of Dallas, Tex.; a sister, Gene Morgan of River Edge, N.J.; and five grandchildren.