The University Record, February 12, 2001

Publication of 1936 dissertation lesson on ‘enduring value of good scholarship’

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

In 1999, a doctoral dissertation on international law by Werner Landecker was published—63 years after it was written. Its publication is more than just an inspiration to aspiring academic authors or a tribute to the lasting value of scholarly work. It’s also one of the few pieces of good news to come from Germany in the 1930s.

Landecker, professor emeritus of sociology, completed the dissertation in 1936 at the Nazi-controlled University of Berlin. In order to complete his doctor of jurisprudence degree, he had stayed in Germany longer than it was safe for Jews to be there, according to his longtime friend and colleague, Ronald Freedman, professor emeritus of sociology. In 1937, Freedman was student director of the U-M Hillel Foundation, which, in cooperation with the small Ann Arbor Jewish community, raised the funds to bring six German refugee students to the U-M. Landecker was one of them. “During his student days, he was the guest of Phi Sigma Delta fraternity,” Freedman says, “while the Hillel funds initially helped him to meet his other expenses.”

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1947, Landecker began teaching, with longtime responsibility for courses in social theory. Among his students still on campus are Robert Kahn, Mayer Zald, David Featherman, Arland Thornton, Silvia Pedraza and Kirsten Alcser.

Shortly after Landecker started teaching, his retinas became detached. “Now that can be fixed, but back then, there was nothing that could be done about it,” Freedman recalls. Just as the Nazis did not prevent Landecker from completing his degree in Berlin, blindness did not prevent him from teaching—he memorized seating charts to learn his students’ names—or from marrying and raising a family. Until recently, when poor health has kept him indoors, he made his way around town and campus with the help of a Seeing Eye dog.

Back in the 1960s, a professor named Gunther Luschen from Germany first met Landecker while visiting U-M for a semester. He talked at length with Landecker, Freedman recalls, and the two may have kept in sporadic touch throughout the years. Then, in the mid-’90s, Luschen called Landecker and told him that he regarded his 1936 dissertation as a historically important work that ought to be published. Luschen edited the work and wrote an introductory chapter. His wife wrote short English and French abstracts, and in 1999, the work was published by LIT Verlag of Munster. Translated, the title is “The Importance of International Law as a Social Phenomenon: A Juridical and Sociological Analysis from the Year 1936.”

“There’s an important lesson here about the enduring value of good scholarship and of persistence in the face of adversity,” says Howard A. Kimeldorf, professor of sociology and department chair.

“The extraordinary character of publication after 63 years strikes me as a final piece of justice earned,” Freedman says. “As they say, the wheels of justice grind slowly, but exceedingly fine.”