The University Record, June 18, 2001


Hyman Kornbluh

Hyman Kornbluh, a well-known labor educator and organizer, died peacefully May 25 at his home in Ann Arbor. His inspiring career as an educator and activist focused on workers’ education, leadership and empowerment. For him, education was a means for union members to realize their potential, including participation in decision making and leadership and thus to expand democratic participation in the economic and political structures of the United States. Kornbluh held and acted on a deep belief in the needs of workers for greater services from higher education. He worked creatively, persistently and tirelessly in establishing innovative programs responsive to the needs of workers, trade unions and the movement for democratization. In his life, he influenced national, regional and local institutions, as well as many students and friends.

Kornbluh is survived by his wife and professional colleague, Joyce; by their three children, Peter, Jane, and Kathe; and their grandsons, Gabriel, Mateo, Noah and Hylan.

Before coming to the University in 1961, Kornbluh worked on an automobile assembly line, as a union organizer and education director for the United Packinghouse Workers and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and as a staff member in the AFL-CIO’s national education department in Washington, D.C. His academic background gained at the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, was in economics, labor economics and education.

At the University, Kornbluh was director of the Labor Studies Center in the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations from 1961 until his retirement in 1989. He also was an emeritus faculty member in the School of Education’s Division of Higher and Adult Continuing Education. Throughout his work at the University, Kornbluh strongly supported and worked to implement the idea that higher education should recognize labor as a fundamentally important institution in a democratic society and therefore make its educational and research resources available to unions and to workers.

In 1962, Kornbluh initiated what became the accredited and longstanding Labor School for union members and activists in the Detroit area. In 1974, he and his wife, Joyce, began the University’s Summer School for Women Workers. Kornbluh was a founding member of the University and Colleges Labor Education Association and was an early president and ongoing leader in this organization.

Kornbluh developed innovative programs to increase worker control and participation. To this end, he chaired the group that developed the first school for union activists on increasing worker participation in decision making. This was followed by a series of annual conferences on this topic.

In the area of workers’ culture, Kornbluh, in collaboration with Joyce Kornbluh, pioneered several new programs. These included, in 1981, the first university-based national conference on workers’ culture and the first university-based labor theater of, by and for union members and other workers, known as Workers’ Lives, Workers’ Stories. The Kornbluhs’ longstanding collaboration also resulted in other programs focused on labor storytelling, which included an Elderhostel and other programs and workshops that utilized storytelling for education and culture building.

After his retirement from the University, Kornbluh continued his activism through leadership and participation in many political and social campaigns, and in educational forums. The scope of this stage of his activism included issues and challenges as diverse as the religious right and educational institutions’ investments in tobacco companies. He was a founding member of the Community Academic Success Team, and he was chair of the Alliance for Democracy and Diversity 1995–97.

Kornbluh’s lifelong activism to advance economic, gender and racial justice is a much needed model to all of us.

Later this summer, a memorial concert and time of remembrance will be held to celebrate Kornbluh’s unique life that expressed his deep convictions about justice, his commitment to workers, and his consideration and kindness toward his family, friends, colleagues and community. The family is accepting donations to the Hy Kornbluh Workers Justice Fund, which has been established to continue his important work.

Submitted by James E. Crowfoot, professor emeritus of natural resources and urban and regional planning, and dean emeritus of the School of Natural Resources and Environment

Robert R. Wilson

Robert R. Wilson, former assistant director of the University Extension Service, died June 5 at Arbor Hospice. He was 80.

Wilson was born Jan. 17, 1921, in Traverse City and lived in Detroit for most of his early years. He married Vera Jean Fouch Aug. 31, 1946.

Wilson graduated from Wayne State University and received a Ph.D. in psychology from the U-M. He began his professional career as a student counselor in Vermont. Later, he came to Ann Arbor to work for the Argus Camera Co. In the early 1960s, Wilson joined the U-M Extension Service as director of correspondence study. In 1971, Wilson was named an assistant director of the Extension Service but retained the responsibility of director of the Department of Independent and Correspondence Study.

One of Wilson’s major contributions to continuing higher education was the transformation of the conventional correspondence course (by mail) to an independent study course. Wilson and several of his counterparts from other major universities, under the auspices of the National University Continuing Education Association, discussed the problems most correspondence study students had studying on their own: These students did not meet in regular class settings. They did not have classmates to share ideas with. They did not meet face to face with an instructor. They had to motivate themselves to study a course outline and do the assignments; in fact, they were studying independently.

Wilson and his colleagues worked with their respective faculties to find ways to motivate students to study independently more effectively. Thus, old courses were revised, and new courses were written, to include such motivators as self-help tests, periodic summaries, audio tapes, and scheduled telephone conferences between the student and the instructor.

Wilson also was an artist. His portrait drawings and photographic skills were legendary. Several years ago, there was an exhibition of his photographs of flowers.

Wilson is survived by his wife; his daughter, Jude (Mark Hassett) of Ann Arbor; sons Jon of Ann Arbor, Tim (Ruth) of Chelsea, Toby (Cindy) of Romeo and Michael (Alison) of Pinckney; grandchildren Emily, Joshua, Liviya, Eliza, Jacob, Jesse, Clayton, Samuel, Camran, Joseph, Sarah, Anna, Robert and Nicholas; brothers John of Ann Arbor and William of Traverse City; and many nieces and nephews.

Submitted by Alfred W. Storey, director emeritus of the Extension Service and professor emeritus of speech, and Muehlig Funeral Chapel