March 2, 2012
James Q. Wilson, a longtime board member of the RAND Corporation and its Pardee RAND Graduate School (PRGS) who was known, among other things, for his analyses of the nature of bureaucracy, died today in Boston from complications relating to leukemia. He was 80.
As one of the leading public intellectuals of the past century, Wilson published an array of books, essays, and articles, each of which had great influence on the way American government and civil society are understood. His scholarship illuminated the policy debate about poverty, education, crime and criminal justice, public services, health care, immigration, race, fiscal policy and taxation, and the role of government institutions.
"Jim was a towering intellectual figure at RAND," said Michael Rich, president and CEO of RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution. "He was a frequent collaborator—and at times a critic. He made RAND a better institution. He was a scholar in his own right, and not only helped govern the institution but often formally reviewed our research. Jim was a friend and mentor to many people who have worked and studied at RAND."
Rich noted that Wilson and his wife, Roberta, had been cherished members of the RAND family for several decades. Wilson had served as a RAND trustee from 1994 to 2004, as an advisory trustee from 2004 until his death, and as a member of the graduate school's board governors for more than two decades. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary degree from PRGS.
Susan Marquis, PRGS dean, said she still uses Wilson's classic 1989 textbook Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It when teaching doctoral students today.
"It's used in public policy schools all over," Marquis said. "Understanding government agencies—that's something Jim took seriously. It's easy to belittle government agencies and bureaucracies, but these are places filled with people dedicated to public service, to our country, and often operate under remarkable constraints."
Shortly before his death, a $1 million endowment was established in Wilson's name to support dissertation fellowships and a permanent library collection of his books, articles, essays at RAND.
"Jim's legacy of ideas and ideals will be carried on through his enduring scholarship, and through the newly established James Q. Wilson Dissertation Award and the James Q. Wilson Public Policy collection at PRGS," Marquis said.
A political scientist, Wilson taught government at Harvard University for 26 years, UCLA for 10 years, and Pepperdine University for nine years. He had most recently been a senior fellow at Boston College's Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy.