J. Carroll Moody

Stephen Foster, March 2010

J. Carroll Moody, a student of American labor history, died on August 18, 2009, after a long illness. He was 75. Moody spent all but the first four years of his academic career at Northern Illinois University (NIU), where he was an outstanding colleague and gifted teacher, as well as a courageous and able administrator.

Born in Abilene, Texas, on January 3, 1934, Moody attended Odessa College, the University of Corpus Christi, Texas A&I University, and the University of Oklahoma, where he was awarded the PhD in 1964 working under Gilbert Fite, with whom he would subsequently co-author The Credit Union Movement: Origins and Development, 1850–1970 (1971, 2nd ed. 1984). His doctoral dissertation on the steel industry and the National Recovery Administration is recognized as establishing the importance of rank and file activity in laying the basis for the CIO steelworkers union. His major contribution to American labor history, however, came as co-editor with Alice Kessler-Harris of Perspectives in American Labor History: The Problem of Synthesis (1989), the outgrowth of a conference of some 70 scholars that he co-chaired. As its subtitle suggests, the book both registered and contributed to a fundamental shift in American labor historiography away from a preoccupation with the issue of unionization and towards a comprehensive understanding of work qua work in its manifold forms and multiple implications.

After serving as a member of the history faculty at the University of Toledo from 1964 to 1968 Moody moved to Northern Illinois University. There his ability as a dissertation director (combined with the strengths of a large and rapidly expanding department) provided the basis for an emphasis on American labor history in the graduate program, while his skill in the classroom were appreciated by students at all levels from first year upwards.

In 1974, Moody became chair of the NIU history department. It was his lot to take over the position during a period when financial support for the state universities in Illinois, overall enrollments, the numbers of history majors at NIU, and, over time, the size of the history faculty itself were all in decline. He presided over the inevitable cascade of crises with patience, good humor, and tact, but also with an uncompromising resistance to demands for sacrificing the welfare of either faculty or students to the exigencies of the moment. As a result, a number of junior colleagues were spared the fate of being tossed on to the job market during one of its bleakest periods and instead went on to long and useful careers within the academic profession.

Despite straitened resources, two important additions to the department and the university were created during Moody’s tenure as chair. In 1977 the Earl W. Hayter Regional History Center began its operations with a mandate “to acquire, preserve, and make available to the public the most significant historical records of the northern Illinois region.” The center is both an archive and a useful training site for both undergraduate and graduate students of history, as well as a resource for interested members of the public. In addition, after the usual toing and froing, the department launched a program at the MA level in historical administration to train students in such fields as historical preservation, archivy, and museology. Moody candidly admitted that the program was an attempt to find alternatives to the contracting academic job market and then went on to insist that vocations in history outside the classroom “are not inferior but are socially useful and personally rewarding career choices.”

In 1984, Moody laid down the chairship, but the favorable impression he had created led to his taking leave of his departmental duties to serve as executive secretary of the University Council and president of the Faculty Senate before becoming acting provost of the university from 1992–94 and finally provost in his own right until his retirement in 1999. As luck would have it, the first years of Moody’s service as the university’s chief academic officer were again a period of budget cutting, temporary and permanent, along with more ambitious plans for “reallocation” of dwindling resources within and among the Illinois public universities. The most formidable of these initiatives, labeled PQP (Priorities, Quality, and Productivity), would have led to the elimination of a large variety of academic programs statewide, targeting especially those of a non-utilitarian nature. Almost at the same moment the author of this notice had just been appointed a Presidential Research Professor (PRP) and as such had received a request from the Faculty Bulletin for a statement of his scholarly “vision.” Unable to resist temptation, he played on the resemblance of the two acronyms and defended (along familiar lines) the value of research to university teaching. Moody, still only acting provost, pointedly sent a copy of the little polemic to the university’s trustees, a gesture that apparently did nothing to hinder his position subsequently becoming permanent. As provost, Moody kept the impact of PQP and various other parallel depredations lacking acronyms to a manageable limit until the university came upon better times in the later 1990s.

Upon his retirement from NIU, Moody moved back to Texas, to spend his last years at Port Arkansas in the Corpus Christi area, which he dearly loved. He is survived by his wife of fifty-five years, Caroline Moody, five children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren, and is remembered and appreciated by a large number of colleagues, former students, and fellow members of the profession.

—Stephen Foster
Northern Illinois University (emeritus)