Dr. Tom Wolf, emeritus professor of political science, remembered

13th November 2019

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–The IU Southeast community mourns the passing of Dr. Thomas Philip “Tom” Wolf, professor emeritus of political science and former dean of the School of Social Sciences.

A passionate educator and scholar, Wolf is remembered as a consummate intellectual, driven by the pursuit of knowledge and a love for ideas, and eager to share these riches with colleagues and students.

Wolf joined IU Southeast as an associate professor in 1970. He served as the chair of the School of Social Sciences from 1971-80 and 1984-85, and then as dean from 1992-98. He was professor emeritus from 1999 onward, maintaining a presence on the campus well into the new century.

Wolf taught comparative politics, the American presidency, British politics, public opinion, political parties and interest groups. He published two books and several dozen articles, presented at a range of professional conferences and penned numerous entries in encyclopedias and academic bibliographies.

He was editor of the British Politics Group (BPG) Quarterly for over 16 years, beginning in 1994, and lent his editorial insight to other publications ranging from the Indiana Journal of Social Science and Social Science Quarterly to McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster and the Indiana Consortium for International Programs.

Wolf was proud to have served in the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he rose to the rank of sergeant during the Korean War, proud to have earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, and perhaps most of all, proud to be “a boy from Wichita,” as he was fond of saying.

Wolf reveled in the life of the mind, and immersed himself in all aspects of academic affairs. He enjoyed the deanship (during which he continued to teach), attended conferences, held active memberships and assumed leadership positions in professional organizations and served as an external reviewer for political science programs at other institutions.

Wolf received academic fellowships and awards from a range of bodies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Japan Foundation and the Hoover Presidential Library Association.

But more than anything else, Wolf is remembered as a person who devoted himself tirelessly to faculty and staff colleagues, students and to IU Southeast.

Dr. Linda Gugin, emeritus professor of political science, was hired by Wolf. She remembers the first time she saw him, flagging her down at the Louisville airport. Over the next decades of collaboration, she enjoyed his quirks–the white lab coat he wore to emphasize the “science” of politics, his disheveled office in which he knew the location of every book–and respected his professionalism, which raised the bar for everyone around him.

“He was a scholar, an intellectual, and academia was his milieu,” Gugin said. “It was where he needed to be.”

He interpreted academia broadly, from attending national conferences as well as on-campus events in Arts & Letters and Natural Sciences, to covering the courses of colleagues who were indisposed, and inviting students to the home he shared with his beloved wife Ellie and their three children, to talk shop. Academia meant broadening his own mind at the regular coffee klatsch with fellow instructors at Frisch’s, and making sure his own faculty had what they needed to succeed, whether it was a helping hand in their careers, backup in a dispute, or last month’s issue of the journals he devoured–and marked up.

“For me, and for other faculty, he was always supportive,” Gugin said.

That support was also important for Dr. Janet Laible, now associate professor of political science at Lehigh University. Some 25 years ago, when she was a graduate student interested in seeking out others with an interest in British politics, Wolf welcomed her into the BPG and encouraged her to play a more active role in it. Now executive director of the group, Laible remembers Wolf as a friend and colleague whose contributions to the BPG were invaluable.

“During those years, the Quarterly was vital for helping many of us in the U.S. stay on top of developments in British politics and to stay current with academic research and publications on the subject,” Laible said. “Tom’s dedication to producing a top-notch, high-quality Quarterly newsletter was an enormous contribution for all of us in the British Politics Group.”

Dr. Donley T. Studlar, emeritus professor of political science at West Virginia University, was executive director of the BPG for 11 years beginning in 1994. It was he who had invited Wolf to edit the quarterly newsletter, and who credits Wolf and Brigette Adams, faculty secretary in the School of Social Sciences, with transforming it from an occasional to a regular publication.

“In those years, Tom’s performance as editor was at the core of our operations,” Studlar said. “His capacity for communication and his widespread contacts in the field were keys to this success.”

Brigette Adams, faculty secretary in the School of Social Sciences, worked closely with Wolf on the BPG Quarterly. She recalls happy hours spent proofreading the galleys, as Wolf read the entire contents aloud and she followed along on her copy, catching the most minute of errors.

“He was meticulous, and had very high expectations, but he was also kind, compassionate, generous,” Adams said.

That compassion extended especially to students.

One for whom that compassion was decisive was Shelly McBride, attorney at law in Washington, Indiana.

McBride took only one class from Wolf, but it came at a time when she was pregnant with twins and required frequent absences for medical tests. Wolf was entirely supportive, and scheduled class exams to fit her needs. But more was to come. When she later attended law school in Bloomington, living away from home for the first time, and with three small children to look after, Wolf made a point of sending weekly emails, to let her know she was not as alone as she felt.

“He was just filling me in on things around campus and my home,” McBride said. “It was such a kind gesture and so appreciated.  I always looked forward to reading these emails.  They really helped keep me going.  I knew he was rooting for me. “

Jim St. Clair, emeritus professor of journalism, was one of Wolf’s first students at IU Southeast in 1970.

“He was a fountain of knowledge,” St. Clair said.

After 25 years in journalism, St. Clair returned to campus to lead the journalism program that Wolf had transformed from an associate’s degree to a full bachelor’s degree.

“When I made transition from professional world, he provided me with a great model, both professionally and personally,” St. Clair said.

He recalls Wolf’s support during a time in 1987 when St. Clair was faculty advisor to the Horizon. As a student, he had edited the paper, but found that his new role required a different touch, and a lot more time.

“Tom knew I was dealing with an inexperienced staff, so several times he came in on a Friday night to help with proofreading,” St. Clair said.

When not involved on campus, Wolf was active in Democratic politics in Floyd County, and served on the Planning Commission.

Whether it was the journalism program, the BPG Quarterly, IU Southeast, or the community in which he lived, Wolf displayed a passion for initiating things, and doing all he could to help them thrive.

“He was a builder, and he saw the potential here,” Adams said. “Look at us now–we’ve come a long way, and he was in on the beginning.”

The same can be said for the lives he touched, the hearts he moved and the minds he inspired.

A campus memorial service for Dr. Tom Wolf will be held on Sunday, November 17, from 3-5 p.m. in UC 121. All are welcome to attend.

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