By Laurie Laker ’12
When he joined Colorado College in 1978, James Jefferson Livesay – known to all as Jeff – would have had no idea that he’d remain at the college for the next 37 years, until 2015. Legacies of learning, like Jeff’s, are never planned – they are built, honed, and refined. It is the mark of a truly great educator, scholar, and character that Livesay’s tenure at Colorado College remains as vital to the college’s future as it ever has.
Livesay’s time in the Department of Sociology spanned some of the most tumultuous times in U.S. and global history, and his expertise and visionary teaching in sociological theory and social inequality remained at the forefront of CC’s growth towards inclusivity, social justice, and community outreach. Arriving at CC with a B.A. from Harvard College (1970), an M.A. from Duke University (1972), and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz (1977), Livesay brought well over a decade of professional and voluntary experience in his field to our college’s classrooms.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1948, Livesay grew up in a moderately liberal household, strongly influenced by the social gospel of the Methodist faith, which had a tremendous influence upon Livesay’s upbringing in a racially segregated South. His youth aligned with the heyday of the civil rights movement, and when he chose to attend Harvard in 1966, Livesay chose to study social relations — directly informed by his upbringing and his desire to make positive social change.
At Harvard, Livesay was heavily involved with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a student activist movement that sought to raise student voices nationally, leading protests and teach-ins, and holding marches against global conflicts, including the burgeoning war in Vietnam. Taking a year away from Harvard, Livesay returned to Mississippi to Millsaps College, taking classes in Southern history, politics, and literature — familiarizing himself with the social and cultural history of his home region.
Following his graduation with magna cum laude from Harvard, Livesay attended Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where he earned his M.A. in Sociology — finishing in 1972. Finding a more traditional department at Duke, Livesay yearned for something more fresh, interdisciplinary. Seeking change following his M.A., he applied and was accepted to a program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, called the history of consciousness — an interdisciplinary program in the humanities and social sciences. At UCSC, he earned his Ph.D. from 1972-77, working with sociologists and economists and researching the interplay of status competition and social power.
Following his Ph.D., Livesay taught at American University in Washington, D.C., for a year, and then arrived at Colorado College in 1978. Having fallen in love with Colorado on previous visits, Livesay’s hiring by Colorado College was a perfect fit from day one. He brought with him an urgency of focus, keen to utilize the private, liberal arts environment of CC to explore issues of political-economic power and social inequality. Livesay rose from instructor to assistant professor in two years, then to associate and full professor positions over the following two decades.
When Livesay arrived at Colorado College, the Department of Sociology had just five students majoring in the field. CC’s most recent graduating class featured 21 sociology majors, and other classes have had up to 35 sociology graduates. That growth is due in no small part to Livesay’s career as an educator and one of the pillars of the college. Over the course of his 37-year teaching career, Livesay taught generations of students. His iconic classes included Modernity and Postmodernity, Social Movements, and The Nonprofit Sector. Beyond the classroom, Livesay chaired and co-chaired his department for 13 years, with his research interests including narcissism; the social theories of Jurgen Habermas and Anthony Giddens; post-Marxist theories of civil society; and methodologies for combating inequality.
Multiple development block awards in the 1982-83, 1983-84, and 1995-96 academic years allowed Livesay to continue this research unhindered, while still maintaining his rigorous teaching schedule. In 1991, he was a recipient of the Sears-Roebuck Foundation grant, awarded to faculty who “have made a distinctive difference to the teaching climate of the college” – if anything, an understatement where Livesay is concerned!
Additionally, he served as an instrumental advisor in transforming KRCC into a Corporation for Public Broadcasting-affiliated station, expanding the programming and reach of the station greatly. He advised the ACM Urban Studies program for 18 years, sponsored the college’s annual film series, and also chaired and served on multiple committees including the Faculty Executive Committee (as chair), and the Academic Program/General Education and Social Science Executive committees.
In 2003, Livesay founded the Colorado College Public Interest Fellowship Program. The PIFP has gone from strength to strength over the past 16 years, providing hundreds of opportunities for students and recent graduates to pursue meaningful work across the social sector of nonprofits. These paid placements, lasting for either 10 weeks over a summer or a full year, help increase the capacity of those organizations while simultaneously fostering a new generation of socially conscious nonprofit leaders. Part of PIFP’s programming, aside from the placements, is the Livesay Award – presented each year to a Colorado College graduate who is living out the mission, spirit, and goals of PIFP in his or her life.
Retiring from teaching in 2015, Livesay’s legacy at Colorado College stretches far beyond the classroom and out into the global community of social change. His abundant research and publications have led generations of young scholars towards careers, and his work beyond the classroom for community engagement and social good continues to inspire and motivate.
Special thanks to Emily Davis ’00 and Jeff Livesay, as well as Special Collections, for their help with source materials and photographs.
Please leave your comments and memories for Jeff and the entire CC community to read – we’d love to hear from you!
5 Responses to Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Jeff Livesay
Yup, cousin Jeff should be proud of his accomplishments.
I have known Jeff ever since he came to the Colorado College and he is one of my dearest freinds. In fact, since we both retired in 2015, we have formed a breakfast club of two at Poor Richards, every week on Wendesday and at 10 am. Now we have been joined by recent retiree, and also dear friend, Dan Tynan. So our club has reached a membership of three.
Jeff, besides being a fabulous teacher, was a leader in issues of justice, and we often cooperated in visible protest when we found that the college was pursuing the policies antagonistic to a liberal arts institution, such as owning stock in a country that practiced apartheid, or when the college refused to give Father Dan Berrigan, the Baccalaureate speaker, a doctor honoris causa for his speech on that memorable Sunday, on the charge that Berrigan had protested the Vietnam war and was arrested for civil disobedience. I could cite other examples, but let these suffice.
Jeff was by far one of the smartest people I have known on the faculty and his students appreciated, and still do, his acumen and integrity, his critical skills, and his charm. It is no surprise that he is among the “legends” of this institution.
Cheers to Jeff!
A bit late to be commenting — one would think the block plan would have taught me to write in a more timely way! Jeff was one of the most important instructors I had at CC. Intellectually acute and generous, he tolerated a lot of my strange ideas and coaxed some more productive ones out of me as well. His example was one of the reasons I chose an academic career for myself. Congratulations on a great career!
Matt Davies (’82)
I wonder if this is the same Jeff Livesay that lived in Burlingame California for a year in the 70’s? If so, please contact Pat Grabinsky. Love to hear from you..
I met Jeff at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1970’s. He was just finishing his PhD and I “filled in” for him briefly as a guest lecturer while he was away interviewing for a teaching post. I didn’t get to know him that well, but I sat in on a couple of his lectures in classical social theory and had a few conversations with him. His enthusiasm for teaching was extraordinary, and when combined with his sharp wit and intellect, he was a teaching force that few professors could match, even at the earliest stages of his career. I learned years later that he was hired at Colorado College but, until reading this tribute, never knew about the impact his life would make. As I see it, its teachers like Jeff that make liberal arts colleges so unique and special. Its wonderful to see that Colorado College knew what it had when it hired Jeff and that he was able to “spread the word” in as many ways as he has.