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In Memoriam

In Memoriam | Rita Simon

From Dean of the School of Public Affairs Barbara S. Romzek

Rita Simon

It is with great sadness that I note the passing on July 25, 2013, of our friend and beloved colleague Professor Emerita Rita Simon. Rita was a former dean of the School of Justice and University Professor. She taught at both the School of Public Affairs and at the Law School. Professor Simon was one of the most gifted scholars in our school. She educated generations of students who are now contributing greatly to fields of scholarship to which she first introduced them. And, as recently as this past year, applicants for our master's and doctoral programs were seeking to come to SPA to study under Rita.

Rita will be sorely missed. Among many accolades to her scholarship and the many more that will pour in, AU celebrated her contributions to scholarship on December 2011.

Rita's service was held in the Kay Spiritual Life Center on the AU campus on July 29. She is survived by her three children, Judith Garrett, Daniel Simon, and David Simon, and by ten grandchildren. She was predeceased by her husband, Julian L. Simon, professor at the University of Maryland.

While I did not have the privilege of knowing Rita for a long time, it did not take me long to learn of the significant impact her scholarship and leadership had on AU students and colleagues. I join you in grieving her passing.


Professor Simon had a long and storied academic career lasting more than 55 years. She spent many years at the University of Illinois, where she served as Director of the Law and Society Program, Professor of Sociology, Head of the Sociology department, Research Professor of Communications, and Professor in the College of Law. She also spent three years as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University, served as a Visiting Professor in the Graduate School of Nursing at Yale University, a Research Associate at Columbia University and a Research Associate at the Law School of the University of Chicago.

Professor Simon came to AU in 1983, where she served as the Dean of the School of Justice for four years and Acting Dean of the School of Public Affairs for one year. Professor Simon also served as a Professor of Law at Washington College of Law since 1983.

Professor Simon served as University Professor at AU from 1989 until 2012, a position only eligible to full professors who demonstrate highly significant scholarly achievements that transcend a single discipline and whose achievements integrate and redefine thought across academic boundaries in a way that creates new knowledge or frameworks.

Professor Simon wrote 68 books and more than 275 articles. To understand what she has done we must look briefly at the subjects she took on. Her work on the jury and the defense of insanity is classic, breaking new ground in our understanding of insanity, how it is understood in court trials, and how knowledge of the ways in which this defense changes trial outcomes can help influence the ways cases are argued and resolved. Her research on transracial adoption and the ways in which these adoptions change understandings of identity and family commitment—or do not change them—has been critical to the development of a growing literature on adoption and its effects. She quite literally changed the discourse on adoption and the ways in which it is viewed and studied. Her work on immigration, exploring everything from women’s roles and views to in-depth research into the lives and significance of Russian and Soviet Jewish émigrés in the United States, has changed the way scholars, immigration lawyers, courts, government officials, and others understand immigration. She also studied the sociology of law, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, pornography, marriage and divorce, juvenile justice, drug and human trafficking, the uses of social science data in Supreme Court opinions, and Renaissance women in science. The latter topic is fitting. With such an expansive oeuvre, Professor Simon herself is indeed a Renaissance woman.

"This trailblazing scholar has left her mark in multiple disciplines, including sociology, criminology, criminal justice, and law," Professor Ed Maguire wrote. "Her massive body of scholarship will continue to exert a lasting influence on social science scholarship and social policy. The wide range of topics, as outlined by the earlier speakers, is stunning."

This bare outline of just the highlights of her scholarship would daunt most scholars and would be sufficient for most careers, but it is far from all that Professor Simon did. In addition to her significant research and writing, she has served as Editor of Gender Issues, Editor of Justice Quarterly, Editor of the American Sociological Review, and consulting editor and editorial board member for countless other peer-reviewed journals. She was a Guggenheim and a Ford Fellow.

She also served the wider community in multiple ways: In 2002, she was appointed by the US Secretary of Education to the Commission on Opportunity in Athletics to study the effects of Title IX. She consistently served the campus Hillel Foundation, and she wrote about her research for more popular, non-scholarly publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Christian Science Monitor, Paradigm, and the Washington Times, to insure that the results of her work were known and incorporated into the daily lives of those she has studied and on whose behalf she has done such significant research.