Campus & Community

John Dunlop, esteemed scholar, dies at 89

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John Dunlop, a distinguished Harvard scholar and administrator who played significant roles as a labor negotiator and government official, died Thursday morning (Oct. 2) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He was 89.

Dunlop, the Lamont University Professor Emeritus, was a widely respected labor economist who served as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) from 1969 to 1973. An adviser to many U.S presidents beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dunlop was secretary of labor under Gerald Ford, serving from March 1975 to January 1976.

“John Dunlop was a towering figure in Harvard’s history,” said Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers. “As a scholar, dean, secretary of labor, and an adviser to countless institutions, John Dunlop was a major contributor to the life of our nation and to our university. He will be missed.”

Harvard President Emeritus Derek Bok, who co-authored the book “Labor and the American Community” (1970) with Dunlop, said of his colleague: “John Dunlop led a remarkable life. As a teacher, he helped develop generations of labor economists. As a scholar, he was a leading figure in furthering our understanding of labor markets and institutions. As a practitioner, he played an indispensable role in finding common ground between labor unions, employers, and government. While outwardly a thoroughly pragmatic problem-solver, he was at bottom a deeply principled man who always put the welfare of others above his own personal advancement. He had a profound influence on my life and leaves a void that can never be filled.”

Born in Placerville, Calif., in 1914 and raised in the Philippines where his parents served as missionaries, Dunlop earned a bachelor’s degree (1935) and a Ph.D. (1939) from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1938, becoming associate professor of economics in 1945 and full professor in 1950. He chaired the Economics Department from 1961 to 1966.

Dunlop served as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences during a time of student unrest. He led the faculty-student University Committee on Governance, which examined and made recommendations on University issues and concerns. He was appointed Lamont University Professor in 1971.

Reflecting on Dunlop’s academic leadership, FAS Dean William C. Kirby, said: “John Dunlop led this faculty, and served this university, in more ways, and with more distinction, than can ordinarily be accorded one human being. He guided FAS through one of its most contentious periods in history; he scrutinized the University’s structures of governance, and its fundamental purposes, during a period of serious institutional reformulation; he shared his wisdom as an economist and labor negotiator not only with our students for nearly 50 years, but with the highest circles in our nation’s government. He shaped this school, and the world beyond this school. His strength and integrity will be missed.”

Richard Freeman, the Herbert S. Ascherman Professor of Economics, who studied under Dunlop, said, “John Dunlop was one of the rare academics who knew more than what is in their writing. He had a wisdom and sense about the economic world that is irreplaceable. I enjoyed every interaction with him. He was one of the great labor economists of all time and leaves a body of knowledge and students not only in academe but in business, government, and the union world, who will hopefully try to follow in his path of seeking to make the world of labor work better.”

Harvard Business School Dean Kim Clark, who wrote his dissertation in economics under Dunlop’s supervision and served as an aid during his tenure as Secretary of Labor, spoke of the huge impact Dunlop had on his career.

“John Dunlop was a master teacher. He was inspiring, challenging, he opened up worlds of inquiry and helped his students see possibilities they may not have seen before. He was always willing to spend time with me, even while he was Secretary of Labor. Here was a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders, who was dealing with Social Security, with the Soviet grain agreement, and yet he took time out to discuss my dissertation. He was also a man of wisdom who gave me absolutely wonderful advice about my academic work and about life in general and who was instrumental in connecting me with Harvard Business School.”

During his tenure at Harvard, Dunlop was a key figure in founding the Trade Union Program (now the Labor and Work Life Program); the Ph.D. Program in Business and Economics; the Joint Center for Housing Studies; and the Program in Business and Government. He was instrumental in founding and/or fundraising for many other academic programs and research centers.

Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies, said: “John Dunlop was a master bridge-builder. He constantly connected the academy with industry. His insights and his integrity served him well in both worlds. The Joint Center for Housing for Housing Studies – crafted to relect this intersection of the University and the built environment – is a lasting legacy to his perseverance and to his dedication to informed public policy.”

Dunlop retired from the Harvard faculty in 1985, although he remained extremely involved as a scholar, consultant, negotiator, and teacher. As recently as spring 2003, he taught a freshman seminar, “The American Workplace: The Roles of Business, Labor, and Government.”

Frederick Abernathy, the Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Engineering, who collaborated with Dunlop on work sponsored by the Harvard Center for Textile and Apparel Research, said; “Work with him was always intellectually exciting and often demanding. He treated most large-scale problems as subjects for a seminar – to be attended by students, faculty, as well as people from business, government and labor. John always wanted students involved – from students in his freshman seminar to doctoral students. He made sure that students accompanied us on all of our plant visits, whether they were in the U.S.A. or in China. He thought that students should learn by actually visiting factories and talking with people rather than solely from reading.”

In 1988-89 Dunlop represented the University in contract negotiations with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), achieving results that were applauded by both sides.

Kris Rondeau, HUCTW negotiator, who sat across the table from Dunlop during the union negotiations, said: “John Dunlop was a beloved friend. He represented the best of University life. He was a good citizen of our community, always doing what needed to be done to make Harvard successful. He loved this place. After we stopped working together formally on labor-relations matters, we continued to meet for the sheer delight of it. I will miss him sorely.”

In addition to serving as secretary of labor, Dunlop held many other government posts, including director of the Cost of Living Council (1973-74), chairman of the Construction Industry Stabilization Committee (1971-74), chair of the Commission of the Future of Worker/Management Relations (1993-95), chair of the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee for Municipal Police and Firefighters (1977-2003), and chair of the Commission on Migratory Farm Labor (1984-2003).

He wrote numerous books and articles, including “Wage Determination Under Trade Unions” (1944); “Collective Bargaining: Principles and Cases” (1949); “Industrial Relations Systems” (1958); “Labor in the Twentieth Century” (ed., 1978); “Dispute Resolution, Negotiation and Consensus Building” (1984); and “A Stitch in Time: Lessons from the Apparel and Textile Industries” (with Abernathy, Hammond, and Weil, 1999).

Dunlop’s wife, Dorothy, died in February 2003. He leaves a daughter, Beverly Donohue of New York City, and two sons, John B. Dunlop of Palo Alto, Calif., and Thomas Dunlop of Belmont, Mass. A memorial service is being planned.