Gerald (Jerry) Gurin, a professor and research scientist at the University of Michigan throughout his career, died on January 20, 2019 at the age of 96. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Patricia Gurin; his son and daughter-in-law, Joel and Carol Gurin; his daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Bob Freeman; his sister, Gloria Ross; his grandchildren, Alison Gurin, Joanna Gurin, Chloe Gurin-Sands, Benjamin Gurin, Bryan Dameron, and Brooklyn Freeman; and the extended Gurin-Levey-Ross family. His daughter Sarah Rebekah Gurin pre-deceased him in 1997.

Jerry was raised in the Bronx and proudly kept his New York accent through seven decades of life in Ann Arbor. The third child of Russian-Jewish immigrants Morris and Sarah Gurin, he grew up with siblings Ann, Arnie, and Gloria, and a close extended family with strong social and cultural Jewish values.  Young Jerry was an avid theatergoer and sports fan who took full advantage of all New York had to offer. Well into his nineties, he shared vivid memories of seeing Jackie Robinson play ball, seeing Dame Judith Anderson and Sir Laurence Olivier act on the stage, and seemingly seeing almost every movie made in the 1930s.

Jerry grew up in the FDR years and was a lifelong, committed New Deal Democrat. After receiving his B.S.S. from New York’s City College in 1943, he served with an Army engineering unit in France during World War II. He considered the War a formative period of his life, and still remembered and discussed the campaigns of the War in detail seventy years later.

After the War, Jerry received an M.A. degree from Columbia University in 1947 and then joined the University of Michigan’s social psychology graduate program in its first year.  In graduate school he met and married Maizie Gurin, a clinical psychologist and the mother of his son Joel; they were married for eight years before divorcing. He received his Ph.D. in 1956.

Jerry’s early graduate school years coincided with the launch of Michigan’s Survey Research Center and then the Institute for Social Research (ISR), where he was a founder. As he recalled in an oral history interview with his family, those years “had the excitement of feeling you were in a brand new field. What I loved about survey work was that it was a systematic way of examining an issue and presenting the data to a broader population. It was a way of studying contemporary history.”

His first major research project was a study of the 1952 election, published as the book The Voter Decides. The Survey Research Center had done a small study of the 1948 election that predicted the close Dewey-Truman race more accurately than pollsters had. This success led the Center to plan a larger study for 1952, and Jerry partnered with political scientist Warren Miller to lead the project. “We did the first major political science study” of its kind, he said, long before pre-election polling became an industry. The groundbreaking study used new sampling methods to predict elections and developed the concept of party identification and the factors that affect it. Jerry maintained a strong lifelong interest in politics and public opinion on contemporary issues:  He continued to read The New York Times and watch MSNBC and Fareed Zakaria until the very end of his life.

The study for which he is best known was published as the 1960 book Americans View Their Mental Health, with co-authors Joseph Veroff and Sheila Feld. This Survey Research Center study was commissioned by the NIMH Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health. As Jerry recalled, “The psychiatric movement was just beginning to flourish, and they wanted to get a sense of what the demand on psychiatric resources would be in the next generation.” To answer that question, “we decided not to study the professional people involved in the referral process, but what makes an ordinary person ready to go for help. We called it the study of modern living – all about talking to people about the problems they faced and what they did about those problems.”

“Jerry’s book is a seminal, foundational work that helped set the direction of U.S. mental health policy for decades,” says Dr. Harold “Woody” Neighbors, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at Michigan State University. “It represented a paradigm shift” away from a medical approach that focused on psychiatric diagnosis. “Jerry’s book did something remarkable for that time in history by studying the private, inner psychological lives of individuals. The fact that this perspective seems obvious today is a testament to how influential his thinking was on how we now study mental health.” Among other contributions, the study served as a catalyst for the establishment of community mental health centers.

In the 1970s, Jerry worked with his wife Patricia – now the University of Michigan’s Nancy Cantor Distinguished University Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women’s Studies – on “a program of research directed toward providing opportunities for recent arrivals of large cohorts of Black graduate students,” recalls Dr. James Jackson, Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at the University. That research led ISR to fund a National Survey of Black Americans and ultimately establish the Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA). “Jerry’s grant and research experience was indispensable in funding, designing, and executing the sampling and field work on the first National Survey of Black Americans in 1979-1980 and the nearly 17 local, national, and international surveys that followed over the next 40 years,” says Dr. Jackson. “Without his guidance, experience, and dedication to giving ‘Voice to African Americans,’ the successful PRBA would not have existed.”   

Jerry was also a highly valued faculty member of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in the 1970s and 1980s. As Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Dr. Marvin Peterson remembers, Jerry was brought into the Center because “it lacked any faculty with expertise in research methods and in the study of students. This was at a time of extensive student activism on campuses across the country and early concern for Black and Latino students.  Jerry's expertise on both was a much needed contribution. He taught courses both for Center students as they entered the program and at the penultimate stage of their program as they developed dissertation proposals. He was also central to the Center's development of a more conceptual and theoretical approach to the study of students in higher education.” 

Jerry officially retired in 1993 as Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education, and Research Scientist at ISR’s Survey Research Center. At that time he was the Principal Investigator of the Michigan Student Study (MSS) within the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI), and he continued work on the MSS until his “re-retirement” at age 92. The MSS helped shape national debate about the educational benefits of diversity in higher education, and provided evidence for the University’s successful defense of its affirmative action programs before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.

Jerry’s influence, guidance, and mentorship had a major positive impact on a generation of researchers at OAMI. “Jerry was a mainstay of encouragement and support, and a welcome beacon of wisdom to the OAMI office, which was full of vibrant, brilliant young professionals. He was always willing to offer sage advice or to just be a listening ear,” says Dr. Katrina Wade-Golden, Deputy Chief Diversity Officer for the University of Michigan’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Jerry’s many family, friends, students, and colleagues remember him with love, gratitude, and admiration for his unique qualities. His children and grandchildren describe him as both brilliant and wise, and remarkably kind, supportive, thoughtful, accepting, and engaged in their lives. They remember his love, his humor, and his joy in life, whether playing poker with his grandkids (and beating them at high-low), going to their high school and college plays, taking them to University of Michigan football games, or just staying up talking about school, work, movies, and the world, long into the night. For three of his grandchildren who lived with Jerry and Pat for years – Chloe, Bryan, and Brooklyn – Jerry played an especially important role in their upbringing and their lives.  

Jerry embodied tikkun olam, the Jewish call to heal the world. His caring, empathy, and commitment extended well beyond the world he grew up in: A Jewish son of the Bronx, he became an advocate for racial equity and the proud patriarch of a multiracial family. He had a strong sense of justice, and he combined realism about the state of the world with optimism and hope for the future. For everyone who knew him, loved him, and will miss him deeply, Jerry Gurin made the world a much better place.

For the full tributes to Jerry from those quoted here, please see below. For more stories from family and friends, please see the Stories section of this website. 


Dr. Harold “Woody” Neighbors: Setting the direction of U.S. mental health policy

Gerald Gurin (“Jerry”) was the lead author (along with Joseph Veroff and Sheila Feld) on the classic book, Americans View Their Mental Health (AVTMH) published in 1960 by the NIMH Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health. Jerry’s book is a seminal, foundational work that helped set the direction of U.S. mental health policy for decades. More importantly, AVTMH represented a significant paradigm shift in the way mental health researchers thought about the application of rigorous survey research methods to understanding how best to meet the emotional needs of the nation. Until the publication of AVTMH, mental health surveys were dominated by a medical approach that privileged psychiatric diagnosis above personal conceptualizations of distress and subsequent decisions about how to solve personal problems. Jerry’s book did something remarkable for that time in history. Jerry’s work made it clear that it was the private, inner psychological lives of individuals that dictated what may or may not be done to cope with distress, and that seeking professional treatment was but one of many alternatives people considered. The fact that today, this perspective seems obvious, is a testament to how influential Gerald Gurin’s thinking was on how we now study mental health. The ideas and information contained in Americans View Their Mental Health are as relevant today as they were when it was first published. 


Written by Dr. Harold “Woody” Neighbors, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health, Michigan State University

​Dr. James Jackson: Building the Program for Research on Black Americans

Gerald Gurin played a pivotal and instrumental role in the creation of the Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA). Growing out of the pioneering work of Patricia and Jerry Gurin in establishing a program of research directed toward providing opportunities for recent arrivals of large cohorts of Black graduate students, in the mid-70s the Survey Research Center and Research Center for Group Dynamics made a modest investment in exploring the possibility of launching a National Survey of the African American population. Jerry joined this effort as a senior adviser and in rapid order became a full collaborator and mentor to the relatively young faculty and graduate students working on the fledgling project. His grant and research experience was an indispensable aspect of writing applications, receiving funding, designing questionnaires, and executing the sampling and field work on the first National Survey of Black Americans in 1979-1980 and the nearly 17 local, national, and international surveys that followed over the next 40 years. Without his guidance, experience, and dedication to giving “Voice to African Americans” the successful PRBA would not have existed.   

Written by Dr. James S. Jackson, Research Professor, Research Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research; Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan


Dr. Marvin Peterson: Shaping the study of students in higher education

Gerald Gurin was a significant figure on the faculty of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in the 1970s and 80s until his retirement in 1993.  Prior to joining the faculty as a Professor of Higher Education, he was an established Research Scientist in ISR and was known for his early research on U of M students and of student diversity.  He came to the Center faculty's attention at the urging of the doctoral cohort of 1968 known as the "Dirty Dozen".  They were concerned that as the Center expanded its emphasis on the Ph.D. program at the time, it lacked any faculty with expertise in research methods and in the study of students. This was at a time of extensive student activism on campuses across the country and early concern for Black and Latino students.  Jerry's expertise on both was seen as a significant and much needed contribution to the study of an area that was of great national interest and the Center's need for more research methods guidance for its Ph.D. students.

Jerry taught courses on the College Student and developed a seminar on Research Methods that guided doctoral students as they developed dissertation proposals.  His expertise was central to Center students as they entered the program as one of the new core courses and at the penultimate stage of their program as they developed dissertation proposals. He was also central to the Center's overall development of a more conceptual and theoretical approach to the study of students in higher education and provided a very useful link to the Institute for the Social Research.  In the latter role he was very helpful in getting the Center's NIMH supported landmark study of “Black Students on White Campuses” (Peterson et al) in the 1970s housed in ISR that provided much needed research support.  He would later provide similar links for Sylvia Hurtado and Eric Dey who provided the research support for the U of M's Supreme Court Case on Affirmative Action.  His wife, Professor of Psychology Patricia Gurin, was the lead researcher and testified for the U of M in that precedent setting case.

As an individual Jerry was a "mahvelous" human being and faculty colleague.  He had a booming voice and a manner of speech that identified his New York roots immediately.  He was gregarious, outgoing and always supportive in his relationship with students.  He and his wife, Pat, held numerous social gatherings for faculty and students at their home that always featured delicious food and ample supplies of lubrication (remember we were all over 21!).  He was much sought after as a dissertation member and provided both intellectual, research and moral support at a critical time in most students’ programs.

Written by Dr. Marvin Peterson, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, University of Michigan; former Director, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education


​Dr. Katrina Wade-Golden: A welcome beacon of wisdom

Upon Jerry's "retirement" from the University in 1991, he continued his work as Principal Investigator of the Michigan Student Study (MSS) within the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI), under the leadership of Dr. John Matlock. This new chapter for Jerry would span nearly 25 years, and the work of the MSS would go on to inform both the institutional and national discourse regarding the educational benefits of diversity in higher education.

A mainstay of encouragement and support, Jerry was a welcome beacon of wisdom to the OAMI office that was full of vibrant, brilliant young professionals - always willing to offer sage advice or to just be a listening ear.

While at OAMI, Jerry cultivated his last two Ph.D. students - Dr. S. Yvette Jenkins and Dr. Damon A. Williams. His guidance and constant motivation brought powerful energy to their work, and formed the foundation for a lifelong friendship.

Jerry and I shared a special relationship as long-time colleagues - one that began when I was a first-year student at U of M and spanned 30 years. He served not only as a mentor who gave his endless support, but was also a dear friend. Our friendship traversed many developmental phases of my life, and Jerry was always there to share in key accomplishments along the way.

Jerry's influence and care has made an indelible impact on all of our lives, and for that we are eternally grateful and filled with love.

Written by Dr. Katrina Wade-Golden, Deputy Chief Diversity Officer & Director of Implementation for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, University of Michigan