Ronald E. Anderson
Ron Anderson, an innovative scholar of technology and society, and a dear and generous colleague to all who were privileged to know him, passed away on December 21, 2020. Born in Sikeston, Missouri, Ron spent much of his childhood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where his father started a hospital and served as personal physician to the court of Emperor Haile Selassie. After earning his psychology B.A. from La Sierra University in 1962, Ron moved to Stanford for graduate study in sociology, where his Ph.D. advisor was John Meyer. Upon his arrival in Minnesota as an Assistant Professor in 1966, Ron quickly took the lead in building a collaborative research infrastructure for his department, college, and university. He also played a key part in developing the intellectual infrastructure to understand the social implications of technology and computing for education and inequality in contemporary society.
In over 125 articles and 9 books, along with countless reports and essays, Ron’s writing spanned sociology, education, and computer science, including highly cited articles on school technology, the digital divide, and the ethics and social impacts of computing. This work was frequently supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and numerous state and local funders. In addition, he wrote popular software programs and applications, developed simulation models for government agencies and non-governmental organizations, and led countless interdisciplinary and public initiatives on technology and society.
Ron was an invited fellow of the American Educational Research Association and an invited member of the Sociological Research Association. A wide-ranging expert on technology and society, he also championed efforts to bring technology and social science to bear on public debates. Since his retirement in 2005, Ron devoted his research attention to conceptualizing, measuring, and addressing collective well-being and social suffering, which he viewed as our greatest humanitarian challenge. He established the non-profit Foundation for the Relief of Suffering and had begun working with TheSocietyPages.org to archive and continue this work. And he continued to advise, champion, and support faculty and student work on technology and society, establishing the Anderson Technology and Social Cohesion Award at the University of Minnesota.
Throughout his career, Ron was appreciated for his grace, dry wit, and inclusive leadership style. He was a builder, who served as founding chair of the ASA section on Communication and Information Technologies, and founding and long-serving editor of the Social Science Computer Review.He earned awards for outstanding service from each of his three primary fields: the American Sociological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the Association for Computing Machinery. With regard to the latter, he chaired the working group that developed the code of ethics that has served the Association for Computing Machinery for thirty years. He also founded and directed the Minnesota Center for Survey Research and led the Social Science Research Center at the University of Minnesota. Later, he served as president of the retiree’s association.
Ron is survived by his wife of 30 years, Nancy Kehmeier, his son Evan (Marilyn), his sister Rosalie Lynn and brothers Merlin (Marylou) and James (Anne). His friends and colleagues celebrate Ron’s path-breaking work on the social dynamics of technology, and cherish the memory of his shy smile, chuckle, and twinkle of eye.