Purser named Montonna Professor, recognizing work with undergraduates
Gretchen Purser, associate professor of sociology, has been named
the Dr. Ralph E. Montonna Professor at the Maxwell School.
The Dr. Ralph E. Montonna Endowed Professorship for the Teaching
and Education of Undergraduates was established in 1997 with a substantial gift
from the honoree’s daughter,
Mary Lou Williams, a Maxwell School alumna (1950, BA, American studies) and
long-time resident of Remsen, N.Y., who died in 2017. The fund is designed to
provide support, in the form of a supplemental research fund, to a professor
with notable engagement in undergraduate education. Purser will hold the
Montonna Professorship for the 2020-21 academic year.
honoree was also a Syracuse University graduate, with a BS in chemistry (1916).
Montonna, who also earned a PhD from Yale University, had been a long-time
faculty member at the University of Minnesota when, in 1946, he was named
director of research at Syracuse University. He later returned to the
University of Minnesota and died in 1952. (His grandson, Brian T. Williams, is
also a Maxwell graduate, with a 2011 BA in anthropology and history.)
Purser, who joined the Maxwell faculty in 2010, conducts research
focused upon precarious work and the low-wage labor market and the reproduction
and lived experience of urban poverty in the United States. She is the research
director on advocacy and activism for the Program for the Advancement of
Research on Conflict and Collaboration, through which she co-coordinates Maxwell’s Labor Studies working group. In the
community, she is chair of the Board of the Workers’ Center of Central New York. She has
published numerous articles — several of which have been award-winning — in
journals such as Qualitative Sociology, Ethnography, Critical
Sociology, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Dialectical
Anthropology, and Labor, Capital, and Society.
Purser is among the most celebrated mid-career faculty members at
Maxwell, having received Maxwell’s
Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Teaching and
Research (2016) and Syracuse University’s Excellence in Graduate Education Award (2020) and Meredith
Teaching Recognition Award (2013). She received her PhD in sociology from the
University of California at Berkeley and has been a fellow at both the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and the School for Advanced Research.
"Gretchen Purser, who recently finished a three-year term as
undergraduate director for Sociology, is impressively dedicated to her
students,” said Carol Faulkner, associate dean of the Maxwell School. “She is a
devoted mentor, advisor, and teacher, who encourages students to understand and
investigate complex and timely social issues in the local and national
Additional contributions may be made to the Ralph E. Montonna Fund. Contact Norma Shannon at