Mel Pollner wave line


November 20, 2007
By Jessica Roy

UCLA Daily Bruin Staff Writer

Highly regarded professor of sociology leaves influential legacy Beloved social philosopher who contributed significantly to his field dies at age 67

Professor of sociology Melvin Pollner passed away from lung cancer on Nov. 2, but his work in his field and warm personality continue to resonate with those who knew him.

“He was really a beloved figure in the department,” said Dr. Jeffrey Prager, a fellow professor of sociology at UCLA. The two had worked together for over 30 years. Prager said Pollner’s work was significant and highly regarded.

“He wrote a book called ‘Mundane Reason’ ... It was a very important book: some of the great contemporary social philosophers make reference to it,” Prager said.

Pollner’s specific field of study was ethnomethodology, which is a different way of thinking about social interactions and how people create order through them. David Goode, Pollner’s first doctorate student, remembered how this theory played out in everyday life for Dr. Pollner. After daughter Leslie was born, the two of them spoke in hushed whispers while tiptoeing around the house, trying not to wake up the sleeping infant.

Even in the wake of the birth of his daughter, Goode said Pollner’s mind was never far from his life’s work in studying human interactions.

“I remember the conversation in the kitchen ... it was about how powerful Leslie was in determining our behavior in that room. It was about what ‘power’ meant, and what ‘power’ children have and do not have. It was this way with Mel: little distinction between the personal and the intellectual,” Goode wrote.

Pollner was born in 1940 in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City. He attended City College in New York, where he graduated with highest honors with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. He received his master’s in sociology from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. in sociology from UC Santa Barbara.

Pollner is survived by his wife of 45 years, Judy, his son, Adrian, his daughter, Leslie, and a host of nieces, nephews and in-laws.

In her eulogy at her father’s funeral, Leslie Pollner-Levey referred to her father’s character and personality.

“There was so much to love about him: his incredible intellect, his sense of humor, his humanity, his ability to see subtle connections, his appreciation for the offbeat and the absurd, his love of whimsy. And of course, that sparkle in his blue eyes,” Pollner-Levey wrote in the eulogy.

Judy Pollner met Mel Pollner when they were both students.

“I fell in love with him the first time I saw him,” Judy Pollner said.

She said her husband was a dedicated teacher and loved UCLA.

“He spent his whole career here (at UCLA), and he really loved both the faculty and the students. He took a lot of pride in them,” she said.

Mel Pollner was a professor at UCLA for over 40 years.

Erika Chau Klein, the chief administrative officer for the sociology department, remembers Dr. Pollner as a very special person.

“He was a very caring and conscientious member of the faculty ... (and) he was very interested in the quality of undergraduate education at UCLA,” Klein said.

She also recalls his contagiously friendly demeanor.

“He always had a smile for everybody,” Klein said.

Prager agreed that Pollner’s spirit was well-known.

“He had a wonderful, warm smile that would invite people to confide in him,” Prager said.

Dr. John Heritage, professor of sociology, taught a class with Dr. Pollner for a number of years. ”We had a wonderful time teaching it, it was one of the happiest ... experiences of my entire career,” Heritage said.

Heritage also felt Pollner balanced intellect with openness.

“He was an extremely gifted, erudite and passionate contributor to the field ... Mel was a wonderfully funny and smart teacher,” Heritage said.

Friends and family have set up a memorial Web site for Pollner, Past students, colleagues, and friends are welcome to send in their personal memories of Pollner.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Melvin Pollner’s honor to LUNGevity, a nonprofit group that funds lung cancer research. To make a donation in Dr. Pollner’s name, visit

The flags at UCLA will fly at half-mast on Dec. 6 in honor of Dr. Pollner.

UCLA Daily Bruin obituary