PULLMAN, Wash. — Distinguished Washington State University Alumnus William Julius Wilson will receive the National Medal of Science. The noted sociologist was one of nine researchers named by President Bill Clinton to receive the nation’s highest scientific honor.
In a recent news release from the NSF, Wilson was cited for “influencing a generation of social scientists through his studies and published works in urban poverty and its causes.”
He is professor of social policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Wilson earned a doctorate in sociology at WSU in 1966. In 1988, he received the WSU Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor the university bestows on one of its graduates. He returned to WSU in 1997 to deliver the all-university address at WSU’s 101st commencement. At that time, he said he had personally pushed for the establishment of a national commission on race, which President Clinton has since created.
Wilson has been studying race and joblessness in the country for more than a quarter century.
During his WSU commencement address, he said Americans have common interests that cross racial and class boundaries. These interests include unemployment and job security, declining real wages, escalating medical and housing costs, the scarcity of quality child care programs, the sharp decline in the quality of public education, and the toll of crime and drug trafficking in their neighborhoods.
His vision for America emphasizes the application of programs to combat these problems to the benefit of everyone, not just the truly disadvantaged.
After completing his studies at WSU, Wilson began teaching sociology at the University of Massachusetts before joining the University of Chicago in 1972, where he was director of the Center for the Study of Urban Inequality. He joined the Harvard University faculty in 1997.
He is author of several books, including “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City; The Underclass and Public Policy,” which was named one of the top 16 books of the year by The New York Times Book Review.
Wilson was one of a group of African American graduate students recruited to WSU in the early 1960s by Wallis Beasley, chairman of the Department of Sociology. Wilson is a past president of the American Sociological Association and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Other WSU alumni receiving the National Medal of Science are the late Orville Vogel, a wheat breeder honored in 1975, and Phillip Abelson, a physical chemist, 1987.

pc151-98