Sociology was represented within the University from its earliest days as a part of the Department of Economics and Sociology. The first appointed sociologist, E. A. Ross, aptly characterized as a "conflict" theorist, soon created great trouble for the University. Ross attacked the railroad barons (including Stanford) for using Chinese workers because they competed for jobs with Caucasian workers and undermined the latter’s efforts to unionize. Mrs. Stanford, who took an active interest in all University matters, was furious at Ross and demanded that he be dismissed. The president of the University, David Starr Jordan, did all he could to defend Ross’s academic freedom, but Mrs. Stanford persisted and he was eventually dismissed. This episode caused great distress for all faculty members and was one of the major stimulants to the creation of the American Association of University Professors, an organization dedicated to this day to protecting the academic freedom of faculty members.
Although Ross’s controversial scholarship helped to advance the cause of academic freedom, it no doubt set back by many decades the development of sociology at Stanford. Soon after Ross’s dismissal, the Department was renamed the Department of Economics and Social Science; and it was in this unit that sociologists carried on their work. In addition to Ross, other early faculty members included Thorstein Veblen, Mary Robert Smith, Margaret Milford Lothrop and Walter Greenwood Beach.
It was not until 1948 that sociology was separated from economics and relocated in the new Department of Anthropology and Sociology. And, it was a decade later, in 1957, when sociology achieved its current status as an independent department. Important faculty members during this middle period included Charles N. Reynolds and Richard T. LaPiere.
The modern era of sociology at Stanford dates from the years 1959-60 when Sanford M. Dornbusch was invited to chair the department and allowed to make a number of faculty appointments to strengthen the program. Arriving with Dornbusch in that year were Joseph Berger, Santo F. Camilleri, Bernard P. Cohen, and W. Richard Scott. Dornbusch, Berger, Cohen and Scott remained at Stanford throughout their careers. Arriving only slightly later were Morris Zelditch, Jr. and John W. Meyer.
Later major additions to the department through the decades of the 1970s and 1980s include, Elizabeth G. Cohen, William J. Goode, Michael T. Hannan, Alex Inkeles, Dudley Kirk, Seymour Martin Lipset, James G. March, and Nancy B. Tuma.
Appointments during the 1990s included Karen Cook, Mark Granovetter, Doug McAdam, Susan Olzak, Cecilia Ridgeway, C. Matthew Snipp, and Andrew Walder. These hires were followed by the successful recruitment of Michael Rosenfeld and Gi-Wook Shin. In addition to strengthening the areas of academic concentrations described above, these more recent appointments have allowed the department to offer courses and research training in the additional areas of economic sociology, race and ethnicity, network analysis, political sociology, social movements and social stratification.
Most recently, in 2004, the department recruited David Grusky, and in 2006, Xueguang Zhou. Since 2008, Shelley Correll, Jeremy Freese, Jackelyn Hwang, Tómas Jiménez, David Pedulla, Aliya Saperstein, Florencia Torche, and Robb Willer have joined the faculty. These hires added significant strength in the areas of social psychology, social network analysis, urban sociology, sociology of the family, social stratification, organizations, race and ethnicity, and research methods.