Prominent Anthropology Professor Passes Away
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
UC Berkeley anthropology professor John Ogbu, a noted scholar on minority educational achievement, passed away Wednesday morning. He was 64.
Ogbu suffered a heart attack after surgery at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center.
In his 33 years teaching at UC Berkeley, Ogbu was best known for his research on the minority achievement gap, which he maintained was not simply a result of economic disadvantage or racial tension, but also stemmed from deeper cultural differences.
He theorized that "voluntary minorities," those who willingly migrated to the United States, have higher levels of educational achievement than "involuntary minorities," those born in the United States, because of a difference in cultural attitudes.
Ogbu's theory was most recently articulated in his book "Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement," which received widespread media attention when it was released in January.
The book is based on eight months of field work on black middle class students in the wealthy school system of Shaker Heights, Ohio, where despite similar resources, overall achievement among black students was lower than that of their white peers.
Ogbu argued that this underachievement stemmed from a culture among black students that discouraged "acting white"-such as speaking grammatically correct English and excelling in school.
Born in 1939 in a small Nigerian village, Ogbu came to the United States in 1962 for undergraduate work at UC Berkeley and going on to earn a doctorate.
UC Berkeley anthropology professor Alan Dundes said Ogbu will be missed.
"When you outlive a student, it is sad," said Dundes, who taught Ogbu when he was an undergraduate. "He is a part of our intellectual family and was the most cited member of the department. He will be impossible to replace."
He is survived by his wife Marcellina Ada Ogbu, his five children: Elizabeth, Nnanna, Grace, Cecilia, and Christina, and by many other friends and relatives in the United States and Nigeria.
The memorial service will take place in early October in the Bay Area and Ogbu will be buried in Nigeria. Donations may be sent to the John Ogbu Memorial Library Fund, 6531 Exeter Drive, Oakland, CA 94611.
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