In Memoriam, Eric Schneider

Eric Schneider died on March 22, 2017  after a struggle with cancer. He worked for nearly thirty years as a dean and advisor for the University of Pennsylvania's College of Arts and Sciences. He was also an indispensable member of the Urban Studies and History faculties at Penn. Eric was best known for being a mentor to generations of Penn Urban Studies undergraduates or, as he affectionately called them, his "Urbies." Among the courses he taught was a freshman seminar, Crime and Punishment, and URBS 210, The City. Both courses often attracted students to the Urban Studies major. He also taught URBS 400, the Senior Thesis course, and the Urban Studies Honors seminar. While working a more than full time job as administrator, advisor, and teacher, Eric published several books, including his prizewinning, Smack: Heroin and the American City (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York (Princeton University Press, 1999); and In the Web of Class: Delinquents and Reformers in Boston, 1810s-1930s. (New York University Press, 1992).


We will announce details about an on-campus memorial service soon.

If you would like to reach out with a message to Eric’s family, please do so through our office – we will compile all messages and deliver them as one package to the Schneiders. Send to urbs@sas.upenn.edu, or:

Urban Studies Program
3718 Locust Walk
Room 130 McNeil Building
Philadelphia, PA 19104

We also have set up a donation page if you would like to send a gift in memory of Eric: https://www.sas.upenn.edu/urban/Donate. All proceeds will go towards the Eric C. Schneider Award for the Best Senior Seminar Paper on the topic of the "Dark Side" of Urban Studies, to honor Eric’s research interest in gangs, drugs,and murder in the city.  The award will be given annually at the Urban Studies graduation ceremony. 

Below are just a few illustrations of the impact that Eric had on his colleagues and students.

Elaine Simon, Co-Director Urban Studies Program

The Urban Studies family suffered a huge loss with Eric Schneider’s death. Wrapped in wit, his blunt and truthful messages always had an inscrutable quality, full of depth and complexity. Which is why he was the best teacher and guide. We taught together and in parallel for almost 30 years. Eric was the badass, compelled to interrupt and amend my description of our expectations. “This course is challenging,” I might say, and then Eric would chime in – “don’t even think about taking five courses, and drop all of your extracurriculars unless you want to fail!” All summer long, Eric harangued the students who missed the May 30 deadline for handing in their senior seminar research proposals with his “senior slacker” emails and promise of the “senior slacker” award -- a 6-pack of Natty Lite. I’m sure some students stalled just so they would continue to get the increasingly sarcastic and bitingly critical slacker emails. Students in his seminar section endured witheringly sarcastic remarks so memorable students once created a Twitter stream of the best Eric comments. Despite this harassment, Eric’s students knew that he was in their corner. And they have an intense loyalty and appreciation for him. His nudging pushed them to work harder and do better. Their outpouring of love is evidence of how much they respect him. A chronicler of gangs, drugs, and murder, Eric seemed to delight in introducing himself to students as a scholar of the dark side. It was both a provocation and message. He was saying, “hey, guys, you too can be both a badass and a passionate scholar." And, of course he was most passionate about his own family, his accomplished wife Janet Golden and his beautiful sons Alex and Ben. He was a model to all of us and his contribution to Urban Studies is immeasurable. It is an understatement to say I will miss him. I will never be a badass like Eric, but I hope that our Urban Studies family members can find a way to continue challenging each other in the way that Eric challenged us.

Claire Shimberg (Urbs '14)

I was a 2014 Urban Studies major and Eric Schneider was my thesis advisor. I enjoyed my time in his senior seminar section so much that I also audited Urbs 210 with him and Michael Nairn in the spring of my senior year. My first real impression of him was when he sent out his annual senior slacker email to the Urbies who hadn't submitted thesis proposals. His emails cracked me up and I instantly knew that we would get along, which is why I was so thrilled to find out that I was in his section. I didn't know it at the time, but ending up in his thesis section was one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Throughout the semester, Eric challenged me in a way I had never been challenged before--my professors had never expected me to apply myself as much as he did. His high expectations of me allowed me to see what I was really capable of. He was incredibly supportive, always available for guidance and feedback, but consistently pushing me to create the best final product I could. He had an incredible way of knowing exactly what a student's particular potential was, and supportively pushing them until they reached it. He read draft after draft of each section of my paper, even in the days leading up to the deadline. In fact, I emailed him so much that the day before my thesis was due, he emailed me saying he was going through withdrawal because it was noon and I hadn't emailed him yet that day (of course, he lived to regret that email as my barrage of final questions followed).

Even after my thesis was done, he remained an active, supportive, mentor who showed me how much he cared. As I neared graduation, he hosted me for many a career advising session in his office and helped me connect with other Urban Studies alumni to find the right job for me. He wrote me recommendations letters for job applications and most recently, wrote one of my recommendations for law school. But most importantly, he made Urban Studies a community, a family, and a home for me and so many other students. At a pre-professional school like Penn that over-emphasizes careers in consulting and finance, Eric made the pursuit of public service feel worthy, important, and enough. He gave me the strength to confidently follow that path, and for that in particular, I am forever grateful.

I hope that Eric knew how much he meant to me, and how much of an impact he has on my life. I hope he knew how much he inspires me and has helped me become the person and advocate I am today. I wish I had told him that more directly. He was so good about doing that. Around graduation, he sent me an email telling me how much he enjoyed having me as a student, and the day of graduation I remember him walking up to the stage and causing a back-up because he wanted to make sure to hug every Urbie as we walked across the stage. Last week, a few friends and I sent him a video telling him how much we loved and appreciated him, and I so hope he was able to see it and hear how we feel.
 

Paul Farber (Urbs ’05)

Today we lost a great teacher, mentor, historian, Philadelphian, friend, and overall mensch. Eric Schneider made such an impact on so many people, and especially his beloved students. There are few teachers as gifted as Eric – in equal measures brilliant, quick-witted, generous, committed, and monumentally brave. Eric taught me so much as my undergrad thesis advisor at Penn Urban Studies that I still think about him most days when I teach and write. I learned from him what it means to push students toward their best work while green-lighting their ideas, how to structure critical writing architecturally, and how to make sure to look out for students well past your semester ends. I learned this because I was the recipient of his open doors, tough but thoughtful questions, great laughter, and mentoring as a form of follow through and crucial care.

Each time I listen close to a student's ideas in office hours – especially on a tangent, detour, or epiphany – I try to channel the time Eric allowed me to switch my thesis topic, already a few weeks into my senior year, because he said he trusted me and because, as he told me then, he actually wanted to know the outcome of my research for his own understanding. The result was "White Tee Nation," an essay that I won an award for as an undergrad, that I excerpted in my grad school applications, and that came up in countless job interviews and from which I gave my first invited lecture in a high school. Eric could have easily said no. But instead he said try. I learned then the best teachers don't just observe their students working, they partake and grow together with them. 

I remember when I asked Eric if he would write one of my grad school reference letters. He shared with me a draft of the letter early on, which closed with the line: "Admit him!" This made me laugh. The line also gifted me way more confidence and inspired a goal of mine – to echo Eric's words of direct support on behalf of my own future students in their endeavors, just as he had done for me.

Eric, you will be supremely missed. Profound gratitude to your family for sharing you with us, and to you: a scholar whose generosity will live on through the many students you influenced, through your scholarly works and critical ideas, and through your memory that sparks many of us to open doors and walk through them together.