Kurt Schlichting tells the tale of William J. Wilgus and the birth of modern Manhattan

Dr. Schlichting teaches three classes per semester, focusing on statistical analysis in the fall and research methods in the spring. He believes passionately in “applied social research,” because “you can’t learn by reading about something in a book.”

Dr. Schlichting now uses the New York Public Library as a destination for his classes. Two of his students, senior sociology majors Julianna Merrill ’13 and Patrick Cooney ’13, are doing independent study there, examining the records of the Committee of Fourteen, which was formed to fight vice in New York around the time Wilgus was working on Grand Central.

“The committee sent investigators to illegal speakeasies, brothels, and other dens of iniquity,” said Dr. Schlichting. “It’s not just the vice we’re studying but the particularview of vice that’s of interest. There was a sense that these people were not and never would be ‘real Americans.’ The disorder and dissolution were seen as their personal failings. It’s the same negative stereotypes the Irish faced 150 years ago, as has every subsequent wave of immigrants.”

Another of Dr. Schlichting’s specialties is historical digital mapping. “Using maps, we’ll re-create the neighborhoods where the Committee of Fourteen said the vice took place. We’ll look at census records to determine how crowded the neighborhoods were and what immigrant populations lived there. This is primary research that is normally done by graduate students but my undergraduates are doing it.”

His classes are also working on a project for the mayor’s office in Bridgeport, creating digital maps of the city. “This work serves two purposes. The students learn about applying research and they are helping others, which is something that’s expected at Fairfield.”

Dr. Schlichting grew up in Fairfield, and earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology at Fairfield, where he was mentored by the legendary Arthur Anderson. Just as his Wilgus research relied on firsthand sources, Dr. Schlichting’s interest in New York City came through firsthand experience.

“It was a big deal to go with friends into ‘the City’,” said Dr. Schlichting who, after leaving Fairfield, moved to Manhattan to earn his master’s and Ph.D. at New York University. It proved to be an entirely different experience to live there, on East 12th Street, at a time of economic decline.

“The East Village was dangerous, dirty, and decrepit then,” he said. Now he goes into the city to visit his daughter and niece, both of whom happily live in Manhattan, and is amazed.

“This same area is crowded with pedestrians, like a block party all the time,” he said. “It was a miracle that no one predicted.”

During his 30-plus years at Fairfield University, Dr. Schlichting has been an associate dean and an acting dean and, for the past five years, he has been the E. Gerald Corrigan ’63 Chair in Humanities and Social Studies and director of the Corrigan Scholars Program.

“It’s an honor,” he said. “The endowment established by Jerry Corrigan allows four or five students each year to be designated Corrigan Scholars. They must be first-generation college attendees who need financial aid. I find colleagues to serve as their mentors and it has really worked out well for our professors as well as our students.”

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