Remembrance of Becky Morton from Sanford Gordon

In addition to being an outstanding and innovative scholar, Becky was a mentor, advocate, booster, colleague, inspiration, and friend who loomed so large in our lives that we are still processing the acuteness of her loss. And so many of you have reached out to say how much Becky meant to you. I don’t intend to speak for very long; I’d rather cede my time to the eloquent speakers that will follow. But briefly, I’d like to mention four things I believe made her so special as a professional colleague and friend.

The first was her generosity of spirit. Her students and former students speak of the active role she took in molding them into scholars with a kind of reverential awe. From the perspective of a junior colleague, any research you presented or sent her way would come back to you with copious, cogent, and constructive feedback. That generosity extended to the vast network of collaborators and admirers around the globe. But Becky’s kindness extended beyond the scholarly realm. She saw the best in everyone. And she excelled at putting people at ease. She would host parties where she would wow the guests with her spectacular ¬†gumbo. But always alongside the crockpot was another one filled with a vegetarian variation for guests who didn’t eat shellfish. That kind of gesture is so meaningful, but for Becky it was something one just did.

Second, her grit and determination. What a career trajectory she had: from LSU and Tulane, to the University of New Orleans, Nicholls State, Texas A&M, the University of Iowa, NYU, and finally NYUAD. It goes without saying that she was a pioneer who shattered too many glass ceilings to count. And what got her there, in addition to her intellectual acumen, was her relentless drive and hard work. It’s simply impossible to conceive of the number of projects she could meaningfully contribute to simultaneously — a number that would drive mere mortals to exhaustion. Beyond that, though, there was no report she wouldn’t write, no committee she wouldn’t chair; no class she wouldn’t teach; no position ¬†she wouldn’t hold. Soon after my arrival at NYU I co-taught a graduate seminar with Becky, and there, she taught me what it *really* meant to be prepared.

Third, her intellectual curiosity and integrity. Becky’s scholarly contributions to the fields of political economy and experimental social science are enormous. She was a deep thinker, and above all else a person who wanted to get it right. And the rigor with which she approached the scholarly enterprise carried into all aspects of her professional life. Many of my colleagues can tell you stories about disagreements with Becky that were really, to be honest, pretty unpleasant at the time. And that’s because whatever the argument, she would take it as far as it would go. It may have been exhausting, but Becky’s interest was never in winning. It was simply in getting it right. Everything was in good faith, and it was never, ever personal.

Finally, Becky leaves behind an enormous institutional legacy. She established the Center for Experimental Social Science annual conference and a graduate alumni conference here at NYU; and the Winter Experimental Social Science Institute (WESSI) and the Social Science Experimental Laboratory (SSEL) at NYUAD. She played a founding role in the creation of the APSA experimental section and was a founding editor of the Journal of Experimental Political Science.

Sanford Gordon, New York University