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Obituary
Frank R. Scarpitti

The field of criminology mourns the loss of Frank R. Scarpitti, who passed away on February 28, 2019. He was 82. Frank was born in Butler, PA and moved to Cleveland, Ohio at age 11. He attended junior and senior high school in Cleveland and graduated from Cleveland State University in 1958. He immediately entered graduate school at The Ohio State University, receiving his Ph.D. Degree in sociology in 1962. Although trained in criminology, his first professional position was as director of one of the first community mental health research studies, testing the efficacy of home care for schizophrenic patients. This research was published in the book Schizophrenics in the Community, and received the American Psychiatric Association's Hofhemier Prize for Research in 1967. Thus began a 44-year career of teaching, research and writing. 

After spending four years on the faculty of Rutgers University, he accepted an associate professorship at the University of Delaware in 1967, moving his wife and young daughter to Radcliffe Drive in Newark, a home he and Ellen never left. Two years later he was promoted to full professor and appointed Chair of the Department of Sociology (later Sociology and Criminal Justice). He served in that position for 17 years over several terms. The year 1969 was also notable because their second child, a son, Jeffrey, was born. 

Frank was a prolific scholar and writer, authoring, coauthoring or editing 19 books and over 60 articles and chapters. He researched and wrote on mental health, crime, delinquency, corrections, deviant behavior, social problems, drug treatment and the role of organized crime in illegal waste disposal. His coauthored book, Poisoning for Profit, was widely cited by legal and legislative officials as the impetus for legal action designed to curb unlawful waste dumping. He was recognized nationally by being elected President of the American Society of Criminology as well as holding various offices in several other professional organizations. In 1981, he was elected Fellow in the American Society of Criminology, in recognition of his scholarly contribution to the intellectual life of the discipline. 

Frank was also committed to the University of Delaware, particularly to ensuring a climate of equality. In 1968, he was appointed by the University President to Chair the Advisory Committee on Policies, Programs, and Services Affecting Blacks and Other Minority Group Students. The committee was tasked with recommending policies to improve the campus climate for minority students. They presented their recommendations in what became known as The Scarpitti Report, which had a large influence on policies designed to increase recruitment of minority students and faculty, and also ensure their representation on the Board of Trustees. 

In 2006, Frank was named the Edward and Elizabeth Rosenberg Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice and received the Francis Alison Award, the University of Delaware's highest faculty honor. Despite his various honors and awards, he was proudest of the many graduate students with whom he worked and who have assumed a variety of academic and governmental positions. Nearly 50 of them returned to Newark to attend his retirement celebration. In Frank’s honor as a graduate student mentor, the Frank Scarpitti Graduate Student Award is presented annually to a graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice. It is still not uncommon for faculty and students alike to ask, “What would Frank do?” when challenging issues arise. 

The most important sphere of Frank’s life was his family. Frank was a devoted husband and father, participating with Susan and Jeffrey in a variety of activities as they passed through their childhood and teenage years. For over 20 summers, the family moved to its farm in Pennsylvania, where they adopted a simpler lifestyle focused on the outdoors and the wonders of nature. For Frank, these were perhaps the happiest years of his life. Although he worked a great deal, he always had time for baseball, mystery novels, and old western movies, a subject he often lectured on. 

He will be remembered as a kind, caring person, often generous to a fault, who once said he wanted to be remembered as a "good man." His family and friends believe he achieved his goal. A memorial service will be held at a future date. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ellen Canfield Scarpitti; a daughter, Susan Scarpitti Newstrom, son-in-law, George; daughter-inlaw, Lisa Scarpitti; granddaughter, Alyssa Padilla and her children Bella and Matthew Castro; sister, Rita Bournique; brother Ronald; and various nieces and nephews. He was pre deceased by his son, Jeffrey, parents Frank and Geneva Scarpitti, brother Louis, and sister, Alice Lazor. 

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in his honor to the University of Delaware, Gift Processing, 83 E. Main St., 3rd Floor, Newark, DE 19716, including in the check memo line “Frank Scarpitti Graduate Student Award in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice.” Gifts can also be made on the University of Delaware secure website, www.udel.edu/makeagift and including the same designation. To send online condolences, visit www.stranofeeley.com. 

Scarpitti details career as criminologist and author for retired faculty

​Frank Scarpitti discussed his career during a UDARF My Intellectual Journey presentation.

8:35 a.m., Dec. 4, 2012--Frank Scarpitti planned to go to law school but a couple of influential professors at a major Midwest university persuaded him to pursue graduate studies in criminology.

The decision led Scarpitti to a long and distinguished career at the University of Delaware, where the Pennsylvania native authored a watershed report on race relations at the University during the late 1960s.

Scarpitti, the Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor Emeritus of Sociology, recounted his career as an academic and author during a My Intellectual Journey lecture sponsored by the UD Association of Retired Faculty (UDARF) on Friday, Nov. 30, at the Courtyard Newark-University of Delaware.

“My intellectual journey began in a small mill town in Pennsylvania. My dad was a sickly man and he decided that moving to Florida would be better for his health,” Scarpitti said. “My mother never really liked living there and after two years we moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where I attended Glenville High School.”

It was in high school where Scarpitti was “adopted” by a group of high achieving students, and he sought to emulate them and to compete with them intellectually.

In his senior year at Cleveland State University in 1958, Scarpitti first encountered the writing of Walter C. Reckless, a pioneer in American criminology and corrections. 

“His work was something that I really admired, and it was something that I could identify with,” Scarpitti said. “I enjoyed reading the book and I loved the criminological perspective and the theories he was presenting.”

When the chairman of the sociology department at Cleveland State University learned that Scarpitti wanted to go to law school but could not afford it, he suggested an alternative academic path.

“The chairman called me into his office and asked me if I had thought about going to graduate school in sociology. He said, ‘You can get an assistantship or a fellowship,’” Scarpitti said. ”I also thought that if I was going to go to graduate school in sociology, I would to be going to Ohio State University.”

At Ohio State, Scarpitti came under the tutelage of his adviser Simon (Sy) Dinitz, who helped Reckless establish a strong and enduring tradition of criminology there.

After earning his master’s degree and doctorate at Ohio State, Scarpitti was urged by Dinitz, who would become a close personal friend, to take a job as assistant professor at Rutgers University. 

“Coming from the Midwest, the East Coast had a kind of glamour, a sort of pizazz -- New York, Philadelphia, Washington -- and Rutgers is right in the middle,” Scarpitti said. “The people I interviewed with told me they believed in giving a young man from the Midwest a chance, so I took the job and had a good four years at Rutgers.” 

During a meeting in Chicago during that fourth year, Scarpitti met Frederick B. Parker, chairman of UD’s sociology department, who asked him to join the faculty at UD.

“I didn’t know where Newark, Del., was, but I knew who the Blue Hens were, and that they used to play Rutgers in football and beat them rather consistently,” Scarpitti said. “My wife Ellen and I took a drive down and visited friends in Wilmington. I took the job.”

Another new arrival in the next year, 1968, was recently appointed UD President Edward A. (Art) Trabant, who asked Scarpitti chair a committee charged with making recommendations for improving the conditions of minorities, particularly African Americans, on campus.

The working group, which included African Americans, white students and an Asian American student, met through the winter and presented a report to Trabant in March 1969, which included a host of recommendations. 

“We reported that the UD Board of Trustees need to recruit minority students,” Scarpitti said. “We also said that the University should think of itself as a regional institution rather than a state school, in order to have a larger pool of minority students to recruit from.” 

Although not all members agreed with what became known as the Scarpitti Report, all of the recommendations were implemented over the next couple of years, including the appointment of an African American scholar, James Newton, and representation on the Board of Trustees, in the administration and on the faculty.

In looking back on a career that includes receiving the Francis Alison Award, UD’s highest faculty honor, Scarpitti, who retired in 2005, said that he is satisfied with the contributions he was able to make. 

Since 2006, the Frank Scarpitti Graduate Studies Award has been presented annually to an outstanding graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice.

Comparing science to the building of a pyramid of pebbles, Scarpitti noted that most scientists contribute their individual pebbles, and that, with time, this pile may reach the top where it perhaps answers a question or solves a problem. 

“That is the objective. Sometimes, someone comes along and puts a stone or rock on it, but there are not too many Einsteins or Darwins. Most of us put our pebbles there,” Scarpitti said. “I became satisfied with knowing that I put a few pebbles on the pyramid and that I helped to develop the science of criminology and sociology.”

Scarpitti’s talk concluded with a standing ovation by an appreciative audience. A reception followed the lecture.

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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  • Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
  • University of Delaware
  • 18 Amstel Avenue, Newark DE 19716, USA
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