Jim Crooks

 Jim Crooks

Jim Crooks doesn't have a difficult time deciding what was the most memorable experience in his 25 years at UNF. His most memorable experience occurred just last year when he taught an honors course on American poverty.


The course was an outgrowth of Crooks' philosophy that the best way for students to gain an understanding of poverty was to see what life is like for low-income residents by participating in their lives. He required students to volunteer for four hours each week at a community service agency. "The course brought together a lot of my own personal experience and social justice concerns along with classroom opportunities to have students interact with low-income residents," he says.


The results of the course were memorable as well. "Of the 21 students who took the course, probably 19 of them dramatically changed their attitudes about poverty and poor people. They came to realize that even for those who are working very hard, it is difficult to break out of poverty." He will teach the course again this fall.


That Honors Program experience in Jacksonville will be shared with educators from halfway around the world this summer when Crooks visits China. He will be making a presentation on the role of service in learning as part of an educational conference there.


For Crooks, the experience in the Honors Program reflects the social involvement he has practiced throughout his career. It's been said of Crooks that his hobby is social involvement and that's apparent when you look at his accomplishments in the community. Not only has he been very active in Jacksonville Community Council Inc. but he has spearheaded a number of individual projects, such as the establishment of an after school program in the Springfield area and a summer employment program for young black youths. He also played a major role in the United Community Outreach Ministry, a consortium of 35 churches which started an emergency service center in San Marco. He received a volunteer award from Volunteer Jacksonville for that program.


Crooks says one of the reasons he came to UNF in 1972 was the opportunity to start a history program which prepared students to live and work in the 21st century. That was the goal of the program when it was published in the University's first catalog and it remains the same goal today, evidence of its continuing relevance.


A native of New Jersey, Crooks received his undergraduate training at Yale University followed by a master's degree and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins. He was a visiting lecturer at University College in Dublin from 1964 to 1966 before accepting a position with Hollins College in Roanoke, Va.

He started at UNF as chairman of the Department of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, a responsibility he handled for eight years. Crooks is proud of the department he helped build pointing out it has had more than twice as many distinguished professors as any department on campus (He won the award himself in 1992).


Although Crooks served a short stint as an interim dean, teaching and scholarship have been his primary areas of concentration at UNF. He has written two books, Politics and Progress: The Rise of Urban Progressivism in Baltimore, 1895-1911 and Jacksonville After the Fire: A New South City, 1901-1919.

Crooks was the "Historian in Residence" at Jacksonville City Hall duirng Tommy Hazouri's mayoral term and has embarked on an ambitious history project which will keep him busy despite entering phased retirement. From newspaper clippings and other sources, Crooks is compiling a history of Jacksonville since consolidation. "My goal is to go from consolidation to the Jaguars," he says noting that Jacksonville is undergoing an important transformation.


As for UNF, the historian says the University is on the right track in two ways, emphasizing quality undergraduate education and community involvement. "I hope we will continue to put money into it (quality undergraduate education). It is what makes us distinctive. Through continued community involvement, I think UNF has the potential of making a difference in the quality of life in Jacksonville."