David Bills, sociology of education professor and Emma E. Holmes Faculty Research Fellow in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership Studies (EPLS), died peacefully on July 15, 2021, at the age of 67.
Bills was serving as the UI Departmental Executive Officer (DEO) of the EPLS department at the time of his death. He was a member of the Schools, Culture, and Society program.
Beloved and respected by colleagues, students, and alumni, Bills was a world-renowned scholar who spent his career studying U.S. labor markets and the links between education and work.
His intellect was matched only by his compassion and commitment to his colleagues and students.
“David was a generous mentor and a tireless champion for students,” says Deb Liddell, former EPLS DEO and a longtime colleague and friend. “For over three decades, he served in a variety of teaching and administrative roles in Iowa’s College of Education, where he had a profound and positive influence on thousands of students and colleagues. Every decision he made centered on fairness.”
Alumna Sanga Kim (PhD, 2018), was one of those students. Now a Research Assistant Professor in the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies in the College of Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, Kim says she attributes much of her drive and success to Bills.
“Dr. David Bills always encouraged and guided me throughout my Ph.D. journey,” Kim says. “When I took one step towards my goals and made a tough decision in my career, he encouraged me to be myself and keep going. His wise and generous mentorship inspired me to take and enjoy adventures as a researcher, improving my scholarly thinking and even in my life.”
A native of Sheffield, Pennsylvania, Bills earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, followed by his Master of Science and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After teaching at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and Cornell, Bills began his distinguished career at the UI in 1985.
During his tenure, Bills served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Programs as well as DEO of the Department of Teaching and Learning, among other roles.
His scholarly collaborations took him across the world, and he often brought his family with him. This included a Fulbright scholarship to Germany in 2003, among other partnerships and projects. Bills also held visiting appointments at the University of Amsterdam and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung.
Bills was also a Distinguished Research Fellow in the UI Public Policy Center, a member of the Iowa Academy of Education, and held a courtesy appointment in the Department of Sociology.
A widely published scholar, Bills authored several books, including “The Sociology of Education and Work,” and “Supporting Students' College Success: Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies.”
Hani Elkadi (Teaching Cert. '90/MA '97), says he was honored to work with Bills on several occasions when Elkadi served as the lead art, health, and science teacher at the Senior High Alternative Center in Iowa City, now known as Tate High School.
This included a collaboration where Bills solicited artwork from Elkadi’s art students for “The Sociology of Education and Work” book.
The result? Student-created illustrations that displayed creativity and insight, according to Bills at the time, and students who gained confidence and pride in having their art published in a major textbook.
"For many, many years, alternative education was ignored or overlooked or denied as useful by many people who treated these students as stereotypes," Elkadi says. "It just happened that David Bills always believed in the fact that everybody can learn. David played a big role in the lives of my students when I was teaching."
Bills was also a member of a number of professional organizations. This includes the American Sociological Association, the International Sociological Association (Research Committee on Social Stratification and Mobility - RC28), and the Midwest Sociological Society. As former editor of the ASA’s Sociology of Education journal, Bills mentored many junior scholars and cultivated opportunities for their professional advancement.
Though Bills was proud of his academic accomplishments, he was most proud of his family, including his three sons – Sam, Max, and Isaac. But his College of Education family and the broader community will also never forget him.
“David was an accomplished academic, compassionate leader, and just one of the kindest people you’d ever meet,” says UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay. “His legacy will live on in the halls of Lindquist through his students and scholarship.”