William Sewell was Vilas Professor of Sociology at Wisconsin when Harrington chose him to succeed Robben Fleming as chancellor of the Madison campus.
Unfortunately for him, Sewell took charge of a badly divided campus, and he presided over a more violent protest against employment interviews by the Dow Chemical Company in October 1967 in which students were tear-gassed by police. Sewell suspended the employment interviews pending a student-faculty study, but he never recovered from the turmoil.
He tried to resign several times, but President Harrington persuaded him to stay on until June 1968. After his brief tenure as chancellor, Sewell returned to his primary role as a distinguished scholar and teacher.
Sewell was born on November 27, 1909, in Perrinton, Michigan. He received his BA (1933 ) and MA (1934) from Michigan State University and his PhD (1939) from the University of Minnesota, all in sociology. He taught at Michigan State University and Oklahoma State University before joining the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in 1946 as a professor of rural sociology.
He chaired the Department of Rural Sociology from 1949 to 53 and the Department of Sociology from 1957 to 1962. Sewell also directed the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, one of the longest running sociological studies in the country. He died in Madison on June 24, 2001.