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Career Criminologist

Francis Cullen, ’72, earns top criminal justice prize

Criminologist Francis Cullen, ’72, has scaled the upper rungs of his professional ladder, having recently earned the prestigious Stockholm Prize. But his ascent may not have happened without the support and inspiration he received five decades ago at Bridgewater State.

“I’m not sure I would have been a college professor if I hadn’t gone to Bridgewater,” said Cullen, who taught for most of his career at the University of Cincinnati. “The psychology and sociology professors were really influential in giving me a quality education and making me want to be a professor.”

The Stockholm Prize, which is like the Nobel Prize for the criminal justice field, recognizes his studies showing the effectiveness of rehabilitation in reducing recidivism. Punishment is not effective at changing offenders’ behaviors, but teaching self-control, anger management and improved attitudes works, his research demonstrates.

“You can be a great scholar and never get selected,” he said of the award. “It’s an honor I never expected to achieve.” 

Cullen initially considered becoming a history teacher. He ultimately studied psychology and sociology, where he was introduced to all the social sciences and research. Under the mentorship of psychology Professor Herbert Greenwald, Cullen worked with peers to examine the role of grades in motivating high school students.

“I had a professor that encouraged us to do an original research project and I was undaunted by that,” Cullen recalled.

Cullen turned that undergraduate research into one of more than 400 published works over his prolific career.

His work helps spark changes today, said Holly Lonergan, ’17, who is building on her BSU education by pursuing a doctoral degree in criminal justice at Cincinnati. 

“A lot of his research and contributions have really improved the field, so we are switching toward a more rehabilitative approach,” Lonergan said.

At Cincinnati, Cullen and Lonergan connected over their shared alma mater.

“I think he serves as a great example for me and other people,” she said. “As long as you’re doing your best, you don’t have to come from an Ivy League (undergraduate) background or a rich background.”

Cullen’s background includes many lessons from Bridgewater professors: Dr. James Scroggs taught him to expand his thinking beyond the usual, while Dr. Morgan Brown helped him understand how knowledge is the bedrock of academia. Meanwhile, Dr. Louis Schippers, whose lectures Cullen compared to singing, taught him the importance of communication.

BSU awarded an honorary degree to Cullen in 2013 and named a graduate criminal justice research scholarship for him. Those honors, he said, rival the Stockholm Prize in personal importance.

“I loved being at Bridgewater State College,” said Cullen, who has contributed to the scholarship. “It’s a matter of giving back to an institution that was instrumental in starting me on my career path.”

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