Published November 12, 2021
Frederic J. Fleron Jr., professor emeritus of political science and an internationally renowned specialist in comparative politics focusing on the Soviet Union/Russia, died on June 2. He was 83.
Born in Boston and raised in Trenton, N.J., and Wellesley Hills and Dover, Massachusetts, Fleron received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brown University. During his years at Brown, he took summer courses at Harvard University from some of the leading political scientists in the world: Samuel Beer, Louis Hartz, Hans Kohn, Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger.
He received a PhD in political science and Russian studies from Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1969.
Fleron began his teaching career in 1975 at the University of Kentucky, and then joined the UB political science faculty in 1970 as an associate professor with tenure; he was promoted to full professor in 1976. During his career at UB, he served terms as director of undergraduate studies, director of graduate studies and acting chair of political science. He also was a senior member of the new Undergraduate College, charged with developing a new General Education curriculum for all UB undergraduates; he served for several years as associate vice provost for undergraduate education.
After retiring from UB in 2003, he moved to the mountains of Colorado for a few years and then to western Massachusetts, where he ended his teaching career as an adjunct faculty member at Westfield State University.
During his teaching career, Fleron taught more than two dozen different undergraduate and graduate courses, among them Soviet Politics and Foreign Policy, U.S. Government and Foreign Policy, Political Sociology, American Public Policy, and Comparative Politics.
During the 1970s, he was invited by McGeorge Bundy to serve as a member of the East‑West Technology Transfer Advisory Panel of the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, and also was invited by Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson to participate in two Airlie House Conferences on the 24th CPSA Congress and Domestic Determinants of Soviet Foreign Policy sponsored by School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University.
He also served as a consultant to the CIA, White House staff, U.S. state department, and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Fleron was a member of the ACLS Planning Group on Comparative Communist Studies under the chairmanship of Robert C. Tucker. He received a grant to chair a conference on Technology and Communist Culture sponsored by the Planning Group on Comparative Communist Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies. He convened that conference at the Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Center at Villa Serbelloni, in Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy, in 1975. The organizing theme of the conference was Fleron’s new mediation theory of technology, which was not followed up until some 40 years later, when Fleron was finally able to work on a book manuscript. The manuscript currently is under final editing with an academic publisher.
Not content to be only an area specialist, Fleron insisted that the study of the Soviet Union be firmly integrated within the subfield of comparative politics, and that it draw on the same theories and methods that were characteristic of the field as a whole.
His major publications focused on three different themes: co-optation, congruence and mediation. His studies of co-optation applied and tested Philip Selznick’s theory of co-optation to Soviet politics in the eras of Khrushchev and Brezhnev that appeared in a number of refereed journals and book chapters. His study of congruence applied Harry Eckstein’s congruence theory to Russian politics in the post-Soviet era. Eckstein and other scholars participated in that project, which was published as “Can Democracy Take Roots in Post-Soviet Russia? Explorations in State-Society Relations.” Finally, he developed a mediation theory of technology and a social science philosophy of technology that were the focus of the manuscripts he was completing at the time of his death.
He published more than a dozen books, and more than 20 book chapters and articles in refereed journals.
In recognition of Fleron’s contributions to scholarship, his UB colleagues and former students have planned a Festschrift in his honor. The project, which is being edited by Guoli Liu, one of his former doctoral students who is professor of political science at the College of Charleston, is currently being reviewed by a potential publisher.
An early civil rights activist, Fleron was a member of the board of directors of the Central Kentucky Civil Liberties Union, and a community leader who took part in the nationwide opposition to the Vietnam War. He served on the board of the Southern Conference Education Fund, organizing against racism, segregation and poverty.
Fleron was lifelong lover of books: writing them, reading them and gifting them to friends and relatives. He was a ``foodie’’ before the term was coined. He sang; played guitar, banjo, dobro and occasional cello; attended music festivals and concerts regularly; and listened to a wide range of musical genres — from folk and bluegrass to symphony orchestra. His yearly CD mixes, which he called “Fred’s Favorites,” were shared far and wide, and are still a staple of many friends’ collections.
He was a master at storytelling, regaling listeners with tales of his early adventures sailing, playing guitar with Dave van Ronk on a stoop in Greenwich Village, his involvement in the Attica Brothers legal defense and his experiences in Moscow. The ultimate narrator, he found equal joy in listening to the stories of others.
Colleagues call Fleron a stalwart friend who could always be counted on to lend an ear or a hand — on anything from managing a horse farm to running a political campaign.