Hoffa disappearance topic of laureate's virtual visit to Wilkes-Barre campus

head shot of David Witwer

David Witwer, professor of American studies at Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Humanities, is the Penn State Laureate for the 2020-21 academic year.

Credit: Penn State

DALLAS, Pa. — David Witwer, professor of history and American studies at Penn State Harrisburg and the Penn State laureate for the 2020-21 academic year, will pay a virtual visit to Penn State Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday, Jan. 27. 

Witwer’s presentation, “Searching for Jimmy Hoffa: The Disappearance of America’s Most Notorious Labor Leader and Why it Still Matters Today,” will be held on Zoom from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m. 

On a summer afternoon in 1975, the most notorious labor leader in the United States disappeared, the presumed victim of a mob hit. The case remains unsolved and his story continues to fascinate the public, finding its ways into popular culture in myriad ways, including the recent Martin Scorsese movie “The Irishman.” Witwer’s talk tells the story of James R. Hoffa’s disappearance, including why it mattered at the time, and why it continues to matter. It will link this case to the federal government’s successful war on organized crime and to the shifting fortunes of the American workers who had once been among Hoffa’s most avid supporters. Hoffa’s enduring popularity with his union members, despite his criminal convictions, provides a chance to consider the complex history of the working class, as well as the diverse perspectives Americans bring to the issue of corruption.  

Witwer is a professor of American studies in Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Humanities. After college, he worked for the New York County District Attorney’s Office. He was an investigative analyst on assignment with the New York State Organized Crime Task Force looking into the mob’s role in the construction industry. Later, Witwer drew on that investigative work when he served with the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York and worked with Office of Investigations in the Teamsters Union. He has written three books on labor racketeering: “Corruption and Reform in the Teamsters Union” (2003); “Shadow of the Racketeer: Scandal in Organized Labor” (2009); and most recently, “Murder in the Garment District: The Grip of Organized Crime and the Decline of Labor in the United States” (2020). 

The Penn State laureate position was established in 2008 to bring greater visibility to the arts and humanities and the honoree’s work, and to enrich the University. The laureate is a full-time faculty member who is assigned half-time to this role for one academic year. The laureate has opportunities throughout the year to bring artistic perspectives to a variety of audiences, including visits to Commonwealth campuses and communities statewide. 

To attend Witwer’s presentation, which is open to the campus community and the public, visit this link. A question-and-answer period will be held following Witwer’s talk.

Witwer also will speak to a Penn State Wilkes-Barre Criminology course from 9:05 to 10:20 a.m. on Tuesday, April 13. The course is taught by Jeremy Olson, interim program coordinator of criminal justice and assistant professor of criminal justice. Members of the campus community are invited to join the session at this link.