Trends-Countertrends: A Large Physical Commitment to Psychological Science

Bucking the recent trend of cutbacks and a “less-is-more” philosophy in funding, Washington University in St. Louis has recently taken a big step-capped by the opening of a new $28-million building to house the psychology department- to embrace, enhance, and further the behavioral sciences.

“Washington University is embarking on a program of development in my field that is quite ambitious and will be the envy of other universities,” said Henry L. Roediger, III, who became chair of the Department of Psychology in Arts and Sciences at Washington University last summer. “With the outstanding new building and the support of the administration, the psychology department is poised to make a significant move forward.”

But, in addition to the new building, dedicated in early October, the university plans to make eight to ten additional faculty appointments over the next few years “that will help us build on existing strengths in our department while further enhancing interdisciplinary ties with the neurosciences, medicine, and philosophy,” said Roediger. “With the support of the administration, our department is poised to attract the nation ‘s top students and faculty and to become a leader in psychology research and education.”

The four-story, 105,000-square-foot building includes state-of-the-art teaching and research labs, auditoriums, office, and classroom space. Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University, described the building as a symbol of the university’s commitment in moving forward in psychology.

“[Psychology] is an area that we believe to be of great importance for the future and one that we already can see is building on great traditions and achievements,” he said at the new psychology building’s dedication, at which APS Charter Fellow Peter E. Nathan gave the keynote address. Nathan, a distinguished alum of Washington University, has authored 18 books and nearly 200 journal articles on alcoholism and other clinical issues, and has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School, Rutgers University, and the University of Iowa. He opened the dedication festivities with a talk on “Treatments that Work- And What Convinces Us They Do.” “In this department of psychology, I’m sure you see the evidence that we do care and that great achievements ensue from the activities here. In terms of significance to our institution, psychology means a great deal in terms of some of the more important key indicators,” Wrighton added.

Poised for the Millennium

According to Wrighton, in an undergraduate population of only about 5,000, Washington University has 375 psychology majors. Thus “a very significant number of our students are involved,” he emphasized. He also made a point of highlighting, as do many who argue for more funding in the field, the contributions that psychology can make to other scientific and technological fields. “We are entering a new age … and we see at this institution and in others that we’re in the midst of a very important revolution …. And we see important opportunities for linkages between this department and the biological and medical sciences,” he said.

“Indeed, there are many opportunities for collaborative work that are already evident in the activities of this department. As we learn more and more about how we think, how we learn, I believe that you will see more and more significance associated with a department like this one.”

Investment in Psychology

While the dedication of any building for a liberal arts or scientific discipline is heartening, the recent actions at Washington University are even more significant as funding for the social and behavioral sciences seems to be harder and harder to secure.

“Obviously, the university has chosen to make a huge investment in psychology, which is heartening in this time of cutbacks and retrenchments,” agreed Roediger, whose appointment as chair of the department was in itself a significant coup for the school.

A respected researcher and scholar, author of more than 80 articles and chapters, and writer or editor of five books, Roediger has served as editor of two journals and has been elected to various regional and national leadership positions in psychological societies.

“The psychology department carries out one of the largest and most popular undergraduate programs in Arts and Sciences along with strong programs of research and graduate education,” said Edward S. Macias, executive vice chancellor and dean of Arts and Sciences. “The department also is engaged in significant cooperation across disciplinary lines at Washington University. We are delighted that Professor Roediger will lead the department in these important endeavors.”

In addition to Roediger, the department has also had success in luring other scholars to the trend-setting university, including APS William James Fellow Endel Tulving, an emeritus professor at the University of Toronto and currently the Tanenbaum Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto. Tulving has agreed to spend two to three months per year at Washington University as the Clark Way Harrison Distinguished Visiting Professor of Psychology.

“The new building has provided us with truly outstanding facilities,” said Roediger. “It also provides us with a tangible symbol of the great things that lie ahead for this department.”

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