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Expansion of the Psychology Faculty at WVU in the 1950s

Many new psychologists arrived in the 1950s following the retirement of Professor Stalnaker in 1953 and the resignations of Dr. Townsend, who accepted a faculty position at Catholic University, and Dr. McCormick, who took a position at the University of Nebraska. WVU had experienced a significant growth in the student body, partly due to the success of the GI Bill that enabled veterans returning from the war to obtain degrees at no cost, and the interest in the field of psychology was great. Total enrollment of students at WVU increased from 3,500 in 1938 to 6,735 in 1948 and doubled again by the 1960s.

Faculty in the 1950s

Acknowledging the rapid growth of clinical psychology nationwide, several of the new faculty were trained in clinical psychology, including Bernard H. Light, PhD, and Orrin H. Cross, PhD, who joined the faculty in 1951, followed by Rita R. Wertheimer, PhD, in 1952, and James Franklin Carruth, who joined the faculty after completing his PhD at the University of Illinois in 1954. Based on his training in clinical psychology, Dr. Carruth was asked to create an office to provide counseling services for students with academic or adjustment problems (currently the Carruth Center for Psychological and Psychiatric Services) and he was appointed the Student Service's Center’s first director in 1955. Drs. Light and Wertheimer accepted positions elsewhere in 1955, but Dr. Cross remained on faculty at WVU until 1970 and Dr. Carruth spent his entire career at WVU, retiring in 1992.

Robert L. Decker, PhD, a psychologist who received his MA in psychology from WVU in 1949, joined the faculty following completion of his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University in 1955. His applied psychology interests involved consulting with businesses rather than doing clinic-based work. He remained in the department until 1977 when he accepted a faculty position in the Industrial Labor Relations program in the School of Business and Economics at WVU.

Click here to download a Timeline of Early Psychologists at WVU

Three experimental psychologists also joined the WVU faculty in the 1950s: James N. Shafer in 1953, Robert E. Rankin in 1954, and Art R. Thomas in 1956. By the end of the decade, the psychology faculty had supervised and granted 26 MA degrees and contributed regularly to the growing literature in experimental and applied psychology. Space for new faculty was at a premium in Woodburn Hall, as the department and its cadre of graduate students had outgrown the offices and research facilities allocated to them. A temporary solution to the limited laboratory space was to allocate space in the Old Mountaineer Field to the experimental psychologists to conduct research on animal learning. Dr. Shafer revealed that this move was facilitated by an incident in which a raccoon being used in one of these experiments escaped from a housing pen in Woodburn Hall and created quite a scene when the animal reappeared in a music class elsewhere in the building.

Psychology Laboratories in the Field House

The new psychology faculty were enthusiastic researchers as well as classroom teachers who needed funding to support their most creative research efforts. Following World War II, the federal government had realized that research was more capably conducted by research-oriented faculty at the nation’s academic institutions than at government-controlled agencies and devised methods for contracting with academic institutions to advance the contributions the US made to science. Unfortunately, for faculty at WVU, the institution was burdened with a state administrative structure that prevented them from competing for and accepting grants or contracts with any agency, federal governmental agencies included. Consequently, as many research universities around the country secured federal grants and contracts to build the infrastructure to support programs of research, WVU faculty had to make do with the poorly equipped laboratories, like those seen in the photos above. Thankfully, the institution had Irvin Stewart as its President during the key developmental years from 1946 to 1957. Prior to being appointed as the head administrator at WVU, Dr. Stewart was the executive secretary of the Office of Scientific Research and Development in Washington, DC and was well positioned to develop creative strategies for faculty at WVU to secure some federal funding to support their programs of research within the constraints of the state regulatory system.

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