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James V. McConnell
LSA Minutes


Professor Emeritus James V. McConnell died April 9, 1990 in Ann Arbor, not long after completing the sixth edition of his textbook, Understanding Human Behavior, little more than a year into his "retirement" from the University, and as he was poised to initiate a series of new publishing projects.

Professor McConnell received his B.A. from Louisiana State University in 1947, then completed his Masters degree and Ph.D. at the University of Texas, receiving his Ph.D. in 1956. He joined our faculty that year as an Instructor, advancing through the ranks to Professor in 1963, while also serving as Research Psychologist at the Mental Health Research Institute from 1963-1980.

His scientific research and writing, including some eight authored or edited books and countless book chapters and journal articles, ranged considerably, from sensory phenomena in autistic children, to subliminal stimulation, to the psychology of persuasion. His best known research consisted of a set of studies on learning and memory transfer in invertebrates, especially planaria: while that work was controversial, and difficult to confirm, its early insistence on the need to recognize and explore the chemical basis of memory remains noteworthy. But in a broader and more enduring fashion Professor McConnell shaped the understanding of psychology of more than a generation of college students in the United States and beyond with his immensely successful, widely adopted and widely translated introductory text. Meanwhile, in Helier vein he constantly debunked his field and needled his colleagues through his editing and publishing of the provocative, satirical Worm Runners Digest.

The depth of his commitment to undergraduate teaching was paralleled by his insistence on questioning standard teaching methods, and his own highly innovative, effective and individualized teaching methods with our undergraduates. An early presidency of his discipline's division on the teaching of psychology honored that dedication: a stream of prior students continue to express deep gratitude over the intellectual excitement and personal zest Professor McConnell unfailingly brought to his undergraduate teaching.

His honors and awards included a Fulbright scholarship, a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, an NIMH Research Career Development Award, and the American Psychological Foundation's Distinguished Teaching Award, but most of all he felt honored by his students' careers and their personal statements of intellectual indebtedness.

Albert C. Cain