The new department under Bush

bush picture
Photo by Saul Sternberg
Robert R. Bush received a B.S. Degree from Michigan State in Electrical Engineering in 1942, and a Ph.D. from Princeton in Physics. He opted to move toward the social sciences and took an NRC/SSRC Fellowship designed for this transition at Harvard in the Department of Social Relations. Quick, well organized and directly to the point, Bush surveyed the field and decided to work in the area of mathematical learning theory. He also led a seminar on mathematical methods in the social sciences. In the early 195O's, Bush began a collaboration with Eugene Galanter (at Penn) and Duncan Luce. A train trip to Boston on Thanksgiving weekend 1957 afforded Bush and Galanter the leisure to discuss the problem that Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology was having in selecting a new Chairman. It was then beginning to shift from its postwar concentration on training clinical psychologists toward a commitment to a strong experimental program in several fields of psychology including psychopathology. By the time Bush and Galanter arrived at Luce's Cambridge apartment, they had hatched the idea of proposing Bush's name as Chairman. Among its advantages would be the establishment of an eastern haven where mathematical psychology could be fostered. The idea appealed to us, but the political realities were formidable. Just how realistic was it for an Assistant Professor to propose as Chairman of one of the oldest departments of psychology in the United States a recently converted physicist who was then an applied mathematician in a school of social work, especially when one of his first proposed appointments would be an ex-mathematician, then a lecturer on social relations.

(Galanter and Luce, 1974)

bush picture

Bush came to Penn as Chairman in July, 1958 and injected a sense of excitement into it as he restructured the faculty. Duncan Luce arrived with him in that year. In subsequent years, the senior faculty was augmented by Philip Teitelbaum in physiological psychology, Richard Solomon in learning, Leo Hurvich and Dorothea Jameson in sensation-perception, David Green in sensation-perception, and Henry Gleitman in learning and memory. Many junior appointments were also made, including Jacob Nachmias in sensation-perception. In 1957, the faculty included 16 full-time positions. By 1964, the year that Henry Gleitman took over as Chairman, there were 22 full-time positions. Of these 22, only six were from the pre-Bush days. Viteles, Preston and Irwin, of the pre-Bush senior faculty, and Pepitone and Wishner of the junior faculty, became active and enduring members of the new department that Bush built. Hiring was based primarily on intellectual excellence and promise with the field of research as a secondary factor.

The changes that occurred at Pennsylvania over the period from 1958 to 1964, constitute one of the most dramatic faculty restructurings in the history of psychology in the United States. They laid the foundation for an expanding department dedicated to the principles of breadth and excellence. Followed by Gleitman's emphasis on the quality of teaching, the Department assumed its modern form by the close of the 1960's.

bush and gleitman Bush (right) with Henry Gleitman (left), the new chair after Bush.

The collaboration of Galanter, Bush and Luce led to publication of the Handbook of Mathematical Psychology.

Four years after Bush stepped down as Chairman, he left Pennsylvania for the Chairmanship at Columbia,

His obtuary in the Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 1974 (vol. 11, no. 3) is an excellent introduction to his life and work.

Those bringing Bush to Penn

Morris Viteles, Malcolm Preston, and Francis Irwin formed a committee to select a Chairman. During the critical year, Irwin served as acting Chairman. The committee made the seemingly unlikely nomination of Robert Bush.
goddard picture Provost David Goddard, the administration figure most responsible for supporting the changes that Bush proposed. At the time Bush was proposed, Goddard was Chairman of Biology and supported the Department's nomination.
stellar picture Eliot Stellar of the Institute of Neurological Sciences also supported bringing Bush to Pennsylvania.
galanter picture Eugene Galanter, an Assistant Professor in the area of mathematical psychology in the pre-Bush department. Galanter was a close friend and collaborator of Bush and suggested Bush as Chairman.

President Gaylord Harnwell, who supported bringing Bush to Penn and the subsequent faculty development. Provost Jonathan Rhodes and Dean of the College Roy Nichols also supported this endeavor.

Jonathan Baron
Last modified: Mon May 1 13:44:19 EDT 2006