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Psychology Professor May Head Psychology Department


For the past six years, the Yeshiva College Psychology Department has been headed by longtime physics professor, Dr. Gabriel Cwilich. To be sure, this is a curious arrangement. But the department has grown under Dr. Cwilich’s experienced guidance.

Yet with professors from within the department likely coming up for tenure soon, this arrangement likely will be coming to an end. The Psychology Department may get a new chair as early as next year.

Department chairs are a fairly new invention in Yeshiva College. Just six years ago, Yeshiva College operated without formal department chairs, working instead with a “cluster” system. Different subjects that today are considered separate departments were instead clustered together under broad titles like “Natural Sciences” (encompassing Biology, Physics, and Chemistry) and “Social Sciences” (Psychology, Political Science, Sociology).

The responsibilities of a department chair are numerous. From a curricular standpoint, each chair is in charge of setting the major requirements and course offerings for his or her department. Chairs are also responsible for the growth of their departments by submitting requests for new hires (whether adjuncts, associate professors, or tenure-track professors), and supporting the junior faculty within their department.  All of this is submitted to the deans in the form of an annual report, which outlines where the department sees itself short term, and five years down the road.

Additionally, the department chairs serve as an “advisory group” to Yeshiva College Dean Barry Eichler on academic affairs, meeting every three weeks. Eichler explained that he views this as evidence of “a partnership” between the faculty and the administration. The department chairs are able to express their departments’ views, and the administration is able to pass on its perspective to the rest of the faculty through the chairs.

As of now, the system for appointing faculty to the chair position varies from department to department, being carried out, according to Eichler, “informally, based on consultation with the department [and the deans].” Dean Eichler realizes that “we don’t have a sense of faculty governance on this matter,” but explained that the administration is working on standardizing the process. However, “Re-imagining has changed my approach,” he further noted, as it requires aligning what is done in Yeshiva College with the procedures in place at Stern, a goal that will take some time to implement.

The role of department shaper that is ascribed to the chair is what led to Cwilich’s appointment as head of the Psychology Department. Though Cwilich is a professor of physics, he has “a broad liberal arts interest,” says Eichler. He further explained that the main reason Cwilich was brought in was not for his expertise in psychology, but rather for his experience as a tenured faculty member.

Eichler stressed that Dr. Cwilich, like any chair, “was not imposed on the department.” He noted that, a few years ago, an outside professor was appointed to a department “and it did not work, so he was removed.” Regarding Cwilich serving as Chair of the Psychology Department, Eichler added that “Cwilich is a fine example of [an] outside [professor], and he’s done a fantastic job.”

Cwilich said that when he agreed to the position six years ago, the Psychology Department was “in disarray,” having no tenured faculty that could lead the department. When asked about the somewhat odd situation of a physics professor serving as chair of the psychology department, Cwilich explained that he believes that it is important that “department chairs be tenured, because they can be a little more forceful with the administration.” Similarly, Eichler said that it was better to have a tenured professor, because they can mentor professors on the path to tenure, and keep them from being bothered by small administrative details. This way, these professors can focus on more important things. Cwilich did note that while there are departments that have non-tenured chairs, they tend to be smaller departments. The Psychology Department, he explained, “is too complicated. It’s the biggest major with 20 courses and six adjuncts…and 150 students.” A department this large and complex needed someone with experience. Someone like Cwilich.

Cwilich said that “he’d be happy to step down” as soon as there was a tenured professor to take his place, which he believes could be as soon as “next year.” Eichler expressed a similar sentiment, saying that “our dream is as soon as they have a tenured faculty member, the department will have the choice of who they want [as Chair].”