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August 28, 2014

Obituary: Merle J. Moskowitz

moskowitzMerle J. Moskowitz, professor emeritus in psychology, died Aug. 2, 2014, at St. John’s Specialty Care Center, Mars. He had been living in Oakland.

Born  May 30,  1928,  in  McKeesport, he was educated in psychology at Pitt and Harvard, and taught first at Bowdoin College. Joining the Pitt psychology department faculty in 1960, he was the assistant chairman 1968-74 and associate chairman 1974-1989, then interim dean and associate dean for graduate studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

By all accounts his career was focused not on research but on teaching, and especially on making sure his department was run well, for the benefit of its students.

“I met Merle when I joined the Pitt faculty in 1963,” recalled James Voss, a colleague and professor emeritus who traded birthday lunches with Moskowitz for the past 30 years. “Merle excelled at an often-overlooked function, that of listening to student concerns regarding a faculty member, usually at the graduate level. Such concerns include lack of accessibility and procrastination in returning the draft of a research paper.  Merle dealt with such issues and others with tact and consideration.

“Merle was an excellent teacher … [and] was not the publishing researcher found throughout academia. He was a person who had high academic values and contributed to departmental quality by performing duties that help to enable the publishing academician to pursue his or her objectives.”

He was, Voss concluded, “a good friend appreciated and respected by the literally thousands of the academic community with whom he came into contact.”

moskowitz-1Another emeritus faculty member, Donald McBurney, said: “He really was an institution at the University. The University was a big part of his life and he did the things that made the department and the University work, so other people could do their research.

“He made sure his students were treated well,” McBurney said. “He would go to bat for them.”

Charles Perfetti, now executive administrator in the Office of the Provost, noted: “Merle Moskowitz was the steady hand in coordinating teaching in the Department of Psychology for many years, prior to my becoming chair of the department in 1992. Merle was an unassuming voice of sound advice to me and to others throughout his active time in the department. He was highly respected for his practical wisdom and broad knowledge of University and department affairs.”

Perfetti noted that Moskowitz’s academic specialty was the formative years of psychological science during the first half of the 20th century, embodied in a history of psychology course taught to graduate students. “My own graduate students expressed appreciation for the grounding they received from Merle’s course in the history of their discipline, a grounding that is missing for present-day students, unless they achieve it on their own,” Perfetti said.

Susan B. Campbell, chair of the department’s developmental program, said: “Merle Moskowitz was a serious scholar of the history of psychology and also the institutional memory of Pitt’s psychology department for decades. Not only was Merle the department historian, but he was also an important mentor and support for junior faculty and graduate students; he was always available to listen, provide wise counsel and defuse conflicts.  He will be remembered for his warmth, empathy and sense of fairness.”

Campbell and other colleagues remembered Moskowitz’s other strong interests. “In his younger days he would fly up to New York on the weekend to go to the opera,” said emeritus faculty member Martin Greenberg. “He was an avid opera fan and a scholar of the arts.”

Moskowitz retired from Pitt in 1996 after 36 years.

He is survived by his brother-in-law Myron J. Berman, his niece Susan Bernstein and nephews Michael Berman and Robert Berman.

Memorial contributions are suggested to the University  or to St. John’s Specialty Care (

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1