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February 9, 2018

Obituary: James Holland

Professor Emeritus of Psychology James G. Holland, lauded for his dedication to bettering Pitt during his long service in the University Senate, died Jan. 16, 2018.

Chancellor Emeritus Mark A. Nordenberg memorialized Holland at a Feb. 3 service: “A strong and consistent commitment to respectfulness was at the heart of Jim’s approach to University leadership. He believed that respect is not reserved for the mighty but, instead, is deserved by everyone and should be extended most generously by those in positions of power. He may have been this institution’s greatest champion of shared governance, which is dependent upon a culture of mutual respect.”

Holland’s passion was perhaps most evident during his tenure as president of the Senate, an office he held for three consecutive one-year terms, 1992-95.

“He was a wonderful advocate for the faculty on a variety of issues,” said James V. Maher Jr., who was provost and senior vice chancellor beginning in 1994 and is now provost emeritus, Distinguished Service Professor of Physics and senior science advisor. “I always enjoyed talking to him. We frequently agreed and occasionally disagreed, but we each of us had a great deal of respect for each other and liked working with each other.”

Holland also served as chair or co-chair of the Senate’s benefits and welfare committee, 1980-92, as part of the Faculty Assembly and the Senate Council and as a member of several University search committees and task forces.

“Jim was a strong advocate of transparency and sunshine, and was not afraid to tell Pitt’s administration publicly that its position on an issue was wrong,” said John Baker, professor emeritus in the School of Dental Medicine and Senate president from 2006 to 2009. Baker recalled Holland championing a raft of crucial issues, including advocating for strong medical and other work benefits for Pitt employees, financial transparency by the administration, divestiture of Pitt investments in apartheid South Africa, fair investigations of scientific misconduct allegations against faculty and medical and other benefits for same-sex partners.

“Jim’s voice at Pitt was sorely missed by faculty and staff after he retired; he left giant shoes for his faculty peers to fill,” said Baker.

Rose Constantino, faculty member in the School of Nursing, was Senate vice president for two terms under Holland. “He facilitated the work of the Senate by collaborating with Senate standing committees, Faculty Assembly, students, administration and the University community,” she said. “He prioritized agenda items according to pressing issues he found firsthand during his collaboration with all stakeholders. He made himself accessible to all University campuses and brought to the Senate their unique campus-specific areas of concern. He was the ultimate collaborator.”

Holland was “an extraordinary individual” whose involvement with many faculty issues “resulted in a better and stronger University,” said Michael B. Spring, faculty member in the School of Computing and Information and most recent past Senate president. When Spring led Pitt’s external studies program, Holland “was one of the very senior faculty who helped to build the quality and the reputation of our external studies courses,” he said.

Holland served in the U.S. Marine Corps., 1944-45, then earned his Bachelor of Science at the College of William and Mary in 1950 before receiving his Master of Arts in 1952 and Ph.D. in 1955 from the University of Virginia. He began his career as a research psychologist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., in 1954, then moved to Harvard as a lecturer and research associate in 1957. He joined the Pitt psychology faculty in 1965 as an associate professor, as well as a research associate at the Learning Research and Development Center (through 1976). He was named professor of psychology in 1980.

He co-authored “The Analysis of Behavior” with B. F. Skinner in 1961, and was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association. Holland also served on many editorial boards, commissions and advisory committees; authored numerous papers and book chapters; and was in demand to make presentations throughout the world on behavior analysis and modification, particularly early in his career.

He retired in May 2003.

“… [T]his University was not just Jim’s place of work; it was his professional home in the most complete sense of that term,” Nordenberg said of Holland. “Jim served a large number of worthy causes, but much of his life was devoted to making Pitt an ever-better university — not only in terms of achievement and impact but also in terms of its human qualities. It was my good fortune to work with him on some of those efforts, and what I consistently saw was that Jim never was in it for himself but always worked to advance the greater good.”

He is survived by his wife, Pamela Meadowcroft; five children; and two grandchildren. Contributions may be directed to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s Benjamin T. Holland Memorial Fund, 800 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.


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