James G. Holland Sept. 20, 1927 - Jan. 16, 2018 Pitt Psychology Professor Left Legacy of Resistance, Kindness

By Eberson, Sharon | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 18, 2018 | Go to article overview

James G. Holland Sept. 20, 1927 - Jan. 16, 2018 Pitt Psychology Professor Left Legacy of Resistance, Kindness


Eberson, Sharon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


James G. Holland was never one to mask his feelings, whether the conversation was about politics, behavioral sciences or the University of Pittsburgh, where he became an integral part of the psychology department in 1965.

He also led with kindness and maintained friendships, no matter how heated the argument became, recalled his wife of 40 years, Pamela Meadowcroft.

"He was great company to the end," she said.

The professor emeritus of psychology at Pitt and a colleague of influential psychologist B.F. Skinner was under hospice care when he died Tuesday at age 89. His wife said he had been declining for several months, and his death was expected.

Mr. Holland began his career as a research psychologist in the mid-1950s at the Naval Research Labs in Washington, D.C. Mr. Skinner recruited him to Harvard University to develop a method of teaching and learning called "programmed instruction," and they went on to co-author the book, "The Analysis of Behavior," which for more than 50 years was used as a text for aspiring psychologists.

In 1965, Mr. Holland joined Pitt's Learning Research and Development Center and the Psychology Department. While at Pitt, he consulted in Central and South Americas in areas of education, child health and the science of human behavior. When he retired in 2003, he estimated that he taught well over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Ms. Meadowcroft, who from 2003-2017 was president of the human resources consulting service Meadowcroft & Associates in Oakland, added that he had a strong belief in the next generation and was confident knowing the future was in their hands.

A friend from her college days who knew them as a couple in 1971 recently reminded Ms. Meadowcroft that her husband "had in a sense, two phases of life. One was a lot of intense, passionate talks, whether it was politics or the university or the science of human behavior."

The Oakland resident remained passionate about those subjects, but he became more serene as time passed, "so the latter part of our time together, it was mostly about the love of each other and just his appreciation for family and the good fortune we both have had."

An email of condolence from Mark Nordenberg, former Pitt chancellor and chair of Pitt's Institute of Politics, summed up Mr. Holland's ability to hold up his end of an argument and remain on friendly terms with his opponent.

Mr. Nordenberg wrote, "Jim and I had a long history of working with each other together, always cordially and respectfully, even when we disagreed. Most often, we did not."

"He argued about ideas and principles so that even his rivals, he ended up being friends with," Ms. Meadowcroft said.

Mr. Holland held the position of president of the University Faculty Senate in the mid-1990s and served as chair and member of the University Health and Benefits Committee beyond his retirement. …

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