Some of the biggest headlines of the '60s were the backdrop for Maury and Miriam Lacher’s graduate school experience at the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology.
The two Cornell undergrads showed up in Ann Arbor in 1963 as newlyweds after a short honeymoon and witnessed political and social upheaval on campus from the start.
“In the fall, I was sitting in supervision with Peg Smith and she gets the call that the President’s been shot. Everyone was in shock, no classes at first. The Kennedy Assassination began that era and there was a whole lot going on with the Vietnam War. People were concerned about the draft, there were political demonstrations; the assassination of Martin Luther King which set off the Detroit riots. There was guerilla theatre, graffiti on construction areas about the war. The Six Day War, Robert Kennedy’s assassination, the Women’s movement and the Black Student strike. The National Guard was on campus with their trucks one time,” explains Maury.
The couple agrees it was an overwhelming time, but they never had doubts after arriving at Michigan. They look back on their grad school days with an appreciation for the department and were thinking how to give back. When Wilbert (Bill) McKeachie died in June, they were told about the Bill McKeachie fund and made a $10,000 donation.
“Dr. McKeachie was supportive of teaching as well as graduate students in the department. He favored inclusiveness. He was always friendly and interested in what we and other graduate students were doing, even after we got our degrees whenever we would see him at an APA conventions,” says Miriam.
Maury adds, “Bill was an esteemed leader and administrator for the department, not easy to do in the troubled times of the ‘60’s. He called a meeting of all those teaching to deal with the possibility that “guerilla theater”-Vietnam War protesters- might want to enter our classrooms. He dissuaded faculty from calling the police should it happen.”
They were both teaching fellows as graduate students, but Maury was a Departmental Associate, selected to participate in Psychology faculty meetings and represent graduate students from the area. Miriam credits the Department of Psychology for priming them for future academics. She says, “Thanks to the Department we weren’t only assistants and were given our own sections to run independently rather than being additions who simply graded papers. We were very concerned about the issues involved in teaching and the nature of classrooms.”
After graduation, they taught at Carleton College in Minnesota where Maury also worked at the college counseling center. In the late 1970’s, they moved backto the East Coast to be closer to aging parents.
Maury would eventually get a job at the counseling center at Vassar. Miriam didn’t have a position and says it was the hardest year of her life. By the rules of professorship, she couldn’t easily get anything but adjunct teaching, so she decided to switch specialties. She ended up in the Neuroscience & Education field, which was new at Columbia Teacher’s College and worked at a rehabilitation hospital in New Jersey, where she established a program for teens with traumatic head injuries. Both would later start private practices.
The couple has been involved in the political landscape of their field and are charter members of the Hudson Valley Psychological Association. For seventeen years, Maury served as a federal advocacy coordinator. He’s still on a governance committee and lobbies both state and federal levels. Miriam recently finished two terms as the representative to the New York State Association Council of Representatives. Maury also served two terms.
“I see my desire to get involved politically with psychology directly coming from what we saw at Michigan. I was aware that a lot of the people were involved in APA politics. Bill McKeachie was the president of APA,” says Maury.
Miriam echoes the sentiment, “The process of sharing what you know with people who don’t yet know it and the implications for public policy we learned in Ann Arbor. At Michigan there was an emphasis on sharing what you know and teaching the importance of environmental influences.”
Currently living in Poughkeepsie, New York, they were able to visit campus last fall for the Bill McKeachie Memorial symposium and dinner.
“He really became a much more present person to us after learning more at the memorial events. We’re proud to make our donation to the Department of Psychology in his name and trust the Chair will know where the need is greatest,” Maury notes.