Administrators and faculty members paid tribute last night to Psychology Professor Emeritus Richard Solomon, who passed away October 12. Solomon, who came to the University in 1960 and retired in 1984, served as a mentor for many current University professors, including College Dean Robert Rescorla and Psychology Professor Martin Seligman. "He was probably the outstanding nurturer and teacher of people who went on to become major figures in American psychology," Seligman said. Solomon was a key researcher in the field of experimental psychology with a concentration in animal learning. Seligman recalled that Solomon, who served as Seligman's doctoral program mentor, was slow to criticize his students. Instead, he would consistently give positive reinforcement. "In my third year, after telling me that everything I did was great and wonderful, he finally told me something I had done was [just] good," Seligman said. "Only when things got very serious and he really respected you did he give you serious criticism." Rescorla, who also did his graduate work under Solomon, remembered similar incidents, noting that he and fellow students joked about Solomon's constant positive attitude. "I came in with an idea once and he laughed at me and I was crushed," Rescorla said. Solomon was one of several faculty members who "turned the department around," according to Psychology Department Chairperson John Sabini. "He was one of the early generation that created the department as we now know it," Sabini added. Before coming to the University, Solomon was a professor at Harvard University, where he taught Ivar Berg, who is currently a sociology professor at the University. Berg said Solomon was "rewarding, stimulating and role modeling." Solomon, who was the University's first James M. Skinner Professor of Science, received many accolades throughout his career for his research and mentoring ability. Sabini noted that Rescorla and Seligman -- who were both mentored by Solomon -- were nationally recognized on a list of the "top 10 prominent psychologists." As a result, Solomon was the only mentor who had two students on the list. Solomon also went out of his way to interact and talk with younger, newer faculty members, Sabini said. And he was very popular with undergraduates, including a young Judith Rodin -- now President of the University -- who worked in his laboratory as an undergraduate. But Solomon's influence went beyond psychology. In serving as the first Faculty Master of Van Pelt College House, which opened in 1971, Solomon was one of the first to support the concept of combining academics and the residences. According to History Professor Alan Kors, who co-founded Van Pelt, Solomon exhibited "enormous warmth, energy and commitment" in his work at the college house. "He infused the house with a passionate love of ideas and debate on the one hand and the?belief that one could break down the enormous barriers that existed between eminent full professors and students on the other," Kors said. Kors recalled that when Solomon first moved into Van Pelt, he went against Residential Living policy by bringing his poodle, Pierre, with him. "He defied the residential offices to do anything about it," Kors said, adding that Solomon always attempted to make Van Pelt as autonomous as possible. Seligman said the characteristic he will most remember about Solomon is "the peace and graciousness that pervaded the intellectual atmosphere of his life."
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