James Madison University
Miller Hall


The Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg welcomed its first class of students in 1908.  As was the practice, “normal schools” were institutions devoted primarily to preparing people, usually women, for careers in the public schools.  From its inception, the discipline of psychology had a presence in the curriculum of the institution. The 1909 catalog indicated that two courses, Educational Psychology and Child Psychology, were offered in support of the teacher training mission of the institution.

Psychology courses continued to be offered in support of the teacher education program until the university officially recognized the Psychology Department as an independent unit in the 1967-68 University Catalog.  In 1967 the department faculty consisted of two Full Professors, one Associate Professor, and two Assistant Professors.  The 1967-68 catalog listed a new major in Psychology that consisted of 30 semester hours. 

In 1938 the institution's name was changed to Madison College and in 1977 it was changed to James Madison University.  In 1941 the first program of courses leading to a major in psychology was mentioned in the course catalog.  Since 1941 the major in psychology at James Madison University has changed many times.  To a large extent the changes have mirrored the change in the mission of the undergraduate program from one of support of teacher training to one offering an academic major experience.  In addition, the evolution of the major program occurred with the hiring of faculty with diverse specialty areas.  These historical developments have contributed to the current program of study leading to a B.S. or B.A. in Psychology.

A restructuring in the Virginia Department of Education that restricted students desiring licensure in teaching from majoring in Education had an impact on the psychology program.  For several years, a majority of students preparing for a teaching career in the public schools majored in Psychology and minored in Education.  In 2000, the University introduced a new major, Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies, designed specifically for students entering careers in elementary education.  As a result, the vast majority of students who are Education minors no longer major in Psychology.  This was generally regarded as a positive development by the Psychology Department, as our assessment data indicated that Education students were less satisfied with their Psychology major than students who were not Education minors. 

In 1998, the Department of Psychology was renamed the School of Psychology in recognition of the complexity of its activities and mission.  Until 2003, the JMU School of Psychology consisted of several different programs including an Undergraduate Program offering BA and BS degrees in Psychology, a large commitment to General Education, and a few undergraduate Psychology service courses.  The School of Psychology also included graduate programs with Masters degrees in the areas of Counseling Psychology, School Psychology, and Psychological Sciences, and doctoral programs in Combined and Integrated Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychology and Assessment and Measurement.  Although the nature, size, and focus of the graduate programs changed over the years, the Undergraduate program maintained its priority focus of offering a well-balanced, quality undergraduate major. 

Faculty in the School of Psychology typically had a “primary” affiliation with one of the programs (either the Undergraduate Program or one of the graduate programs), but most faculty taught across programs.  The most common affiliation for members of the Undergraduate Program was with the Psychological Sciences MA Program.  From its inception, and even now, the majority of faculty staffing the Psychological Sciences MA program have been faculty affiliated with the Undergraduate Program. With the development of the Ph.D. Program in Assessment and Measurement, staffing for Psychological Sciences began to also come from faculty primarily affiliated with this doctoral program.

In the summer of 2001, the College of Education and Psychology, which had been Psychology’s home since the Department’s inception, was reorganized.  As a result of the reorganization process, the School of Psychology was moved to the College of Integrated Science and Technology.

In 2003, the School of Psychology was divided into two separate Departments.  The current Department of Graduate Psychology houses all graduate psychology programs.  The former Undergraduate Program became the new Department of Psychology.  This reorganization process was complex, and in many cases resulted in a redefining of roles by individual faculty.  Some School of Psychology faculty who were primarily affiliated with a graduate program (but who advised undergraduate students and taught occasional undergraduate classes) decreased their level of involvement with the undergraduate program.  Also, some faculty who were “primarily undergraduate” faculty (but who taught graduate classes and served on graduate student committees) opted to devote a higher percentage of their effort to the undergraduate program (the new “Department of Psychology”).  Other faculty members have continued to maintain involvement at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, but there is generally less integration of faculty across graduate and undergraduate levels than there previously had been.

In response to program assessment data and best practices recommendations, the curriculum of the psychology major underwent a major change in 2006.  Some of the significant changes included:

  • Increasing the number of content-area courses required for the major from 4 to 6 to better prepare students in the fundamental areas of psychology.  This change required an increase in the number of credits required for the major from 38 to 44.
  • The addition of a sociocultural competency requirement to ensure that all students develop a deep understanding of the role of culture in the development and expression of behavior, and an appreciation of the value that comes from diverse perspectives.  This change required us to add several new courses to the curriculum that focus on the role of culture in behavior.
  • A change in the way independent study including research experiences and service learning count in the major to encourage students to participate in these activities for multiple semesters and count this work towards completion of their psychology major.
  • The addition of a science and math cognate to the B.S. in Psychology program, to help students pursuing this degree to develop higher-level scientific and quantitative competency.
  • The addition of a behavioral analysis concentration option to the major.

A $13,900,000 renovation of Miller Hall as the new home for the Department of Psychology was completed, and we moved in on December 17, 2007. The interior of this building was totally remodeled and bears little resemblance to its former design. The building was redesigned primarily as a home to the Departments of Psychology and Political Science, and some facilities within the building were developed for Graduate Psychology, Sociology, and the College of Science and Math. The middle floor of Miller Hall is the central location for the Department of Psychology. Offices for full- and part-time faculty, administrative offices, and Peer Advising are all centrally located on this one floor. The floor also includes a computer lab, several classrooms and meeting rooms, as well as offices for our student organizations and graduate assistants. The building includes newly equipped laboratories for student and faculty research.

In 2012, the University created the College of Health and Behavioral Studies (CHBS).  The Department of Psychology has belonged to CHBS since its inception.