On the Impact of Colleague, Friend and Mentor Frances Degen Horowitz

On the Impact of Colleague, Friend and Mentor Frances Degen Horowitz

I write with the sad news that Frances Degen Horowitz died this past Monday, March 15, 2021.  Frances was the founding chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Life (HDFL) and, with Richard Schiefelbusch at the Bureau of Child Research (now the Life Span Institute), conspired to establish the University of Kansas as a national hub for research on human development, language, learning, and intellectual/developmental disabilities.  She is, in large part, responsible for the success of KU and the Life Span Institute in these fields that continues to this day.

Frances served as an Associate Dean in KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and then as KU’s Vice Chancellor for Research, Graduate Studies and Public Service.  During her tenure as Vice Chancellor, she established the groundwork for the creation of what is now the Kansas University Center for Research (KUCR).  Frances eventually left KU to assume the presidency of the City University of New York Graduate Center in the early 1990s.

Frances HorowitzFrances made seminal contributions to developmental psychology and was among the founders of the field of infant studies.  Drawing on her background in learning theory, she devised a method for assessing visual learning in human infants that adjusted for differences in the rate at which individual infants acquired information.  She laid the groundwork for and promoted the study of interactions between infants/children and their caregivers as a major source of variance in developmental outcomes.  She championed the study of preterm infants and was responsible for the promulgation of methods for measuring the biobehavioral status of newborns.  She published over 130 books and articles in the field, many of became widely-cited classics in the field.

She was active in numerous professional organizations promoting behavioral and developmental science, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Psychological Society, and the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), and the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development.  She served as President of Division 7 (Developmental Psychology) of the APA, the American Psychological Foundation, and (most notably) as President of SRCD.  She served on numerous editorial boards during her career, and was editor of the SRCD Monographs from 1976-1982.

This is a deeply personal loss for me. Frances brought me to KU as a postdoctoral trainee in 1982.  Her mentoring was profoundly wise, tolerant, and unfailingly kind, and I will always be thankful for my time with her.

John Colombo, PhD
Professor of Psychology
Director, Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies
Interim Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences