James Youniss, Professor Emeritus at The Catholic University, and longtime IPR Fellow,  has retired from the Institute.

         His reputation in developmental psychology, focusing on youth, friendships and civic engagement, is international in scope. He has written or co-written nine books and more than 160 scholarly articles. His honors include a lifetime research award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, a senior fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and a lifetime achievement award from the CUA Alumni Association.

CUA Provost upon awarding James Youniss the lifetime award for excellence in 2007

Professor James Youniss, after many years as an IPR Fellow, is stepping away from active participation and joining the ranks of the alumni.  Youniss, a former director of the Institute before it was known as IPR,  has spent his distinguished 50-year career at The Catholic University of America as a research professor in the field of developmental psychology. 

Youniss arrived in 1960 to get his Ph. D., and describes his timing as lucky, as the federal government was flooding universities with grant money for the sciences in response to the launching of the Soviet satellite Sputnik.  At the same time, baby boomers were pouring into college campuses.  For the next 20 plus years, Youniss and his colleagues, predominantly in the departments of psychology and sociology, would do seminal research that influenced their fields, and would be supported by an open flow of funds from the government and foundations.

It was the relationship between cognition and language in human development that enthralled Youniss early in his career. This was at a time when the behaviorists held sway in psychology, and rarely used the word "thinking," opting instead for the the term "learning," which they could measure. Youniss and his frequent early collaborator, Hans Furth, also of CUA's psychology department, researched deaf children and showed the importance of sign language to the development of reasoning in this population.  This was critical in overturning the prevailing idea that sign language was harmful to hearing impaired children, and that mainstreaming was the best way to help them.  Youniss, Furth, and colleague Bruce Ross established the Center for Thinking and Language at the University, and centered the program around Swiss philosopher and education theorist Jean Piaget, who was awarded an honorary degree by Catholic University in 1970.  The Center for Thinking and Language influenced a generation of Ph.D. students and helped to popularize Piaget's work in America. 

Youniss's first solo publication sprang from his insight into the social component of cognition, an idea that moved him beyond the work of Piaget.  Published in 1975 in the Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology, Volume 9,  it marked the beginning of nearly a decade of original work in this area.

Research Professor James Youniss is front row, left in this picture from the 1960s of the Faculty in the Department of Psychology's  Center for Thinking and Language.

           Jean Piaget


In the early 1970s, Youniss  was a full professor at the Boys Town Center for the Study of Youth Development at Catholic University.  Boys Town, in 1972, had been exposed for sitting on funds of nearly $300 million (nearly $1 billion in today's money) while serving only 200 residents in its Catholic-run home for wayward boys in Omaha, Nebraska.  In response, the board of trustees agreed  to widen the Boys Town mission to include research on youth development.


From 1974 to 1982, Catholic University was one of the beneficiaries of annual Boys Town funding that supported graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, research stipends, support staff, a new building (now Aquinas Hall) and tremendous growth in the departments of Social Work, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Human Development and Sociology.  The Department of Psychology's reputation grew internationally, and in 1980 Professor Youniss published his first book on social cognition, one he considers his best on the topic: Parents and Peers in Social Development: A Sullivan-Piaget Perspective. 

In it Youniss presents the two kinds of moral development that affect children -- the moral authority of parents, and the morality of peers.

Unfortunately, in 1982, the Boys Town board reneged on its contract, leaving the Center in need of funding and a new vision.  It expanded its focus to include human development across the entire life span, as well as research on social movements, and changed its name to The Life Cycle Institute.   A number of tough years followed which saw researchers and professors forced to leave for better opportunities, although Director Che Fu Lee, of the Sociology Department, and then Hans Furth, of the Psychology Department, worked mightily to keep LCI going.

In 1988, Youniss became the Director of LCI, and worked to raise funds in partnership with Rev. William J. Byron, S.J., the first member of a religious order to become president of CUA.  Youniss had been offered an endowed chair by Notre Dame, but chose to stay at The Catholic University.   It was in these years that the Eli Lilly company became interested in supporting religious institutions, and the Life Cycle Institute was one of its avenues for doing so.  Lilly funding spurred sociological research on the changing demographics of nuns, clergy and Catholic schools.  LCI researchers identified the impending priest shortage and the aging of Catholic women's religious orders. They integrated U.S. census statistics with Church data; highlighted future prospects of Catholic K-12 education, and researched a  number of important issues related to immigration and giving by Catholics.  In addition to Lilly, grants from the National Institutes of Health, Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation from 1988 to 1999 sustained the work and the reputation of the Life Cycle Institute.

Sadly, a change of vision at the University level put an end to the preeminent scholarship of LCI.  The Departments of Sociology, Anthropology and Human Development had their Ph.D. programs rescinded (only Human Development has had its reinstated).  Despite 25 years of competitive bids won from the Lilly Endowment, NIMH, the Grant Foundation, and others,  this was a brutal blow to the Institute's members.  Dean Hoge succeeded James Youniss as the director of LCI.  While the two won another grant from Lilly to study Millenial youth's views on organized religion and spirituality, it was obvious that without the graduate programs needed for research, LCI would once again have to change its focus.  The Institute switched its emphasis to policy rather than research under the directorship of John White, and later of Steve Schneck, when the name change to Institute for Policy Research came about.   


Happily for Youniss, his stretch of professional good fortune carried on.  He was awarded the Alexander Von Humboldt award which is granted by the German government  "... in recognition of a researcher's entire achievements to date to academics whose fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future."  This put Youniss in Berlin at the Max Plank Institute and later at the University of Mannheim, where he was able to study how Germans handled the transition after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of East and West Germany. He also won  a senior fellowship from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, and a Fellowship from the Radcliffe Center for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2001-02, and in 2007, a lifetime award for excellence by The Catholic University of America.

IPR's reputation for scholarship and connections to the world beyond the campus has been cemented by a long list of Fellows, but perhaps none so deeply and for so long as James Youniss, but he is quick to credit his many colleagues over the years, including John McCarthy, Sandra Hanson, Eugene Hemrick, Dean Hoge, Hans Furth, Tony Pogorelc, William Dinges, and many others who led to the success of LCI/IPR.  He continues his research and writing and has written two more books since the Provost honored him in 2007.  In 2009, with Peter Levine, he published Engaging Young People in Civic Life.  His latest book, published in 2018 with co-author Daniel Hart, is Renewing Democracy in Young America.

From all of us at IPR:  Thank you and best wishes, James Youniss.  And to readers, follow his example.   Always take the stairs!

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