Ira Firestone Retires

Ira Firestone

We arrived at Wayne at the end of August 1966 with 4 month daughter Beatrix. I’d left an RA job at the Russell Sage Foundation, the ink barely dry on my NYU diploma. I’d done a dissonance experiment on interpersonal attitudes for my dissertation that was published in mentor Phil Zimbardo’s book. Steeped in learning theories as was common then, I briefly worked on imitation as an engine of behavior development at the Univ. of Kansas teaching imitative physical activities to autistic kids that got published in JEAB. Prof. Herb Kelman at U of M sponsored a seminar in his home for researchers interested in attitudes that brought me back home to Social. These sessions provided ideas for two NSF grants that I and Kal Kaplan, a colleague from U of Illinois who joined the department a year after I did, won. Our research showed that the positive or negative valence of one's attitude was contextually determined; depending upon beliefs then elicited. Our collaboration was a fruitful one that generated many theses, dissertations and papers, but it was ahead of its time having little impact on the field.

Many WSU faculty members lived in the neighborhood north of the U of D and it was vital for me to have their support when my first wife died and I became the sole parent of our now 4 yr old daughter. Some were perhaps scandalized when I married my wife of now 40 years, grad student Joan Lessen, after a brief courtship – she was even forced to drop the class on language development I was then teaching. Interested in Prof Irwin Altman’s research I invited him to do a colloquium at WSU and later went on sabbatical to work with him in Utah. It was there that daughter Liana was born (Ari, our youngest, came along 31/2 years later) and a new research focus and teaching specialty, environmental psychology had its origin. On our return to Detroit Joan completed her PhD in developmental, taught Early Child Education at Mercy College and directed child care centers In Detroit. Clearly there was no way I could uproot the family for another sabbatical so I worked at the UofM’s Architecture and Urban Planning Department to study office worker attitudes to prior and newly relocated workspaces.

The 1980s saw the arrival of Adamany as President of WSU. Faculty toiled for almost 2 yrs with neither contract nor a raise, a radicalizing experience that led me to accept (‘fools go where angels fear to tread’) the job as AAUP’s chief negotiator for the 1986 sessions. With much help from my teammates bargaining was successfully concluded after a 5 hour work stoppage. Eight years later my team managed to achieve a contract without that.
Around this time Joan was hired by Oakland Schools in Waterford so we moved to our current house to Bloomfield. Upon the death of colleague Lynn Anderson I began teaching the graduate attitudes class. The passage of a new law mandating warning labels on alcohol beverage containers occasioned Dean Sokol to ask me to join a group to study attitudes toward & consumption of alcohol in pregnancy. Two rounds of NIAAA support generated many conference presentations (often in quite nice locales) and a several more pubs.

To be effective, graduate programs need a critical mass. As our enrollment eased and in response to pressure from the College’s Dean the Social, Developmental and Cognitive areas of the Department were combined into a single unit. Initially opposed to this realignment, I reluctantly agreed to head up the new unit only when Ty Partridge agreed to join as co-chair. In retrospect, however, I feel this merger has turned out quite well as our students benefit from the cross fertilization it provides.
In recent years I have enjoyed working outside the Department. I was elected to three terms on the Academic Senate, served on its Research & chaired its Curriculum committees. Next I was elected to the College Promotion and Tenure committee and just last year worked in that capacity for University P&T. During that time and continuing on to the present I’ve been the department’s Honors Advisor where being an old-time generalist has its uses.

Am I looking forward to retiring? Surely I will enjoy being able to have more time with our grandchildren but it is hard to predict as I’ve spent virtually my entire adult life here doing academics. To prepare I’ve been doing volunteer work, first at Recording for the Blind and then, when us readers were digitally replaced, manning an info desk across Woodward at the Arts Institute. I know that I will miss mentoring grad students as I think of myself as a research design tune-up specialist who has helped many to fashion procedures that gave their hypotheses a fair chance at garnering support. I’ll also miss teaching those honors classes with their small number of highly motivated students. And I hope as an Emeritus Professor to continue my association with our department for a few more years.

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Ira Firestone Retires 5/20/2014
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