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Distinguished Faculty

Wallace R. McAllister

Presidential Research Professor Emeritus, Psychology

Wallace McAllisterAs a member of the inaugural class of Presidential Research Professors, Dr. Wallace “Mac” McAllister was instrumental in developing the college’s Department of Psychology into a top-notch research program. When Sandy Dean was hired by the university to establish a Ph.D. program in psychology, he was given approval to hire a “big gun” researcher in experimental psychology to build the program. That hire was Dr. Wallace McAllister. Recruited from Syracuse University, Dr. McAllister’s influence as a scholar and professor set a tone and standard that left a deep and lasting impact on the scholarly and professional character of the department, the college, and the university.

Dr. McAllister set the gold standard as an outstanding role model and a true research pioneer. Beginning with his early work at Syracuse, Dr. McAllister maintained continuous funding from both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Mental Health until he retired. Dr. McAllister’s expertise in learning and memory made him a frequent contributor to research in other specialties within the department, and even after retiring, he continued to serve on a number of dissertation committees. Dr. McAllister always focused on the “heart” of the experimental design, and students and colleagues tell us that he had no tolerance for shoddy work. Instead of being “tough to be tough,” however, Dr. McAllister was continuously upbeat and encouraging about the research process; colleagues have shared that they were inspired by the passion that he and his wife, Dorothy, showed in their research. Dr. McAllister continued his research work long after retiring, with his most recent publication appearing in Learning and Behavior in 2006.

In addition to setting high standards for teaching and research, Dr. McAllister shaped the Department of Psychology in many other ways. He was instrumental in establishing stringent criteria for annual written reviews and rigorous standards for advancement within the department. He actively participated in reviewing and revising architectural plans for what would become the psychology building. Under Dr. McAllister’s guidance, the department’s first animal research colony was developed – a colony that to this day continues to be a central part of the department’s neuroscience program. Several generations of campus veterinarians have touted the colony as a model of excellence for the care, handling and treatment of research animals.

As a mentor, Dr. McAllister was generous with his wisdom and time, encouraging about the research process, and highly supportive of his students and colleagues. He went out of his way to share any resources or technical assistance he could provide.

Dr. McAllister’s research, leadership, and mentoring were central to making the psychology program into the success that it is today. This comment by NIU Vice Provost and Emeritus Professor of Psychology Frederick Schwantes may best capture the extraordinary impact of Dr. Wallace McAllister: “Mac was one of the first storied researchers in the college, and because of his guidance and care for his younger colleagues and his own record of accomplishment, there should be no last.”


by Cameron Orr