Rhodes University Psychology Department

Rhodes University Psychology Department


Mission Statement

The Department of Psychology aspires to ensure that Psychology develops appropriately as a service profession and academic discipline within the University, the broader community and within South Africa.

We aim to achieve this by:

  • Providing students with a high-quality education that prepares them to deal with a changing South Africa;
  • Supporting staff development through the mobilization of resources (internally and externally) and facilitating an environment characterized by democracy, transparency, parity and accountability;
  • Providing an infrastructure to promote high-quality research and its publication by staff and students;
  • Encouraging staff and students to develop teaching, intervention and research programmes that promote community engagement;
  • Positioning the Department as a reputable, progressive and productive academic organization in order to secure funds and to attract high calibre students and staff from all racial, gender and ethnic groups;
  • Undertaking to change the demographic profile of students by pursuing equity policies and providing appropriate academic development.


University education in the Eastern Cape began in the college departments of four schools: St Andrew’s College in Grahamstown, Gill College in Somerset East, Graaff Reinet College, and the Grey Institute in Port Elizabeth. By the turn of the century only St Andrew’s and Gill still prepared candidates for the degree examinations of the University of the Cape of Good Hope. Limitations in staff, laboratory equipment and libraries made tuition inadequate and it became obvious that only a central university college could provide a satisfactory standard of university education.

Grahamstown, out of the mainstream of commercial and industrial life, seemed an unlikely choice for a university city, but local residents were strongly in favour of the idea despite the project being almost extinguished by the South African War of 1899-1902. In December 1902 Josiah Slater, the Member of parliament for Albany and editor of the Graham’s Town Journal, called a meeting to try to rekindle public interest in developing a university in this small settler city. He succeeded beyond all expectations, but enthusiastic promises of local financial support were not enough so that the newly formed committee applied to the Rhodes Trustees for the financial backing they needed. Unfortunately, this was not successful. Consequently, Selmar Schonland, distinguished botanist and curator of the Albany Museum, tried a direct approach to one of the Rhodes Trustees, Dr Leander Starr Jameson. Jameson, soon to be elected Member of Parliament for Albany and Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, promised £50 000 without consulting his fellow Trustees. At first they refused to confirm the grant; then, persuaded by Schonland, they made over DeBeers Preference Shares to the value of £50 000 to Rhodes University College, founded by an Act of Parliament on May 31, 1904. At the beginning of 1905, Rhodes moved from cramped quarters at St Andrew’s College to the Drostdy building, which it bought from the British Government in 1909.

During 1905 seven new professors, including Schonland, joined the original four (Arthur Matthews, George Cory, Stanley Kidd and G F Dingemans). Rhodes University College now seemed to be assured of a future. One of the distinctive features that evolved early in Rhodes’ history was the tutorial system, adapted from the Oxbridge model. Each student was assigned to a staff member who took a personal interest in his or her work and welfare. As numbers increased, students were assigned to tutors, and tutorial groups within academic departments provided a forum for the lively debate characteristic of a Rhodes education.

Introduction of Psychology at Rhodes

By 1913 Rhodes University College, as it was then known, had Chairs and Lectureships in fourteen different university subjects, one of these being Philosophy. The Chair of Philosophy was held by A R Lord, MA (Oxon), and students were able to major in either Logic and Psychology or Ethics and Politics. For interest sake, the books that formed the basis of this early programme in the Logic and Psychology curriculum were:

  • Watson’s Outline of Philosophy (Chapter I)
  • Royce’s The World and the Individual (First Series, Lecture I)
  • Mellone’s Introductory Textbook of Logic
  • Angell’s Psychology
  • Mellone and Drummond’s Elements of Psychology

It was also suggested that during the Summer vacation the following texts should be read:

  • Bosanquet’s Essentials of Logic
  • Stout’s Manual of Psychology
  • Royce’s Outlines of Psychology

Although there was a Chair of Philosophy at this time, there nevertheless was not a fully fledged Department of Philosophy. Instead, there was a Department of Mental and Moral Science that encompassed a broad set of disciplines. It might also be of interest to note that, at this time, it was possible to study a preliminary medical course at Rhodes University College. Successful candidates were permitted to proceed into the second year of medical study at scholarship universities, particularly the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen as well as Trinity College in Dublin. The fee at that time was £55 per term! The Professor of Philosophy, A R Lord, was listed in the University Calendar as: Late lecturer in Politics and Assistant Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Aberdeen. Green Moral Philosophy Prizeman (1911) and former Scholar of Balliol College, Oxford. By 1923, Psychology was still taught under the broad rubric of Philosophy but was now considered to be a stand alone subject and had become a two year major. The curriculum was as follows:

  • The Outline of General Psychology
  • The Psychology of Instincts, Emotions, Sentiments and Will
  • The Psychology of Cognition
  • Conceptual and Conceptual Intelligence
  • Correlation of Thought and Action
  • (Stout’s Manual of Psychology was still in use)

Psychology clearly was a growing discipline, and in 1926 Rhodes became the first university to establish an inderpendent psychology Department. It was headed by a Senior Lecturer in the person of Mr N M (Morris) Ramsay, MA (Hons), Glasgow and Cambridge. He was listed as The Edward Caird Prizeman in Mental Philosophy. Late Directorate of Staff Duties, War Office (Education). There was also a single demonstrator Miss D de Graef BA. By this time, the Department of Mental and Moral Science (which was still headed by Professor Lord) had been amalgamated with History and Economics so that there was now a broad cluster of disciplines comprising Philosophy, History, Economics and Psychology.

By 1927, Psychology had become fairly specialized in that there was a different range of ancillary subjects as well as a different psychology curriculum for the Arts and the Science Degrees. For those students enrolled for a BA, BCom and BEcon the curriculum entailed “psychophysiological problems with reference to the nervous system”, “mental processes”, “feelings and emotions”, “instinct”, “attention, perception, memory and conception”, together with a range of concepts associated with the study of intelligence. However, students studying a BSc were able to follow a specialized curriculum under the heading of Experimental Psychology. This curriculum was quite different from the former. It covered areas such as “Introduction to Psychology as an empirical inductive science”, and experiments bearing on the senses were conducted. More particularly, there were courses dealing with the measurement of intelligence as well as Applied Psychology; in particular, Vocational and Industrial Psychology, and Psychoanalysis. The BSc students were also introduced to Psychopathology. At this time (1927) it was also possible to read for an MA in Psychology either through coursework (there were seven papers) or by thesis.

Nineteen Twenty Nine saw Mr Ramsay as still being the Senior Lecturer in Psychology (under the auspices of Professor Lord, the Philosopher) and the filling of a Lectureship not in Psychology but rather in Psychology and Physics. The incumbent, Dr E H Wild, MSc (SA) PhD (London) who had studied in London as a “Union Scholar”, was destined to become the first full Professor of Psychology. The following year (1930) saw the Department of Psychology offering for the first time a syllabus for the Psychology of Education (in the curriculum of the Higher Diploma in Education). Mr Ramsay was transferred from the Psychology Department to the Education Department to work under Professor John Adamson and Mrs G G McKerron, and Dr Wild was elevated to the post of Senior Lecturer in Psychology while Mr Levyno (BA) was promoted from the rank of demonstrator to Assistant Lecturer. Mr J Maxwell, MA, BEd (Edin) was appointed Lecturer in Psychology in late 1939 and he held that post until 1945.

In 1941, the Chair of Psychology was established and Ernest Wild became the first Professor of Psychology at Rhodes University. He remained in the Chair until 1964 and was succeeded by Prof David de Villiers. It might be of interest to know that the Institute for Personnel Management (IPM) was founded in Grahamstown in 1945 through the foresight and enthusiasm of a Mrs White of the Department. By 1964, the IPM had become a national organization and was, itself, a founder member of the International Federation for Training and Development Organizations.

The IPM, based on the Witwatersrand, began to offer a three year part-time diploma course in Personnel Management under the auspices of Rhodes University. By 1947, the Department had become an established and consolidated unit comprising Ernest Wild who by now had been awarded a Fellowship by the British Psychological Society, and Dr Williams, BA, DipEd (Melbourne), an Australian who had studied Educational Psychology at Stanford University, was the Senior Lecturer. Ms Waters, who had previously been a demonstrator, was elevated to the level of Lecturer. The Department now boasted a total of six demonstrators, a large support team in those days! By 1950 Dr Williams had become an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society.

Throughout this relatively lengthy and early period, there were three permanent staff members only, namely, Prof. Wild, and Drs Williams and Marsh, the latter being awarded a PhD from Rhodes University in 1959. Regarding Prof Wild, and in the words of an esteemed fellow psychologist (J W Mann, the second incumbent of the Chair in Psychology at Witwatersrand University for a 27 year period, from 1964 until the end of 1991) who originally studied under him:

” What Ernest Wild taught was what was being taught in London, Oxford, and maybe Cambridge, as well as at the Scottish Universities … and this was described at that time as `experimental psychology’.”

Professor Wild’s retirement in 1964 saw the end of an era as there were several staff changes during this period.
During this period, Psychology had been a two year major and students reading for a Bachelor of Arts degree were able, during their second year, to enrol for Psychology II and major in Psychology the following year. It is for that reason that the Ernest Wild Prize initiated by his widow in 1965 is for the best psychology student at second and third year level and why there is no Ernest Wild Prize for first year.

1968 to 2006

“Buck” Currie, as he was affectionately known, taught inter alia aptitude testing and Industrial Psychology in the Diploma of Personnel Management. This was a multi-disciplinary course staffed by four different departments. Although the Department of Psychology had taught industrially and clinically oriented courses, it was only with the arrival of Buck Currie that systematic training in both of these areas was initiated.

It was under Professor de Villiers and Mr Currie that a Psychology Clinic was first initiated. The Clinic, unlike today’s Psychology Clinic, was relatively small and was staffed by appropriately qualified individuals from the Departments of Psychology and Education. Nineteen Sixty Eight saw, perhaps for the first time, the development of highly specialized curricula within the Department. Mr Currie was involved in the teaching of Industrial and Clinical Psychology, Mr P B Gradwell, of 1820 Settler stock, and perhaps more pertinently, a recent graduate of Oxford University, specialized in physiological psychology while Mr H W Page (later promoted to Associate Proffessor) was brought in to develop the area of experimental psychology. By 1969, the Psychology staff had expanded to two Senior Lecturers and four Lecturers under the Headship Professor de Villiers. Unfortunately, however, this first Psychology Clinic ceased functioning in 1969 as a result of various staff changes and lack of expertise in the required areas.

The third full Professor to hold the Chair of Psychology was Thomas Marx Dreyer Kruger, BA (US), MA (Pret), DLitt et Phil (SA) who was appointed in 1974. The timing of Dreyer Kruger’s Chair seemed to be auspicious since Act 56 of 1974, for the first time, gave registered Psychologists the same legal status and professional responsibility as medical practitioners. At last, the practise of psychology had been regularized and the profession now squarely fell under the watchful eyes of the Medical and Dental Council. The first English-medium university to initiate professional training under the Act was the University of Cape Town in 1974, with Rhodes University introducing training the following year under Professor Kruger. There was one student and one clinician! During the succeeding years, the Department developed in leaps and bounds as various new courses were initiated, ranging from specialized postgraduate degree programmes in Critical Psychology, Research and Community Psychology and a PhD programme in Psychotherapy for individuals who, after several years of professional practise, felt the need to reflect on what they were actually doing in therapy, and to foster psychotherapy research in South Africa.

In 1991, the Department successfully negotiated the establishment of a joint Chair of Psychiatry. This was a shared venture with the University owning 10% of the incumbent’s time while the East Cape Department of Health assumed responsibility for the remaining portion. David Edwards, MA (Oxon), MA , PhD (RhU), CPsychol, appointed as a temporary Lecturer in 1973, succeeded Dreyer Kruger as the HoD in 1986 and remained the head until the end of 1993. Under Professor Edwards’ leadership, the Department continued to grow, the clinical programme was consolidated and the range of undergraduate as well as post graduate courses was broadened. In 1994, Christopher Stones (MSc, PhD, MSAIP, C.Psychol, AFBPsS) assumed the helm as the fifth Head of Department. Like his predecessors, Profesor Stones, trained as a clinical psychologist, focussed on ensuring that the professional training programmes were developed to a high level, and within a few years an additional counselling psychology programme had been established. During his tenure as HoD, the Centre for Applied Social Reseach and Action (CASRA) was established and the MTN Centre for Crime Prevention Studies opened its doors for a five year period. In turn, this lead to the offering of a post-graduate course in investigative psychology and later an undergraduate course in forensic psychology.

2006 to Present

After a 12 year period as HoD, Professor Stones stepped down and Professor Catriona Macleod (MEd, PhD) assumed the headship in July 2006. In 2011, Professor Michael Guilfoyle became head of department, followed by Professor Lindy Wilbraham in 2013. The current head of department is Professor Charles Young.

Cuurently, the department comprises one distinguished professor, two full professors, two associate professors, five senior lecturers (one on a temporary, fixed-term contract in place of Professor Macleod who was seconded to the SARChI Chair), and nine lecturers.

Our offerings include two major subjects (psychology and organisational psychology), two honours programmes (psychology and organisational psychology), two HPCSA-accredited professional programmes in psychology (masters in clinical psychology and masters in counselling psychology), a masters by thesis programme and doctoral programme. In total, we have over 1400 students.

In partnership with the department, the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction (CSSR) research programme exists to conduct critical research that addresses the social and human dynamics underpinning our slow progress towards full sexual and reproductive citizenship for all. This programme reflects and supports the strong departmental emphasis on critical approaches to gender and sexualities. A number of staff and students of the department and CSSR were involved in the production of the 2016 report of the Sexual Violence Task team, “We will not be silenced”: A three-pronged justice approach to sexual offences and rape culture at Rhodes university/UCKAR.

Bursaries and Funding

Scholarships and Prizes