History of the Psychology Department

By Prof. Dr. George Mathew

The proposal to start two Departments: Psychology and Politics in the University was part of the five year plan of the University,  supported by the UGC.   Dr. E.I. George was at that time lecturer in Philosophy of the University college.  His father-in-law was DPI and member of administrative bodies in the University.  He knew about the proposal to start a Psychology Department in the University.  He helped  Dr. George to get a scholarship to go to England and do a Ph.D. in Psychology under Dr. H.J. Eysenck, Professor of Psychology in London University.  The topic of research was political attitudes and personality.   On his return he was appointed as Reader in Psychology in the University and he was requested to organise and start the Department of Psychology. There was a lecturer post also.  Dr. P. Gopala Pillai who had taken a Ph.D. in Psychology working under Dr. Jalota in Benares University was appointed as lecturer.  Dr. Pillai’s Ph.D. involved development of an intelligence test in Malayalam.  I happened to be one of the subjects who took a trial version of Dr.Pillai’s test when I ws a student at school.

 The Departments of Psychology and Political Science were started in a small terraced two storied building at the north-west corner of the University college campus in 1957.  The building was constructed by the University for this purpose.  It was pointed yellow, appearing different from the other buildings in the University college. (Now it is painted brick red and is part of the University college).  Politics was in the ground floor and Psychology in the second  floor.   One year or so later, another lecturer post was advertised.  It seems there were two applicants.  Devadas Menon who was tutor in English at Kerala Varma College, Trichur was one among the applicants. Devadas Menon had M.A. in Psychology from Benares and knew Dr. Pillai who was his senior at Benares.  Because of Dr. Pillai’s recommendation, Devadas Menon was selected.   These three were on the staff for a long time.

The Psychology Department of the Kerala Univesity was the first institution in Kerala for Psychology as a full major subject.  Till that time Psychology was taught as a branch of Philosophy, Education and so on only.   Most of the senior Psychologists in Kerala were trained in the Psychology Department. There were only six students in the first batch of M.A. class in the Psychology Department.   Thanks to the generous grants by UGC and the University, the Department has one of the best collections of old classic books and journals on Psychology as well as laboratory equipments in the country.  The first association of Pychologists in Kerala was formed in the Department as Kerala Psychological Society, the only outside member being Dr. Jacob, Psychiatrist and superintendent of the Mental Hospital.

The first conference organised by the Department was on Student Personnel Services, sponsored by the USEFI in 1963.  In 1964 the Department hosted the annual national conference of Indian Association of Applied Psychology.  

The staff members of the Department were taking classes for nursing students, probation officer traines, police sub-inspector trainees and so on for a long time.  They have been writing popular books and articles and giving public talks over the radio and in various institutions on topics of popular interest making the general public psychologically aware. The Depatment has conducted several Psychology exhibitions for the general public. 

The first major research project undertaken by the Depatment was on the relationship of personality factors to academic achievement, funded by the University.  This was followed by several surveys of studen needs and problems at the school and college levels. Some of the early  research projects funded by national bodies were on psychological consequences of vasectomy, family size norms,  developmental norms of children and so on.  A large number of psychological tests were developed and standardised.

The Department was shifted to Kariavattom in 1968 as soon as the Kiariavattom campus started functioning.

Dr. George, the founder head of the Department  was a very handsome person.  He was always well groomed and impeccably dressed. He was very dynamic and impressive.  He could speak English very fluently.  His infectious laughter was well known.  He was very sociable and quick witted.  He managed to be the centre of attention everywhere he went. He used to travel very frequently and people used to remark that he spent more time in the plane than on ground.  He frequently attended  seminars and conferences both in India and abroad.   He was well known all over India.  He could get several research projects funded by the UGC, ICSSR and so on.   He published several papers and books.  He held additional charge as Honorary Director of youth Welfare in the University for several years.

Several incidents come to my mind when I think aout Dr. George’s ability to rise to the occasion and quick-wittedness.   A new vice-chancellor had taken charge.  He was visiting the Departments and checking whether the staff, particularly the Heads of departments were coming on time.  The working time started at 10 a.m.  but Dr. George habitually came at 11 only.  The  vice chancellor, perhaps hearing about this, one day came at 10.45 and sat in Dr. George’s chair, waiting for him to come.  Dr. George as usual came at 11.  He saw the Vice-chancellor’s car parked in front of the Department building.  Without any hesitation he entered the Head’s room and saw the Vice-Chancellor sitting in his chair.   Dr. George  laughed, addressed the Vice chancellor by name and said, “Good Morning”.  There were several people in the room waiting to see what would happen. Without losing his cool Dr. George said, “I am on leave today.  I am on my way to my native place. I just dropped in to check my mail”.  He asked for his mail, collected his letters and without even sitting down, left in a hurry.  The Vice chancellor looked like a fool and went away as soon as Dr.George left.   It is said that many other Heads of  Departments in similar predicaments shivered, went on their knees apologising and begging for pardon.

Around 1990, I was on tour in the Himalayas and I chanced upon Indian Institute of Social Sciences at Simla.  I had heard that they give accommodation to academicians. I telephoned the Director.  As soon as he heard my name he invited me to stay in the Institute for a few days.   When I went there I found that the best room  was arranged for me as per instructions from the Director.  Long back it was the master bedroom where the Viceroy slept in summer.  I was told that the Director wanted to meet me after I had checked in.  When I entered his room, the Director looked surprised and disappointed.  He asked, “Are you Dr. George from Kerala ?”  Then I understood that he had mistaken me for Dr. George.  I explained that I was a different person.  The Director had met  Dr. George somewhere and was greatly impressed.  Any way I could live in the royal bedroom of the Institute for a few days because someone had mistaken me for Dr. George !

Dr. George retired from Kerala University in 1986.  He was put in charge of oganising the School of Behavioral Sciences in M.G. University.  He passed away at his residence because of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 63.  His smiling portrait hangs in the Head’s room in the Psychology Department of Kerala University.  To new students in the Department he is just a picture, but to us who have known him, he is the father figure of Psychology in the State and a living forceful memory.

Dr. George kept a distance from students.  He was a real boss.  Dr. Gopala Pillai was a mixer, very sociable and close to students. He passed away a few years ago.  Dr. Devadas Menon took his Ph.D. from Kerala Univeristy with Dr. George as guide.  He lives near Kochullur.  At one time, there were eight teachers in the Department.  Now the number has dwindled to five though there are several additional M.Phil courses and the number of strudents in the M.A. courses in one batch has increased to around 20.  Students are coming from other countries like Iran and Africa to study here.