The University of Chicago News Office
April 10, 2001 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
(773) 702-8366

Jacob W. Getzels, Creativity Scholar, 1912-2001

A leading figure in the study of creativity, Jacob W. Getzels, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor in Education and Psychology at the University of Chicago, died Saturday, April 7, at his home in Chicago. He was 89.

“Getzels was one of the fathers of creativity research,” said Robert Sternberg, the IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at Yale University. Getzels’ book, Creativity and Intelligence, written in 1962 with University of Chicago Professor Philip Jackson, has become a classic in the field of research into the nature of intelligence, said Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, University of Chicago Professor Emeritus in Psychology and Education. The book challenged accepted theory in its recognition of the role of creativity and personal values in the development of intelligence and broadened methods of testing intelligence in schools.

In a later book, The Creative Vision, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi focused on the concept of “problem-finding,” especially in the arts. This work proposed that how problems are formulated is more important in understanding creativity than how problems are solved. “It really changed the field in a very positive way,” Sternberg said.

Getzels’ research interests also included the application of the behavioral sciences to problems in education, educational administration and the acquisition of values. “He was one of the last great synthesizers in the field of education theory,” Csikszentmihalyi said. “He was especially concerned about how values are acquired and transmitted, not just in education but in psychology generally.”

Getzels’ own values were impeccable, according to Csikszentmihalyi. “He was such an incredible gentleman. The phrase, ‘a gentleman and a scholar’ really applies to him. He was a beacon of integrity.”

In the mid-1960s, Getzels almost single-handedly established the scholarly study of educational administration as a respected area of inquiry, said Philip Jackson, the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago.

“His studies of the creativity of high school students and problem-solving abilities of practicing artists helped to open these topics to heightened scrutiny in this country and abroad. He stands in the forefront of those who have contributed significantly to the study of education in the last half of the 20th century,” Jackson said.

Getzels was born Feb. 7, 1912, in Bialystok, Poland, and immigrated as a child with his family to the United States. He received his A.B. degree in English from Brooklyn College in 1935, his A.M. in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 1939, and his Ph.D. in social relations from Harvard University in 1951.

From 1942 to 1945, Getzels worked on the assessment staff of the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services. He joined the University of Chicago faculty in 1951, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Getzels was a member of the Research Advisory Council of the United States Office of Education from 1964 to 1967. He was a consultant to the White House Conference on Education in 1965 and served on the President’s Task Force on Talent in Education in 1967. Getzels also was a member of the U.S. Office of Education-State Department Cultural Mission to Soviet Russia in 1960, and a member of the American Delegation on Education to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 1969.

Getzels received many honors, including the Nicholas Murray Butler Medal from Columbia University in 1978. In 1984, he received both the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Brooklyn College and an honorary doctorate from Hofstra University. He was named a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavior Sciences at Palo Alto, Calif., for 1960-61.

He also was a member of the Board of the Spencer Foundation and served on the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress. He has been vice president of the National Academy of Education, a Johns Hopkins Centennial Scholar, a member of the Board of Directors of the National Society for the Study of Education and a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee.

Getzels was co-author of The Use of Theory in Educational Administration in 1955 with Arthur Coladarci, and Administration as a Social Process in 1968 with James Lipham and Roald Campbell. He also was published widely in scholarly journals.

Getzels is survived by his wife, Judith Nelson Getzels, Chicago; three children, Katherine, New York City; Peter, Washington, D.C.; and Julie, Chicago; a brother, Irving, Hallendale, Fla., and six grandchildren. Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory should be made to the Library Society or the Graduate Fund for the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, 5801 S. Ellis Ave., Room 7, Chicago, IL 60637.

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