Law-Psychology Program celebrates 40th anniversary

Law-Psychology Program celebrates 40th anniversary

The University of Nebraska's College of Law.
The University of Nebraska's College of Law.

UNL’s Law-Psychology Program was one of the first of its kind 40 years ago and is celebrating its longevity and progress with an anniversary celebration Oct. 23-25.

Bruce Sales launched the program in 1974 and was its first director. He received a training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to train scholars to do research in the areas between psychology and law. Some of the first notable studies made significant impact on bettering jury instructions.

The program has had four directors in its 40 years. With each new one, a shift in research occurred, which broadened the program’s impact, said current director Richard Wiener. The program’s research has touched on a broad variety of issues related to law and policy, including children and family issues, discrimination in courts and law enforcement, the death penalty and probation and rehabilitation.

“It’s one of the longest standing, if not the longest-standing law-psychology program in the world – and it’s one of the best programs,” Wiener said. “In fact, many of the people that work on the faculty of other law-psychology programs at other places came from here.”

Wiener said Sales started the program because he was interested in interdisciplinary research, which was unusual at that time, especially in law.

“There had been law and economics programs and research, but this was the first time law and psychology were brought together,” Wiener said.

The program now has about 15 graduate students and a unique master’s degree in legal studies, which intersects the Department of Psychology and the College of Law. Wiener said he was one of the first graduates of that new program in 1986.

Wiener said the program is still successful at securing research grants as well as holding contracts with local and state programs. Current law-psychology faculty are working on research related to discrimination, search and seizure issues and eyewitness identification. Wiener said the program also holds contracts with the state looking at juvenile detention services and best practices for probation rehabilitation.

The program will mark its 40th year with a celebration this week. Eve Brank, associate professor of psychology, has organized several alumni events, along with a full day Oct. 24 of panels related to the program’s accomplishments and current and future research.

“It will be a good chance for everyone to catch up and also for our current students to network,” Wiener said.

Friday’s panels in the Nebraska Union Ballroom, are open to the university community. Click here for details.

Faculty members from the Law-Psychology Program including (from left), Brian Bornstein, professor of psychology; Richard Wiener, director and professor of psychology; Robert Schopp, professor of law; and Eve Brank, associate professor of psychology, are gearing up for the program’s 40th anniversary celebration, which will welcome former students and faculty members, Oct. 23-25 at UNL.