A professor who taught for more than a third of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s 150 years of existence, is calling it a career after starting on the campus 55 years ago.
It is believed that Lee McCann holds the record for the longest-serving faculty member in the University’s history.
Raised on a farm in Nebraska, McCann joined the Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh’s psychology department in the summer 1966, after earning a doctorate in experimental psychology from Iowa State University.
McCann recalled that the first piece of technology he used in 1966, “was a piece of chalk,” adding that he predicts technology changes will continue to influence the way students are taught and learn.
“The University gave me an opportunity to do what I wanted to do,” he said when reflecting on his extensive career.
Retired faculty member and former department chair Susan McFadden said McCann is the person with the greatest institutional memory at UW Oshkosh. McFadden had many years of service with McCann until she retired in 2012. He was department chair several times and she was chair from 2000-2006.
When McFadden arrived, the department still had chickens in the basement of Clow and later rats. It previously had a monkey. McCann was doing research on fish―studying how they identified with their own species―so there were fish tanks in the lab.
She said McCann cared deeply about teaching and spent many years conducting research on various aspects of teaching the psychology curriculum.
McCann’s areas of expertise in psychology were comparative (behavior and cognitive similarities and differences among and across different species of animals) and theories of learning.
“One of the things that always mystified me and amazed me was that his office was incredibly neat, with few books or papers obvious,” she said. “Nevertheless, for nearly any question you asked about UW Oshkosh and its governance, he could always open a desk drawer and retrieve the answer. I never understood how he did this!”
Current chair, James Koch, said he’ll miss McCann’s collegiality, sense of humor and friendly approach to life and work, even in tough times.
“He was a great sounding board for me over the years and I could always depend on him for useful advice and opening my eyes to seeing things from a different perspective,” Koch said.
Throughout his career, McCann held many roles beyond teaching and researching. He spent 12 years as psychology department chair, five years as associate vice chancellor for academic personnel and curriculum, four terms as Faculty Senate president; and a number of years in the former faculty ombudsmen role. He said it was important for him to protect the role of the faculty in the governance of the University.
Interim Dean Kim Rivers, noted that McCann was part of the committee that authored the College of Letters and Science bylaws― which continue, with modifications, to guide the department to this day.
The bylaws were written, but the dean at the time was quite resistant―”he thought they would destroy the college,” McCann recalled. When the dean retired, the associate dean who moved into the role approved the bylaws “and away we went.”
David Jones, longtime professor of criminal justice, said McCann will be remembered for a lot of things, but most importantly, in his view, was being a very effective advocate for the interests of the faculty―”and often able to do that in a rather quiet fashion.”
James Simmons, political science professor who ended his career in fall 2020 after starting in 1989, was a third member of the trio or friends created with McCann and Jones.
“I first met Lee when I was doing senate committee work on student evaluations and faculty compensation,” he said. “Over the years we became the two people to go to for institutional knowledge and shared governance issues. We were both Faculty Senate president for four terms.”
Together, the two are responsible for much of the University handbook, policies and rules.
Simmons, who came from Iowa State University where McCann received his Ph.D., helped create the ombudsman position. McCann was the first person appointed to serve in the role.
Simmons, who said he misses his work and the people at UWO after being retired just one semester, pointed out that McCann has won all the major university-wide awards and has co-authored several books and many articles. He said McCann regularly wins mini-marathons in his age group―he runs with Jones, also an accomplished distance runner. McCann has Fellow status with the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association. His Lee McCann Fund supports psychology students and faculty.
Time for himself
McCann’s official retirement date is in August.
“This fall will be the first time in 75 years that I won’t be going to school in fall,” he laughed.
He’ll still come to campus occasionally to complete research he is conducting with a colleague and to exercise and meet with friends.
McCann and his wife, Mim, who retired after teaching math at Oshkosh West High School, have three sons and five grandchildren.
“I was the first one in my family to go to college and get a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “My parents were enthusiastic about education. They thought it was a good idea.”
Fifty-five years later, no one’s disputing it.