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Longtime psychology professor James Kopp dies at 75

James Kopp
James Kopp

The Department of Psychology lost a beloved faculty member with 40 years of service to the University when James Kopp died on Nov. 19 at age 75.

Dr. Kopp, an associate professor of psychology and Fort Worth resident, had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer earlier this semester. He had been hospitalized the past two months.

Dr. Kopp is remembered by friends and colleagues as a compassionate man who cared deeply for his students. He was a highly popular and respected teacher for thousands of students over four decades. Psychology professor and former Dean of Science Paul Paulus and former interim Dean of Science and professor emeritus of psychology Verne Cox also joined UT Arlington’s faculty in September 1970. They remember Dr. Kopp for his benevolent personality and for his commitment to his students.

“Jim, Paul and I arrived together as new additions to the faculty in 1970, and that began a long friendship among the three of us,” Cox said. “Jim was a man of extraordinary kindness, idealism, and integrity, and I will miss him very much.”

Dr. Kopp’s passion for teaching had a major impact on many of his students, and he remained friends with many of them long after they left UT Arlington.

“He was passionate about his approach to psychology but was also a very caring individual,” Paulus said. “He was always concerned with the treatment of the less fortunate, and his many graduates have been able to have great impact on the lives of many individuals.”

Dr. Kopp’s focus was in Applied and Experimental Analysis of Behavior. He was the department’s expert in behavior modification, which is concerned with applying principles of behavioral psychology to help improve the outcomes for those who have learning disabilities or behavioral problems, Paulus said. He was a proponent of the scientific behavioral approach of B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist, author and social philosopher who formulated the concept of Radical Behaviorism and pioneered the field of experimental analysis of behavior.

Dr. Kopp trained students in techniques that were useful for the treatment of autism and for dealing with problems in educational settings. Taking his courses could qualify students for certification as behavior modification specialists, Paulus said.

Robert Gatchel, chair of the Department of Psychology, appreciated Dr. Kopp’s willingness to assist wherever needed.

“Since joining the faculty as chairman in 2004, I always considered Jim to be an outstanding citizen of the department, who would take on any task requested of him with great enthusiasm and diligence,” Gatchel said. “I am most proud of the fact that we were able to renew his tenure status during the post-tenure review process concluded this past spring. This, again, signified his contributions and value to the Department of Psychology.”

Added College of Science Dean Pamela Jansma, “He seemed like a very thoughtful person who loved teaching and put his students first. He was dedicated to UTA and never said no to anything he was asked to do.”

Madeline Rex-Lear, a graduate teaching assistant, echoed the sentiments of many of Dr. Kopp’s co-workers and students.

“As a colleague and a friend, I will miss his presence here on the fourth floor [of the Life Science Building],” Rex-Lear said. “He never missed a day and now there is a deep void. He will be missed by so many people from the past and present. He was the most patient person, and inspired so many to go on to careers devoted to helping others to learn and function well in our society. I will miss our chats about Skinner and life in general, and I can say I am a better person for being privileged to know him.”

Dr. Kopp was born July 25, 1935, in Ashland, Ohio. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1950s. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1960, an M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1962 and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1967. While at Michigan, he worked as a research assistant, a teaching fellow, and a lecturer in psychology.

He was an assistant professor of psychology at the Claremont Graduate School from 1967-70, and then joined the UT Arlington faculty, where he worked for the next 40 years. Among his many courses was an Introduction to Psychology class which he taught continuously since his first semester at UT Arlington in Fall 1970.

Dr. Kopp also served the Psychology Department and the University in numerous other capacities, including as a mentor for the McNair Scholars Program (1998, 2004-10); as a member of the College of Science curriculum committee (2000-04); as chair of the department's undergraduate curriculum committee (2000-04); and as an instructor in the University's Summer Outreach Program (1999, 2001, 2003). He also served 12 years as a graduate advisor.

He received numerous awards for his teaching and outreach work, including the Dean's Award for Outstanding Lecture on Careers in Psychology (1992) and the College of Science Outstanding Teaching Award (2006). He was a nominee for the Arlington Star-Telegram's Outstanding Community Service Award in 2002.

He supervised master's thesis or thesis equivalents for 64 students, and doctoral dissertations for eight students. He delivered over 60 presentations at conferences and symposiums worldwide, and published over 20 book chapters, articles and study guides.

Dr. Kopp volunteered his time as a consultant for various organizations, including the Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas public school districts; the Child Study Center in Fort Worth; the Easter Seal Society; the Fort Worth State School; the Research and Training Center in Mental Retardation at Texas Tech University; and the Richmond State School in Houston. He was also a community advocate for clients' rights at the Fort Worth State School and was appointed to the Public Responsibility Committee of the Tarrant County Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

He was a member of various organizations, including the Midwestern Association for Behavior Analysis (1969-79); the Association for Behavior Analysis International (1979-2010); the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis (1988-2010); and the American Psychological Association, Division 25 (Division of Behavior Analysis) (1967-2010). He was board certified as a behavior analyst in Texas by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc., in 2000.

In accordance with Dr. Kopp's wishes, no funeral service was held and his body was donated to UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Plans are under way for a memorial service, possibly in January.

Dr. Kopp was preceded in death by his wife, Dona (Osborne) Kopp, and parents, Paul and Mary Kopp. He is survived by a son, Jonathan Kopp of New York City, a daughter, Dana Kopp Franklin of Nashville, Tenn., and a brother, Bud Kopp of North Canton, Ohio.