January 24, 2012

Professor Maas Retires, Spreads ‘Gospel’ of Sleep

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Having taught more than 65,000 students in 48 years, Prof. Jim Maas, psychology, retired on Dec. 31, 2011. Maas’ most popular course, Psychology 1101: Introduction to Psychology, will resume in fall 2012 under a new professor.

“I’m going to miss teaching tremendously,” said Maas, who came to Cornell in 1964. “It has been so rewarding and nothing will ever substitute for it. I will continue to consult, trying to spread the gospel that people need more sleep to be better performers.”

The psychology department is currently in the early stages of searching for a replacement for Maas, according to Cindy Durbin, personnel manager and course coordinator.

“It’s not going to be easy, but I believe everything is going to be okay,” Durbin said. “I don’t think the course should be taught the same way it was taught anyway. … We want to have the same high level of quality, but in a different format.”

Following retirement, Maas and his wife, Nancy, plan to move to a larger city where his wife can better continue her professional art career. Maas said that because the past 32 years of their marriage have been focused on his career, he would now like to give his wife the support she deserves.

Maas said he was originally due to take a sabbatical in spring 2012 but decided to retire instead.

For the past month, Maas’ family has been travelling to different states, such as Florida and Arizona, to find their next home. Maas said the family needs to be somewhere with a strong art community, good golfing and an airport to accommodate their travel needs.

Maas said he plans to maintain a full schedule of speaking engagements after leaving Cornell. In the past, he has spoken to companies such as Goldman Sachs and Google, and has also streamed lectures to areas such as Doha, Qatar.

“He’s one of the most giving and generous people I know, with his time, knowledge and support of students,” Rebecca Robbins grad said. “He has hands down influenced me more than any other professor. … There definitely will be a void on campus.”

Robbins, who took Psychology 1101, joined Maas’ research team her sophomore year, became a teaching assistant for the course her senior year and published a book, Sleep for Success, with Maas. Currently, Robbins is continuing the sleep research she began with Maas.

Maas has not only had an impact on the psychology department but also on the entire University, professors said. Prof. Bruce Levitt, theater, said that he and Maas have been close colleagues for a number of years and that he hopes they remain friends in the future.

“Jim, Nancy and his two sons have been friends of ours on that level for years,” said Levitt, who has also formed a golf trio with Maas and Prof. David Feldshuh, theater. “I’m delighted for Jim. … He’s a dynamic person and lecturer.”

Feldshuh has also worked with Maas outside of the Cornell community. The two gave a lecture together about the Tuskegee airmen.

“We have taught together, we have held alumni classes together and we have given lectures together,” Feldshuh said. “Having known Jim for many years … I know that his contributions to Cornell have been significant and will be missed.”

In addition to teaching, Maas was also active in Cornell sports. He acted as the advisor for men’s  hockey, women’s lacrosse, men’s golf and women’s club golf.

“The thing that I’m going to miss the most is the wonderful interaction with Cornell students,” Maas said. “I absolutely thrived from the interaction with my advisees, my T.A.s and my students. … I am just grateful for 48 wonderful years at Cornell. It’s been fun.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rebecca Robbins grad is a graduate student in the Department of Psychology. In fact, she is a student in the Department of Communications.

Original Author: Kaitlyn Kwan