Longtime Pomona Psychology Professor William Banks Passes Away at 68

William Banks, Professor of Psychology at Pomona since 1969, died April 25 after a bout with the autoimmune disease scleroderma. He was 68.

Both students and professors expressed a strong affection for Professor Banks, and sadness over his untimely death.

“He was really fun to talk to, just a really excited and exciting person,” said Joel Fishbein PO ’12, who took classes from Banks, adding that talking to him was “like talking to a close friend.”

Banks twice won the Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching, most recently in 2002.

“Bill had a very colorful personality, with a terrific sense of humor,” said Deborah Burke, Professor of Psychology and a longtime colleague and friend of Banks. “The way this came out in his classes was that he did a lot of demonstrations.” According to Burke, Banks built many of the demonstrations for his Perception and Cognition class himself.

“Everybody in the class would go, ‘whoa,’ which is what he loved,” she said.

One summer, Burke said, she returned to the classroom that she and Banks shared to discover that Banks had installed carpet over the entire floor, on the walls, and even over the windows in order to help teach students about visual and auditory perception. “He’d do anything to develop a demonstration,” Burke recalled with a smile.

Banks also taught a popular aerobics class in the physical education department. He incorporated the Jimmy Buffet song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” into the routine, with “this really hilarious dance I can only imagine he choreographed himself,” Fishbein said.

Banks came to Pomona as an Associate Professor of Psychology in 1969, the year after he earned his PhD. He stayed at the college for 42 years despite job offers from other major universities.He taught a number of psychology courses at Pomona, including Psychological Approaches to the Study of People, Perception and Cognition, and a seminar in Consciousness and Cognition.

While at Pomona, Banks also published over a hundred scholarly papers. He was most interested in cognition, specifically the unconscious processes involved in attention and memory, as well as cultural variance in cognition. He advised students pursuing psychology majors and also helped out with the Cognitive Science track of the Linguistics and Cognitive Science major at Pomona.

In addition to his work as a teacher, Banks also co-founded the scholarly journal Consciousness and Cognition in 1990.

“He was really humble about being a leader in the field,” Fishbein said.

“He was a terrific model,” Burke said. “There was none of this trade-off [between students and research] you always see.”

Banks was born in Madison, Virginia, and attended St. John’s College in Maryland, graduating with a B.A. in 1964. He continued on to Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a M.A. in 1966 and a PhD in 1968. Heis survived by his sister, Betsy Ryland, and four children, Abigail, Joshua, Sophie, and Olivia Banks.

A memorial for Professor Banks will be held in Bridges Hall of Music Saturday, May 7 at 3 p.m., with a reception to follow. Students can also send personal tributes for Banks to communications@pomona.edu.

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