out of the Ph.D. program at the University of California at Berkeley,
26-year-old Karl Scheibe accepted a faculty position at Wesleyan University.
Apparently, he liked his first job.
sure lasted a while,” says Psychology Professor Scheibe, who has spent the
more than four decades since teaching and doing research at Wesleyan. “I’ve
considered going to other universities, but never did. And I’ve never
regretted staying here.”
a social psychologist known for his classes emphasizing relationships
between psychology and theater, will take his final bow when he retires
after the spring semester.
Throughout his career, he’s taught 20 different psychology courses, some of
which are self-invented. In 1980, he introduced an experimental course
titled “The Dramaturgical Approach to Psychology,” which proved to be
popular with both psychology and theater majors. The course explores the use
of the language of theater in the illumination of psychological questions,
exploring issues such as politics in theater, audience effects, role-playing
as a teaching and therapeutic technique, the actor’s identity problems and
general theory of the mask.
the class is so well-known, Scheibe interviews students before allowing them
to enroll in the size-restricted class.
class isn’t for everybody,” he explains. “This is for people who really want
to get engaged and take charge. People who would rather sit through a
lecture shouldn’t be here.”
Psychology major Elizabeth Thaler ’05, says discovering the intersection of
drama and psychology is intuitive to many students. The class, she says,
helps students experience a real-life illustration of everything the
psychology department teaches.
first day there was a buzz of mystery and excitement, because all anyone
knew about the class was that it was intense, revealing, and huge amounts of
fun,” Thaler says. “The fun is very important—we make ourselves pretty
vulnerable and at times go into dark territory. The fun keeps us eager for
says Scheibe puts class into the students’ hands, but stands by as a guide,
providing agency and support.
is a feeling of trust in that classroom that I haven't experienced anywhere
else at Wesleyan, and the trust works both ways. He seems infinitely wise
yet eager to learn from his students; we're all in it together,” she says.
“In the weekly journals we write him, I feel free to talk honestly about
almost anything, from my personal life to my complaints about the class. I
didn't walk in feeling that way, it was the way Scheibe leads us that opened
applied for a position at Wesleyan based on its “yeasty qualities,” he said.
“Wesleyan was a traditional New England small college, but it had this known
quality of change – this avant garde – on-the-edge element that other
colleges around here lacked,” he says.
faculty position at Wesleyan also came with a daunting reputation. Scheibe
said he and other junior faculty colleagues were bathing in tenure anxiety
from the very beginning.
was hired in 1963, he was one of only six psychology professors in the
department; now there are 14 on tenure and tenure track.
Wesleyan’s 11th president, Victor L. Butterfield, was in charge
of the all-male university. Fraternities were quite conspicuous on campus,
and Scheibe found himself in the curious position between teaching and being
one of the boys.
26. I was listening to the same music as the students and sharing their
culture. I even chaperoned frat parties, as back then, parties had to have
chaperones,” he says, recollecting memories of his early days. “Wesleyan was
a very different place then. But then, as now, it was an exciting place to
was promoted to associate professor in 1967, was awarded tenure in 1968, and
was promoted to professor in 1973.
“Wesleyan was rich and resourceful and it was able to afford the best
professors in the nation,” he says. “It was a superior institution, and it
most professors at the time, Schiebe came to Wesleyan with a broad array of
abilities. Throughout the years, his research has focused not only on
psychology’s association with theater, but also on theoretical issues of
psychology of self and identity. His current research interests also include
problems of substance abuse and other excessive appetites.
Glickman ’04, events assistant for the Center for the Arts, took two of
Scheibe’s classes. Scheibe was also her academic advisor while she was
pursuing her degree in psychology.
“Professor Scheibe is a kind and compassionate man,” she says. “He had the
ability to captivate not only a small seminar of 20 students, but an entire
auditorium with 350 students. He was an exceptional instructor and mentor.”
Psychology master's student Justin Freiberg
says Scheibe creates a structure in his class that makes the students feel
safe enough to share openly, and to be spontaneous.
"He makes students take the initiative in
figuring out what exactly they just learned," Freiberg says. "You might
think to yourself that what just happened was really a bunch of improv,
and while this is true, it is in connecting the classes back to the
readings and to past studies, be they in psychology or drama, that the
real value lies."
addition to teaching courses at Wesleyan, Scheibe taught two-week
graduate-level classes at an English-speaking DUXX Graduate School of
Business Leadership in Monterrey, Mexico during the entire seven-year
existence of the program. He also had two Fulbright appointments at the
Catholic University of Sao Paulo, the first in 1972, the second in 1984. He
taught these in Portuguese.
In Brazil, Scheibe wrote his first book,
“Beliefs and Values.” He’s also the author of “Mirrors, Masks, Lies and
Secrets," “Self Studies” and “The Drama of Everyday Life,” published in 2000
by Harvard University Press. The book describes human lives as dramas, that
“we all live in boxes,” that are “little theaters wherein the play is
earnest and the players all convinced of their grasp on reality.”
retiring, Scheibe has plenty to keep him busy. Currently a part-time
clinical psychologist, Scheibe will continue to practice at his business in
Old Saybrook. He’ll focus the bulk of his time as the director of the new
Wasch Center for Retired Faculty. This new center, slated to open on Lawn
Avenue in fall 2005 creates a shared intellectual and social community where
retired faculty members can continue their scholarly activities and
participation in university life. Here, Scheibe hopes to complete another
book, which is well underway.
retired faculty member, I and others, need a place to go to think and write
and read. And, when I am retired, they’re probably going to want to give my
office to someone else and I will need a place to put all these books,” a
smiling Scheibe says, peering up at hundreds of hard cover books, files and
Striegel-Moore, professor of psychology and chair of the Psychology
Department, says her colleague will be missed by other faculty members and
Scheibe has been a tremendous force in the psychology department,” she says.
“In the past 40 years, he has taught a broad range of courses to thousands
of Wesleyan students, including The Dramaturgical Approach to Psychology,
which exemplifies Karl's impressive breadth of scholarship and teaching. His
students attest to his passion for teaching and his dedication to
says he will miss teaching and that it never became mundane. The students,
he says, keep class motivating.
semester had fresh students and it’s like directing Hamlet all over again,”
he says. “Every cast was unique.”