Sam Houston State University's proposed doctoral program in forensic clinical psychology was recommended for approval at the July meeting of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The affirmative nod from the board's Committee on Universities allows SHSU to move forward with the program's development. Final OK for the proposed Ph.D. offering hinges on a board vote slated in October.

"This was the most critical step for us," said Ken Craycraft, dean of SHSU's College of Education and Applied Science. "If there had been any objections, they would have arisen in the board's discussion. As it turned out, our proposal was recommended without opposition."

Pending final approval, Craycraft said the university will be ready to initiate the new forensic clinical psychology program in the fall of 1998. If approved, it will become SHSU's third doctoral-level offering. A doctoral program in educational leadership was launched this year at the university, and a Ph.D. program in criminal justice has been in place since 1970.

Forensic psychology is one of the nation's fastest growing psychological specialties, explained David Marcus, an SHSU psychology professor who helped design the proposed Ph.D. program and spearhead the approval initiative.

Practitioners, he said, are in high demand.

In a nutshell, Marcus explained, "forensic clinical psychology involves the application of clinical psychological knowledge to legal questions and legal issues. The term 'forensic' denotes involvement with the legal system."

Forensic clinical psychologists work primarily with prisons, the courts, and law enforcement agencies. They conduct psychological evaluations of prison inmates and of individuals standing trial for various crimes. They frequently testify as expert witnesses in criminal court proceedings and consult law enforcement agencies on psychologically related issues. They also provide psychological therapy and counseling -- a service valued by law enforcement agencies whose personnel have needs unique to their profession.

If approved, SHSU's program will be one of only five such doctoral programs in the nation, and the only one in the southwestern United States, Marcus said.

SHSU's proximity to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice headquarters in Huntsville and the proposed program's unique link with SHSU's College of Criminal Justice are two factors promising to distinguish this offering from all others.

"One of the real advantages of this program is the fact that it bridges the strengths of two colleges," Craycraft said. "It capitalizes on the expertise of two fine faculties in the Department of Psychology and Philosophy and the College of Criminal Justice. It builds on the foundation of one of the leading criminal justice doctoral programs in the nation."

Though independent of SHSU's criminal justice doctoral program, the advanced psychology degree will have a direct connection to it.

"We are viewing the relationship between the two programs as symbiotic," explained Phillip Lyons, an SHSU criminal justice professor with a background in forensic clinical psychology who has assisted Marcus with the program's development.

"We designed the forensic psychology program so it will strengthen and be strengthened by the Ph.D. program in criminal justice," he said.

The connection with the College of Criminal Justice is unique because most existing forensic psychology programs are linked to law schools. The criminal justice arrangement is advantageous, Lyons said, because it will allow students to "confront matters of broader social significance."

"The kinds of forensic services that are of most use to citizens involve the criminal justice system," he said.

The availability of large prison populations near the SHSU campus promises to provide valuable opportunities, not only for the practical training of students pursuing the advanced degree, but for those correctional institutions that will benefit from student research.

"We have a great resource here with TDCJ," said Marcus. "Doctoral students training to be prison psychologists, will be able to go into the prisons, conduct evaluations and provide therapy."

The field experience afforded by access to the prison system will balance the strong researched-based component of the program. The clinical work, moreover, will provide a valuable service to the community at large.

"A real strength of our proposal is its connectivity, its connections to the world of work and the profession itself," Craycraft added. "It is not just the course work we will offer, but the services we can provide through the clinical training of our students."

To facilitate the interaction between the Ph.D. program and the criminal justice community, plans call for the establishment of a fully functioning forensic clinic on the SHSU campus. The clinic will be located in one wing of the SHSU Student Health Center.

"We anticipate that the forensic psychology clinic will receive referrals for psychological evaluations from various law enforcement agencies, courts, and others involved in cases where forensic psychological evaluations are critical." Craycraft said.

In addition to the prisons, the clinic will serve as a workshop for the clinical component of the program and allow students to work under the direct supervision of SHSU's distinguished forensic psychology faculty.

Heading up the clinical training portion of SHSU's program will be Mary Alice Conroy, who joined the SHSU psychology faculty this year. Conroy, one of the world's leading experts in forensic assessments, comes to SHSU after working 20 years as a forensic psychologist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Her contributions to the degree proposal, Marcus and Lyons both said, have been invaluable.

The idea for a forensic psychology doctorate at SHSU emerged in the early 1990's when Jerry Bruce, chair of the Department of Psychology and Philosophy, suggested the possibility of such a program in a letter to the university's vice president for academic affairs. Since then, numerous SHSU faculty members and administrators have contributed to the realization of Bruce's vision.

"Even though the program is one that will be housed in the College of Education and Applied Science, within the Department of Psychology and Philosophy, we can never undersell the extraordinary contributions that have been provided by the College of Criminal Justice," Craycraft said.

"We have been able to build on the strengths of an existing program that has postured us for approval as nothing else," he continued. "The foundation of excellence has been established for us and has certainly been facilitated and promoted for us by the College of Criminal Justice and its dean, Tim Flanagan."

Additionally, Craycraft credited the success of the project to the continued support of SHSU President Bobby K. Marks and to Vice President for Academic Affairs James Gilmore.

"Approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board committee," Craycraft said, "is a formal acknowledgment of the quality and depth of the colleagues that we have been fortunate enough to work with."


Media contact: Phillip Rollfing

July 28, 1997