After eight years at the University, psychology and Wilson School professor Daniel Oppenheimer will depart for the University of California, Los Angeles effective July 1.
Oppenheimer received tenure at the age of 30 and has taught PSY 101: Introduction to Psychology, one of the largest classes in the school, since the fall of 2005. He came to the University after earning his Ph.D. from Stanford in 2004.
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Oppenheimer said he planned to leave Princeton because he did not like the University’s location.
“Princeton is a spectacular place and I have enjoyed working with the faculty and students,” Oppenheimer said. “In order to work at Princeton, you need to live in Princeton, which is not a good location. I decided that there was more to my life than my job so I thought it was time to move on.”
Oppenheimer is popular among undergraduates, especially for his lecturing skills. Of the students who filled out a course evaluation for PSY 101 in the fall, 86 percent said that the course, taught by Oppenheimer, was “excellent” or “very good.” Additionally, 98 percent of these students said that the quality of Oppenheimer’s lectures was “excellent” or “very good.”
In addition to teaching, he has authored and co-authored over 40 academic papers related to psychology since 2003. His most recent work is a book published in 2012 along with Michael Edwards — who holds a master's in political science from University of California, San Diego — titled, “Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System That Shouldn't Work at All Works So Well.” The book explores the inherent issues of the democratic system in which voters make irrational choices without typically considering all the factors.
Oppenheimer also won the Ig Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, which is awarded by past Nobel Prize winners for humorous or thought-provoking research. To win the prize, Oppenheimer demonstrated that people who use longer words actually appear less intelligent than those who don’t.
At UCLA, Oppenheimer will be jointly appointed to the department of psychology and the business school. Oppenheimer said in an email that he would teach introductory psychology at UCLA, but that there would be no overlap between his current Wilson School courses and the classes he will teach at UCLA’s business school.
“Any time you have to develop new courses and adapt to a new population of students there are challenges,” he said. “But I tend to enjoy teaching challenges, and I expect it will be rewarding.”
Vice Dean of the Wilson School Stephen Kotkin expressed regret at Oppenheimer’s departure.
“He works in a critical area for us, judgment and decision making,” Kotkin said in an email. “We certainly did what we could to keep him here. We wish him well in California, he will be missed.”
Oppenheimer advised psychology concentrator Grace du Pont ’12 on her junior paper and senior thesis. Du Pont noted his “penchant for pirates” and said that his lecturing skills would be missed.
“Danny is, without a doubt, the smartest person I have ever met,” du Pont said in an email. “That manifests itself in a variety of ways, but it is most noticeable in three areas: his incredibly quick wit, his ability to give an awesome lecture and his piercing comments on my written work.”
Du Pont added that although Oppenheimer is frequently busy meeting with faculty members, undergraduates and graduate students, the two have still spent hours discussing her work and ideas.
Tim Keyes ’14 who took Oppenheimer’s PSY 101 course and wrote a profile of Oppenheimer for the final project of a journalism class, said that the professor “embodies pretty much everything that you can hope for in a professor.”
“He's obviously passionate about psychology and teaching his students how to think about it from a critical perspective, he always makes it a point to make himself available to student questions and concerns and perhaps most importantly, he just commands an impressive amount of knowledge about his field of study,” he said.
“He is better described as a mentor rather than an advisor, and I know others feel the same way,” du Pont explained. “UCLA doesn't know how lucky they are to have him.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story indicated that professor Daniel Oppenheimer received tenure at age 25. He actually received tenure at 30. The 'Prince' regrets the error.