APS Charter Member Memories

This is a photo of an old cover of the APS Observer and a newer cover of the APS Observer.

The Observer recently invited our charter members to share their memories of APS. What was happening at the founding of the Association? What prompted them to join and remain loyal members for 20 years. Here is a selection of their responses with more to come in the Observer and online at www.psychologicalscience.org/anniversary.

Marilynn Brewer: From A Bathtub to the World
It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since a maverick group of APA Council members caucused to create the Assembly of Scientific and Applied Psychology (ASAP), the organization that gave birth, one year later, to the American Psychological Society.  My memories of the founding days of APS are snapshot images of key events, like intense caucus meetings at the 1987-88 APA Council of Representatives, “pajama party” sessions in Sandra Scarr’s hotel room, and drafting the by-laws for incorporation of a new society. But among my most vivid recollections of that early period is the memory of our first APS “headquarters.” Our fledgling organization had almost no money and no place to call home. Until we could raise enough in dues and donations to be able to rent office space and hire an executive director, Logan Wright graciously offered his ranch house in Norman, Oklahoma, as a base of operations. I remember a small group of us working over a weekend, sitting at Logan’s dining table stuffing envelopes for our first mass mailing to recruit members, and using the first-floor guest bathroom as our office supply room. The bathtub was full to the brim with envelopes and our first letterhead stationery.

Yep, we’ve come a long way — from a bathtub in Norman, Oklahoma, to Washington, DC, to the world. Thanks to the incredible response of thousands of psychological scientists to that first mailing and call to join, APS was soon able to lease office space in Washington and hire Alan Kraut as our founding executive director. And the rest, as they say, is history. Optimistic as we were, I don’t think any of us working from the ranch house back in 1988 could have envisioned how fast the new organization would grow to become international in its scope and influence. Changing our name to the Association for Psychological Science is symbolic of the critical role that APS has come to play in advancing psychology as a scientific discipline worldwide. We have a lot to celebrate in these 20 years, and even more to look forward to.

Sandra Scarr: A Proud Founder
In 1988, Marilynn Brewer and I were on the American Psychological Association board of directors — among the last two academics defending research interests in a sea of directors committed to advancing the practice of psychology. Along with the academic division representatives on APA Council, we fought for autonomy for academic/research psychologists within the practice-dominated APA. Our efforts failed. At a fateful Council meeting in early 1988, 37 members of the academic/research divisions met secretly and put in place what would become the American Psychological Society. Charles Kiesler was elected the first President, and soon thereafter, Alan Kraut agreed to be the first Executive Director.

The new APS had no money, no journals, 37 members, and no place to call home. In breaking away from APA, we left behind all the assets we had contributed to APA since its founding 100 years before. The decision to strike out on our own was very tough for those of us most involved. It was a decision that took some time for other academics, not so intimately involved in the bloodshed at APA, to accept and endorse by joining APS. Early on, the APS Board wisely decided to ignore APA, not to pick fights. We also agreed to work with APA when possible, although not many opportunities arose in the early years.

Within months, the new APS took shape. A mailing generated 500 members. We found office space for our intrepid Executive Director in the Washington office of the Society for Research in Child Development — a dingy spot above a liquor store in a marginal neighborhood. Fortunately, we were able to afford Alan better quarters within a few years. Given his long experience in the Science Directorate at APA, Alan gave the new APS immediate impact in the Washington political arena. Alan put APS on the legislative and government agency maps, sometimes in contradiction to the policies of APA.

Backed by a few hundred founding members, I braved New York publishers to negotiate a contract for our first journal, Psychological Science. Cambridge University Press agreed to favorable terms. The most valuable provision was their growth projection. I told them we would have 5,000 members within five years. They thought this projection was insanely optimistic and based their agreement on 1,500 members in five years. My projection proved correct — in fact, we hit 5,000 in only two years — but APS payments to the Press for member copies were based on 1,500 members, a huge financial benefit for the new organization. When it came time to found Current Directions, the Press listened to my membership projections of 15,000 members in the next five years. No scholarly organization in history has grown as fast, but APS did.

Our first Annual Meeting was held in a motel in Arlington, VA. The major social event was hosted in the motel parking lot. Loyalists thought it was the best psychology meeting ever. The camaraderie of the founding APS “girls” included pajama parties and lots of late-night giggling. It was a memorable time. We had a ball.

APS began with a brave troop of research/academic leaders, who were willing to give up status in APA to protect the future of psychological science. The cause was timely and legitimate. APS is now a vibrant, important organization that includes nearly all research/academic psychologists in the United States and many abroad. I am very proud to have been a founding member.

Albert Bandura: A Failed Federation
During my APA presidency in 1974 we appointed a commission to make one final heroic attempt to restructure the association to keep us all together. The commission proposed a federation model comprising three major constituencies with a superordinate board to address cross-cutting issues. The constituents were granted autonomy to devise their own representational and governance system, set their own agenda and fees, and pursue their specialized interests. The atmosphere was inhospitable to a functional coexistence. The failed trial eventually gave birth to APS.

Wendell R. Garner: Where I Belong
I had long hoped that there would be a single psychological organization, and that it would be the American Psychological Association. However, the only way this could happen was by some form of federation, and when the [practitioner] psychologists turned that down in a vote, I gave up. Immediately APS was founded and I joined because I am a scientist, not a practitioner. Even though I had hoped for unity, it was clear that it would never happen. So I joined the society my mind and heart are in with no regrets.

At age 86, I am in the organization I belong in and happily so. I am still sorry that a federation didn’t succeed, but since it didn’t, I am where I belong.

John W. Jones: My 20 Years With APS
I joined APS 20 years ago for a variety of reasons. First, I liked that APS was tightly focused on the scientific underpinnings of our profession as opposed to the practice of psychology. Don’t get me wrong, I make my living as an executive at a leading psychological test publisher and I’m also a practicing consulting psychologist, but all products and services that my organization offers must be based on sound, world-class science, and APS reflects such a value system. Second, I appreciated the entrepreneurial spirit of a new organization that was designed to both promote and protect our scientifically based profession. We can never minimize the threats that our industry faces from a business perspective (e.g., outlawing or restricting psychologically based technologies and services even when the evidence supports their use!), and APS seemed poised to complement APA on this front. Finally, and not to be minimized, I was looking for an organization that was a bit more intimate in terms of its annual conference. For 20 years I’ve encouraged my research team to submit their research to APS, and I’m always pleased with the audiences that attend our sessions at the APS annual conferences.  The research that APS stimulates and promotes through both its conference and journals deals with a wide variety of important challenges (e.g., substance abuse, national disasters, and prejudice) and opportunities (e.g., virtual teaming, organizational excellence, and learned optimism) that face a global society, so I’m expecting that APS’s impact will only get stronger. Congratulations!

For information about our 20th anniversary programs, please see www.psychologicalscience.org/anniversary.

Observer Vol.20, No.9 October, 2007

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