James McKeen Cattell Fund History


James McKeen Cattell Fund:

A Benevolent Foundation for Psychology

by Lyle V. Jones & Gregory A. Kimble The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill & Duke University

For over half a century, the James McKeen Cattell Fund has provided support for the science and the application of psychology. This report describes the establishment of the Fund, the evolution of its programs, and its current operating procedures.

The James McKeen Cattell Fund was established by a gift from James McKeen Cattell on November 24, 1942, consisting of 600 shares (out of a total of 1,000) of the Psychological Corporation, which Cattell had purchased for $6,000 when the Corporation was founded in 1921. In the deed of gift, Cattell set forth the Fund’s objective: to support “scientific research and the dissemination of knowledge with the object of obtaining results beneficial to the development of the science of psychology and to the advancement of the useful application of psychology.”

Fund Management
Cattell’s deed of gift closely tied the Fund to the Psychological Corporation. It required the establishment of a Board of Trustees, at least three of whom were to be Directors of the Corporation. It stipulated, further, that the stock in the Corporation never be sold. As the sole exception, it might be transferred to the American Psychological Association should the APA exercise its option to buy the Psychological Corporation.

The Charter Trustees of the Fund were Paul S. Achilles, President and Director of the Psychological Corporation; Henry C. Link, Vice President and Director of the Psychological Corporation and Head of its Market Research Division; A. T. Poffenberger, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, a Director of the Psychological Corporation; Dean R. Brimhall, Director of Research of the Civil Aeronautics Administration; and Elsie O. Bregman, Consultant, Progressive Education Association. In 1970, after the Psychological Corporation merged with Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (see below), the Trustees voted to cancel the requirement that three of their members be Directors of the Corporation. A list of all Trustees and the years of their service appears as Table 1.

Table 1. – Trustees Years of Service
Trustee Period Replacing
Paul Achilles 1942-1964
Henry Link 1942-1952
A.T. Poffenberger 1942-1960
Dean R. Brimhall 1942-1963
Elsie O. Bregman 1942-1970
Albert Frieberg 1952-1961 Link
Robert Thorndike 1960-1987 Poffenberger
Dael L. Wolfle 1961-1982 Freiberg
Charles W. Bray 1963-1976 Brimhall
S. Rains Wallace 1964-1967 Achilles
John G. Darley 1967-1983 Wallace
Donald W. Taylor 1970-1975 Bregman
Lyle V. Jones 1975- Taylor
Janet T. Spence 1976-2005 Bray
Edward E. Jones 1981-1993 Wolfle
Gregory A. Kimble 1982-2004 Darley
Elliot Valenstein 1987-1999 Thorndike
Marcia K. Johnson 1994- E. Jones
Christina L. Williams 1999- Valenstein
Peter A. Ornstein 2005- Kimble
Scott Maxwell 2006-
Robert Levenson 2007-

Paul Achilles served as Managing Trustee until he retired from the Board in 1964. His successor as Managing Trustee was Dael Wolfle. John Darley served in this position in 1982-83. Lyle Jones has been Managing Trustee since then. Elsie Bregman was Secretary-Treasurer from 1944 until ill health required her retirement in 1963. Robert Thorndike was Secretary-Treasurer from 1964 to 1985, when Gregory Kimble succeeded him in that office, serving until 2000 when Christina Williams became Secretary-Treasurer.

Initially, the Board of Trustees managed the Fund’s assets. Then, from 1970 through 1984, Robert Thorndike, as Secretary-Treasurer, with occasional advice and counsel from the Managing Trustee and other members of the Board of Trustees, served as the Fund’s financial manager. In 1984, the assets of the fund had increased sufficiently for the Trustees to turn their management over to a firm of professional managers of capital assets and to appoint a firm of accountants to audit the Fund’s books and to prepare the tax returns required by its tax-exempt status. The Fund selected the firm of McMillion/Eubanks of Greensboro, NC, as its financial manager and Nelson & Company of Durham, NC, as its accountant. In 1990, the Trustees chose Franklin Street Partners of Chapel Hill, NC, as McMillion/Eubanks’ successor.

Financial Growth
In 1944, the Fund had total assets of $7,178. With time, the Fund received additional gifts and purchased additional shares of stock in the Psychological Corporation, increasing its holding to 11,200 shares and, by 1968, its net worth had risen to $848,560. In 1969, the Psychological Corporation was absorbed by merger into a publishing company: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. As a result of that merger, the Cattell Fund received, in exchange for its shares of Psychological Corporation stock (that had cost $16,804), 27,776 shares of Harcourt stock, then valued at $1,166,592. Prudence dictated that the capital assets of the Fund be diversified and, gradually the Fund sold the Harcourt stock and replaced it with other securities. In this process, the Fund’s capital value increased further, rising from about $1,200,000 in 1970 to approximately $1,600,000 in 1985, and about $3,000,000 in 2000. With the decline in the stock market the fund has been holding steady at about $2,600,000 in recent years. Between about $140,000 and $170,000 has been used annually for Fellowships, about $30,000 has been expended on investment and accounting fees, about $5,000 has been used for operating expenses, and the remainder of income has served to increase the assets of the Fund.

Activities supported by the Fund
For the first 20 years of the Fund’s existence, annual income was less than $10,000, and support for programs in psychology was limited. Until 1963, the income of the Fund provided small research grants to individuals or institutions, usually less than $2500. The availability of grants had been publicized in a brochure distributed at APA meetings and published in the American Psychologist.

Interim Programs
In 1962-63, the Trustees became dissatisfied with the number and quality of the applications they received and considered alternate ways for fulfilling the Fund’s mission. Several patterns were explored.

  1. In 1963, an allocation of funds was made to Sigma Xi for small grants to support psychological research.
  2. From 1964 to 1966, several awards were made to small liberal arts colleges, which had been nominated as active sources of graduate students. The aim was to strengthen their psychology programs by helping them to acquire additional materials or equipment. Awards ranging from $5,000 to $12,000 were made to William Jewell College, Whitman College, Chattanooga College, and Grinnell College.
  3. Several grants were made to the American Psychological Association to support research design awards by Division 14, research awards by Division 13, travel to an International Congress, and travel of a delegation to China.
  4. Partial support was provided for a National Research Council project that had received primary support from the Fund for the Humanities.
  5. Support was provided to HUMRRO for a research project.
  6. From 1967 to 1973, a program of sabbatical awards for psychologists in industry or civil service was publicized and supported. Eleven fellowships were awarded, 9 of which were accepted and completed. Because the number of applications for these awards was small and the quality of applicants was judged not to be uniformly high, the program was terminated.

Supplemental Sabbatical Awards
In 1974, a program of supplementary sabbatical awards (”James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowships”) for psychologists was initiated. These awards were intended to supplement the regular sabbatical allowance provided by the recipients’ home institutions, to allow an extension of their leaves from one to two semesters. This program continues and has been expanded since that time. The maximum award is limited to the least of (1) half the recipient’s salary for the academic year, (2) an amount less than half salary that will bring the total of the university allowance plus the award up to the individual’s normal academic-year salary, or (3) a ceiling, which was $15,000 from 1974 through 1985, and gradually increased after that to its present level of $37,500.

James McKeen Cattell Fund awards are available to psychologists who are faculty members at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and are eligible, according to the regulations of their own institutions, for a sabbatical leave or its equivalent. Eligible candidates must be either tenured faculty members or nontenured associate professors in a tenure-track position. Ordinarily awards are made to persons who have been continuously employed in an academic teaching or administrative position for the previous five years and have not had a leave with outside support during that period. Prior recipients of a Cattell Fund award are not eligible. Recipients are requested to submit to the Secretary/Treasurer a brief report of their activities as soon as possible after the end of their sabbaticals.

Candidates for Cattell awards submit their applications to the Secretary/Treasurer of the Fund. The deadline for submission is December 1 of the year preceding that in which the applicant expects to be on leave. A sample application form may be found here. Potential applicants may download and execute the application form, following the instructions at that web site to submit the application. On about December 31 each year, the Secretary/ Treasurer sends each member of the Board of Trustees copies of the applications, supporting letters from two references, and a form completed by the applicant’s department chair or dean, certifying the applicant’s eligibility for a leave. The Trustees bring their evaluations to a meeting held in mid-February and applicants receive a notification of the Trustees’ decisions by about March 1.

By comparison with the “study sections” that evaluate applications for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the procedures employed by the James McKeen Cattell Fund are a miracle of efficiency. Prior to the February meeting, all Trustees have read the applications and have rated them on a scale from 1 to 4 (where 1 is the highest rating), limiting themselves to 6 ratings of “1″ and 10 ratings of “2″ — or to a total of 16 between “1″ and “2.5″ if they use ratings of “1.5″ and “2.5″ — and abstaining on applications submitted by colleagues at their own institutions. In making these ratings, the Trustees take account of (1) the applicant’s record of scholarly activity, (2) the relationship of the proposal to useful applications of psychology (in recognition of Cattell’s statement of the purposes of the Fund), and (3) the quality of the applicant’s plan for the sabbatical year.

At the Trustees meeting, without much discussion, the Trustees report their ratings and record a total for each applicant. Abstentions are recorded as the average of the ratings of other Trustees. Based on the sums of ratings, the pool of possible awardees is reduced to about a dozen. Those with the very lowest summed ratings (typically below “7″) receive awards almost automatically. For the remainder, the total rating is important, but other considerations are that the Trustees try to spread the awards across several different areas of psychology, favor members of underrepresented groups when they are among the “finalists” and try to make at least one award to an individual in a small college or some other institution where research is difficult. Agreement among the Trustees is usually high. Over the years from 1985 to 1997, for which detailed records are available, the Fund received 920 applications. In that time, with only one exception, the successful applicants all had totals of “10″ or lower — a rating of “1″ or “2″ by each Trustee.

Table 2. Numbers of Applications and Awards
Year Applications Awards
1974-1976 123 18
1977-1979 197 17
1980-1982 169 17
1983-1985 230 18
1986-1988 241 20
1989-1991 231 19
1992-1994 204 16
1995-1997 169 16
1998-2000 147 19
2001-2003 131 13
2004-2006 100 11
2007-2009 125 7

Table 2 presents in three-year blocks the number of applications for sabbatical supplements received by the Fund since the initiation of this program. During this period, the annual number of applications increased, from 35 in 1974 to a high of 88 in 1989. In recent years the typical number of applications received each year has been lower, about 45, indicating a substantial decline in the numbers since the early 1990s.

Over this same period, the number of awards that were granted has also decreased from about 6-7/yr from 1974-1999, then about 5/yr through 2001, and in recent years only 4/yr have been awarded. The major factor controlling variations in the number of awards has been the dollar size of the awards and also the decline in the stock market and the fund’s value in the early 2000s. The years in which a higher number of awards have been approved have been those in which the most highly rated applicants requested relatively smaller amounts — most often because their institutions cover more than half the applicants’ salaries, and an amount smaller than the maximum allowed by the Cattell Fund was enough to bring their total up to their annual salary. The amount requested has never been a determiner of an application’s merit ratings.

View a complete list, year-by-year, of the recipients of Cattell Fund awards.

As far as the authors know, the mission of the James McKeen Cattell Fund is unique among the programs in the community of philanthropic foundations. From the point of view of the recipients of its awards, it has been a conspicuous success. The following brief passages from letters that accompanied the final reports of the awardees are typical of dozens that have come to the Secretary/Treasurer in the past decade.

“The chance to work for extended periods on my research and writing was most welcome.”
“To tell you the truth I am a bit surprised, but extremely pleased to have accomplished this project within my sabbatical year.”

“I have no doubt that the Cattell Fellowship allowed me to complete research that would otherwise have taken some years to accomplish.”
“The sabbatical period was a rich and rewarding experience for me.”

“Over and above the tangible results of my fellowship…it is clear to me that this sabbatical fellowship year has been one of considerable intellectual growth and evolution, a period defining the directions and setting the agenda for my scholarly activities for the years to come.”
“In all respects, this award has been an immense honor and pleasure.”