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History of Psychology at CSULB

Comments on Early History of Psychology at CSULB

By Jack Nygaard, Emeritus Professor
At the Psychology Department Half-Baked Idea Seminar, 10/08/04

I’m delighted that Ken has initiated these sessions on the history of the Department, and pleased that he asked me to say some words at this first one, along with Chet Hull. I feel a bit inadequate to the task given that not only Chet is here but there are four others here who joined the Department before I did (Earl Carlson, Raphael Hanson, Doris DeHardt Kagin and John Jung.) When, however, I learned that we were doing this at the half-baked idea seminar, I became a bit more comfortable. And, Ken, since there are three of us here who were born in the same year that Lindberg first flew the Atlantic, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, and the average price of a 3 bedroom home was about $4,800 dollars, it is, no doubt, well that you didn’t wait any longer.

Thank you for doing it. What I would like to do this noon is to go back to the very beginnings of psychology here and talk a bit about those first years, the fifties and the early sixties and then Chet has said he would comment on those first years and, particularly, to say something about the work here of John Garcia and himself at the VA Hospital. A number of years ago I called Len Towner, to say that I would like to talk with him about the early days in the Department only to discover that he had gone to the hospital. I talked to him a couple of times in the next two weeks, but not about Department history. He died soon after that. I did subsequently talk with Chet, Earl, and John Jung about early years here, and received written recollections from John Garcia. I also did a little researching in the University archives about the early years here, and will start with that.

When in the Fall of 1949 Los Angeles-Orange County State College, as the school was called that first year, opened its doors to students, psychology was an area in the Division of Education, Psychology, & Philosophy. (The total regular student semester tuition that 1st semester was $6.50 plus $6 for a Material and Service Fee for a total of $12.50. Then there was an additional Associated Student Body Fee of $5). Four Psychology courses were offered. Classes met in the apartment building at 5401 Anaheim Road, I think it is still there – the location of the new college. All four courses were taught by the first, and for three years the only, full-time psychology faculty member, Robert Trowbridge Ross, one of 14 full-time faculty in the new college. In an interesting way, Ross’ history in psychology appears to have paralleled developments in psychology during the middle of the 20th century. He was initially involved, as an experimental psychologist, in attempting to formulate rigorous, quantitative behavior theory. Then during World War II he went into the navy and, like many other experimental psychologists at the time, came out a clinician. Ross had received a bachelor’s degree at Cal Tech in 1927 and an M.A. at USC three years later. He then went to Yale for his doctorate work in psychology, received that degree in 1934 and stayed on as an instructor until ’36. At Yale at the time the neo-behaviorist Clark Hull was dedicated to developing a genuinely testable theory of behavior. His first major paper, arguing for a rigorous hypothetico-deductive approach appeared in 1935. Robert Ross was a part of this. In this first paper Hull acknowledged his debt to Ross for calculus derivations of two theorems and also for having read and criticized the manuscript. (Interestingly, Max Wertheimer, the founder of the Gestalt School, is also cited as having read and criticized the paper) This paper was the basis for a much more extensive monograph by Hull and others, Mathematico-deductive Theory of Rote Learning. As Chet called to my attention, Ross was a co-author on this monograph. It was a monograph that, at the time was often referred to, but seldom read, [and, I believe, considered very weak by folks in the verbal learning area.] In 1936 Ross left Yale and joined the faculty at Stanford where he remained until 1941 when, with the outbreak of World War II, he entered he Navy. When he left the service five years later his interests had apparently turned from quantitative experimental theory to the clinical area. This change in direction happened for many, many psychologists who became involved in clinical work during World War II. (We could pursue this, but that is a different story) [see note.] Though Ross had come out of a strong quantitative background the orientation that he gave to psychology here in Long Beach that first year was clearly a clinical one. The four psychology classes that 1st Fall were Fundamentals of Psychology, Mental Hygiene, Abnormal Psychology and Introduction to Clinical Psychology. Ross left Long Beach in 1952, after three years here, and pursued a clinical career. He took a position as Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Sonoma County Mental Hygiene Clinic. This was followed by a number of different clinical positions before he became Chief of Psychological Services in the California Department of Mental Hygiene in Sacramento.

The course offerings expanded rapidly from those initial four taught by Ross in the Fall of ’49. The first College Bulletin published in May of 1950 for the 50-51 year, listed 17 courses. These included a laboratory course and courses in the areas of statistics, social, personality, testing, physiological, industrial and adolescent psychology as well as ones in clinical. Enrollment, also expanded. The number of students enrolled in psychology classes nearly doubled in the 2nd year going from 173 in 49-50 to 301 in 50-51. In the Spring of 1950 the first student, Donald Emig, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In those first three years, ten students received B.A.’s in Psychology and in ’52 the first two M.A.s were conferred. While Ross remained the only full-time faculty member in psychology those first three years, other college faculty taught part-time in psychology, as did some people from outside the college. Included in the latter group was Jack Bradley who along with Tom MacFarlane and Earl Zwetschke, became full-time faculty members in ’52. The move from that initial apartment building to temporary buildings on the permanent campus took place for Fall 1951. From ’52 to ’55 the College and psychology continued to grow. In ’53 one additional full-time faculty member joined the area (Robert Hoffman). And by the Spring of ’55 Psychology Offices had moved to upper campus in what is now Faculty Office 1, or the KLON (?) building. That year, 1955, Len Towner joined the psychology area. Len had finished at Berkeley in ’48 and had gone to Drake then back to to Berkeley before he came to Long Beach. ’55 was also the year that Chet came part-time as he finished at UCLA. He then joined full time the next year, as did Roy Heintz.

In 1959 Psychology changed from an area to a Department, within the Division of Education and Len Towner, as many of you well know, became its Head and, subsequently, Chair. Len, along with Chet really provided the direction of the Department for many years.

The first major thing I recall about the department when I arrived in 1963 was the potluck held in Len and Carol Towner’s backyard, the Saturday evening before the year’s first day of classes on Monday. (Carol still lives there at 6500 Espanita less than a mile from the campus) – The Fall potluck had become, and would for many years continue to be, an annual event. It was an opportunity for colleagues and spouses to catch up on summer activities and a pleasant way for new faculty to meet the rest of the department and each other. In the early 60s there were a number of new faculty each year. The evenings of the potluck closed the last day of class registration (where faculty members had taken turns working at the department table in the library, no online [or phone] registration then). And it could be a very hectic day for Len. Having kept detailed records of class enrollments and having made extensive course projections, Len nevertheless, sensitive to student needs and faculty strengths, often had to, at the last minute, close class sections and obtain administrative approval to open new ones. For him the evening potluck was more than hosting a pleasant social event. In between chatting with his colleagues and friends, Len was in his study talking to a faculty member or two about the need to change their schedules or was on the phone trying to reach potential part-time faculty to take on additional classes. For me, these evenings at the beginning of the year mirrored, in a number of ways the characteristics which Len Towner brought to his position of leadership in Psychology here. He combined a personal concern with almost endless activity, meeting the daily requirements of the Department. Many contributed to its development, but, I believe, it was Len’s dedication and industry directed toward the building of a psychology department that more than any other single factor resulted in the significant Department it became. When he became Head in 1959 Psychology was a small Department, seven faculty members, still in the Division of Education with no research and minimal laboratory facilities. Six years later, at the end of his second term as Chair, 25 additional full time people had been hired, Psychology had moved organizationally and physically into the Division of Natural Sciences, and enrollments in the department had increased at roughly double the rate for the rest of the college, becoming the fourth largest department in the school. Due to his extensive work with the help primarily of Chet, plans had been developed and approved for the construction of this four story psychology building with extensive laboratory space as well as facilities for a clinic. The curriculum had expanded significantly. Earl reminded me, some time ago how new courses fitting faculty interests were welcomed during Len’s years as chair. A number of years ago John Garcia, about whom we will have more to say in a few minutes, wrote that, “Among all my academic supervisory administrative bosses, I’ve had a few good ones (he included Tolman at Cal) , Len was tops! A close and trusted friend.” Adding he was “the greatest Department Head I every had.”

The story of this building is an interesting one. As I understand it, early on Len and Chet started talking about the direction and future of the Department and the need for a building. In order to put forth a proposal for a psychology building, the enrollment data for the department were needed, but central administration didn’t want to give it to them, so Len somehow, with the assistance of a secretary in the administration managed to steal or sneak the data out which provided what was needed for the building proposal. The first draft of the proposal was put together in 1960. The amount of data Len collected and the projections he made were huge. When I got here in ’63 things were well underway. Tom Macfarlane was working with Len and Chet: Because I had come from Ohio University where we had built a new building a few years before I was asked to join the three of them, but I had little to add to their work. The building, of course, opened in the Fall of 1970. (Ernest Hilgard, Professor Emeritus at Stanford gave the dedication address on May 27,1971. I am sure that Earl will have things to say about that at a later meeting.)

When I came in 63, at a time that a large number of new faculty were being added every year, Doris, Earl and Raphael had been here for two years and John Jung came the next year. They, along with others [including Joe White], were considered the young Turks while Chet, Len, John Garcia, Jack Bradley, Jim McClelland were the old guard, some or “cabin clique” to use the term used by Roy Heintz. (Roy, a Princeton grad and a pleasant guy – had come from Maryland in 1956, apparently expecting to become the department chair, and had become an outspoken dissident. What I first heard about him was that this very large, very round, person would, in the introductory course, demonstrate infant creeping and crawling lying on a table the front of the lecture room.)

When the department was in the education buildings there really had been no place for research and research had been basically discouraged. The move to the Natural Sciences Buildings meant most of the offices had prep rooms off of them. These and a few other rooms provided some space where some research could be done though in far from desirable conditions. (They are, perhaps, better remembered for the table hockey games introduced by John Jung.) Though there still was little research space, some things were happening and John Garcia was continuing the early work in his radiation studies next door at the VA hospital. Chet was doing work with there with him and will say more about that. John Jung, Doris, and Earl and others all had things underway. Then in ’65 there were significant changes. Len had finished his second term as Chair and was ready to do different things. John Garcia left for Mass General and Harvard Medical School, Chet went back to UCLA, and John Jung went off to York for three years. Garcia who had come in ’58 was still an assistant professor having been turned down three times by University Level (College level) committees because he didn’t have his Ph.D. though he was strongly supported by Towner and the Department. But having been turned down, again, in ’65, John, with a most impressive publication record of his work with radiation, a growing national and even international reputation, and offers of research facilities and money from Mass. General Hospital and Harvard Medical Schools, resigned. A part of the story that I hadn’t remembered or known about, but which John wrote to me a number of years ago, was that after he resigned President MacIntosh offered to rehire him as a full professor. But he was being sought by Mass General and Harvard Medical School. And John left.

(Ken Green did a postdoc with John at Mass General.) In ’68 John went to Stonybrook, then in ’72 a year at Utah, then to UCLA as a distinguished professor). In 1979, of course, he received the APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions. (John, when being given honors or giving invited address used to like to say that he hadn’t been considered by Long Beach State as qualified to be promoted to Associate Professor.)

In the Spring before he left, Garcia said to me that he thought I should take the chairmanship since I wasn’t identified with either the old guard or the young Turks. That happened and for the next several years things, that had already been started, continued. Work continued on plans for the building and construction began. Hiring continued to be major. In those days it was done by the Advisory Committee with the Chair. In the next three years 12 new faculty joined the Department, and six more in the fourth year when Jim McClelland and I basically shared the chairmanship. In ’66 we hosted the 46th Annual Meeting of the Western Psychological Association. It was held at the Lafayette Hotel downtown, no longer a hotel. Earl and I co-managed that and a lot of department faculty were involved. In ’68 the clinical group in the department started the Psychology Clinic. (Tom McFarlane and Charlie Mason). Due to the work of Chris Davis Beckman Instruments gave us 500 shares of common stock to be used for the teaching and resesarch programs of the Department. We received an NSF grant for equipment for the new building. And with another reorganization Psychology became part of the new School of Letters and Science. We, also, felt and responded to a little of the student protest movement that had started in ’64 in Berkeley (with Mario Savio leading the way). PsychFolks the forerunner of the Psychology Student organization was formed and, as I remember it, students began serving on Department Committees. (I remember being struck with how much better we department faculty behaved in committee meetings when there were students present.) This, of course, leaves out so very much of the story of the initial years. Lots that I haven’t mentioned. Haven’t really said anything about students or a number of important faculty including Bob Farley or Ray Boyle or Joe White or how some of the Spater sculptures were hidden in the Department and on and on, but Chet can better add to the early story than I can.