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History of the Association for Behavior Analysis
Richard W. Malott1
Behavior Analysis Program
Department of Psychology
Western Michigan University
Word version of this article
On October 5, 2002, a few members of ABA, faculty and staff of the
Western Michigan University Psychology Department, and ABA staff,
gathered together at 1219 South Park Street in Kalamazoo, MI to celebrate
the inauguration of new office space for the Association. President
Michael Perone performed the ceremonial cutting of the ribbon, which
was followed by a reception in the new building.
The new beginning that this ceremony represented, inspired past ABA
Secretary-Treasurers to look back to provide an account of some of
the major events in the Association’s history. In the following
articles, Richard Malott remembers ABA’s first 10 years in The
Founding of ABA, David Lyon recalls the second decade in ABA’s
Expansion of Influence and Maria Malott remarks upon the past nine
years in Growth and Organizational Maturity. In preparing these articles,
the authors reviewed Executive Council meeting minutes from their
terms of office and consulted key individuals regarding relevant sections,
including Carol Pilgrim, Sigrid Glenn, Margaret Vaughan, and Jerry
Mertens. However, the following pages are a personal account of the
past 29 years, and the authors do not intend, and indeed space prohibits,
that this be a comprehensive study of all the events that have taken
place in the organization.
Founding of ABA
As it is now, so it was in the early 70’s: The Midwest was a
behavior-analytic stronghold. But few behavior analysts could get
their papers accepted by the Midwestern Psychological Association
(MPA). For example, MPA rejected the presentations of notable, productive
behavior-analytic scholars like Travis Thompson. As it turned out,
the MPA program committee had an explicit policy of rejecting behavior-analytic
True, we could always present at the annual conferences of the Eastern
Psychological Association (EPA), the American Psychological Association
(APA), the Psychonomic Society, and the Association for the Advancement
of Behavior Therapy (AABT). But we couldn’t present in our own
backyard, MPA, which met in Chicago.
Many of us whined about this, but only one man did something about
it. That man was Jerry Mertens, a faculty member at St. Cloud University
(Saint Cloud State College, at the time).
I first saw Jerry Mertens at APA ‘68 in San Francisco--a huge,
hyperkinetic bear of a man, with long, shaggy brown hair and a long,
shaggy brown beard shouting, gesticulating, and enthusing about “Consequation
in Education” to a large, captivated audience. I was so impressed,
I remember the event 35 years later.
Well, the 70’s was a decade of protest against the establishment.
And a common form of protest against establishment conferences was
to hold an alternative-conference, same time, same place, next door,
with the goal of forcing the establishment to open their doors to
the alternative folks.
So, at the last minute, Jerry and Izzy Goldiamond threw together a
two-day, concurrent, alternate conference at the University of Chicago
in 1974. We were delighted that almost 100 people attended. And there
was born MABA (The Midwestern Association of Behavior Analysis), with
the goal of holding a more formal alternative-to-MPA conference in
’75, with the ultimate goal of gaining acceptance of behavior
analysis by MPA.
Neal Kent, from Western Michigan University (WMU) felt that Jerry
would not have sufficient human resources at St. Cloud to pull off
a real conference and so offered to collaborate with him. And one
human resource Jerry would not have for that next conference would
be Marge Vaughn (AKA Maggie Peterson), a high energy little nifty
whom Jerry had turned on to behavior analysis, who had played a key
role in organizing the U. of Chicago conference, and who was just
entering the MA program at WMU. Knowing that Marge would be at WMU
and could keep the WMU end of things from completely falling apart,
he agreed to share the responsibility with Neal and WMU. Marge would
work under Neal, helping to organize the first MABA conference for
independent, for which she received study credit, as MABA had no money
for a paid staff.
But, midway through the fall of ’74, Marge came to me in tears
because she could never find Neal to get the work done and she didn’t
have sufficient clout on her own. Would I help. Yes, I would.
I would bring my considerable behavioral systems analysis skills to
bear on the creation of MABA and its first conference. Those skills
consist mainly of an expertise in delegatory technology—the
ability to get everyone else to do the work, while kicking back and
downloading Napster (or whatever the comparable form of degeneracy
was in the 70’s). When you don’t have money to pay staff,
the distinction between a good performance manager and a con-artist
is a subtle one.
Well, MABA would be brand new and unknown; so we wanted to have a
bevy of superstar headliners to attract attendees—with luck
200 or maybe 300 attendees. And we didn’t want to rely on our
call for papers, which could be too easily ignored by the superstars.
So we sent out personal invitations to the big guys. We were so bold
as to even invite them big guys from the east coast, big guys like
Charlie Catania. And, amazing: Almost all accepted, though we not
only could not pay them, they even had to pay for their own registration.
Outrageous, but it worked. Personal invitations are always worth the
And, in addition to 20 invited superstars, MABA ’75 had an attendance
of 1,100, not 300. And, at the end of the conference east-coast superstar
Charlie Catania said that MABA was the best thing to happen to behavior
analysis since JEAB and JABA (or words to that effect) and he’d
be back next year, with or without a personal invite. Imagine that.
Build it right, and they may come.
And the hotel was a delight—the Blackstone, just the right level
of decaying elegance befitting an alternative, protest conference,
and right across the alley from MPA’s Hilton—perfect for
the active interchange and cross breeding between MPA and MABA that
Jerry saw as crucial to the behavioralization of MPA.
But, it didn’t work. To my knowledge, no one from MABA attended
MPA; and no one from MPA attended MABA. Never depend on natural contingencies
to support difficult behavior.
Jerry had turned over ultimate control of MABA to The MABA Organizational
Committee. And, because MABA, as a stand-alone organization, had been
such a success, and because MABA had had no impact on MPA, and because
of schedule conflicts, the committee voted to cut loose from MPA and
meet when and where was best for MABA. Always be flexible enough to
go for targets of opportunity.
Jerry objected to the mission shift. His goal was to influence MPA.
Disappointed with the vote, he abandoned MABA to continue his seduction
While concentrating on MABA, I continued to work with Jerry on MPA,
though I thought it was a lost cause. But to my surprise, Jerry managed
to get Jim Dinsmoor elected to the MPA Council of Directors in 1973,
Nate Azrin as President in 1974, Sid Bijou as a Council member in
1974, and Ken MacCorquodale on the Council after that.
How’d he do it? Even in large organizations, few people send
in nominations, so a small, coordinated group (e.g., Jerry’s
MPA behavior analysts) can easily get their person on the ballot;
then that person has a fighting chance of getting elected by the general
membership (who, in this case, did not have an anti-behavior-analysis
bias). A small, organized cohort can exert influence beyond its numbers.
But the behavioralization of MPA was short lived. The reactionary
forces of MPA regrouped and recouped. This leads to Don Baer’s
wisdom concerning maintenance of changes in organizations: After the
behavioral revolution, beware the counter-revolution.
In 1988, Jerry returned to ABA, bringing his undergraduate students
with him. He was wise enough to time-limit his grudge.
Evolution from MABA to ABA
Now Jerry’s mission had been to behavioralize MPA. My mission
had been to provide a conference that my students, the WMU students,
and the Midwestern students could attend. So, it had to be in the
Midwest, because clearly students could not afford to go to EPA, all
the way out to the east coast, nor could they afford to go to APA,
which met in such remote locations as San Francisco, New Orleans,
Washington DC, and Disney World. I saw no need for another national
organization; since we already had the Behavior Analysis Division
25 of APA, though Division 25 had been seriously weakened by the emergence
of MABA. But, if behavior analysts from all over the country wanted
to come to the Midwest, cool.
And, like Jerry, I was voted down. Clearly, MABA was functioning as
a de facto national organization; and we should change it’s
name and mission, to recognize that. Thus ABA was born, again, reflecting
the wisdom of going for targets of opportunity. And it turns out that,
Midwestern student participation has not been hurt by a floating ABA.
Founders of MABA/ABA
Jerry Mertens started MABA -> ABA to gain acceptance into MPA.
That mission failed, but most of us think ABA is an even more significant
accomplishment. Without Jerry, there absolutely would be no ABA. ABA
was not an idea whose time had come. In fact, our success took us
all by surprise. Who is Jerry Mertens? A teacher at St. Cloud. What
has he published? Damned little, certainly nothing in JABA or JEAB.
Where’d he get his PhD? He didn’t, he only has an MA.
Yet, without Jerry Mertens, you wouldn’t be reading this ABA
Newsletter, because there’d be no ABA. Who is Jerry Mertens?
One of the world’s greatest teachers of behavior analysis. He
coaches a farm team that sends many great, well trained, turned-on
undergrads into the big-league behavior-analytic grad programs. Jerry
also runs the Magical Behavioral Bus tour which he fills up with people
from around the country, undergrads, a few grads students, an occasional
faculty member, and takes a summer tour around the behavioral centers
of the USA, having the students intensively read, study, and report
on each center, before and after visiting. By the end of that trip,
the students have learned a lot of behavior analysis, and lost a lot
of sleep. At least he ran this bus tour, until discouraged by the
bureaucratic, narrow-minded reluctance of the executive committee
of a major behavior analytic program located in Kalamazoo, to grant
undergrad credit for such a wonderful educational experience. But,
I believe Jerry will rise again. Who is Jerry Mertens? He is a dream
chaser. With amazing intensity and creativity, he has devoted his
life to saving the world with behavior analysis, mainly by training
them up and shipping them out.
Jerry is still teaching his butt off at St. Cloud.
Who is Neil Kent? Neil was the man who had the vision. He had the
vision of what the Psych Department at WMU could become. He and Roger
Ulrich shared that vision. Without them, that program would still
be the mediocre, eclectic program it was before them. Behavior analysis
at WMU was not an idea whose time had come. It’s success certainly
took me by surprise; and its continued survival goes against the predictions
of many. Neil had the vision, and the social/political skills to realize
Neil also had the vision of what MABA/ABA could become. He knew the
potential importance of MABA/ABA, more than all the rest of us combined.
And he knew the importance of getting WMU involved in the creation
and maintenance of MABA/ABA. And he had the social/political skills
to get our department to commit the needed resources.
Who is Neil Kent? What has he published? Damned little, certainly
nothing in JABA or JEAB. Who is Neil Kent. Just another dream chaser.
A dream chaser who spent much of his professional life setting up
effective behavioral systems like WMU Psych and MABA/ABA and then
fading out to leave the maintenance of those systems to the rest of
us. Without Neil Kent, there’d be no ABA.
Neil has now retired.
Marge was a mere first-year MA student when she played a crucial role
in the creation of MABA/ABA. She could get things organized and get
things done, in a way that Mertens and Kent certainly couldn’t.
Without her, there would be no ABA. She charmed and coerced students
and faculty alike to build a major conference in year one, when there
had been none before. What had she published at the time she played
an essential role in the creation of MABA/ABA? Absolutely nothing,
of course (she was fresh out of undergrad school), let alone anything
in JABA or JEAB. No Marge, no MABA/ABA.
From the start, she shared with me the position of Secretary-Treasure
of MABA and in 1978 became the sole Secretary-Treasure of ABA, demonstrating
that she didn’t need me to run things. Then she did an extended
post-doc with Skinner, became Maggie Vaughn, and took a teaching position
at Salem State College, where she’s still teaching. But she
was just a first-year grad student when she played a crucial role
in the creation of MABA/ABA and she was still a mere grad student
when she became the sole Secretary-Treasure of ABA—the Head
Incidentally, at the same meeting where grad student Marge Vaughn
was appointed as the sole person primarily responsible for running
ABA, I had to argue with faculty members on the Council to allow me
to have another grad student, Kathy Wright as my Co-chair of the ABA
Program Committee. My observation is that faculty members have too
strong a tendency to dis students…really.
My role was the behavior systems analyst, the man with bubble gum
and duct tape who tried to keep it all together, the master of delegatory
tech. A good conman and a handful of dedicated undergrad and/or grad
students can move the world.
In general, I find that it’s easier to get students to do the
butt-busting work needed to pull off something as big and complex
as MABA/ABA than to get faculty to do so. To chair an action-oriented
faculty group is an exercise in frustration until you realize that
the only ones who will reliably get things done are you and your students.
Now, that’s not completely true. If you can talk a faculty member
into chairing a committee where failure will have serious consequences,
then that person and that person’s students can do amazing work,
There’s more than one way to contribute to the saving of the
world with behavior analysis. In addition to people with strong basic
and applied research skills, our field needs dedicated dream chasers,
who have the vision, or the tenacity, or the management skills to
create and maintain systems like ABA, where we can all display our
Early Student Creators
Marge and I had set up the MABA Coordinating Committee at WMU, consisting
of an occasional faculty member and a few grad students. This was
the main planning and logistic committee of MABA. Then a skinny girl
in t-shirt & jeans wandered in. She wanted to be part of the action.
She wanted to help. But we didn’t need any help; if anything,
it looked to me like she needed help. So what could she do for us?
She could organize a group of student volunteers to run the conference.
Who needs student volunteers?
Well she persisted, recruited a large group of students. And then
the t-shirt-&-jeans girl imposed something like a $1,000 dress
code for all student volunteers. A code that persists to this day.
And that’s how you can discriminate between the ABA student
volunteers and the full members. The students look really terrific,
while the full members are often mistaken for the janitors.
And the skinny t-shirt-& jeans-girl convinced her fellow students
to work 40 hours at MABA for something like a commemorative t-shirt
and a commemorative coffee cup. Student volunteers have been crucial
to ABA’s being able to pull off a great conference every year
and still keep the cost with in limits.
The t-shirt-& jeans-girl also had the vision. She knows what the
mission is. And she knows how to achieve it. She knows how to get
large numbers of people to buy into that vision and how to get them
to work their collective butts off achieving that vision. She went
on to get her MA and PhD, then to teach in Saint Mary's University
in Halifax, Canada and start a long career of organizing excellent
international and national behavior-analysis conferences. And to change
her name from Linda Parrot to Linda Hayes. And to move back to the
US of A. And rather than be the typical underemployed PhD wife, at
her PhD husband’s university, she formed her own self-capitalized
Behavior Analysis Program in that university (University of Nevada,
Reno), which has become one of the outstanding MA/PhD behavior-analysis
programs in the country and has branched out with satellite MA programs
in other states. And, most recently, she created ABA’s Council
of Behavioral Programs. None of her creations were ideas whose time
had come. Without her none of her creations would exist today. That
woman had the vision, and she still does, better than almost anyone
I know. Linda Hayes is a queen of the dream chasers. But she was just
a first-year grad student when she helped MABA/ABA have a great beginning
and when she implemented a component of MABA/ABA that continues to
keep it cooking so well.
Kathy Krumhus got her MA at WMU, did a couple Peace Corp years in
Africa, and returned to get her PhD with Neal Kent. And among the
Americans, she almost alone had the international vision. Along with
fellow grad students Marco Sallas from Mexico and Okechukwu Ozuzu
from Africa, she formed an ad hoc international group that raised
a little money by throwing house parties in Kzoo and facilitated international
participation in MABA. Because of the groups success, in 1977 MABA’s
Council approved their request to be recognized as MABA’s International
Behaviorists Special Interest Group.
Then one of the PhD council members objected to the notion that grad
students be allowed to chair such an important SIG, failing to appreciate
that the reason the SIG existed was because of the vision and organizational
skills of those grad students and that no PhD had demonstrated that
vision nor those skills with regard to the international issues. Fortunately,
the grad students were allowed to chair and run the SIG, at least
long enough to get it on a sufficiently sound footing that PhDs could
take it over without doing too much damage.
After receiving their PhDs, Kathy went to Katmandu to establish a
rural teacher-training program, changed her name from Krumhus to Goodman,
then went to Jakarta and Bangkok to do international behavioral systems
analysis, and finally to Washington D.C.; Marco returned to Mexico,
where he is president of the Pedagogical University of Veracruz, where
he continues to play a crucial role in the maintenance of a strong
behavior analysis presence; and OK returned to Africa and is now in
Florida working in developmental disabilities.
Though some parochial PhDs questioned the motives of Americans interested
in international behavior analysis, suggesting they were just looking
for international vacations, Kathy, Marco, and OK, mere a grad students,
had the vision to understand that, if we were to save the world with
behavior analysis, we needed behavior analysts all over the world.
Today, ABA has a strong, worldwide orientation; and it’s getting
stronger. Now, most of ABA understands that “saving the world
with behavior analysis” means more than saving the USA. And
a handful of grad students were responsible for pointing ABA in that
for Social Responsibility
Harry Kent was a doctoral student of mine with a rapidly developing
sense of social responsibility, so rapidly developing that by the
time he’d finished his excellent dissertation at the Kalamazoo
People’s Food Co-op, he agreed to publish it only if he could
footnote the caveat that his dissertation was a lot of crap because
its pay-for-performance incentive system was a corruption of the working
class and inconsistent with his newly developed Marxist-Leninist social
sensitivity—a caveat and thus a publication I felt compelled
to decline. But Harry Kent (no relation to Neal) also had the vision,
a true vision of the social responsibility to save the world with
behavior analysis, only later to be replaced by what he considered
the incompatible world saving tools of Marxist-Leninism. And Harry
too was an excellent and persuasive behavioral systems analyst, so
persuasive that he was able to convince a bunch of hippie, anti-money
food co-opists to implement a $-based performance-management system,
so persuasive that he was able to convince the head hippie co-opist,
Marie Greening to enter our Behavior Analysis Program, where she did
an MA thesis on her food co-op, so persuasive that she and fellow
WMU grad students Gary Gant and Elizabeth de la Ossa accompanied him
down the road to Marxist Leninism.
But while on the road to Marist Leninism and aided and abetted, as
we say, by the Cal State, Sacramento cell of behavior-analytic faculty
commie/commie-symp/neo-commie/ex-commie/anti-commies led by Joe Morrow,
they started a small newsletter and a journal, with, yes, a red cover;
and they formed the Radical Political Behaviorist group and the presumably
less hard-core Behaviorist for Social Action group. And although these
guys brought out the John Birch in even the most liberal ABA members,
and although many of the ABA Council were sure the group was going
to somehow embarrass ABA, I convinced the Council that there was nothing
to worry about and that they should approve the groups request to
form the official Behaviorists for Social Action Special Interest
Group (BFSA SIG) of ABA.
Then when ABA moved its conference to Dearborn, because Illinois wouldn’t
pass the Equal Rights Amendment, the OBM track included a special
symposium with top managers from Chrysler Corp, an organization which
was busy laying off workers to protect its bottom line, presumably
with little concern for the bottom lines of those workers. In the
middle of this symposium, terrorists rushed in and threw meringue
pies in the faces of our distinguished, visiting Chrysler Corp managers.
The BFSA SIG immediately denied any involvement and blamed the heinous
crime on “outside agitators.” But the ABA Council would
have none of that and promptly replaced the student chairs of the
BFSA SIG with a faculty member who could be counted on to demonstrate
more decorum; I think that faculty member was Steve Hayes (the man
whose ABA Follies was closed down because he showed a slide of the
head of an important ABA woman superimposed on a nude body).
The BFSA SIG later metamorphosed into the Behaviorists for Social
Responsibility SIG. And their red-covered journal metamorphosed into
Behavior and Social Issues, both highly respectable, run by a respectable
Harry Kent was a young dream chaser. After graduating from WMU, he
worked in developmental disabilities for Illinois. There is a good
chance that we would have no Behaviorists for Social Responsibility
SIG and no Behavior and Social Issues were it not for that student
dream chaser. My only disagreement was with their idea that Marxist
Leninism was incompatible with behavior-analytic performance management.
Early Faculty Creators
I was chairing MABA’s first business meeting, when a tough,
man-eating, feminist, you know the type, stood up, her fist clenched
in a power salute, virtually if not really, and asked, “What
about the women’s issues?” Huh? Can’t we just sweep
those under the rug? No, we must make sure there’s a strong
role for women in MABA. What a pain in the butt.
Turns out that Elsie Pinkston was not a tough, man-eating feminist,
just a frightened, embarrassed, little Kansas farm girl with a PhD
from the University of Kansas and a faculty position at the University
of Chicago, but still a little farm girl scared spitless at having
to make such a confrontational do in front of all these people. She
didn’t want to do that; but the big conscience of the little,
Kansas farm girl would not let her avoid doing what that little, Kansas
farm-girl conscience told her was the right thing to do.
Elsie was the first woman elected to the MABA Council. And awkward
though it was for her, she kept the women’s issues on the front
burner, and wouldn’t let us good old boys sweep them under the
carpet, to mix a metaphor or two. Elsie had the vision and stayed
true to it. Without her and her fellow feminists, in early MABA/ABA,
the wonderfully strong women’s presence in ABA might not now
be as impressive; and we might not have had nearly as many women presidents
and council members as we have had, over the years. And without the
explicit intervention of women like Elsie, the role of women in ABA
might be much less significant; the natural contingencies alone often
fail to produce significant social improvements; things do not necessarily
just get better on their own.
is the Experimental Analysis of Behavior Alive and Well in ABA?
Why isn’t EAB completely obscured by us M&M pushers? Because,
from the git-go, Art Snapper, at the time a faculty member at WMU,
assumed the responsibility of making sure that EAB was always well
represented in the MABA/ABA program.
does ABA have The Behavior Analyst (TBA)? And why is TBA like it is?
Scott Wood, a faculty member at Drake University, had that particular
vision. He thought MABA should have a journal, and not another JEAB
or JABA, but rather a theoretical and organizational journal like
APA’s American Psychologist. He had the vision and the verbal
skills to make it happen. He convinced MABA’s Council and then
brought it into being. And over the years, TBA has remained reasonably
true to Scott’s early vision.
ABA needs people with PhDs. And also MAs. And BAs. ABA
needs students. ABA needs women. ABA needs people with the vision
and the behavior-systems-analysis skills to turn that vision into
reality. MABA/ABA needed such people to get it going; and it needs
them to keep it from stagnating. ABA needs dream chasers. And that’s
one of the delightful things about ABA—it’s got ‘em.
Check out the program. Talk to the folks hanging out in the lobby.
ABA has many people who’ve spent much of their lives chasing
a behavior analytic dream, in an effort to save or to understand one
little part of the world or another. There are few issues of human
concern that at least someone in ABA hasn’t tried to address,
all the way from getting an autistic kid to touch his nose, to social
welfare for an entire country, to achieving international peace. And
they do so with considerable intelligence, considerable behavior analytic
expertise, and considerable dedication. ABA has many great dream chasers.
But, most of all, ABA needs students. Without students,
there would have been no MABA. Without students, there would be no
ABA. And without students, there will be no behavior analysis. Our
#1 priority is to recruit, train, and properly place students.
ABA’s biggest strength is its student membership (in 2002, 36%
of ABA’s 3,923 members were students). ABA’s biggest problem
is maintaining those students, once they graduate. ABA’s biggest
problem is converting student memberships to full memberships. If
we were successful at this, ABA would now have 40,000 members instead
of 3,923 members. For example, most of the original student founders
and creators are fond but distant ABA memories. That doesn’t
mean some are not still practicing behavior analysis, but there is
a strong tendency for even our most dedicated and active grad students
to gradually abandon most of their behavior analytic repertoire they
worked so hard to acquire and we faculty members worked so hard to
help them acquire; there is a strong tendency to regress to the common-sense,
mentalistic mean. And the main function of ABA should be to attenuate
that regression. We can never depend on natural contingencies to support
For a wonderful, less opinionated, more factual account of this early
history, see Marge Peterson’s (1978) article.
Peterson, M. E. (1978). The Midwestern Association of
Behavior Analysis: Past, Present, Future. The Behavior Analyst, 1,