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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 1998
Psi Chi at 69: Where We Are,
Where We've Been,
Where We're Going

Slater E. Newman, Psi Chi President, North Carolina State University

As you can guess from my title, first I'm going to address Psi Chi's current status, then I'll present some aspects of our history, and finally I'll mention some concerns and some possible future initiatives. But before I begin with the main part of my talk, I'll tell you something about how I arrived at this position of delivering the 1998 Psi Chi presidential address.

The Psi Chi chapter at North Carolina State University was established in 1968. It operated for three or four years and then became dormant. In 1976 one of the very capable students in my undergraduate class in Cognition said that she wanted to have the Psi Chi chapter reactivated, and she asked if I would be willing to serve as the chapter advisor. I said that I would if the previous advisor was not still interested. He said that he wasn't, and so I then became the advisor, and this I have remained.

During these past 22 years our chapter's fortunes have varied, depending on the commitment and enthusiasm of the officers. We have continually remained in the ranks of active chapters, I believe, and I have, I guess, been a major source of continuity and stability. For a few of the years the graduate students were the more dominant, but in recent years, the officers and most of the other active members have been mainly undergraduates. I see my role of advisor as one of providing orientation to the new set of officers each year, of being available when needed, and of encouraging the students to take responsibility for planning and for carrying out their plans. This seems to have worked fairly well.

During these earlier years I sometimes attended the annual meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA), and when I did, I would usually attend the Psi Chi "business" meeting. Perhaps as a result of his having seen me there, William Watkins, who was the Psi Chi Southeastern Vice-President, asked me if I would like to be nominated for that office. I asked him to let me know what the duties were. He did, and I agreed to "run." The hundreds of dollars I spent on campaigning for that office enabled me to manage a tie with the other candidate, but in the runoff, money prevailed, and so then, of course, did I.1 After my first term I ran unopposed for a second term, which ended in 1994, and I became President-Elect in an unopposed election in 1997. And so here I am today.

During these past few years I have been very pleasantly surprised that our "old girl" or "old boy" or "old person" system has worked so well. Somehow we end up with a National Council comprised of a group of well-motivated, committed, capable people, all doing their best for Psi Chi and for its members--and Psi Chi seems to be thriving. A major factor, of course, is that we have had outstanding executive staff--Ruth Cousins and now Kay Wilson--but the Council is, I believe, due some of the credit.

So first to the question: Where are we, and how are we doing? There is, of course, more than one way to answer this question. Perhaps the easiest is in terms of some numbers--more particularly relating to our growth. Let's look first at the data for the past six years, and at the number of chapters that have been added, and at our total number of chapters. These data are presented in Table 1. You will note that there has been an increase each year, the average number of chapters added during these six years being about 30, though there is a fairly wide range from 15 to 47. This amount of increase is, I believe, especially noteworthy since these days we are probably engaged in what is essentially a zero-sum game; thus, there was probably little change in the number of colleges and universities during the past six years, so that each chapter we added reduced the number of institutions still available to be approached. Furthermore, it seems likely that those remaining institutions without chapters are likely on the average to be smaller than those that already have chapters, and so would be less likely to have the requisite number of eligible students and of faculty to serve as advisors. So, using the number of chapters as a criterion, we seem to be doing quite well.

The number of new members inducted annually is another measure of growth, which is probably highly correlated with the number of chapters. These data are shown in Table 2. As you can see, membership increased in each of the years shown there. The average increase in the total number of Psi Chi members is 17,267, and each year the increase exceeded that of the year before.

A third measure of how we're doing--perhaps more interesting than the previous two--is the number and the percentage of active chapters. An active chapter is defined as one that has inducted at least one new member during the preceding year. Look again at Table 1. These data are presented in the sixth and seventh columns of that table. As you can see, the percentage is consistently quite high and lies in a rather narrow range from 88% to 95%, indicating that most chapters are at least active enough to add to their membership each year. The average number of new members added by a chapter during those years is also consistently around 22.

There are other data we could look at that could tell us about chapter involvement, such as the number of chapters that participated in elections (see Table 2), the number that submitted items to Eye on Psi Chi (formerly the Psi Chi Newsletter), the number of members from a chapter that attended regional and national meetings, the number that presented papers and posters at those meetings, and the number participating in our national projects. These data can be gathered some other time, perhaps as part of someone's Thelma Hunt Award research project.

Another set of measures of how we're doing is financial. Some data are presented in Table 3. The column marked "difference" shows the difference between revenues and expenses for each of the six years from 1991-97. For each of these years, the difference is fairly substantial and ranges from about 10% to 18% of net assets. The net assets are shown in the last column. As you can see, Psi Chi appears to be financially quite healthy.

Let's look now at another way to answer the question about our current status. Let's look at some of the national-level projects for which we have current responsibility. Some of these are listed in Table 4, and the rest are listed in Table 5.

At the present time there is a total of 12 award and grant programs that we administer. Table 4 shows that only 3 of these 12, the Guilford Award for undergraduate research, the Newman Award for graduate research, and the Denmark Award for faculty advising were in existence prior to 1991.

Table 5 shows that research is heavily emphasized in the new awards, especially research by students. Of those nine new awards, six are for research, two are to recognize the excellence of chapters, and another, to honor exceptional faculty advisors at the regional level.
In addition to these awards and grants, there are a number of other national-level programs, most of which have been recently adopted. These are also listed in Tables 4 and 5. Only a few existed before 1991. And if these are not enough, we are beginning to launch some new initiatives, including the release of an orientational video, the establishment of an endowment which could, for example, be used to fund student scholarships, and the extension of a modicum of governance to each of the regions through regional steering committees. It's easy to understand, isn't it, why these have been and continue to be exciting times for Psi Chi, especially, I believe, for the National Council and for the staff? There is still, of course, the very large amount of day-to-day work involved in maintaining our organization, and we can all take pride in the excellence with which this has been and continues to be accomplished by our national staff. Their remarkable performance was recently recognized by the American Society of Association Executives, which listed our national office as the most efficient in the country for a staff its size.

So that gives you some idea of our recent and current status at the national level. At the regional level, the main activity is the arranging and the conducting of a program at the annual meeting of each of the regional psychological associations and, in the case of the Eastern region, of the New England Psychological Association (NEPA) as well. I have had the pleasure this past year of attending all but one of these meetings, and I was pleased at both the level of participation and at the quality of each of the programs. I will follow with interest how our experiment in regional governance and in providing help for the regional vice-presidents turns out.

At the chapter level, I would note again that most of our chapters continue in the active chapter status in that they are in-ducting new members each year. In addition, each issue of Eye on Psi Chi reports a large variety of activities that have been undertaken by a number of our chapters.

Now I've indicated where we are at present, and in doing so, of course, I've mentioned some events of the recent past. Next for some talk about our history.

Three very good sources are listed in the references: the 50th anniversary booklet (1979), edited by Thelma Hunt who is a former Psi Chi historian; a book chapter by Ruth Cousins, Carol Tracy, and Pete Giordano (1992); and another book chapter by John Hogan and Virginia Staudt Sexton (1993). John Hogan is a former Eastern Regional Vice-President, and Virginia Staudt Sexton is a former President of Psi Chi. Carol Tracy, as you may know, is the founder and current Executive Director of Psi Beta, the honor society in psychology for community and junior colleges, and a daughter of our former Executive Director, Ruth Cousins, and Pete Giordano is a recent Psi Chi vice-president who represented the Southeastern region.

Table 4, as you probably noted before, presents some of the main events from our 69-year history. Of special consequence--in addition, of course, to the events surrounding the founding--are the appointment as our executives of Ruth Cousins, and subsequently of Kay Wilson; our relationships with the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), the American Psychological Society (APS), and Psi Beta (the national honor society in psychology for community and junior colleges), our emphasis on research through the presentation of awards and through providing opportunities for the presentation of papers and posters; and, of particular interest to me, the sponsorship of Psi Chi's International Year in 1962.

Another way of determining where we've been is to look at the changes that have occurred in our Constitution and Bylaws over the years. Since our founding, our Constitution has, I believe, been amended a total of 15 times, most recently in 1997. Our first set of Bylaws was adopted in the 1950-52 period, and they have been amended, I believe, a total of 11 different times. In 1997 the Bylaws were integrated into our Constitution, so that there is now only one document rather than the two. As you might expect, in some instances the changes in the Constitution and in the Bylaws were major; in other instances they were very minor.

You will be interested, I believe, in what some of these changes have been. In looking at the content of these changes, I have concentrated on what seem to me to have been the more important changes from our earliest Constitution of the 1930 period to our most recent one of 1997.

So what have been some of the main changes between the original Constitution and our current one? The five areas that I will mention involve change in the purposes of Psi Chi, in the criteria for membership, in the officers and their terms of office, in the criteria for admitting chapters, and in the language of the Constitution. As would be expected, our present Constitution is much longer than the original, approximately three times as long.

First, then, as to the purposes of Psi Chi. I quote now from the original Constitution: "The purpose of this organization shall be primarily to advance the science of Psychology; and secondly to encourage, stimulate, and maintain scholarship of the individual members in all academic fields, particularly in psychology." In 1985 the order was reversed, placing the primary emphasis on individual scholarship and the secondary emphasis on the advancement of the science of psychology. This is essentially how our Constitution reads today, and it represents, I believe, a more accurate assessment of our organizational priorities than did the earlier version. It is also more in keeping with our recent mission statement, namely, that "The mission of Psi Chi is student excellence reflected in scholarly and professional growth within psychology and the ability to impact society positively."
A second area is the qualifications for active membership. In our original Constitution the following criteria were employed: you had to be in the top third of your class in psychology and in the top half of your class in other subjects, you had to be either majoring or minoring in psychology, you had to have been involved in or to have completed research or have been registered for at least 12 hours of psychology, and you had to have received a unanimous vote from all those attending a regular meeting of the chapter. Our present requirements do not differ greatly from these. We now require three fewer hours in psychology, somewhat better academic performance, and a two-thirds rather than a unanimous vote of chapter members. One other item of interest here is that there was origfinally a category of associate membership for which the criteria were slightly less stringent than were those for active members.

Next, to the National Council. The National Council was origfinally comprised of the President, the Secretary-Treasurer (who later became the Executive Director), the Historian, and the vice-presidents for each of the then four regions, Eastern, Western, Midwestern, and Southern. Terms of office origfinally were not specified. However, the first three officers were elected at a national convention that was held every other year, and the regional vice-presidents each were elected by their own regions at a regional meeting.

The article covering the officers has been changed several times over the course of Psi Chi's 69 years. The system we have now, which was adopted in 1985, includes a President, a President-Elect, and a Past-President, each of whom serves for a year; the six vice-presidents who serve a two-year term, which is renewable; and a nonvoting Executive Officer. All but the Executive Officer are elected by a vote of all of the chapters. The Executive Officer is appointed by the National Council and serves a renewable three-year term.

Fourth, the chapters. Initially a new chapter could be added only by a three-fourths majority of the chapters. The only other criterion was that there had to be at least one faculty advisor within the institution at which the new chapter was located. Now, however, admission of chapters is done by a three-fourths vote of the National Council. In addition, the institution must be fully accredited by its regional or national accrediting agency, its advisor must be a faculty member who is also a Psi Chi member, there must be two full-time doctoral-level faculty members within the department, a psychology club must have been in existence for at least one year, there must be a minimum of eight students qualified for Psi Chi membership, and its program must meet uniform criteria determined by the National Council.

Finally, the language. The language of both the first Constitution and of our current Constitution is gender neutral. This was, however, not always so. It remained gender neutral for the first 20 years, but in 1952 the language was changed so that in the 1952 Constitution there were 13 sections with gender- specific language (i.e., "he," "him," and "his"), and there were three such sections in the Bylaws.2 There were few changes is either direction over the next 30 years, that is, until 1982 when the Constitution and Bylaws were changed. Then gender-neutral language was again adopted, and that is the way our Constitution reads now.

To summarize, then, our organization and our Constitution appear to be in good health. Our chapter and individual memberships are growing. We have also been experiencing a fairly substantial increase each year in our net assets. We have recently added a number of programs in the interest of our members and advisors, though for several of these programs it is probably too early to know whether they should be continued, and if so, what changes might be desirable. We have an outstanding staff, our physical facilities are currently adequate, at least for the present, and the new technology that we have recently acquired should enable us to provide even better service to our membership and to our organization. We are a valued member of ACHS, and we have good relationships with APA, APS, and Psi Beta. We have also been fortunate, I believe, with regard to the quality and commitment of members of the National Council over the years, despite (or maybe because of) the limited competition for office. And we have thousands of active and competent members and hundreds of faithful and committed advisors in chapters around the country.

Now, what about the future? Here are some observations. First as to our growth. We can, I believe, expect over the next several years a continuation in the increase both in the number of chapters and concomitantly in the number of new members. Psychology is a very popular course of study, and I see no reason to believe that this will soon change. I do expect, however, as I mentioned earlier, that our rate of growth will be slower than it has recently been, both due to a decrease in the overall number of available institutions as well as in the number of institutions able to sustain a chapter. One implication of this is that we need to be hard at work to develop a set of criteria that can be applied in judging applications. Another implication of our continued growth is that we will need to add to our staff and to keep updating our technology. In addition, although our needs for National Office space are now being well met, the time may come when it will make sense--with regard both to space and to our finances--to have different quarters, perhaps even in a building of our own. Another effect of our continuing growth is that there will be more work required of the regional vice-presidents. We have begun to address this concern by providing some modest funding for clerical help to the regional vice-presidents. In addition, the formation of regional steering committees, such as those initiated this year in the Midwestern and Rocky Mountain regions, is also, I believe, likely to prove helpful.

There are two other items I will comment on briefly before going on to talk about our programs. The first relates to the gender composition of our governance. On the basis of information presented in our newsletter, I have made estimates of the proportion of women who were elected members of the National Council during an earlier period (1969-79), 9%, and during a later period (1988-98), 54%. For new chapter presidents these percentages are 43% and 76% for earlier (1970 and 1976) and later (1989 and 1995) periods, respectively.3 These changes appear to be in the direction of what has sometimes been referred to as the "changing gender composition of psychology." It will be of interest to see what other changes, if any, have occurred in other demographic dimensions.

One way we might increase our membership, and also our diversity, is through the addition of chapters outside of the United States. Our Constitution made provision for this in 1985 when we added an article on international affiliate chapters. We have fairly recently begun to explore the feasibility of adding chapters outside of the United States and the interest of students and faculty in other countries in affiliating with Psi Chi. Though we can list a number of advantages--both to ourselves and to others--in affiliating with Psi Chi, there are several problems to overcome, such as cost and distance, as well as the differences in currency, culture, educational systems, and language. It is still too early to tell how our work in this area will turn out, but it is an effort which, I believe, is worth continuing.

I move next to our programs. I indicated previously that we have recently undertaken a large number of new programs during these past seven years, and I certainly favor each one of them. I do suggest, however, that we monitor each one of these programs very closely to determine how well it is working, whether it is meeting the needs for which it was intended, and if not, whether it should be modified or dropped. We should, of course, do this not only for our new programs but for all of our programs.

In 1994 the National Council arranged for a long-range planning session (a "visioning" process, it was called) at which we developed a mission statement, along with a set of goals and a specified set of activities to help achieve these goals. That was, I believe, a useful activity for the Council, and one that I recommend we employ periodically, perhaps every 5-7 years.

It is our current practice to have the immediate past-president prepare a report covering her/his successor's presidential year. This, combined with the annual report of our Executive Officer, can be expected to provide a fairly good record of what has happened on a year-to-year basis. The founders of Psi Chi apparently considered organizational history an important priority. Thus, in our earlier years, an Historian was one of the three National Council officers who was natifinally elected. Perhaps as a result, during our first 50 years there have been at least four summaries of our history. These, combined with the chapters by Cousins, Tracy, and Giordano (1992) and by Hogan and Sexton (1993) bring our history up to 1997. I am pleased that we have commissioned John Hogan to prepare a history for our 70th anniversary in 1999, and I hope that we will support a similar effort periodically, at least every 10 years.

We have also recently commissioned Steve Davis and Michael Wertheimer to prepare an oral history. The results of their interviews will take the form of a book which can provide an additional human dimension to our history and can also prove useful to those who prepare the written history of our organization. I hope that we will continue to support this project.

There are several other aspects of our programs and operations that I could go on about at some length. Suffice it to say that I am elated at our adoption of an endowment program which will serve as a basis of support for a number of new programs including scholarships and fellowships; at our new video which will soon be available to each of our chapters; at our new computer resources which will enable us to expand our database and permit us to learn more about how our decisions affect chapter and member activity; and at our attempt to involve our membership, both students and faculty, more fully in the work and in the decision making of Psi Chi. I hope, too, that we will continue, at least at the present level, our relationships with ACHS, APA, APS, and Psi Beta, and that we will develop new ones where it is in our interest to do so, perhaps with other student groups both in our own country and abroad. I also hope that our programs--at the national, regional, and chapter levels--will become more international in emphasis than they are at present. And we still must seek ways to enhance member involvement in chapter activities, to help reduce the cycles of ups and downs experienced by a number of our chapters, to increase student and advisor participation in our projects, and to seek means to foster continued good-quality leadership at all levels.

And now the time has come for me to take leave of this presidency. Serving as your President has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience and a privilege, and that is because there have been so many good people to work with. Chief among them, as you might expect, has been Kay Wilson, whose intelligence, good sense, commitment to excellence, and graciousness have made this for me an exciting year. I feel blessed, also, by having a National Council that has worked long, hard, and well in behalf of the interests of Psi Chi and its members. And I appreciate, also, the excellent work of our staff, Dan Bockert, Carol Tracy, Paula Miller, and Scott Gast, in seeing to it that the products of their efforts are always of high quality, and the contributions of our consultants, financial, legal and parliamentary, who have provided information and sound advice when we have needed it. And then there are the thousands of chapter officers and advisors, and committee chairs and members who have contributed to our continuing effort to, as our Constitution says, ". . . encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology."

Finally, there are the many who have gone before and whose efforts have helped bring Psi Chi to its present level of achievement and prominence, and especially, Ruth Cousins, our outstanding guiding spirit during a tenure of 33 years--to each of you, named and unnamed, I say " thank you" for helping make this for me a year I will most fondly remember.

I am delighted that several years ago Psi Chi adopted the policy of having the immediate past president serve on the National Council for another year. I am looking forward to working with the new National Council on programs we've already started and on others we may initiate, and I'm looking forward, too, to Psi Chi's 70th year under the creative and dynamic leadership of our new president, Harold Takooshian.

Cousins, R. H., Tracy, C., & Giordano, P. J. (1992). Psi Chi and Psi Beta: The two national honor societies in psychology. In A. E. Puente, J. R. Mathews, & C. L. Brewer (Eds.), Teaching psychology in America: A history (pp. 403-427). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hogan, J. D., & Sexton, V. S. (1993). Psi Chi, the national honor society in psychology: The first affiliate of the American Psychological Association. In J. L. Pate & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), No small part: A history of regional organizations in American psychology (pp. 189-205). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Hunt, T. (Ed.). (1979). Five decades of Psi Chi, 1929-1979. Washington, DC: Psi Chi.

1 The amount spent by my campaign on the initial election and the runoff was far short of $1,000; it was, of course, actually zero.

2 "Alumnus" and "fraternity" first appeared in the 1952 revision and were replaced by "alumni" and "society" in 1982. "Chairman" first appeared in the 1950 revision and was replaced in 1982 by "chair."

3 There were 22 different elected National Council members during both the earlier period and the later period. For the new presidents, the estimates are somewhat rough. They were determined by counting the number of " female" and "male" names listed as new presidents in all newsletter issues from 1970 and 1976 (an earlier period) and from 1989 and 1995 (a later period) and by obtaining the mean for each of these two periods. Copresidents were not included. A similar procedure was used in determining the proportion of new advisors who were women for the later period (data for the early period were not directly available). Overall 41% were women, 32% in 1989 and 45% in 1995.






Author note: This article is based on the Psi Chi Presidential Address presented at the 69th Annual Psi Chi National Convention held in conjunction with the 106th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, August 1998. In the preparation of this paper I had available a copy of each version of the Psi Chi Constitution (1930-97) and Bylaws (1950-97), a copy of each annual report of the Psi Chi Executive Director/Officer from 1979 to 1997, a copy of each presidential message from 1979 to 1997, and of each issue of the Psi Chi Newsletter from Spring 1959 to Summer 1996.

I thank Kay Wilson, Dan Bockert, Scott Gast, and Paula Miller of the Psi Chi National Office for providing information; Stephen Davis and Michael Wertheimer for making available some of the material from the Psi Chi Oral History Project; and my wife Pat for her encouragement and support.


Copyright 1998 (Volume 3, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology



Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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