Department History

Psychology has been an important part of Fresno State since 1911 when the school began as Fresno Normal School, a two-year teacher’s college. At that time, Psychology was a required course of study for all students. When the school expanded to a four-year State Teachers College in 1921, education majors were required to take ten hours per week of psychology. Initially, the courses focused on teacher training (effective study, vocational choice, aptitudes, achievement tests, personal adjustment, counseling, etc.). However, as the school grew and teacher training became an increasingly smaller part of Fresno State College, psychology moved beyond Education’s special interests. Its program was broadened considerably to include other areas of psychology. Students found psychology courses both interesting and useful. Requests for courses in psychology came from more than a dozen departments that wanted classes in areas such as statistics, child, adolescent, personality, social, abnormal, and specialized graduate courses.

Responding to student demand, a Psychology Major was developed that reflected the discipline as found in major American universities. Several events marked this development. First, came the creation of Psychology as a department. After leaving Education, psychology courses were offered in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology. In 1946 these two disciplines separated and became independent departments. Psychology, under the leadership of Edward V. Tenney, was free to develop its own discipline. A second major development occurred ten years later, when over a two-year period (1955, 56) the department added eight new faculty members, most with doctorates from research-oriented universities. The department’s major was changed to reflect the new developments in basic processes and research. Our program was strengthened each time we added new faculty members, who were selected on the basis of their strong research and teaching potential. This was especially true in 1989 with the addition of five new members, and again in 1996 when three more were added. Our psychology program was and continues to be one of the strongest in the State University System.

Beginning in the 1960's most of our core courses had lab requirements and many of our faculty were receiving research grants and publishing; however, Psychology was still viewed by the College Administration as a lecture-only@ discipline (as was Philosophy, History, Political Science). In 1969 a major push was made to get psychology recognized as an empirical science that needed laboratories and other appropriate support. Within two years the department was allocated additional lab space. Our development was further encouraged in 1972 when, as a result of changes in California’s system of higher education, Fresno State was designated as a State University. This reclassification helped promote a stronger graduate as well as undergraduate program, especially in the area of research. During the decade of the 90's, (for example) the department averaged around 600 psychology majors a year, making us one of the largest departments in the university. In addition, we offered a great many non-major courses for General Education and as service to other departments. We offered the most units of any department for several years and usually were in the top three departments.

Another important event came with the reorganization of the University when the Psychology department chose to become part of the new School of Natural Sciences (now College of Science and Mathematics). The argument over whether psychology was a scientific discipline seemed to be settled. Scientific equipment, lab space and research funds became regular parts of our requests for support. Since that time, Psychology has become one of the most prolific departments at the University in the number of publications by its faculty and the number of research-based master’s theses. Our graduate program is one of the largest in the university, and our School Psychology program is among the strongest in California.

Starting with Edward Tenney, its first chairman, the department has been led by individuals who strongly supported the faculty in carrying out their two main missions: provide students with excellent psychology courses and programs, and promote the discipline of psychology through theoretical analysis and research. After Tenney’s 20 years (1946-66), the department chairs were: Stanley Lindquist (1966-68), Harrison Madden (1968-69), James Smith (1969-71), Wayne Holder (1971-76), Merry West Salehi (1976-80), William Coe (1980-84), Harrison Madden (1984-87), Alex Gonzalez (1987-90), Terry Newell (1990), Robert Levine (1991-1995), Aroldo Rodrigues (1996-2003), Karen Carey (2003 - 2005), and Lynnette Zelezny (2005 - 2008).