As our Academy reached its 30th birthday in 2018 and our 30th annual conference just this past March (2019), it may be instructive to the younger members to recount the events leading to the founding of our professional home. It all began at the 1987 convention of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in New Orleans. Before this event, the professional home of all audiologists in the United States was ASHA. But there was growing discontent among audiologists throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a feeling that since speech pathologists far outnumbered audiologists in the ASHA membership, the wants and needs of audiologists would always be subordinate to the wants and needs of the much larger group.
In reality, the two professions already had split from a single discipline of communication disorders into distinctly different practices. Audiology had branched into a diagnostic and treatment profession in health-care settings and private practices, while speech pathology remained a therapy practice primarily in the schools. Some of us had, for years, urged ASHA to form special interest groups in the hope that audiology might, in such an atmosphere, exercise at least some separate autonomy. ASHA steadfastly opposed all such concepts. This led to increasing frustration among audiologists, who came to the growing realization that they would always be junior members, forever existing under the domination of the larger body. How strong and widespread this feeling was would soon become apparent to all who attended the 1987 ASHA convention.
Rick Talbott, a member of the ASHA program committee, had organized a session on future trends in audiology. There were five participants; George Osborne, Lucille Beck, James Hall III, Charles Berlin, and James Jerger. FIGURE 1 shows this group of speakers. Of the five, I (Jerger) was last to speak. I simply said that I thought it was time to declare the independence of audiology from speech-language pathology and to form our own separate professional home. The roar of approval from the audience was deafening. I was frankly astounded: I had not expected such an overwhelming response. I had supposed that there might be a few other dissidents like myself lurking in the background, but this was a fairly large audience, and their virtually unanimous support for the idea of separating ourselves from ASHA quite surprised me.
Back in Houston, Texas, I shared this observation with colleague Brad Stach (FIGURE 2). Together we decided that it was time to act, to invite leaders of the profession to a meeting to explore the feasibility of autonomy for the profession, perhaps by forming our own professional organization. We put together a list of 38 names and sent each an invitation to come to Houston for a two-day meeting to explore the idea of creating an independent professional home for audiologists. Thirty-two individuals accepted; Lucille Beck, Fred Bess, Tomi Browne, David Citron, Michael Dennis, Leo Doerfler, David Goldstein, James Hall III, Maureen Hanley, Robert Harrison, Linda Hood, John Jacobson, James Jerger, Susan Jerger, Robert Keith, Paul Kileny, Vernon Larson, H. Gus Mueller, Frank Musiek, Jerry Northern, Wayne Olsen, George Osborn, Anita Pikus, Ross Roeser, Roger Ruth, Daniel Schwartz, Brad Stach, Laszlo Stein, Roy Sullivan, Richard Talbott, Laura Wilbur, and Don Worthington. These were the founding members of what became the American Academy of Audiology.
The group met for two days at a hotel directly across the street from the Methodist Hospital in Houston. The first day was not very productive. People had to have time to vent their feelings about the perceived lack of clinical education of audiology students, an educational model that was designed for a different profession, and the lack of a seat at the health-care table. There was also concern about the viability of a new membership organization and about how the speech-language pathologists and ASHA would react to our efforts. By the second day, however, everyone had settled down and we reached the group consensus that we ought to at least give it a try. The group gave us the green light to proceed to set up what subsequently became the American Academy of Audiology. Each member of the group donated $20 to help start the venture.
The First Year
We immediately set to work launching the fledgling academy. We set up the first national office in our offices in The Methodist Hospital in Houston. The board of directors of the new organization elected me (Jerger) as president and me (Stach) as secretary-treasurer, and we both got to work.
Stach enlisted the help of audiologists from The Methodist Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine to build a membership organization from scratch. Audiologist Louise Loiselle oversaw the first task, a letter-stuffing party to send membership invitation letters to the audiologists on the ASHA mailing list. The letter informed them of the recent action the founding committee had taken and invited them to become members by filling out and mailing in a membership application form along with the first year’s dues. This provided much needed operating funds. The chairman of the Otolaryngology Department at the Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Bobby Alford, generously provided $500 in seed money to get underway, but much more was needed as mailing costs rapidly mounted.
We initially assumed that a couple of hundred of our best friends would want to join and that administrative tasks would be manageable. But the response was rapid and overwhelmingly positive; it required a shift to an all-hands-on-deck approach.
Audiologist Jeanine Pruitt was appointed assistant secretary-treasurer and helped with meeting planning and other professional activities. We also enlisted our secretarial staff, especially Marlene Moore and Mary Lou Ginandt, to organize our early office functions. We quickly realized that we needed paid staff to handle database development, phone calls, banking, and so on. We first hired a part-time employee, Branda Machart, and then our first full-time employee, Charlotte Howard, to help manage all aspects of the booming small business that we suddenly created.
As the applications arrived, we soon realized that, to keep the organization “of, by, and for audiologists,” we needed some basis for screening the applications. It was clear that we needed to create a membership standards committee and to appoint a chair to supervise the task. Gus Mueller (FIGURE 3) accepted the post and quickly learned that it was an overwhelming responsibility, but he plunged into it with determination. He faced the daunting task of applying abstract definitions of membership to the credentials of actual applicants. In the first year alone, Gus processed more than 1,500 applications. His dedication to the task was inspiring.
During that first year, we created the two now familiar publications. Audiology Today (AT) and the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology (JAAA). Terrey Oliver Penn (FIGURE 4) created AT as a desktop publishing venture in her office in The Methodist Hospital. As the membership grew and our financial situation improved, we were able to produce, under the direction of John Jacobson, and later by Jerry Northern (FIGURE 5), a more polished publication. We visualized JAAA as the scholarly publication of the Academy. I (Jerger) became the first editor-in-chief and set to work assembling an editorial staff and a stable of reviewers.
I was succeeded as president by Fred Bess (FIGURE 6). Fred and Verne Larson organized the first annual conference of the Academy at a resort on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. By the time the first conference opened, the Academy already had 2,000 members, seemingly all of whom wanted to attend, overwhelming the tiny resort island. Exhibits were simply tabletops lining the hallways. The theme was “A New Beginning.” I could not attend that first conference due to medical issues, but made a videotape of the first presidential address. That first event successfully launched the Academy as we now know it. Just over 30 years later, we can all be proud of what we have since accomplished. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those hardy individuals whose dedication to the task, in the face of strong opposition, made our professional home possible.