The Department of Psychology at Western Michigan University was established in 1940 when a small group of faculty members separated from the Department of Education. During its first eight years, the department offered a small selection of courses that allowed students to obtain a Psychology minor. By 1948, the range and number of courses had expanded and the department established a curriculum that allowed students to major in psychology. The number of faculty and the range of courses continued to grow during the 1950s and the department established a master's degree program in school psychology.
In the early 1960s the department was quite eclectic in its theoretical orientation. Moreover, most of the faculty members devoted most of their time to teaching and applied work (clinical and industrial psychology) but did little research, academic priorities that were probably a carry over from the university's early history as a teacher's college. WMU was in a transition period, aspiring to become a major state university with an active research program. In an effort to bolster the research activities in the department, Gerald Osborn, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and James Miller, president of WMU hired Roger Ulrich as the head of the Department of Psychology in 1965. The Department had 14 faculty members, of which only Dave Lyon and Paul Mountjoy (both from Indiana University) would be characterized as behavioral psychologists but subsequent faculty hires radically altered the nature of the department establishing it as a national leader in behavioral psychology. Inspired by the writings of B. F. Skinner, behavioral psychology was a rapidly developing conceptual model that emphasized a natural science orientation to the study of behavior. At this stage, scientists were just beginning to experiment with the application of behavioral principles and methods derived from non-human laboratory research to the understanding and treatment of clinical and social problems. While controversial (as is the case with any major paradigm shift in science), these early extrapolations and explorations would eventually lead to the development of behavior therapy, applied behavior analysis, organizational behavior management and a plethora of research based applications of behavior principles and strategies in education, human services, and industrial settings.
In 1965, the department moved into Wood Hall, a new 3.5 million dollar building which was just recently dedicated. Ulrich was given a mandate to build a research-oriented psychology department and was given several faculty positions to fill at his discretion. Some of the existing faculty were dissatisfied with the changing priorities and conceptual leanings of the department and transferred to positions elsewhere at WMU thus providing opportunities to hire additional faculty in the department. With the assistance of Dave Lyon, Paul Mountjoy and newly hired Neil Kent, Ulrich added Richard Malott, Douglas Anger, Ronald Hutchinson, Howard Farris and Jack Michael to the faculty, thus establishing a core group of nine faculty with strong training in behavior analysis. Five more behavioral psychologists who were working in the community, Rob Hawkins, Wade Hitzing, Bill Hopkins, Louise Kent and Don Whaley, were appointed to adjunct professorships. In 1968, Brad Huitema, a statistician and Fred Gault, a physiological psychologist, also joined the faculty. Since 1970 a number of faculty have been added as the department expanded and as faculty members retired, including the following: Paul Fuller, 1970; Arthur Snapper, 1971; Fred Keller, 1972; Herman Peine, 1972; Daniel Hursh, 1973; Galen Alessi, 1974; Brian Iwata, 1974; Kathleen Lockhart, 1974; Kay (Malott) Campbell, 1975; Hilary Karp, 1975; Wayne Fuqua, 1976; Cheryl Poche, 1976; Joetta Long, 1977; Dale Brethower, 1978; Norman Peterson, 1979; Nancy Pettty, 1979; Alan Poling, 1979; Barbara Fulton, 1980; Alyce Dickinson, 1984; Michele Burnette, 1986; William Redmon, 1986; Richard Spates, 1987; Patricia Meinhold, 1990; Lisa Baker, 1991; Kevin Armstrong, 1991, Kristal Ehrhardt, 1994; Lester Wright, 1995; John Austin, 1996; Ruth Ervin, 1996; Scott Kollins, 1997; Jim Carr, 1999; Ed Daly, 1999; Linda LeBlanc, 1999; Amy Naugle, 2000; Scott Gaynor, 2001. Ulrich served as Department Head for two years and was succeeded in the department chair position by Paul Mountjoy, Fred Gault, Dave Lyon, Jack Michael, Richard Spates, Howard Farris and Wayne Fuqua.
By 1967, the undergraduate program had been completely revised to reflect the behavior analytic/scientific orientation of the new faculty members and the department was awarding masters degrees in experimental (primarily the experimental analysis of behavior), industrial and clinical psychology. By the late 1960s the Department of Psychology had established a reputation as one of the leading training programs in behavior analysis in the United States, a reputation that continues. The department developed a doctoral degree in the mid 1970s and awarded its first Ph.D. in applied behavior analysis in 1978 (to Norm Peterson). Shortly thereafter, Ph.D. programs in experimental, clinical and school psychology were added and since 1978 the department has graduated approximately ten Ph.D. students per year.
In the mid 1970s, a number of faculty members and graduate students from the Department of Psychology were instrumental in founding the Association for Behavior Analysis and in organizing and staffing their early conventions. The association's offices were located on the campus of Western Michigan University until October, 2002, when the office was relocated to an off campus site. Continuing support from the psychology faculty and students has been instrumental in the development of the association into an influential international organization with nearly 4000 members. In 1998, Western Michigan University's Department of Psychology was honored with the Association for Behavior Analysis's award for "Enduring Programmatic Contributions in Behavior Analysis."