Where We Came From: Defining the Western Political Science Association: A Brief, Very Selective Organizational History Sampled from the Archives of the WPSA

By Moulds, Elizabeth | Political Research Quarterly, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Where We Came From: Defining the Western Political Science Association: A Brief, Very Selective Organizational History Sampled from the Archives of the WPSA


Moulds, Elizabeth, Political Research Quarterly


The history of the formation and early years of the Western Political Science Association (WPSA) has been well documented by G. Homer Durham, the founding President of the WPSA in his June 1956 Western Political Quarterly article, "The WPSA: The First Ten Years and the Next Ten." Durham described discussing an organization during the 1946 annual meeting of the APSA at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. He reported that details of this postwar association were hammered out by a small group of Western colleagues in the club car of the train returning the founding group from Cleveland to the West.

So the WPSA was conceived in a club car, and its first meeting took place in November of 1947 at the University of Utah. At that 1947 meeting, the constitution was adopted and officers were elected. It didn't take long, though, for the WPSA to move from constitutional consensus to division. The first identity crisis of the organization occurred in the early 1950s. The crisis concerned the meaning of the "Western region." Was WPSA to be a "Rockies" organization (of mountain men) or a fully "Western" organization that would include the "coastal" states? Inclusiveness won out.

A crisis of another sort followed on the heels of the first. In 1955, the Executive Council was faced with a difficult choice: Should the meeting scheduled in Logan, Utah, be cancelled or moved to another state because smoking inside public buildings was discovered to be illegal in the state of Utah? To quote the secretary treasurer: "[The prohibition of smoking] might cause some consternation among the ranks of the heavy smokers." After much debate, the decision was made to hold the meeting in Logan.

1961 presented the WPSA with yet another crisis, this one constitutional: Should non-Westerners be allowed to chair panels of the WPSA? Showing its tolerant side, the WPSA knowingly permitted a nonWestern colleague (Professor William J. Gore of the University of Indiana) to chair a panel on "Metro-Urban Issues." Gore was referred to in a letter to WPSA officers as "an outsider."

The annual meeting in 1964, located in Salt Lake City, offered participants a change of pace from the usual. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed for attendees at the meeting that year. Secretary of State Dean Rusk was in attendance at the performance. His thank you letter is among the documents in the archives of the WPSA.

1967 marked the beginning of an era of resolutions from the floor of WPSA business meetings. Jumpstarting this new tradition, the membership passed a resolution denouncing the threat to academic freedom posed by the CIA's covert financing of academic research.

WPSA members were offered an opportunity in 1969 that has yet to be repeated. The WPSA met that year at the Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Although the WPSA had a long-standing involvement with the shaping and growth of the Western Political Quarterly (now the Political Research Quarterly), the relationship between the WPSA and the WPQ was not codified until 1971 when the Council adopted the Mann Report, which formally set out the terms of this relationship.

In the early 1970s, a concern with diversity and diversity-related issues became a major theme for WPSA, a theme that it has consistently embraced ever since. Caucuses were formed, studies were conducted, and official reports were written regarding the status of women, Chicanos, Blacks, and part-time faculty in the profession. Specialized awards were established to honor scholars focusing on these issues. Concern with the rights of women led to a major floor fight at the business meeting in Phoenix in 1977. A resolution was presented there that proposed barring the WPSA from meeting in states that had not approved an Equal Rights Amendment or its equivalent. It passed, but not before some very harsh words were exchanged between members of the organization.

The Mann Report of 1971 did not anticipate some complexities of the relationship between the WPSA and the WPQ, so in 1979 the Executive Council commissioned a report and recommendations from a specially created committee. …

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