Book excerpt – James Jerger: A Life in Audiology

The following excerpt is from the autobiography, James Jerger: A Life in Audiology

American Academy of Audiology

The AAA is now in its 28th year. Younger members may not appreciate what it has meant to our profession. Before the Academy was launched in 1988 we were the step-children of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, commonly abbreviated as ASHA. We followed their code of ethics, accepted their certification programs, attended their conventions, and published in their journals. How this came about was essentially an accident of history. Most of the earliest audiologists were people originally trained in speech science and speech pathology. As such, ASHA was their natural home and they were comfortable within its ranks. Raymond Carhart’s doctoral dissertation, for example, concerned a model of the human larynx.  But as younger people became audiologists they did not share the common bond with speech science and speech pathology so typical of their mentors. As the field of audiology grew, some of the younger members began to ask whether we might not be better served by creating our own national professional organization. Expressing this view, however, met with stern disapproval. Our elders insisted that fragmentation must never happen, that we must always remain one profession because you could not separate hearing from speech and language; they were all part of the unique process we call “human communication.”  I always thought this argument specious. For example, you cannot separate the brain from the foot: they are both part of the whole body, but there are quite distinct medical specialties to treat their disorders. Certainly the more you know about language and speech the better, but that doesn’t mandate that you belong to their professional organization.

In any event, opponents of fragmentation failed to appreciate that ASHA itself began as the American Academy of Speech Correction (AASC) by fragmenting off from the National Association of Teachers of Speech (NATS) in 1925. NATS in turn was formed by splitting off from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in 1914.

In 1958 I was elected to ASHA’s executive board. At one of our meetings, I suggested that we consider setting up special interest groups that would lend some separate identity to various clearly distinguishable groups within the organization. There was much shoe shuffling, and some support from the aphasia people, but little general willingness to pursue the topic. A fellow board member, one of the revered elder statesman in audiology, came over to me as the meeting broke up, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Jim, it will never happen. They are afraid we will split off.”  Actually the idea of special interest groups within ASHA did eventually happen, but only after we had formed AAA.

Nothing much transpired for the next few decades, but matters came to a head at the 1987 ASHA convention in New Orleans. Rick Talbot had organized a session on “future trends in audiology.” There were five of us on the panel: Jay Hall, George Osborne, Charles Berlin, Lucille Beck and me. Each presented a thoughtful glimpse at what the future might hold in their particular area. I was the last speaker and my message was simple. I said, “I think it is time for audiologists to form their own professional organization” The response from the audience shocked me. There was a deafening roar of approval, which I truly had not expected. I think that everyone on that stage was also amazed.

Back in Houston I asked colleague Brad Stach what he thought of the idea. He was leery at first, but came around when I drew an analogy with an umbrella organization like the American Medical Association, under which each medical specialty had its own organization, its own publication and its own convention. In retrospect the analogy is not quite apt, but it convinced Brad to take up the cause. We put together a list of 35 audiologists that we considered leaders in their respective areas and sent each one a letter of invitation to come to Houston for a two-day meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a new organization “of, by, and for” audiologists. Only one invitee declined. The rest arrived, at his/her own expense, ready to consider the idea.

We met in the ballroom of a hotel just across Fannin street from the Methodist Hospital. The first morning was chaotic. It was difficult to believe that the group could ever agree on anything. By the end of the second day, however, there was general consensus that the effort at least ought to be attempted. In 2009 I wrote, in my book Audiology in the USA, the following:

 “The first year of the Academy’s existence, 1988, was an uncertain time. The founders were not at all sure that their efforts would succeed. They knew what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to go, but recognized, with some trepidation, the formidable forces arrayed against them. The primary concern was, of course, the ASHA.  It already counted, at that time, more than 8000 audiologists among its roughly 60,000 members, and was not disposed to view this defection in a collegial manner.”

If I were to rewrite that last sentence today, I would undoubtedly use more colorful language, so I had better not try. That passage does illustrate, however, what I perceived to be the most important reason to break away from ASHA. Speech pathologists outnumbered audiologists in the ratio of about 8:1. But, profession-wise, speech pathology is, and perhaps always will be, based on an educational model, whereas audiology is based on more of a medical model. At that time the bulk of speech pathologists worked as therapists in the public schools of America. They worked primarily with children. Most held only the bachelor’s degree.  Our profession, on the other hand, is more like a medical model. Most of us are engaged in clinical services, either in private practice, or in medical environments. At the time we started the Academy, most audiologists held the master’s degree, and there was already pressure to upgrade to the doctoral level, which we have since accomplished with the AuD degree (a move, incidentally, with which ASHA did not initially share our enthusiasm.) Many of us felt that we would never be able to achieve the much-desired doctoral level degree until we were free of dominance by ASHA.

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