Two APA Council Actions Need Members’ Attention

By Charles M. Lepkowsky, Ph.D.
November 8, 2017



APATwo governance items from the August meeting of the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association (APA) deserve immediate action from APA members.

The full minutes are available at http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/minutes-summer-2017.pdf. The two that bear comment follow.

The first reads:

“VII. PUBLICATIONS AND COMMUNICATIONS

A.(12) Council voted to approve amending the Association Rules as follows (bracketed/strike-through material to be deleted; underlined material to be added):

30-2. VOTES AND MINUTES

30-2.1 An affirmative vote of 25% of the members attending a Council meeting is required to order a roll call vote on any issue and to require the publication in [the APA Monitor on Psychology] a designated location on APA’s website of the votes on any motion before Council.”

This item is important, because it addresses transparency. Following the CIA torture scandal and the Hoffman Report, in response to recommendations by independent reviewers and the specific request of its membership, APA made a commitment to greater transparency.

The motion quoted above is entirely inconsistent with APA’s commitment to greater transparency. The motion eliminates the requirement for the APA Council and committees to publish minutes of their meetings in the Monitor– a monthly publication provided to every member of the APA.

The amended language only requires that APA publish minutes of meetings in “a designated location on APA’s website.” How readily available that “location” will be, and how APA members will or will not be made aware of the location, is conspicuously unaddressed.

Ironically, it is rather transparent that the intention of the motion is to make the minutes of the meetings less available to APA membership. Discussion about the motion focused on two “concerns.” One was that publishing meeting minutes might create pressure for APA council representatives to vote according to state or division wishes – the argument was made that APA council representatives have primary fiduciary responsibility to APA and should vote in APA’s interest, vs. their state or division’s interests.

This argument is fallacious. It suggests that transparency equals susceptibility to influence. It also disregards APA’s commitment to its membership to be more transparent.

The second concern was that making board and committee voting records public would incur a huge dollar expense to APA. The publication of minutes in the Monitor has been a long-standing practice, and the associated expense has been a part of APA’s operating budget. While eliminating the publication in print might save money, continuing it will not actually cost any more money than  already is being spent. Even if saving money is a priority, the minutes could be published in the online version of the Monitor at no expense.

This motion was cautiously deferred until next February’s meeting. It is dismaying to learn that it was not rejected out of hand as inconsistent with APA’s commitment to greater transparency.

The second agenda item that bears comment reads:

“ARTICLE XIX: DUES AND SUBSCRIPTIONS

6. [Any Fellow, Member, or Associate member who has reached the age of sixty-five and has been a member of the Association for at least twenty-five years shall become eligible for a dues exemption reduction process, culminating in dues exemption.] There shall be a dues exempt category for those Fellows, Member and Associate members who reach eligibility requirements as set by Council.”

This motion is a proposed bylaws change to remove the specific criteria for dues-exempt membership (those who have reached the age of 65 and have been APA members for over 25 years), and replace them with undefined “eligibility requirements set by the council.”

Although a number of representatives expressed concern that this could result in members leaving or feeling that an agreement was broken that was in place when they joined APA, the motion was passed. APA members will have the opportunity to vote on this bylaws change on the November APA ballot. How the motion will be worded, and how prominent it will be on the ballot, are both unclear.

What is clear is that an agreement APA made with every one of its members is about to be broken.

To be clear and specific: Historically, one of the terms of APA membership has been that after 25 years of membership and upon achievement of the age of 65 years, an APA member, fellow or associate member becomes exempt from paying dues. The notion is that people over the age of 65 are likely (at some point in time) to retire, have reduced or fixed incomes and be less capable of paying annual dues in the amount of several hundred dollars.

In addition, the 25 years or more of membership does represent a commitment of time and money. Allowing retired psychologists to remain professionally active as APA members without the potential financial burden of annual dues was part of the contract we all made when we joined APA.

Now APA is moving to eliminate that agreement. The dictionary term applied to such a tactic is “bait and switch.” One might infer that the suggestion to change the dues policy reflects the current economic big picture – analogous to discussions concerning Medicare and Social Security, APA faces a senior-heavy demographic, a relative paucity of “replacement” dues-paying members in the immediate future and concerns about adequate funding for the organization.

Also analogous to cuts in Medicare coverage and increasing age requirements for full Social Security benefits, eliminating the age 65/over 25 years of membership dues exemption smacks of desperation and reflects a casual disregard for the experience of APA members in their 60s with over 30 years of membership.

Eliminating dues exemption will likely result in many psychologists over the age of 65 feeling betrayed and leaving APA, and potential members perceiving APA as less than trustworthy and electing not to join. Middle career psychologists with mixed feelings about APA are also likely to feel betrayed and leave APA. One possible outcome of the policy change is a net loss of dues revenue.

Not incidentally, the bait-and-switch tactic is also an example of a failure to be transparent. How a roomful of psychologists could miss that simple truth is a mystery – and frankly alarming.

Policy changes like the two cited above do not make APA more transparent. Rather, APA appears to be moving toward less transparency to its membership, toward whom it also appears to be adopting a more callous attitude.

However, APA members do have an opportunity to turn the tide.

Publishing the minutes in the Monitor represents transparency. Burying them in a series of online links does not. This motion will be voted upon in February 2018. Please ask your state and division APA representatives to oppose the motion to change how meeting minutes are shared.

Of a more immediate concern, on Nov. 1, please vote NO on the proposed bylaws change to the dues exemption policy. Even if you believe that changing the policy makes fiscal sense, please consider that allowing the policy change effectively endorses the practice of APA breaking trust with its membership. The issue here is less the content of the proposed bylaws change than the process.

If APA hopes to retain and rebuild its membership, it must become more transparent and responsive to the feelings and needs of the membership, without whom APA will cease to exist. As APA members, it is our job to let APA know what we think and feel.

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Charles M. Lepkowsky, Ph.D., is in private practice in Solvang, Calif. He is a past president of the Santa Bar-bara County Psychological Association. He taught graduate psychology courses for 14 years. He may be reached at clepkowsky@gmail.com.

 

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