August 2016 APA Council Report

Hope springs eternal.

By J. Bruce Overmier, PhD

The APA Council of Representatives meeting was chaired in August by President Susan McDaniel. Congratulations to her for effective management of an unruly group.

First, you likely want to know who is heading the organization as CEO. The Acting CEO is Cynthia Belar, PhD, who before her retirement a year ago was executive director for the APA Education Directorate. I know Cynthia reasonably well. She is an extraordinary person — a genuine leader, dedicated, and savvy; she was an academic from University of Florida. She is a good choice. How long she will serve, I do not know. We are told, “progress is being made toward hiring a permanent CEO in the near future.” But, in fact, the job description has just been finalized -- more than a year after we knew we would need a new CEO. I personally found this disappointing, but am comfortable as long as Cynthia is there. The CEO works closely with the APA president.

Then, there is the issue of the new executive director for the Science Directorate. Howard Kurtzman is the acting executive director of science. Another talented administrator, he tells us the hiring process for a permanent Science Directorate executive director is on hold until a permanent APA CEO is in place. So plan on working with and facilitating the work of Howard until then. Howard has been restructuring some of the Science Directorate activities that have involved students. New will be an APA Prize for interdisciplinary team research. Another new step is planning for a separate science-oriented APA conference in 2017.  Sadly, he also reported that the proposed revisions to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (45 CFR 46, Subpart A), also known as the Common Rule, may not go through, and the next revision of the policy may be done piece by piece. We all had high hopes after the initial report from the National Academy Committee (chaired by Susan Fiske). 

Howard, in his reports to caucuses, commended Geoff Mumford, Pat Kobar, Heather Kelly and Craig Fisher for their continuing strong advocacy before the government and its agencies. To remind you, they work out of the Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office - one of the most powerful arguments for academic and scientists continuing membership in APA. Pat Kobor, senior science policy analyst, said that it has been a good year for APA science advocacy and resultant funding for psychological research. Psychologist Matt Johnson, PhD, is the APA Science fellow on the White House Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST). President Obama signed an executive order, “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People,” which encourages application of behavioral science to government policies and decisions. The executive order formally established the SBST, organized under the National Science and Technology Council, which includes leading behavioral scientists. Information about the team and how to apply for a position on it is included at the SBST web site. Matt emphasized that SBST currently is composed mainly of economists and that, “psychologists need to be more involved.” The DC has also initiated a similar effort to utilize behavioral science in policy development.

David Lubinski, as fellow scientist, serves as the liaison/representative from the Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) to the Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA). Currently hot in BEA is discussion of what should be the core/basic requirements for psychology training at the bachelor, masters and doctoral levels? BSA and divisions need to weigh in on issues such as the following:

  • What are the core essentials for an undergraduate degree in psychological science?
  • What core would be recommended for non-majors?
  • What should be included in Masters’ programs and PhD programs?
  • How should science be integrated with practice?

Divisions need to plan to speak up and offer white papers to BSA, BEA and to the Education Directorate. Those areas that speak up will likely be the ones included.

Of interest looking forward (from the BSA report by Robert Proctor): Antonio Puente, APA President-Elect, indicated that he is open to actions that will improve the role of science in APA and improve attendance at poster sessions for the annual meeting. He noted that the coming year is the 125th anniversary of APA, and he wants to emphasize its history. He also said he thinks APA and APS should not be so far apart on issues that seem to keep us separate. He was hopeful that with the eventual “changing of the guard” at APS, the two organizations might find more ways to compromise our apparent differences and to partner together more.

All these things (and more) were topics of discussion at the Science Directorate reception at APA. It was well attended and enjoyed by all.

Less enjoyable than the reception (i.e., no alcohol) was the Council meeting itself - although significantly better than the last two years of meetings. APA will publish a summary of Council in the October Monitor. You can read it there. 

The APA approved a $110 million dollar budget for operations. The main income is from the journal program. But, supporting the publication program is also a major cost item. Dues provide less than 10 percent of income; nonetheless, declining membership among young psychologists is considered a major challenge facing APA. Expenses for the Internal Review (Hoffmann Report) continue to mount (towards what I guessed in my last report) but are being paid out of accumulated reserves rather than out the operating budget.

Council passed a resolution of direct interest to us and especially those involved in international collaborations: the Resolution on the Free and Responsible Practice of Science, Freedom of Movement of Scientists, and APA International Engagements. The resolution says (referring to ICSU which is the International Council of Science to which APA adheres through the US National Committee for Psychology within the US National Academies of Science and the International Union of Psychological Science; ICSU is a multi-science or organization housed in Paris.):

“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association endorses the Principle of the Universality of Science as stated in ICSU Statute 5 (2011) as follows: The free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being. Such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable access to data, information, and other resources for research. It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognizing its benefits and possible harms. In advocating the free and responsible practice of science, ICSU promotes equitable opportunities for access to science and its benefits, and opposes discrimination based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association endorses the adapted wording of ICSU Statute 5 as stated in IUPsyS Statutes, Article 3, section (ii):

(ii) The Union adheres to the ICSU principle of the Universality of Science embodying free and responsible practice of science, freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable opportunities for access to science and its benefits, access to data, information and research material; and actively upholds this principle, by opposing any discrimination on the basis of such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political stance, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or age.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association adheres to the principle of the Universality of Science as stated in the statutes of the International Science for Council (ICSU) and the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS). This principle embodies free and responsible practice of science, freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists, as well as equitable opportunities for access to science and its benefits, access to data, information and research material. It also upholds the responsibilities of scientists to society, and the responsibilities for scientists to promote the potential benefits of their work and to protect from potential harms of their work. APA actively upholds this principle, by opposing any discrimination on the basis of such factors as ethnic origin, race, religion, citizenship, language, political stance, socio-economic status, gender, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, ability status, or age.”

APA Council approved a new membership category: Friends of Psychology who are to be individuals (not psychologists) interested in the mission of APA and the advancement of psychology as a science and profession. They get a label, some discounts on journals and books, and pay a small fee. I voted against this. It looks to be - despite optimistic planning - a money loser. More importantly, I fear it will detract efforts from the critical focus on attracting young psychologists.

In matters of ethics: Council voted to approve the following revision to Standard 3.04 of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (underlined material to be added):

“Standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm. (a) Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, organizational clients and others with whom they work, and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable. (b) Psychologists do not participate in, facilitate, assist, or otherwise engage in torture, defined as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person, or in any other cruel, inhuman, or degrading behavior that violates 3.04(a).

Not unrelated is an effort by some to have APA issue an apology to all persons incarcerated as terrorists and for any treatment (implicitly torture) that they may have experienced. Some, including yours truly, oppose the apology in that neither APA nor its members were involved in fostering any of the actions to be apologized for.

Council also is planning for a complete revision of the APA Code of Ethics. This is a multiyear process. Few of the items directly affect academic and scientists currently, but one needs to keep an eye on what the new draft will include. A report is due at the February 2017 Council meeting concerning the revision.

Council continues to have in-house trainings on issues of diversity. Micro-aggressions will be the topic for February 2017. These trainings, while worthwhile for individuals, take time from attending to APA business matters.

The Council is still struggling with reorganizing itself for increased effectiveness and efficiency. The approach being taken and adopted is one of increasing governance layers with a Council Leadership Team parallel to or below — it is really not certain — the Board of Directors.  Additionally, while changing how the Board of Directors is elected by opening some seats to direct election by the general membership, possible a good thing, Council is instituting a committee to decide who can run for that general election based on internal evaluation of what kinds of new members are needed. This needs-assessment step reduces the real choices the general membership may have.

Council discussed a resolution of advisory actions to graduate programs’ admissions processes. The initial proposal was to eliminate GRE cut-off scores from the process. Council is working now on a revised resolution that will suggest that the admissions process should reflect multidimensional factors with no single one being uniquely determinant.

Council passed a resolution on psychologists being part of integrated primary care in health care settings. It is pages long, but the conclusion and resolution itself is a positive step for practitioners. To the extent that it engenders positive attitudes for practicing psychologists in health care settings, it may well spill over into more integrated science research approaches in health care:

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the American Psychological Association will continue to promote the inclusion of psychology and psychological science in integrated primary and specialty health care to improve patient, family, and population health across the lifespan through collaborations with influential health organizations federal agencies, and consumer groups.”

No report can give justice to the full activities of council, its 500-page agenda, nor the genuine commitment of all the members of Council to guide APA into a brighter future.