Behind the Scenes at APA Council

Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD

Division 48 Representative to Council

April 22, 2015

For the official summary of actions taken at the February meeting of the APA Council of Representatives, please see “Council Focuses on Advancing the Field” by Rhea K Farberman, APA Executive Director for Public and Member Communications, in the April issue of the APA’s Monitor on Psychology (

But not all Council actions reflect deliberated consent, or even full awareness, by representatives to Council. Here I describe concerns regarding some of the contextual, procedural, and back-channel elements in three current Council themes.

Decision Making versus Consciousness Raising

Productive debate on controversial New Business Items, the Council equivalent of congressional bills, is often cut short. Representatives who believe the central business of Council is to initiate, evaluate, and vote on bills have therefore objected to the long periods allotted to trainings and to small-group discussions on general issues rather than to specific action items pertinent to those issues. As Farberman reports on the February 2015 meeting, “Council devoted a full day of its two-and-a-half-day meeting to a strategic issue discussion focused on the goal of translating psychological science into public policy.”


Draft Consent Items

Prior to each Council meeting, around a dozen Council leaders who chair after-hours thematic groups (e.g., the Child, Adolescent, and Family Caucus) meet with the APA Board to determine which New Business Items (NBIs) are so obviously sure winners that they do not need a Council vote (e.g., renewal of clinical psychology as an APA area of specialization). These “Draft Consent Items” appear in the Council agenda book, along with comments by APA parties at interest. Any Council member can request discussion and a formal vote on a proposed Draft Consent Item, but this rarely occurs.

At the February 2014 meeting I pulled the following NBI from the Draft Consent list:


Making APA into a Data-Driven Organization

… Main Motion d: Ensure that APA collects, maintains, and manages accessible member and professional data to allow for evidence-based decision-making.

Uneasy about the potential military and commercial uses of such information, with email assistance from other Division 48 members, I proposed these two amendments:


Transparency Amendment

Communicate annually to the APA membership the identities of all non-APA recipients of APA member and professional data. Deny confidentiality to recipients.


Accountability Amendment

Ensure that APA member and professional data are shared only with parties approved by the Council Leadership Team.

With no explanation, the initiators of the “Making APA a Data-Driven Organization” NBI rejected these as “friendly amendments.” The amendments therefore required separate discussion and vote, and time could not be found in the February and August 2014 Council meetings. At the February 2015 meeting, a Board member argued against slightly revised versions of the amendments, but cautionary arguments by two Council colleagues resulted in a 70% vote for approval of the amendments.


Powers of the Board of Directors versus Powers of Council

A majority of Council members support the Good Governance Project, which ostensibly transfers purely administrative tasks, such as approval of the budget, from Council to the Board. However, a skeptical minority of about 20% to 40%, depending on the specific topic, objects to this transfer of power and to the presence of Board members on the newly formed Council Leadership Team (CLT). Early in the February 2015 meeting, the CLT Chair Elect humorously set out to debunk “The Top Ten Myths about CLT,” as in “Myth #10: The CLT is an extension of the Board of Directors.”

Those who are skeptical note that it was only the Board that had the financial authority to appoint attorney David Hoffman to lead the so-named Independent Review of possible collusion between the APA and the CIA/DoD in the matter of abusive interrogations. A few days prior to the February meeting, I inquired of the appropriate APA staff member: “Where on the agenda does [Council] discuss the Hoffman investigation? Some sizeable block of time must be allotted to this.” The staff member replied that the Hoffman review was not on the February agenda so as to preserve the independence of the review.

Some Council colleagues and I believe the Hoffman Report should be released to the Board and to Council simultaneously, rather than permitting the Board to first frame the Report and propose a plan of response to Council, as originally stipulated by the Board. Such a procedure could result in a Council majority quickly voting acceptance of the plan, without adequate examination and deliberation of the plan by Council and other stakeholders. We wanted to bring this matter of timing to a Council vote in February. In back-channel discussions with us, the CLT Chair-Elect and a senior APA staff member intimated that the release of the Report to Board and Council would be simultaneous after all, so we inferred we would do better not to engender a conflict in Council. As later announced to Council in April, however, the APA Board has claimed the prerogative to review and respond to the Report before Council does.


My Availability

Any Division 48 member is welcome to contact me concerning this behind-the-scenes report, at I welcome input for the August Council meeting. Insofar as possible, I clear my Council initiatives with the Division 48 Executive Committee and I consult with other Division members.