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APA Council of Representatives Report

Lori Foster

Georgia Chao

Deirdre Knapp


Stephen Stark


The American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) annual convention provides an opportunity for SIOP members to convene with each other and colleagues from other areas of psychology to network, share ideas, and present research. As has become SIOP tradition, Division 14 was well represented this year at the annual APA convention in Denver, with a strong program of invited and peer-reviewed sessions devoted to a wide range of topics within and outside of I-O psychology.

The annual APA convention also offers the chance for APA’s Council of Representatives (COR) to meet. COR convenes twice per year: once in February in Washington DC and once in August during the APA convention. SIOP sends its four elected representatives to each COR meeting to participate in APA governance and help the SIOP Executive Board and membership stay abreast of developments within the profession.

The summer 2016 COR meeting took place in Denver, Colorado on August 3 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and August 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. It was attended by four elected, voting Division 14 members: Georgia Chao, Lori Foster, Deirdre Knapp, and Stephen Stark.

The purpose of this article is to give SIOP members a feel for your elected representatives’ role and responsibilities, while touching on some key events that took place and issues that were discussed during the course of the August 3 and 5, 2016 COR meetings. This article is not meant to serve as an exhaustive record of every vote that occurred at the August 2016 COR meetings. However, readers interested in such detail can find it in the COR meeting minutes published by APA.

The August COR gathering in Denver began with an opening plenary session on the evening of August 2, 2016. This provided a platform for candidates running for APA president to give a short speech about their qualifications for the position and the types of actions they would take, if elected. During the upcoming election cycle, five people are running for president: Jessica Henderson Daniel, Kurt Geisinger, Rodney Lowman, Ali Mattu, and Steven Reisner. Geisinger and Lowman are both SIOP members. The ballot for voting will be sent to APA members on September 15, 2016.

Deanne Marie Ottaviano, APA’s new General Counsel, also spoke during the opening plenary session on August 2. She explained to COR members that a portion of the August meeting would be a closed, “Executive Session,” in which observers and participants who are not on the Council of Representatives must leave the room. COR members are not permitted to share the information provided during the Executive Session; it is privileged and confidential. Ottaviano underscored the importance of treating it as such.

Immediately following the opening plenary, caucuses met. APA caucuses are groups of COR members who meet to discuss common interests, including agenda items and upcoming votes with implications for those interests. APA’s COR has many caucuses, including but not limited to a Public Interest caucus, a Women’s caucus, and an Education and Training caucus. One caucus that we think is especially important for I-O psychology is the General Applied Psychology/ Psychologists (GAPP) Caucus. GAPP is a relatively new caucus, currently chaired by our own Deirdre Knapp, that focuses on psychology as it is practiced by those who are not mental health care providers. Combining our voices with those of other Council representatives with similar interests enables a stronger impact on Council priorities and direction.

The morning following the opening plenary and caucus sessions, the official COR meeting began. The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, kicked things off during the first day of meetings on August 3, welcoming COR to Colorado. Later in the week, Congressman Timothy Murphy (PA) opened the final COR meeting on August 5. Both Hickenlooper and Murphy discussed the importance of policies aimed at addressing citizens’ mental health needs.

After opening remarks, official COR business began. APA COR meetings follow strict parliamentary procedure, adhering to the rules contained in Keesey's Modern Parliamentary Procedure. For the August meeting, a professional parliamentarian was present to ensure all rules were properly followed. Having a quick source of expertise on hand seemed to somewhat reduce the amount of time spent discussing and debating violations of parliamentary procedure.

Several items came up for a vote during the August 2016 meeting. Some passed, some failed, and some were referred back to their originating mover or committee for revision with the expectation that a modified version of the item will come back to Council for a vote at a future date.

Some items were not particularly contentious. For example, a proposal to create a new APA membership category for “Friends of Psychology” passed with relative ease. This membership category will be open to anyone interested in supporting APA’s mission. It allows people without graduate degrees in psychology to easily affiliate with APA in a limited capacity. In order to become official, this new membership category will need to be supported by APA members in an upcoming ballot.

Other items discussed during the August COR meeting were more controversial, including items directly or indirectly stemming from the 2015 Independent Review, otherwise known as the “Hoffman Report.” As we have described in more detail elsewhere, the Hoffman Report documents an independent review commissioned by APA to determine the truth behind allegations of wrongdoing pertaining to APA’s 2002 and 2005 issuance of ethical guidelines that “determined whether and under what circumstances psychologists who were APA members could ethically participate in national security interrogations” (Hoffman Report, p. 1). Many members feel that COR must take swift action to address problems uncovered in the Hoffman Report and send a strong, visible message to the public regarding APA’s ethical stance and opposition to torture. However, some COR members are also concerned that a rush to action or hastily worded policies could have negative, unintended implications, for example, by limiting where and how applied psychologists working within and outside of military settings are able to practice.

Some such issues and concerns came to the fore during the August 2016 Council meeting when COR was asked to adopt as APA policy an item titled “Resolution in Favor of Providing Support and Assistance to Military and National Security Psychologists Striving to Abide by the APA Ethics Code and APA Policy.” Essentially, this resolution would say that APA endorses allowing military psychologists to provide mental health care treatment to detainees, regardless of setting. This was controversial primarily because it would modify the stance taken by a resolution adopted in August 2015 that said psychologists should be prohibited from being present in environments that operate outside of international law. This agenda item was discussed at length, and a number of viewpoints were expressed in favor of and against the resolution. There were also some points of confusion. One of the issues raised was ambiguity about what and who a “National Security Psychologist” is, given the prevalence of this term in the proposed resolution. There was also concern that some COR members discussing and debating the matter may not have a clear picture of what operational psychologists working in military settings do, as well as the DoD policies that regulate them. To address this, Division 19 (Military Psychology) president-elect Colonel (Ret.) Sally Harvey spoke to COR for a few minutes during the Friday August 5 meeting to provide information as well as her perspective, having served in the military as a psychologist for a number of years. Ultimately, this item did not go up for a vote. Instead, it was sent back to a group of supporters and opponents, charged with devising revised wording that would be both clearer and potentially reflect a compromise position. This resolution is expected to return to the Council floor for a vote in February 2017.

Resolutions like the one above reflect APA policy, but changes to the APA Ethics Code (which is also a code adopted by SIOP) are enforceable requirements. The aforementioned August 2015 policy resolution required the Ethics Committee to consider an immediate change to the APA Ethics Code to formalize the restrictions on behavior and settings reflected in the policy. Accordingly, the APA Ethics Committee offered for public comment two alternatives for incorporating a statement related to torture into Standard 3.04 (Avoiding Harm) of the ethics code. The first statement simply said “Psychologists do not participate in, facilitate, assist, or otherwise engage in torture.” The second statement was considerably longer and included a prohibition against psychologists practicing in certain settings. SIOP’s response was that neither statement was necessary given language already in the ethics code but that the simplest version would be okay and the longer version was not acceptable.  Based on their synthesis of the public comment, the Ethics Committee proposed the following addition to Standard 3.04: “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).”

The primary concern expressed on the Council floor was the definition of torture that was added from the original version sent out for public comment.  Apparently, the definition used was drawn from another source in partial form and thus could be interpreted more broadly than intended.  Your representatives were sympathetic to this concern, but ultimately, the new language was adopted by Council.

Before leaving this topic, it is important to note that APA is planning a more significant overhaul of the Ethics Code and will establish an Ethics Code Revision Task Force (ECTF) by the end of 2016. SIOP, the GAPP caucus, and allied divisions (e.g., Division 13) are working to ensure representation of industrial-organizational psychology on the ECTF.

Another item on the agenda had to do with how the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is used to select students into psychology graduate programs. This item proposed that Council adopt a resolution discouraging the use of GREs as a cutoff score to determine which graduate school applicants do and do not get considered for admission. The impetus for this proposal was the lack of ethnic diversity in graduate psychology programs. The argument was that discouraging the use of GRE scores as hard criteria would increase ethnic diversity of those admitted to psychology graduate programs. Although there was wide support on the Council floor for diversifying graduate programs, not everyone agreed that this proposal, as worded, was the best vehicle for accomplishing such a goal. Ultimately, this proposal was referred back to its originating committee to revise the language to address concerns expressed during the COR discussion. Given his expertise in psychometrics, incoming SIOP representative Stephen Stark offered to assist in revising this motion.  As a side note, this illustrates one of SIOP’s roles on COR. During and in between Council meetings, we look for opportunities to contribute I-O expertise when relevant opportunities arise.

Not every item that comes before Council gets voted on. Some of the items are informational in nature. For example, during the August COR meeting, an update was provided on APA’s search for a new CEO to replace acting CEO Cynthia Belar, who succeeded Norman Anderson upon his retirement on December 31, 2015. Korn Ferry is handling the search, which is led by a search committee consisting of psychologists from a range of disciplines. SIOP’s president-elect Jim Outtz was to serve on the committee prior to his untimely death on March 26, 2016. SIOP reached out to APA with an offer to suggest a replacement. Unfortunately, APA did not accept this offer.

APA’s finances were also discussed during the August COR meeting. In general, the financial picture looks less positive than it has in recent years, due in part to falling membership dues, some publication revenues on the decline, and other financial hits that APA has experienced recently. APA will need to manage this situation carefully and will likely need to find ways to cut expenses. Interim CEO Cynthia Belar indicated that she will seek input from Council regarding priorities as the forthcoming budget is developed.

Each of the two Council sessions in August concluded with a brief “culture check” survey, which asked COR members to rate the degree to which time was managed effectively and discussions unfolded with a spirit of civility. Concerns have been expressed about the tone and tenor of some COR communications—both on its discussion list and on the Council floor—which have been described as lacking in civility. This could discourage members from speaking up, thereby preventing new ideas from surfacing. APA is attempting to address this concern in various ways, including with the use of the above-mentioned culture check survey, as well as a civility working group charged with better understanding the source and nature of the concerns at hand.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that the August 2016 COR meeting covered important ground. Some of the issues that arose have implications for I-O psychology, and some provide opportunities for us to apply our skillset to the broader profession. For this reason, your four Division 14 Council reps sit on SIOP’s Executive Board and provide updates to the board on what is happening with APA. We also strive to keep the membership informed. We hope this article has served just such a purpose. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions pertaining to APA, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. We appreciate the opportunity to serve in this capacity and welcome your input.