I am a member-at-large in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. We will be having our semiannual board meeting in a couple of weeks. On the agenda is a discussion of the Hoffman Report, which details collusion between American Psychological Association officials and the U.S. military to enable and support abusive interrogations.
I have had several discussions with people about what, if anything, SPSP should be doing about its relationship with APA. But I’d really like to open up the discussion and get feedback from more people, especially SPSP members. In this post I’d like to lay out some background about SPSP’s relationship with APA, and bring up some possibilities about what to do next.
What is SPSP’s current legal and financial relationship with APA?
It’s easy to get confused about this. Heck, I’m on the SPSP board and I still find it a bit confusing. (If I get any of this wrong I hope somebody corrects me.) Here goes.
SPSP is legally its own organization. We have our own articles of incorporation and bylaws. Membership in SPSP and APA are separate processes and you can be a member of (and pay dues to) either one without joining the other. We operate our own annual conference and our own non-APA journals.
So they’re totally independent, right? Well, not totally.
SPSP also operates APA Division 8. That means that if you are an APA Division 8 member, the SPSP Board is in charge of running your division. And conversely, 1 of the 11 voting members of the SPSP Board of Directors is the APA Division 8 council representative, who is elected by APA Division 8 members under APA’s bylaws. So our governance is at least somewhat intertwined.
And the APA website certainly blurs the distinction – if you navigate to their Division 8 page, it says that Division 8 is SPSP, and it links to SPSP’s website. (Contrast that to the SPSP website’s page about Division 8, which goes to pains to emphasize the difference.)
Financially, some money changes hands. On the income side, we get
a bit of a cut from [corrected] APA Division 8 membership dues and from the fact that some APA Division 8 conference programming provides continuing education credits. On the expenses side, SPSP spends money on the APA conference. We pay to send the SPSP president, SPSP-selected APA program chair, and the Division 8 council representative to the APA conference, and we pay for some APA conference programming (a social hour and travel for an invited speaker). In our 2014 budget under “Division 8,” the numbers were roughly $3k in income from APA, and $13k in expenses, for a net of $10k being spent. On top of that we reimburse some travel expenses for the Division 8 representative and program chair to attend SPSP board meetings (these travel expenses are in a different part of the budget and not broken out, but it’s probably a few thousand bucks a year). In the context of SPSP’s overall budget those are modest numbers — SPSP’s total revenues for 2014 were over $2 million. If you are an SPSP member, it would technically not be correct to say that exactly $0 of your membership dues goes toward APA-related stuff. But the percentage is small.
So like I said, it’s easy to get confused. Legally and financially, SPSP is largely separate but not 100% independent. And by operating Division 8 for APA, we certainly have a real, ongoing relationship.
What are the reasons for maintaining our relationship or for ending it?
That’s really what I’m hoping to hear feedback from people about. I’ll summarize some of the arguments I’ve heard so far, but I hope people will elaborate on them.
On the “keep it” side, people point out that APA is the only organization that represents all of psychology in the United States. APA thus connects us to other psychological disciplines, including the practitioner disciplines. And they are going to continue to have influence on policy and lobbying (including things SPSP members are likely to care about like social science funding). Another thing people bring up is that many of the top-tier journals that SPSP members publish in (JPSP etc.) are APA journals, and we should keep our involvement and influence in that. And lastly, as a result of the Hoffman Report APA may make some fundamental reforms – so this may be an important time to stay involved to shape those reforms and make sure they are implemented.
On the “end it” side, people argue that APA is drifting further and further away from relevance to psychological scientists (aside from its journal publishing business), and that we have relatively little influence with them anyway (a single Division 8 member on the APA council). APA gets its credibility and influence in part from being associated with scientific organizations like us, and they have leveraged that credibility to do great damage. And this wasn’t just a few individuals abusing their offices – it was organized, institutional corruption. So maybe SPSP (as an organization and members as individuals) is getting too little and giving up to much from our relationship – materially, reputationally, or morally.
These are just brief statements of the arguments, in part because they are not all my own. And like I said, this is what I want to hear people discuss.
Realistically what might SPSP do in the immediate future?
As I see it there are 3 avenues:
1. Decide we should stay involved and keep our relationship.
2. Decide we’re past the point of no return with APA and end our relationship. As I understand it, the SPSP Board is not empowered to end our relationship at our meeting. Doing so would require amending our bylaws
and articles of incorporation, and that requires a referendum of the SPSP membership. But such a referendum could be initiated by either the Board or by a petition of 100 SPSP members. [UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: The SPSP Board has budgetary authority to stop spending money on Division 8-related expenses, without a full referendum. Removing the Division 8 representative position from the SPSP board would require amending the bylaws via referendum, but not the articles of incorporation. Thanks to Chad Rummel for the corrections.]
3. Wait and see. Many of the individuals implicated in the Hoffman Report have resigned, but the fallout continues to fall out. Many questions remain to be addressed: How (if at all) will APA change its governance system (which, according to the Hoffman report, was able to be manipulated and circumvented pretty easily toward horrific ends)? Change its ethics policy? Change its stance toward military and operational psychology? Will it reopen and investigate old ethics charges? Will it make restitution for the damage it has done? These questions are likely to be taken up at the APA conference and especially the council meeting in Toronto next week. And the SPSP board meeting will be immediately afterward. So if you think our continued relationship with APA should be contingent on any of those things (and if you view APA’s rehabilition as a still-open question), it may be too soon to make a decision just yet.
In addition to the 3 items above, there may be other things I am not considering. If so, I hope people will bring those up.
Like I said, I would like to hear from SPSP members – and any others who have a stake in SPSP’s relationship with APA. You can comment below. I’ll post a link to this blog post on social media (Facebook, Twitter) in places where SPSP members are likely to see it and have a chance to comment. If you would like to reach me privately, my email is my first name AT uoregon DOT edu.