Friday, September 12, 2008

Monkey Business on APA Anti-Torture Referendum?

Stephen Soldz has a story up at Psyche, Science and Society questioning whether there has been undue interference by staff at the American Psychological Association, "rallying sentiment against the Referendum."

The Referendum's key passage reads:
Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
Former Executive Director of the APA Practice Directorate, Bryant Welch, has written to APA CEO Norm Anderson "expressing concern about... staff interference in the voting process."

Last August 10, I wrote an article reporting APA bureaucrats' campaign against the Referendum. (The full text of the Referendum can be accessed here.) At that time, I wrote:
...APA policy and organizational apparatus is fully intertwined in the governmental spiderweb of military, intelligence, and private consultation and "scientific" organizations, and academia, under the umbrella of serving the national security state. This wide-ranging set of special interests forms an extremely formidable opposition to those who would fundamentally change the policies and personnel responsible for the institution of a world-wide network of secret prisons and institutionalized torture.
The following quote from one of two letters by Dr. Welch to Dr. Anderson, CEO of APA, is taken from Dr. Soldz's article. I highly suggest readers go to Soldz's website to read the entire thing. The passage below captures, I think, Dr. Welch's main points:
When I worked at APA it was an absolute rule that staff were not to participate in organizational political issues. After the reorganization by-laws vote, for example, a very senior staff member was advised to find alternative employment because he assisted in sending out a mailing in support of the reorganization plan. This was probably the single most widely recognized principle directing APA staff behavior.

In the current referendum campaign, it is very clear that this longstanding principle has been utterly disregarded. The APA Ethics officer has been quite outspoken in opposition to the referendum and tireless in his efforts to defeat it. The director of public information and her staff have released numerous documents to the media and to the membership in support of the policy that was adopted by Council and the Board of Directors. At the recent APA Convention, proponents of the referendum were literally followed and their remarks surreptitiously tape recorded without their knowledge by a staff member from the public information office. (This individual allegedly did advise a non-APA member of her intent, but did not seek such permission from the psychologists or even indicate that she was taping them.) In the current political climate and given the nature of the issue at hand, this is very inappropriate and, quite frankly, bizarre and chilling.

This, of course, also puts the APA governance and central office in conflict with the by-laws. The principle of a referendum by the membership to overturn decisions by the Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives, guaranteed by the by-laws, is obviously rendered meaningless if the membership in seeking such relief can be opposed by a Board of Directors and Council of Representatives using the full staff and financial resources of the central office. These resources belong to the members, not the Board or the governance, and they ought not be used to support a position the very nature of which is being challenged by the membership. I think the logic of this position is quite clear and compelling.

It is also important to note that this apparently new policy of putting mid-level staff out front on major political issues,only frustrates organizational accountability. Ms. Farberman and Dr. Behnke are presumably not the policy makers and not acting on their own on these matters. The members have a right to know who is making the decisions on this important policy, but that is nowhere to be found in APA’s pronouncements either to the public or to the membership. Since Dr. Levant and Koocher left office, one gets the sense that there is no one home at APA on the issue except for the aforementioned APA staff members. The current APA president in the context of this dispute is alleged to have said that presidents “have no power” in APA.

Accordingly, Norm, this extraordinary effort on the part of the staff to advance a position currently in dispute within the association creates a huge “tilt” in the election process and, I believe, will justify putting aside the results of any negative vote on the referendum should that occur. Hopefully, for the good of everyone, it will not happen. Winning the referendum vote, as the current governance hopes to do, will be a terrible pyrrhic victory for the APA, and it will be a defeat of disastrous proportions for the profession.

I hope you will reconsider what I believe is a serious and inappropriate misallocation of APA staff and resources. I also hope you will see to it that in future APA communications mid-level staff people are not used to obscure the identities of the higher-ups that are actually making the decisions, whoever they may be at this time. The membership has a right to know who these individuals are. Most importantly, the right to petition on a policy matter is a meaningful right only if one side to the dispute is not opposed by the vast resources of the APA central office.

I doubt if the current APA inner sanctum desires advice from me at this point, but, I can assure you it is well-intended and, I think, based on years of experience and training. For what it is worth, I hope the governance will stop trying to rationalize and reframe their initial bad decision and, instead, support the referendum. It will be a lot easier on them to make that decision now than it will be to tolerate the contempt that will be directed toward them, the APA, and the profession of psychology if the referendum is defeated. The group think rationalizations, including attempts like the Bush Administration’s to scapegoat people who oppose them, simply will not wash outside the APA inner sanctum.
The vote on the Referendum, sent out via mail ballot, ends at the conclusion of the business day, September 15. All ballots must be received by then.

APA members, don't delay. Vote for the Referendum. Please note: Ballots can be faxed to 610 935-6175 attention of Paul Nentwig.

UPDATE, 9/14/08
To all APA members who cannot find their ballot for the referendum, please call Garnett Coad at APA tomorrow. The number is 202-336-6087. He will fax the ballot to you, and it can be faxed back. I've heard that over 200 people did this last week.

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