In Search of Science/Academic Leadership

At a recent meeting of division leaders, an issue came up that I've addressed before in this column: the relative lack of science/academic representation in APA governance. What transpired at the meeting suggested that perhaps it's time for an update. The essence of my continuing argument is that it doesn't have to be that way. The fact that scientists are outnumbered by practitioners in the general membership is an excuse, not a reason, for the underrepresentation.

Truth is, what accounts for the difference is mainly organization and commitment--numbers are almost incidental. What our sizable science/academic constituency has lacked is a cadre of folks willing to step forward, learn the APA governance system, put in the time and energy necessary to become visible within it, work together toward common goals, and serve when asked. Folks like Kurt Salzinger, Bruce Overmier, and Marty Seligman are prime examples of what's required--and what's possible. But they're the exceptions, and they've done it largely on their own, without the benefit of a strong organization of scientific/academic leaders behind them. And however effective they may be, the occasional dedicated individual is simply not enough.

By contrast, groups a fraction the size of our science/academic constituency have earned their place at the table through a sense of purpose, strong leadership, and organization. Time was when groups like the Industrial/Organizational folks were a powerful governance force despite having fewer than 2,000 members. Today, their efforts are directed primarily toward the Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP), a separately incorporated division (14) of APA whose main activities are conducted outside the scope of APA governance.

The irony is that the climate within the Association today is more congenial to participation by our constituency than it has been in years. Membership has started to rise, some young folks are beginning to show an interest again, other constituencies--including the private practitioners and state associations--are giving serious attention to science/academic concerns and are increasingly willing to support their issues, and contentious issues are resolved rationally rather than through brute force and rancor. I am convinced that greater participation by scientists and academics in APA affairs would now be genuinely welcomed by most of the other groups.

Which brings me back to the recent Division Leadership Conference. The meeting was organized somewhat differently this year than in the past, with free-wheeling brainstorming sessions and discussion groups occupying a central place on the program. As it turned out, much of the discussion revolved around the fundamental question of how groups that perceive themselves as governance outsiders can become active players. This, of course, is at the core of the scientist/academic representation problem.

What was particularly gratifying to me was the spirit in which this discussion took place. Governance insiders, from the President and Board of Directors on down, helped neophytes and outsiders frame questions, and then joined them in a search for answers. Those experienced in 'the system' shared everything they knew about it--including specific tactics for gaining access--with the inexperienced in a genuine effort to encourage entry into the governance arena. I saw no hint of parochialism or self-interest in these exchanges.

But what I did see were a lot of new division leaders, including some from our science/academic constituency, undergoing a significant eye-opening experience. They certainly left with plenty of material to take back to their respective divisions, along with some concrete suggestions on how to increase involvement should their division colleagues be so inclined.

Clearly, one cannot hope for too much from one meeting. However, if even a few of the seeds sown there bear fruit, the chances for revitalizing science/academic leadership within APA could take a major step forward. Once folks begin to recognize that (a) it's possible, (b) it's important, and (c) they're not alone, the investment required to participate in APA governance will start looking a lot more attractive.

APA Home Page . Search . Site Map