Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Initiating Dialogue on APA Governance

I have been a member of the APA, mostly the Pacific Division, for over twenty years.  When I have had the opportunity to observe the governance practices in this division, I have frequently been surprised, if not disturbed.  For many years I have been asking myself, how can intellectuals who write about democratic theory and rights, equality and political justice, tolerate the violation of basic democratic principles and procedures in their own organization?
At first I began asking naïve questions.  Why do we not hold elections for our officers?  How are candidates nominated for office?  Why is there so little business conducted at the business meeting, where members have an opportunity to meet with their officers, and why is all the business conducted at the executive committee meeting?

When I was chair of the program committee, and inquired about whether we should have each paper read by more than one person on the committee (as the other divisions do), I was told this was impossible.  My attempts to generate some discussion of our policy on this failed.  When I assumed my duties as program chair, I tried to obtain a summary of the tasks and deadlines I was expected to meet, and the procedures I was expected to follow, and found that nothing was written down.  I had to collect this information however I could, but essentially the memory and word of one longstanding officer was recognized by all as the definitive authority on this, and all matters.  When, at the end of my year, I offered to put together a flowchart of tasks and deadlines for the incoming chair, in consultation with past program chairs and the EC, I was told I would be infringing on the incoming chair’s authority.  Authority, what authority?  There was a huge job to do and no guidance from the organization, except from one person.
Like most members, I have generally felt that, as long as the annual meetings are run reasonably well, why bother trying to democratize this organization.  But last year, when the division faced the boycott and strike call at our conference hotel and the difficult questions this raised, and I observed how this situation was handled by our officers, I became very disturbed, if not demoralized.  Very briefly, here’s what happened: when one member requested of our officers that APA members be informed of the labor situation at our conference hotel, he was told this was not possible.  When he took it upon himself to inform members of the ongoing labor dispute and the situation they would likely face at the conference hotel, our officers quickly organized a follow-up email with misleading information about the labor situation and the APA’s options.  Although the hotel boycott and strike in San Francisco had begun months before our meeting, our officers insured that few alternative arrangements could be made by not consulting with members until forced to do so only several weeks before the meeting.  Despite our officers’ irresponsible and autocratic handling of this situation, an alternative conference site was found by one member, and many sessions moved out of the conference hotel.  In addition, our officers refused to move the business meeting out of the conference hotel, where elections for new officers would be held, thus disenfranchising members who were honoring the union’s boycott.  Our officers again claimed they could not move the meeting because there was inadequate time to notify members in advance, but they failed of course to say that they put off addressing a request to move the business meeting until it was too late to announce it.
One reason for having this blog is that a governance structure and practices have evolved in the Pacific APA that essentially silence any broad public discussion of disagreements over APA matters.  In recent years, the business meeting has been held at lunch on the first day of the conference, when many members are still arriving and checking into their rooms.  No agenda is circulated in advance.  In my memory, few members attend.   When members have raised with our officers questions about governance practices in the division, we are told that these matters have already been discussed and settled.  I’ve been told that the reason we don’t have elections is that APA offices are only honorary positions, despite the fact that our officers make policy for the division, and some sit on the National Board, the highest governing body of the organization.  I’ve also been told that if we held elections, no one would run.  When I’ve pointed out that the other divisions do not have difficulty getting people to run, nor do other academic societies, I’ve been told that the best philosophers would not run for office.
No matter how competent a single philosopher is to run our division, by having more minds deliberate over APA matters, solve problems, and shape policy, we can improve the running of this organization.  Moreover, in a democratic organization that belongs to the members, a few people should not be allowed to choose who gets to deliberate.  The APA has grown significantly in the last several decades, and governance practices that may have once served a small organization are no longer appropriate.  The national office has changed too, and with greater cooperation and coordination among the divisions, it could support the work of the divisions more efficiently.  There is no reason, for example, that business and management professionals in the national office couldn’t help us find necessary IT training support or  conference space or hire a company such as conference direct http://www.conferencedirect.com/ , as many large organizations do.  Having a philosopher do this for such a large meeting, and navigate the complex hotel industry, is not a good use of a philosopher’s time and skills.
As part of an effort to democratize the Pacific APA, the petition below will be sent in the next few days to the members of the Pacific Division Executive Committee.
We, the undersigned Pacific Division APA members, propose that the By-Laws of the Pacific Division be amended to adopt election procedures that are similar to the other two divisions, and that reflect the basic principles and procedures of a democratic organization.  Specifically, (1) we propose that the nominating committee be elected by the Pacific Division membership through a mail ballot or secure web-based voting system, and that there be at least two nominees for each anticipated vacancy on the nominating committee.  In addition, (2) we propose that the nominating committee nominate at least two persons for vice-president, for secretary-treasurer, and for the vacant seats on the executive committee; and that elections be conducted by a mail ballot sent to all Pacific Division members, or by a secure web-based voting system.  Moreover, (3) we propose that after serving two consecutive terms in any office or on any committee, one is ineligible to run for that position for three years.  Furthermore, (4), we propose that the secretary-treasurer regularly inform members of anticipated vacancies on the nominating and executive committees, and of the approved methods and deadlines for submitting nominations.  Finally, (5) we propose that the current executive committee, at their first meeting following approval of this petition, appoint an ad hoc committee to draft wording reflecting these changes and principles; and that the ad hoc committee be instructed to conduct their work in consultation with the members of the Pacific Division, as well as members and officers of other divisions, and to present an initial draft of their wording by the 2007 annual divisional meeting.
Anatole Anton, Sharyn Clough, Sharon Crasnow, Jennifer Faust, Ann Garry, Phil Gasper, John Glanville, Ricardo Gomez, Marcia Homiak, Mark Johnson, James Kellenberger, Andrew Light, John Lysaker, Bonnie Mann, Rita Manning, Erin McKenna, Paul Menzel, Robert Pasnau, Joseph Prabhu, Scott Pratt, Cheyney Ryan, Laurie Shrage, Ronald Sundstrom, Greg Velazco y Trianosky, Margaret Urban Walker,  Alison Wylie, Naomi Zack,
The reason for this petition is that practices have evolved which allow our current officers to appoint a nominating committee, and which permit the nominating committee to nominate only one person for each office, with no public call for nominations.  At the business meeting, in which typically members of the EC outnumber all others present, the nominating committee’s slate is voted into office.  Essentially, our officers are hand-picking their successors.
The By-Laws of the Pacific Division state: http://www.apa.udel.edu/apa/governance/constitution/pacific.html :
“5. Amendments
a. Amendments or additions to these by-laws may be proposed only by the executive committee, by the national Board of Officers, or by a petition signed by at least twenty members of the Association with voting affiliations with the Pacific Division.
b. Proposals to amend or add to these by-laws must be announced to the members of the Association who have voting affiliations with the Pacific division at least two weeks prior to the meeting at which a vote is taken.
c. If the above conditions have been met, these by-laws may be amended or added to by a vote of two-thirds of the members with voting affiliation with the Pacific Division present at the annual business meeting.”
I hope that our officers won’t put off announcing this petition until it is too late to discuss it at the business meeting in Portland (March 23, 2006). Respectfully, Laurie Shrage

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