Education Leadership Conference

Authorship disagreements. Unfair grading. Sexual misconduct. Data fraud. These and other problems suggest that psychologists in academia sometimes don't act as ethically as they should, said Cynthia D. Belar, PhD, executive director of APA's Education Directorate. That's why APA decided to devote its entire 2013 Education Leadership Conference (ELC) to the topic of ethics and education, she said.

Held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 28-Oct. 1, the conference had a threefold purpose: provide a forum for educators at all levels to explore education and training issues; promote a shared disciplinary identity; and make an impact on public policy. This year's event brought together more than 150 representatives from APA governance, divisions, psychology education and training organizations, and other psychology groups.

In addition to visiting Capitol Hill to advocate for psychology's educational priorities, participants discussed ethical concerns in the context of teaching, supervision and research and heard about new developments, such as the White House's mental health initiative and the implications of "conscience clauses" that could allow trainees to opt out of diversity-related training.

Dr. Cynthia Belar of APA’s Education Directorate. (credit: Nick Crettier)Belar set the stage for discussion by reviewing the five principles underlying APA's Ethics Code and noting possible pitfalls within an educational context.

Take the principle of integrity, she said. "How are we advertising our educational programs?" she asked. "Are we telling students entering programs that they won't be eligible for jobs in the federal government if they don't get an accredited internship program? Are we advising them of what the future holds?"

The power imbalance between professors and students can make it hard to uphold the principle of justice while negotiating authorship credit with students, said Belar. Failing to address the ethical misconduct of colleagues could mean compromising the principle of fidelity and responsibility. Psychology educators may struggle to maintain the principle of respect for people's rights and dignity when different value systems clash.

Of course, added Belar, ELC participants don't just talk about issues: They also take action by heading to Congress to advocate for psychology education and training with elected officials and staff. This year's advocacy efforts centered on campus mental health. Addressing students' mental and behavioral health isn't just important for their well-being, said Belar, but also "because we know it really affects their academic achievement and ability to become productive citizens."

— Rebecca A. Clay