In Brief

APA's Committee on Accreditation (CoA) has unanimously voted not to remove a controversial footnote from its document governing how psychology programs become accredited. Footnote 4 exempts religious institutions from certain diversity requirements by allowing them to give preference to students and faculty from the same religious affiliation.

CoA's decision came after a six-month public comment period on whether to drop the exemption — a review initiated by the concerns of some psychologists and students that the exemption in footnote 4 of CoA's Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology could be construed as allowing psychology programs affiliated with religious institutions to discriminate against lesbian, gay and bisexual students and faculty. Groups such as APA's Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns (CLGBC) and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students were concerned about some religious institutions' requirements that students and faculty sign oaths of faith and abide by codes of conduct that prohibit sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior — requirements they say create an atmosphere of exclusion.

"We have no objection to programs setting out religious preferences," explains CLGBC chair Judith Glassgold, PsyD. "We are concerned about programs that in their program materials set up criteria that when applied systematically exclude specific groups....This seems contrary to the intent of the guidelines and the APA Ethics Code that says psychologists should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation."

Others countered that removal was not necessary because, while the footnote does allow programs to employ religious preferences, it does not permit institutions to exclude individuals on the basis of age, color, disabilities, religion, sexual orientation and other characteristics. In addition, proponents noted that the footnote only applies to one portion of the Guidelines and Principles.

CoA announced its decision to keep the footnote during its Nov. 1­4 meeting after a lengthy discussion of the legal and educational implications and the 224 statements received during the public comment period. In making its decision, the committee examined the impact of the footnote's removal on religious institutions' psychology programs and on the individual rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual students and faculty, as well as recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions supporting First Amendment rights over antidiscrimination statutes.

Also affecting the committee's decision was the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which suggested that, if the footnote was removed, it would be forced to consider revoking APA's recognition as an accrediting body. Since APA is the only organization approved by the DOE to accredit professional psychology programs, that would have left all psychology students in a lurch — ineligible for some types of federal funding and, in some cases, unable to gain licensure.

In a statement released to the public last month, the committee noted that the decision was reached after careful deliberation: "The Committee sought to balance the tensions among a necessary attention to legal precedent, an awareness of the impact of loss of U.S. DOE recognition, and an enduring commitment to diversity in professional psychology training. The committee evaluated carefully the comments of those supporting elimination of the footnote to learn if specific violations of the Guidelines and Principles of Accreditation have occurred as a direct result of footnote 4 that would be weighed in the mix."

Adds Susan Zlotlow, PhD, head of APA's Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation: "The committee remains committed to valuing all kinds of cultural and individual diversity, including religion and sexual orientation. We will continue to work with individual psychology programs to foster diversity."

--D. SMITH

Further Reading

The committee's statement on the footnote 4 decision is available at the Accreditation Web site.