Feature

Attending APA Council meetings often brings to mind the line about piloting a commercial jet: "hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror." Amidst all the trivia, meaningless resolutions, and posturing by wannabe politicians, there are generally a few items that strike genuine fear into the hearts of us "science/academic" representatives -- measures that, if passed, could inadvertently deal our interests a crippling blow. So we spend most of our energy defending against potential threats.

Until the August meeting. This time, we were blessed with proposals of our own to push and found ourselves playing offense for a change. Best of all, we scored--and not just the usual safety, but a touchdown and extra point. The emotions we felt weren't fear or despair, but unmitigated joy. And we weren't the only ones celebrating. My purpose in writing this column is to emphasize what this unprecedented win means for our scientists and academics, and to explain how it happened--which I believe says something important about the current state of affairs in APA.

A huge investment

Basically, our scoring drive hinged on an item called the Academic Enhancement Initiative (AEI), which called for a whopping $350K annual commitment to address the needs of academic scientists, thereby giving them a compelling reason to become--and remain--members and supporters of the association. By making this a continuing investment, the Science Directorate could sustain highly successful programs such as the Summer Science Institute and the Advanced Training Institutes, while targeting specific academic needs in ways that were impossible before. The move would also send a powerful message to detractors who question APA's commitment to academic scientists. It passed unanimously--touchdown!

Winning scores, as any coach will tell you, are the result of teamwork and preparation, and this one was no exception. It started with a Science Directorate and Board of Scientific Affairs vision that received strong encouragement from our new President. Senior executive officers were consulted, and in conjunction with other Directors, the Science folks drafted a proposal for Finance Committee and Board of Directors consideration in preparing the budget. Key individuals in all APA constituencies were contacted to ensure that the criticality of AEI for the future composition--and health--of the association was widely recognized. The reaction, I'm told, was universally positive. When the item finally reached the council floor, there was not a single dissenting speaker or vote, and colleagues from the "practice" communities were among its staunchest advocates.

But that's not all. For several years, we've supported special off-budget funding by Council for a practice-oriented "Public Education Campaign" (PEC). The original plan was to weave science and other themes into this campaign as it evolved, but it soon became obvious that trying to piggyback a science message onto a practice theme would benefit neither. Communicating our message calls for an entirely different approach--namely, getting more of our best science, which we now keep pretty much to ourselves, out of our journals and into the public media. Therefore, an addition of $100K per year to the APA Media Relations budget was proposed for this expressed purpose. If AEI--aimed mostly at our academic colleagues--was our touchdown, this public-oriented initiative was the extra point try. It was kicked by the Publications and Communications Board with the APA Media Relations unit centering and Science holding, and it passed cleanly between the uprights.

Council has come a long way

But science wasn't the only winner. Sustained funding for the PEC also passed unanimously, thereby ensuring for the practice community the long-term PR help it so desperately needs. In fact, the PEC and AEI items were couched in identical language, and not by coincidence. By making the two investments independent but joined at the hip, we have essentially guaranteed continuation of AEI for as long as PEC survives, and I suspect it will be a cold day in Gila Bend when the PEC gets axed.

Council meetings will never rival the Super Bowl for excitement, and given the diversity of interests, not every important decision will get the same reception that PEC and AEI did this time. We'll still have our anxious moments. But it's clear to me that Council has come a long way from the bad old days when battle lines were unambiguous, parochial interests ruled, and winning was the only thing. Today's climate encourages mutual understanding and the search for win-win alternatives. Our win was really a team victory, and anyone who still believes that Council doesn't care about academic scientists just isn't paying attention.