Executive Director's Column
APA Governance 101: The Association
By Steven Breckler, PhD
A little over two years ago, I started working at APA. Until then, I enjoyed the benefits of APA membership, but paid very little attention to how its members governed the association. I think my experience is common among the scientist members of APA. In hindsight, I regret that I had not become more involved. In part, it was because I understood very little about how APA governs itself. This month and next, I will use this space to explain the basics of APA governance (as I understand it). My hope is that more members of the science community will gain enough understanding to become more involved.
APA is a membership organization. All of the business, policies, and activities of the association are governed by its members. A large staff (including myself) serves the membership, but it is the members who make the big decisions. The system of member oversight is called APA Governance, and almost everything you need to know about governance is posted on the APA website.
The principle governing body of APA is the Council of Representatives. The Council includes 162 representatives who are elected by the members of APA. The Bylaws of the association spell out how those representatives are chosen, and who they represent. Seats on Council are allocated by a formula, based on the percentage of votes submitted by members. Every Division of APA is given one seat on council, with additional seats allocated based on the voting.
The Council is an extraordinarily important part of APA governance. It is APA's main legislative body. Very little happens at APA without the approval of Council, and many new initiatives and activities have their origin in Council. If you are interested in serving on Council, you should indicate this to the Divisions or State Psychological Associations with which you are most active. The representation of the science constituency of APA depends on its active engagement on Council.
Another important governing body is the APA Board of Directors. The Board's composition may be the least understood among the members of APA. The Board includes 11 voting members, but only three of them are selected as a result of at-large elections (the President, President-Elect, and Past-President). The others are selected by the members of Council. Thus, the Board of Directors is really the Executive Committee of the Council, making Council the true APA Board of Directors.
If you follow this organization of APA governance, there is an important lesson: although the APA Board of Directors may enjoy greater visibility (especially its President), it is the membership of APA's Council of Representatives that selects most seats on the Board, and that ultimately has the final say on important matters of the association. As I wrote earlier, the representation of the science constituency of APA depends on its active engagement on Council.
Whenever you hear that APA has taken a certain policy position, or appointed a new task force, or approved a major new initiative, it is almost always the case that APA's Council of Representatives has debated it and approved it.
The Council meets twice a year - typically in February and again at the annual convention. Most of the meeting is open to members of APA. If you want to gain a better understanding of how APA governs itself, I'd encourage you to attend these public meetings. During the New Orleans convention this year, Council will meet on August 9 and on August 13. I always attend the Council meetings, and will be happy to provide a guided tour for the uninitiated.
The APA Council of Representatives and the Board of Directors provide oversight for the entire association. Another facet of APA governance is a system of Boards and Committees, each focused on specific areas of function and interest. Next month, I will describe this facet of governance and how it relates to the science community of APA.