When Does the APA Take a Stand?


The Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association (APA) speaks out or takes a stand on certain issues and not others. What’s the process that determines whether and how the APA Board voices a position? And how are Board Statements different from APA resolutions?

Amy Ferrer, executive director of the APA, addresses these questions in a recent post at the Blog of the APA. She writes:

The scenarios in which the board can issue a letter or statement are narrowly drawn, and this is purposeful. When an issue is directly related to our mission, when the position of the board and the membership is clear and uncontroversial, and when the circumstances require a timely response, the board can and should speak for the association. But the board should not be in the business of taking positions on controversial or political issues—we feel strongly that the APA should only do that if you, the members, decide we should. For that reason, we have another route for taking stances on issues of public interest: the resolution.

If you’re curious what statements and letters the APA Board has issued, you can view them here.

What subjects may the statements and letters be on? Here’s what it says on the APA site:

Letters from the board of officers are best suited to issues requiring a more timely response that fall into one of the following categories:

  • Academic freedom
  • Government funding for the humanities and higher education
  • Philosophy departments threatened with closure, merger, severe funding cuts, or similar crises
  • Conditions of the professional work of philosophers

Other issues of public interest, and especially issues relating to public policy, are best addressed through APA resolutions, which are voted upon by the APA membership. See the association bylaws for more detail on the resolution process.

Further, in order for a board letter to be appropriate, the following conditions must be met:

  • The issue must be of clear professional interest or concern to the APA membership.
  • The issue must be related to the APA’s mission and/or strategic plan.
  • If the issue is controversial, there must be a clear majority viewpoint of the membership on the issue (that is, the membership is not, to the best of the board’s knowledge and judgment, deeply divided).
  • The facts of the issue must have been sufficiently established. (The APA does not have the investigative capabilities to discover the facts independently.)
  • There must be a specific audience/recipient for the letter (e.g., institutional administration, governmental body).
  • Going through the longer resolution process will significantly reduce the effectiveness of an APA response.

Resolutions play a different role. Ferrer writes: “The resolution is the only way for the APA to take a stance on an issue that is political or significantly controversial, because it is not appropriate for the board to speak for the membership on such issues.”

She adds: “Resolutions are voted on by the members of each division, and a resolution can only become a position of the APA as a whole (rather than a position of just one division) if it receives a support of a majority of those voting on it in each division.”

In her post, Ferrer discusses a third way the APA can take a stand: by rescinding prizes it has awarded. There is currently no official APA policy on when this action should be taken, but the Board will be taking up a proposal on it at an upcoming meeting. She writes:

Though the policy hasn’t yet been finalized, the proposal includes two avenues for revoking a prize or award: (1) if the winning individual or work is later found to be ineligible, such as if a prize had been awarded to a book or article that was later found to be plagiarized, and (2) if the recipient has been convicted of a criminal offence or confirmed (through some kind of institutional process) to have engaged in unethical conduct.

You can read Ferrer’s post here.

Scott Partridge, “Owls”

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