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APA Presidential Candidates Answer Psych Central’s Questions

APA Presidential Candidates Answer Psych Central's Questions

We had the opportunity this year to ask the candidates who are running for the American Psychological Association’s (APA) position of president a few questions focused on the independent investigation into the cover-up and manipulation of policy surrounding their stance on torture interrogations (the Hoffman Report).

We asked each of the five candidates the same five questions. Out of the five candidates, we received responses from three of them (which appear below). Two of the candidates — Jack Kitaeff and Jessica Henderson Daniel — failed to respond. One of the remaining candidates — Sharon Bowman — refused to answer the questions, stating, “Your questions […] appear to have a decided point of view, one that leaves little opportunity to interject my own voice into the mix. Thus, I am afraid I will need to decline this request for response.”1

We leave it for you to decide whether our questions have a “decided point of view” — other than one of skepticism and a feeling that the APA hasn’t done enough in response to the Hoffman Report’s findings.2 Regardless, this was an opportunity for the candidates to share their professional opinions on one of the most important issues the organization has ever faced. Psychologists and other mental health professionals turn to independent publications like Psych Central for objective journalism on these issues, since we’re not afraid to ask questions that wouldn’t be allowed in the APA’s own publications.

1. What’s your stance on the PENS Task Force and the findings of the Hoffman Report? (Please give two or three key points.)

Todd E. Finnerty, Psy.D.:

I listened to the voices APA leaders should’ve listened to. I’m the only candidate in this election who signed the petition to annul the PENS report. Conversely, one of the other candidates was on the APA Board when the “emergency” vote on PENS was pushed through. She is mentioned several times in the Hoffman Report in a concerning manner. [Ed. – This would be Jessica Henderson Daniel, who failed to respond to our questions here.] I spoke up against PENS while it was still APA policy. When I first ran for APA President back in 2012 I wrote “APA’s position should never be even in a gray area when it comes to human rights.” I was also the only presidential candidate that year who had signed the petition to annul the PENS report. I supported Dr. Steven Reisner when he ran for APA president. I have a documented history of being opposed to PENS before we tossed it out; I’m the most credible candidate to deal with the Hoffman Report.

Antonio E. Puente, Ph.D.:

(1). Read the entire Independent Report. (2) Individual reading of the Executive Summary and at least one portion of the remaining report (e.g., binder) by each of the individuals in my clinical and research group was done. (3) Individual analyses were completed and then two separate extended group discussions were completed followed by the development of a report review (PDF) (4) I attended the 2015 APA Convention including the Town Hall meeting, both (entire) sessions of the Council of Representatives meeting in Toronto and met individually with Jean Maria Arrigo (47) and Larry James (19) for breakfast with post-convention follow-ups. (5) Finished conducting a national survey on the Independent Report.

My overall summary is regarding the Independent Review is as follows:

  1. The Independent Review must be considered an important first step in data gathering, problem solving and moving forward. We must bring diverse voices together and identify and execute how to change APA for the better.
  2. I strongly support the recently adopted resolutions to overhaul the APA Ethical Standards, rules and procedures and to unequivocally prohibit psychologist involvement in torture. In addition, I similarly support the prior recall of the PENS report.
  3. Finally, I am releasing on 09.23.15 via www.puenteforpresident.com, twitter, Facebook and other media a series of proposed actions that will assist in addressing comprehensively the problems outlined by the Independent Review.

2. Do you believe the Board’s and Council’s actions go far enough to renounce psychologists’ involvement in any kind of torture or interrogations that involve torture? What would you do to further ensure this issue is put to rest in the future? (Please be aware that according to APA in-house counsel, the policy changes passed in August 2015 are still not enforceable as a part of the APA Ethics Code.)

Todd E. Finnerty, Psy.D.:

No, we need more than unenforceable gestures; we will ensure that the will of the membership becomes enforceable and is enforced.

Antonio E. Puente, Ph.D.:

The Independent Review is a first of many steps and, in addition, the Board and Council’s initial action are similarly a first step. The Council spent most of its time in Toronto in additional information gathering and discussing regarding the Independent Review. It was, after all, the first time, the body had the opportunity to come together and address this topic. Many more actions and resolutions should and will emerge.

I will call for a comprehensive and simultaneous review and revision of the APA Ethics Standards, Policies and Procedures. Despite its prior revisions, all three have not been addressed simultaneously and comprehensively since the original Standards. Further, the Council’s resolution will have to be operationalized and adopted by the Ethics Committee. At the same time, psychology has been involved with the military since World War I and I believe that there will continue to be a significant, albeit evolved role, for psychology in the military (e.g., healthcare).

3. There appears to have been a clear breakdown in checks and balances within the organization, with apparently some APA staffers misleading elected APA officials. How would you keep such behavior from occurring in the future?

Todd E. Finnerty, Psy.D.:

It is interesting to note that one of the main duties of APA’s Board will be to decide who will fill the CEO role. As it stands now, the new CEO of APA will have too much power and if history is any indication—will be paid too much. For example, in 2013 CEO Norman Anderson’s compensation was $769,826 which frankly reflects the dues of over 3,116 members. Members in governance positions have become overly-reliant on staff members to tell them what to do and our staff members are too powerful when it comes to policy. For example, it is not infrequent that staff hands Council Representatives prepackaged policies that align with their agendas. The Council Representatives then receive little time to consider or discuss the ramifications of those policies. Unfortunately, then APA members can’t even tell how their Council Representatives voted on most issues that come before the Council. This must end; secret voting isn’t a characteristic of a trustworthy democracy. We must return more power not just to the Board or the Council, we must return more power to members themselves.

Frankly, APA has become bloated and seen too much mission creep. We don’t need to hire more people for pet initiatives, if anything APA needs to trim off the fat. In addition, sometimes relying on staff can become counter-productive. For example, we might hire staff members to shepherd concerns related to practice. However, those staff members may no longer engage in practice while at APA headquarters and become increasingly divorced from the real day-to-day experiences of practitioners. After a while those staff members sitting in a nice building in Washington with a beautiful view of Capitol Hill may end up defending pet political and theoretical ideas instead of defending in-the-trenches psychologists who are making a living through fee-for-service practice. It is easy to see how having long-term, salaried staff members with no more true investment in practice as the people who are supposed to be defending practice may come back to haunt us. The same may be considered true in academia and other areas.

Antonio E. Puente, Ph.D.:

  1. I believe that an external review of APA is needed to ensure transparency and integrity.
  2. APA must shift from being a professional management organization to a membership driven organization.
  3. An independent ombudsperson (e.g., possibly outside of psychology with organizational leadership experience) should be appointed in order to provide membership input into and concern about APA activities.

4. The APA has been criticized for its very tepid initial response to the findings in the Hoffman Report, which resulted in the firing of only a single staffer. Two others took early retirement, and one other was allowed to resign. This doesn’t sound so much like a house-cleaning as much as a quick dusting of spaces people can readily see. What would you do differently?

Todd E. Finnerty, Psy.D.:

For starters, I would not have heaped praise on any of the four executives who began the process of leaving APA as a result of the Hoffman Report. I sure as hell would not have said “thanks for driving APA’s credibility and membership numbers into the ground— here’s another roughly 2.5 million in severance pay.” That, frankly, is disgusting. The fact that members are only aware that there was severance pay because two Council Representatives leaked the information is also disgusting; that does not reflect transparency to the membership.

In terms of the results of the Hoffman Report: some people made mistakes; others acted in bad faith. However, this isn’t about an isolated incident by a few bad apples. While everyone loves a good witch burning, there are malfunctioning systems within APA which must be brought to the barbecue. This isn’t about national security; it’s about misguided APA leaders repeatedly deceiving us and taking a hardline against the democratically-determined will of the membership. Misguided APA leaders have historically been able to place their ill-conceived agendas ahead of the will of the membership and the best interest of the public. My time as APA President will not be about healing; it’ll be about surgery on APA. I will not be performing surgery unilaterally, however. I will do it hand-in-hand with the membership and return more power to the members themselves.

Antonio E. Puente, Ph.D.:

Despite what appears on the surface “very tepid initial response”, the individuals involved in the response were not involved in any of the activities summarized and have they should be given credit for their significant efforts. Importantly, this is indeed an “initial response”. The response to the Independent Review requires addressing comprehensively the structure and function of APA. I believe this is a three to five year activity. Among other things, we need to turn attention to hiring of a CEO. I propose higher someone for three to five years with a specific focus on helping APA change. Once that change has occurred, then another CEO should be hired with a focus on fulfilling the revised procedure, vision and mission of APA.

We will be judged not by what has happened but what we do with what has happened. Hence instead of focusing on the initial response, I am much more concerned about where we go from here.

5. Despite some lip service, a lot of what the APA does in governance is not very transparent to its membership, while key offices that are intended to increase the public trust in the profession have apparently failed (e.g., the Ethics Office). What would you do to help increase governance transparency in the organization, and restore public confidence in the profession?

Todd E. Finnerty, Psy.D.:

Many have fought for change. To psychologists like myself who have sought changes at APA for years the results of the Hoffman Report aren’t surprising. Over the years we’ve been maligned and discounted as “critics.” Many of my fellow critics should’ve been treated like the reformers, innovators and champions they are. It should not take mass resignations and the tireless efforts of people with thick skin in order to get any truth out of our association; and perfidy should not be the main trait of our communication with members.

APA governance has been a stagnant pool. I support efforts to open up the system and breathe new life into APA. Too many misguided APA leaders appoint each other to influential positions over and over in perpetuity. We don’t need a system where sweetheart favors and quid-pro-quo is allowed to flourish in the stacked construction of task forces and other policy-setting bodies. I believe most board and committee positions should be nominated and elected directly by the membership. Let’s return more power to the members themselves and create a more transparent APA with accountability to members.

I hate Executive Sessions where the membership is locked out of hearing about what their elected officials are doing. I hate them. APA even uses them for things like executive compensation. However, our members have what they were paid from Medicare every year posted on the internet. Here in my home state of Ohio we can look up the salary of any state employee with the click of a mouse. APA should not act like APA has state secrets hidden away. APA is a public charity not a corporation (or a CIA black site). Let’s open up everything whenever possible as much as possible. Let’s get all of our agendas online for members to see before meetings take place so that they can express their opinions to their elected governance members; then let’s get the results of meetings online for members to see in a timely manner after they take place. As much as possible members should be allowed to be present at meetings.

I believe members matter. It’s not “an APA for all members” if some get maligned and treated like they don’t matter. It’s not “an APA for all members” unless we empower all psychologists.

Antonio E. Puente, Ph.D.:

As I have found in previous surveys on the structure and function of APA, there appears to be a misunderstanding of APA activities and some disconnect between APA and its members. Probably the most significant illustration is the APA Practice Organization. Due to its legal structure, what is shareable with the membership is far less than what is actually done. The membership is owed that information and the APAPO needs to be acknowledged for its effort and product.

Though several proposals are being considered by the group that is advising me (5 cabinet members; 30 advisors and 50 state leaders), three that are particularly intriguing are (1) monthly surveys with the membership about issues of importance, (2) virtual focus groups on issues of immediate and critical importance, and (3) engagement of the membership by randomly calling APA members to discuss their activities and concerns and inviting one of them to attend Board of Directors meetings and subsequently to report to the membership their experience.

We must restore the confidence of the membership of APA and its rebirth must reflect a more vibrant, transparent and visionary organization.

 

Psych Central’s Endorsement

While we don’t endorse a single candidate, we believe your vote should go to one of these two candidates — Todd Finnerty or Antonio Puente. These two were the only ones out of the five who had the courage and leadership to answer these tough questions from an independent journalist. They have shown the independence needed to help move APA forward.

In either of their hands, the American Psychological Association has a better chance of taking a road to change — change that is needed to bring it back to an organization that psychologists can once again be proud to call themselves members of.

 

APA Presidential Candidates Answer Psych Central’s Questions
  1. Bowman’s full response was:

    “Thank you for the offer to respond to these questions for the benefit of your readers. I have studied these questions several times since receiving them, and I have come to the conclusion that I am not able to provide responses. Over the past few months I have answered a surprising number of questions about various topics related to this election and the resulting Presidency. Whether they touched on the Hoffman Report or on some other aspect of the Presidential process, those questions were open-ended and neutral enough to allow each candidate’s voice to shine through.

    “Your questions, by contrast, appear to have a decided point of view, one that leaves little opportunity to interject my own voice into the mix. Thus, I am afraid I will need to decline this request for response.” []

  2. In terms of the Hoffman’s Report’s findings, it wasn’t just that the APA worked to undermine the ethics of psychologists involved in torture interrogations for the United States. It was also that there was a concerted, coordinated effort by certain APA staffers and leadership to undermine anyone who spoke out against the APA — a chilling reminder of the importance of independence, transparency, and free speech. Some of the staffers identified in the Hoffman Report as having engaged in these activities remain happily employed by the organization. []


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

 

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2015). APA Presidential Candidates Answer Psych Central’s Questions. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2019, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/apa-presidential-candidates-answer-psych-centrals-questions/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Sep 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Sep 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.