SHP Pres’s letter; APA Pres. Bray’s Response

Christopher D. GreenPreviously on AHP: during the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual convention, held earlier this month in Toronto, the APA Council approved a drastic cut in funding to Archives of the History of American Psychology (AHAP). AHP’s previous coverage of APA’s funding cuts to AHAP, and the fall out thereof, can be found here and here.

Now, Christopher Green, President of the Society for the History of Psychology, Division 26 of the APA, has voiced his opinion on the recent decision to cut funding to AHAP. Green, in a recent letter to APA President James Bray, voiced his disappointment at APA’s decision with respect to AHAP. Both Green’s letter to Bray and Bray’s response follow.

In his letter to President Bray, Green wrote:

I am compelled to register my extreme disappointment with the shabby treatment that the APA has accorded the Archives for the History of American Psychology (AHAP) at the University of Akron. Although the APA’s normal annual contribution to AHAP had already been approved by APA Council earlier in the year, an unelected APA administrator took it upon himself to unilaterally cut the contribution in half, exposing this important research institution — an affiliate of the Smithsonian — to serious operational difficulties in the middle of the year with no advance warning.

The APA has cut their contribution to AHAP in half, from $60,000 annually to only $30,000 this year. Next year  AHAP will receive only a $20,000 contribution. Green continues his letter,

This improperly executed decision was then clumsily “justified” after the fact by a second vote of Council in which the cut was buried in an omnibus budget reduction, represented by no individual line item that the Council could vote on, up or down, on its merits. Finally a third vote, held ostensibly to consider “restoring” the unwise cut, resulted in a further cut to APA’s contribution to AHAP in future. Throughout this process, AHAP’s Director, a figure well-known to Council for his previous years of service there, was inexplicably not even allowed to address Council on the matter.

I cannot draw any conclusion from this course of events other than that the bureaucracy of APA, which is mandated to execute the will of Council, decided that this was a cut they could ram through, contrary to the will of Council, as expressed in the original vote. I understand that times are tough and that cuts are necessary, but the appearance of APA offloading its financial difficulties on to the “little guys” — in this case an excellent institution that is essential to research into the history of American psychology — over a relatively small amount of money (for the APA, but not for AHAP) only goes to further damage the APA’s reputation, and this in a year that APA’s reputation has already taken a fairly severe beating.

The work of APA central office to devise and enforce a 66% reduction in the contribution severely limits the ability of the AHAP to preserve, catalogue and make available the historical record of psychology in America.

APA President Bray (pictured right) responded to Green’s concerns as follows:

James Bray

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about your concerns for funding for the Archives. Although we were reluctant to consider cutting funds to the Archives, this cut really has to be looked at in the context of dramatic and painful cuts throughout the association, including the cancellation of the fall consolidated meetings for two years in a row, the cancellation of Board and Council discretionary funds, over $15M in Central Office cost reductions, and most painfully, the laying off of 32 APA staff members. The American Psychological Foundation, another group whose work is essential to the advancement of our discipline, has also had its APA funding cut by 50% this year, as well as other outside organizations. You should also know that while many of these cuts were identified by APA staff, all were thoroughly discussed and approved by APA governance including the Finance Committee, the Board of Directors and the Council. The AHAP Director did not come to the mike to request to speak, had he done so, I would have recognized him.

We strongly value the important work of the Archives, but as you can see APA was faced with an unprecedented financial crisis and no part of the Association was spared deep cuts.

It is unfortunate that AHAP Director David Baker, who was recently elected President of the Society for the History of Psychology (for 2011), did not receive the opportunity to speak before Council in advance of the approval of the cut to AHAP’s funding. Had Baker been given the opportunity to speak on the importance of preserving the historical record of American psychology, the Council’s decision on funding may have been different.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a doctoral student in the History and Theory of Psychology program at York University. Her dissertation explores the early history of questionnaires in American psychology.

3 thoughts on “SHP Pres’s letter; APA Pres. Bray’s Response

  1. In his resignation letter, Ludy Benjamin discussed some of what happened. He said:

    In his reply to Chris, Bray said that if Dave Baker wanted to address the APA Council, all he had to do was go to the microphone and request to be heard and that Bray would have recognized him. But that approach is not normal Council procedure. Outsiders are typically allowed to speak only when a member of Council requests that they be allowed to do so, which is what Jim Pate did. He asked that Dave Baker be allowed to address Council, but Bray ignored him, recognizing a member of the Board of Directors instead. I was there for all of the discussion of the AHAP item as was Dave.

    This directly contradicts Bray’s version of the event.

    (Thanks to Ben for permission to quote his letter at AHP.)

  2. I find this whole incident very troubling. In times of retrenchment APA needs to protect the core intellectual and scholarly aspects of the organization and certainly be transparent in deciscion making. Why not an open discussion of those recent tangential initiatives that might be put on hold entirely? Also, could it be that with presidents having only a one year term they are rather captive to bureaucrats and fiefdoms as well as being a bit overwhelmed at running a huge meeting of potentially feisty colleagues. The self-congratulations among all the ‘leaders’ giving each other awards at the opening ceremony at the convention in Toronto was a bit off-putting as well.

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