Election of Directors of the Australian Psychological Society (APS)
Living in a democratic society we tend to assume that elections will be based on democratic values and processes. Fundamental egalitarian principles underpin the notion of ‘one vote, one value’ and most of us expect that organisations to which we belong will implement such principles. Regrettably, the APS constitution is not based on such a principle. In fact, the APS constitution undermines principles of democratic representation.
Who can Vote and How Often?
Many registered psychologists believe that they are entitled to vote in the election of Directors. This is not completely true. Your eligibility to vote is determined by your style of membership. If you are not a member of a College (and most registered psychologists are not College members) you are not eligible to vote for the positions tagged to represent Colleges. If you are one of the majority of registered psychologists who do not hold membership of a College, then you are regarded as a member of the Division of Generally Practising Psychologists (DGPP), and you are allowed to vote for individuals standing to represent the DGPP. The DGPP with 66% of APS membership can have two Directors on the Board.
Members of Colleges have a distinct advantage. Because it is possible to be a member of more than one College, it is possible to cast a vote for candidates standing to represent the Colleges in which you hold membership. In this case, a psychologist with several College memberships can cast several votes and therefore has more influence on Board membership.
The Division of Colleges elects two representatives, one of whom must be a member of the Clinical College. The other representative must be a member of another College, but can also be a member of the Clinical College.
Not all psychologists are equal when it comes to voting for Board Directors!
Not All Board Members are Elected!
The Board can appoint two directors who are not psychologists, up to two academics, and the Executive Director. Up to five Directors are not elected by the general membership. The two directors who can be appointed as academics can be in addition to the one Division of Psychological Research and Practice (DPRET) Director, elected my members of the DPRET College! In fact, academic Directors are mandated by the constitution.
Section 72 (C) says:
“The Board will use reasonable endeavours to ensure that at least two (2) Directors are Academic members…..”
At least two Academics are mandated by the Constitution.
This privileged position is in stark contrast to that of the majority of registered psychologists. Because there are limitations on the representation of the majority of psychologists, any election inevitably skews Board representation in favour of College representatives, they, in turn, can appoint colleagues and supporters to the unelected positions on the Board.
There is a systematic gerrymander of APS elections.
The current Board has eight members and their profiles are on the APS website. Of the eight members, seven are clinical psychologists. In those eight profiles, the word ‘clinical’ appears 21 times! The gerrymander works very effectively. Clinical Psychologists who comprise about 23% of the APS membership have managed to achieve 88% of Board membership. On what planet could this be considered any form of proportional representation of the membership of the APS?
A good place to start would be to alter the constitution to allow all registered psychologists to vote directly for the positions currently appointed by the Board. This would be an instant increase in democratic representation. It would be a declaration that all registered psychologists are equal in their need to have a Board which advocates for all. Another reform of the constitution would be to enshrine the principle of ‘One vote, one value’ by permitting all psychologists voting for tagged positions only one vote, so that members of the DGPP can vote for a representative tagged for that Division, and all members of Colleges to only vote for a candidate in one of the Colleges of which they are a member.
It could also be considered that all Board members are charged with the responsibility to represent the interests of all psychologists who are members of the society and the interests of the discipline more broadly. In this case there would be no need for Directors who are elected by sub sectional interests within the society e.g. a Clinical Director, DGPP Directors, DPRET, Early Career etc.
The issue with the creation of Director positions for sub sectional areas within the society is that those Directors become beholden to and able to be lobbied by the sub sectional interests that voted, or will vote, for them. This creates division within the board and membership generally and inhibits the ability for board members to truly act for the interests of the overall membership.
The Constitution (Post 2017 AGM) Page 7 in Objects 1. (a) states:
“To advance the scientific study and professional practice of psychology and enhance the contribution of psychology to the promotion of the public welfare by encouraging the development of all branches of psychology …”
Given this Object, why would the Board promote a governance model that impedes the very object it is charged to uphold?
In any case, whatever reforms are suggested, it must be acknowledged that the current system of voting fails to deliver a Board representative of the interests of the overwhelming majority of registered psychologists.
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