APA Inside the APA: The Board of Officers

Inside the APA: The Board of Officers

by Amy Ferrer

Welcome to the first in what will be an ongoing series of posts by me and others about the APA—a series that offers insight into what happens behind the scenes in the association. Have suggestions for future Inside the APA posts? Submit them here.

For this first post, I thought we’d start with one of the most important elements of the association, but one that many members don’t know much, if anything, about: the Board of Officers. Confusion about the board—and its role in the structure of the APA—comes up in one of the questions I get most often as Executive Director of the APA: “Who’s president of the APA?” (Answer: No one is. There hasn’t been a president of the APA since 1920.)

So let’s start with the basics. The Board of Officers is the primary governing body of the association. (The divisional executive committees, divisional business meetings, and committees of the association also contribute to governance.) It is the board’s job to oversee the APA’s financial health and operations and to set priorities and goals for the APA, and the Board Chair (rather than a president) leads the board in its work.

Even for an organization the size of the APA, our board is particularly large at 28 members. This is, at least in part, due to the APA’s unique history. Though I’ll leave the details of that history for another post, the important point here is that the APA’s three divisions actually started off as three separate philosophical associations. When they came together to form a single organization in 1927, they united under one constitution, but made sure each division maintained its own autonomy and governance structure.

Dating back to the 1950s, when there were just 13 board members, nearly all the members of the APA Board of Officers have served on the board ex officio—that is, because they hold some other position. Specifically, a large majority of the APA board was then and is still today made up of people elected or appointed to divisional leadership positions and committee chair positions.

The current APA Board of Officers includes five people representing each division:

  • President of the Division
  • Immediate Past President of the Division
  • Vice President / President-Elect of the Division
  • Secretary-Treasurer of the Division
  • Divisional Representative

So though the APA doesn’t have a president, all three of our divisions do. All of the above board members are elected by the APA members affiliated with their particular division, with the exception of the secretary-treasurers. Two of the three divisions appoint rather than elect their secretary-treasurers; they do so because secretary-treasurer is largely an administrative position requiring a particular skill set.

In addition, six members of the Board of Officers, in its current composition, serve by virtue of the fact that they were appointed by the board to be chairs of one of the six committees specified in the APA bylaws. Though the APA has 20 committees in all, six of them were deemed so central to the mission and purpose of the association that they were codified in the bylaws, and the chairs of these six committees serve on the board (the other committees were created by the Board of Officers). These six are known as standing committees:

In addition to divisional members and committee chairs, four high-level officers serve on the board. First is the Chair of the Board of Officers, whom the board elects from a pool that includes (a) all past and present divisional presidents and (b) all those who have served on the board for at least three full years. The current chair of the board is Cheshire Calhoun of Arizona State University, who is now in the second year of her three-year term.

The board also includes a vice chair and a treasurer, both of whom the chair nominates and the board appoints, and the executive director, whom a search committee nominates and the board appoints.

For those keeping track, that’s 25 members so far. As recently as 2013, those 25 members composed the entire board. But if you’re paying close attention, you may also have noticed a rather interesting fact about all of these board members, one that led directly to the addition of three board members in 2014: none of the above members are elected by the entire voting membership of the APA.

In fact, until 2013, no association-wide vote had ever been held in the history of the APA. On the recommendation of a governance and structure task force that operated in 2011-2012, the APA bylaws were amended to add the three final members of the board: at-large members, elected by all the voting members of the APA, across the divisions. As a result, the first association-wide vote in 2013 was held to elect the first three at-large members of the board—Erin Kelly, Sara Bernstein, and Jennifer Lackey.

This unique (if occasionally unwieldy) set of board members ensures that the board includes the perspectives of as many key stakeholders as possible—the members, the divisions, the committees, and those responsible for day-to-day operations. And though I’ve heard a fair number of snide remarks about how much we could possibly get done if we have to get 28 philosophers to agree on it, I’m quite proud of the board’s ability to come together for the benefit of our members and the profession at large.

So keep all this in mind the next time you see a call for nominations for committees and at-large board positions, or for divisional leadership positions. The board is only as effective as its members, and can only represent the perspectives its members experience themselves or hear from others in the profession. I encourage you to reach out to the at-large members, divisional representatives, committee chairs, and me, with your ideas, suggestions, concerns, and questions.

Amy Ferrer has been Executive Director of the APA since 2012.


  1. Thanks, Amy, for your article “Inside the APA” It is quite perspicuous and likely much appreciated by many! I am wondering if, in a future article here, you might address the question of the diversity of the board members, past, present, and future? I am especially concerned with the lack of diversity among this group? Thanks again,
    Dr. Anne E. Schulherr Waters, J.D., Ph.D.
    Emeritae Member (36 year member)


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