APA Inside the APA: The Changing APA

Inside the APA: The Changing APA

by Cheshire Calhoun

What most people don’t know about the APA is that we have a different pair of chief officers than most professional societies do. In most professional societies, an executive director and an annually elected president are the chief officers. In the APA, the chief officers are the executive director and the chair of the board.  The chair is in office longer than a society presidentup to six years (if the first 3year term is renewed). As Amy Ferrer mentioned in her recent post, the chair is elected by the board itself and must be a current or past president or have served at least three years on the board in some other capacity. I chaired the Inclusiveness Committee from 2007 until 2010.

In this “Inside the APA” post by the board chair, I want to highlight three things: the rapid change in the APA, what the APA does for philosophers and philosophy, and the free rider problem.

One wonderful benefit of chairing the board is that I get to see and be involved in the enormously rapid change that the APA is undergoing. This is the new APA. Our finances are in order, we’ve undergone a legal review of our governance structure, there are a lot of new policies in place, communication with members is light-years ahead of where it was, the three divisions now work together to coordinate policies and practices, there have been a lot of new task forces working on key issues, and the website is phenomenal. Then, of course, there’s the new Journal of the American Philosophical Association, as well as this blog. I invite you to take 15 minutes to explore the APA website. I think you will be surprised at how many resources there are for teachers, students, departments, and individual members.

The APA does a lot besides host meetings. We support the next generation of professional philosophers with, for example, travel stipends to present their work at APA meetings, a guide to best interviewing practices, a forthcoming, significantly updated guide to nonacademic careers, a guide to graduate programs, and soon a job market calendar. We support philosophers in their professional work by working with the American Association of Philosophy Teachers, providing teaching resources, annually awarding grants and dozens of prizes, defending the rights of professional philosophers and programs threatened with closure, and offering opportunities to share research at meetings, in APA Newsletters, and in the Journal of the APA. We support the increasing inclusion of persons historically underrepresented in philosophy by using our Mellon grant to expand the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institutes (PIKSIs) and to support other undergraduate diversity institutes, by awarding two large diversity grants, by rejecting job ads that are noncompliant with our nondiscrimination statement, by having an ombudsperson concerning discrimination and sexual harassment, and by steadily working to implement the roughly 100 recommendations of the Taskforce on Diversity and Inclusion, led by Elizabeth Anderson. This is but a sampling.

What the APA does for philosophy and philosophers gets done in virtue of the hard work of hundreds of members. All told, more than 200 individuals graciously volunteer their time and expertise in serving on APA committees and task forces, on divisional program committees and executive committees, as editors or associate editors of the J-APA and Blog of the APA, and on the Board of Officers. Many more volunteer their service to the governance and work of the three APA divisions. Nine staff members plus the executive director in the National Office oversee the operations of the APA. The APA operates in a highly participatory, collaborative, and consultative way. To take one example: When the APA issues a public statement or letter, typically a lot of people are involved in that process, including members of relevant committees. I invite you to take 10 minutes to see what people are on the committees, on task forces, on the Board of Officers, and in editorial positions. Send someone a little thank you note for serving our profession. And the next time you read or hear someone say, “The APA should…,” take a moment to think about which among your professional colleagues serving the APA are likely to be called upon to help implement that “should.”

And now for the hardest part—free riding. There was a day when people were proud to be members of a scholarly organization. There was also a day when APA membership meant access to newsprint issues of JFP and hard copies of newsletters, as well as access to widely used placement services. The internet and interviewing by teleconference have changed that. Moreover, in order to serve the profession broadly, there is now virtually open access to the many resources provided at the APA website. The APA now faces a free rider problem where individuals benefit directly or indirectly from what the APA does (or more accurately, from what the 200-plus people serving the APA do) but do not pay dues in return. Some people also free ride by attending (and sometimes also presenting) but not registering for a divisional meeting, despite registration being required.

Despite being the world’s largest professional organization for philosophy, we are still quite small and have a small endowment by comparison to the American Historical Association, American Sociological Association, and Modern Language Association. So the next time you see on a blog or hear a colleague say “The APA should…” do something that requires moneysuch as support a summer institute or do data collectiontake a moment to think about where that money comes from. The next time you benefit, or your colleagues or your students benefit, from something the APA financially supports, again, think about where that money comes from. It comes from the dues members pay, the registration fees meeting attendees pay, and the donations members and others send to support the APA’s work.

I invite everyone who reads this post to spend time getting to know your new APA, to thank some of the many people who work for you, and to be proud of and support your professional society.

Cheshire Calhoun is Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University and Chair of the APA Board of Officers. She works in normative ethics and moral psychology and is editor of Oxford University Press’s Studies in Feminist Philosophy.


“Inside the APA” is a series that offers insight into what happens behind the scenes in the American Philosophical Association. If you have suggestions for future posts in the series, please submit them here.



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