I am concerned that the front-page article in the March issue of Psychiatric Times,“Boycotts and Protests to Meet APA Keynote Speaker, Desmond Tutu,”1 strongly implies that in November the Assembly failed to fairly consider Dr Jerome Rogoff’s Action Paper (AP) urging President Bernstein to rescind her invitation. It does no service to Dr Rogoff and others who had something to say about the invitation to suggest that they did not get a fair hearing before an Assembly that is designed to give them exactly that―and did.
The Assembly is run strictly according to Alice Sturgis’s The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, with a Parliamentarian sitting directly next to the Speaker. I was particularly determined to ensure that Assembly Representatives who were upset about the invitation would have a chance to make their position clear. For example, I offered to try to make 30 minutes available for discussion of this AP under “New Business” at the end of the meeting. (“New Business” is not “an interesting phenomenon itself,” [as the reporter, Arline Kaplan, had written] but is the place where APs submitted after the deadline are to be considered.) Dr Rogoff and I agreed beforehand that a half hour should be sufficient for a thorough discussion.
At 10:30—exactly 30 minutes before the room had to be vacated—Dr Rogoff moved the paper, and took 12 minutes to speak in favor of it. After another member spoke, Dr Rogoff responded, then 5 more members spoke―4 in favor and 1 opposed. The question was “called” from the floor and 2 voice votes on the motion to call were taken. It was determined that the two-thirds requirement for calling a question had been met. No one disputed that ruling, so a voice vote was taken on the motion itself. That vote was resoundingly “nay”―not “close” at all. (My impression was that it was about a two-thirds nay). No one even asked that a second voice vote take place or called for a standing vote (which, as Dr Peele points out in the Psychiatric Times article, is the usual procedure when there is a close voice vote.) There were 7 minutes remaining, which would have been sufficient to count a standing vote if one were needed. The reason that no one asked for a standing vote was that the voice vote was so resoundingly clear.
Nowhere in “Sturgis” does it state that every person who wants to speak on a subject must be heard. However, the Code does specify that someone in favor and someone opposed should get a chance to present the 2 sides of an issue. The Tutu invitation had been discussed at length in several venues before the Assembly met, as it has been since. It is inconceivable that Assembly members had not had time before a vote was taken to form an opinion about whether or not the invitation should be rescinded.
I have no problem with APA members airing their dissatisfaction with the invitation. However, I am very troubled by the article’s insinuation that the Assembly leadership endeavored to block them from getting a fair hearing. If I had wanted to interfere with their rights―which I most definitely did not―others on the dais who are fair and who are experienced in parliamentary procedure, such as our Parliamentarian, Speaker-elect, Recorder, and Past Speakers, would have seen to it that I followed the Assembly rules.
Your reporter would have done better to have checked with others who were present to get a more balanced story than to rely on the limited sources she did. To imply that the Assembly takes serious concerns, honestly aired, either lightly or dishonestly does a disservice to our profession and feeds the dangerous myth that authority is always corrupt.
Bruce Hershfield, MD
Speaker of the APA Assembly
1. Kaplan A. Boycotts and protests to meet APA keynote speaker, Desmond Tutu. Psychiatric Times. 2011;28(3):1-4.
Arline Kaplan Responds:
I appreciate the additional clarity and detail that Dr Hershfield brings to this controversial issue. Regarding the fair hearing question surrounding the AP, Dr Peele—the APA’s newly elected secretary—also indicated that he felt the “debate was closed prematurely.”
During our telephone interview, Dr Rogoff told me that the issue was put on the agenda for the “very end of the Assembly, which is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself. The Assembly at the Marriott in Washington, DC, ends at 11 am on Sunday, because they use it for something else.”
Dr Rogoff said that in actuality only about 20 minutes was available for the presentation of the AP and subsequent discussion and that some 20 people had lined up at the microphones to speak.
Certainly, many aspects of this controversy deserve thorough exploration. I did what I could within a limited word count to present the key concerns and responses, and I also provided some references in my article to place Archbishop Emeritus Tutu’s comments in context. I am hopeful that the APA’s leadership and membership will continue the dialogue within the organization and through letters to the editor of Psychiatric Times.