As many of you know, Michael Kelly, the executive director of the American Philosophical Association, recently resigned his position. This is just the latest evidence that the APA, the principal organization of American philosophers, is in crisis: The immediate precursor of Kelly’s resignation appears to be the APA’s handling (or perhaps, more succinctly, the Pacific Division leadership’s handling) of the controversy concerning whether to honor a local union’s call to boycott San Francisco’s Westin Hotel, the scheduled venue for the 2005 Pacific meeting.
But this is only another indication that a common impression within the field is correct: that the APA, at least at the national level, is adrift, and is failing to represent philosophy and the interests of philosophers well. (Indeed, by my count, Kelly’s resignation makes three executive directors in five years, not exactly what an academic organization needs in the way of stable leadership.) Indeed, my own informal survey of friends and colleagues within philosophy yielded few compliments of the APA and many concerns.
Since it seems like a critical crossroads for the APA, I ask: What ails the APA? What should the APA do to represent philosophy and philosophers better? What do those of us in the field expect out of a national organization?
A few thoughts to stimulate conversation:
• Should the APA retain its three divisions, with their respective annual meetings? My understanding is that this is a historical byproduct of a merger between the APA and the Western Philosophical Association, a byproduct that may have outlived its usefulness. Many people I’ve spoken with believe that the APA has a structural flaw: the national office is too weak to address systemic issues within the field (the status of philosophy in the eyes of the public, the growing use of part-time faculty, etc.), and the divisions largely devote their energies to their annual meetings, not to larger issues within the professions.
• Does the APA represent the interests of all those in the field? It’s hard not to notice that those who serve as national and divisional officers are largely senior faculty at Ph.D.-granting institutions, those with the best research pedigree. Does the organization give short shrift to the interests of younger faculty, graduate students, those teaching at junior and community colleges, etc.?
A note regarding replies to this post: I’m not aiming to criticize anyone in particular with this post, nor am I inviting anyone to criticize anyone in particular. In order to keep things civil (and non-libelous), please talk about the APA as an organization, and refrain from criticism of particular individuals, the perpetuation of rumor, and the general grinding of personal axes. Thanks!