NAS to APA: Stop Digging

Peter Wood

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently proposed to modify and significantly expand its accreditation requirements for doctoral, internship, and postdoctoral programs psychology programs. The existing APA criteria for these programs already include a diversity requirement. The new criteria more than double the length of the requirements and add numerous new specifications.

Under the old requirements, doctoral programs in psychology (and internships, post-docs, etc.) had to make “systematic, coherent, and long-term efforts to attract and retain interns and staff from differing ethnic, racial, and personal backgrounds into the program.” The requirement seems to have focused on “ethnic and racial” hiring and student recruitm

ent. (The extension of this principle to “personal backgrounds” remains mysterious. Bee farmersCircus acrobats?) The old requirement did, however, gesture toward a more aggressive diversity doctrine by adding that programs had to “ensure a supportive and encouraging learning environment appropriate for the training of diverse individuals.”

The new (proposed) requirement elaborates this gesture into a Balanchine ballet. Internships and post doctoral programs must now have “a multiple year plan, implemented and sustained over time” to attract and retain people of diversity. Programs must “describe the specific activities, approaches and initiatives” they pursue in quest of diversity. Programs can claim some credit if the parent university has “initiatives geared towards achieving diversity,” but that by itself is a drop in the bucket, which must be filled with the water of “concrete actions taken at a programmatic level to achieve diversity.” 

And that bucket must be part of a bucket brigade: “Activities, approaches, and initiatives to attract and retain diversity should be broadly integrated across key aspects of the program.” 


Moreover, the program that seeks an APA imprimatur must also be able to speak fluent “diversity,” in order to “discuss the areas of diversity in which it excels, as well as the areas of diversity in which it is working to improve.”

And diversity in the APA’s now capacious view includes a lot more than “ethnic, racial, and personal backgrounds.” In the proposed standards, diversity includes, but is “not limited to: age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, national origin, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, and social economic status.”    We assume the bee keepers and acrobats are covered by “not limited to.” 

We don’t want to oversimplify. The APA clearly has spent a great deal of time and effort developing its new approach to diversity.   It calls for doctoral programs to implement: a thoughtful and coherent plan to provide [students/interns/residents] with relevant knowledge and experiences about the role of cultural and individual diversity in psychological phenomena (and professional practice, for internships and postdoctoral residencies).

And said plan must be “integrated throughout its didactic and experiential training” and be “sequential, cumulative, and graded in complexity.” 

“Diversity” in the hands of the APA has undergone hypertrophy: it has grown in every dimension without gaining any coherence. What caused the APA to do this? Nothing in the document really says but the email that accompanied the proposed new standards speaks of them as “clarifications.” They don’t add clarity, but perhaps they do reveal a neurosis.   Faced with the growing evidence that ethnic and racial favoritism in admissions, hiring, and recruitment creates a cascade of dysfunction, resentment, and academic failure, the APA appears to be shifting to a strategy of managing the symptoms. The original problem, set in motion by the old standard, is that the APA encourages intellectual double standards and the undermining of program integrity to achieve “diversity.” The proposed new standards leave that issue untouched, but insist that doctoral, internship, and post-doc programs devote extraordinary effort to making the double standards work.

The dog that doesn’t bark in this mystery is intellectual diversity. The APA embraces every kind of diversity connected with factors extrinsic to education (“age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, national origin, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, and social economic status”) but has not one word for the kind of diversity that ought to matter most: diversity of ideas.

The APA’s proposed standards remind us of those of another accrediting body, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).  Over the last year, the NAS has written a lot about CSWE’ s attempt to impose ideological litmus tests on the nation’s social work programs. CSWE requires programs to advocate for "social and economic justice," as well as to have students understand "the global interconnections of oppression." Its Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards state that “social work’s purpose is actualized through its quest for social and economic justice.” NAS has addressed our concerns about these policies in multiple correspondences with officials in the department of Health and Human Services, who have done nothing to challenge CSWE’s regulations.

Accreditation slides into ideological advocacy all too easily. It happened in the 1980s and 1990s when Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools attempted to foist a diversity requirement on its member institutions and again when the Western Association of Schools and Colleges attempted the same thing. A few years ago when the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) attempted to impose a “disposition of social justice” standard on schools of education, NAS led the fight against it and NCATE backed down. The American Bar Association is currently imposing a racial preference requirement on admissions and hiring for law-school accreditation.

Accrediting agencies should uphold academic standards. When they diverge into home-cooked versions of social reform by promoting diversity or imposing racial preferences, or when they 

obfuscate by attempting to present some version of “social justice” as though it were an academic standard, they stray from their basic purpose. And it is a form of errancy with long shadows. Students are robbed of the opportunity for an education founded on best practice rather than someone’s ideology. Curricula are distorted. Faculty members are promoted on the basis of their conformity to a political standard rather than their command of their subject and their ability to teach. And bit by bit American society gets dumber. The price of allowing political correctness to hold sway in accreditation is a system of higher education ruled by identity classifications, implicit exclusions of those who won’t conform, and incessant efforts to mask reality. 

Visit APA’s Commission on Accreditation webpage to read the proposed changes and to leave a public comment. Non-APA members can submit comments, and the forum will be open until March 23, 2009. See the document attached below for a side-by-side contrast of the old and new versions.

We encourage the American Psychological Association to reconsider its proposed new standard. The reality is that double standards, no matter the euphemism, are a bad idea. Our best advice to our colleagues at APA who are standing neck deep in a hole is “Stop digging.” We also urge our readers to take up the APA’s invitation to send comments. If you do write to APA, we wouldn’t mind receiving a copy.

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