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Policies Regarding Complaints and Sanctions
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From time to time, members bring to the APA complaints against either institutions or individuals for violations of professional rights or professional ethics or for discrimination. These policies serve to outline the ways in which the APA handles such complaints, how the APA assists in resolving disputes informally whenever possible, and what formal sanctions may be imposed in response to complaints that cannot be otherwise resolved.

Note: The term "complaint” herein refers only to complaints related to violations of professional rights or ethics or to discrimination, even when this is not explicitly stated.

For more information on discrimination and sexual harassment and how the APA can help, see our Discrimination & Sexual Harassment FAQ.

I. Submitting a Complaint

Any individual may bring a complaint to the APA and ask for informal advice and help resolving it (hereafter referred to as "informal complaint"). Only APA members in good standing may request that the APA investigate a complaint in order to determine whether the institution should be sanctioned (hereafter referred to as "formal complaint").

Complaints involving professional rights violations should be directed to the committee on the defense of professional rights (CDPRP) via its chair, while complaints involving discrimination (including sexual harassment) should be directed to the ombudsperson concerning discrimination and sexual harassment. Complainants are welcome to direct complaints to both parties in cases where both discrimination and professional rights may be at issue.

In accordance with the APA’s discrimination complaint procedure, following receipt of an informal complaint, the ombudspserson may provide advice or assistance in resolving the matter or refer it to the CDPRP, executive director, or other APA authority. If thereafter the individual feels that the informal complaint has not been satisfactorily resolved, s/he may file a formal complaint.

Complaints submitted to other committees, committee chairs, leaders, administrators, or staff within the APA will be directed to the appropriate party or parties as outlined above. No other parties within the APA are authorized to review or take action in response to complaints.

II. Complaint Resolution and Archiving

The CDPRP and the ombudsperson are the only parties authorized to recommend that the board of officers sanction an institution in response to a complaint. The board of officers makes all final decisions regarding complaint resolution and sanctions. The decisions of the board of officers are not subject to appeal.

Following the resolution of any complaint, the CDPRP and/or the ombudsperson must provide a formal report including supporting documentation to the executive director for archiving.

III. Anonymity of Complainants

Any public statements related to a complaint will be anonymized to the extent reasonable: the name of the complainant will be redacted and institutional figures will be referred to by position rather than by name. Institution names will be made public, however.

IV. Complaints Under Review Elsewhere

Except in very special circumstances, the APA board of officers will not act on any formal complaints regarding matters that are currently under investigation, adjudication, mediation, or litigation in another body (e.g., the court system, the AAUP, a university or department) and in no case will decide on an action of censure regarding matters that are currently under investigation, adjudication, mediation, or litigation in another body. Members are free to bring complaints to the APA for formal review after other proceedings have concluded, at which point the APA will consider appropriate sanctions.

While other proceedings are ongoing, members may make informal complaints as specified above. The ombudsperson for nondiscrimination and the chair of the committee on the defense of professional rights may offer informal counsel and support while other proceedings remain ongoing, though they may not, except in very special circumstances as noted above, bring recommendations for formal sanctions to the board until all other proceedings have concluded.

V. Complaints Against Institutions

The APA allows two types of formal sanctions against institutions: censure and letter of concern. Recommendations for censure or letters of concern must be brought to the board by the committee on the defense of professional rights, or by the ombudsperson for nondiscrimination, after formal complaint review. All letters of censure or concern will be made available to the public, anonymized as described in section III above.

A censure may be lifted by a majority vote of the board of officers, normally taken on the recommendation of the Committee on the Defense of Professional Rights based on evidence that the institution has taken steps to remedy or prevent future occurrences of the violations for which the institution was censured.

A letter of concern may be archived—removed from the page(s) on the APA website where current censures and letters of concern are listed, though not removed from the minutes of the board meeting at which the letter was approved— either by the request of the complainant or by the same procedure used to lift censures.

VI. Complaints Against Individuals

The APA does not sanction individual members of the association or the profession, nor does the APA mediate disputes between members. However, certain actions may be taken in response to particular circumstances, including the following:

  • If a particular work is found through the formal process of a university or publisher to contain plagiarized material, that work is ineligible for presentation at any APA meeting.
  • If an order of protection is in place against an individual who wishes to attend an APA meeting, that person may be barred from attending that particular meeting if the person holding the restraining order plans to attend that meeting and the circumstances of the meeting make it impossible or unreasonable for the order to be obeyed with both parties in attendance. Whenever possible, the person holding the restraining order should contact the APA at least one month in advance of the meeting so that all parties can be notified appropriately.
  • In certain cases related to conduct at APA meetings, the APA may notify an individual that a complaint has been made against him/her, explain to the individual that discriminatory and harassing behavior is not permitted at APA meetings, and instruct the individual on standards of appropriate conduct. The APA may also remove an individual from an APA meeting for inappropriate conduct, in accordance with the APA's meeting registration and attendance terms.

Last updated: May 2016

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