Text of Email Communication to AAS Leadership Related to Ongoing Leadership Challenges, Sent 8/19/21
Subject: AAS Leadership and Planned Resignation
To: firstname.lastname@example.org, Jonathan Singer
To whom it may concern:
I am an Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University and member of AAS since 2011, when I joined as a first-year graduate student. My engagement with AAS has been long and valuable – I gave my first ever conference talk there, have served as an invited judge for the Paul G. Quinnett Lived Experience Writing Contest, and was an invited speaker for a TEDx-style talk on diversity, equity, and inclusion in suicidology at the 2020 meeting. I have routinely encouraged others to join AAS and to attend the annual conference. As a suicide researcher, faculty mentor to junior suicidologists, and person with lived experience, I have found AAS to be an incredibly important part of my professional development. However, given the behavior of the organization’s leadership over the past few years, I am writing to express my grave concerns about the direction AAS is headed, and convey my intention to resign my membership should immediate actions not be taken to change the course of AAS’s incredibly important work.
My concerns predate the recent crisis precipitated by the removal of Colleen Creighton as Executive Director. The way that AAS handled the pivot to a virtual conference in 2020 was extremely opaque and difficult for members to follow, in contrast to how other membership organizations I’m involved with handled the transition in transparent and thoughtful ways. For the hybrid 2021 conference, at least some attendees reported feeling pressured to present in person, and concerns about the ethics of holding an in-person convention in Florida (then a hotspot for COVID) were not addressed. When AAS leadership decided to shut down the public-access suicidology listserv, with no consultation with members, we expressed dismay at the process and outcome of this decision; responses from Board members ranged from ineffective to dismissive and patronizing. Over this time, it became apparent that AAS leadership was less interested in listening to and responding to member concerns than it was following its own unclear agenda. I began to receive emails from research colleagues expressing their dismay and the desire to leave AAS and launch a new organization more responsive to member concerns.
The recent actions of the Board, and the EC in particular, have served as a turning point for me and many others. It is obvious that, although we are a membership organization with elected positions, the Board and EC do not feel the need to address member concerns in any meaningful way. I recognize that details of personnel decisions may not be shared publicly; however, the many critical questions raised by former AAS presidents in response to Colleen’s departure that CAN be publicly discussed have been dismissed and ignored in a way that contravenes non-profit organization regulations and norms within our field. I served as an Executive Board member for the International Society for the Study of Self-Injury (ISSS) for five years, ending in 2020; I cannot fathom responding to a crisis of this magnitude in the way that the current AAS leadership has handled this organizational meltdown.
For me, the only way forward involves a major overhaul in the leadership at AAS, and the way said leadership responds to member concerns, or my resignation. I cannot in good conscience continue to pay dues into an organization that does not serve its members, nor even convey its intentions to members in a transparent way. In order for me to remain a member of AAS, and to encourage my students and colleagues to retain their membership, several things would need to happen urgently. First, given his behavior, conflicts of interest, and ineffective leadership of the sparsely populated Board, Tony Wood would need to resign. Second, elections would need to be held immediately for all open positions on the Board for which special elections can be called. Third, the Board would need to publicly state that all former Board members who have resigned are free to share their perspectives on Board matters without fear of litigation. Fourth, the Board would need to make public minutes from Board meetings, consistent with non-profit regulations in California. Fifth, the Board would need to publicly respond to issues of previously undisclosed conflicts of interest, as well as whether a “crisis communications firm” has been hired with AAS funds and, if so, how much of the AAS budget is being used for this purpose. Sixth, the Board would need to establish a clear plan of action to prevent non-elected Board members from engaging in this type of behavior in the future, including proposing Bylaws changes that allow for some process where membership is able to remove non-elected Board members. If it is true that the Board and EC have acted appropriately, as AAS statements have claimed, then the transparency I am asking for should be no issue at all; if the Board is not willing or able to provide members with this information, it stands to reason that we can assume there is, for lack of a more professional term, something to hide.
Should these changes not be forthcoming, or at a minimum, plans put in place to implement these changes in a transparent and orderly fashion, it is my intention to resign my membership at the end of this month (August 31, 2021), and to encourage my colleagues, students, and peers to do the same. I am hopeful, but not optimistic, that AAS can learn from this critical moment in a way that allows the organization to grow into something stronger, better, and more responsive to the diverse needs of the suicidology community. I respectfully await your response.
Sarah Victor, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist (Texas, Pennsylvania)
Assistant Professor, Texas Tech University