By David H. Kirkwood
For the third time in the past 15 years, the American Academy of Audiology is looking for a new executive director, following the departure of Cheryl Kreider Carey after six years in the position and 14 years on the staff of the organization. A news item that AAA posted last week on the public section of its web site stated, “The Academy Board announces an executive search for a new executive director effective December 5, 2013. Deputy executive director Ed Sullivan will serve as interim executive director.”
A brief notice in the members’ section of the web site added, “The Academy thanks Ms. Carey for her service to its membership and the profession.” However, it gave no reason for the board’s decision to replace her. Neither did Erin Miller, AuD, the president-elect of AAA, who wrote in response to my inquiry, “The Board of Directors, as the employer of the Academy’s Executive Director, are duty bound not to discuss any details of Cheryl’s departure since those discussions were held in executive session.”
MEMBERS RAISE CONCERNS ABOUT AAA’S DIRECTION
While it is unclear exactly what convinced the academy’s board to replace Carey, I learned that for some time many prominent AAA members have felt that the organization has gone astray and is no longer serving the profession as well as it should be.
Last June, about 15 “concerned audiologists” met for two days in Atlanta to discuss the state of audiology and the role of AAA in “advancing the profession in the future.” The attendees drafted an 11-page letter, sent on July 10 to Bettie Borton, the newly installed president of the academy, in which they spelled out their feelings. The signatories, all prominent in AAA, included several past presidents, board members, and founders of the academy.
They wrote, “We are concerned as to whether the American Academy of Audiology is sufficiently focused to achieve the realization of autonomy, to remain relevant in healthcare, and to assure quality care for persons with hearing loss in this country. While we believe that the AAA could be the best vehicle to address these factors, the apparent increasing lack of transparency and communication over the past half dozen years from the leadership of the academy to the membership only serves to exacerbate our concerns.”
In writing to Borton, the audiologists said that their intent was to advance the best interests of the organization and audiology. The letter said, “We want to be clear in stating our support for the academy. We believe audiology, and the patients we serve, can best be served when the academy provides the necessary and decisive leadership moving forward.”
NEED FOR BETTER LEADERSHIP SEEN
The letter goes on point out weaknesses in the organization and to suggest ways to address them. Perhaps the strongest criticism is of the leadership. Pointing to “the need for an effective national leadership to address the multitude of internal and external forces impacting audiology,” the writers say, “we are seriously concerned as to whether the academy is properly positioned to provide that leadership.”
More specifically, the writers state that the academy has failed to tap into the “range of expertise necessary to address the challenges” facing audiology… “It is our belief that the exclusion of the opinion leaders or visionaries is the result of the loss of sense of the mission of the academy that has occurred under the current management.”
The letter also says that “the current management does not exhibit the characteristics necessary to assure that the academy can meet the priorities of the profession and the membership in future years.” As a result, the signatories say, they have reached the conclusion “that it is an appropriate time for the academy to seek a new executive director.”
According to the writers of the letter, improving the governance of the academy will require more than hiring a new executive director. They suggest that the governance model be re-examined and that a way found to ensure that the composition of the board of directors reflects “the diversity of the profession.”
OTHER CRITICISMS AND SUGGESTIONS
Among the failings identified by the writers is that “in recent years, the priorities of the organization appear to have taken precedence over those of the profession.” They also point to a “lack of transparency within the organization and an apparent unwillingness to have open dialogues about professional issues.”
The letter calls on AAA to “recognize the influence that academic programs play in shaping the culture and future of the profession… A future priority should be the full engagement of the academic community.”
The writers propose the creation of a strategic advisory committee of “opinion leaders and visionaries” to advise the board of directors on “emerging issues and challenges.”
Turning to the economics of the academy, the letter says, “The key to financial success is to provide value to the membership so that the perception is that the benefits of membership result in a significant return on investment.” However, the writers express the view that “the perceived return on investment for membership has been lessening.”
A SECOND LETTER
In addition to obtaining a copy of the letter sent to Borton, I spoke to some of the people who had signed that letter and/or a second letter sent on August 28 to the entire AAA board of directors. Although their names appear at the bottom of the letters, the individuals I spoke to asked not to be named lest they be seen as presenting themselves as leaders of or spokespersons for the group.
The second letter was prepared after the first one failed to receive a response. It refers to the earlier missive, saying that its purpose was “to identify and share issues confronting the profession in the belief that the academy would be in a position to review and respond to them.” In the later letter, the audiologists assure the board “of our unwavering support as you move forward.”
In the time between when the first and second letters were written, other leading audiologists were invited to sign the new letter, and about 35 more did so.
Among the problems that the signatories I interviewed talked about concerned relations between the management of AAA and other organizations with shared goals. For example, one said, AAA has been reluctant to provide funding to the Accreditation Commission for Audiology Education (ACAE), which is working to make its accreditation of university audiology programs competitive with ASHA’s accreditati0n. One person said that the academy’s arrogant manner toward manufacturers, whose exhibits largely pay for the annual AAA Convention, had offended them and led to a loss of exhibitors.
Although the second letter also failed to elicit a direct response from the academy, one of the signatories I talked to said that AAA has taken some significant actions consistent with what the concerned audiologists called for.
Most obvious of these, of course, was the decision to look for a new executive director. Another positive step, said my informant, was revising the job description for the next executive director.
What role did the letters play in bringing about these changes? Only AAA’s directors know for sure, and they aren’t saying. One person I spoke to thinks they had some influence, but suspects there were other factors as well. In any case, though, this informant says, “I’m glad to see the board finally taking some action in the right direction.”
Since AAA hired Carol Fraser Fisk as its first full-time executive director in 1998, the position has been a precarious one. When Fisk resigned in 2000, Laura Fleming Doyle took her place. In November 2006, when Doyle left, reportedly “to pursue other interests,” Carey, who had been deputy executive director since 1999, was named acting director. After an 11-month search for a permanent successor, Carey got the nod over all the outside candidates. Now, six years later, the position is open once again.