“School Based” SLPs Can’t Count on ASHA Board

We who work in American schools are at risk for neglect by the Board of Directors on whom we depend for policies favorable to our professional success. We are under-represented in ASHA governance following a pattern dating back to 1930 when the “founders” captured and dismantled our programs. The founders made sure we could not easily participate in leadership roles by setting standards to favor themselves and doctoral level professionals. That pattern persists today.

Here I examine the authority structure of ASHA –both formal and informal — to show you how it works against school members and favors the elite non-school members. The facts are hidden in plain sight.


ASHA controls every stage of BOD elections and this filters out school SLPs. There is no write-in ballot for us. We are allowed to nominate Board nominees but nominees are screened. Nominees cannot campaign for school reform: E.g., “Production and use of campaign paraphernalia including, but not limited to: buttons, fliers, balloons, display booths, stickers, ribbons, or other give-aways.”


Just as in the 1940s, elite non-school doctoral members dominate the nomination process. Of the current list of 17 Board Members for 2014, 15 have doctoral degrees. Most certified working school SLPs with graduate degrees and outstanding academic records do not get elected to the Board of Directors. They trust those they elect to represent them.


According to ASHA Bylaws, the Board has full legal authority to govern on behalf of school SLPs:

“4.1.2. The Board of Directors is the single governing body of the Association and shall actively promote the objectives of the Association, operating in accordance with and administering and implementing the programs and policies established by these Bylaws and by the Board of Directors. Members of the Board of Directors are elected to serve by and are accountable to the members of the Association.”

But this proclamation is only appearance. In our study of 2013 Board actions (ASHA Board of Directors Ignores School Practice) we learned the BOD deferred to the “national office staff” and voluntarily restricted its operating authority to matters of operational housekeeping:

“The Board’s responsibilities are broken into four areas: planning, operations, audit, and communications. After considering some suggestions for adding clarifying language to the procedures, the Board agreed that the document effectively captures the Board’s operating methods and procedures for working with the National Office staff.”

The phrase “…working with the National Office staff…” signals an attitude of co-equal authority. In fact, BOD is likely a pleasant supportive group but it does not “work with” the National Office Staff; it supervises same. Such statements blur authority lines.

BOD Activities

BOD members spend relatively little time in meetings conducting essential ASHA business, meeting only five times in 2013. BOD members typically have regular jobs back home to maintain. BOD members need time to know how to function as board members and membership constantly turns over.

When members arrive for meetings, the National Office Staff has already set the agenda for meetings (although the president is said to assist the Staff). Agenda items emphasize housekeeping matters and operations.

BOD members rubber stamp the resolutions recommended by the ASHA National Office Staff. Of the 82 motions examined, BOD voted affirmatively 81 times. All but a few votes recorded were unanimous. Real debate is not evident in the records. The BOD behavior is that of a ceremonial body deferring to the National Office Staff.


The authority relationship between the ASHA President and CEO is established by what we call the “Appearance-of-Co-Equal-Authority Rule.” The bylaws are written subtlety in way to make it impossible to know who exactly is in charge of Association policy and actions. Of course, when one cannot tell who is in charge, there is no accountability.

Look at what the bylaws say about presidential authority:

“President, who shall serve as Chair of the Board of Directors and coordinate the functions of the Board of Directors, and who shall automatically become Immediate Past President at the end of his or her term as President.”

Elsewhere the president’s job is described this way:

“…The President works in partnership with the Chief Executive Officer to achieve the mission of the Association and to optimize the relationship between the Board and staff.”

In another statement, co-authority swings toward the CEO:

“ASHA is governed by a Board of Directors and led by Chief Executive Officer Arlene A. Pietranton, PhD, CAE. To date, ASHA has approximately 250 employees at its national office.”


The President is not the leader of ASHA?

Considering the legal authority of the Board of Directors over ASHA affairs, the President nonetheless is portrayed as a chairperson, collaborator and coordinator, a misleading representation. School members need to count on the president to represent them with authority.


Old stone dwelling near stream

Old stone dwelling near stream

Chief Executive Officer

The bylaws state the Chief Executive Officer legally plays a service role:

“7.2.1. The Chief Executive Officer shall be appointed by the Board of Directors and shall serve at the pleasure of the Board….and “serves as the chief administrative officer of the Association….”

This too is misleading. Informally the CEO has enormous procedural authority to control ASHA affairs. The CEO monitors everything:

“7.2.2. The Chief Executive Officer (or designee) shall serve as an ex officio nonvoting member, unless otherwise stipulated, of all committees, boards, and councils established by the Board of Directors.”

The CEO is a year-round full-time employee, where as the Board of Directors meets only a few times a year and turns over at regular intervals. “ASHA is governed by a Board of Directors and led by Chief Executive Officer Arlene A. Pietranton, PhD, CAE. To date, ASHA has approximately 250 employees at its national office.” http://www.asha.org/about/history/


My purpose has been to examine the ASHA authority structure with respect to support of school-based SLPs. There is a historical pattern of neglected issues of school practice, especially improvements in the graduate curriculum (the portal not withstanding). The findings indicate the Board of Directors abdicates oversight responsibilities. It largely ignores the scope and content of authority as stated in the bylaws. The president voluntarily accepts a diminished role of facilitator of ASHA business. BOD agrees to limit its authority in conducting yearly ASHA business. It defers informally to CEO and the ASHA staff which administers innumerable areas of operation without BOD involvement. As we have pointed out in other posts, it ignores accreditation functions (CAA) where curriculum is key. The CEO outside of Board meetings functions as the face of ASHA in the operation of ASHA. The Board of Directors is a ceremonial body with the president servicing as the titular head.

The ASHA authority structure should be clear and faithfully respected. The bylaws should show the respective roles of the president and the CEO so that overlap is avoided. An annual report should be filed by the CEO with a “State of the Association” address delivered at the ASHA conference. Business meeting minutes should be published to the membership verbatim. All business records must be archived for public access without pay-wall barriers. Proposed outcomes must be evaluated for success. We need much more public information about inner workings when BOD is not in Washington. ASHA accountability to the membership is lacking. The president should be elected for three years and must take authoritative actions based on member concerns rather than ASHA operational minutia. The bylaws must state who is actually in charge and responsible when issues arise. Without a clear picture of ASHA decision-making, cronyism and preferential thinking will return to the ASHA administration.

“The duty of decision-making is a cornerstone of professional associations, entrusted to the those elected to the organization’s governing body — in ASHA’s case, the Board of Directors” (Chabon & Pietranton, ASHA Leader, 2012, March 13).

July, 2015

Clearly ASHA promised more from the Board, dating back several years:

“The move to one governing body streamlines decision-making and allows the new BOD more time to gather member input and respond more quickly to member needs. With more time, the board can engage in extended consideration of high-priority issues and gain deeper understanding, which more likely will result in effective decisions. There will also be greater accountability for decisions—an important factor in this era of heightened scrutiny and transparency. A strong emphasis also will be placed on ensuring that qualified members are nominated and elected to the BOD.”

Marat Moore
The ASHA Leader, July 2007, Vol. 12, 16-30. doi:10.1044/leader.AN4.12092007.16


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