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ACR’s Response to Robert Benjamin’s article titled: Dirty Little Secrets: ACR’s ‘Girly Man’ Non-Controversy

by Dr. Larry Fong, ACR President & David Hart, ACR CEO
September 2005
Robert’s article raises questions and concerns about ACR and its decision making process. ACR board and staff leadership agree with Robert’s goal of engaging a broad ring of members in the decisions that affect the future of the organization.

Robert notes that we live in a world full of conflicts and calls on ACR to invite members to engage in discussions related to the real conflicts of our day. ACR leadership has historically found itself in conflicts within the organization (merger is one example) and within the field (certification is one example), and we acknowledge that more can be done to invigorate and engage members in the conflicts of the day.

ACR welcomes constructive criticism and dialog and the opportunity to respond to correct some specific factual errors in Robert’s article that result in presenting a negative picture of the organization and of a conference that was well received.

The article calls for transparency regarding the ACR Board and its meetings. In fact, all ACR Board meetings are open to members except for Executive Sessions when confidential personnel matters need to be discussed. Last year in Sacramento ACR members sat in on our Board meeting.

Another point of clarification is that the Governor was never considered to deliver a keynote address. The ACR Sacramento Conference Committee queried whether ACR should invite him to very briefly open the conference and welcome conference participants to California. The Board engaged in a spirited and principled conversation on this question and came to consensus that he should not be invited to the conference.

It is also worth noting that Governor Schwarzenegger’s "girly-man" remark referring to State lawmakers was not part of the decision not to invite him to the conference, because the remark was made after the Board made its decision. For some, the Governor’s subsequent remark reinforced that the right decision had been made, but, the remark was in no way part of the prior decision.

Robert and others have offered reasons for inviting the Governor to open the conference. Many of their comments were voiced during the Board’s discussion. Below are some different points of view that were also raised at the time the Board was considering including the Governor in the conference:

Gov. Schwarzenegger was an actor known for action films that included a substantial amount of violence and had been accused by 36 women of sexual harassment. Reported responses to such accusations seemed disingenuous to some. It was expressed that this kind of behavior was not consistent with ACR's mission, vision, values, and diversity and equity policy.

There was also concern that the Governor’s presence would generate negative reactions that would be discussed throughout the conference thus negatively impacting the whole climate of the conference. Some believed that ACR members would express their disapproval by walking out of his speech.

Others suggested that Gov. Schwarzenegger should be invited to the conference, not as an individual, but as the elected leader and senior representative of the state of California, which was home to the conference.

We understand that Robert is suggesting that such conflict within the conference might have invigorated participants and engaged participants in the conflict of the day. His perspective has merit and many of his points were discussed during the Board’s consensus decision-making process. In the end, the Board decided that it was in the best interests of ACR not to engage in this kind of conflict at the annual conference.

As conflict resolution professionals, we understand that decisions are not always popular with everyone and that people will likely disagree. Such is the nature of our work. We believe it is important to note that although the Governor was not invited to the conference, and therefore the Board did not engage the conference participants in the conflict surrounding the Governor’s statements and actions, ACR did engage in the conflict, considered different perspectives and reached a decision.

ACR is open to dialogue that reflects our standards: respectful disagreement, honesty and equity, acknowledgement of diverse opinions, and constructive criticism. As ACR board and staff leaders we will encourage all members to take active ownership in this dialogue.

There is much to talk about. We invite everyone to our annual conference in Minneapolis this September to continue the dialogue.

Biography



Dr. Larry Fong has been in psychological practice for over 20 years. His international consulting practice spans the areas of business, legal and personal consultation. Dr. Fong has a permanent teachers certificate and has taught at all grade levels. He was Supervisor in both Family Court Services (Provincial Court of Alberta) and Child Welfare. As a psychologist his awareness of the complexities of child custody, parenting issues or access problems within the context of a psycho-legal arena, has resulted in his being called on at least 300 occasions to the Court of Queen’s Bench (Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C.) and The Provincial Court of Alberta (Family & Youth; Criminal Division) as an expert witness in these matters. The Judiciary has called upon him to provide his professional skills as a mediator and arbitrator. He also teaches mediation and arbitration worldwide. Dr. Fong has widely consulted with major organizations in the telecommunications, oil and gas, military, police, banking, educational and service industries. As a leading international mediator and trainer he has consulted in 13 different countries, as well as appearing on international television and radio. Dr. Fong has produced training tapes in the field of mediation and also is the author of the book ‘Mediation’. Dr. Fong has been appointed President of the following organizations: Alberta Family Mediation Society, Family Mediation Canada, the Psychologists Association of Alberta, the College of Alberta Psychologists and most recently the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR).
David Hart
David A. Hart is Chief Executive Officer of the Association for Conflict Resolution. Prior to accepting the CEO position, David served as director of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Mediation Program at the Key Bridge Foundation in Washington, D.C. David has served as executive director of local, state, and national nonprofit organizations, and has experience in conflict resolution and mediation training for adults, as well as peer mediation training. He holds a bachelor's degree in Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies from Oberlin College and a master's degree in Political Science from Syracuse University's Maxwell School. While at Syracuse, he earned Certificates of Achievement from the Program on the Analysis and Resolution of Conflict (PARC), and the Institute on Creative Conflict Management. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Shilpa Alimchandani Hart.

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