Open Letter to IAEVG board

An Open Letter to the Board and Members of the International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance (IAEVG):

The Board of the International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance (IAEVG) revoked Dr. Linda Gottfredson’s invitation to give a keynote address at the 2018 conference. We write to oppose that decision, and to propose a remedy for it.

As background, Dr. Gottfredson was invited to give a keynote address. The invitation arose because she is a seminal figure in vocational counselling, and her circumscription and compromise theory of occupational choice is renowned. The importance of Dr. Gottfredson’s contributions to the research and practice of the association’s members is not in dispute, and Dr. Gottfredson’s address topic was an exploration of the ethical challenges of youth career counselling—a mainstream and appropriate topic for an IAEVG conference. The disagreements surrounding Dr. Gottfredson’s invitation concerned her award-winning research in other fields not related to her keynote. We have the following concerns about the Board’s decision.

First, revoking an invitation is unprofessional. The invitation had been issued over a year earlier. It is discourteous to rescind an invitation for so long agreed.

Second, revoking Dr. Gottfredson’s Keynote invitation contravenes the admirable ethical code that the association applies to its own members. The association strongly warns counselors against “consciously dictating or coercing client choices, values, lifestyles, plans, or beliefs”. Yet this disinvitation constrains members’ access to scientific perspectives and approaches.

Third, we are concerned that it sets a poor precedent to make policy in response to private messages using what seems like unofficial channels. The decision to revoke Dr. Gottfredson’s invitation was made in response to just four private messages from a tiny minority of members. Will it now be the association’s policy to disinvite any speaker who displeases a handful of members? Long experience shows that the only sustainable policy in scholarly communication is one of openness, with decisions based on peer-review of the quality of ideas. This precedent of establishing a scholarly society’s policies through unofficial channels is dangerous, opaque, and encourages division and argument ad hominem, rather than open evaluation of competing scientific ideas.

While we disagree with the decision to revoke a speaking invitation, we support the rights and opinions of those who oppose a speaker. In a professional setting, individuals should always be free to boycott a speaker, to peacefully protest, and lodge complaints about the speaker—both in private and public—so long as these actions do not deny the speaker their corresponding right to communicate their scientific views.

We believe, though, that the most effective method of dealing with speakers with whom one might disagree is to engage them and to rebut their ideas with empirical evidence. Only through debate can listeners weigh the merits of competing ideas and decide which are viable. Revoking a speaker’s invitation implies that (1) listeners cannot be trusted to weigh the evidence for themselves and (2) orthodox viewpoints cannot withstand scrutiny. (Ironically, Dr. Gottfredson’s keynote address would have had no content that would contradict IAEVG members’ professional opinions and scholarly knowledge.)

We urge the IAEVG Board to work with Dr. Gottfredson: to apologize and move forward from this matter, inviting her to give her keynote address at its 2019 conference. We call upon all the members who value collegiality and unfettered scholarly discussion to contact the organization’s Board members and express their views. We also believe that IAEVG should state plainly a commitment to the principles of open scholarly communication and inquiry and to reject decision-making under pressure of conformity.