Where’s the urgency?

We’re about three weeks away from a historic vote that will change the structure of AAUW and update some of its practices. This week, we released a voter guide for the election of the board members who will give life to the new bylaws — see election2009.bbvx.org.

Reading those comments makes me believe that the board really was divided on some of the issues that are in the new bylaws — the open membership, in particular. While several of the candidates speak strongly in favor of one-member/one-vote, there is a “whatever the delegates decide” attitude towards dropping the degree requirement for membership.

OF COURSE, the delegates will decide – that’s the only way to change the bylaws. But that wouldn’t have prevented the leadership from saying “this is the right thing to do for the organization, and here’s why…” But they haven’t.

Back last fall, the only argument for that stand that made sense to me was: “If the issue is left open, more people will register for convention, and it will be less likely to lose money.” But now I have to think that there has been real dissension at the board table on this issue and the compromise “let the delegates decide” was the only way to move forward.

The key finding of the strategic process: What’s been hurting us is lack of mission clarity. Where is that in our discussions this spring? The lack of clarity wasn’t just because the Association and the Foundation were two separate organizations — many groups have allied membership and charitable organizations. Why did we never articulate the degree requirement as a liability as we try to emphasize the mission of “advancing equity for women and girls” and leave behind the 1899 purpose of “uniting the alumnae of different institutions”. Why do those who cling to the 1899 purpose think we will be able to implement the Phoenix Rising vision of the organization with that requirement in effect?

To maintain our power to effect change we need to be able to say “If you support equity for women and girls, join us” not “If you support equity for women and girls AND you have a degree AND you don’t mind associating with those who refuse to work side by side with those who don’t have a degree, join us”.

I don’t think anyone wants AAUW to remain as it is — those who support the degree requirement, do, I think, see a loose federation of branches with a smaller national organization and a focus on philanthropy rather than advocacy. Those who see advocacy as a 21st century theme that will unite members (branch members and individuals) in the ongoing fight for equity, have no problem with expanding our base to include all who are affected by inequities.

I’ll admit that the first group may have a better long term strategy — philanthropy will always be needed and small groups are a human need. What of the second? Will the second strategy put the organization out of business in 10, 25 or 50 years? We can only hope equity will be achieved, and if so, we can fold in good conscience. On the other hand, for the short term, the drastic declines in membership argue that the first group’s message just does not resonate with the members we’d need to recruit if the organization is to survive as more than a shadow of its current self.

So I’m in the second group, but I realize the delegate body may choose to push AAUW in the first direction. No matter the outcome of the votes on the pieces of the bylaws, I will vote to pass the package — but I may not be around to see how it all turns out.

If you support mission clarity, if you want AAUW to survive, please support open membership, one-member/one-vote and the other bylaws changes that will put the new organization into a position to move forward with one powerful voice.

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