Once more, with feeling

This site started to discuss issues related to the major changes in AAUW from 2007-2009. Here’s my most recent essay (for a CA Online email list discussing the 2017 proposed bylaws amendments).

It is, of course, *very* hard to tell why people don’t renew and even harder to decipher why they don’t join. But anecdotal evidence suggests that the GenY/Millenials find an organization with a membership requirement such as ours just very odd.
Some anecdotes:
  • I was sitting near some YWTF members when the vote was announced at the 2015 convention. They were, frankly, dismayed at the result — but even more flabbergasted by the cheers that went up in response, and the laughter when Patricia asked for respectful dialog on the issue.
  • On Monday, as a representative of the state board, I attended a meeting of a half-dozen members of a branch that’s in the process of disbanding. When the issue came up, two spoke strongly in favor of keeping the degree requirement and no one (but me) spoke against it. This is a branch that’s been “stuck” for several years — no web site, no participation in the MPP, continued monthly meetings during the day, and so forth. To me there’s a connection about “hanging on to the requirement as what makes us unique” and failing to move in new directions (though, of course, I know there are counter examples).
  • The statewide, virtual Tar Heel Branch in NC has 103 members, about half of them primary. It operates as like a collection of “at-large members of the state”. Given that NC has about 10% of the members of CA, and that Tar Heel is so much larger (in primary members) than CA Online, I think there’s evidence that many members *want* a looser connection. [Though, of course, it may be that there’s just a denser set of branches in CA that folks can join if they want — vast swaths of NC are more than an hour from a branch.]
Now I do understand that to many members the degree requirement is just part of AAUW’s DNA. But I ask you to approach our documents, our projects, our website, indeed our mission statement, and try to find a connection to the degree requirement. When our charter said part of our purpose was the “fellowship of college graduates” (not a direct quote, but the language was there), the degree requirement made some sense. Indeed, after voting for change in 1999, I didn’t follow through on leaving because people cited that language. However, in 2009 we dropped that language, and I would say that the requirement is inconsistent with the rest of our bylaws.
So what do new people find if they join? Yes, if they are invited to a luncheon and feel welcome because of their degree, it is part of what they see. But those who join us to fight for equity for women and girls may not see that.
I still think that if the vote in 2005 had been reversed and Frieda Schurch’s question to the delegates, “What are we about? Equity for women or showing off our degrees?”, had been part of the debate on dropping the requirement entirely (instead of changing baccalaureate to associate), the opposition would have melted away then, and the issue would have been long behind us. But we carry on.
What will the future be with or without the degree requirement?? We really cannot know. Some branches will look exactly the same. Others will fold. New ones — and new YWTF chapters — may thrive.

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