AAUW NC Changes – some background

The changes at AAUW NC may look odd if you’re new to the organization. In this post, I’m going to try to give some background.

I’m posting here, not on www.aauwnc.org, because I’m speaking as an individual and may make some statements that the other members of the committee charged with looking at a new structure may not have heard or may disagree with. But this is the point of view I’ll be taking when I “speak” to the Tar Heel and Sandhills/Southern Pines branches to try to “explain” the proposal.

[Full disclosure of my involvement: I was an instigator of the ReConnection Process in 2002 and a member of that committee 2002-2004. I was state president trying to implement its recommendations 2006-2008. I (perhaps foolishly) volunteered to be on the 2010-2011 structure committee trying to pick up the pieces.]

From 2002-2004, AAUW NC went through a “ReConnection Process” to improve communication between the branches and the state organization.  While progress was made in some areas (streamlining the state board, increasing the number of branches attending state meetings) an underlying issue was not resolved:  the goals implicit in the state structure are not matched by the resources available to it.

By resources, I mean “time” and “money”. In fact, the financial resources of the organization are in very good shape, but as an all-volunteer organization (with a couple of small contracts for specific tasks), that is partly because no one has made creative, focused proposals on how to spend our money, so it sits in the reserve account.

The real issue is “time” — volunteer energy to drive the organization forward.

Examples of our deficit here:

  • The 2007 nominating committee failed to find an enthusiastic candidate for treasurer, and a past-president of the state (who had been expecting to serve as support for the 2007-2010 president-elect/president from her branch) was pressed into service in that role.
  • The 2009 nominating committee failed to find anyone to serve as president-elect or treasurer (but did recruit a pair of good leaders to serve together as program vice presidents and the reluctant treasurer from 2007 agreed to serve a second two-year term).
  • The 2010 nominating committee failed to find candidates for president, membership vice president, secretary and a replacement treasurer, leaving the program vice-presidents, the still reluctant but capable treasurer, and the past-president as the only members of the executive committee.

We are also seeing problems filling appointed positions:

  • No one has stepped up to be the communications chair or the editor-in-chief of the newsletter since the person holding both of those jobs stepped down on July 1, 2010. This leaves the production of the state newsletter in the hands of the executive committee with a couple of members supporting them in collecting information.
  • No one has volunteered to lead the state’s public policy efforts. While national issues are covered well by the communications from AAUW, we are depending on communication from coalition partners for information on state-level issues with no good way to organize and distribute that information to the members.
  • The position of “fundraising chair” has been vacant for at least two years. This hampers efforts to report to the branches on their support of the national organizations priorities.
  • Other committees that are left leaderless (and, perhaps more important, have no one to carry out any of the tasks associated with them): College/University Relations and Diversity

All of the branch presidents are members of the board of AAUW NC, and were kept aware of these deficits in the elected officers. Understandably, perhaps, they were unable to help recruit candidates for these offices and so became the dominant block on the AAUW NC board — even though it is clear that many of them are not able or do not wish to devote much time or energy to issues of keeping the state afloat.

Therefore, it seems clear that the current state board structure is broken. An ad hoc committee was appointed at the October meeting to address this issue.

Stay tuned.

Editing the branch bylaws

Here are a few comments as I edit the branch bylaws for conformance to the changes passed at the AAUW convention in June. There are two documents with information about the changes — a memo to all branch presidents and bylaws chairs, and the new model branch bylaws. See aauw.org/About/bylaws/ for copies of those

The bylaws committee had a difficult job since there are hundreds of different instantiations of the branch bylaws “in the wild” — so how do you say what to “change” when you don’t have all the starting points? Of course any time there are two sets of directions, there’s apt to be some inconsistency. While the model bylaws say certain articles are “mandatory” many of those who are updating current bylaws will have no reason to review the model bylaws. I started trying to make my bylaws conform to both the strictures of the memo and the model bylaws, but I’ve decided that the final document will be some combination. It will be reviewed by the branch bylaws committee to make sure I’ve not slipped in something too egregious.

Some issues with the memo

  • The memo says to replace “Association” with AAUW — but it evidently doesn’t mean to do that in the heading and the “Name” section since in the later section on Governance it says “American Association of University Women, hereinafter called AAUW”. On the other hand the model bylaws start using “AAUW” right away and only write out the full name in the heading. I’m going with the model bylaws for the Tar Heel Branch.
  • The memo says to replace the old wording “purpose of AAUW is to promote equity for all women and girls, lifelong education, and positive societal change” with the new purpose for AAUW approved in St. Louis. However, that language (the mission that was in use for at least ten years up to 2006) never appeared in the model bylaws and doesn’t appear in my branch’s bylaws. A solution here (which also resolves a reference to the Educational Foundation and removes the problematic “unite graduates of different educational institutions” which did appear in the 2008 model bylaws) is to simplify the branch’s article on the Purpose and use the language from the national bylaws (and the model branch bylaws).

Some issues with the model bylaws

  • The Fall 2008 version of the model bylaws had two articles for Name and Purpose. The new model combines them. However, since that would renumber all the other articles, for ease of understanding and discussion, I’m not going to make that change.
  • The change in wording from having the name be “AAUW XYZ Branch” to “XYZ Branch of AAUW” is more pleasing to the ear but flies in the face of years of work to get our name listed near the top of alphabetical lists. For now I’m going to favor the Style Guide over the model bylaws since the memo doesn’t require this change.
  • The membership and dues article includes many changes not referenced in the memo. For instance, the model bylaws do, for the first time, I think, reference an at-large member joining a branch by paying state and branch dues. This is more complicated than that, and I do hope the policies governing the transfer from MAL (expiration date depends on when the member joined) to branch member (expiration date is June 30) are posted (along with all the rest of the policies that affect branches, states, and individual members). The change isn’t mandatory by the memo, so I’m not going to include it or the other changes in the model Article IV.
  • AAUW NC in its bylaws explicitly grants membership benefits to representatives of AAUW college/university partners in the state and says that they are charged no dues. It would be helpful if the model bylaws had language to cover this case. The difficulty comes since the representatives’ renewals are billed by AAUW to the college, not (as with other branch members) by the branch to the individual. So the simple solution is to charge no dues and call the representative “renewed” when the national dues are paid. On the other hand, some branches/states may want to charge local dues — and, indeed, the MPP pushes the branch in that direction. If AAUW will continue to bill for national dues for partner “members” (and, one assumes, their representatives), then they should be classified differently from ordinary branch members, the model bylaws should offer suggestions on how to handle the local finances related to them, and the  MPP should be enhanced to cover their local/state dues (if any).

Issues not clarified in either document

  • The new AAUW bylaws removes the classification of “Associate Member” which was used for those who had completed two years of study towards a degree, who were admitted to membership no later than 1957, and who have maintained branch affiliation ever since. There are a handful of these women still affiliated with the organization, and according to the old bylaws, they had the right to transfer to another branch. A member of the bylaws committee advised me to leave that language in the branch bylaws. However, since there are no Associate Members in North Carolina, and the language has been removed from the model branch bylaws, I am going to remove it from the branch bylaws for the sake of simplicity and because of possible confusion with the 2005 change to admit those who have earned an associate or equivalent degree. I do hope the board will make a statement recognizing the surviving Associate Members and their more than 50 year commitment to AAUW.

The degree requirement and our purpose

I was one of the folks who set up the “AAUW: Breaking OUR Barrier” Facebook group to discuss a proposed change to the AAUW bylaws. This change would drop the historic  requirement that all members must have a degree. While a majority of the members at the 2005 national convention agreed with this change, fewer than 2/3 agreed, so the degree requirement was retained. In 2009 we’ll be voting on a complete revamp to the AAUW bylaws, including opening the membership to all who agree with our mission.

I just had an “aha” moment when I realized that this may be more about a completely different article in the bylaws, one that has had very little attention/discussion.

Let’s take a few quotes for background:

Current Bylaws

Article II. Section 1. Purpose. The purpose of the Association is the uniting of the graduates of different institutions for practical educational work, for the collection and publication of statistical and other information concerning education, and in general for the maintenance of high standards of education.

This wording is very close to the text of the 1899 Charter, though that used “alumnae” where we now use “graduates,” presumably to honor our relatively recent decision to admit men.

Proposed Bylaws

Article II. Section 1. Purpose. The purpose of AAUW is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. AAUW is organized, and shall be operated, exclusively for any or all charitable, educational, scientific, or literary purposes that may qualify it as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”), and exempt it from federal income tax under section 501(a) of the Code.

Previous mission

AAUW promotes equity for all women and girls, lifelong education, and positive societal change.

Current mission (approved by the board in 2007)

AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research.

In all the verbiage surrounding the AAUW bylaws, this change in the Purpose to match the current mission has been glossed over. Hundreds (if not thousands) of words have been spent on structural issues and procedural details, but nowhere in the explanatory documents can I find a discussion of the change in the purpose.

The new mission was well accepted in 2007. Though in 1997 there had been a failed attempt to simplify and streamline the mission by a vote at the national convention, this fairly quick change by a vote of the board (not the members) did not rouse any serious opposition. Web sites changed, elevator speeches were revised (usually to be crisper and more to the point), dozens of presentations introduced the new mission to members across the country. The board had surveyed the members to find the key components of the AAUW “DNA” before proposing the new mission, and they did their job well, judged by the acceptance of the new mission.

However, a mission is not, in general, a “purpose” — an immutable description of why an organization exists. In our discussions of changing the mission in the past, there’s been an assumption that there is a core of “what AAUW really is” and the mission, while more than a marketing tag line,  is the set of words that instantiates that purpose for the present time.

That said, it’s pretty clear that the current mission and the one before don’t have a great deal to do with the “purpose” in the current bylaws. My sense is that though they can recite the mission and act to advance it, many members, at their core, understand AAUW as an organization that serves that 1899 purpose — uniting alumnae of various institutions. Perhaps this assumption was so ingrained that it was not clearly articulated in the discussions that led up to the 2007 change in the mission.

Why have those responsible for the new bylaws put the current mission into Article II? What has happened to the “uniting of graduates”?

I think we need a crisp answer to those questions, and I expect the answer will be “we change or we die.” At the 2007 convention, where we voted to lay the groundwork for the proposed bylaws, we were told in no uncertain terms that change is necessary — but not sufficient — for the continued life of the organization. We voted, unanimously, to change.

Why, though, did we change the “purpose?” I can’t say I’ve gone back through the documents of the strategic process, but my impression is that the whole strategic process was in the context of

“uniting alumnae” is no longer a viable purpose for a national organization

Those who want to join a group of college graduates, for whatever purpose, can find that group in their neighborhood and among their colleagues — it is no longer difficult to find other alumnae. Indeed the disconnect between even the “lifelong learning” mission and the current purpose argues that it’s been irrelevant for many years. It’s also accepted that those who  “join for the mission” are less likely to oppose the change to the degree requirement than those who “join for the people.”

We need a new purpose. We have a well accepted mission, and a decision was made to drop that in to Article II.

Once that’s done, the degree requirement no longer makes sense. Nothing in that mission requires that members supporting it have degrees.

So if you want to continue the degree requirement, how would you articulate a 21st century “purpose” for AAUW that includes that requirement?

I recognize that this change in purpose will seem unexpected to many who see AAUW as primarily a local organization —  friends and colleagues — doing good work and having fun, making connections to the community, continuing that “lifelong learning.”  It’s unexpected to those who haven’t dug down into the “why are we here” question. It’s the national board that’s had to grapple with that question — and after listening to thousands of comments from members across the country as well as the best legal and organizational development advice they could find,  they have approved the proposed bylaws. This is what they see as the best way forward to make AAUW a vibrant organization that will help advance equity for women and girls through its unique history and culture.

But we’re not there yet. Even if the proposed bylaws pass, we may face the “slow death” that was raised as a specter in at the 2007 convention in Phoenix. We will lose some members — perhaps even branches — who want to cling to the 1899 purpose. However, if we are to move forward into this new age, finding a way to energize our members, recruit new stakeholders and forge alliances with new partners, we must change.  We do have a chance at reversing the decades long decline to rise again as an organization that honors our incredible past as we invent our future — for all women and girls. Join me!

Institutional members – NOT

Proposed Article IV Membership and Dues

Section 1. Composition. Any individual or institution who supports the purpose and mission of AAUW may become a member of AAUW. The provisions set forth in this section are the sole requirement for admissibility to membership.

I’d delete the “or institution”. We’ve gone a long way to keeping it simple. Let’s do that!

I’d add a separate article that says that institutions may affiliate with AAUW (as “partners”? some other word?) and give the board the authority to define the terms of such an affiliation. [Businesses as well as educational institutions, etc.] But I’d remove institutions from any notion of “membership” except, perhaps, to say that a requirement of the affiliation is that the primary contact must be a member (in the ordinary, people, sense).

I’ve seen conflating institutions and people get us into hairy issues with how the data is stored on members. In my experience, C/U representatives  (the people) are the ones who can provide real benefit to the organization — through the branches, through their other contacts on campus, etc. — and we need to connect with them as people, not just through their institutional affiliation. For instance, it needs to be clear that C/U representatives can join branches — this gets less clear if it is “Mega State University” instead of “Professor Jane Doe” who is called the “member”.

8/18 update: Other open discussions are occurring on the web. No need to keep this “private”.

100 years of Anne of Green Gables

Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908. For those whose love of education was validated by reading about Anne and her triumphs, happy anniversary! This Facebook group has some information about the events to celebrate the anniversary and a website is “coming soon”. While Anne’s path and mine have diverged, her commitment to education was, I’m sure, a part of who I am today.

I reread  the first book over the holidays and may make it through the cycle (my dogeared copies are still on the bookshelf) by the end of the year. Anyone else doing the same?

  • As a childless woman of 58, I “heard” things from Marilla that I’d missed in the first half-dozen reads all those years ago.
  • Lordy. What would have happened to Anne if they’d had ritalin?
  • Ah, the problems of teenagers of my grandmother’s generation: who would take your spot in the creek where you kept your lunch bottle cold? who in town had the newest crochet patterns. [cf. I am Charlotte Simmons] Has it really been only 100 years to bring about such changes?
  • Teaching license at age 16? At 21, the job of TA was one of the hardest I’ve had — and that was only a few hours a week with a very focused subject matter responsibility.