Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review report

The Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review went above and beyond in their service to NASW, producing a report earlier this month that suggests that the organization is at a critical juncture. The committee was set up in response to a proposed Constitutional amendment, but the report indicates that we need to go deeper in our assessment of the organization than an amendment ever could. It highlights some potentially devastating divisions in the membership that threatens the inclusivity on which NASW was founded more than 80 years ago — divisions we think need to be addressed ASAP.

A quick recap of how we got here: At the 2015 business meeting, a petition to amend the Constitution to allow non-journalist members to become officers was presented to the Board. In the interim prior to this fall’s meeting, the Board set up an Ad Hoc Committee on Constitutional Review to assess the impact on the organization of such a change in officer qualifications and to make recommendations to the Board.

In mid-May, the committee submitted their report (the link is below). Their detailed investigation led them so far beyond the committee’s original mandate, and the resulting report is so comprehensive, thought-provoking, and, frankly, troubling, that the board decided to disseminate it in full to all of you, minus appendices that contain members’ and past presidents’ letters that were solicited and sent to the committee in confidence. You can find it on the website. We want to express our deep and heartfelt gratitude to the committee members for their amazing volunteer work: Siri Carpenter, Doug Fox, Lee Hotz, A’ndrea Messer, Jill Sakai, and Nidhi Subbaraman. Among other analyses, the report includes detailed findings from a membership survey the committee undertook to assess who we are in terms of the work we do and what we want from the organization, as well as a deep analysis of those findings.

Please read it all if you can — there is a tremendous amount of information here — but if you don’t have time, at least read the sections toward the end called “Key Insights” and “Recommendations.”

The report notes that the membership really has “two divides”: a division between journalists and non-journalists, and a less obvious but no less destabilizing division between freelancers and staffers. The sentence that most captured the Board’s attention was this one: “The board should consider whether the proposed constitutional change represents the wrong answer to the wrong question.”

Now’s the time to remedy the sense of marginalization that many non-journalist members feel — the very thing that led to the proposed amendment in the first place. So we’re going to mount a “listening tour,” a way to figure out how people are really feeling, with the goal of increasing a sense of ownership among all members. We’re thinking of another Ad Hoc Committee — the first one did such a spectacular job — that might do things like hosting a few small in-person gatherings across the country, sponsoring an open-ended survey, having a series of phone conversations with members — you get the idea. If you have any thoughts about how to undertake such a task, we’d love to hear them, and we’d also love to hear your feedback on the report itself (send your comments to director@nasw.org) and your perception of these two divisions among NASW members.

The goal is to make NASW stronger, to make sure every member feels served, represented, and heard — in other words, to ensure that we are getting the right answers to the right questions.

Hi People — I can’t remember whether I answered the survey, but if I didn’t, shame on this former NASW president of long, long ago.

Some thoughts:

Yes, NASW was and should remain an organization of journalists (and I do think science PIOs are journalists—self-identified or not.
People identifiable as non-journalists shouldn’t WANT to be NASW members, and any such who apply for membership shouldn’t be accepted.
Isn’t there some way of seriously continuing the ancient practice of requiring an applicant to be endorsed & supported (thoughtfully and honestly) by some number (3?4?) of members? I’d think that if becoming a member were a real privilege, then most current  members would be  judicious in endorsing real journalists for membership and sorrowfully explain the reasons for not endorsing friends, neighbors, Nobel prizewinners, etc. (Older NASW members may recall the times when we had “active” and “associate” members —-perish forbid!)

                                                          Dave (still alive)

David Perlman
Science Editor
San Francisco Chronicle
Phone: (415) 777-7117
E-mail: dperlman@sfchronicle.com

There is a requirement that in order to be a member you need to be endorsed by two current members.

David Levine