Additional Context on the Current Deliberations

Regarding the departure of the NASW Governance Committee (GovCom) co-chairs and the NASW Secretary’s resignation from the board, some of you have asked for more context on the deliberations currently at hand between this committee and the board.

As mentioned previously, Nsikan Akpan and Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato's resignation occurred in the middle of an ongoing board discussion regarding NASW policies for sanctioning members for violations of our Conference and Meeting Code of Conduct and other complaints (Article VII of the bylaws for Membership Sanctions). At the time of their resignation last week (and even now), no discussion had concluded, no policy language had been put to a vote of the board, and certainly no proposal had yet come before the membership — which all amendments must. Nevertheless, both colleagues elected to inform the board of their disagreement with the trajectory of the process and resign in protest. How this discussion would have proceeded — had Nsikan and Mollie remained part — is unknown, and we regret the loss of their participation in these, by their very nature, difficult conversations.

The board will continue to work in collaboration with the remaining members of the Governance Committee — all of whom have lent thoughtful, creative, and diverse ideas to these analyses. The board and GovCom are identifying areas of agreement in the ongoing discussion and addressing open questions regarding recommended procedures for complaint processing.

One key question in these deliberations has been "at what point should the subject of a complaint be notified that a report has been filed against them?" The currently prevailing thought is that a subject does not need to be notified as a matter of course when a complaint is filed against them. (Think of occasions when a filed complaint has no merit, for instance.) Even still we are working to capture that understanding in terminology that conveys it clearly. One of the things that this process has driven home is that precision in language is critical.

The key hurdle is balancing a real need to protect privacy in certain cases — such as those that involve harassment or violence — and the desire to offer more due process than is legally required of NASW. GovCom members and board members agree that there may be scenarios where it is necessary to invoke confidentiality for either party. The board and GovCom are very much in the midst of discussions about how well these needs can be met with confidentiality agreements or other means, while preserving reasonable due process.

That is where these deliberations currently stand. Later this summer, NASW members can expect a full rationale for any proposed bylaw changes that GovCom and the board ultimately recommend — as well as a comment period on the proposed process before it is finalized and voted on by the membership at this fall’s annual meeting. (In the meantime, if you are curious about how we've been deliberating possible solutions to this issue, we have pasted some scenarios below similar to those we have been deliberating.)

Finally: The very nature of committees requires the focus of a few, before recommendations are revealed for decisions by the many — and we realize any news of tensions and disputes may cause more confusion than certainty. We want to assure all NASW members that policy decisions on issues such as harassment and sanctions are ultimately in your hands — as members who vote on bylaw amendments and as members who vote on the governing board. We always welcome your input on how our organization can best invite discourse and debate, with clarity and efficiency. And of course, we always invite your leadership and energy to volunteer in committee service.

Thank you,
Siri Carpenter, for the NASW Board


"Reporter” refers to a member who makes a complaint and “Subject” refers to the subject of a complaint. The body refers to whatever body is doing the investigating. Note: These were constructed to serve as points for discussions. They are not actual scenarios, and they are not based on actual events. The questions do not all, yet, have answers.

1) A member (the “Reporter") files a complaint stating that a fellow member’s (the “Subject's”) blog includes several instances of unattributed wording from various sources. None of these sources is the Reporter’s work nor that of any NASW member. The complaint includes screenshots of the blog and screenshots of the sentences, phrases, and occasional whole grafs in their originally published context. The body visits the blog and media sites and confirms publication and lack of attribution.

  • In preparing the notification, the body asks, it is it material to have the Reporter’s name used?
  • What if the Reporter is a freelance writer and the Subject an editor in charge of assignments?

2) A Reporter files a complaint stating that a fellow member has sent him unwanted email on numerous occasions. The emails generally follow from discussions begun online in NASW’s discussion forums, but are unsolicited and use threatening and profane language that would not be acceptable on the forums themselves. The Reporter feels that these emails show a pattern of harassment. The body reads the emails that the Reporter submits and looks at the Subject’s contributions to the forum, learning that the Subject has received, per the forum policies, previous warnings already for violating the online discussion policies.

  • What information is needed by the Subject to prepare an effective response? Does that include the name of the Reporter?
  • What if the emails sent by the Subject include language such as “I know where you live.”?
  • How does the body respond if the Subject says that a specific phrase was taken out of context?

3) A Reporter files a complaint stating that the Subject, another NASW member, sexually assaulted her at a recent scientific conference. The unwanted touching and his physical attempts to prevent her departure from the reception at which it occurred were witnessed by two other individuals, whose statements are included in the complaint. The body learns that the Subject has been banned from any future meetings of that society for multiple similar incidents and had an award revoked.

  • What information is needed by the Subject to prepare an effective response? Does that include the name of the Reporter?
  • How does the body respond if the Subject says that a specific incident was taken out of context or did not occur?
  • What if the Reporter is a freelance writer and the Subject an editor in charge of assignments?
May. 23, 2019

Comments

craig's picture

I agree that more context is necessary if the NASW Board’s goal is for members to understand what’s going on. This message helps, but not much. 

For example, the phrase “trajectory of the process” strikes me as intentionally vague. It suggests there was acrimony between those who resigned and the board, but it explains nothing about why. It does not offer any specifics about who was involved in the disagreement or how debate on the issues unfolded.

Also, because the resignation letter is summarized in just a sentence or two, members are left to guess exactly why Nsikan and Mollie resigned. The board is depriving members of the opportunity to learn Nsikan and Mollie’s side of the story, in their own words, so we can form our own conclusions based on more information than just the board’s opinion. We should see the full letter.

My experiences as both a science writer and as a local public official have lead me to value transparency by the people we elect to lead us. In my latter role, I have become used to partcipating in meetings that are shown on television and streamed live on the Internet, enabling people to witness the workings of government. This is not always comfortable. But it is essential.

I am hopeful that NASW board members, as experienced journalists and public information officers, also value transparency and will see fit to offer more of it in this situation.

MichaelBalter's picture

I'm sorry for that provocative subject line for my comment, but on the face of it I have to agree with Craig that more transparency is needed here. I am just learning about all this today, but the problem is that it's almost impossible to know how to react to it all because of the lack of transparency. Transparency does not mean that names must be used and people identified, but it does it inherently means that NASW members are provided with the maximum possible information. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that we are being given the minimum possible information. As a #MeTooSTEM reporter, I constantly deal with institutions that opt for minimum, or absolutely no, transparency; I hope NASW will not become one of those institutions. We need to know more about this, even if the election for new board members is to be fair.

hdewar's picture

I agree that this explanation does not help much. It’s not clear when, how or why the Governance Committee has undertaken this process. Nor is it clear why there is any question about some of these scenarios. A sexual assault allegation should be referred to law enforcement immediately; why is NASW parsing the level of detail to be provided to the subject of an assault allegation in some kind of vaguely defined internal review? This is a criminal matter, not a NASW internal governance issue. I also find the tone of the entry to be defensive of the committee’s work and subtly unfair to the dissenters, whose decision to resign is presented as regrettable. A more balanced account is needed.

Drexel University online

ASU Earth and Space Journalism Fellowship