Friday, June 17, 2011

smaller, better UUA Board

I support our UUA Board of Trustees’ proposal to shrink the Board from 26 members to 14, and to change the way Trustees are nominated & elected. I agree that this will make the Board both *more* efficient and diverse (pdf). For more details, please see their FAQ (pdf).

My colleague, Tom Schade, wrote: “Dear Friends…I have been thinking about UUA governance for a while. Most of our frustrations with the UUA come from its ineffective governance. We all have the experience of being frustrated with our ‘denomination’, but loving the people we know who staff it, and lead it. That says the problem is in the system not the people.

We have had since merger, a continuation of the Unitarian governance mode which is Strong President who leads the Staff and Weak Board. We assume this — the election of the President is where we focus all our hopes for the future. The problem is that the President has weak control of the staff. The board has been ineffective, in part because it is large and because it is constituted as regional representatives. (Regional representatives are based on the theory that somebody has to stop the organization from doing something stupid in my geographic area. It’s negative power. It’s not based on building a leadership team.)

We have had all the frustrations of the President/staff led organization, of which I would list these as particularly important: lack of priority decision making, mission creep, deferred decision-making, lack of follow-through on decisions, procedural inertia and occasional rogue processes. Staffs keep doing what they are doing; they add new tasks and priorities without giving up any; they adopt new rhetoric but continue without change. The big change in our system, which are still working our way through is that switch to policy governance. Some think PG is just a buzzword, but it is actually a shift in power and has set off a power struggle. The Board claims the power to set the direction and the priorities for the staff. The Board claims that its democratic mandate is greater than the President and the staff to set the purposes and priorities for which our considerable resources will be put.

The fact that the UUA President is elected, and not a hired Executive Director, is a still unresolved complication to this scheme.

The Board Downsizing proposal is a part of the Board’s desire to be able to be a strong leadership Board. First of all, it strengthens their democratic mandate: one third of the Board will be elected at large every year. Secondly, it aims at a board small enough to be effective in setting direction and goals, to make real decisions about resources and ends. It imagines that the way that people will try to influence the future of the UUA is by participating in and focusing on the annual board elections. Are the candidates people who will lead the UUA in the direction we want to go? Instead of asking that question every four years at President electing time, every year it will come up.

That’s the issue: do we want to have a leadership Board that exercises positive power (make what we think are good things happen), or are we hoping for a representative board that exercises negative power (stop what we think are bad things from happening.)?

Nominations: If we were satisfied with the fact that our leadership
represents the majority culture in the UUA, then it would OK to do away with a nominating committee for Board positions. In a cultural majority dominated organization, there is a contradiction between straight democracy and the work of diversifying the leadership. If all the elections were people nominating themselves, we would probably continue as we have, and feel somehow guilty about it. What we need is a conscious leadership development process that scans the organization from the margins to the center and finds and promotes the leaders we need. The leaders we need to move into new communities and cultures are not the obvious candidates coming up through the established channels of informal leadership development. The nominating committee should be the structure of that leadership development process.

The ultimate goal of the board downsizing is to imagine a strong, unified board that is forward looking, able to imagine a broader Unitarian Universalism and able to direct the deployment of our resources toward expanding Unitarian Universalism.”

We can either continue to distrust and hobble our leaders, or we can work to find excellent people and give them the freedom (and responsibility) to advance our shared mission. I want us to be an important, powerful voice for justice and freedom–-that requires a strong governance system. Yes, we’ll need to watch and verify that this new structure does deliver the promised efficiency and diversity. As Andrew Jackson reminded us, vigilance is the price of liberty.

Please vote in support of this proposal, at GA next week.

(original text, with links *and* the FAQ reproduced as a comment instead of a PDF file, at So May We Be)


Post a Comment

<< Home