January 25, 2016 – This article summarizes conversations with Dr. Michael Looper, ASAS President, and Dr. Peter Hansen, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Florida, concerning a petition requesting changes to the ASAS Constitution and Bylaws. The petition, submitted to the ASAS Board of Directors in December 2015, calls for changes in ASAS board composition, leadership and governance.
This article provides a forum for Dr. Looper and Dr. Hansen to address the ASAS membership and present the viewpoints of both the ASAS Board of Directors and the petitioners associated with the proposed bylaws changes.
The petition containing the proposed amendments to the ASAS Constitution and Bylaws will be sent electronically to ASAS members on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.
During an interview with Kim Schoonmaker, ASAS Scientific Communications Associate, Dr. Hansen explained the rationale for the four amendments to the ASAS bylaws, as outlined in the petition.
“The rationale is to do two things: Increase membership involvement in the governance of the Society, and increase leadership accountability to the membership,” Dr. Hansen said.
“Membership involvement has always been paramount to the success of ASAS and the many services the Society provides. ASAS Board of Directors are nominated from and elected by the membership to make the best decisions and be good stewards of the funds and resources of the Society,” said Dr. Looper.
“Two of the four amendments are directly designed to increase the ability of the membership to be involved in the governance of the Society,” Dr. Hansen said.
The amendment to Article V, Section I of the ASAS Bylaws would allow members to propose motions to be voted on at the Business Meeting, Dr. Hansen said. “Currently, there is no pathway for members to be allowed to do that,” he said. “The amendment allows members to put forward resolutions and motions, and if they get the support of 25 members, then those resolutions and motions have to be discussed and voted on by the membership.”
“Past and present ASAS Board of Directors have always welcomed input from the membership on important issues,” Dr. Looper said. “In fact, the ASAS Board has never declined discussion of a member-suggested topic at the ASAS Business Meeting. Although we do not have a formal mechanism for resolutions from the floor, formalizing the unwritten policy of the ASAS Board to address membership submissions at the Business Meeting is innocuous.”
The other amendment related to membership involvement in the governance of the Society would allow members to nominate candidates for elected offices, Dr. Hansen said. “Currently, the Board solicits names of potential (candidates) available for seats on the Board, but the final decision is up to the Board. The Board has the only formal role in the final decision in who will be put forward for election,” Dr. Hansen said. This amendment, to Article III of the bylaws, would allow members to nominate people for candidacy to the various elected posts of the American Society of Animal Science, provided they obtain signatures of 25 members, Dr. Hansen said. “So if a significant portion of the membership wish to put someone forward for candidacy, then they would have to be put on the ballot.”
“The Society has always encouraged members to nominate members or self-nominate to serve in various positions. The members are reviewed by a nominating committee consisting of both board and non-board members and moved forward. In addition, members have always had the ability to vote for individuals not on the ballot as write ins,” Dr. Looper said. “In my opinion, it is our duty as animal science professionals to serve our Society, either as reviewers for manuscripts, sectional governance, or leadership at the national level. It’s a volunteer role; we serve because we want to give back to our Society.”
“The other two amendments are designed to increase the accountability of the leadership toward the members,” Dr. Hansen said. “Those two amendments allow elected Board members and the CEO to be recalled. In order for the recall to go forward, there would need to be a petition signed by 25 members, and the entire membership would have to vote on it,” Dr. Hansen said.
“The Society has always and will continue to work for the membership. My greatest concern with these proposed changes is if 25 members don’t like a particular Board decision, then the Board and/or CEO could be recalled. The issue becomes one of stability,” Dr. Looper said. “So with such an amendment, the Board is petitioned and for the next two to three months, no other Society business gets done other than the issues surrounding the recall. Society funds are spent, time is consumed, and the overall stability of the Society is weakened. Theoretically, this whole process could play out several times a year,” Dr. Looper said.
“The purpose of the two amendments (regarding the recall) is to ensure that the leadership seeks out information from the membership before making decisions, and that they explain fully the rationale for their decisions to the membership,” Dr. Hansen said. “Having these two amendments in the bylaws would just ensure that the leadership of the Society is soliciting input from the members before making serious decisions, and that they are explaining fully the rationale for it,” Dr. Hansen said.
“The Board is elected to tackle tough, complicated issues that would be impossible to be reviewed in full by an entire membership,” Dr. Looper said. “ASAS solicits input from the membership continually through strategic planning processes, surveys, committee service and open forums. In addition, ASAS tracks all feedback received from members. In terms of JAM (Joint Annual Meeting), it should be noted that the membership never voted for JAM to be held yearly and the ASAS Board voted renewal yearly. ASAS solicits input from its members before making major decisions. For example, in recent months, two surveys concerning JAM have been submitted to the membership,” Dr. Looper said. “Within that correspondence, justification of why the JAM MOU was not re-signed (due to demographic differences and financial ramifications) was provided. This allowed the membership to make a better-informed decision. The Board felt its responsibility was to explain fully the rationale behind this decision,” Dr. Looper said.
Should these two amendments pass, Dr. Hansen does not foresee that the potential of recall will deter qualified candidates from putting their names forward for election or for serving as CEO. “There are many elected offices in the United States where people are subject to recall, and there certainly is not a lack of candidates running for those positions,” he said. “Moreover, as time will tell, nobody will get recalled. These provisions to change the bylaws (are intended to) change the behavior of the leadership of the Society so that they are more communicative with the membership, both in seeking out information and explaining their decisions,” Dr. Hansen said.
“Although well intended, I think the passage of these amendments will decrease interest of members in serving the Society,” Dr. Looper said. “Members nominate and elect those that align philosophically with their beliefs. They trust those elected to make the best decisions on their behalf for the Society. In this case, a 5,000-member society could be governed on any particular issue by less than 1% of the members. Essentially, these amendments provide a mechanism to circumvent the member-elected board by a minority – in actuality, these bylaw amendments shift the governance of ASAS from an elected board to governance by an unelected minority,” Dr. Looper said.
Dr. Hansen said that the petitioners bring these changes forward with the goal of strengthening involvement of the membership in the governance of the Society and to improve communication of issues from the Board to the membership.
“The controversy over how the decision was made to end the JAM pointed out to me and others the problems that exist in the Constitution and Bylaws of the American Society of Animal Science,” he said. “These amendments are put forward to look into the future, not to look back at whether or not the decision to cancel JAM was a good one or not,” Dr. Hansen said.
“We recognize a majority of the 25 signatories on the petition requesting changes to the ASAS Constitution and Bylaws are also members of the JAM2019 group to reinstitute the JAM,” Dr. Looper said. “As many may remember, JAM came into existence in 1992 without a membership vote. At that time, the Board decided that a JAM was in the best interest of the Society at that time. ASAS’s strategic planning has beneficially diversified our membership over the last decade. We don’t look the same as we did in 1992. Recently, the Board of Directors decided it was in the best interest of the Society not to re-sign the JAM MOU due to diversification of our membership and the significant financial ramifications of such a meeting. Again, the Board used all information available to make the best decision for the ASAS membership as a whole,” Dr. Looper said.
“At some point in our (Society’s) future there will be serious issues in front of the membership of the Society,” Dr. Hansen said. “These changes are being put forward to give the membership a greater voice in how those decisions are implemented.” They are not intended as a way to reinstitute a JAM, he said, but rather as a way to avoid “the kind of rancor, distrust and anger that (resulted from) the process that led to the end of JAM.”
“I trust the good judgment of the members to look at each one of these amendments and make the right decision,” Dr. Hansen said. Dr. Looper echoed Dr. Hansen’s statement. In fact, Dr. Looper ended our conversation with a quote from another ASAS Board member, Dr. Joe Cassady, who said, “Trust the membership.”