From Inoculum, February 2020:
Greetings! I hope your New Year is off to a fabulous start. In Wisconsin the semester’s in full swing and I’m feeling by turns crushed and excited by experiments, teaching, ongoing faculty searches, and service as your President!
I’m writing very specifically to communicate with membership about the structure of MSA, its committees, and the documents that serve as instructions for the running of our society: our Constitution, By-Laws and the Manual of Operations.
Committees of MSA. Committee membership and participation in leadership are vital to our society, and the contributions of our committees, and committee members and chairs, are truly outstanding. But did you know that we have an enormous number of committees, some with a long history of not being filled? It’s true: if every committee described in our current By-Laws were at capacity, I estimate our committee roster would number around 175 people. Our annual meeting attendance is around 300 people. Having more than half of our attendees serving on committees may sound alright, but in practice, it’s tough to manage. Being an academic is already an exercise in managed chaos and finding people to serve on committees to ensure proper committee function is challenging. And I’d argue there’s nothing more unsettling than joining a committee that then does very little. Having so much energy directed at managing committees may also detract from our focus on science and our ability to effectively engage with groups outside MSA, for example granting agencies or AAAS. Various committee and other positions described in our By-Laws appear archaic and need to be revised or eliminated. For example, the By-Laws require a Society Representative to the “American Mushroom Institute (AMI)”. If you conduct a Google search of AMI you’ll find it’s a real organization and does work that would click with many MSA members. But despite our great commitment to society history, it’s been really challenging to find anyone who remembers what the role of our AMI Society Representative is and what the representative used to do on behalf of MSA. Another example: our Nomenclature committee is entirely vacant except for the student representative provided by MSA’s Student Section. A major charge of this committee is publishing “educational articles on fungal nomenclature” in Inoculum and advising MSA members on nomenclatural issues, but these charges haven’t been met in years. There are plenty of other examples… to choose one, the International Affairs committee is nearly vacant and is also relatively inactive.
Because these committees and positions are legislated by our By-Laws, Executive Council cannot modify or update them, even if desired changes would more accurately reflect current membership priorities. Most changes would require a full vote of membership. Our current protocols don’t provide a prudent path towards effectively managing our fantastically successful and wonderful society. What can we do to solve the problem? We can vote to change our By-Laws! And while we craft thoughtful language proposing new protocols and approaches to management, for use in revising our By-Laws, we can immediately start to revise our Manual of Operations.
The Manual of Operations for MSA. Our Manual of Operations (aka, “the MOP”) is currently 92 pages long, and most people have not read and don’t want to read the MOP in its entirety. Instead, committee chairs often reach out directly to ask leadership “what shall I do?” — and even when the relevant sections are emailed forthwith, committee chairs and members have expressed concerns that the MOP instructions are difficult to interpret and understand.
Looking ahead. As we continue our successful transition to management by The Rees Group, Executive Council will be taking a closer look at our Constitution, By-Laws and MOP. If you’re involved with a committee (and probably that’s most of you – thank you!) please expect an email message from Marin or Kaylee Walters of The Rees Group asking for substantial revisions to your bit of the MOP. Please also look for a ballot in the spring which may describe potential changes to MSA’s foundational documents (the Constitution and By-Laws) to improve clarity and flexibility, and to provide updated instructions to our leadership and membership.
I’m writing this column to solicit feedback, questions, and thoughts concerning this matter. If you’ve got ideas let us hear about them: email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and please cc our incoming leadership: Marc Cubeta at email@example.com and Betsy Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please cc Marin Talbot Brewer as well, at email@example.com.
Yours in Service,