The Quest for an Effective Chairman in 1997

Candidate: Sander Rubin


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1. AMC's functions
2. Local Groups
3. Bylaws
4. Mensa Register
5. Intellectual activities
6. Open politics
7. Modern communication

Also, please see special note on the International election below.

An effective AMC Chairman will follow a holistic approach, staying in touch, being available, responding to problems as they arise -- preventively, when possible -- and directing whatever resources may be needed including money, volunteers, time, and special skills available within or -- when necessary -- from outside of Mensa.

No AMC Chairman can do all that needs to be done, or personally do everything that Mensa does (or appears to do) in public and still be a good Chairman. In fact he must use his authority lightly, and be sure he has first-class help. Therefore, one of the first priorities and responsibilities of an AMC Chairman is to get around the country to find, meet, solicit and get commitments from members who will serve when called upon.

PLATFORM ITEM ONE. The Chairman should limit himself and work to limit AMC to functions that have national significance.

The most significant national functions of AMC and/or the Chairman are:

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PLATFORM ITEM TWO. The Chairman and AMC must allow local groups to handle their business without interference , so long as individual members' rights are observed. AMC should make rules for itself and strictly procedural rules that address administrative necessity, not behavior. AMC should regard itself primarily as an administrative body, not a legislature.

AMC is not, nor should it be regarded as, a superior authority in most cases. Local groups should be respected as well-able to run their own affairs, with AMC officers, including the Chairman, helping only when called upon, and then preferably by assisting with negotiation or by mediating, as may be appropriate to the situation.

Approval of local group bylaws should not be withheld except when there is a conflict with the bylaws of American Mensa Ltd. Nor should AMC or its chairman becomeinvolved in problems arising between members in local groups unless all other remedies have been exhausted.

The AMC Chairman should not attempt nor participate in any initiative to amend the Bylaws whenever the result will be to grant to AMC or to any of its officers any of the rights, duties or powers of Local Groups or of individual members. AMC has developed a tendency to bootstrap itself into a position of greater authority.

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PLATFORM ITEM THREE. The Chairman should initiate the long-overdue task of updating the Bylaws, clarifying the rights and responsibilities of the various Mensa organizations, removing excess verbiage, and creating an exemplary document.

The Chairman should sponsor changes to the Bylaws to simplify them and establish affirmatively the distinct functions of local groups and other organs (including the AMC), and the rights of members. The Chairman should first work with AMC to establish a bylaws revision process, and together they should determine a set of priorities for consideration. To assure the preservation of a non-hierarchical Society, the Chairman should appoint an independent chairman of a Bylaws Committee to be made up of non-AMC volunteers from around the country, that will work with but not be dominated by AMC. The work of the Bylaws Committee should be continuing, but always recognize that the challenge is to strike a balance between what must be prescribed in some detail and what is better entrusted to good judgment in particular circumstances.

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PLATFORM ITEM FOUR. AMC needs vigorous leadership with a commitment to policies that bring members together, clearly necessary for the stated purpose of Mensa to provide a the stimulating intellectual and social environment. This function of the AMC Chairman has been sadly neglected.

AMC has discontinued publication of the Mensa Register--the last one was issued over five years ago and is out of print; none is presently planned. Unless a local group chooses to provide a local roster, neither printed nor electronic copies of membership lists are available at any price to the ordinary member, "per instructions from AMC and the Chairman."

Why, after all, have we faithfully completed complicated, codified forms to identify ourselves by a huge number of demographic and interest variables, unless to help us connect with kindred Mensans? What is done with that information now?

In our highly mobile society, failure to provide such a fundamental service is not acceptable. Annual publication of a national directory, including demographic information and e-mail addresses, to be sold at cost to members in good standing, should be a first priority for any AMC Chairman.

Creating another conspicuous void, Mensa leadership seems disinterested in providing a truly state-of-the-art Internet presence that includes electronic services and forums open to all members. This is an area where committed leadership can quickly and visibly make a huge difference.

As for the ability of the National office to support these increased services, such additional staff and computer expertise as may be required should be authorized and hired by AMC before spending huge sums on advertising and public relations, as has been done (without any obvious success) by the current leadership. It is time to spend our resources in ways that are supportive of our purpose.

Though our dues continue to escalate without apparent justification and now far exceed the annual dues of much smaller national organizations, there are many of the latter that offer much better service to their members.

First-rate member services should be a priority, ahead of publicity or even the recruitment of new members. If our present members get value for their dues it will follow that membership will increase. We can recruit the entire eligible 2% of the population but unless they get what they came for, they will leave and Mensa will always be only a brief stopover for people who would add to and benefit from the Society.

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PLATFORM ITEM FIVE. Without diminishing the social environment, the Chairman should work with AMC to encourage and support greater intellectual content in Mensa activities. At the same time, the Chairman should lead an effort to reduce personality conflicts and restore civility to Mensa discourse in every forum and at all levels.

For example, Local Groups could be encouraged to sponsor a variety of salons, at least one or two a month; AMC, in its monthly mailing to editors, might include discussion ideas submitted by hosts of previous salons around the country. In addition, the Internet provides national and transnational facilities for individual members to engage in virtual salons, an activity that should be encouraged by the Chairman and made available to any member with Internet access. This opportunity has been sadly underused. Either way, a thoughtful Chairman will see that at least some salon content makes its way into the Bulletin, or perhaps establish a new publication designed for the purpose and paid for by subscription.

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PLATFORM ITEM SIX. The Chairman must see that the internal politics of Mensa—policy decisions, bylaws amendments, official appointments for routine and special functions, as well as hearings and discussions on these and any other matters—are open to all members.

Since "politics" takes place wherever people encounter one another, the Chairman and the AMC should set a national example. No one is required to participate, but all who wish to be involved should be able to do so freely. It is the responsibility of AMC and its Chairman to use facilities that are available as part of the basic membership, such as the Bulletin and InterLoc, to publicize and invite discussion of matters as they arise, prior to taking actions that bind the membership. Unfortunately, however, Mensa leadership sometimes conducts political discussion at the Executive Committee level or on the Internet, in many cases even without involvement of most of the AMC.

In addition, some Mensa discussions, both with and without policy significance, are taking place in an Internet forum accessible only by members of CompuServe (CIS), a for-profit Internet provider. In a contract that has not been generally publicized, Mensa agrees to promote the CIS forum, CIS collects fees from Mensa subscribers and makes a "rebate" to Mensa. Simply stated, no matter where it ends up there is an extra charge for participation in Mensa politics. To make matters worse, it is "against the forum rules" for participants in the CIS forum to provide copies of any of the discussion to non-participants; one must pay to know what's going on.

Since Mensa's basic promise implies facilitating communication among members, it should be AMC policy that officially sponsored or subsidized discussion is free and open; in addition, all comments and ideas published in any such forum should be available to all interested Mensa members. When the forum is electronic, the discussion should also be compiled and distributed via Mensa print media; if volume is too great to be handled by existing publications, an official Forum Newsletter should be established to be mailed, perhaps monthly, to subscribers as is now done with InterLoc. Members without access to the Internet could elect to comment via Mensa print media, or by mail to the electronic forum host for posting on their behalf. Obviously, no discussion of official Mensa business should be conducted in a forum with limited access.

Any way you look at it, the promise of Mensa to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for all members, is not fulfilled by providing it to a limited number of members who are willing to pay a "luxury tax" for participation. Yet, under present leadership, CompuServe remains the host of the only "official" Mensa forum on the Internet, and CompuServe is the big winner.

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PLATFORM ITEM SEVEN. The Chairman should lead the effort to establish an internet presence worthy of a Society of intelligent people, and make its benefits available to all members.

Whether to broaden our publication base, bring members together, increase opportunities for intellectual discussion, or open Mensa politics to all the membership, it is clear that a state-of-the-art Internet presence will benefit and enhance American Mensa, Ltd. To this end, the Chairman must work with AMC toward establishing a Mensa World Wide Web site that coordinates with an on-line membership list so that members have immediate access to Mensa forums and to each other. AMC, under the Chairman's guidance, should appoint talented and creative members to design and implement these facilities.

Any member in good standing should have free access to the Web site and to participate in any of its forums. And clearly, any member should be allowed to post freely to a Mensa forum. We may invite and welcome guests to read what is posted -- to learn about what Mensa has to offer, for example -- but posting should be limited to paid-up members.

Finally, until such time as Internet access is universal, or at least readily available to all members, AMC should offer "print browsers" a few additional considerations:

  1. Increase the publication subsidy to Local Groups that agree to publish material from the Mensa web site.
  2. Encourage Local Groups to assist members who wish to set up Internet access.
  3. Have Mensa print publications coordinate with Internet resources so that the best of the electronic net is available to all.

International Election

An election for Mensa's four international elective offices is being conducted concurrently with the American election. There are two parties: the "incumbents" are Party A, the "upstarts" are Party B. All the people are good, and I could work with any of them, but I feel that Party B is more proactive and responsive to the future needs of Mensa Intertational so I lean toward them. It may help you make up your own mind by visiting their respective WWW sites by clicking on the links in the previous sentence. -- S.R.

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To endorsements
On the purchase of premises
To brief biography
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Copyright © 1997 by Sander Rubin
Related sites are welcome to establish a link to this page upon notifying me by e-mail. I shall be glad to reciprocate upon request.

Created: 22 Jan 97
Revised: 24 Mar 97