Why the NASW GovCom co-chairs and NASW secretary resigned (resignation letter enclosed)

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Why the NASW GovCom co-chairs and NASW secretary resigned (resignation letter enclosed)

Below, you can find our full resignation letter to the board, minus redactions that the executive director requested on grounds of confidentiality. Board members do not sign a non-disclosure agreement—these redactions are a courtesy. None of our comments are made for personal gain or to the detriment of NASW and do not violate the Association’s policies for information disclosures.

NASW members also have a right to inspect the board minutes (Article II NASW Bylaws), which should include the board discussions noted below, unless a draft filed by the outgoing secretary has been substantially altered.

Mollie and Nsikan had reviewed and agreed to the first statement released by the president on May 23. We were not given an opportunity to review her second statement, which was released late that same day.
We wholeheartedly support NASW’s activities, including the work of our fellow committees, as they relate to science communication, education and outreach.

Context:

Earlier this year, the Governance Committee (GovCom) was tasked with reviewing NASW’s termination policy (Article VII NASW bylaws), in particular as it relates to harassment complaints. The items in question:

  • a member can only be terminated if their conduct is “substantially prejudicial.”
  • if a member is terminated in an initial hearing before the board or an ad-hoc committee, they can appeal. This appeal case will then be heard before the entire membership.

GovCom and its chairs recommended:

  • an expansion of the meeting code of conduct, so it could precisely define “substantially prejudicial” and also apply to all member conduct in any context. The board supported this idea.
  • replacing the appeal hearing in front of the membership with an appeal hearing in front an ad-hoc committee. That make sense both for preserving privacy and because most precedent shows that mob judgments are typically unfair.

The officers and the executive director pushed for additional revisions that would erode, if not eliminate, due process from the termination proceedings.

Their argument is the preservation of confidentiality, which is completely legitimate. GovCom, Mollie and I expressed on multiple occasions that we agree with the need for protecting complainants in a society dominated by gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

We posit the erosion of due process not only fails to aid confidentiality, but it also weakens any termination verdict made by NASW. Due process is a civil right. If a member is terminated in a hearing where they can’t present evidence, it creates legal exposure for the organization and the complainant.

We made these positions known across more than a month of communications, which included several email chains, two board meetings (before which the president expressed a desire to vote on the policy), an officers meeting and a phone call between the outgoing secretary and the president.

As the co-chairs expressed in their resignation letter, we feel this pattern of eroding democratic liberties mirrors a worrying trend in the upper leadership of NASW. For example, an officer’s recent comments on a policy proposal about the nominations committee argued that allowing for more open elections would somehow reduce diversity among the leadership. We link to the nominations policy proposal here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xCjOW4wDGqKsBaFUDoXNHXI5QXz28cAv2L3Byy-JRsk/edit?usp=sharing

 

Resignation letter (with redactions)

To: The NASW Board
From: Nsikan Akpan and Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato
Date: May 14, 2019

RE: Resignation of Governance Committee Co-chairs.

We are grateful for the opportunity to serve the NASW community. We have cherished both learning how this organization functions and the chance to craft better governance for its members.

The officers and executive director have recently expressed desires to erode the liberties of NASW members, asking the governance committee to be a clearinghouse for policies we deem unethical.

We have made the difficult decision to resign as co-chairs of the Governance Committee. In addition, Nsikan resigns as NASW secretary.

Rationale

Our resignation follows a persistent theme of inegalitarian behavior in policy deliberations, most notably surrounding the termination policy proposal.

On April 18, the board reviewed GovCom’s proposal for the termination policy and expressed agreement on the provisions regarding the code of conduct’s expansion and the new definition of “substantially prejudicial.”

The board further discussed ARTICLE VII. Section 4., namely the appeal hearing in front of the membership. The board expressed a desire to eliminate this public hearing (to which GovCom and its chairs agree). In the Apr. 18 meeting, most of the board expressed support for replacing the appeal hearing in front of the membership with an appeal hearing before an ad-hoc committee.

Some officers and the executive director then pressed for revisions that would erode, if not eliminate, clauses related to due process.

The clauses in question:

  1. notify the accused (henceforth referred to as “the respondent”) when a complaint is filed, which grants the respondent time to build a defense.
  2. allow the respondent to present a defense before an initial termination verdict is rendered. The officers and executive director feel the board should be able to judge a termination. If the respondent appeals, then they get a hearing where they can present evidence.
  3. prevent conflicts of interest for accused board members. The current bylaws call for an ad-hoc committee when a board member stands accused. The executive pushed for the board to take control of these hearings or to assign board members to the ad-hoc committee.
  4. preserve balanced verdicts. The executive requested that witness testimony and evidence presentation be omitted.
  5. allow for a speedy trial. The executive requested that timetables for notifying the respondent and for holding the trail be removed.

Due process helps ensure a fair verdict, which the GovCom chairs view as essential for the complainant and the respondent.

After the board meeting, the executive director and president reworked the termination proposal, again removing the due process clauses. Nsikan raised concerns and requested a phone conference.

During the May 6 call, some officers and the executive director stated the revisions would aid confidentiality and prevent retaliation, which is not accurate. Under their revisions, the complaint can be leaked by the respondent, the complainant, board members or ad-hoc committee members. If confidentiality and retaliation are the concerns, then the proposal should add confidentiality clauses and gag orders—which would follow the lead of academic universities (for example, Georgetown University’s Student Hearing Procedures and Sexual Misconduct Procedures).

The board being involved in all termination hearings creates conflicts of interest. Some officers and the executive director argued that the board should not abdicate its duties or pass them onto others. As an example, they raised the board’s censure of ::redacted:: In addition, under section 6 article III, “any director may be removed with cause by vote of the members or the directors at a duly held meeting.”

However, this is not a suitable justification for a policy that allows the board to unilaterally terminate any member based on a hearing where a balanced ledger of evidence is not presented—and where one side is not given time to prepare a defense. We find this unethical.

In the executive meeting, the president asserted that “NASW is not a democracy.” It is an assertion that has been made in other board meetings over the years by other directors.

NASW may not function as a democracy, but just procedures are there in part so that members have confidence or “buy-in” in NASW. Members can know that they’ll only be expelled after a just and fair process.

Moreover, NASW still operates within the confines of the U.S. democratic republic. The nation’s judicial standards still apply to NASW practices, a point that could be made by a member who feels their membership is terminated unjustly or without cause.

GovCom unanimously supports our stances on these matters. In lieu of the whole committee’s resignation, we hope the officers, board and GovCom can work together to develop policies that do not strip egalitarianism from the association and that do not consolidate power among the leadership.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Nsikan Akpan and Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato
Governance Committee co-chairs