First-Hand:A Constitution-amendment Attempt
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The Saga of the IEEE Constitutional Amendment Proposal
A Long, Loquacious, Legend of IEEE Past for IEEE Present members to prepare them for IEEE Future
Once upon a time, very long ago, there were three Institutions in a small island off the north west coast of Europe. The elder, lately split off from military engineering, was the Institution of Civil Engineers, popularly known as ICE. The middle one, coming later, was the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, known as IMechE. The youngest, claiming its foundation as in 1871, was the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE). IEE looked down on the later British Institution of Radio Engineers (Brit. IRE) considering them to be not really worthy of status as Chartered Engineers. Indeed a librarian of IEE during those times would not allow the Brit. IRE Journal to enter the IEE library.
Some years later, it came to pass that, in order to be more up to date, the Secretary of IEE added the name ‘Chief Executive’ to his role. No doubt done with the full authority of the IEE Council, who may have passed the proposal as a minor adjustment that most did not even read. The next holder of the post then dropped the ‘Secretary’ part and was entitled Chief Executive. He proceeded to lay off those staff who did not like his way of doing things, and any who refused to go were disposed of by other means, such as paying them a bonus for leaving of such generosity that they could not refuse (this being possible by having unrestricted access to large financial resources which IEE had built up over many years).
This led directly to a regime in which it was clear that the IEE members were expected to do what the staff required them to do, and the previously powerful IEE Council was persuaded to give up its powers and retain only the requirement to give advice to the staff who were not obliged to obey. Many IEE past presidents were persuaded that these changes were needed to modernise the IEE and so did not oppose them, and some who did oppose were even reported as supporting them.
A special meeting was called by the IEE members to discuss these events, and had an unusually large attendance. It was obvious that most were not in favour of the changes which had been brought about. The feeling might be summed up by a comment from an now deceased elderly and well-known very senior member who stood up to say “why did the Council give up its powers, and hand power to the staff – who should be ‘on tap and not on top’”, followed by the rhetorical question “were we, the members, ever asked” (obviously the answer was no). The meeting was closed without any permission to take a vote or make any decision.
Not long after that, the name of the Institution was changed from IEE to IET (standing for Institution of Engineering and Technology) from which it could be seen that ‘electrical’ and ‘electronic’ were no longer specifically mentioned, and there was evident staff intention to seem to cover the scope of IMechE and ICE and much more besides. Naturally not a way to win friends in ICE or IMechE. While all these matters were underway, rumours of them travelled west across the North Atlantic, and arrived in a small place called Piscataway. There, some senior staff of IEEE recognised them as rather nice and useful ideas to use themselves: if IEEE could be persuaded to follow a similar route as IEE had done, then the IEEE staff would be able to control the members, instead of the existing state of affairs where the members controlled the staff. Some members of the IEEE Board of Directors (BoD) were led (by some high-level volunteers and by some staff) to believe that changes were needed to keep the IEEE ‘agile’ (or ‘nimble’) and that meant speeding up the decision processes by reducing the member influence. A few IEEE President- level people were convinced by this.
Means were devised to invite the IEE/IET Immediate Past President (Brian Mellitt) to visit USA and address the Board meeting at Dallas, TX in February 2003. He did a good propaganda job as requested, leading in due course to an IEEE decision to change things accordingly. It was also proposed that the Chief Executive (the highest paid staff person in IEEE) should have a vote on the BoD, although this suggestion was quickly dropped. No doubt it occurred to some people that the greatest agility could be achieved by having a BoD comprising a single person, a form of government not unusual in some nations around the world. However, it was clear that such a change would require a Constitutional Amendment, and to pass, that had to have a two thirds majority approval by the whole IEEE membership. It would be unlikely to pass if the full implications were to be stated, so a form of words was chosen which embedded the change in a boring account of the need to revise the Constitution to bring it into line with modern terminology and opening the way for a future Board of Directors to make substantial changes in operations without needing to consult the membership (the usual argument about need for ‘agility’ to stay competitive being used). However, unlike the situation in IEE/IET, there were powerful elements in IEEE which immediately saw danger: the major IEEE Societies valued their substantial independence of action and decision, and saw that these proposals put that at serious risk. Some people in the IEEE Regions also saw such dangers to their autonomy.
Some attempts were made to keep all this ‘out of sight’ on the grounds that there should be a collective-decision-adherence by all members of the Board of Directors, implying that all Board Members had to keep to any decision of the Board and not discuss its pros and cons outside the Board for anyone else to hear. Many IEEE members found this intolerable and unacceptable: if the membership was to be asked to vote on a Constitutional Amendment, they needed to have the pros and cons expressed clearly so that they could debate, investigate, think, before making their vote on the annual ballot (alongside voting for the candidates for office). For IEEE to present only one side of the question to the members before they voted was seen clearly to be undemocratic and unacceptable. This led to formation of a group calling themselves the “Loyal Opposition”, who made their own website so that it could not be interfered with by any IEEE staff, and they collected opinions and presented explanations of what was underway, and speculated on the reasons. What is very important is to understand that this “Loyal Opposition” included many experienced and well-regarded IEEE volunteers, including a number of Past Presidents, IEEE Society Presidents, etc. and could not be categorised as just a bunch of inexperienced troublemakers. Details of those involved and the viewpoint which they expressed may be found at: https://ieee2016blog.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/ballot-objection-position-from-3-past-ieee-presidents/
And so it came to pass, dear reader, in the fullness of time, that a proposal for a Constitutional Amendment did appear on the Annual Election Ballot in 2016. Of course it did not say in the accompanying explanation that this amendment would enable the BoD to make decisions or needed changes to enable the members to serve the staff instead of the staff serving the members. Although in such elections it is usual for many members to not read details and just vote in the recommended way (e.g. for the Amendment), the vote for the Amendment did not even reach a 50% level, far short of the two thirds majority needed for it to pass. The June 2016 issue of ‘The Institute” has an encouragement to vote on page 3, and mentions that the vote includes an amendment to the IEEE Constitution, but gives no indication of why or of any pros or cons. This risk of the amendment passing having subsided, IEEE was able to promote the ‘tag line’ of “IEEE Advancing Technology for Humanity” (notice the inclusion of the word ‘for’) and provided worldwide leadership in ethical standards (for example IEEE P2089), being in this respect ahead of many engineering organisations around the world, and so continuing its leadership role – and supporting survivability and sustainability for all of mankind in a believable way.
Annex Example of viewpoints expressed by some major IEEE Societies and Regions
A motion proposed and seconded: “The IEEE Sensors Council AdCom opposes the proposed constitutional amendment and modified board structure. To reflect this opposition, a statement of opposition will be posted on the Council website, on Council social media outlets, and e-mailed to Council contacts.” The reasons behind the motion include the following:
(a) The problem statement that the proposed amendment is attempting to solve is not well-defined and the proposed solution adds complexity,
(b) The existing IEEE Constitution offers alternative, less complex ways of accomplishing the intended improvements,
(c) The risk associated with a major constitutional change is not clearly outweighed by its possible benefits,
(d) The modified Board of Directors (BoD) structure being considered removes TAB, MGA and regional representation from the BoD and, thereby, makes the IEEE BoD considerably less diverse than it is currently.
(e) There are serious risks that the Bylaws changes induced by the Constitutional Amendments will reduce the visibility and control of IEEE societies and geographical regions on key strategic decisions made by the BoD for the future of the IEEE,
(f) There is a risk that the proposed changes, such as the Constitutional Amendment, will shift too much power from IEEE members to IEEE staff.
In a similar way, the IEEE Computer Society passed a detailed resolution in opposition to the Constitutional Amendment including the very explicit warning words:
- There are serious risks that the Bylaws changes induced by the Constitutional Amendments will reduce the visibility and control of IEEE societies and geographical regions on key strategic decisions made by the IEEE Board of Directors for the future of the IEEE.
- There is a risk that the proposed changes, like the Constitutional Amendment, will shift too much power from IEEE members to IEEE Corporate Staff.
During its 26 May 2016 meeting, the IEEE Communications Society’s Board of Governors carefully reviewed and considered the proposed IEEE Constitutional Amendment change that will be on the IEEE members’ ballots with the start of the IEEE Election on August 15th. As a result, the Communications Board of Governors unanimously passed this motion:
“The BoG of the IEEE Communications Society opposes the proposed constitutional amendment and modified board structure.” The reasons behind the position include the following: The problem statement that the proposed amendment is attempting to solve is not well-defined and the proposed solution adds complexity The existing IEEE Constitution offers alternative, less complex ways of accomplishing the intended improvements; The risk associated with a major constitutional change is not clearly outweighed by its possible benefits. There are serious risks that the Bylaws changes induced by the Constitutional Amendments will reduce the visibility and control of IEEE societies and geographical regions on key strategic decisions made by the IEEE Board of Directors for the future of the IEEE. There is a risk that the proposed changes, like the Constitutional Amendment, will shift too much power from IEEE members to IEEE Corporate Staff. The IEEE Communications Society BoG wants Society members to be fully informed voters, so this motion was also unanimously passed: “It was moved for the Society to create and communicate a balanced view of the pros and cons of the constitutional amendment to the membership of the Society and to inform members of the Society on the BoG position about the Constitutional Amendment.” We urge you to read about the proposed changes, make up your own mind about them, and dutifully exercise your right to vote to influence IEEE’s future. The Region 8 Committee had many discussions about the matter at their meeting in Monaco, March 2016. No motions were proposed or passed, but all comments made in discussion were not in favour of the Amendment. The meeting record is at:
The proposed changes to the Constitution can be found https://ieee-sensors.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IEEE-2030-About-Constitution-Amendment-TAB.pdf. In addition, the IEEE in 2030 Ad Hoc Committee is proposing changes to the IEEE’s organizational structure. The details may be seen at: https://ww.ieee.org/about/corporate/ieeein2030_archive_m.html For background, the IEEE governing documents, including the Constitution and Bylaws, can be found at: http://www.ieee.org/about/corporate/governance/index.html
The “Loyal Opposition” has established a website where reasons for opposing the changes may be found: