Why Have the Governing Bodies of So Many Societies/Councils and Geographical Sections Voted to Oppose the Proposed 2016 IEEE Constitutional Amendment?

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Why Have the Governing Bodies of So Many Societies/Councils and Geographical Sections Voted to Oppose the Proposed 2016 IEEE Constitutional Amendment?

Rabab Ward
President, IEEE Signal Processing Society

Between 15 August and 3 October 2016, IEEE members will have the opportunity to vote on a fundamental change in the IEEE Constitution. It is very easy to ignore ballot initiatives, especially when there are not familiar names on the ballot. In this case, there is a very important element on the ballot, which you are urged to evaluate and vote upon.

You may have read statements about the proposed amendment facilitating a more flexible, responsive, and strategic IEEE. Opponents state that the problem the proposed amendment is attempting to solve is obscure, the proposed solution adds unnecessary complexity and risks, and the nature of IEEE as a bottom-up organization run by volunteers is threatened to change, drastically. The existing IEEE constitution offers alternative, less complex ways of accomplishing the promised improvements, while maintaining members at the core of the decision making process.

Many geographic units and the governing bodies of over 25 IEEE societies, including the largest societies such as Computer, Communications, Power and Energy, Signal Processing, Circuits and Systems, Electron Devices, Robotics and Automation, and Solid-State Circuits are against the amendment. At least four past IEEE Presidents and other past IEEE leaders have also spoken against the amendment. Unfortunately, the current IEEE leadership has interpreted electioneering rules in a manner that restricts opponents. For this reason, we are reaching out to you, and asking for your help with propagating this message.

The risks associated with the proposed amendment and restructuring include the following:

a) The amendment gives the IEEE Board of Directors (BoD) the power to re-organize and restructure IEEE without the need to seek member approval. IEEE is a bottom-up, member-run organization. The amendment could turn IEEE into a top-down organization, run by a small, less diverse Board of Directors (BoD) with limited input from members. Membership can be bypassed, and the BoD alone will be able to make changes to the structure of IEEE.

b) Required technical and geographic representation will be removed from the Board of Directors. Today, members are represented by their technical societies and their geographic sections, which have a strong voice in the decision making process within IEEE. Society members elect division directors, and section members elect regional directors to serve on the IEEE BoD. The new structure could eliminate this representation, and greatly reduce the input of the societies and sections in the decision-making process.

c) The BoD could be controlled by special interest groups. If the amendment is ratified, each director could be elected by the entire IEEE membership. This raises some serious issues. Societies and sections with a smaller number of members may see their level of representation diluted or eliminated. Many members may not be familiar with the candidates, nor the candidates familiar with them, and their needs.

The “diversity” conditions that the BoD will be using to approve candidates to serve as directors in the BoD are not defined. Candidates’ qualifications may be set by the BoD each time there is an election. It is not difficult to envision situations where these qualifications can be manipulated to promote or discourage candidacies, depending on current BoD composition.

d) The visibility and influence by IEEE societies and sections on key strategic decisions made by the BoD will be reduced. At present, 75-80% of IEEE’s income is generated by societies and sections. The greatly diminished ability of these units to control their destiny will adversely affect the drive and morale of volunteers at all levels: chapters, sections and societies. Volunteer devotion is a strength of IEEE and should be encouraged, not discouraged.

In contrast, the role of the staff executive director (ED) will be significantly strengthened. In addition to sitting on the BoD, the ED will be a voting member of a proposed new board that will oversee the budgets of technical and regional activities. It is not appropriate to increase executive staff influence and at the same time reduce volunteer influence in a volunteer-based organization.

e) The possible benefits of the amendment do not outweigh its risks. It is uncertain how IEEE would be restructured if the amendment is approved. It is premature to vote for something for which the underlying details are still uncertain. The new bylaws are to be written and decided later by the BoD, and will not require member vote.

In summary, IEEE today is a highly successful $450M non-profit corporation that provides unparalleled technical leadership. The efforts of our VOLUNTEER leaders in the technical societies, regions, sections, and chapters are responsible for that success. Most of IEEE’s revenues are generated by the volunteers’ collective work, especially with publications and conferences. If we diminish the voices of volunteers in managing IEEE, we risk discouraging them and losing their support.

We urge you to do your own research and reach your own conclusion about the proposed amendment. It is very important that you vote in this critically important juncture for IEEE.

Additional reasons for opposing the constitutional amendment and proposed restructuring may be found here: https://ieee2016blog.wordpress.com

For background, the IEEE governing documents, including the Constitution and Bylaws, can be found here: http://www.ieee.org/about/corporate/governance/index.html

The proposed changes to the Constitution can be found here:
https://www.ieee.org/about/corporate/election/2016_constitutional_amendment.html

In addition, the IEEEin2030 Ad Hoc Committee is proposing changes to the IEEE's organizational structure stemming from the amendment. The details may be seen here: https://www.ieee.org/about/corporate/ieeein2030_archive_m.html

The Technical Activities Board formed a TABin2030 Committee to consider the amendment’s
implications. Additional materials to pro and con and the TABin2030 webinars and analyses are here: http://ta.ieee.org/strategic-planning/tab-in-2030. You may need to log in with your IEEE Account to access.

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