Thursday, 2 August 2012

New ISBS constitution and board: About a backroom deal

The International Society for Biosemiotic Studies (ISBS) has now uploaded its new constitution and a brief report from its first ever General Meeting, held in Tartu, Estonia, on July 20th. Since I played a role with regard to both the new statutes and at the General Meeting, here's a brief report from my side.

A draft of the constitution (the old board's proposal) was distributed on July 18th, the day after the 12th gathering in biosemiotics started. It had several flaws. I wrote to Jesper Hoffmeyer, the president of the ISBS, and Kalevi Kull of Tartu, about my concerns, and also talked with Sara Cannizzaro, who acted as the ISBS' Vice-president after Don Favareau stepped down. We agreed that Jesper, Sara and I should meet informally to see whether we could sort things out ahead of the General Meeting, and so we did, on the afternoon of July 18th (at Leigo farmstead). After half an hour's talk we agreed that Jesper would go through my concerns point by point and see what he could change.

On the morning of the day after, on the 19th, I received a revised draft where only one or none substantial change had been made. I then replied that I would raise my concerns at the General Meeting after all. Later that afternoon Kalevi, my former supervisor, came over during dinner to negotiate. Practically all my suggestions had now been incorporated into the board's constitution draft, and I gladly approved of it. The changes made due to this included (in addition to making a few points clearer or more accurate):
 - that the board's annual report is to be presented to members, not just the board itself - at an annual General Meeting (and indeed that annual General Meetings will be held)
 - that a rule stipulating that members at elections "will give a vite 'for' or 'against' each candidate" was dropped (a rule I feared would trigger conflict) in favour of the more common positive/blank voting
 - that the constitution may only be changed at General Meetings, not by the board

I am happy I thus contributed to making the ISBS a little more democratic and transparent. But as the decision-making process described above illustrates, this learned society still has some way to go in terms of being inclusive (there were complaints at the General Meeting about the board's attempts to avoid discussion, and the decision that no substantial changes to the constitution could be proposed at the General Meeting).

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