Readers of this column may recall that last year I questioned the need for changing to a single class of voting members. I still feel the same as I did then about some of the issues, but in the last couple of months I learned a few things that led me to the conclusion that the time for a single class of voting members is long overdue.
When the suggestion to change to a single group of voting members was made a year ago, one of the most common complaints was that some members or potential members were or might be offended by the use of the word "professional", believing it could be seen as a reference to the manner in which members acted, or as a suggestion that some members are better than others.
This was somewhat surprising to me, as we work in an industry that relies on the correct use and interpretation of definitions. If you were to ask random people to name a few professions, it's likely they would say doctor, dentist, attorney, teacher, and perhaps architect or engineer. These are occupations that commonly are referred to as professions; they have in common a requirement for several years of formal education, and, usually, government control of the practice. It is highly unlikely that the same question would elicit contractor, mason, or salesperson as a response.
One of the examples given in support of that argument was that teachers or professors felt slighted because, as just noted, they generally are considered professionals. But, just as anyone can behave in a professional manner, so, too, can anyone profess to know a great deal about any given subject - and those same professors would probably object to a master mason claiming to be a professor. Given the derivation of the term professional, and the clear way in which it is used, I don't accept the political correctness argument that we should change the name simply to avoid the possibility that someone might be offended.
A bit of background
So what changed my mind? What led me to decide that it's worth changing to a single class of voting members?
At first glance, it might appear that all voting members (associate, industry, and professional) have equal status; all are allowed to vote, and all are allowed to hold any office. There are, however, a few bylaws requirements that remain from our distant past, when CSI was, in essence, an organization of design professionals.
Since I became a member in 1987, I have accepted as fact that all voting members are equal, and, as we often do, I imagined that was the way it's been, if not forever, at least for a long time. And why not? As long as I can remember, CSI has claimed everyone in the construction industry - "Architects, specifiers, contractors, engineers, building owners, facility managers, attorneys, academics, product suppliers, construction software vendors…" - as potential members. Unlike AIA, AGC, and many other organizations, full rights and privileges are not limited to one type of member. Well, almost.
In the beginning, there were only specifiers. In 1948, CSI was formed as an organization for architects and engineers; in other words, for members of the design professions. The bylaws allowed others to join, but those who were not professional members could not vote or hold office. Over the years, as membership grew, the number of members who were not architects or engineers increased. Along the way, the names of member groups changed, so for convenience I'll use the ones we have today, - associate, industry, and professional - and I'll include associate members with industry members. A few of the dates that follow are best guesses based on available information, but most are correct, and at worst a couple are within a year or two.
As the number of industry members grew, so did their influence, and so did their desire for full participation in CSI. Old bylaws not only limited the rights of industry members, but treated them as second-class citizens. If a professional member changed jobs, and no longer qualified for professional membership, the change to industry member was immediate. In contrast, an industry member who changed jobs and became eligible for professional membership had to wait for approval from the Institute Board.*
The DC Metropolitan Chapter's history speaks about their 1959 Winter Holiday Program, which was called "Associates Night". The remarkable thing was that nine industry members were allowed ten minutes each to present their products to the professional members - something that was not permitted at chapter meetings. (But I'll bet they were allowed to pay the bar tab!)
It wasn't until 1963 that industry members were represented on the Institute Board, and then only as directors. The first time an industry member was allowed to serve as an Institute officer was 1964, and then only as treasurer. Industry members were allowed to vote, but only for industry directors.
At some time in the 1960s, industry members were allowed to serve on chapter boards, but they could not serve as chapter president. In 1966, industry members became eligible for Fellowship. In the first year they were eligible, five of the eleven Fellows were industry members. Not a bad showing for second-class citizens!
In 1975, nearly thirty years after CSI was formed, Industry members were given the right to vote, and the office of Industry Vice President was added to the Institute Board. Industry members were at last allowed to serve as chapter presidents - but only after review and acceptance by two-thirds of the chapter's board of directors. You just can't trust a salesman!
In 1986, industry members were made eligible to serve as Institute president, and in 1989, Steve Blumenthal became our first industry president.
Last year wasn't the first time that an attempt was made to grant industry members full rights; the records I have indicate that changing to a single member category - thereby giving industry members complete equality with professional members - was considered in 1974 and 2002, and other information suggested that it also may have been considered in other years.**
We're not done yet!
What we have, then, is a long, slow, and painful journey, gradually removing obstacles to industry participation at various levels of the organization. Even though industry members now are allowed full participation, our bylaws continue to imply that some voting members are better than others.
- To charter a chapter, fifteen members are required, twelve of whom must be professional members, and to maintain a chapter, it must have at least eight professional members. I suspect a chapter that had no professional members might not be as effective as one with similar numbers of industry and professional members, but if they can make it work, why would we stop them?
- To have a quorum at the annual meeting, a majority of the members present must be professional members. If we have 300 industry members at an annual meeting, and only 299 professional members, does that really mean that we don't have enough qualified people to do business?
We have been talking about member equality for more than forty years; it's time to make it reality. Separate but not quite equal just doesn't work. When you get your ballot in February, vote in favor of equality.
*In the first post of this article, I cited the requirement that an industry member needed two professional members as sponsors. While this was true, the same requirement applied to professional members.
**Also in the first post, I indicated membership classification was an issue in 1983. It was, but the issue that year was the addition of the current associate membership category.