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25 November 2010

CSI membership - one more time

Last year, our annual election ballot included a proposed bylaws amendment that would have combined the professional, industry, and associate membership classifications into a single group. Although the amendment received over sixty percent of the votes, it fell short of the required two-thirds majority required to pass. The Los Angeles chapter brought the issue before the members at the annual meeting in Philadelphia, where eighty percent of the members voted in favor of again putting membership reclassification before the members, as an amendment proposal on the 2011 ballot.

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?
The bottom line is that industry members remain second-class members. The favoritism is subtle, and most members probably are not aware that it exists. While preferential treatment may have made sense sixty years ago, CSI has changed since then, and it no longer has a place in our organization. It must be especially galling to the many industry members we continually call on to finance all of our activities.

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.


  1. Very thought provoking. I have not seen "Industry Member" as a pejorative, as I believe them to be equally honorable. I can see value in a chapter having both "industry Directors" and "Professional Directors" to make sure a balance is maintained. Afterall, one of the things that distinguishes CSI from other industry associations is that we do welcome all facets of the industry. Will we be happy if ten years from now CSI is dominated by sales reps using the institute primarily as a sales platform? Would that drive designers and specifiers looking for support for their needs into the arms of SCIP or other organizations?

    On the other hand, the distinction continues to blur, as sales reps, contractors, and manufacturers are increasing asked to be part of the design table, and designers are part of integrated project teams.

    Regarding use of the term "professional", we have to consider contractors to be professional as they are also licensed.

    In my business as a marketing consultant to building product manufacturers (, I continue my membership as a Professional as I am a licensed architect. Yet day by day I am focused on helping my clients sell products.

    At the end of the day, this is an emotional decision. Does one FEEL comfortable with the traditional way, or FEEL a need for egalitarianism?

  2. I agree that it's an emotional decision and I find myself strongly in favor of CSI changing to a single class of membership.

    I don't think we really have to worry about CSI being dominated by sales reps, thus driving architects, engineers, and spec writers into the arms of some other organization. (What we really have to focus on is what BIM is going to do to redefine Spec Writer and AE roles and workflows, in my opinion.)

    Back to the single classification: I've been a CSI member since 1973 and I've seen at least as much "professionalism" from industry members as from professional members. Professionalism in the sense of cheerful volunteer work, genuine concern about making the built environment better, candor, conscientiousness, and product and construction knowledge, that is.

  3. Many words have multiple meanings - "professional" is one those. It can refer to a characterization of how you interact with others or the type of work you do. As used for CSI membership classification, it is obviosuly the later meaning. Some industry members take offense to the classification interpreting it to have the former meaning. If this is a problem, why not change the word so the meaning is clear?

    Yes the organization started out as a group of specifiers who looked upon industry members as second-class citizens to support them. As Sheldon comments, this changed over the years to have both membership classifications have equal rights. It looks like there are a couple of bylaw items that still need to be cleaned up. Why not just clean then up?

    Sheldon's comments do not comment on an important function of the membership classifications - ensuring that the various elements of the industry have representation on our governing bodies. This is the essence of CSI - representatives of the various elements of the industy are able to to sit down together around the same table and try to come up with solutions to industry-wide issues and problems (something that our congress has lost the ability to accomplish). To do this we have to have make sure that the board will have representation of the various elements of the industry. Membership classification is the current tool used to accomplish this. In my opinion, that is the only reason to keep the membership classifications. I have no problem with doing away with the membership classifications if another tool to accomplish this is created. Keeping this representation should not be allowed to rest on the whim of nominating committees of the future who may or may not understand the importance of keeping a proper representation in light of current issues or personalities. It must be maintained as requirement not to be violated. If the membership classifications are eliminated, what is the now tool to maintain proper representation?

    PS I have been both professional and industry member during my over 40 years a CSI member. I have not been treated any differently by anyone in CSI based on my membership classification.

  4. Michael, you are correct when you say, "Regarding use of the term "professional", we have to consider contractors to be professional as they are also licensed." Similarly, students at vo-tech schools and those in apprentice programs would have the same status, as Emerging Professional members.

    Bob, I agree that representation of member groups is important, and that will be addressed, though not quite in the way you would prefer. One of the next posts will address this issue.

  5. With a change to a single CSI membership classification, why keep using the term professional?

    What is the meaning of the word "professional" in the proposed new single CSI member classification?

    Is it referring to the type of work one does? If that is the meaning, then many people are going to be confused by the label. Per you comment about asking a random group of people what is meant, most people would not include constructors or product representatives in that category. The use of the word will be confusing to many potential and new members.

    Is it now referring to a characterization about the manner in which one interacts with others in the industry? The member is professional in the way he/she goes about their business and in the way he/she treats others. Why put such a characterization in single member classification label?

    Is "professionalism" a requirement for membership? If a person has acted unprofessionally in the past, are they restricted from membership? Who determines who is professional and who is not?

    If we are going to describe CSI members as professional, why do we ignore other postive attributes? Why not make it Professional, Intelligent, and Considerate Members. If we are going to label ourselves with postivie attributes, why restrict it to one?

    Including the word professional appears to be a hangover from the discussion of some members with a hangup about some members being labeled professional others not - now everyone is labeled as being professional. If we are going to have one membership classification, why aren't we all just members?

  6. You're right, there is an element of political correctness, but we felt some modifier was necessary; without it, how do you answer the question, "How many members are in your chapter?" Response: "Do you mean student members, intermediate members, professional members, industry members, etc., or the sum of all of them?"

    I don't buy the argument that people will be confused by the use of professional, any more than I bought the argument that members were confused about the difference between professional, industry, and associate. Apparently, I give them more credit than do you or others.

    Full member and voting member also were discussed, but we settled on professional, as it gives a nice transition from student to emerging professional to professional. What are you when you're done emerging? If, at some point, all distinctions between student, intermediate, and full voting member are removed, that would be a good time to refer simply to members.

    Methinks you occasionally like to have fun, so I'll ask you a few questions about issues that I'm sure others find confusing.

    Why "construction" in Construction Specifications Institute? Isn't demolition also included? And is remodeling or refinishing the same as construction?

    Why "specifications"? That's been going on enough that I need go no further.

    Why "institute"? Why not organization, or brotherhood?

    MasterFormat may be the epitome of confusion. Why does it have so cotton-picking many exceptions? What is the difference between resinous, epoxy, liquid-applied, fluid-applied, marble chip, epoxy-resin, and quartz flooring? Why are some finish materials in one division and some in others? I seem to recall a member who was involved in many of these decisions... ;-)

    Why do MasterFormat numbers have those irritating blank spaces between pairs of digits? Why are the titles so obtuse?

    Why, on your website and the Institute website, do mailing addresses not comply with post office standards?

    We could have a lot of fun with this, but in the end, at some point you have to make a decision and move on. We believe the proposal will work.

  7. So I you are saying when someone asks how many members in your chapter they won't have the same question - all members or just professional members? I don't buy that argument.

    It's a nice transition from "emerging professional." So a tag that I believe was created by a young group of members now determines membership labels for others. Don't buy that one either.

    Sorry I am not ready to react to the "change the subject tactic." The subject is the change in mmbership classifications.

    When are you going to discuss the important issue of retention of membership diversity on the Institute Board?

  8. You're right, of course, except that the qualifier makes the question a little easier to ask. With a qualifier, simply members means all members, while without a qualifier, you would have to supply one, e.g., voting members, or full members, or professional members. If you're going to use a qualifier, why not make it part of the name?

    Taking several things into consideration, the student to emerging professional to professional sequence makes sense.

    The intent was not to change the subject, but to show that, as stated, at some point you make a decision and move on. Decisions made in choosing a name, in changes to MasterFormat, in the way you choose to follow or not follow standards, are all subject to the same criticism, and all are defended in the same way.

    I have asked the same questions, and have accepted the same response. You can debate things forever, and never make a decision, or you can evaluate the input, consider options, and make a decision. You can please some of the people...

    The response to your last question was posted today. I know we're going to disagree on this, too, even though I agree with you that our recent representation of our two largest groups has been good for the Institute. However, I also believe in our recent governance changes, and I am confident the Institute Nominating Committee will do its job and maintain representation of not only our largest member groups, but of as many perspectives as is possible with a Board of eighteen.

  9. But the decision has not been made yet - only the Task Team and Board have made a decision to put up a proposal for a membership vote to make a decision.

    What needs to happen now is a good membership wide discussion of the issues related to the proposal before the vote so that the membership is well informed to make a good decision.