Sunday, May 13, 2012

AIA Bylaws Amendment 12-A

The AIA 2012 National Convention and Design Exposition takes place this week, May 17-19, in Washington, D.C. Most architects associate the annual convention with keynote presentations, vendor displays, educational sessions, and other activities of interest to or for the advancement of the profession. However, those attendees who are voting delegates are also aware of the convention’s essential purpose as the forum for deliberation of the Institute’s common issues. 

The Bylaws of the American Institute of Architects are routinely amended at the National Convention. In many instances, these changes are voted upon and passed with little discussion or fanfare. Invariably, though, there are proposed amendments which are controversial or divisive. These elicit spirited debate from the floor. They seldom survive without amendment themselves before final action. 

One such proposed modification is AIA Bylaws Amendment 12-A. If passed on Saturday at the Annual Business Meeting, Amendment 12-A would redefine the eligibility requirements for Emeritus membership. 

Under the current Bylaws, Architect members are eligible for Emeritus membership if they have been members in good standing for 15 successive years and are at least 65 years old. Thus, Architect members who have attained the age of 65 are eligible for Emeritus membership even if they have not retired from the profession of architecture. 

The Institute currently extends the same privileges, rights, and interests to Emeritus members as it does to all Architect or Associate members except that Members Emeritus are not required to pay regular or supplemental dues. They are also not required to maintain the right under law to practice and use the title Architect; however, forfeiture of that legal status is not at present a prerequisite to Emeritus status. 

Under the amended Bylaws, conditions for Emeritus membership would dramatically change: members would be eligible only if they are at least 70 years old and retired from the profession of architecture. In other words, if Amendment 12-A is passed, the Institute would only extend Emeritus privileges to members who are no longer practicing architects.(1) 

The Institute’s Board is forwarding this proposal to the Convention floor. It offers the following reasons for believing the amendment is necessary: 

Continuity: As life expectancy has increased, so has the period of active professional life—the change reflects those demographic patterns.

Consistency: The Bylaws amendment aligns Emeritus status with the requirements of many licensing boards by making retirement from professional practice a key criterion.

Fairness: Those whose livelihoods are derived from active professional practice benefit from Institute programs. They should continue to contribute to the AIA’s ability to provide those programs for as long as they benefit. 

The irony of the bestowing AIA Emeritus membership only upon those who have left the profession and are willing to forsake their legal stature as architects was not lost upon two of AIA Southwestern Oregon’s more seasoned and decorated members: Dick Bryant, AIA and Otto Poticha, FAIA. 

Under the current Bylaws, Dick will be eligible for Emeritus membership this September when he turns 65. As a member of the AIA-Southwestern Oregon board, he has been vocal in his opposition to the proposed amendment. The following is an excerpt from a recent message he posted online to the AIA KnowledgeNet Housing Knowledge Community Digest

“National and the big chapters are in an absolute panic because of the economy-driven loss of members and a decline in the number of new recruits. Rather than creating a sustainable financial structure for the organization, the Board became blinded by the go-go economy and the mistaken belief that AIA income and membership roles would continue to increase on an always-up line on the graph. Because of that flawed attitude and image of the future, AIA National plowed ahead and managed to tear the hull open just below the waterline. 

Instead of taking major steps to cut the operating expenses, the Board has made the decision to cut revenue loss by nibbling around the edges. One of the edges that the Board has unwisely decided to attack in their search for revenue is the bylaw related to Emeritus Membership status. 

I believe the Board has made a serious miscalculation in their decision to alter the Emeritus Membership bylaw. They seem to be of the belief that longtime members of the AIA, who would have been eligible for Emeritus membership classification under the current rules, will simply roll over quietly and continue to pay membership dues. The Board seems to have forgotten that folks of my generation are the ones who managed to change the AIA from the bottom up and to do away with the elite old-guard approach that mandated from the top down. We still do act on our convictions. 

Should the proposed Bylaws change be approved by the membership the effect will be that AIA will lose not only my future dues but also the volunteer services of a longtime member and promoter of the AIA.” 

Fundamentally, he regards Amendment 12-A as symptomatic of a sclerotic organization that has lost its way. In a desperate and shortsighted attempt to prop up its fiscal health, Dick believes the AIA is willing to alienate some of its longest-tenured members rather than address its structural problems. 

In his inimitable way, Otto likewise expressed incredulity at what he believes to be is faulty logic employed by the Institute in crafting its proposed amendment: 

“This is not a way to offer some reward or respect for those members that have given at least 40 years of resources, time and energy to the Institute. This will encourage these members to resign from the Institute and tell the board where to put their eagle . . . 

Why is the AIA dealing with State licensing matters? Having Emeritus standing with the AIA would [if the amendment passed] limit one using their seal on documents—stupid and really stupid. If an architect wants to keep paying for their state license that's all it takes to practice. Architects seldom really retire and will still do some work, maybe their most significant work. This is like the artist or musician not working or playing anymore. . . Using the title of architect is more relevant than [using the acronym] AIA . . . and we all know that. My hope is those in the Emeritus category should be encouraged, not penalized. They might have more time to offer to the profession and the institute.” 

Otto will travel to Washington to voice his opinion on the convention floor and at all of the regional meetings. If the measure is approved, he vows to resign his membership and encourage other members affected by the change to do the same. 

AIA-SWO’s own Bill Seider, a member of the Institute Board and one of our AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Directors, offered a response to Dick and Otto: 

“. . . these Bylaw Amendments and other new and ongoing AIA programs are not the result of one single person, the executive committee, a group of the Board, staff or members. These things are talked about for months (and sometimes years) in advance of the general membership seeing them for a vote. They are the result of committees and task forces, meetings and conference calls. We have been discussing them at the regional meetings and on our phone calls for some time now. In the end it is going to come down to each chapter analyzing how these bylaws affect their own membership and then voting accordingly. These are important changes being proposed and that is why we are getting to vote on this, and it is not just being passed down as a Board Policy. 

I also want to report to you all that today I saw copies of a few e-mails from other chapters indicating that they have had similar concerns that our region/chapter has brought up, and that there will likely be amendments from the floor presented by at least one group on the Emeritus issue. That one will likely move to strike the issue of practice from the language and just set the age back to 70.”  

If changing the age requirement from 65 to 70 remains the only aspect of the proposal that is preserved, Bylaw Amendment 12-A may become palatable to a majority of the delegates. Regardless, Dick and the other members of our AIA-Southwestern Oregon Board of Directors recently voted to not support both of the bylaws amendments that are on the current ballot.(2) 

To learn more about Bylaws Amendment 12-A click this link: 

Come to your own conclusion. Dick and Otto have arrived at theirs. 

“Design Connects” is the theme of the 2012 National Convention but it may instead be remembered years from now as a watershed moment for the Institute. Change happens but I seriously question the AIA leadership’s judgment in bringing this particular amendment to the floor. Changing the eligibility rules as proposed for Emeritus membership would diminish the AIA rather than unite its constituents toward a common purpose.  

(1)  The Institute issued a response to questions regarding eligibility requirements for Emeritus membership. It clarified that Architect members would not be required to surrender their licenses or their seals in order to become Emeritus members. However, upon attaining Emeritus membership they would be restricted from affixing their seal to a document indicating that it may be used for regulatory approval, permitting, or construction.

(2)  The other Bylaws amendment proposed by the Institute is 12-B, which would amend the Institute’s Bylaws to authorize the formation of a new International Region. The International Region would cover all geographic areas outside the United States and its territories and possessions. The problem with the prospect of a new International Region is that the Northwest & Pacific Region’s longstanding relationship with AIA Guam, AIA Hong Kong, and AIA Japan would be radically altered and jeopardized. Rather than strengthen the unique and well-established ties between these chapters and the other U.S. based chapters in the Northwest & Pacific Region, this amendment would toss their lot in with far-flung chapters in Europe and elsewhere.

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