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Is the ESA Proposed Bylaws Change a Good Idea?

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In September 2021, ESA members will be asked to vote on a proposed Bylaws amendment, which would add a dedicated Early Career Professional seat to the ESA Governing Board in addition to the existing officers, Branch and Section representatives, and student representative. An emeritus professor of entomology and past board member of ESA questions the wisdom of this proposed amendment to the Society’s Bylaws. (Photo via Flickr/Complete Interior DesignCC BY 2.0)

By Marvin Harris, Ph.D., BCE-Emeritus

Editor’s Note: In September, ESA members will be asked to vote on a proposed Bylaws amendment. In an Entomology Today post on July 19, 2021, on behalf of the ESA Early Career Professionals (ECP) Committee, Carly Tribull, Ph.D., laid out arguments in favor of the proposal, which would add a dedicated ECP seat to the ESA Governing Board in addition to the existing officers, Branch and Section representatives, and student representative. To provide equal space for those who oppose the proposal, ESA is publishing the following counterargument. Readers should note that the ESA Governing Board supports adoption of the Bylaws amendment. As such, the views expressed below are those of the author and not necessarily of ESA.

Marvin Harris, Ph.D., BCE-Emeritus

Marvin Harris, Ph.D., BCE-Emeritus

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) consists of roughly 7,000 members, and every one of us form this Society. Collectively, the authority and the power to govern ESA is ours. The normal business of ESA is conducted by fine leaders we elect.

Some matters, however, can only be decided by ESA members.

ESA governance adheres to Bylaws. These define how ESA is to conduct the official business of the Society. The approval of Bylaws changes is reserved for all ESA members to decide (see Articles XI and XII), and is business every member has the responsibility to participate in.

A proposal to change ESA Bylaws, to create a special seat on the ESA Governing Board (GB) for an Early Career Professional (ECP) elected by ECPs, has been put forward.

The ESA electorate, all 7,000 of us, will decide whether this is a good idea for ECPs in particular and for ESA as a whole.

The ability to cast an informed vote is benefitted by having access to relevant information that each voter can use to aid them in making reasoned judgments on this important issue. The references and views provided here reflect my opinion based on reviewing relevant information, discussion with colleagues, and my lived experience. My intent is to aid ESA (i.e., us) to be the best society we can be and to inform others as they make their own reasoned judgments.

ESA ECP members are the bedrock of our discipline and the future of ESA. My personal career of 50-plus years in ESA—including experience as an ESA ECP and in mentoring more than 50 postgraduate entomologists in transitioning from being a student to becoming established in their careers—has provided me some insights.

The first five years after a terminal degree are arguably the most challenging an entomologist will face in determining their future opportunities to succeed. Student life was demanding and structured. This included students of mine, often publishing a paper or two, many of which I junior authored, and for whom I aided in seeking positions. Kickstarting a career from a cold stop to reconcile a sound education with the new relatively unstructured position requirements of an employer takes some reimagining of oneself and typically some retooling to accomplish. That, along with usually having to adjust to new surroundings and to carve out a new normal to enjoy life with family, friends, and others in addition to career demands, leaves limited time to volunteer to help others.

ESA ECP members are crucially important to ESA. All ESA members have participated in creating special dues, leadership, and award opportunities for ECP members to benefit from, and more may be added in the future. Part of the question at hand is whether approving the proposal to create an exclusive seat on the GB is really a good idea for the ESA ECP person they elect or that electorate.

The GB is where virtually all official business of the ESA begins, is conducted, and is ultimately settled. The current calendar includes monthly activities, three quarterly meetings, and a meeting almost always in conjunction with the ESA Annual Meeting. With all due respect to my ESA ECP colleagues in ESA, much of this huge bolus of official business has limited bearing on ECP issues that affect their abilities to excel in their nascent careers. The budget, which all GB members have an individual fiduciary responsibility to carry out, is especially time consuming to understand and cast informed votes on. Solvency of ESA should be job one for the GB, but serious lapses have occurred in the past when attention wandered.

Some may note that the GB includes an internal Executive Committee that the GB delegates some of its work to. This does not absolve any GB member from “owning” such work; the GB, not the Executive Committee, has the authority, power, and responsibility to govern ESA on behalf of all members. The ESA membership expects every GB member to cast informed votes on every issue.

I do not doubt that, given that responsibility, the ECP seat holder would devote as much time as possible to do exactly that. My well-intended advice is that this is not yet a hill to expend your best efforts on while still in the building phase of funding programs, training students and employees, assembling research teams, teaching, and other activities assigned by the employer.

My nine-year service on the ESA GB occurred much later than my ECP stage. I was glad my mentors universally advised against grabbing that ESA GB cat by the tail any earlier than I did, because the official business of ESA from the inside is a lot more time consuming and a lot less exciting than it appears from the outside. The GB work is essential to ESA. Yet, this volunteer job is temporal quicksand. My employer, even at the later stage of my career when I served, would take quick note of my one-line volunteer service on the ESA GB each year during my annual review and still ask: “Now what have you done for our mission?”

ESA can and should do a lot for our ECP members. As just one ESA member, I believe there are things we should not do to ESA ECP members, nor would I advise them to do it to themselves in this case. Getting each career up to warp speed takes time.

Your time is precious. The rewards are few per day spent in the GB yoke. Love for the ESA mission and time torn from other activities means less will get done in other areas of professional and private life. I believe each ECP loves the ESA mission every bit as much as I do. My reservation regards whether it is best to expend passion and energy at this point on doing science and engaging with others about that science, or on devoting large amounts of time volunteering on the GB to aid ESA HQ and all 7,000 ESA members to administer the process.

Our 2021 ESA GB averages 21 years (ranging 12-40) since receiving their terminal degrees. ECPs could be represented there, had any been elected to one of the 12 offices available. The ESA electorate by design or default chose more senior members to represent the interests of our 7,000 ESA members. Those GB members also had significant ESA service before being elected to the GB. All GB members were once ESA ECP members.

Dr. Carly Tribull, current chair of the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee (ECPC), has made a case for the meritorious work the ESA ECP are doing in ESA and why the ECPC supports this proposal for a Bylaws change. Note that the ECPC directly communicates with the GB regarding ECP perspectives on ECP issues and is a direct link to the GB at present.

If anyone is unfamiliar with ECPs and the breadth and depth of their work in ESA, Dr. Tribull’s synopsis reconfirms my view and will better inform yours of their importance to ESA and the future of entomology. The ECPs’ ability to grow and develop in their careers are important to all ESA members.

My views differ with whether the situation that, as Dr. Tribull writes, “ECP members struggle to gain elected positions in the Society and often lose races to more senior members” justifies creating a special seat exclusively for the ECP electorate.

All members of the ESA have approved ESA ECP members being assessed lower dues and other benefits. A special designation by ESA of the ECP sub-group clarifies who we agree deserves these special benefits. Each ECP remains my equal and the equal of every other ordinary member of the ESA with regard to ESA governance. We have the same privileges available in voting and in standing for office.

Service on the GB is not a litmus test I accept as to whether my colleagues are outstanding, meritorious members of ESA.

All ESA members presently have the right to vote for a GB member to represent them as Vice President-Elect, Treasurer, their Branch representative, and their Section representative. Each ESA member has an equal opportunity to vote in at least 4 of these 12 elections as well as to hold any of these offices if elected.

Creating another special GB seat exclusively reserved for one ESA sub-group electorate to vote for and hold extends exclusivity for some and denies inclusivity to others.

Given the commitment ESA has widely and repeatedly expressed to, and on behalf of, the ESA membership and to the public at large that inclusivity is on the tip of our spear defining who we are—a sentiment I agree with—I would find creating a second, exclusive GB seat for an ESA sub-group to be incompatible with our values as well as our Bylaws simply based on principle.

Thus, I do not find this well-intentioned proposal one I’m inclined to support in its present form.

Marvin Harris, Ph.D., BCE-Emeritus, is an emeritus professor of entomology at Texas A&M University, an Honorary Member of ESA, and a past member of the ESA Governing Board. Email: m-harris@tamu.edu.

1 Comment »

  1. Dr. Harris has a very valid point. I know my own readings and involvement has increased 3 fold in the last 5 years as my job duties turn much more to education and not sales. As each of us votes for members of the GB we can look at time in industry and current job duties, considering whether they represent us. Holding a seat exclusively for an ECP, although well intentioned may not be the best idea for the GB and for the induividual involved. Just my thoughts — Thank You Dr. Harris

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