Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tyranny at Idaho State University?!

How much power should a president have?

If a president thinks there need to be reforms, but the faculty stand in his way, who is in the right? What should happen?

If you hadn't guessed, I'm not talking about national office here. I'm talking about the peculiar politics of American universities. In particular, a university in my home state of Idaho, ISU.

Idaho State University is a pretty big (15,500 students) public university centered in Pocatello, ID. And from that strange corner of the state, a far-reaching controversy brews:

The president, Mr. Arthur Valias, seems to be less than popular. I base this on the various articles that I've read about the controversy (this one is the best) as well as the stated opinion of the handful of people I know that attend the university.

This is also based on a recent no-confidence resolution passed by some 75% of the voting faculty in the ISU Faculty Senate (as well as a 55% vote of no confidence among all faculty at the university).

That is a big deal. Politics or no, you don't see 75% of a 30 member faculty senate representing all campuses, departments and levels vote no confidence because they're the problem. At that point, I think you begin to suspect the person in whom no one has confidence as being the problem.

Not the Idaho State Board of Education! At a meeting where the problems between the senate and the president were discussed (these are issues the faculty has with sweeping governance reform that the president is trying to enact), they discovered that an impasse existed between the faculty and the president, and that neither side was going to budge enough for compromise to be possible.

So it decided to suspend the Faculty Senate. And by "decided," I mean that Valias told them they should suspend the Senate because the faculty were being obstructive in matters beyond their purview.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (linked above) notes that this is an apparently unprecedented move in national higher education.

The next step? Valias apparently now gets to convene a new advisory committee of his own, consisting of faculty that were not in the senate. According to the SBOE, it remains to be "worked out whether, and to what degree" current members of the Faculty Senate will be allowed to participate in the new Senate, which will be designed by Valias and proposed to the SBOE in April (or eventually; they don't seem too concerned). To be fair, there are many other standing committees of faculty that will continue to function in the capacities they always have, so the faculty will continue to have a voice, supposedly.

This may seem all very one-sided to you, because it is. I've had a spectacularly hard time finding anything that paints Valias in anything close to a positive light. And it's no wonder, because all of his comments seem to indicate that he thinks the faculty should have a purely advisory role, and should have no actual power in determining anything about the school at all, even when the topic of discussion is organization of faculty governance roles (which is a part of Valias' reorganization plan).

I've read blog posts that compare Valias to Charles I, which may be extreme, but doesn't seem totally inappropriate. How on earth can this administration continue to function? Whether or not the reform passes or is abandoned, how will Valias continue to administrate a school where the majority of the faculty think he is terrible? How can he ask faculty to just forget the insult of having their democratic body summarily dismissed?

Really, I think the only good ending for this whole debacle is an ending where Valias isn't president anymore. Regardless of whether the reform is just or unjust, you simply cannot do that to your faculty and expect things to go well from there.

This would be like if an ED of a non-profit had a staff advisory committee that disagreed with a new, sweeping re-org, and in response the ED convinced the Board to not allow that staff board to convene again, and authorize a new board designed by the ED. In fact, that is what is happening now, because state schools are tax-exempt entities. Does this seem like a good way to run things to anyone, at all?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Should there be fewer non-profits?

I've been perusing lately (that's a lie, I've never NOT perused that site, this is not a new development), and seeing the huge huge HUGE number and range of non-profits has got me thinking: does it really serve the good to have 15 organizations all dedicated to breast cancer research?

The organization I work for now used to be part of another, very large organization that does many of the same things. The goals of both groups are really the same, but the methods are quite different. One seeks to be uber-professional, the other is more counter-culture. As a result, one appears to have more success at the policy level, but the other is definitely more well-known and popular.

But ultimately, are these differences organizational differences, or people differences? The two groups I referenced above used to be one organization, but mine split off due to artistic differences. But was it a genuine belief that one model would be hands-down better than the other? Or was it a group of people who discovered that they all had differing ideas of where the group they'd founded together was going? And the important question that arises from that: could they have done both? Is it possible that a group can save resources and resist competing by working together and remaining as one, while still having two distinct methods of operation?

I can understand why this difference arose with my particular segment: drug policy. But breast cancer? Is there a rift between "For the Cure" and "Save the Tatas?" I can't help but think that these rifts are more significant to the people who head up these organizations than their constituents. With good reason, because you expect your Executive Director to be on top of that, to take into account how wording that letter differently will have a different effect, or determining whether a logo is professional enough or cool enough.

But do non-profits with the same goals really need to be competing for the same donors? Should a philanthropist really need to select from 15 non-profits that all want to end breast cancer? No, I don't think so. I really feel that a lot of these cases are simply Founder's Syndrome, because everyone wants to be an ED but no one wants to be a middle manager. And sometimes, its simply a matter of one person being unable to take orders from someone else, one person who is incapable of subverting their own ideas about how things should run.

But, as there always is, there is a converse to this. In the marketplace of ideas (god, how I actually hate that expression, if not the idea), what's wrong with some competition? In the for-profit world, competition increases efficiency, lowers prices and causes organizations to compete for the best staff. Eventually, bad firms fail if they fail to compete.

Is this so bad for the non-profit world? I mean, yes, it is bad, because when an organization tanks it takes donor (and probably government) dollars with it. But if there is genuinely an advantage in being professional versus being counter-culture, the difference should... well, make a difference! The successful organization is one which accomplishes its goals, does so using donor funds wisely and well, and as a result is able to procure more donor funds.

My worry is that this isn't happening in the non-profit world the way it should be. If there really are 15 breast cancer stopping organizations (there probably are, but I didn't count), they're competing, but none appear to be failing. There simply cannot be 15 best ways to deal with this problem. It's possible that the drug policy world benefits equally from both our approach and the original group's approach, because different people engage in different ways. Do you think non-profits tend to become more entrenched than regular firms? Or am I only imaging this... the example of Verizon vs. AT&T comes to mind. Surely, they cannot be equal, and there's probably very little difference, philosophically, in the way they function. Can it be that it's good to have two (or more) more or less equal organizations working completely separately for the same goal?

PS: I'm totally going to do a future post on Founder's Syndrome. It's a fascinating topic.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Job Posting: Staff Attorney for Greenpeace!

Hey all you recent law school grads! The job does say two years practicing as an attorney are preferred, but that doesn't mean required! If you're passionate about the environment, you should consider applying!



LOCATION: WASHINGTON, DC OR SAN FRANCISCO, CA (with initial training period up to two months in Washington, DC)


Greenpeace is the largest international environmental campaigning organization. We use creative and confrontational tactics to run effective and hard-hitting campaigns that inspire our members and help protect the planet. The five areas we focus on are global warming, protecting the oceans, stopping deforestation, shutting down nuclear plants, and exposing the risks of toxic chemical plants.

The staff attorney will be responsible for handling a variety of legal matters under the supervision of the Senior Attorney and General Counsel. This position is necessary to help the legal department handle an increased workload due to the coal campaign that is expected to last at least three years.


1. Provide legal advice to project teams and departments, as assigned.

2. Conduct research and write memoranda on various legal issues, including employment, environmental, tax-exempt and criminal law.

3. Draft and review contracts, leases and other legal documents.

4. Provide pre-publication legal review of public information.

5. Assist in briefing activists on legal rights regarding nonviolent direct actions.

6. Other duties as assigned by the Senior Attorney and General Counsel.



· JD Degree


· Strong oral and written communication skills.

· Strong legal research and analysis skills.

· Excellent interpersonal relations skills.

· Careful attention to detail.

· Ability to work independently and effectively on multiple tasks. under tight deadlines.

· Commitment to the principles of peaceful direct action.


· Membership in the D.C. or California Bar, or eligibility to waive into these jurisdictions.

· A minimum of 2 years’ experience as a practicing attorney preferred.

· Experience in drafting contracts preferred.

· Experience in one or more of the following areas of law a plus:

- Tax-Exempt Organizations

- Criminal

- Employment

- Environmental

How to Apply: Please send resume and cover letter to by February 23, 2011.

Monday, February 7, 2011

More New Adventures!

So, my new job is going very well! I'm enjoying the people, the cause, and I have a desk, if you can imagine. Two drawers are currently being used for junk food.

Problem is, I'm an intern, so I am strictly limited to working 40 hours a week. This may not seem so bad, but think of it this way: The last time I had an office job, it was on a congressional campaign. Which, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, means I worked a minimum 12 hour day (9 AM to 9 PM, often later), 7 days a week. My average work week was 88 hours.

Now, I'm not saying that's what I'm looking for in a job. On a campaign, you have a very finite amount of time to get everything done, and a hard deadline: Election Day. You work your ass off for two or four months, take a few weeks off, then travel to a new part of the country and start all over again. It's fun, but its exhausting. That just wouldn't, necessarily, be good for a full-time, forever job.

But, on the other hand, you can see how it feels like I'm just getting nothing done with only 40 hours to work on it.

So, in an attempt to fill my extra hours with something other than sleep and riding the Metro, I've been coming up with little projects; I'm writing a political ethics book, I spent like 20 hours shopping for winter boots (in February). Important stuff.

But now I'll have the joy of a task that, while daunting, will be helpful for my non-profit future...

I'll be completing and filing Form 1023 with the IRS, an Application for Exemption.

Its for my non-profit; even though I won't be doing anything with it for awhile, I decided I should really at least get it set up and file my paperwork before the window closes where the tax exemption will retroactively apply to the beginning of the organization (which doesn't matter, because it hasn't done anything in the past year).

For those of you who don't understand, you should know that most of the interwebs, not to mention the IRS itself, recommends that this form be filed with the help of an attorney. Why? Oh, its just super complicated. These applications can take months for a professional to put together.

BUT, I figure I've got some advantages. First, I know my org inside and out. I created it. I've researched every step of the way and called the IRS and consulted with an attorney who was nice enough to give us like 2 hours of free advice (and whom we will definitely retain once we're up and running)... I feel like I'm ready.

I think I can do it. I guess we'll see how long it takes for the "OMG THIS FORM IS SO FRIKKIN STUPID!!!" post to appear. :)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Less than a rousing success

So you may recall a couple weeks ago I posted an entry about having tough talks with employees (in this case, addressing sexual harassment cases head-on). And I was busily tooting my own horn, discussing how being direct with the employee had caused the problem to go away and it was a great lesson to everyone about the power of talking to your employees instead of just hoping problems resolve themselves.

Well, it turns out that that very employee was fired shortly after I left. For what, you might ask, but won't because it's terribly obvious? Sexual harassment.

It turns out that when I talked very seriously with this young man about how he had to be careful what he said at work, and that he simply couldn't talk to people in the way that he was, he didn't make the cognitive jump to apply that same advice to taking off his pants in the freezer for a confused and grossed out co-worker. And he was promptly, and correctly, fired for it.


So what lesson do I learn here? Did I really need to say to him that sexual harassment is about more than just saying the wrong thing? He had, after all, watched the corporate video on sexual harassment, which includes helpful role-playing to show what is appropriate and what's not. I would not have thought that pulling down your pants after asking a co-worker "Do you like this?" would fall into any kind of gray area.

Maybe if I'd had a better conversation, made him re-watch the video, something... maybe it wouldn't have happened. Maybe he's just an incurable creepster. I don't know. But I suppose my advice is this: Be specific, but also be general. If a person doesn't understand that certain conversations are not appropriate, maybe he also doesn't understand that certain gestures aren't.

And don't be afraid to ask for help. Maybe if I'd gone straight to my corporate HR person, he would have had an action plan to prevent all this from happening. It could happen.

Top Blog Picks: February 5, 2011

Hey Readers! Here's a look at the best of the non-profit, business and related blogospheres for the last couple weeks. Enjoy!

My Non-Profit Experience: The amazing Madelyn has a great post about voluntourism, and links to several more great articles and resources about this lovely combination of personal vacations and philanthropy (not to mention talking about her recent trip to Malaysia for Habitat for Humanity).

The ABC's of College: Despite giving some very bad advice about preparing for job interviews, this blog has some really great interviews, including this one of a budding jazz musician from New York. It's nice to read stories about people succeeding when all we see in the news are people failing in this economy.

NTEN: This blog has a great discussion on how non-profits and small businesses should deal with new technology when they often don't have a staff that can handle all the issues that come with it. Luckily, it also has tips for improving your technology department in ways even very small organizations can use.

Employed Panache: As usual, Nicole has something great to read going on in her blog! My pick this time (since I can never decide which outfits are the best) is her post on resume-writing tips. Really, I can't get enough of articles helping people write good resumes, cover letters, preparing for job interviews... mostly because so many people still don't follow it! Give it a read.

Through Non-Profit Eyes
: This is a somewhat funny post on how not to use social media. Gaffe aside, it makes the point that organizations need to be sensitive to how their message is being put out there in all mediums, and that something bad in Twitter is likely to become something bad worldwide sooner rather than later. I'm actually planning a post about some other ways your group might be sending the wrong message, but that is for a later date.

There you have it! Back to your regularly scheduled blog entries soon.