Democracy vs. Survival: With Membership Down and the Organization in Debt, Women in Communications' Leadership Suspends Board Elections - Much to the Dismay of a Segment of Its Membership

Article excerpt

MEMBERS OF ONE of the oldest professional women's associations charge that the group has been hijacked by a small leadership contingent which is circumventing the authority of the membership.

As Women In Communications Inc. (WICI) prepares to gather for its annual convention and business meeting in October, questions are swirling about the direction and long-term viability of the 86-year-old association.

Within WICI, there is broad consensus on the need for sweeping organizational change. Currently, membership hovers around 8,000 and the group is $30,000 in debt. During its 1980s heyday, WICI had a national membership close to 13,000 and a reserve fund of over $100,000.

While the need for a revamped strategic direction generally is acknowledged, members differ on the means. Drastic times call for drastic measures, argue some. Others worry that the organization is sacrificing democratic process in the name of expediency.

In a particularly controversial move, a 40-member task force recommended that WICI suspend Fall 1995 elections for four national board seats. The measure was approved by the WICI board of directors without a vote from the general membership, even though the national elections are mandated in WICI's bylaws.

Christy Bulkeley, chair of the task force, a former WICI president and a Gannett publisher, said that timely reform is difficult in a membership body of 8,000.

"The organization, in its current configuration, has lost some sense of its identity," Bulkeley said. "I don't have any answers for those who criticize suspending the elections. Sure, it's a tough, radical action, but we could not see any other way of making clear the necessity of change and intent to move forward rapidly."

WICI president Carol Fenstermacher said she has heard from a number of members, some of whom agree with the suspension policy and some who oppose the move.

"We knew it wouldn't be totally popular, but that's not what we were in it for," she said. "Sometimes, you try to make a change and it becomes a very personal thing. …