This Governance Review offers nothing new of substance. Nothing at least that will make the College leadership and administration more accountable to the members. It just renames two College bodies – the current leadership cabal of president, president-elect, treasurer, secretary, immediate past president, and College CEO (ie. six members) is replaced by the president, College CEO/company secretary, and five board members (ie. seven members in all) now called the College ‘Board’ and this group are elected by the renamed College General Council now called the ‘Members Advisory Council’ (MAC) that includes a few extra non-College members.
This model just enshrines what has been the status quo of College governance – a small executive group runs the College with limited oversight by a large unwieldy General Council – now called the MAC. At least in the proposed model the powerlessness of the MAC is plain for all to see. This established model of governance has been responsible for the isolation of the College leadership from the members and disaffection of the College membership with College management. Under the Governance Review proposals nothing really changes other than a reduction in the size of the governing council – now called ‘Board’.
The continuation of election of the president by the MAC and not the wider membership enshrines the ‘pass the parcel’ presidency model and means the College is never led by someone who can claim to have the confidence of the ordinary members of the College. The Governance Review report deals with direct election of the president in a desultory way. I find this surprising since the strong view of the members (as surveyed in the Governance Review report) is for an elected president and many of Australian and overseas medical colleges noted in the report have an elected president. No considered argument is provided as to why direct election of the president is inadvisable. The reasons offered below are insipid defenses of a paternalistic attitude toward the College membership. In response to these excuses I suggest that: electronic voting is now considered time-effective and cost-effective and other colleges are running elections for office-bearers this way; if the election for president is contested I believe a majority of members will vote, especially if voting is easy; I dispute that members do not care who is elected; and a decision about who leads the College as president is one that should involve all College members, rather than a small group of ‘insiders’ (see further explanation below).
The report recommends abandoning a ‘whistle-blower’ policy. I find this perplexing given recent difficulties staff had in undertaking whistle-blowing actions.
Finally, there is no mention in the Governance Review report of the current unsatisfactory situation that any College General Meeting (Annual General Meeting, Members Requisition General Meeting, or Extraordinary General Meeting) is only allowed to handle constitutional changes and is not allowed to deal with important matters of College policy. The neglect of this important issue is despite reassurances by the College executive officers that this matter would be a subject of the review, and a direct email communication from me to the review leader, Kate Costello, asking that it be included in the review report. I find this disappointing, but not surprising, given the review terms of reference does not mention this matter.
Overall, the Governance Review report and the College hierarchy’s response to it is a serious missed opportunity for improving accountability and governance within our College. I hope other interested Fellows will provide comment to the College (firstname.lastname@example.org) and discuss the proposals with colleagues. A postal ballot for constitutional change to implement these proposals is planned for June 2012. I think those who are dissatisfied with this report and its proposals should consider putting an alternate set of constitutional changes to a General Meeting or as alternative set of constitutional proposals in the postal ballot. One hundred Fellows will be needed to propose these resolutions – a number that was obtained when we asked for the Members Requisition General Meeting earlier this year.
Rebuttal of Governance Matters reasons for not seriously considering the direct election of the College president.
1. Elections, particularly via electronic means, can be conducted very inexpensively (as is happening in other medial colleges).
2. It is not necessary for each and every College member to vote. It would be sufficient if a large majority of members voted for the president-elect. If a large majority of members vote then that adds credibility to the election process. I suspect that from time to time not all members of the General Council voted for president-elect as well.
3. Most members of our College do care who leads them. How does Governance Matters know that College members do not care about who is in leadership positions? My opinion was not sought on this matter. Was anyone else canvassed on this issue? I doubt it. My information is that the majority of College fellows care about the leadership of the college.
4. General Council members are likely to have knowledge about president-elect candidates that come from the ranks of General Council (ie. the ‘pass the parcel presidency’ model [otherwise know as ‘you have been on Council for a while, now it is your turn to be president’ model]). General Council members may not be as knowledgeable about president-elect candidates that come from beyond the General Council cabal.
5. Finally, the election of the president-elect by the full College membership trumps an election of this position by a limited number of supposedly representative Electoral College members.
Until we have direct election for the College president-elect the College president will lack the confidence of the College membership. Direct election by the general membership will mean the successful candidate will have the knowledge that he/she has the confidence of College members. And it would mean that candidates would need to present a case to the general membership as to why they should be elected – no bad thing!
Comments would be appreciated.