SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
10 August 2017
Volume 18 Issue 8
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Questions and Answers: SETAC North America Board of Directors Recognizes Student Member Contributions

Tom Augspurger, SETAC North America President, and John Toll, SETAC North America Vice President

What is the history of this issue, and what has informed the board’s consideration thus far?

Since 2014, the North America Student Advisory Council (NASAC) chairs have asked the SETAC North America Board of Directors to reassess the role of students in SETAC North America governance. The board members listened. We were asked to consider giving the NASAC chair a vote on the board and to consider allowing SETAC North American student members to vote in annual geographic unit (GU) elections. 

As a first step, the board asked NASAC to investigate whether voting was a priority for SETAC North America students.  That request came at the 2015 annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah. NASAC responded by forming an ad hoc committee, led by Adric Olson, to educate and poll SETAC North America student members. The ad hoc committee developed slides and a survey to present at SETAC North America regional chapter meetings in 2016.  An online version of the survey, along with answers to frequently asked questions, was sent to SETAC North America students in October 2016.  The survey consisted of eight questions designed to answer the board’s question (Is voting a priority for SETAC North America students?), and 162 students completed the survey (approximately 26% of students).  Survey results were presented to the board at the 7th SETAC World Congress/SETAC North America 37th Annual Meeting in November 2016 in Orlando, Florida. 

Based on those data, NASAC asked the board to continue to explore one option: Giving the NASAC chair a vote on the board. The board responded by passing a motion at its November 2016 meeting to investigate potential paths forward and the associated SETAC North America staff effort. The board’s executive committee was tasked with working with its liaison to NASAC and the NASAC chair to address how this would be handled and to bring it back to the full board for further action. 

The SETAC North America board’s executive committee met with the NASAC chair and the board’s liaison to NASAC in December 2016 to develop a recommendation for the full board. It was noted that at least four documents in SETAC’s governance discuss aspects relevant to student membership categories, composition of the SETAC North America board (including the student representative), and voting members of SETAC North America and its board: SETAC’s constitution, SETAC’s by-laws, SETAC North America’s constitution, and SETAC North America’s by-laws

The SETAC North America board’s executive committee, NASAC chair, and SETAC North America board liaison to NASAC recommended recruiting an ad hoc committee to advise the board on whether giving the student representative to the SETAC North America board a vote is possible, whether there are any overt or unforeseen negative concerns with proceeding, and the steps needed to make it happen (including a recommendation if the ad hoc committee identified more than one option). In January 2017, the ad hoc committee was formed, charged and given a deadline of February 2017 (later extended to the end of March) to advise the board on these topics as further outlined in its charge. The ad hoc committee was led by Jane Staveley, former SETAC North America president and SETAC World Council president; it had tripartite balance, experience in SETAC global and North American governance and interest in students’ roles in SETAC North America governance. 

The ad hoc committee finished its work and submitted its draft report to the SETAC North America board as planned.  The board discussed the draft during its May and June 2017 meetings and determined that further discussion was needed. The NASAC chair and vice-chair were encouraged to discuss the ad hoc committee observations and recommendations with the rest of NASAC, and the board committed to make decisions on these three aspects of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations during its July face-to-face meeting:  

  1. Student voting in SETAC North America general elections
  2. Making the student representative a voting member of the SETAC North America board
  3. Method for selecting the student representative to the SETAC North America board

This is a matter to which the SETAC North America board, NASAC, and two ad hoc committees have dedicated considerable, prolonged effort, culminating in the board voting in support for the following:

  1. All North American students having full voting privileges in SETAC North America
  2. NASAC representative to the SETAC North America board having full board voting privileges
  3. Use of the SETAC North America general election to select NASAC’s representative to the SETAC North America board

As noted, the board cannot unilaterally implement these measures; that is for membership to decide. 

Would having student representative vote on the board upset sector balance?

SETAC’s balance of perspectives form academia, business and government is one of our greatest strengths and therefore worth preserving. The board does not consider a student voting member to upset sector balance at all; it simply preserves a spot on the board for a student’s perspective.  The following points informed the board’s perspective:   

  • For the past five years, the SETAC North America board has had both the NASAC chair and vice chair in the room or on the phone at its meetings (the NASAC chair as an ex officio member and the vice chair as a guest). We always invite their participation and value their perspective. They have a valued voice now, and the board is interested in seeing that continue (it would be more formalized by the proposed changes but not a significant diversion from current practice)
  • The board views students as outside any particular sector – they are studying to be contributors to the science and management of chemicals in any sector or in work outside those sectors
  • Board member duties are to look broadly at direction, and while informed by our experience in a sector, no one on the board is representing a sector… they are representing the interests of SETAC North America   
  • The SETAC North America constitution already says, “The SETAC North America Board of Directors shall be elected from the voting membership of SETAC North America with the goal of equal representation from government, business and academia but not to the exclusion of other interested groups.” (emphasis added).  So, there’s room for students or NGO representatives, which we’ve already had on the board
  • The SETAC North America by-laws say (and our recent practice has emphasized) that the SETAC North America board “representatives should strive for consensus on all matters.”  So, it’s not anticipated that one more voting member sways an outcome; it is anticipated that the student rep's voice as ex officio now is affirmed as valued in decision-making  

Would having 16 voting members on the Board work?  What happens if there is a tie?

The SETAC North America by-laws say (and the board’s recent practice has emphasized) that the SETAC North America board “representatives should strive for consensus on all matters.”  So, it’s not anticipated that one more voting member sways an outcome; it is anticipated that the student rep's voice as ex officio now is affirmed as valued in decision-making.
However, a potential change to the by-laws could address the unforeseen contingency related to a tie ...  the first part of the following text is already in our by-laws (article IV, paragraph 7), and the underlined part could be added:

“Representatives should strive for consensus on all matters. In the absence of consensus, in order for a motion to be passed, a majority of the votes cast is required. In the case of a tie vote, the motion does not pass and may be modified or approached at a different time.

In this potential approach, the motion would fail, and there would need to be a new motion to act upon. This is one of several logistics to work out in governance documents if the changes are implemented, but it appears workable from our normal operations and in edits of governance documents.

Authors’ contact information: tom_augspurger@fws.gov and JohnT@windwardenv.com

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