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December 2003

An Analysis of NESFA Membership Policy – 1971

An Analysis of NESFA Membership Policy


I came across this essay whilst going through files, and thought it would be of interest to reprint it. The original appeared in APA:NESFA in 1971. NESFA is the New England Science Fiction Association, a SF club centered in the Boston area. When the essay was written the club was quite young; the directions that it might take were not yet set, and the body and soul of the club had not taken definite form.

I don’t imagine that a thirty year old essay about membership policy in an SF fan club will be of any great general interest; indeed I expect that there will be but few who bother reading it. Still it is a bit of history. The web, being the universal albeit unreliable encyclopedia, is also the great archive, and is thereby home to such bits of fluff that anybody deems fit for immortality.

In other words it is source material for fan historians. It may also, I suppose, be of passing interest to those persons mentioned within in its pages.

An Analysis of NESFA Membership Policy

Elitism and Regular Membership: Recently there was a considerable brouhaha over the question of regular membership. Some of the discussion of this event revolves around personalities and personal feeling; it does not seem to be a topic that should be discussed in the APA. There are, however, a number of points concerning NESFA policy that are of general import and that should be discussed.

The charge has been made that NESFA is run by a tight inner clique that runs things to suit themselves, that anyone who wants to get along had better play ball with this inner clique, that this clique plays an elitist role in the club, that his clique has an elitist conception of its role in NESFA, and that the membership policy is a tool of the clique. An extreme version of this charge is that Tony Lewis runs the club to suit himself. (To a certain extent he does; however he does this by accommodating himself to any solidly based opposition.)

There is also the interesting question of exactly what the NESFA membership policy is. At the March 28, 1971 meeting the membership committee met and deliberated for a couple of hours. They issued a statement that gave a short, rather general set of guidelines to NESFA policy on the qualifications required for becoming a regular member. I will reprint these guidelines below and comment on them in some detail. There are two general directions such commentary can take. The first direction is to examine them in more detail and explicate them. The second is to examine the philosophy behind them and see what their significance is for NESFA as a club. I will to follow both approaches.

There is also the interesting question of what the image of regular membership is to the various members of NESFA. We can roughly divide the members of NESFA into the old regular members, the new regular members, and the associate members. It seems reasonably clear to me that there are widely divergent images of what regular membership means among these three groups. I feel that this too is a topic that should be brought out into the open and discussed.

In order to understand the various ramifications of all of these questions a bit of the history and sociology of NESFA is in order. NESFA was originally formed by a very distinct homeogenous group. The people who formed it were mostly older members of MITSFS who felt that they should no longer be monopolizing the power structure of MITSFS that, by intent, was a an undergraduate MIT club. (Actually NESFA was the second attempt to form such a group. There was an earlier attempt, BOSFS, that ultimately proved to be abortive.) The original intent was for NESFA to serve as the basis for a regional wide club (as indicated in the title.) This original intent never materialized – NESFA started as and remains a club organized around and centered in the Greater Boston. There are, however, a fair number of members who do not reside in the Greater Boston area. If the original intent had materialized there would be branches of NESFA scattered throughout New England; the member of these branches would also be regular members. (If this had happened it is clear that the entire notion of membership would be radically different today. However it didn’t.)

Early NESFA had three principal activities; it was a social club, it put on Boskone, and it published PB. As Ed Meyer has acutely remarked, this latter function has always been primarily a solo effort on he part of the editor. Putting on the Boskones absorbed a fair amount of the clubs energy and efforts. On the whole it was not a major sink of time and energy for the club. Most of the members had very little to do with Boskone except when it was actually occurring. A few people did most of the preparatory work. Hence the major function of NESFA in the early days was social.

If this pattern had continued NESFA would not be anything like what it is today. It would probably also be a much more sterile and aimless club. However early on an event occurred that substantially changed the course of NESFA. This was the acquisition of the Index. The Index was created by Erwin S. Strauss (Filthy Pierre) almost singlehandedly. After a number of difficulties he lost control of the copies, which reverted to the printers. NESFA bought them up and proceeded to sell them. It also made the decision to publish annual supplements.

The acquisition of the index and the publication of supplements has had a number of consequences. Firstly, the index and its supplements means that NESFA has a steady source of income of reasonable size above and beyond dues and Boskone profits. Secondly, it shifted the emphasis of the club to concrete achievement and provided work for the club to do. Thirdly, it is a solid justification for continuity of existence of NESFA, Fourthly, it means that NESFA has a quantity of physical assets.

The change is reflected in the criteria that are used for regular membership. (It is well to remember that other clubs do not have this interesting division between regular and associate membership.) The existence of real assets means that the club must behave in a more responsible fashion than would otherwise be necessary. The publication of the supplements means that NESFA has assumed the responsibility for a stable continuing effort of a sort that is not so easily carried out by a single individual. Hence the twin criteria of responsibility and willingness to work have assumed more importance. The fact that NESFA is a responsible organization means that those members who have control must be responsible. (Or as Tony Lewis once put it: NESFA expects its members to behave as though they were mature.) Since then NESFA acquired other capitol equipment. (Yes, it is capital equipment, but I think it is Capitol.) However it was the acquisition of the Index that set the pattern.

A second major historical and sociological factor in the development of NESFA and its membership policies is its sources of members. There are two principal sources and two principal age groups. The first source is the group that originally formed NESFA – the old MITSFS members. The second source is the local high schools and their SF clubs. A subsidiary source is a sprinkling of new members from MITSFS. There are, of course, a number of members who became involved in a variety of other ways. The fact that there are these two sources has some interesting consequences.

First of all, the MITSFS old timers do form a tight knit group. They all know each other and have worked with each other for years. Secondly, they are all regular members practically by birth right. Thirdly, they are responsible for the major patterns and policies of the club. Fourthly, they are all older than the high school and ex high school members of the club. (This difference in age and experience means that the old MITSFS group has most of the power, controls the administrative machinery, does most of the work associated with administering the club, and cannot be effectively challenged as a group at this time. This, however, is a transient phenomena that will end with the passage of time. One of the great tests and a potential crisis at some future point will be the transition of power from the initial group to a successor group.)

Unlike the old MITSFS group the high school gang (many of whom are now in college or working) all started out as associate members who were involved in NESFA only as a social club. Some have become regular members. Others have remained associate members. For the most part they acquiesce without protest to the club patterns and policies generated by others. They are,in effect, continually recruiting people into NESFA. They tend to have their own distinct background that forms a second social setting for NESFA. They have considerably enriched and expanded the social aspects of NESFA. (And their mating dating games provide a source of immense interest to a dirty old man and inveterate gossip such as myself.)

The fact that most regular members go through a transition period as an associate member nowadays has some side effects that were not originally considered when the scheme was devised. In effect, being a regular member becomes a prestige thing (or can be so regarded.) On has “made it” when one becomes a regular member. This may be of high consequence among the younger members who form a peer group. And then again, it may not. It does seem to be a definitely operative factor among people who older than the younger members. (There is a psychological factor here – it is hard to accept the notion that some one substantially younger than yourself has a higher status.) The division between regular and associate membership was never intended to be a status affair. However it has inevitably taken on this aspect. This is unfortunate because the division serves real and valuable purposes. If NESFA has no other purpose than that of a social club, this division would be pernicious and would be an exclusionist device.

The fact that the local high schools have become a recruiting ground has an amusing by product. Originally it was not expected that high school students would be regular members. In fact it was not even expected that college students would become regular members. It was felt that students would have neither the time nor the money for the being regular members and that being an associate member would give them the chance to participate without being fully involved. Things have not worked out that way. However there are regular members who are high school students and there are not MIT undergraduate regular members. (I may be wrong but there is only one person who became a regular member while being an undergraduate – Jean Berman.)

With this bit of history out of the way, let us look at what is going on currently. First of all, let us look at the question of whether NESFA is run by a tight little inner clique. In some respects this is a pointless question because any organization is necessarily run by a small group. (This is a topic that sociological analysts have studied very carefully. Concentration of power is an inevitable consequence of organization.) The right questions to ask are: Is the controlling group open or closed? Does it represent and act in the interests of the membership, or does it act in its own interest? Does it act unilaterally, or does it consult with the membership? In view of the fact that there are a number of members who participate but are only associate members without a vote, does the ruling faction protect their interests?

Who runs NESFA? Who are the members of the court party? Well let’s see. There is Tony and Sue Lewis, of course. Fred Isaacs is a strong voice in the councils of the club. Leslie Turek wields a fair amount of power in her own devious way. Ed Meyer and Joe Ross form two dissident factions of the inner circle. Marsha Elkin usually has something to say on things. (Marsha is not really a member of the power structure – she just gets it to do what she wants done when she wants it done.) I suppose I should be counted as a member of the power structure also. (This is hard to evaluate – I seem to be involved in the inner workings of the club, but I don’t really have much interest in the exercise of power.) At various times and places other members have exercised considerable amounts of authority. Paul Galvin, for example, was the chairman for two Boskones and served one term as treasurer. If we want to pick the real inner circle we end up with Tony. However there are distinct operational limits on the amount of authority that Tony exercises.

The ruling group is open and quasi-stable. Over the course of NESFA history there have been a number of changes in who was running things. For the most part these changes have been gradual. The people at the top have made active efforts to recruit people into exercising power. (Running things is work – a lot more work than most people want to put into a hobby. The real question is how to unload yourself of a position once you have obtained it.) As far as I can tell the leading members of NESFA (a better description than power structure) have made great efforts to see that the clubs actions reflect what is good for NESFA and its members. It is obsessed with consulting with the membership at large, with itself, and with everybody under the sun. (In the great mimeo equipment procurement brouhaha the membership at large seemed to be fairly willing to go along with the leadership. It was the leadership that went into a trauma because it didn’t properly consult the members.) In point of fact it is the leading members who have been most concerned with the structural and constitutional protections of the membership. It is not so clear that the power structure adequately considers the interests of the associate members. The power structure of NESFA also does most of the work associated with NESFA except the Boskone.

The charge that the membership policy is a tool of the ruling clique rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what the membership policy is and what the club policy is. It is quite true that there is a ruling group. It is also quite true that the membership policy is a tool of the club and, by extension, the ruling group. However the charge carries the implication of a clique that holds power and that only lets in people who will go along with the clique. This is not true.

The people who formed NESFA intended that it should be a going concern that would grow and prosper. This it has done, not perhaps in the ways that were foreseen, but it ha. One of the things that we tried to do when we formed the club was to avoid the mistakes of other clubs. We foresaw at that point that it was inevitable that power would pass from the founders to newcomers at some point in the future history of the club. We saw this as being desirable. A club that does not contain the means for an orderly transition of power and does not have periodic transfers of power is bound to become moribund. This is why a limitation on the length of office was put into the constitution. This is why policy of rotating the Boskone chairmanship was put into effect. (There was a collateral reason: since Boston would be bidding for the ’71 worldcon it was felt that we should build a group of people who were experienced in putting on conventions.) This policy of deliberately attempting to rotate authority has been assiduously followed but has not been entirely successful. The principal difficulty has not been the unwillingness of those holding power to yield it – the difficulty has been finding people who were willing to take it. (There are some reservations here. Those holding power are generally unwilling to yield it to people whom they feel cannot handle it responsibly. There is a well known psychological trap in which the power wielders tell themselves that they are willing to yield power to the responsible and qualified but somehow nobody seems qualified to them, much like the father to whom nobody seems good enough for his daughter. It might seem to an outsider that this mechanism is operating in NESFA. To a certain extent it probably is – however I do not think that is more than a marginal consideration.)

To say that the ruling party acts jointly to keep out people who won’t go along with the ruling party and lay the game seriously overestimates the coherence of the ruling party. Most of the people I have name are intelligent, have strong wills, and have widely varying opinions and notions about what NESFA should be doing. They do not act as co-conspirators nor do they need to.

On the other hand membership policy is very much a tool of the club and, I feel, rightly so. It is not, as I have remarked, a tool of the ruling party to ensure its dominance. Its purpose is to ensure the continued health of the club. Let us look a bit more carefully at what criteria are used now and why they are used. The guidelines for regular membership that were reported out are:

  1. Reasonably regular attendance for three months as an associate member.
  2. Be interested in SF.
  3. Regular members are expected to be those members who do the work of the organization and who can be counted on to do the work. Initiative and responsibility are regarded quite favorably in assessing the qualifications of prospective regular members.
  4. We will reject for cause anyone whose consistent behaviour and expressed attitudes indicate that he would disrupt and reduce the effectiveness of NESFA as an organization.
  5. We will reject for cause anyone whose consistent behaviour and expressed attitudes indicate that he would subvert the character of NESFA as an SF club.
I should say that the last criterion has never been applied and probably never wil be. It is one of the remote contingency clauses that NESFA from an SF club to some other type of club. The most plausible example I can think of is some one who wanted to become a branch of the creative anachronists.

The requirement that a regular member be interested in SF to be unnecessary to state; after all why should someone join a club like NESFA unless they were interested in Science Fiction? The fact remains, however, that there have been some regular members in the pst who had no particular interest in Science Fiction; there may have been a number of associate members for whom this is also true. All of these people have eventually dropped out. Since we do acquire members from time to time who are not interested in Science Fiction it seems only reasonable to ask that regular members be interested.

The requirement that the prospective regular member should have been an associate member who has attended meetings regularly for three months is a shift in policy from the original policy. Initially everybody came in as either a regular member or as a family dependency member. Once the club was organized a number of people came in as regular members upon joining. As time has gone by we have shifted to a policy where virtually nobody comes in as a regular member.

At one time the conception of the difference between regular and associate members was much less clearly defined. My recollection is that in the beginning we were thinking in terms of Junior and Senior members. Those terms were never used and I don’t think that the viewpoint was ever formally stated. However the elements of the idea were present in our rather vague initial thinking. (I suspect that Leslie would disagree – she always held to a well defined viewpoint on membership policy.)

Another viewpoint that also was present was the view that anyone who had reasonable credentials as an established fan was eligible as a regular member. A number of people came in as regular members who had either been old MITSFS members or who were reasonably well known fans. This approach to membership policy was much more reasonable in the early days of NESFA. A newly formed organization has much more cause to be aggressive and liberal in recruiting members – organizations without members are not particularly effective. There also was the consideration in those days that NESFA was going to be a regional club that embraced all of New England fandom. If NESFA had developed in that direction it would have made sense to admit all New England fans as regular members. NESFA never did go this route, but the conception did affect early membership policy.

The major reason for shifting to the requirement of a probationary term as an associate member is a pragmatic one – experience. A fairly large percentage of the people who were admitted as regular members never became active. Most of these people who were admitted as regular members never became active. Most of these members dropped out. As NESFA became larger it was less urgent to recruit members helter skelter. As it became more achievement minded more emphasis was placed on regular members being active. The probationary period allows the club to evaluate a prospective regular member so that he is not a great unknown who may or may not work out. (Another consideration is that almost everybody whom we would know well enough to admit as a regular member has already joined NESFA or has had no interest in joining NESFA. It is an interesting question as to what we would do if someone like Doug Hoylman or Mike Ward moved to the Boston area. Would we make them regular members immediately? In both cases we know them well enough to be sure before hand that they would be active and valuable members. I suspect that there would be a distinct split in the club as to what sort of policy we should follow in such a case.)

According to Tony’s records Bob Wiener was the last member who was admitted directly as a regular member. Since then there has only been one exception to the general rule that nobody is admitted as a regular member unless they have been an associate member first – Marsha Elkin. The circumstances, however, were unusual. Although Marsha was a corresponding member she had, for a number of months, attended meetings regularly and had done a lot for the club. The fact that she was moving to Boston was surety that she would continue to do a lot for the club. It is most unusual for a corresponding member living in a different city to an active attending member but it can happen and this was taken into account.

We now come to major clauses of the membership committee report. To be short (and not too diplomatic) I will call them the work requirement and the fugghead clauses. The discussion immediately following represents my impression of what the prevailing club policy is. Since I do not entirely agree with the club policy and never have I will follow up this discussion with a critique.

Both the work clause and the fugghead clause arise from experience. The work clause is based on simple justice – the people that do the work of a club should set the policy. As a matter of experience any organization that does not have such a policy is going to become moribund. What happens is that there is a minority of active members who assume the responsibility of getting things done and an inactive majority that retains the authority. Eventually the workers who have the responsibility but not the authority get tired of it or disgusted and gafiate. When this happens you no longer have anybody doing anything. It is very frustrating to have the responsibility for something and not have the authority.

The fugghead clause is based on the simple consideration that many clubs have been torn apart or have disintegrated because of feuding or the machinations of a few individuals. Someone who continually obstructs the business of the club can cause a disproportionate amount of trouble. To take an example, suppose some one insists on doing things, insists on doing them his way, and screws them up. Such a person is more trouble than he is worth. Someone who carries disagreements within NESFA into the outside world is dangerous. Someone who is ready at the drop of a hat to stir up unpleasantness is dangerous. Someone who is paranoid is dangerous. Someone who combines poor judgment and vindictiveness is dangerous. To take another example, NESFA has provision in its bylaws for grinding the club to a halt. Anyone who would consider trying to use these provisions without the most clear cut and extraordinary provocations is clearly dangerous. In short the power to vote gives a member authority. If he does not have the judgment to exercise that authority responsibly he should not be give the vote.

The work clause has come to be interpreted in a quasi-mechanical fashion. It amounts to this: If you are an associate member and you do so much work for NESFA then you are eligible to become a regular member. The exact amount and kind of work depend on cases.

I suppose I should add a disclaimer here that the discussion on the fugghead clause is not intended to be a reflection on any present or previous member or prospective member. I refuse to take responsibility for anyone feeling that they recognize themselves or others in listing. I should also mention that this intended to apply to specific instances of erratic behaviour or general obnoxious unless it is both uncompensated and extreme.

The following list of regular members and former regular members is courtesy of Tony Lewis. The names of those who are currently regular members are underlined. The first column is the list of charter members. The second column is the list of non charter regular members, past and present. The starred names are those who became regular members directly.

Truman Brown
Claire Cabral
Jerry Clarke
Bill Desmond
Ed Galvin
Paul Galvin
Richard Harter
Roy Krup
Tony Lewis
Susan Lewis (Suford)
Ed Meskys
Ed Meyer
Greg Mironchuk
Bob Nelson
Linda Desmond
Cory Seidman Panshin
Harry Stubbs
Leslie Turek
Dave Vanderwerf
Mark Walsted
Mike Ward
Drew White
Marilyn Niven
* James Galbraith
* Mike Symes
* John Campbell
* Russell Seitz
* Mitch Chevitz
* Allan Kent
. Linda Kent
* Jim Ashe
* Jim Saklad
* Ben Bova
* Isaac Asimov
. Joe Ross
* Dave Anderson
. Jean Berman
. Gail Kaplan
. Fred Isaacs
. Morris Keesan
. Muriel Kanter
* Bernie Morris
. Karen Blank
. Selina Lovett
* Bob Wiener . Jill Trugman
. Marsha Elkin

The following charter members let their membership lapse: Truman Brown, Claire Cabral, Jerry Clarke, Greg Mironchuk, and Linda Desmond. The following charter members transferred class of membership: Ed Meskys, Bob Nelson, Cory Seidman Panshin, Mark Walsted, and Mike Ward. The following non charter regular members let their membership lapse: Jim Galbraith, John Campbell, Russell Seitz, Mitch Chevitz, Jim Ashe, and Bernie Morris. The following regular members do not reside in the Boston metropolitan area: Roy Krupp, Marilyn Niven, Isaac Asimov, and Gail Kaplan (away at school.) The following regular members reside in the area but do not attend meetings at the present time: Dave Vanderwerf, Muriel Kanter, and the Kents.

It is distinctly noticeable that all regular members who have let their membership drop have been among those who were charter members or who were admitted directly as regular members. From this one could infer that the present policy of a probationary period is much more reliable in producing regular members who are likely to remain active interested members. Such a conclusion would be premature. Most of the regular members who were admitted under the new policy have been regular members for a relatively short time. There has been a longer time for people admitted under the old policy to drop out. All in all, it does seem reasonable that the new policy is a better one; it does provide the club a chance to look people over.

I have mentioned that I have not always agreed with the membership policy. I did not agree with the work clause in the beginning. (The work clause philosophy was present from the very beginning – Leslie and Suford were its two most vociferous advocates.) The policy is now set and the structure of the club includes it as an inherent component. In some ways the work clause policy has been a striking success; NESFA has a level of achievement, a willingness to work and produce results, and a level of organization that has been achieved by no other club. It is hard to argue with success. However there are a number of weaknesses in the policy that may not be so immediately obvious.

First of all the work clause immediately implies an elitist conception of regular membership. (This, by the way, is not necessarily bad.) This elitism automatically provides for distortions of the social functions of NESFA. In any case when someone wishes to become a regular member (and thus a member of the elite) and he/she doesn’t make it there are likely to be hard feelings. (At this point I can hear the gut reaction – “Well isn’t that just too damn bad.” I feel that this reaction is ill considered. If we are going to have a status division with mobility then we are going to have status squabbles. The existence of well defined guidelines may ameliorate this problem, but none-the-less it is inherent in the structure we have build. In individual cases the problems are personal, etc, but the problem arises because of our membership structure.) There are a number of members who participate regularly in the NESFA social scene who are not regular members. It is not at all clear how many and to what extent these members regard themselves as being second class members or are so regarded by regular members. I suspect the number is not large and that the whole question is of sublime unimportance to most members. (However it seems to me that most associate members take a certain amount of pride in being admitted as regular members.) However the seeds of conflict have been sown and are there awaiting to bear fruit.

One of my reactions to statements of the work clause philosophy when I heard it propounded in the early days was, “How dreary, how bureaucratic.” I think, in retrospect, that there was a certain amount of validity in that gut reaction. NESFA has placed a great deal of emphasis on work and organization. The good side of this is a great deal of achievement by the club. The bad side is that the club tends to revolve around and be obsessed with “doing things.” As a result the club is less fun and little emphasis is placed on activities that are enriching or just interesting.

I think that Ed Meyer’s recent attack on the business meeting structure really revolves around this feature. Actually the business meeting structure is about as efficient as it can be for the purposes of conducting business. It is not particularly effective as a focus of activity for people interested in SF, but it is not really intended to be. I suspect there has been a good deal of dissatisfaction with the state of affairs and that the ready acceptance of the APA and of the “other meeting” is symptomatic of this dissatisfaction. I should also mention that the business meeting itself is running into trouble because of the growing size of the club. One source of difficult is discussions of the meeting structure is that there are really two problems – the first is that the business meeting is becoming inefficient because of the size and growth of the club, and the second is that the business meeting does not satisfy all of the needs of the members.

Another objection is that the strict application of the work clause criterion ignores and disrupts the social character of the club. The sort of thing that I have in mind was illustrated quite vividly when there was an attempt to change Jim Ashe’s and Dave Vanderwerf’s membership status from regular to associate. (For those who weren’t around this is what happened: The membership committee, in an act of transcendental political, reported out that Jim Ashe and Dave Vanderwerf should be reduced in grade from regular to associate member. There followed a long and acrimonious debate that ended in the effective adoption of the policy that regular members were not to be changed in membership status unless they did something so heinous that they should be thrown out of the club.)

One of the peculiarities of the debate was that no effective challenge of the membership committee logic was really made; however it was quite clear that it made a large segment of the membership mad as hell. The logic of the then current membership committee was quite simple: If the requirement for being a regular member is that he works for the club then someone who is not longer active should not be a regular member. The further argument has been made by Joe Ross that it is unfair to associate members that it is held up to them that they have to work hard to become a regular member while there are other people who are doing nothing who are regular members.

Leslie did challenge the committee decision in its own terms with the following sort of argument: It seems unfair that one can work hard for the club for years and then get bounced out because one doesn’t feel like doing anything for a while. (It was quite clear in the debate that almost everybody, regardless of official propaganda and what they might have said, regarded a conversion from regular to associate membership as a serious demotion.) Her position amounts to a modification of the work clause philosophy. The work clause philosophy amounts to this: You buy regular membership by working for the club. The only question is how long a term of regular membership do you buy for a given amount of work.

I think that the work clause can and should be challenged in this regard. I don’t feel that NESFA should exist solely for the purpose of doing work or that it should regard its members as tools to be ruthlessly thrown away when they are no longer satisfactory. I don’t think I want to belong to an organization that takes this attitude towards its members. (Unless, of course, I am being paid for it.) This strict application of the work clause philosophy ignores the fact that NESFA is a community whose members have invested a great deal of time and energy into making it work.

A strictly utilitarian approach to its members by an association is appropriate for a group such as the communist party that exists for the purpose of implementing a well defined goal. (Red smear! Yah! Yah! Yah!) It is completely inappropriate to an association that has no defined purpose such as a social group. It is partially appropriate to a club like NESFA that both exists as a social club and has well defined purposes.

My personal opinion on the question of inactive regular members is that we should add a new category of membership to be known as inactive regular members. The salient features of this class of membership would be: The dues would be the same as those of ordinary regular members. Only regular members would be eligible for this class of membership. They would not be regular members for he purpose of determining a quorum. They would not have the vote. They would automatically revert to active regular membership status by attending two successive meetings or if the membership votes to have them revert to active regular member status. They would have all of the other , etc., of regular membership.

My general point is that some one who has contributed to the club and has acquired the status of regular member should not be involuntarily reduced in status (which reversion to associate membership might be though of as being.) At the present time we have followed the policy of benign neglect: The number of inactive regular members is small enough so that quorum questions and vote stuffing by proxy ballots are of no particular moment. In the long run, however, they can be expected to be a potential source of trouble. I feel, therefore, that at some time in the future we should adopt a category known as inactive regular membership.

Another objection, which has been raised by Drew White, is that our present membership policies and the general club orientation have automatically narrowed our selection of members and that there are many people who it would have been nice to have as members who are unaware of or are turned off by NESFA. I think that there is a good deal of justice in this contention. If we look at the membership rolls we notice a paucity of creative types and would be creative types. Mike Symes is the only artist (contrast this to LASFS which has many artists.) The pro writers were all established before NESFA was organized and joined as pros. Bill Desmond is into media. However he was before he joined NESFA. And how many people in NESFA are aware that Bill is an old time fan with wide contacts outside of NESFA?) There is considerable evidence that there are a number of people in the Boston area who are interested in SF who are not particularly impressed by NESFA. (This includes a number of former MITSFS people such as Pat O’Neil, Jon Ravin, Truman Brown, and Ron Jansen. These I know because they are good friends of mine. No doubt there are others. I can think of Schultz as another one.) There are a number of reasons why NESFA does not attract everybody that it might. First of all the major activity of NESFA that the outsider sees are the meetings. I submit that the average meeting is not likely to turn people on. Secondly, the overwhelming work emphasis of NESFA and the lack of other activities at the meetings can be expected to be uninteresting to outsiders. There is a third factor that operated in the past much more than it might be expected to operate now. This is that NESFA was dominated by Tony Lewis in its early days and there are a lot of people who are also strong personalities who do not take kindly to being dominated by Tony. (Sorry about that, Tony, but there it is.) I think that I have gone into this topic as far as I would like to at this time. However I think that it should be explored further.

One feature, which is not so much an objection to the work clause philosophy as it is a comment on the difficulty involved in putting it into practice, is that the types of work involved in maintaining the organization are not entirely the same as the types of work of associate members. To be more specific about this, let us look at the varieties of tasks that are performed within NESFA.


Runs meetings, appoints committees, etc.

Takes minutes, writes Instant Message, runs off instant message, folds, collates, and addresses IM, carries on club correspondence.

Vice President:
No specific duties. However the tradition of the last year is that the VP leads a number of projects.

Maintains financial records, takes in and hands out monies.

Runs PB. There are a large number of task associated with PB. These include creating stencils, selecting artwork and material, recruiting artwork and material, pasting up artwork, running PB off, ;age number, collating, typing up mailing labels, envelope stuffing, maintaining the mailing list, etc.

There is a lot of work associated with putting on a Boskone. It includes: Registration, floor running, handling the books, keeping accounts at the auction, handling correspondence for preregistrants, mailing out flyers and progress reports, handling publicity, contacting people for the program, running the hospitality suite, getting the Skylark, making arrangements with the hotel, getting the program organized, etc, etc, etc.

There are two components to the index. The first is handling sales and advertising. This is essentially receiving orders and mailing out indices and keeping records of it all. The other side is index production. This involves compiling the information for the annual supplement (or the five year supplement this year), keypunching up cards for the index, proofreading, running off the computer listings, pasting up the index, and getting it printed.

Rules Committee:
The activity of the rules committee has varied in the past from static passivity to being highly active. At present the rules committee has two functions. The first is to handle complaints by the membership. The second is to pass on and prepare for membership consideration new amendments to the bylaws.

Membership Committee:
The membership committee meets irregularly to pass on requests for various classes of membership. It also tries to see what changes in membership status should be made. This is a very sensitive committee.

Keeps records of NESFA property.

Keep and maintain records of the NESFA library.

Program Committee
Handles programming for NESFA meetings. Currently the major type of programming done by NESFA, There has been a demand for more variety in programming. This may happen. The principal activities at present are selecting and running movies.

Houses and runs the NESFA mimeo supplies and equipment. Runs stuff on the NESFA mimeo equipment. This involves a fair amount of activity.

Covers for the APA must be obtained. Contents must be typed up. The APA must be collated and stapled. Copies have to be mailed out. And, of course, people must contribute to the APA.

Someone has to undertake organizing the various NESFA outings. At present Leslie has undertaken most of this effort.

Meets yearly to nominate people for office. (Actually it meets several times but it comes into existence once a year.)

Standing Rules, Bylaws, Etc:
In the past year we have undergone a major revision of the bylaws, etc. We have also compiled and analyzed our standing rules. Everybody involved has announced that they don’t want to do anything of this kind for a long while. (However I am somewhat cynical about this. NESFA members have a distinct fondness for constitutional boondoggling despite their protestations. I suspect it is a good thing – it keeps them off the street.)

Hosting meetings:
Since NESFA has no permanent meeting place it is necessary for members to supply their homes as meeting places and do the work associated with putting out refreshments.

Maintaining the Geha:
NESFA owns a Geha that must be run and kept by someone.

This is a list of the current activities of NESFA. It may be complete but probably isn’t. It does not include any of the proposed new of the proposed new activities that are coming into existence. I think it includes everything of structural importance.

Now let us look at what activities are considered for meeting the work requirement and which are really open to the associate member who wishes to become a regular member.

Many of the above activities are not considered as being particularly important when it comes to evaluating activity for the work requirement. For example the hosting of meetings or contributing to the APA are not rated highly. (A case can be made for rating holding meetings more highly than it is.) The general criterion is that work that is needed by NESFA is valued much more highly than work than work that is not essential. Another criterion is that work that carries a high load of egoboo rates less highly than work that does not.

A perfect example of work that does not carry a high rating is contributing to the APA. Now certainly it is desirable to contribute to the APA. I think it should count for something. But it is not the sort of thing that is needed. (If you can’t see the difference consider the effect if no one would work on the Boskone and the effect if no one contributed to a particular issue of the APA.) Furthermore contributing to the APA carries a high egoboo load. One appears in print and gets the reaction of other people to what one has said.

Hosting a meeting is rated somewhat lowly. It is quite true that this is a necessary thing to do. The operative consideration seems to be that it is a source of egoboo and that for many members it is not really much work. (This may particularly be the case for members who live with their parents. I do not think , however, that an inquiry into parental relationships is in the province of the membership committee.) Actually I think we can distinguish between the person who supplies his/her home once in a great while principally for the honor of the thing and the member who supplies his/her home as a regular thing. For example the Kents, Tony and Sue, Don Eastlake, Ed Meyer, and Marsha and I have all willingly and readily supplied meeting space for regular meetings, special meetings, committee meetings, collations, etc. I do feel that this sort of thing is above and beyond the call of duty and should be considered so.

Activity in the various special committees that have considered rules and bylaws has also been rated somewhat lowly. They are a number of considerations that come into play here. First of all we are somewhat wary of people who are solely concerned with rules, regulations, and constitution writing. The past experience of NESFA and of other clubs teaches us to be wary of such people. Someone who is forever concerned with such things and only with such things can be very useful at some particular point in time. Once his time has passed, however, he can be a source of obstruction, wasting immense amounts of time on endless proposals. Another consideration is that someone who has done only this sort of work is, in effect, assuming the authority of a regular member without having assumed the responsibilities. That is, working on by-laws, etc, is undertaking activity concerned with the control functions of the club. This is an area that the regular members have reserved to themselves. Under the present policy one doesn’t get to be a chief (regular member) until one has shown that one is a good indian. The point of the work requirement is to show a willingness to be an indian, and not to express a willingness to be a chief. (The great plague of fan clubs is the person who isn’t willing to do anything but is very willing to tell other people what to do and how to do it. NESFA is not entirely exempt from this.)

The positions of being officers of the club are not, of course, open to associate members. The reasons for this should be obvious. At the present time reproduction is in the Editor’s hands. It is not necessary that it should be although it is desirable. (The editor maintains a store of material such as lettering guides, paste up equipment, etc, that are associate with repro. He also has immediate need of the equipment for putting out PB.) I do think that the equipment should reside in one person’s control and that this person should be a regular member because of damage if the equipment is mishandled. (For purely personal reasons I think it should remain at my place – I like working with the repro equipment.)

Participating in outings is also not considered very highly.

Some minor activities that are valued are archives, keeping the library, maintaining the Geha, and serving on the nominations committee. (This year we opened the nominations committee to associate members. This policy is not particularly consistent with the general NESFA policy control functions. However NESFA is under no particular obligation to be consistent. Actually it is a training exercise as much as anything.) Membership in the rules committee and the membership committee is not open to associate members.

The big activities as far as qualifying for regular membership are concerned are: working on index production, working on the Boskone, and working on PB. The two principal sources of work (and there is plenty for all) are the Index and the Boskone. (Ed Meyer has pointed out that at present PB offers very little scope to the membership for participating. I tend to agree with him. I also feel that it can and should be possible for the membership to participate more fully in putting out PB. There are, however, many special difficulties in do this that Ed’s analysis did not really take into account. One of the things that I want to do in the near future is to thoroughly analyze what is involved in putting out an issue and how the work load can be spread. If this furshlugginer analysis of the membership policy had not turned into a monster I might have done so in this issue. One thing is that the last issue and the next issue or two are part of a major learning curve on my part.)

The two big activities, Index and Boskone, both offer much opportunity for doing things. They offer a spectrum of tasks varying from highly structured, well defined tasks to highly unstructured tasks that require a great deal of initiative. At present the program committee does not offer much scope, but it promises to do so in the future.

Anything this long should have a conclusion so here goes: In conclusion I feel I have described the membership policy of NESFA, and some of it effects on the structure of NESFA. I recommend to anyone who is interested in the future of NESFA that he carefully consider these points in devising proposals for future changes in NESFA. Blah. Blah. Blah.


I am quite impressed (and appalled) that I could have spent so many words on such a topic.

This page was last updated December 6, 2003.

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