I hope you are all well as we slowly emerge from The Long 2020. I’m writing to inform you of some important changes to our Governance structures that have recently been approved by the Council.
In recent years, the Medieval Academy of America has had to become a more outward-facing organization even as we continue our long tradition of supporting, publishing, and promoting exceptional scholarship in Medieval Studies. Our field, and our members, face growing threats, from white supremacy to fiscal precarity to the adjunctification of academia, a shriveling academic job market, cuts to the humanities, and so on. The Medieval Academy has responded by expanding programming and grantmaking to offer support and a scholarly platform to a broader base of medievalists, including working to make space for BIPOC scholars and scholars working beyond the tenure track. I believe that we are becoming a place where otherwise-disenfranchised medievalists feel like they have a home. But our governance structure, as laid out in our bylaws, has not kept up with these changes.
Effective governance should be facilitated by comprehensive and appropriate bylaws. Our current bylaws were written several decades ago, when we were a very different kind of organization governed by a largely homogenous group of Councilors. The bylaws weren’t designed for the kind of organization that we are and that we want to be in the present moment. Our Council isn’t homogenous anymore. MAA members have elected leaders from varied demographics, from varied professional and personal backgrounds, all of whom bring their valuable experience and perspective to the table. But the bylaws haven’t kept up. We’ve made some important policy changes in recent years, but there is significant deeper work to do. It begins here, with a series of structural changes that were approved by the Council on June 1:
1) The number of Fellows and Corresponding Fellows has been expanded to 150 and 100 respectively in response to a recommendation by the Fellows themselves. This numeric expansion (in conjunction with other Fellows reforms) is intended to broaden the scope of medievalists elected to the corps of Fellows each year.
2) Elections and Voting: Last year, the ballot for Council and the Nominating Committee required ranked-choice voting. In response to the historically-low voter turnout and feedback from members who found the necessity of ranking eight Council candidates to be overly-burdensome, we will be returning to a simple majority vote in the upcoming election. Members will be asked to vote for one of three candidates for 2nd Vice-President; four of eight candidates for Council; and two of four candidates for the Nominating Committee.
3) Filling vacancies on the Council: Our past Bylaws stated that when a midterm vacancy occurred on the Council, the Council was to appoint someone to serve out the term. The current Council was not comfortable with that policy, as they felt it served to disenfranchise MAA members. In accordance with the new policy, when a vacancy occurs among the elected officers or Councilors, the Nominating Committee will nominate three members of the Academy to stand for Special Election to fill the vacancy. The Council will vote to approve the slate, and the Executive Director will facilitate a Special Election among the Membership. There is currently one midterm vacancy on the Council; a Special Election will therefore be held in a few months to fill the seat.
4) Structure of the Council: Previously, the Council was divided into two bodies: the Executive Committee and the Committee on Committees. This division was, in a word, divisive. Going forward, the duties of both of these subgroups will be taken on by the full Council as a unified body.
5) Meetings: Instead of meeting as a whole body only once per year in conjunction with the Annual Meeting, the Council will meet at least once per quarter, with other meetings as necessary. With the exception of the meeting in conjunction with the Annual Meeting, these meetings will be virtual.
These new policies, which will be codified pending review by our attorney, may seem insignificant to you, and you might not have even known how our governance worked in the first place. But these are indeed major changes. By uniting the Council into a single governing body and meeting more frequently, we hope to make our governance more lithe, effective, cooperative, and transparent.
These changes are just the beginning of a long-term system-wide review of all MAA policies and procedures as we move towards our second century. This review will help us continue the work of making the Academy a place where all are welcome and where we actively work towards inclusion, diversity, justice, and equity. I am grateful for the leadership of President Tom Dale and all of the MAA Councilors, and I look forward to working with them, and with you, as this process moves forward. I encourage you to reach out to me at any time with your thoughts and suggestions.
I hope you will enjoy a safe and relaxing summer.
Lisa Fagin Davis