Statement from interim TEI Board Chair John Unsworth

From: John Unsworth
To: The TEI Community
Date: August 18, 2011

On August 11, Martin Mueller resigned as Chair of the Board of the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium, following a vote of no confidence from the TEI’s Board of Directors.  Since then, there has been a great deal of speculation on the TEI-L email list, on Twitter, and elsewhere, about how this came to pass and what it means.  The purpose of this statement is to replace speculation with an account of events that has the endorsement of both Martin Mueller and the Board of Directors.

On August 17th, the Board appointed and unanimously elected me to serve as interim Chair for the remainder of Martin’s original term.  At the end of that term, I will not stand for election or seek a new appointment as Chair.  As many of you know, I helped to establish the TEI as a non-profit membership organization in 2000, and served as the first Chair of its Board and later of its Council. My goal in serving as interim Chair for the next year and a half will be to address operational needs, to restore equanimity, and to ensure that there is a full and open discussion of strategic priorities.

Contrary to speculation, the change in leadership at the TEI was not a result of Martin’s thoughtful August 4th, 2011 letter to the Board (see http://bit.ly/nG0Ga2). The issues that he raises in that letter are important and should be taken up by the community.  As Chair, Martin focused his attention on finding a new Treasurer, finding ways to bring down costs, bringing in new members, and finding ways to stabilize and improve TEI’s place in the landscape of digital humanities.  All of these were and are critical problems and useful strategic activities for the Chair.

The core issues leading up to Martin’s resignation were differences of opinion about the nature and purpose of the Board itself, and about day-to-day priorities in the business of the TEI (partly having to do with the sequencing of elections and appointments), the relationship between Board and Council, spending priorities (with respect to SIGs, professional services, and meetings), and the role of the Chair, a position described in the TEI Bylaws as one that “shall, subject to the direction of the Board of Directors, generally supervise and manage the affairs of the TEI-C.”  Disagreements over these issues developed within the Board, and between some Board members and their Chair.  Some Board members felt important tasks were going unattended to, and differed with the Chair on strategic priorities. Others, including the Chair, felt that the Board was not efficient in its deliberations, and was excessively concerned with procedure.

In the end, these disagreements about priorities and leadership style hardened into irreconcilable differences.  On August 11,  the Chair called a meeting to discuss budget matters, and four of six voting members, a quorum of the Board, attended.  A vote of confidence was called but failed to pass, and Martin resigned.  A brief account of that meeting was published on August 15 on TEI-L, and it is available at http://bit.ly/pqyGsJ.

The purpose of the foregoing is to explain how we arrived where we are; it is not meant to decide who got us here.  I am certain that everyone involved felt they were doing the best thing for the TEI, but the situation needs to be de-polarized.  We’re a community of people with significant shared interests and values, but we are also a minority in some important larger communities, so it’s in our interest to focus on what we share, and to design and pursue a collective strategy with respect to those larger communities.  In order to plan that strategy, and attend to its implementation, the community needs to speak on issues both conceptual and operational, and the Board and Council need to listen.  In fact, I am sure they would welcome mandates from the community.

Some procedural issues have been raised, on Twitter and on TEI-L, that also need to be addressed.  There has been much speculation regarding the Board’s structure and its decision-making process in the case at hand. The Board consists (as it has always consisted) of voting and non-voting members.  All of its voting members are elected by TEI member institutions.  Officers of the Board are elected (and if necessary, appointed) by the rest of the Board.  The question has also been raised whether the Board exceeded its authority by calling a vote of no confidence.  The bylaws do not provide explicit advice on the proper procedure for removing a Chair, but logically there must be one, and if the Chair is elected by the Board, the Board must be able to vote to replace him or her.  There has also been speculation about whether recently approved changes to the TEI Bylaws were in some way a backdrop for these events.  Both the old and the new bylaws stipulate the same procedures for appointing a Chair and for repopulating the Board.  Both old and new bylaws say that a Chair may be either an elected Board member or an appointed one: Martin was appointed by the Board, so his departure as Chair entails his departure from the Board, but it does not create the sort of vacancy that necessitates a special election by member institutions.

Finally, on behalf of the Board, I invite discussion of the TEI’s future strategy and operations, with the hashtag #teifuture on Twitter, and the subject line “Future of the TEI” on TEI-L.

Advertisements