A guide to changes promoted by the Board of Trustees and by the UUA administration.
Almost 50 years after the consolidation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, leaders of the UUA are promoting significant institutional change on several levels.
Delegates at the 2010 General Assembly will vote on a new method of selecting the UUA’s president and moderator. The Board of Trustees has vowed to transform governance at the board, General Assembly, and district levels. Districts are beginning to adopt regional staffing models. And the UUA administration is reorganizing the UUA staff. Here’s a brief guide to the changes, with references to expanded coverage online at uuworld.org. (See also UUA Moderator Gini Courter and UUA Secretary Tom Loughrey’s column about the changes the board is promoting, page 14.)
In 2009, the Board of Trustees drafted new procedures for the election of the UUA president and moderator, which will be voted on by the 2010 General Assembly. The new bylaws would replace the current elections system of self-selected candidates for president and moderator with a committee-nominated slate of candidates. An elected presidential search committee would choose two candidates, who would be announced one year prior to the presidential election. The board would nominate at least one candidate for moderator. Other candidates could still run by petition.
Under the new bylaws, the president’s and moderator’s terms would be shortened from a maximum of eight years (two four-year terms) to one six-year term.
“Congregations are not present in the current process,” former trustee Tamara Payne-Alex, who led the board working group that drafted the new bylaws, told UU World in 2009. “Congregations find out who the candidates are only after the slate has been presented. We wanted to make it more like a ministerial search process. We want to use this as an opportunity to energize and engage the electorate.” (uuworld.org 4/27/09)
Trustees are focused on transforming the governance of the Association. The board began by adopting the Policy Governance model for the UUA in July 2009. In February 2010, the board voted to pursue other changes at three levels: the General Assembly, the board, and the districts. (uuworld.org 1/25/10, 2/15/10)
The board said in an explanatory document that the UUA’s governance is too big, too complex, and too expensive. This “systemic brokenness,” the document states, “makes it impossible for us all—whether in governance, administration, or ministry—to do what is necessary for our movement to flourish in this new century.”
In a February 4 teleconference, the board passed a resolution pledging to initiate a transformation of governance at the General Assembly, board, and district levels. Trustees plan to discuss possible changes to the General Assembly and district structures at the 2010 GA, but its first concrete proposal will be to reduce the size of the board itself in a resolution the board will bring to the 2011 GA.
Change at the General Assembly level is already underway. The board has been concerned for many years about GA’s effectiveness as a governance body. It established the Fifth Principle Task Force in 2007 to examine the content and configuration of General Assembly as a governance vehicle. The task force’s report, presented at the January 2010 board meeting, advocates holding General Assembly every other year; reducing the number of delegates from approximately 5,000 to 2,000; subsidizing delegates; and seeking greater accountability of delegates to their congregations and neighbors.
“A real delegate assembly would engage the delegates in meaningful business,” said task force chair Joe Sullivan. “It would involve them in assessing progress and performance, and accountability. They would engage in conversation on opportunities and obstacles. It would involve a real linking of delegates to one another, to their geographic neighbors, and to the board of trustees and the administration. And the delegates would be accountable because they were elected by their congregations. They would be engaged in more than just what happens on the several days of GA.” (uuworld.org 1/11/10)
The board has taken no action on the task force recommendations, but the schedule of the 2010 General Assembly does reflect its proposal that plenary business be separated from workshops and other events: This year, workshops will take place on Thursday and Friday only, with plenary sessions scheduled for Friday through Sunday. Trustees will be asking for input on reforming the General Assembly at this summer’s GA.
“With 24 members, the Board resembles a small town meeting more than a functioning board,” the board explained in February. “Additionally, the expense of such a board is unacceptable.” The board vowed to work with delegates at the 2011 and 2012 General Assemblies to amend the UUA bylaws to reduce the size of the board. Nineteen trustees are elected by the UUA’s 19 district assemblies, while five are elected by the General Assembly.
Reducing the number of trustees on the UUA board may have governance implications for the UUA’s 19 districts, but other trends also point to governance changes at the district level. The UUA administration has encouraged district staff to collaborate in five regions, each made up of several districts. Two New England district boards voted in January and February 2010 to share staff and employ a single district executive.
UUA trustees will meet with district presidents, members of district boards, and the UUA administration in June to discuss the UUA staff’s shift toward regionalization and possible governance changes at the district level. (uuworld.org 2/22/10)
Concurrently, the UUA administration is in the process of streamlining and reorganizing the staff. Four departments have been consolidated into two and 15 positions have been eliminated. The changes will help the UUA operate more efficiently and free up funds to finance new initiatives, UUA President Peter Morales announced March 4.
The Advocacy and Witness staff group and the Identity-Based Ministries staff group will merge into a new department called Multicultural Growth and Witness, headed by Taquiena Boston, former head of Identity-Based Ministries. The Washington Office for Advocacy and Witness will be eliminated along with three staff positions focused on lobbying work in Washington, D.C., although the UUA will keep its office space in the capital. Two positions in Identity-Based Ministries were eliminated.
(The Rev. Meg Riley, the former director of Advocacy and Witness, has been named the new senior minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship and will be leaving the UUA staff in July; see page 52.)
The Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group and the Lifespan Faith Development staff group will be combined into a new Ministries and Faith Development staff group. The Rev. Beth Miller, head of Ministry and Professional Leadership, and six part-time administrators in her staff group were laid off. The UUA named the Rev. Sarah Lammert the director of the new staff group on April 20.*
The UUA also eliminated the directors of the Publications Office and the Office of Electronic Communications and one customer service person in the UUA Bookstore.
In an email dated February 19, Morales said that UUA revenue had declined from more than $26 million to $22 million. “Unfortunately, there is simply no way we can maintain the staffing levels we have had in the past few years,” he wrote. (uuworld.org 3/5/10)
Update 5.13.10: This story includes information about the Ministries and Faith Development staff group that was not available when the Summer issue went to press. Click here to return to the updated paragraph.
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.
Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.
Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.