For the Flourishing of Our State Affiliates: A New NAS Policy

Peter Wood

Opening Statement

In 2017, the National Association of Scholars will be thirty years old—thirty years of principled defense of civilization and liberal learning. During those decades we have witnessed much that has gone wrong in higher education, but we have also seen the dedication of thousands of men and women who are determined to keep the lamps lit. We continue to work—often under adverse circumstances—to uphold standards, to foster intellectual freedom, to search for truth, and to promote virtuous citizenship.

We stand for scholarship that refuses to bend to fashion or ideology, and for teaching that respects students’ thirst for knowledge and their independence of mind. We stand for inquiry that honors the achievements of earlier generations as it adds to that legacy. We press the case for reading in a positive spirit the great works of the past, for studying history as more than just a preamble to current views, for pursuing science as a rigorous investigation of nature, for gaining a purchase on culture that can only come from the study of foreign languages, and for asking the deep questions that philosophy sets forth.

The National Association of Scholars represents people from across the learned disciplines and the learned professions. Our faculty members come from law schools, medical schools, schools of engineering, colleges of communication, and other specialized areas as well as the traditional liberal arts disciplines. Our non-faculty members—about 7 percent of the total—represent the portion of the public that sees clearly the stakes in today’s controversies about the character of American higher education.

NAS was founded as an organization with a local presence in almost every state. One aim of the “state affiliate” model was to overcome the relative isolation of our members from one another. The rise of the Internet decreased that isolation, but face-to-face meeting is still important. This document is a step toward making NAS affiliates a more vital part of the lives of NAS members.

NAS State Affiliates

NAS state affiliates aim to bring members together. A strong network of these local affiliates is what makes NAS a movement, not just a collection of like-minded individuals. Affiliates should hold face-to-face meetings and pursue frequent communications outside such meetings. Meetings and communication foster a sense of community. Morale is important, but the affiliates are not meant simply to boost the spirits of members. They are also meant to further the substantive work of the National Association of Scholars.

Over the years, some state affiliates have flourished, others have faded, and some have rebounded. Success always depends on having an affiliate head who brings energy, imagination, and commitment to the task. While we offer advice, counsel, and resources where we can, affiliates are not under the close direction of NAS’s national office, and are invited and encouraged to take the initiative.

Each incorporated affiliate has its own tax ID number (EIN) and is classified by the IRS as a “subordinate organization” of the National Association of Scholars. This allows the affiliate to meet its federal tax filing obligation under the NAS’s tax ID. In nearly all cases, the NAS is able to file the pertinent annual form on behalf of the affiliate. Because affiliates generally operate under NAS’s tax ID, they must remain aligned with our overall mission and tax status. Beyond this, NAS affiliates are free to set their own agendas.

In the sections below we suggest activities and projects to help state affiliates flourish, but affiliates are also encouraged to develop and pursue other ideas.

Organization

Affiliates are usually separately incorporated state entities. Some campus-based affiliates also exist. We are exploring a new model of regional entities.

Incorporation requires filing papers in the state and typically involves small annual fees and reports. There are several advantages of incorporation. Incorporated affiliates qualify for inclusion in NAS federal nonprofit exemption and have legal standing in any situations that might require legal recourse. An informal club has no standing to sue, but a corporation does.

In a few cases, in addition to state affiliates, members at a particular university have organized separate campus chapters. Campus chapters are not separately incorporated and operate under the umbrella of their state affiliate. Some of these campus chapters have informal “members” who are not members of the NAS. The leadership of these groups should urge such participants to join the national organization. There are several good reasons for this, but above all it is important that participants in an affiliated body that makes use of the NAS’s name and authority be fully aware of our ideals and policy positions.

NAS is exploring the idea of creating some discipline-based affiliates. These would be, in effect, subgroups of the national organization.

Relation of Affiliates to NAS

As noted under “NAS State Affiliates,” each incorporated affiliate has its own tax ID number (EIN) and is classified by the IRS as a “subordinate organization” of the National Association of Scholars. This allows the affiliate to meet its federal tax filing obligation under the NAS’s tax ID.

NAS has no dedicated line of funding for its state affiliates but is occasionally able to supply small subsidies for specific projects. NAS is willing on a case-by-case basis to assist affiliates that seek to apply to foundations for grants. We can also provide advice and counsel on fundraising.

NAS affiliates do not speak for the NAS. And NAS takes care not to represent that its official positions on controversial issues necessarily represent the views of all its members or of its affiliates. We generally assume a harmony of interests rather than exact agreement. Members and affiliates, of course, are expected to align with the principles of NAS laid forth in the NAS mission statement and in the website section on “Issues and Ideals.”1

NAS can also help publicize affiliate events on the NAS website, provide contact information for state members, and share press lists for press releases. We can also include affiliate announcements in our email newsletter and share them on social media.

State affiliates have also been key sources of information for the national organization. NAS’s involvement in several academic freedom cases, our interest in emerging campus themes (e.g., “implicit bias” and “outcomes assessment”), and some of our larger-scale research projects (e.g., “Beach Books” and “Confucius Institutes”) originated in material provided to our national office by members of our affiliates reporting on local matters. Affiliate heads have also provided indispensable assistance with research projects over the years, especially those involving public documents requests.

NAS is exploring the possibility of an annual or biannual conference call specifically for affiliate heads, to share updates on NAS projects and preview forthcoming projects. This could give affiliates ideas about how to build on NAS’s research.

Bylaws

Some state affiliates have formal bylaws; many do not. NAS, however, encourages affiliates to adopt bylaws and supplies a model. Establishing bylaws encourages continuity by setting a schedule of meetings and elections. Without bylaws, an affiliate can lose focus or begin to drift under an affiliate head who has lost interest. Bylaws specify the frequency and form of elections, and lay out responsibilities and terms of officers. (NAS recommends that affiliate presidents be limited to a maximum of three three-year terms.) Bylaws can also be used to set local dues (if any) and state broad expectations for what the affiliate will do.

NAS has an application for individuals who seek to become presidents of affiliates. Affiliate presidents are elected by the members of the affiliate, not appointed by NAS, but NAS has frequently initiated elections and introduced candidates. The application form2 helps NAS vet candidates and helps candidates better understand what is entailed in presiding over an affiliate.

Finances

NAS does not provide a regular subsidy to any of its state affiliates. Occasionally, NAS is able to contribute toward the expenses of a particular event or project. NAS also sometimes receives gifts earmarked for the support of a particular affiliate.

Affiliates may charge their own dues. Typically, those that charge dues collect small amounts that are used to pay meeting expenses.

Affiliates may receive monetary gifts from members or other contributors. They may also receive grants directly, but both individual contributions and grants usually require the affiliate to be incorporated in the proper tax-exempt status.

Affiliates generally attempt to minimize costs. Few activities, however, are absolutely costless. One way for members to help defray costs is to make an earmarked contribution to the incorporated affiliate (or to NAS) and receive the tax deduction for a charitable contribution.

NAS is exploring the possibility of finding donors to help subsidize affiliate events, perhaps on a matching-dollar basis.

Leadership

Affiliates can define for themselves what positions of leadership need to be filled. Some have a vice-president, treasurer, and secretary in addition to an affiliate president. Affiliates must, at minimum, have a president. State laws for incorporated nonprofits may require additional officers.

The president’s formal duties include convening and presiding over meetings at least once a year. If the affiliate is incorporated, legal duties of its president include making whatever annual filings are required by the state and submitting the annual filing to the IRS. NAS typically handles the annual IRS filing, but may require the assistance of the affiliate president.

The other important roles of affiliate president include recruiting new members, recruiting other leaders, and organizing substantive projects for the affiliate.

The affiliate president is also customarily the spokesman of the affiliate in dealing with the press or with colleges and universities. Affiliates can, of course, recognize other spokesmen as needed.

Some NAS affiliates currently have “legacy” presidents, i.e., individuals elected long ago who have been mostly or entirely inactive for a long time. NAS is eager to repair these situations by encouraging new state affiliate elections.

Terms for affiliate presidents should be specified in the bylaws. We recommend three-year terms with a maximum of three consecutive terms for a particular individual. For affiliates that are not incorporated or do not have bylaws, we recommend a default of one three-year term during which the affiliate should incorporate and establish bylaws.

Affiliate presidents and other officers should be elected by the members. NAS will facilitate member meetings telephonically or in person, as needed.

As described in the section on bylaws, NAS has an application form for individuals who seek to stand for election as affiliate presidents.

Communications

NAS affiliates can build on the credibility of the NAS by issuing statements of various kinds.

This is an important power, but it must be exercised cautiously. An affiliate defines itself in the public eye by what it says and how it says it. NAS works hard to maintain its focus on key issues in higher education and its tone of intellectual seriousness. We work equally hard to avoid matters that would drag us into peripheral controversies or events we have no special competence to address. And we strictly avoid hyperbolic rhetoric. Regrettable things happen in higher education, but thunder and lightning are never the appropriate response.

Affiliates choosing to take on a controversial issue should keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Get the facts. Don’t proceed on the basis of impressions or opinions. If you issue a statement that turns out to have a key error, you will lose credibility.

  • When in doubt about a detail, leave it out.

  • A tone of restraint will serve you well. Understatement goes further than overstatement.

  • Use your scholarly authority. Draw on that authority, but do not speak as a specialist or group of specialists.

An affiliate can pursue various forms of communication such as press releases, announcements and invitations, declarations signed by members and others, newsletters, websites, social media, white papers, and reports. If a communication such as a press release is successful, the affiliate should anticipate follow-up questions and interviews. In some cases an effective public communication by an affiliate can lead to opportunities to testify before state or national legislatures.

Consider both the intended audience for an announcement or invitation and the possibility of reaching an unintended audience. Therefore, it is best to avoid satire, irony, or materials that rely on inside knowledge in any communication that may be seen by people who are hostile to NAS. Getting quoted out of context or by someone who insists on taking literally what was intended facetiously can force an affiliate into a defensive position or worse. If the use of humor is intended, have cautious friends read a communication first—and take their counsel seriously.

In drafting any of these forms of communication for the first time, it is a good idea for affiliates to seek the experienced and willing assistance of NAS’s home office. We can also provide press lists for higher education reporters who may be interested in press releases or other public communications.

Topics

NAS affiliates are semiautonomous. They can set their own agendas and choose their own issues to address without seeking the approval of NAS. But because the authority of the affiliate depends to a high degree on NAS, it is a good idea to coordinate such initiatives.

Example: Our Oregon affiliate recently issued a statement supporting a faculty member who had been suspended from her position. The affiliate adopted this position on its own and drafted a press release, but the affiliate head checked the press release with NAS before releasing it. The case was probably not one the NAS would have pursued on its own, but it was entirely appropriate for the Oregon affiliate to take it up, and we were able to assist the affiliate with some tips on the wording of the press release.

Such prior consultations are not required, but can be mutually beneficial. If NAS is not consulted in advance, we should be notified as soon as the affiliate has acted. It is not uncommon for the press to turn to NAS for comment on matters first taken up by our affiliates. NAS can also help draw attention to the affiliate’s public comments by linking to them on social media and in our newsletter.

What topics are appropriate? Academic freedom is the broadest category of controversies on which NAS and its affiliates frequently take a stand. This includes cases of individual faculty members who may have suffered mistreatment at the hands of colleagues or administrators; it includes policies impinging on academic freedom adopted by or under consideration at particular colleges and universities; it includes state-level regulations and legislation that may bear on academic freedom; and it includes actions by accreditors, professional associations, or other bodies that attempt to interpret academic freedom in inappropriate ways.

In addition to academic freedom, there are many other matters that affiliates can take up, including:

  • restrictions on student or faculty speech

  • disinvitations or silencing of invited speakers by disruptive tactics

  • mandatory training sessions on diversity, sexual harassment, microaggressions, implicit bias, or other forms of indoctrination

  • the elimination or restriction of academically worthwhile programs

  • the hollowing out of disciplines by substitution of boutique courses for core subjects

  • the introduction of unwelcome academic policies

  • the overemphasis on or illegal use of race in admissions, faculty hiring, or other contexts

  • instances of blackballing candidates for faculty appointment because of political or religious affiliation, race, or some other extraneous factor

  • imposition by administration or faculty majority of ideological positions on the whole faculty

  • the need for greater financial transparency by both public institutions and private institutions that receive public monies

  • the appointment of academic administrators of dubious qualifications

  • hidden conflicts of interest among faculty members or administrators

  • exposure of corruption among university officials or faculty members

  • distortions of academic priorities via granting power to officials in student life

  • revisions of university mission statements

  • irregular or arbitrary disciplinary procedures, especially involving allegations of sexual misconduct

  • distortions of peer review in promotion, tenure, or publication

  • special favorable treatment for protesters on one side of an issue

  • special unfavorable treatment for protesters on one side of an issue

  • “staged emergencies,” i.e., when a college turns a minor incident into a major focus

  • the creation of “centers” that stand outside of the ordinary procedures of review and academic oversight (e.g., Confucius Institutes)

  • divestment movements (e.g., fossil fuels, BDS, guns, private prisons)

This list is suggestive, not exhaustive. As a rule of thumb, NAS and its affiliates gain more ground when they button a large issue to specific events at particular times and places. What Does Bowdoin Teach? How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students was a large multiyear research project for NAS, but it zeroed in on one institution that exemplified trends at many elite liberal arts colleges.3 The study remains a benchmark, but it would not have had nearly its influence had it been titled “What Do Liberal Arts Colleges Teach?” Affiliates should anchor chosen topics in facts that others can verify if they take the trouble to look.

Another rule of thumb: When choosing a topic to address, affiliates should consider its state and national importance as well as its local significance. NAS’s work is national in scope, though it is also grounded in the particularities of individual institutions. What we have to say about one instance at one college could become a centerpiece of congressional hearings. This has happened more than once.

How Often Should Affiliates Meet?

It is a good idea for an affiliate to meet at least twice a year in person and to have conference calls several times between membership meetings.

Arranging a place to meet has proven to be a challenge for some affiliates. In large states, members may have to travel long distances and stay overnight. Many colleges and universities now charge high fees for the use of space even by nonprofit groups. In many cities, however, there are organizations that offer very low-cost space for meetings to nonprofits. Some affiliates have met at the homes of members or friends of NAS. Think tanks and churches may also provide places to meet. Meeting on campus is better if it can be arranged at a reasonable cost, but the focus should remain on finding an affordable and accessible venue that can become a regular meeting place. In large states that have a dispersed membership, the affiliate should rotate meeting places among venues in different geographic areas.

What Should Happen at Meetings and in Between?

Having an announced speaker at a meeting is a good way to draw a crowd, but it’s important not to turn meetings into lecture clubs where the speaker and respondents comprise the program. Time needs to be set aside to discuss what NAS is doing nationally, what’s happening at the colleges and universities represented by faculty members in the state affiliate, and what state and national developments bear on the larger picture of higher education. If the affiliate has nonfaculty members, their concerns must be heard as well.

Meetings are often better places to generate new ideas and to finalize plans than they are to develop practical steps between first idea and readiness to implement. Between meetings, members should work out details with one another.

Here are several types of meetings that have proven to be successful for and beneficial to active NAS affiliates:

  • Lectures or events that are open to the public. These can be held before or after a meeting of the members. Such events are a good opportunity for NAS members to invite colleagues who may be open to becoming members. They are also a way to cultivate potential donors. And they can be linked to affiliate announcements, publications, or research projects. For example, an affiliate that is attempting to draw attention to a campus disinvitation might feature the disinvited speaker.

  • Roundtables where NAS members can discuss and choose affiliate project ideas and chart a strategy to pursue them.

  • Debates on controversial issues. Debates can involve NAS members squaring off on opposing sides, or be between a NAS member and someone else or between two non-members who represent differing views.

  • Seminars. NAS affiliates can provide practical training to members who are trying to navigate the politically correct minefields of higher education. These might include learning how to challenge bullying by radical colleagues at departmental meetings, frame issues to draw support from colleagues who attempt to keep their distance from matters that are fraught with political tension, and develop an effective public voice when one is in the minority.

State affiliates are poised to hold local universities and state legislatures accountable. They enjoy the benefit of local knowledge and the nimbleness needed to respond to breaking local stories that NAS may not be able to cover. They have the standing to bring lawsuits or push for new policies (e.g., Proposition 209 in California). State affiliates are the branches growing from the NAS trunk and spreading across higher education.

What Next?

For those who belong to an active state affiliate, this document will be useful mainly to reinforce good work underway and suggest new avenues for advocacy. For residents of states where the NAS affiliate has gone quiet, this document provides ways to awaken it. For new NAS members, this document offers clarity on our vision.

After thirty years, many idealistic organizations have worn themselves out. NAS is thriving. We see wonderful opportunities ahead for reforming American higher education. To that end, we appreciate your help in revitalizing NAS’s state affiliates.

Practical Steps

Contact information for affiliate presidents is available on the “Affiliates” page of the NAS website.4

To discuss the future of your state affiliate with an NAS staff member, email [email protected]

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