Upcoming Member Vote

Upcoming Member Vote by Charmen Goehring-Fox

[NOTE: Another view on this issue immediately follows Charmen’s article.]

Charmen Goehring

Many of you may be aware that we have a national AAUW election coming up April 17-May 7 that includes a bylaw proposal to eliminate the degree requirement as a condition of membership. For the sake of transparency, let me say that I am 100 percent in favor of elimination. There are many pros and cons, and lots of feelings around the proposal. Let’s talk about some facts first.

*This is just the second time since 2009 that the National AAUW Board has put the proposal to a vote. The appearances on the ballot between 2009 and 2018 were suggested by a member, which is one of our rights of membership.

*This is not about getting more members — when we voted to allow those with two-year degrees or when we voted to allow men, there was not a surge of two- year degreed or male members. It is not expected to create a flood of new members now.

*Only about 15 percent of AAUW’s budget is funded by our dues. The rest comes from other sources such as corporations and other organizations. It is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with other organizations for these funds as we are seen as “exclusive” at a time when everyone is working to become more inclusive. Our mission will be jeopardized by lack of funds if we can’t get donors to see AAUW as a worthwhile investment.

*Younger women, those under 50, have been telling AAUW for years that they see the degree requirement as exclusive and they do not want to be part of an organization that holds on to this.

*AAUW is not considering changing the name. Many people now think we are university professors which, obviously, is not accurate. Many companies and organizations have changed membership makeup over the years and yet, kept their well-established name- think GEICO, YMCA.

*Our degree requirement has changed over time. In the beginning, only those with a degree from a specific list of schools could join AAUW. In 1949, the members voted to open membership to women with a degree from any accredited four-year college or university. In 1985, we voted to allow men and in 2005, those with a two-year or equivalent degree were voted in.

Among the pros of eliminating the degree requirement:

  • We will be able to “walk our talk” of equity for ALL women.
  • We will be able to welcome equity-minded people who have amazing skillsets but no degree.
  • We will be seen as more inclusive and open to our communities.
  • We may attract younger women and women of color (many of whom have historically not had the same education opportunities as white women).

Some of the cons of eliminating the degree requirement:

  • We lose our exclusive appeal and are less distinguishable from other women’s organizations.
  •  We might be seen as less focused on encouraging women to achieve degrees (though we will still be the largest provider of grants and fellowships).
  •  We may attract to our branches women who are different from us.

I urge you to consider this matter, talk with others, seek out information. Check out the AAUW Townhall Webinar, Dues and Education Requirement (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhkHHqKwT3w&feature=youtu.be) This has been a year of reckoning in our country and it is time to bring AAUW along too. As Frieda Schurch, 50- year member and major AAUW donor, said on the floor of the 2005 AAUW Convention, “What are we about? Equity for women or showing off our degrees?” It is time again to answer that question.

Another View on the Upcoming Vote by Vicki Nicholson

When I proudly joined the Fremont Branch in 1974, I was eager to meet and have conversations with educated, intelligent women who also supported education and equity.  I was not disappointed.  Since the degree was the “value factor” for joining, I am giving voice to members who want to retain the degree requirement.  I respect current members who admit that, though they formerly supported its retention, they now are willing to eliminate it.

To some extent AAUW has achieved its goal of promoting college education for women and girls because our sisters have secured more degrees than men for some time.  However, we are aware that we cannot relax our push for pay equity, equitable health care, more equitable representation of minority communities as leaders, among other issues.  We certainly welcome all partners who join us in these efforts.

If the degree requirement is completely eliminated, AAUW will no longer be distinctive — just American Association of Women.  And if there is no corresponding name change, then the AAUW label would be misleading or, worse, a form of false advertising.

I am most angered by the fact that the membership HAS spoken on this question and it has been rejected at least twice in recent years.  I resent National attempting to railroad through the degree requirement elimination AGAIN.  National should wait at least five years before putting the change to a vote once again.  Since I am a paid life member, I cannot disassociate myself from the national organization but, if degree elimination is passed, I would have to re-evaluate local branch ties.