Recently on the Techwr-L list, there was a firestorm of controversy regarding allowing student members the right to vote in STC Society-level matters.
The STC Board recently conducted a survey, asking for input on whether or not to allow student members to vote at the Society level. (The right of student members to vote at the chapter or community level is determined by the chapter or community’s bylaws. However their right to vote at the Society level is specifically prohibited by the Society bylaws.)
Much of the discussion on the listserv was focused on the results of the survey including whether or not to make individual responses public (anonymously). That’s an interesting discussion, and if you’d like to have it, I recommend the thread on Techwr-L. Instead, I’d like to focus on the topic, and why I think students should have the right to vote.
First, lets talk about the community level. (For the purposes of this discussion, I’m including both chapters and SIGs (Special Interest Groups) in the concept of “communities”.) Should STC communities allow student members a vote in community business? I say yes. Here’s why: Student members who join a community do so like any other STC member: they pay an additional fee to join the community. The fee to join the community is the same for students as for regular members. Their membership in the community, therefore, represents an interest in that community and its members. From that standpoint, I can’t see why student members should be treated any differently than regular members of the community.
Some people believe that student members–because they are students–are less reliable than regular members. Maybe they think this is because Society-level membership for students is less expensive, so students are less committed to the profession and thus the community. I disagree. First, I think it is erroneous to assume all student members are typical college age students. That simply isn’t true. There are lots of student members who, mid-career, have gone back to school to improve their skills, or get an advanced degree to help improve their marketability. Are some student members typical 18-25 year olds? Yes. But certainly not all, so it is unfair to judge the group based on our perceptions (or stereotypes) of 18-25 year olds.
Some people believe that those students who are in the 18-25 year old group are too inexperienced to provide a balanced perspective on what the community direction should be. To me, that just sounds like age discrimination. In the United States, we allow these people to serve in the military and we allow them to vote in political elections. We expect them to research the issues and vote based on their beliefs. Do we somehow believe that an STC member is qualified to vote for the US President, but can’t understand the complexities of STC, and so therefore shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Society issues? I don’t buy it.
I also believe that student members are hopefully learning the latest trends and technologies, and can provide the Society with needed perspective regarding these issues. When I was in my undergrad English program with a tech comm emphasis ten years ago, I was taking classes on XML programming–a class that directly affected my ability to get my first job out of college. I believe many of our student members are learning using the latest software and tech comm tools. Let’s hear what they think about trends in the field and how we can solve some of the problems we face. A different perspective on an old problem is sometimes what is needed to solve it.
At the Society-level, I think the same reasoning applies.
Some argue that because student members paid lower dues than regular members, the student members are less inclined to feel ownership in the Society, or care about the issues they would be voting on. I don’t think that is a fair argument. I would be interested to know how many “regular” members have their STC dues paid for (wholly or partly) by their employers. I’d also be interested to know how many students have their STC dues paid for by their educational institutional. My personal experience is this: When I was a student STC member during my undergrad years, I paid my own dues. All of them. And because I was a student, it was a bigger chunk of my total income. Every job I’ve had since I graduated (three companies) has paid for my STC dues. Now I recognize that isn’t the case for all members. Many of our regular members are paying out of their pockets, but I know that many people are having their STC dues paid (at least in part) by their employer. Plus, most of our regular members are paying a lower overall portion of their annual income to STC dues than manyof our student members.
Considering all of that, I think that our Student members joined because they have an interest in the profession and the Society. Most of them are paying out of their (smaller) pocket to be a member. Many of our regular members are not. I don’t think that lower membership fees for students is, of itself, a reason to deny them a vote in Society business. In fact, I can’t think of any compelling reason why students shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
When the Intermountain Chapter presents its new bylaws next month, you will almost certainly see in them the right guaranteed to all members–student and otherwise–the right to vote in chapter business. I hope the Society-level board will carefully consider their reasoning for not allowing student members to vote, to see if the reasoning is valid.
Do you disagree with me? Let me know your thoughts on student membership voting in the comments below.