From the Past President
Ted R. Wozniak
My last column! Finally! Of all the tasks asked of ATA’s president, this is the only one I truly dreaded and hated. I can talk about ATA and the Board all day long, but writing this column was consistently a chore that made me wish I were Tom Sawyer with a pail of whitewash. So, I’m happy to see this come to an end. My other duties not so much, but it’s time to move on.
And since this is my last column, I’m going to exercise my editorial prerogative and reflect on my service on the Board and to ATA since October 29, 2010.
It’s hard to believe it will have been 4,018 days (11 years) since I was first elected to the Board. There have been a lot of changes since then—for me, for ATA, and in the translation and interpreting (T&I) universe. Among other things, ATA has made major improvements to its professional development program, increased member benefits, become much more “interpreter-friendly,” and (finally!) moved the certification exam to a fully online system. The profession has grappled with the rise of machine translation and increased automation in project management and seen explosive growth in (not-so-) new fields of T&I such as audiovisual, transcreation, search engine optimization marketing, and remote interpreting.
In my candidate statement in 2010, I listed nine areas of concern I wanted to work on, of which all but two (really one and a half) have been accomplished.
Improve Communication between Members and ATA: While not intended as a direct communication channel to the Board, the ataTalk listserv has served to increase debate and discussion among members. The ATA Podcast also provides members with information about ATA happenings and governance issues. And I believe the Board’s communication to members about policy and governance issues is now much better and more informative.
Offer More Business Education: ATA’s training offerings of the business of T&I is certainly far greater and of much higher quality than in the early 2000s.
Improve Cooperation with the Association of Language Companies: I not only opened a dialogue with the Association of Language Companies (www.alcus.org), but we have also cooperated on several issues of common concern, such as advocacy efforts surrounding AB 5 and related independent contractor issues, issues arising from the pandemic such as early vaccinations for on-site health care and legal interpreters, and support for language access by the federal government. An attempt to develop a joint model contract for use with language services companies did fail, but at least we made the attempt in a friendly and professional manner.
Increase the Use of Electronic Meetings/Balloting by the Board: I changed my mind on this one after learning more about the legal issues surrounding board meetings and seeing the effect of having open meetings. I was wrong about this one. In order to have completely frank and honest discussions among board members, especially when discussing our mistakes and failures, it’s necessary to have in-person closed meetings. That is not to say “secret” meetings, but closed meetings. At least during discussions of items when the Board needs to air some “dirty laundry.” Members could still attend portions of in-person meetings to talk directly to the Board (even though I can’t recall ever having more than five members attend a Board meeting, even at the conference). Concise minutes, coupled with statements from the president in this space, can inform members about the Board’s work.
Increase the Use of Online Presentations/Seminars to Save on Costs: Webinars have become an almost daily occurrence—even pre-COVID—and the breadth and quality of them has increased dramatically. The future of hybrid or fully virtual conferences/seminars remains to be seen as the financial costs are currently very high. But that could change, making at least virtual seminars and specialized conferences economically feasible.
Revitalize the Ethics Committee/Complete the Revision of the Code of Professional Conduct: Done. And almost done. As chair of the Ethics Committee, Rudy Heller began the revitalization of the committee, and the Ethics Procedures were completely rewritten to ensure a fair and impartial hearing of all complaints received. The Code of Ethics and Professional Practice was revised back in 2010 and is currently undergoing a major revision that should be completed soon. The number of complaints received initially increased dramatically as members learned that ATA took their complaints seriously, even if many of their complaints didn’t result in sanctions. Twelve members have since been sanctioned, compared to just one during many prior years. And history was made when ATA expelled a member in perpetuity for the first time.
Work on Model Contract Project: Not done (as envisioned) but we tried. This may have been a bridge too far. As mentioned above, we attempted to work with the Association of Language Companies to develop a joint model contract for independent contractors and language services companies, but the differences were just too great to overcome. But at least we tried. There’s a model contract for translators that’s suitable for use with direct and private (non-language services company) clients, and a similar model contract for interpreters is in the works.
Offer Military Linguist Outreach Program: Created and underway. As a former military linguist, this was certainly a priority for me. Former military and other government linguists represent a rich pool of potential professionals, many in languages of lesser diffusion. Under the outstanding leadership of Rusty Shugart, chair of ATA’s Government Linguist Outreach Task Force, the program was launched two years ago and has now recruited about a dozen new ATA members—despite the fact that in-person events and direct communications were halted by the pandemic about six months into the program. (On the other hand, this initiative has cost ATA extremely little in financial resources given the lack of travel, so the cost per new member has been very low.)
Of course, there are other issues I’ve worked on, ATA’s finances and governance in particular. The Association’s finances are not quite where I would like them in terms of long-term stability, but we’re getting there. Treasurer John Milan has the situation well in hand and is advising the Board on future actions. Ensuring that the Annual Conference at least breaks even on a consistent basis is the last major step for the Board to act on. Given that conference locations are set five years in advance, this will take a bit longer to achieve.
The membership restructuring that’s currently under discussion is also a positive step in orienting the Association to become the representative and advocate for individual professional practitioners, instead of a trade association working for the industry as a whole and trying to represent all participants (with the attendant inherent conflicts of interest). While the draft proposal could use some tweaking and will not please every member, I do believe it’s in the best interest of the vast majority of our individual members, the independent profession provider of T&I services.
Finally, I would like to thank every Board member that I’ve worked with over the past 11 years, all of the committee members who do the heavy-duty work of meeting the needs of our members, the staff at ATA Headquarters who are often overworked and underappreciated, and thanks as well to all the individual members who have reached out to me over the years offering suggestions or support. And certainly not least, I have to thank my wife, Kathy, for allowing me to take so much time away from her to serve ATA. It has been an honor and a privilege and the capstone of my professional career.