We received a variety of opinions, both pro and con, regarding two proposed Bylaws amendments on this year’s ballot: 1) clarifying the rights and privileges of membership, and 2) having multiple candidates for each elective position of the Association.
Decoupling: It’s the Right Thing to Do
Ted R. Wozniak, CT
New Orleans, Louisiana
The issue of removing membership as an eligibility requirement for taking the certification exam (aka “decoupling”) has been around for at least 20 years now. ATA’s Board of Directors is proposing a Bylaws amendment that, if approved, would clarify that taking the certification exam is not an exclusive right of membership. (The proposed amendment appears in this issue.) This would allow ATA to move forward with decoupling as approved by the Board in 2013.
Arguments and statements both in favor of and against decoupling have been published in The ATA Chronicle. If you have not read them, I encourage you to do so. I won’t repeat all the arguments in favor or against here. But I will present what I personally believe to be the most pertinent reasons why decoupling membership from the certification exam is the right thing to do.
First, however, I would like to comment on the arguments made by opponents of decoupling. Opinion pieces and letters to the editor arguing against opening the exam to nonmembers were published in the January/February 20201, March/April 20202, May/June 20203, and July/August 20204 editions of The ATA Chronicle. In every instance, these concerned members presented rebuttals to the pro-decoupling arguments and made arguments for why decoupling is not a good idea. Some asked valid and pertinent questions about ATA’s Certification Program. I can even acknowledge that some of their rebuttal arguments may have some validity. But not one of these members presented a single argument or statement on why membership is a valid eligibility criterion for taking the exam.
And that’s the crux of the matter. Membership is not a valid eligibility requirement. This is why the Hamm Report5 specifically recommended that “the current membership-based requirements for eligibility should be eliminated” and why the recently commissioned opinion by Lenora Knapp, another certification specialist, stated that “requiring ATA membership is contrary to, and inconsistent with, current, accepted practice and quality standards pertaining to professional certification programs.”6
Both statements were based on principles and standards for eligibility requirements for certification programs. When applied to the certification exam, these principles require that eligibility requirements should be directly linked to the ability to translate from the source to the target language. There is no direct link between membership and the ability to translate—as Hamm stated, “paying dues…has nothing to do with one’s knowledge, skills, or ability.” These standards also require that eligibility criteria should not be used to limit the number of applicants or exclude qualified candidates. A membership requirement does just that.
Most important to my mind, however, is the fact that limiting the exam to members only is inconsistent with, if not directly contrary to, our Bylaws. The first objective stated in our Bylaws is “to promote the recognition of the translation and interpreting professions.” They go on to say that ATA shall strive to meet its objectives by “supporting programs of accreditation and certification for translators and interpreters who meet specific standards of competence” (emphasis added). They do not say that ATA should support certification programs for ATA members only. Membership in ATA is not a “standard of competence” and therefore restricting certification to members only flies in the face of our Bylaws.
Restricting the Certified Translator designation to members only is something one would expect from a protectionist-based medieval guild composed of “masters” and “journeymen,” not a modern professional association such as ATA. Based on our own Bylaws and recognized standards and principles for valid certification programs, membership should be eliminated as an eligibility requirement for the certification exam. It’s the right thing to do. I therefore urge you to vote in favor of the proposed Bylaws amendment so that ATA can follow its stated objectives and adhere to current, accepted practice and quality standards of professional certification programs.
- “Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 12, http://bit.ly/opinions-Jan-Feb.
- “Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers,” The ATA Chronicle (March/April 2020), 10, http://bit.ly/opinions-March-April.
- Letters to the Editor, The ATA Chronicle (May/June 2020), 5, http://bit.ly/letters-May-June.
- “Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 14, http://bit.ly/opinions-July-August.
- ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000), http://bit.ly/Hamm-report.
- Knapp, Lorena. “Certification Consultant’s Statement on the Membership Requirement for ATA Certification,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 12, http://bit.ly/consultant-statement.
Statement in Support of Proposed Decoupling Bylaws Amendment
We, the undersigned former officers and directors of the American Translators Association, do hereby voice our support for the Bylaws amendment proposed by the Board of Directors clarifying that taking ATA’s certification exam is not an exclusive membership right and that, therefore, nonmembers may be allowed to take the certification exam in accordance with policies and procedures approved by the Board of Directors.
We urge all Active and Corresponding Members of ATA to vote FOR the proposed Bylaws amendment.
President/President–Elect (2015–2019); Director (2012–2015)
President/President–Elect (2013–2017); Director (2008–2013)
President/President–Elect (2005–2009); Treasurer (2001–2005)
President/President–Elect (2011–2015); Director (2007–2010)
Thomas West III
President/President–Elect (1999–2003); Director (1996–1999)
Secretary (2015–2016); Director (2013–2014)
Secretary (2016–2017); Director (2013–2016), (1988–1994)
Secretary (2003–2007); Director (1997–2003), (2007–2013)
Secretary (2011–2015); Director (2005–2011)
Evelyn Yang Garland
Director (2009–2012), (2015–2018)
A Membership Association or a Worldwide Credentialing Body?
Jessica Hartstein, CT, CI
ATA-certified (Spanish>English and French>English)
Credentialed Interpreter Legal (Spanish)
Burden of Proof: The first sentence of our Bylaws describes ATA as a “membership corporation.” The onus is on ATA to make a convincing case that our membership corporation should open its exam to nonmembers. General, nice sounding statements that decoupling (i.e, opening the exam to nonmembers) will positively impact the profession and ATA have been provided without evidence, but some very real risks to the Association have also been presented.1
Are members missing out on concrete opportunities because only ATA members can take the certification exam? For most, probably not. ATA has not provided the names of any large freelance translation buyers who do not recognize ATA certification due to this. No indication has been made that coupling membership with certification has hurt our credibility among any large segment of translation buyers. We have a credible and valuable program thanks to the hard work of so many.
Members Decide on the Future of the Certification Program: Thanks to the Certification Program being established in the Bylaws as a member right, the future of the program is in your hands if you choose to vote in this year’s election.2
Bylaws Amendment Wording Is Indirect: I expected that when members were asked to vote on decoupling, the proposed Bylaws amendment would say what it means and mean what it says. I thought the Bylaws amendment would be presented as follows:
Article III, Section 3—Rights and Privileges
a. Active members have the right to attend any of the Association’s membership meetings, use all of its membership facilities, and receive all of its regular publications free or at special membership rates. They also have the right
to take certification examinations, to vote, to hold Association office, and to serve on the Board of Directors and all committees of the Association.
With this wording, we would know exactly what we were voting for: opening the exam to everyone.
I was disappointed to see that the actual amendment that will be presented to members includes several other (arguably unnecessary) changes, making the intention and impact of the amendment less obvious.3 Members should not have to read between the lines of the amendment wording to know what they are voting for. Certainly, some members will only look at the wording of the amendment and carelessly miss the fact that a vote to give members the privilege to take the test “at a discounted price” will be considered by ATA as a vote in favor of opening the exam to nonmembers. This is a very indirect way of presenting this issue.
For your information, the Board takes an AGAINST vote to mean “I do not want to open the exam to nonmembers.”
Opening the Exam Does Not Directly Help Most Members: I have yet to see ATA provide a clear, logical, and specific example of how the average member who supports themselves with translation and interpreting work will directly benefit from opening the exam to nonmembers. I would like to share some things that otherwise happy members who have not been participating in these public discussions have told me: “What would be the point of ATA, then?” “I’ll be the first to leave if they do this!” “This will not help my business.” These members don’t see tangible benefits for the Association or their own businesses. If the fact that members expect ATA to prioritize the professional lives and Association benefits of paying members seems outlandish or in conflict with our purpose, perhaps we need to rethink our purpose. Are we fundamentally a credentialing entity or a membership association?
I recently saw longtime ATA Spanish Division members with decades of translation experience discuss leaving the industry because they are unable to support themselves. I wish we were having this passionate of a debate about what we, as an association, can do directly to change this. We have limited resources and opening an exam to nonmembers does not seem like the most direct route to positive change.
I want to recognize that ATA has presented the first concrete example of one subgroup of ATA members who would directly benefit from decoupling: active members of the armed services. Their employer, the Department of Defense, would pay for their exam if we decoupled.4 ATA’s Government Linguist Taskforce has been hard at work recruiting active members of the armed services and ATA has recently offered military personnel 50% off their first two years of membership.5
Experts Weigh In: ATA’s Certification Program Needs Eligibility Criteria for the Sake of Credibility: Lenora Knapp, a credentialing expert, wrote in the July/August issue of The ATA Chronicle that eligibility requirements should not “be such that unqualified individuals can earn the credential simply by passing the exam.”6 With no educational or experience requirement to take the exam, ATA is not currently able to prevent non-translators from taking it. Thus, it is not ensuring that its exam candidates are “translators and interpreters who meet specific standards of competence,” as stated in ATA’s Bylaws.
In my opinion piece in the January/February issue of The ATA Chronicle regarding opening the exam to nonmembers, I reported that Michael Hamm (a credentialing expert engaged by ATA 20 years ago) also made the case that educational/experience eligibility requirements were essential to credibility.7 If this exam is aimed at mid-career professional translators, candidates would be able to meet certain educational/experience requirements. Why don’t we bring these requirements back?
Law school graduates are expected to provide proof of eligibility for the Texas Bar exam. We clearly want to protect the credibility and integrity of our credential just as other organizations do. Eligibility criteria (and preventing people from fraudulently misrepresenting our credential) should not be considered administrative burdens because they have a bigger impact on our credibility than decoupling.
I love best practices, but the argument that coupling membership is not a best practice loses strength when there are other very significant credentialing best practices that we are ignoring. Please read my opinion piece in the January/February issue to learn more about this and the unknowns of opening the exam.
Antitrust Is Not Applicable: Doctors are required by law to have a medical license; ATA-certification is optional. There are 350 languages spoken across the U.S.8 We offer certification in about 20 languages. The vast majority of translators earn their income without ATA certification, so there is really no concern that ATA is preventing anyone from working.
Conclusion: I’m so thankful to ATA’s Certification Program for its hard work in creating a well-respected credential. ATA has not shown that this amendment will directly help most members, so I hope you’ll vote “AGAINST.”
- Hartstein, Jessica. “Opening theExam: Too Many Unknowns,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 14, http://bit.ly/Hartstein. Also see “Opening the ATA Certification Exam to Nonmembers,” ATA Webinar Series (October 1, 2019), http://bit.ly/webinar-decoupling.
- ATA’s Bylaws can be found here: www.atanet.org/docs/p_bylaws.pdf.
- “Proposed Amendment to the Bylaws to be Presented to the Membership for Voting in October 2020,” www.atanet.org/bylaws_change.php.
- Episode 45 of The ATA Podcast (July 15, 2020), http://bit.ly/ATA-episode45.
- Bacak, Walter. “Board Meeting Highlights,” The ATA Chronicle (May/June 2020), 7, http://bit.ly/board-highlights.
- Knapp, Lorena. “Certification Consultant’s Statement on the Membership Requirement for ATA Certification,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 12, http://bit.ly/consultant-statement.
- Hartstein, Jessica. “Opening the Exam: Too Many Unknowns,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 14, http://bit.ly/Hartstein; Also see: ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000), http://bit.ly/Hamm-report.
- Hickey, Sarah. “The Catch-22 with Certifications,” Nimdzi Insights, http://bit.ly/catch-22-certification.
Multiple Candidates Bylaws Amendment: Support Competitive ATA Elections
Patricia C. de Ribes, CT
San Marcos, Texas
In every ATA election, voting members have several important decisions to make. In addition to voting for three director positions in 2020, we will vote on two Bylaws amendments.
The first Bylaws amendment is a Board initiative to decouple ATA certification from membership and open the certification exam to nonmembers. An “Against” vote on this amendment will ensure that our certified translator credential remains tied to ATA membership and will preserve the member right to take certification exams.
The second proposed amendment, the Multiple Candidates Bylaws Amendment, is the result of a member-initiated petition. A “For” vote on this amendment will require the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee (NLDC) to propose at least two candidates for each ATA officer position: president-elect, secretary, and treasurer. This Bylaws amendment would ensure that elections are competitive.
The Nominating and Leadership Development Committee
The NLDC has proposed more than one candidate for an officer position on just three occasions since 2005. Although the Bylaws do provide for candidacy by petition, this should not be the sole means for providing a choice of candidates. While election by acclamation is the policy at the ATA division level, elections for officers should make it possible for members to vote in competitive elections to elect those who will best represent ATA and its members.
The NLDC chair and committee members are appointed by the Board. Since 2005, in the absence of competitive elections, the five members of the NLDC, rather than the majority of ATA voters, have been effectively selecting ATA’s officers and setting the course for the Association. When a secretary and treasurer are elected, they will serve for the next two years. Once elected, the president-elect serves two years in that position, followed by two years as president.
ATA’s Board Elections Policy was revised in August 2019 to read: “It [the NLDC] shall propose at least two candidates for each officer position (president-elect, secretary, and treasurer) and at least two candidates for each director position.”
This short-lived version of the Elections Policy was superseded in October 2019 by one that characterized multiple candidates for each position as merely an option rather than a requirement: “It [the NLDC] shall propose preferably two candidates for each officer position (president-elect, secretary, and treasurer) and at least two candidates for each director position.”
In August 2020, the Board approved yet another revised Elections Policy. According to this version: “It [the NLDC] shall propose at least one candidate for each officer position (president-elect, secretary, and treasurer) and at least one candidate for each director position.”
ATA’s Board has modified the Elections Policy three times in the space of just one year. This clearly demonstrates the importance of setting out explicit election standards in the Bylaws to govern the development of a coherent Elections Policy. ATA’s Bylaws, which supersede any policies or guidelines, provide structure and direction for the conduct of Association business and guide the development of policies that must be harmonized with the Bylaws.
Having multiple candidates stand for elective office will keep ATA strong and relevant. It will incentivize future leaders to listen to the membership and pay attention to their opinions, concerns, and needs. When members know that the election process is democratic and competitive, we are more likely to be involved and participate in our Association.
ATA members deserve a democratic election process and competitive elections. The best way to ensure these will be in place for future ATA elections of officers and directors is to vote “For” on the Multiple Candidate Bylaws Amendment.
Opposing Resolution to Mandate Multiple Candidates
President/President-Elect (2009–2013); Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2013–2017)
President/President-Elect (2013–2017); Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2017–)
President/President-Elect (2005–2009); Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2011–2013)
Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2007–2011)
While we applaud the initiative of the members who have proposed a resolution to mandate multiple candidates for all positions on ATA’s Board of Directors, including officers (treasurer, secretary, and president-elect), we are concerned—as former chairs of the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee and some ATA past presidents—that the potential harm and practical challenges involved with such a permanent change may far outweigh any theoretical benefits. We are not opposed to multiple candidates competing for officer positions, but requiring the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee to put forward multiple candidates is not considered good practice for good reason.
The current Nominating and Leadership Development Committee includes members from the leadership of divisions, certification, chapters, interpreting, etc., representing a broad spectrum of the Association. The committee is also unique in that it is subject to a rigorous schedule from the time it is appointed each year until it must put forward a slate of candidates for the Board.
ATA nominates multiple candidates for directors every year, but while nominating multiple candidates for officer positions is also encouraged, it is not mandated. Mandating multiple candidates for all positions poses a number of particular challenges. The first challenge is a matter of numbers. In an ideal world, the treasurer, secretary, and president-elect will have had some Board experience, so that they are familiar with the current issues facing the Board. ATA’s Board of Directors consists of 12 members plus the president. If all three officer positions require at least two candidates, the committee would have to identify six appropriate candidates—half of the Board—who are willing and able to take on these additional responsibilities. In any given year, there may be Board members who are unable to run due to term limits or Board members who just started on the Board, which reduces the potential number of candidates for officers further.
Besides Board experience, the committee also employs a list of demanding qualifications for officers, who must demonstrate the right skills and be able to dedicate substantial time to their respective leadership role for a term of at least two years, or even four years in the case of the president-elect. While it is possible for the committee to seek candidates who do not have any Board experience, finding eligible outside candidates who have the necessary experience, abilities, and knowledge to step into high-profile officer positions involving significant amounts of volunteer time is very rare.
As a result, the proposed resolution mandating multiple candidates forces the committee to potentially nominate candidates without Board experience, persons who may not have the time or skills to take on additional responsibilities, or who may simply accept the nomination with the intention to lose, which does not serve the membership or the Board member in question.
Moreover, our experience as committee chairs has shown that losing candidates are less likely to run again or increase their involvement in the Association’s affairs. Putting yourself in the spotlight of an election can be a harrowing experience that is quite different than the experience of actually governing. As a result, talented candidates with excellent administrative skills may be scared off from repeating the experience. This does not serve the Association’s interest in developing stable and competent leadership.
Ironically, the proposed resolution puts more power in the hands of the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee vis-à-vis the membership. ATA’s Bylaws include a petition process that allows a member to be added to the slate by collecting the signatures of 60 voting members. In the case of the officer positions, if the committee is forced to put forward two or more candidates for each position, this significantly dilutes the chance of a petitioning candidate from achieving a clear majority of the votes cast. A three-way race can easily result in a so-called “false majority,” which can undermine confidence and trust in the system and the officers in question.
Although the committee tries to focus on the candidate’s skills rather than their stance on any particular issue, a more politically-minded committee in the future could also rig the slate with their preferred candidate and another candidate who has agreed to lose in order for the committee to achieve its aims. This is one of the reasons why the leading parliamentary authority, Robert’s Rules of Order, does not recommend mandating multiple candidates.1
Lastly, the resolution has no enforcement procedure. If the committee is unable to find a second candidate for a given position, what then? Is the ballot not valid? Is there no election until another candidate steps forward? Does it put legal liability on the committee members? These are additional challenges that need to be considered when applying such a permanent change through the Bylaws.
ATA operates as a nonprofit organization and not as a public utility, governmental office, or labor union. It is subject to different laws and customs. Within the world of association governance, using single officer candidates is considered best practice, although opinions and arrangements can vary widely among different associations.2
Nevertheless, ATA still maintains a flexible approach of encouraging the nomination of multiple directors and officers, as well as a petition option to ensure that any member has a path to the Board. This allows the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee to identify and put forward the best possible candidates with the right skills, experience, and energy to ensure that the Association runs smoothly and efficiently in the face of financial, technological, and legislative changes in the translation and interpreting world.
The committee is very aware of the membership’s desire for multiple candidates and will certainly make every effort to propose appropriate multiple candidates, even for officers. The committee is not opposed to having multiple candidates on the slate, and has done so in the past, but it is simply not always possible to achieve. Mandating a relatively permanent requirement through the Bylaws in the interest of having “multiple viewpoints”—which is not necessarily guaranteed or something that the committee considers—creates far more potential problems than it does solutions.
While the proposed resolution may be well intentioned in the present, it is not considered best practice and may prove to be detrimental to the good governance of the Association in the future. We strongly recommend voting against the resolution mandating multiple candidates for officer positions and staying with the existing elections policy, which has served ATA well over the years.
- Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (11th edition, page 433, lines 22–28): “Although it is not common for the nominating committee to nominate more than one candidate for any office, the nominating committee can do so unless the bylaws prohibit it. It is usually not sound to require the committee to nominate more than one candidate for each office, since the committee can easily circumvent such a provision by nominating only one person who has any chance of being elected.”
- “Building Better Association Boards Advancing Performance through Nomination, Recruitment, and Selection Processes.” (American Society of Association Executives, page 6): “Officer elections holding noncompetitive elections for officers is considered a leading practice. Having either the nominating committee or the board do the vetting reduces the likelihood that unselected members in competitive elections become disengaged, and also results in a competency-based system. In noncompetitive elections, the leadership slates officers based on alignment of competencies with desired strategic needs. Officer positions are filled by someone who has recently sat on the board, commonly current board members.” See: http://bit.ly/ASAE-boards.