Forums and Dialogues

seaton douglassDouglass Seaton, The Florida State University
Chair, Forums and Dialogues Committee

The Forums and Dialogues Committee effort for 2012 focused on the Annual Meeting session on the national topic ADVOCATE! The following report therefore reflects several points that arose from that discussion.

First of all, we owe an expression of thanks to Laurence Kaptain and James Scott for their leadership. The CMS Statement on Advocacy that they crafted has provided and should continue to provide a solid framework for ongoing dialogue and action. It certainly fulfilled this function in the Forums and Dialogues session. In addition, as principal interlocutors Larry and Jim not only brought articulate explanations of the Statement but also their own valuable information and experiences to the conversation.

In the course of the conversation interesting questions were raised, concerns and ideas offered, and information shared, so that those who attended should have come away feeling encouraged and better equipped for their own efforts. In addition, participants raised several points that the Board or National Office might wish to pursue. Since my own area of responsibility within CMS is not advocacy, I report these for whatever action or delegation of tasks the Board might consider appropriate:

(1) The question was raised whether there is a central person or committee within the organizational structure of CMS tasked with promoting advocacy. At the moment, as I understand it, this constitutes an annual National Topic, but it remains entrusted to various committees to undertake in relation to their regular responsibilities. The Board might wish to consider whether advocacy efforts should be centralized in an institutional way or whether it makes better sense to promote, support, and coordinate advocacy in the more dispersed plan that presently exists.

(2) Tayloe Harding pointed out that there had been a document prepared on advocacy about ten years ago (during the presidency of Dale Olsen) and wondered where that presently is. Can that be made available in order to avoid “reinventing the wheel”?

(3) A participant asked whether CMS can provide, or serve as a clearinghouse for, resources for members eager to pursue advocacy. Jim Scott mentioned that the University of North Texas has material available for faculty who are interested  in advocacy efforts, in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.  If the Board were to choose to take up this function in CMS, it might be helpful to refer to that UNT web resource as a possible model.

(4) David Williams noted that the different units within CMS have been charged with developing symbiotic relationships with other organizations outside the higher education community. The Board might wish to establish this as an ongoing challenge as part of our advocacy efforts.

To the extent that this was indeed a productive conversation, we can regard the Forum session as a success. On the other hand, very few members attended – only about a dozen – which meant that one could hardly describe the session as lively. In view of that, the Board might wish to give some thought to whether this remains a worthwhile part of the Annual Meeting program and, if so, how it might engage more participants. In that regard,

(1) The Program Committee might want to reflect on whether this particular Annual Meeting incorporated too many discussions on the same topic – or at least on aspects of it. Two sessions on advocacy had already taken place within the three hours preceding this one. Possibly, the audience had simply too many opportunities on this subject and those interested in it found themselves spread too thin.

(2) The scheduling of our Forums and Dialogues sessions in 2011 and 2012 two years has not worked particularly well. A lunchtime schedule for a discussion that takes place under the auspices of Forums and Dialogues – which, unlike sessions hosted by more specific committees or Board areas, might potentially form a sort of plenary occasion or appeal to a very broad constituency – works against a good turnout. (Despite encouragement in the program, only one participant brought lunch.) In 2011, when a box lunch was offered and small groups could gather around tables, and there was more time, the result was better (although in that case the placement of multiple forums in the same time slot undermined participation).

(3) It would be helpful if the format of the session enabled more imaginative options. By way of background, the original role of the Chair of Forums and Dialogues was to facilitate a “think- tank” session for the area members of the Board. In the first two years of that assignment we seemed to have good experiences with a relatively long time slot, a smaller group, and a variety of approaches to try to open up creative thinking. My understanding was that the success of those Board discussions led to the idea that we might extend a similar plan to the membership at the Annual Meeting. We have attempted that over several years now, although gradually the options for unusual formats have been drained away, leaving this year nothing but a cookie- cutter design – a panel at a head table and participants sitting in rows of chairs for a 55-minute session. I would urge the Board and the Program Committee to review whether it would make sense to commit to enough flexibility to encourage rather than constrain more interesting (and, one hopes, more productive) alternatives.

(4) A possibility to consider is to redirect the functions of Forums and Dialogues away from yearly sessions at the Annual Meetings and toward online discussions, represented, for example, by the webinar of 9 November. In this case, however, the Society should still cultivate imagination and experimentation in varied approaches; there’s more than one way to use the web, too.

and especially so, since I need to make clear my intention to step down from this position at the end of my present appointment. Partly, this does reflect my recognition that the assignment no longer corresponds to my aspirations for this role or to my abilities. Someone else will undoubtedly have more success with the present tasks and conditions of the job. On the other hand, I am grateful for the trust that the Society and its successive Presidents and Boards have placed in me, and the duties have brought interesting challenges, opportunities to work with outstanding colleagues, and in many ways a considerable sense of fulfillment. I remain as deeply committed to CMS as ever and stand ready to serve in the future in any way that I can.