Why I am going to vote NO on the constitutional amendment (M.Lightner)


As an IEEE Life Fellow, 2006 IEEE President and CEO, former VP-TAB, VP-PSPB, VP-EAB, President CAS and many, many more positions I have a clear view of the power and value of IEEE.  IEEE is designed to have members become volunteers and volunteers become leaders. Many great ideas in IEEE have come from members and volunteers. IEEE is a bottom-up, grass-roots, volunteer-led organization and these characteristics are what allowed IEEE to have such an impact on my career and those of hundreds of thousands more.  I view the proposed constitutional amendment as a fundamental threat to these key characteristics of IEEE.  I do not want a corporate board. I do not want a command and control structure for IEEE. Therefore, I will NOT vote for the amendment and urge you to vote NO as well.

 If you have more time

I want to begin by saying that I hold the current IEEE leadership in high regard and don’t believe anyone is behaving except in IEEE’s best interest – in their opinion.  I happen to have a different opinion on what is in IEEE’s best interest and would like to say why I am voting no.  First, some background. I am a Life Fellow, have been an IEEE member for over 45 years, have served as CAS society president, division director, VP TAB, VP PSPB, 2005 Pres-elect, 2006 President and CEO, 2007 Past President, VP EAB and a myriad of roles in committees in my society and at the board and organizational unit level.  During this time, I served on the Board of Directors for ten years.

However, for the first half of my time in IEEE I was not even aware there was a Board of Directors, never paid attention to who was President, I did not know there was a TAB until I was a society president and only then learned of some of the other organizational units.  The point of this is that I was highly engaged, involved in conferences, journals, committees, felt I was making a difference to IEEE and my profession and certainly benefited from IEEE.  Why was this possible? Because IEEE was set up to be highly driven by volunteers at the grass roots level. New ideas came from grass roots volunteers and IEEE was organized to enabled this.

In the second half of my time in IEEE I was much more connected with the “higher” levels of the organization.  I believe that some very good things were facilitated by these higher levels, but many of the key ideas came either from grass roots volunteers, or came from volunteers at the higher levels based on their experience at the grass roots  their experience making things happen.

In short, IEEE is NOT a typical business organization and its’ unique and powerful character comes from being different.  We don’t have a ‘corporate board’. We don’t have a ‘command and control’ structure.  Sometimes this slows us down, other times it gives us the wisdom to make the right decisions.  We are an organization that inherently is successful when we enable members to be volunteers, when we enable volunteers to be creative and serve their particular community, be it technical, geographic or both.

Does the proposed constitution change mean that what I think has been most powerful and important about IEEE would immediately disappear?  Not necessarily.  However, the nature of the organizational hierarchy would change and the ability of the new Board to continue to make changes would be essentially unchecked. The board would have much greater power and authority and much less representation of the membership.  As stated at the beginning, I don’t believe that any of these changes would be done with malicious intent.  But, they would be done with a much more corporate/command and control mindset and, I believe, this would change the essential characteristics of IEEE.  The IEEE that was a continuous enabler of my career would fade away.

I don’t believe that a member-as-customer model is the correct one for IEEE. Based on my experience enabling members to be volunteers and enabling volunteers to create and lead IEEE is the correct model and the model that makes us a special professional organization.  If you see IEEE as belonging to the members, as being member and volunteer driven, as being an organization that fosters professional growth from student member to member of the Board of Directors, I urge you to vote NO on the proposed constitutional amendment.

Michael Lightner, IEEE Life Fellow

2006 IEEE President

Vice President for Academic Affairs
University of Colorado System
Professor of Electrical, Computer, and Energy Engineering
University of Colorado Boulder


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