Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform requests member feedback on new draft APSA bylaws

Update: Visit this link for discussion on the 2016 bylaws.

Following the schedule approved by the APSA Council, the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance Reform has posted a new set of draft bylaws for the Association. Read the new bylaws and rationale for reform here.Post a comment, share your views and be part of the conversation here on PSNow (see form below), or email comments directly to the governance reform committee chair, David Lake.


  1. The proposal increases membership engagement, which is a good thing. But we probably need to give more thought to the outreach side– i.e., how we can make sure that members are informed about upcoming and ongoing issues. I knew to look for this site, but in order to weigh in on this issue (for example), members would have to know to look on the website — and even then it is not easy to spot the announcement and the invitation to comment.

    • Thanks Kathleen. We’re working on an email to the entire membership. We’ve already included it as the lead item in the last newsletter, posted to the front page of APSAnet, posted it here and sent through Twitter and Facebook (these are pretty much all the official APSA channels) but we want to make sure everyone sees it.

  2. I may have missed something, but the 50 percent rule for Council elections appears to need a follow-up to say what happens when fewer nominees than open seats receive 50 percent of the vote.

    • Michael, Art. V, section 4, para. a and b cover this eventuality. In the case where only candidates nominated by the Nominating Committee are standing for election, and any candidate fails to receive 50 percent of the votes cast, the Nominating Committee will nominate a new candidate for the open position (para. a, number 4). When there are more candidates nominated than open positions, those receiving the largest plurality will be elected, followed by the next largest, etc., until all open seats are filled (para. b, number 3).

  3. Perhaps I didn’t read carefully, but I don’t see a rotation in the three-year terms for Council. In other words, they appear to all be elected at once, rather than for staggered terms. If I’m not reading that correctly, then I apologize. If that is correct, then that needs to be re-considered: staggered terms allow for institutional memory to be retained.

    A larger point that I would make pertains to the process, and overall, how the APSA tends to do business. All of the members of the working group (and please understand that I don’t mean to disparage their work) appear to come from large R1 institutions. If the Association does indeed intend to take into consideration (as part of the Nominating and selection process, both for Council as well as for Committees) the types of institution from which applicants come (as the proposal seems to indicate), then that is a laudable goal. However, even in the process why which these proposals came to be, SLACs are under-represented (and only the top-tier SLACs appear to be represented on the Council), and regional teaching-intensive institutions and community colleges are not represented at all. If APSA is serious about trying to build its membership through outreach to folks at those types of institutions, then providing opportunities for them to have influence over the direction of the Association is going to be critical.

    • Mark, there are a lot of details buried in the multiple paragraphs of the Bylaws. Terms for Council members will be staggered. Art. V, Section 5, para. d, creates a “one time” rule for phasing in current Council members who have not completed their terms so that we produce three cohorts of eight members who will subsequently serve a total of three years each. After this, each year we will elect a cohort of eight Council members for a three year term. All terms will, thus, be staggered.

      On your larger point, I agree that diversity in all forms should be represented in the institutions of the association. We endeavored for a degree of diversity in the ad hoc committee, but recognize that it was imperfect. More important, I think, is the membership of the Council as the representative body of the association. Here, the President is charged with ensuring diversity in the Nominating Committee (Art. IX, Section 1, para. a), which in turn is charged with ensuring diversity in nominees for all officer and Council positions (Art. V, Section 3, para. b; emphasizing the importance of this set of criteria, the same language is repeated in Art. IX, Section 1, para. c — which is, I hope, the only redundancy in this already long document). One of the many dimensions of diversity that is specifically mentioned in all these paragraphs is “types of institutions where members are employed.”

  4. I notice that the proposed by-laws omit the following phrase, from article 2, section 2 of the current APSA constitution: “The Association as such is nonpartisan. It will not support political parties or candidates. It will not commit its members on questions of public policy nor take positions not immediately concerned with its direct purpose….” This omission seems to me to open the door to a substantive change in the purposes of our organization. It was always my understanding that, because we study politics, which is partisan in nature in all known free societies, it is essential that we strive as political scientists for perspectives that transcend ordinary political partisanship; at the very least, by eschewing partisan positions, the Association remains welcoming to scholars of all political stripes. What was the thinking behind the change, and would the Committee be open to restoring the existing constitutional language before putting the new by-laws to a vote of the membership?

    • James, the purpose of the APSA has not changed. Art. I, Section 3, para. a, notes we are incorporated an as nonprofit under DC laws, which constrains what the association can and cannot do, including taking partisan positions. Art. I, Section 4, para. b updates the language you cite from the constitution to limit the association from seeking to influence legislation or participate/intervene in any political campaign. Although the language differs in this case, and is based on model language suggested by DC law and the association lawyers, the nonpartisan nature of the association is, I believe, wholly preserved.

      • David, Thanks for the quick response. I still have two principal concerns. (1) Relying for a statement of purpose upon a legal code seems much weaker than an affirmative statement of purpose: in this case, in the past, a resolve to study politics in a way that transcends ordinary partisanship. One presumes any association will obey the law, or more precisely, will abide by what it must to avoid taxes; what makes an institution distinctive is its statement of what it stands for. I don’t think we should cede the question of our identity to the minimum the lawyers require. (2) Not endorsing candidates, political parties, or specific legislation is indeed important, but it leaves open that the APSA might begin to make statements on large issues of domestic or foreign policy, as some other scholarly associations do, something we have not done in the past because of this sentence in the current APSA Constitution: “It will not commit its members on questions of public policy nor take positions not immediately concerned with its direct purpose….” Because we study politics, and because our members’ interests and opinions span most of the political spectrum, I think it would be a mistake for the Association to begin to take positions on such issues. If it is not the Committee’s intention to make such a change in purpose, perhaps the sentence just quoted could be included in the new by-laws, for example as Art. I, Section 4, para. c.

    • Perhaps this is the intent of the language of 4(b) [APSA is non-partisan] and 3(a) [APSA fosters the study of political science], when read in combination. I do think though that as written these sections convey a weak message about the need for APSA to promote the dissemination, in effective language (rather than as tedious academic jargon), of the latest political science research findings to policymakers, the media, and the public at large. Capitol Hill staffers do not get their daily talking points by reading academic journals.

      This connects to the point raised above by Mark Johnson — an organization run by an unrepresentative subset of its members typically focuses on servicing the perceived needs of that subset. The reality faced by the majority of academically-employed political scientists — declining budgets and enrollments, hostile legislative environments, academically unprepared students — is far removed from the experiences of faculty at elite universities with billion-dollar endowments.

      APSA needs to position itself as an effective resource for the entire range of academics, and also for policymakers, so that it can survive the kinds of changes I’ve described at

  5. I support these changes. As a recent former chair of an organization that does not have the president-elect, president, past-president structure, I believe that is a better model to provide service continuity and prevent having to reinvent the wheel and relearn everything for the newly elected.

  6. Chad,
    I agree with your point about dissemination. As a member of the Committee that revised the bylaws, I can tell you that we did talk about the need for APSA to play a more aggressive role in dissemination. This got beyond our immediate task (internal governance) but I left our meetings feeling that APSA would be working harder on this.

  7. I applaud the committee for their work on these revisions. I served a term on the APSA Council and understand the need for governance reform. This revision will go a long way to correcting many of the shortcomings of our governance. I support the revised bylaws.

  8. Proposals for alternatives to the changes in the APSA bylaws: For the all-member meeting

    I approve of the new three-year terms, but think we should not increase the power of the council while at the same time decreasing in other ways the members’ capacities to propose resolutions at the annual meeting and present alternative candidates for the council. At the upcoming all-member meeting (Friday, September 4, at 11 am), I expect to offer amendments to the proposal for new bylaws that will help avoid this outcome.

    I apologize for the legalize of these amendments, but it seems to be best to put them in a form in which they can simply be adopted.

    Before I offer these amendments I should say that I strongly favor the items in the new bylaws that increase the term of council members to three years and that incorporate the past president more in the decision-making of the association. My experience has been that members often require one year in the council to get a full grasp of the relevant issues and the system. At this point the member has only two meetings before his or her term is up. Increasing the council members’ terms would, in most circumstances, increase the control of the association’s members over the association by allowing the members’ representatives to have a greater understanding of what they are doing and the implications of their decisions. Similarly, it would help the association to use the past president’s expertise more fully in the year after the presidency.
    Yet two other items in the new bylaws as currently worded have, I believe, serious problems. 1) The new bylaws end the power of the all-member meeting (or “business meeting”) to send resolutions to the membership without going through the council. 2) The new bylaws increase the number of association members required to put forward an alternative nomination for council members from 10 nominees to 1% of the membership, i.e., 130 nominees.
    Increasing the council members’ terms to three years tends to give the council more power. In most circumstances this is good, for the reasons I mentioned above. At the current moment, in my view, the nominating committee does an excellent job of representing the diversity of perspectives and demographics in the association in the council itself. But things could change. It is unlikely, but conceivable, that a set of views could become predominant in the nominating committee, and therefore in the council and the presidency, which, because the president appoints the nominating committee, could become self-perpetuating. At the same time that we increase the power of the council, therefore, I do not think it a good idea to 1) eliminate the power of the all-member meeting to send resolutions directly to the membership, and also 2) make it harder to put forward alternatives to the candidates selected by the nominating committee.

    1) I therefore propose, first, that the all-member meeting retain the right, by majority rule, to overrule a move by the council not to put before the membership a resolution proposed by the all-member meeting. The words in the first part of the Amendment below give the all-member meeting the right to pass resolutions. The words in the second part raise the quorum slightly from what it is now but keep it low enough so that it is feasible to gather that many people. They also provide that although the council gets a veto, it would be for only one year:

    Amendment #1: Motion to amend Article II, section 3 (b) to read, “The purposes of the Annual Business Meeting of members are to hear reports from the Officers of the Association, and to propose, discuss and vote on matters of importance to the Association, which may include resolutions to be voted on by a ballot of the membership as provided in the Policies Manual.”
    Motion to amend Article II, section 3 to add “(c). The annual business meeting may vote on resolutions to put before Council and membership as follows.
    1. A quorum for voting at the annual business meeting is 1% of the membership as of the record date.

    2. Provided a quorum has been achieved, a resolution to send to Council resolutions to be put before the membership, as described in Article III section 3(c), is approved when a simple majority of those members at the annual business meeting has voted to approve.

    3. If Council subsequently decides not to put the resolution before the membership for a vote, the immediately following annual business meeting may vote to send the same resolution directly to the membership. Provided a quorum has been achieved, the resolution is approved when a simple majority of those members at the annual business meeting has voted to approve.”

    Here are my reasons for proposing this amendment and opposing the proposed bylaws ending the power of the all-member meeting to send resolutions to the membership without going through the council:

    a) The all-member meeting provides the potential, sometimes used in the past, for members to raise issues that, for various reasons, the association’s administration has not wanted raised. It is true that the all-member meeting is usually sparsely attended. This is fine, because there are usually no controversial issues that the council cannot deal with reasonably well. But when major issues do arise, the all-member meeting can be extremely well attended. Indeed, in the past, the all-member meeting has been the locus of rebellion against “the powers that be.” In 1976, the all-member meeting itself passed by a majority vote a resolution that the association should not meet in states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Within the next three years the association changed its bylaws to make it impossible for the all-member meeting to pass a resolution on its own in this way and limiting its powers to sending a resolution to a referendum of the whole membership. More recently, the all-member meeting met to consider a resolution, promoted by the perestroika movement, that would have sent to the membership a resolution to institute more competitive elections. That all-member meeting was extremely well attended. The resolution was defeated by a majority at the meeting (I was one of those voting against it), but it almost passed. If just a few more members had wanted to send such a resolution to the membership, they could have bypassed the council and done so in this all-member meeting. I think this capacity to bypass the council on a matter on which some members have intense views is a good idea, given that such members can do no more than send a resolution out to the larger membership for a vote, so that the larger membership has the final say. The capacity of the all-member meeting to send a resolution to the membership itself, by a majority vote, without going through the council, thus prevents a possibly stultified council from being able to block issues before they even reach the membership at large.

    b) The new bylaws do provide a new and good way for the membership to act independently to send a resolution to the membership. Article III (Voting and Petitioning), section 3.c) 2, allows members to petition to have a resolution put before the membership for a vote. Such a petition must be signed by 10% (1300 currently) of the association’s members. I support this addition — as an addition to, rather than a replacement for, the powers of the all-member meeting to send a resolution to the membership. Although 1300 members is a huge bar to getting such a resolution on the ballot, a recent petition to ask the council to change the meeting date did gather 1500 members via (This issue is still in process.)

    c) The in-person all-member meeting is still needed in addition to the petition process because, unlike an email petition, it provides an opportunity for a vigorous exchange of views. In both all-member meetings that I have attended in which controversial issues were raised (the ERA meeting and the contested elections meeting), good arguments were made on both sides, sometimes by advocates whom one would not have predicted to take that position. I cannot say that minds were changed; we do not have survey measures before and after. I did not change my own mind in either case. But I know that I came away from both meetings with a far deeper appreciation of the arguments on the other side of the position that I held. In my experience, this kind of exchange is not usually matched by arguments made in print. As the deliberative capacities of the internet evolve, this may change quickly, but at the moment the association does not yet have easily available and attractive deliberative internet capacities.

    d) Power invigorates. In the proposed new bylaws, the all-member meetings will be able only to “discuss” a resolution or issue and must then send such a resolution to the council in hopes that the council will send it to the membership. Yet generally it is the power to act that brings members to the meetings. If everything the all-meeting passes will require council approval before it can be sent to the membership, this will give effective veto power to the council and deflate the power of the attendees at the meeting. That complete deprivation of power is almost certain, in turn, to undermine the sense of urgency that is usually the only reason to give up precious time at the annual meeting to attend an all-member meeting. The meeting may well become almost meaningless, no longer providing a vital opportunity, when needed, for the members to exercise their power.

    e) The all-member meeting provides an opportunity for members who have positions on a controversial issue to speak before all of the other members at the meeting. Few members will be nominated to the council. But all members who can afford to pay the registration for the annual meeting and travel to it can speak up and be heard at the all-member meeting. This opportunity open to any member has in the past had considerable politically relevant significance. It has also had considerable personal resonance to the individuals I know who have spoken at such a meeting.

    d) “Packing the meeting.” We could approach the issue of a potential packing of the meeting in two ways. One would be to raise the quorum from the current quorum of 100 for a binding vote in the all-member meeting to, say, 2% of the association (currently 260 people). The problem is that it would be very hard to get 260 people to the all-member meeting, especially when it is scheduled, as it is now, against panels that members want to attend and perhaps have to attend. To avoid conflicts we could set aside for the all-member meeting a one and a half hour slot every year with no competing events. Then it would not be so hard to get 260 people. But because contentious issues that seem to require direct member intervention will not come up frequently, and most all-member meetings therefore simply ratify the officers, such a set-aside seems a costly solution. I therefore propose that we institute a quorum of 1% (130 people), which, given that the current quorum of 100 has not caused problems, seems to me reasonable. To respond to concerns that a quorum of only 1% might allow packing the meeting in any one year, I suggest that we give the council the discretion not to put before the membership what it believes to be a problematic resolution, with the proviso that the all-member meeting may in the next annual APSA meeting by majority vote pass that resolution over the council’s “veto” and send it directly to the membership. By this time, the membership will have been alerted to the issues and can vote in an informed way on the resolution.

    2) I also propose, second, that we do not make it much harder to nominate alternatives to the council slate. The proposed new bylaws increase the number of association members required to put forward an alternative nomination for council members from the current requirement of 10 nominees to 1% of the membership, i.e., 130 nominees. The first part of the amendment below sets the number of nominees required at no more than 50. The second part sets the timing so that anyone putting forth an alternative candidate or slate has two months to do so.

    Amendment #2:
    Motion to amend Article V, Section 3 (a) to read “Nominees for Officers and at-large members of the Council are named by the Nominating Committee, or by petition of 50 members on the record date delivered to the President at least 60 days prior to the date of voting as set in this section.”
    Motion to amend Article IX, Section 1 (b) to read “Powers and duties. The Committee nominates to the membership candidates for the positions of President-elect, eight at-large Council members each year, and a Treasurer every three years, in accordance with the provisions of Article V section 3. The Association must publish the list of nominees for members to view 120 days prior to the date of voting.”

    Here are my reasons for proposing this amendment and opposing making it considerably harder (as in the proposed bylaws) to put forward alternatives to the candidates selected by the nominating committee.

    a) This proposal raises the current limit of requiring 10 people to nominate another candidate to 50 people. The proposers of the new bylaws are right in pointing out that the number of 10 was decided when the association was smaller. But number required in the proposed bylaws — 1% of the membership, or 130 people (as the membership stands today) — is to my mind too many. If the association were divided into political parties, it would be quite easy, in these days of email, to collect 130 people. But we are not. This means that any effort to field an alternative candidate would have to be the result of individual efforts. It would be hard for the average member of the association to collect 130 signatures for an alternative candidate – so hard that it might discourage many overworked members. Consider an example. Many departments have only 30 or so faculty members. Suppose one could convince all 30 of one’s departmental faculty to support a candidate, and add to this all the people whose names and emails one had from grad school (perhaps another 20), and then add again the other political scientists whose emails one knew (perhaps another 40). That would be 90. But many of these, perhaps as many as half, might not be members of the association. The potential number of members one could contact would then be only 45. If one were suggesting a candidate with a perspective unrepresented by the nominating committee’s slate, not everyone in one’s department, grad school cohort, and email list might join the cause. Suppose a solid majority of the members one contacted (45) were to endorse the proposed alternative candidate, that would still be only 23 people. These numbers are all fictitious. The point is only that 130 people presents a high barrier. We should not be raising the barrier to alternative candidacies so much at the same time that we increase the length of the terms of the nominating committee’s nominees.

    b) Older academics have far longer lists of people they could contact. Better connected academics also have far longer lists. The higher we raise the number barrier, the more we disadvantage the younger and less well connected members.

    c) As the association grows, the absolute number of signatures needed to meet the 1% requirement will grow. But individuals’ friendship groups are limited by more fixed factors, such as any individual’s capacity to keep in touch with friends. The costs to any individual in collecting these signatures are likely to remain more fixed than the association’s membership, making the problem of fielding an alternative candidacy greater over time.

    d) The answer to individual fixed costs is obvious: political organization. So far in our association we have not had, for a while, anything like an organized political party. Our nominating committees have worked hard to be inclusive, and the result is that the association’s governing councils have tended to reflect many diverse perspectives. But, as I mentioned earlier, this outcome is not guaranteed. Raising the bar to alternative nominations to 130 members will encourage members to create formal or informal political parties and perhaps to begin to treat organized sections like political parties. This might be a good outcome in certain circumstances. In our current association, where we have many common interests and some deliberative spaces for working out those common interests, I do not think this is now a good idea.

    e) We need to specify the timing so that if the nominating committee is delayed in producing its slate, that delay will not eat into the 60 days that others have to propose alternate candidates after seeing the nominating committee’s slate.

    Conclusion: I applaud the features of the new bylaws that will increase the term of council members to three years and involve the past president more in the association’s affairs, but I oppose the two features that would 1) end completely the power of the all-member meeting to send resolutions directly to the membership; and 2) increase to 130 the number of association members required to put forward an alternative nomination for council. These two changes inadvertently make it harder to bring new issues directly from the membership to the decision-making arenas of the association. It is not in the interests of the members to combine increasing council power with decreasing to such a great degree the members’ capacity to either bypass or change the council.

    In all of these concerns, I am not worried about our present situation, in which I think the nominating committees have done a good job in producing a council that represents different views, including small colleges as well as large universities, teaching perspectives as well as research perspectives, and regional as well as other forms of diversity. Rather, I am thinking ahead to a time in which one or another controversy may prompt some segment of the membership to offer a resolution at a meeting or offer one or more alternative candidates to the nominating committee’s slate. At that point, we should not want to make these processes harder than they are now.

    I expect to propose these amendments at the all-member meeting on Friday, Sept 4, at 11, at the all-member meeting.

    I also want thank the bylaws committee for all their hard work and good will. – Jane Mansbridge, August 25, 2015

  9. I think Jenny’s comments are spot on and I support her amendments. I also support lengthening the term of Council membership from 2 years to 3. However, between eliminating the three vice presidents, and removing the journal editors, Council will become a smaller body at the same time that the term increases from 2 years to 3. This seems to me to be contrary to the democratic spirit of inclusion that APSA has always brought to its thinking about Council. I would support, and would even consider making a motion for, adding to the numbers of persons on Council. Instead of simply eliminating the editors and vp’s, why not substitute those numbers with regular members?

    • Nancy, thank you for your comment. As a correction, however, I want to clarify that the Council will remain identical to its current size. We propose eliminating the three Vice Presidents and the Secretary, all one year positions, but replace those members of the Council with three new at-large members and the Past President. the total number of voting members will remain the same.

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