The 2019-2020 SAA Nominating Committee sent the following message to the SAA Executive Committee and Executive Director on January 17, 2020:
Dear Executive Director and Executive Committee,
Though the petition for the addition of Kris Kiesling to 2020’s SAA ballot has already been posted and shared without any response from the Nominating Committee, we would like to take the opportunity to address what has taken place during this year’s process.
While we acknowledge that members of SAA, according to the SAA Bylaws, 5.C, have every right to petition for an addition to the ballot, we understand that this is possibly the first time in the organization’s history that such actions have occurred during an election cycle. The question must be asked, just because you can, it is an action that should be taken? We are disappointed that there was a lack of discussion and transparency in adding Kiesling to the ballot after the Nominating Committee had already selected the slate of candidates and Council had approved it. While the ballot does include an opportunity for a write-in candidate, we see this action as undermining not only our judgment and but also the will of those who elected us to serve in this capacity.
Lae’ l Hughes-Watkins received the most votes, which granted her the position as chair. An excerpt from her candidate statement reads.
“I think it will be critical to put a slate of candidates together that will have a strong portfolio of success in making room for historically underrepresented identities in leadership positions, who advocate for success of these communities and are willing to call out and address discriminatory practices within the profession and in spaces supposedly designed to nurture and support emerging leaders and change agents.”
As a result, Hughes-Watkins stayed committed to this philosophy in her leadership; one voted on by SAA during the 2019 election. The chair worked in unison with a fantastic team: Steven Booth, Brenda Gunn, Daria Labinsky and Joshua Youngblood, to put together a dynamic, intelligent, thoughtful, diverse, committed, visionary, slate of candidates that we deemed were more than qualified to lead SAA in 2020. And yet we have witnessed what we feel is a questioning of our leadership, and we feel demoralized by what we thought was a democratic process.
The Nominating Committee abided by the rules, which state
Section I: Bylaws of the Society of American Archivists
5. ELECTION OF OFFICERS AND COUNCILORS
A. There shall be a Nominating Committee composed of five (5) members, two (2) of whom are selected at the spring meeting of the Council from among the councilors in their second year of service and three (3) of whom have been elected by the membership. The person receiving the most votes in the election by the membership shall serve as chair. In the event of a tie vote, the chair shall be appointed by the Vice President / President-Elect from among the three (3) elected members of the Committee.
B. The Nominating Committee shall canvass the membership for suggestions of possible nominees for the offices of Vice President, Treasurer, councilors, and Nominating Committee. The tabulated results of this advisory canvass shall be made available to any member of the Society upon request. The Nominating Committee shall try to achieve a broadly based, diverse governing body.
The bylaws do not require we only refer to the nominations submitted, but we are permitted to canvass for possible nominees. The Nominating Committee reviewed candidates on the form and solicited individuals before, during, and after SAA’s 2019 annual meeting in Texas. We convened several meetings, discussed as a group the nomination form, and those who expressed interest, in combination with those we reached out to during this period. And with the power granted by the voting body, we created a slate that we thought would be able to address the various themes that have come to the forefront within our organization.
There are significant shifts taking place within SAA, a slowly growing diverse demographic with ideas that are challenging traditions, that are pushing boundaries, questioning the archival praxis that has been foundational and yet needs to be re-examined. At the same time, we are trying to balance the challenges of changing economics and create a dynamic future that will help create sustainability for generations. SAA is in the midst of significant change that we must meet head-on. We believe our slate of candidates is ready for the challenge and will not hold onto what was but give us something new to strive for, and dig into the difficult conversations/decisions while adding more seats to the table, not silence those who remain marginalized within the profession.
We are proud of our slate and wished that we would have been given the respect and the opportunity to have a conversation about adding other candidates to the ballot, as we would have been happy to hear these grievances. At this point, we ask that the Executive Director and the Executive Committee reflect on how they will proceed in the future. The 2019-2020 Nominating Committee submits that they have been frustrated throughout this entire process, from the editorial review of our candidate questions to now the addition of another candidate without any pause even to notify the other candidates in advance of this change. We can only request that a more transparent process is put in place in the future by Council. The Nominating Committee hopes this debate will nevertheless ignite everyone to vote their conscience because clearly there is a lot at stake.
We request that the entirety of our response be shared with the Council.
In solidarity with our SAA membership who put us here,
SAA 2019-2020 Nominating Committee