A MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIR OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and its affiliates, I want to thank all of you who have contributed to the combined fund drive for CFI, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The results so far are encouraging—we have raised over $50,000. Over the coming weeks, we expect to raise substantially more. No, we do not expect to make up the entire $800,000 shortfall resulting from the lapsed donation, but, in combination with other measures, we expect to raise enough money to provide a secure financial foundation for the operation of CFI and its affiliates.
Meanwhile, our work continues. In a few days, our headquarters building in Amherst, New York, will be abuzz with dozens of leaders and representatives from our branches and student groups convening at our Leadership Conference. CFI’s continuing vitality is amply demonstrated by the commitment and dedication of the many supporters the organization has at the grassroots level.
In another few weeks, Camp Inquiry will get underway in upstate New York under the direction of Dr. Angie McQuaig. This annual summer camp has been receiving increasing attention as a unique program for fostering critical thinking in children.
CSI will, once again, be holding its Skeptics Toolbox in August in Eugene, Oregon. This annual event continues to attract the best and brightest skeptical scholars and investigators.
And, of course, in a few months, the Council for Secular Humanism will be holding its 30th anniversary conference in Los Angeles. The program for this event is nothing short of stellar, with speakers including Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Jennifer Michael Hecht, and Ibn Warraq. Continuing in our tradition of tackling tough issues through open discussion and dialogue, the conference will also feature a discussion between Sam Harris and Robert Wright on the approach that seculars should take regarding religion and religious belief and a panel discussion on science and religion featuring Chris Mooney, Eugenie Scott, P. Z. Myers, and Victor Stenger. This will be a lively, intellectually enthralling conference.
We are looking forward; however, there are some whose gaze is fixed on the past and continue to snipe at CFI, hoping to undo some of the reforms we have undertaken. So permit me for a few moments to address some of these critics, which include, of course, CFI’s former Chair, Paul Kurtz.
The process of reforming the management of the CFI and its affiliates began no less than three years ago when I first became a director. At the very first Board meeting I attended there was a consensus that day-to-day responsibility should be placed in the hands of someone other than Paul Kurtz. Among other reasons, the organization simply had outgrown the ability of one individual to control everything. Paul did not disagree with this conclusion.
In implementing the reform process, the Board did not rely on its own intuition. Instead, it retained the services of Greyledge Consulting, a well-known consulting firm that has worked extensively with many organizations, including nonprofits. After a months-long review, Greyledge provided its report, which included the following observations and recommendations: in recent years, Paul Kurtz’s management had become erratic and arbitrary and staff morale was low, so clear, impartial personnel policies had to be announced and followed; the organization had expanded too rapidly into too many areas, and it needed to focus its work on areas essential to its mission; the Board of Directors had all too often acted as a “rubber stamp,” and it needed to take responsibility and exercise its legitimate oversight authority; an executive officer needed to be appointed promptly to take over day-to-day management, with this person having both academic credentials and some business experience and being a person who could work with Paul Kurtz. The Board of Directors accepted these recommendations and in June, 2008 implemented some of the proposed recommendations. One of the Board’s decisions was to appoint Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay as President & CEO. Greyledge had conducted extensive staff interviews and had determined that Dr. Lindsay was supported by many on the staff. Critically, he was also recommended by Paul Kurtz, who had known Ron Lindsay for over twenty-five years. The Board hoped that Paul’s friendship with Ron would help make for a smooth transition.
Well, it did not work out that way. Without getting into all the disputes that started within a few months of the June 2008 decision, suffice it to say that Paul resisted ceding any control of the organization; the Board had to intervene repeatedly to try to resolve Paul’s objections to Ron’s exercise of authority.
Paul’s unwillingness to cede any significant authority resulted in his stance at the June 2009 board meeting, at which he informed the Board that he did not want to remain Chair unless the CEO position was restructured, basically denuding it of any significant authority. The Board declined to restructure the CEO position and, pursuant to Paul’s ultimatum, voted to remove him as Chair.
It is worth emphasizing that throughout 2008 and early 2009, there was no dispute about the direction of CFI or whether Ron Lindsay had changed its mission. All that came later. I believe that what bothered Paul from the beginning was that he no longer exercised the authority he once had.
Everyone recognizes that CFI and its affiliates owe their existence in large part to Paul Kurtz. For decades, he has been a great leader for humanism and skepticism. Nonetheless, even for great leaders there comes a time when they should step aside.
Now, with the lapsed donation and the need to make painful reductions in expenditures, including a reduction-in-force, Paul and some of his allies have been keeping up a drum beat of criticism, hurling various accusations about the alleged imprudence of these decisions, the supposedly callous way in which they were carried out, and the ethics and integrity of Ron Lindsay.
To begin, these were not snap decisions made unilaterally by Ron Lindsay or anyone else. Both the Board and CFI’s Management Committee recognized there was a possibility that the anonymous donor would not make a large gift this year, especially when it became clear in March that Paul Kurtz would make no effort to assist the organization in securing the donation. In April, the six-member Management Committee studied the situation and unanimously agreed on a set of recommendations, which were then thoroughly reviewed by the seven-member Board of Directors. Anyone unhappy about a particular decision will always argue that something different should have been done: others should have been laid off, more people should have been consulted, and so forth. This happens all the time in organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit. The reality is that the individuals with the most knowledge about all the relevant factors, financial and otherwise, participated in the decision-making process and that process was fair and objective.
Regarding the supposed callousness of the layoffs, no termination is ever pleasant. But CFI has tried to make the transition as smooth as possible, among other things, scheduling the terminations so that the affected employees would have health insurance coverage for June. One laid off employee is being allowed to stay in a corporate apartment for about six weeks, even though she will not be conducting any CFI business. All employees were offered a severance package based on length of service that was as generous as possible given our financial situation. Yes, they are being asked to sign a separation agreement and release in exchange for the severance; this is the standard practice of most employers so that all disputes can be resolved.
Throughout the past couple of years and increasingly so with the recent layoffs, criticism has been focused on Ron Lindsay, with supporters of Paul Kurtz questioning his ethics and hurling assorted epithets at him. Those who have worked closely with Ron know this is all nonsense. He was deeply troubled by the need to make the layoffs, as indicated by his offer to resign if Paul Kurtz succeeded in securing the donation, thereby obviating the need for layoffs. It is a standard propaganda technique to try to personalize a dispute and create a villain. I am confident, though, that our supporters, who pride themselves on critical thinking, can see through the bluster and rhetoric.
Will this latest round of criticism hurt the organization and our cause? Candidly, it will do some damage to our work, which is a shame. But our movement is resilient enough to withstand these attacks. The vast majority of our staff and supporters understand the reality of the situation and understand that we are committed to moving forward with our work of promoting science and secularism.
I know this has been a long letter, and I thank you for your attention. In closing, let me assure you that CFI is strong today and will remain strong tomorrow. While others are consumed with personal grievances, we are focused on the threats posed by pseudoscience and dogmatic religion; while others are intent on creating strife, we are intent on building a community of reason; while others dwell on the past, we are concerned with confronting the challenges of today.
Chair, Board of Directors