The New York City Atheists invited biologist extraordinaire Massimo Pigliucci to join their board of directors a couple years ago.
So he did.
So he tried to bring the board together to solve some of these problems, including problems about how board members were told to leave their positions for a variety of reasons:
I started asking questions of [President Ken] Bronstein and of the Board of NYCA about all of this, pointing out that even if all of the above was not true, these sorts of rumors would hurt the image of the organization. I thought I was doing exactly what a responsible Board member ought to do, and eventually I asked for a Board meeting to discuss the matter. Bronstein’s reaction (and that of one other Board member) was extremely negative to put it mildly, and in a series of emails and phone calls I was alternately accused of “not getting it” and of being part of a conspiracy to bring down NYCA…
Massimo checked the group’s bylaws and found that things were not exactly kosher regarding how board members were getting sacked and how decisions were made. So he inquired about that, too…
… Bronstein immediately told me that those were the “old” bylaws, and that a new set had been passed, giving him total and complete control of the group, financially, in terms of activities and policies, and, of course, in matters of expelling members and calling for Board meetings.
That seems like an odd set of bylaws to approve…
It turned out the new bylaws weren’t approved in the correct manner, anyway. Massimo wanted nothing to do with an organization that ran itself like this, so he opted to leave:
… It was time to get out of an organization run by an autocrat who responds to challenges with a rude “my way or the highway,” and whose bylaws are probably illegal in the State of New York. So that is when I resigned.
He’s not just ranting, however.
He wants to make two main points:
First of all, it is a shame that a group like NYCA has to get marred by this sort of situation. It is one of the largest, most active and most successful groups in the country (though, being based in New York, they could probably have ten times their current membership if they were a bit more welcoming). They, including Ken Bronstein, have been doing quite a bit of good work for the atheist movement, but they — particularly Bronstein — don’t seem to realize that much damage to the same movement can be caused by precisely the type of intolerant behavior that we all criticize in fundamentalist churches…
… this experience has reinforced in my mind one major difference between atheism and secular humanism. While there certainly are excellent atheist groups, and there are some secular humanist leaders that unfortunately come close to the Bronstein model of doing things, it is hard to avoid the feeling that there is an obvious difference between simply being against something (atheism) and in favor of something (a secular philosophy of life)…
It’s so sad to see a group with that much potential not being welcoming to people who may actually want to join the group and take a leadership role in it.
When you have board members resigning from a non-profit because they don’t want to be part of what may end up as a full-fledged shitstorm, things can’t be going well. You might as well begin a brand new group.
While I have respect for some of the older people who have been running the group and have communicated with them, I’d love to see younger people go to those meetings and take over the whole organization.
In a place like New York City? A well-organized atheist group run by younger people (or anyone more welcoming to the youth) would be incredible.