Edwina Rogers fired from the SCA.

Edwina Rogers has been fired from the SCA.  Hemant has a write up with more details, but here’s the relevant part via the NYT:

Ms. Rogers said in an interview that she was given no warning and no reason for her termination, but suspects that she is being blamed for organization funds discovered to be missing and allegedly embezzled by two of her subordinates. An internal audit, obtained by The New York Times, found that two employees who handled the Secular Coalition’s finances embezzled $78,805, mostly by using the coalition’s credit cards to pay for restaurant meals, travel and plastic surgery. Ms. Rogers said she discovered the misuse of funds, reported it to the police, fired the two employees and commissioned the audit with the approval of the board.

Matt Dillahunty summed up my thoughts pretty well on his facebook page:

So, there’s a NYT article about how Edwina Rogers has been fired from the Secular Coallition for America.

I’ve never really liked her, but I tried to be as supportive as possible. My biggest problem with her wasn’t that she had ‘worked for the enemy’ but that she didn’t seem to understand the movement at all. She couldn’t speak to us because she had no connection to, understanding of or involvement with us. She may have been very good at running things and lobbying, but she wasn’t good as a spokesperson for secularism – at least not when speaking to secularists who have been in the movement for a while.

I won’t go into the specifics of the embezzlement issue at the SCA. Frankly, I don’t have enough information to reach many conclusions. I heard about this several months ago and I don’t have any more information now than I did then, except for this…

The SCA identified a very serious problem, fired those who were involved and have now terminated their executive director. I don’t know what involvement she had in this. She may have been fired merely because this happened on her watch.

Every group is going to have problems. Any time there’s money or power involved, there are opportunities for people to exploit others, there are opportunities for abuse, corruption and more. The organization shouldn’t be defined by a specific problem, but by how it handles the problem.

It’s worth remembering that this can happen anywhere and that the individuals responsible need not be considered representative of the organization or the movement. We need to take steps to prevent this in the future. We also need to be honest in calling out problems wherever we find them.

And we also need to no let our frustrations encourage us to paint entire groups and movements in a negative light based on what individuals have done.

Like Matt, I’ve never really cared for Edwina as head of the SCA.  It is entirely possible that she may have run a good office (although, how long does it take someone to notice almost $79k is missing?), but as a communicator (which the head of the SCA must be) she was, frankly, dreadful.  In interviews she always gave the same set of talking point answers no matter if they matched the question being asked.  Her speeches were read directly off powerpoint slides (that may as well have been novels) without Q&A.  For someone who, by virtue of their position, is going to be one of the big faces of atheism, these flaws were disastrous.

But that isn’t to say I didn’t want Edwina to succeed.  Her success was the SCA’s success.  That fact alone is likely why her shortcomings in the public figure department bothered me so much.

I recall the first time I encountered Edwina.  I was part of a conference call the SCA arranged between Edwina and “movement leaders” (read: popular bloggers/youtubers) about two weeks before she was announced to the public.  After being apprised to her identity I hit google.  It took me about ten minutes to find her donations to secularism’s enemies, her work with the GOP, her lobbying efforts that included wrapping gifts in money, etc.  Believe it or not, my initial reaction wasn’t to condemn her.  In that conference call I remember doing most of the talking and begging Edwina and the SCA to get ahead of these facts – to present them and explain them when Edwina was announced.  I told her then that if you let atheists look these things up themselves (and they will) then atheists would wonder why she wasn’t forthright with them.  These pleas went on for the two weeks up to when Edwina was announced.  I was thanked for the advice, but the advice was never followed and, well, we all saw how that went.  Admittedly, from that point on I was a little disillusioned with Edwina (and you’ll note that my disillusion had nothing to do with her being a Republican).

None of this is to say that Edwina is a bad person.  I don’t know her well enough to make a judgment one way or the other.  But it serves as justification for why I think the SCA cannot ignore the need for a communicator in that role as they search for Edwina’s replacement.  Perhaps it’s hard to find someone with the necessary skills to manage an office/organization who is also a solid “face” for the movement.  I get that.  Perhaps the job should be split into two parts – one to be a spokesperson, the other to manage the office?  However, we’ve seen that hiring from within the movement can produce people who are both excellent managers and communicators.  These are people like Lyz Liddell (the badass who runs the office at the SSA), David Silverman, Amanda Knief, and Dan Barker (who was in movement and kinda hired himself, but the point still stands).  What’s more, hiring from within the movement would save us from having a leader who doesn’t really get us, a problem that plagued Edwina for the sum of her tenure (for which I sympathize with her, that could not have been easy).

Perhaps we should get Neil DeGrasse Tyson working on cloning technology so we can copy Lyz Liddell, Amanda Knief, and Matt Dillahunty, who I think are three of atheism’s best, move level-headed communicators who have all demonstrated their integrity time and time again, to tag-team run the organization.  I mean, can you imagine Matt Dillahunty being your spokesman and being on the news all the time while Lyz Liddell runs the office and Amanda Knief does all of the above while handling the lobbying efforts?  Holy shit, all other atheist activists may never have to go back to work.

Hemant thinks the SCA will go after Barney Frank, but my money’s on a three-headed Lyz Dillahunty Knief clone.  But Barney Frank would be ok too.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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