Us and Them!
(The second in a three part editorial about the state of our specialty as this editor sees it. The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the editor and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Jersey Association of Endodontists Board of Directors or its membership. To view Part I please link to NJAE’s website at www.njae.org/ )
‘We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. We have two opinions: one private, which we are afraid to express; and another one – the one we use – which we force ourselves to wear to please Mrs. Grundy, until habit makes us comfortable in it, and the custom of defending it presently makes us love it, adore it, and forget how pitifully we came by it. Look at it in politics.’
I found the response to my first editorial…”Rearranging the Deck Chairs” quite interesting. Apparently my perspective resonated with a significant number of my colleagues and people who were not directly posted to. Some shared their opinions openly and others demurred and expressed their comments to me without using the reply to all option. Either way I was encouraged that people thought about what I opined and cared enough to respond or rejoin to this piece. However, what was particularly telling was that with two exceptions no one on the board of directors or the executive committee deigned to respond. Nineteen out of twenty-one members of our governing elite were disinclined to make a comment whether negative or positive. Initially, I thought this strange and somewhat disappointing. Then a knowing smile came across my face because I quickly realized that this was an ‘Omertà’ a code of silence likely initiated by admonition from our executive director or perhaps by edict from our president. I had called Dr. Spatafore a few weeks ago to ask her about some aspect of governance in regards to recent nominating committee activity. I also shared with her that I was planning to write an editorial about it as I felt our nominating process and the committee responsible for its implementation appeared to me to be in need of a major overhaul. This week a reliable source informed me that Dr. Spatafore did send out an email to advise the board, the executive committee and a few of the past-presidents supportive of her agenda that some unnamed individual was going to email them material they should assiduously not respond to. You can’t make this stuff up! It is a strategic and all too common ploy by the AAE leadership to circle their wagons in a defensive posture to marginalize those who elect to openly tender constructive criticism or question any of their deliberations, decisions or management style. Is this the AAE equivalent of shunning which makes me excommunicated vitandus? Daniel Coleman the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence wrote in the latter book about ‘US from Them’. ‘The gulf that divides US from Them builds with the silencing of empathy. And across that gulf we are free to project onto Them whatever we like. As Kaufman adds, “Righteousness, intelligence, integrity, humanity and victory are the prerogatives of Us, while wickedness, stupidity, hypocrisy, and ultimate defeat belong to Them.” ‘As an example last year I asked the AAE’s leadership about the transparency and accountability of their financial reports. I also queried why they felt the public awareness campaign assessment should continue in light of its ineffective 3 ½ year existence. The program plainly never reached its goals or realized its mission? It was clearly an evidenced based disaster. Where has this fiscal year’s assessment gone to since they fired the PR firm last year that has almost 2 million dollars of the AAE’s assessment revenues? The only thing my inquiries produced was silence. Did the executive director or the president that year give me, a past-president, the courtesy of a call to discuss this issue? No call, no email, no communication because I am “Them”. All I received was quiescent indifference.
Does anyone have a comprehensive understanding of the AAE’s finances? How could we when the annual financial report consists of a pie chart for revenue and expenses with a cursory spread sheet? We are advised to call the executive director, the treasurer of the AAE or the AAE’s CFO if we have any questions or concerns. Why should we have to jump through hoops to find out how the AAE spends our money? What the membership needs from the executive director, the treasurer of the AAE and the leadership of this organization is a line item budgetary analysis of expenses and revenues. Maybe then we can find out what happens to the estimated $400,000 annually we are required to pay the AAE for the public awareness campaign. The AAE is a 501 (c) 3 entity. A 501 (c) 3 is an American, tax exempt non-profit organization. According to the IRS “exempt or political organizations (excluding churches or similar religious entities) must make their returns, reports, notices, and exempt applications available for public inspection. The organization’s Form 990 (or similar such public record as the Form 990-EZ or Form 990-PF) is generally available for public inspection and photocopying at the offices of the exempt organization, through a written request and payment for photocopies by mail from the exempt organization, or through a direct Form 4506-A Request for Public Inspection or Copy to the IRS of the exempt organization’s filing of Form 990 for the past three tax years”. Is it unreasonable for the members of this organization to have the right to know how their dues, assessments and foundation donations are utilized?
For our members to restore and maintain our faith with this Board and our Executive Director our leaders need to create a more transparent and open modus operandi. They should be willing to communicate what the objectives of the organization are and how they are to be achieved. Most importantly this shared knowledge must include how the finances of the American Association of Endodontists are handled. Madame President and Mr. Drinan is it not time to tear down that wall of secrecy and not consider every request for financial information as an assault on your integrity and competency. Perhaps our association’s leadership suffers from an acute case of organizational blindness? Is their vision obscured to the reality that exists for vast numbers of our membership? Do we need a survey and a Knowledge Based Governance committee to understand that endodontic busyness amongst our members has seen a decrease of 15% to 50 % over the past 12 months?
With apologies to Abraham Lincoln permit me to modify a quote by him… The AAE will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our way, it will be because we have sowed our own destruction.
The Nominating Committee
Recently the 2010 – 2011 Nominating Committee completed their charge as outlined in the AAE’s constitution; article XI on Committees. According to Section 6 the nominating committee “shall be composed of the three immediate past-presidents and two sitting members (non-officers) of the Board of Directors. The senior past-president shall serve as committee chair. The two sitting directors shall be elected by closed ballot and they shall serve a term of one year…etc.”
By all accounts Dr. George T. Goodis is a very decent fellow and a dedicated leader of the AAE and organized dentistry in the state of Michigan. He has served this organization well in a multitude of capacities. Dr. Goodis has been a member of several AAE committees; a member of the Board of Directors; a Director and past-president of the College of Diplomates, and he is now the secretary of our association. An informal survey conducted by me with some of his colleagues on the board of directors and the executive committee indicated that he has served our organization well in this position. However, when the Nominating Committee report was sent out to the past and present leadership of the AAE his name was conspicuously missing from the list of AAE sanctioned executive committee candidates for 2011 – 2012.
As the late Paul Harvey was known to say….”and here is the rest of the story”. Dr. Goodis, weeks before the Nominating Committee met, was asked by the Executive Director ED) of the AAE if he was still interested in serving on the Executive Committee (EC). That’s a strange question coming from the ED who also just happens to be an ex-officio member of the Nominating Committee (NC) and would be expected to be more than just an arms-length from any discussions with or pertaining to candidates available to be elected to the EC. I would think if George had any reservations about continuing to serve on the EC he would have spoken to his colleagues on that committee, the EC, or perhaps to this year’s chairman of the NC, Dr. Shepard S. Goldstein.
The two board members serving on the NC now have been on this committee collectively for 5 years. One board member has served his entire term (3 years) on the board of directors as a member of the NC. That is three consecutive years running. The second board member has now completed his second successive year of service on the NC. I wonder if he will match his colleague next year and serve for a third term too. The three immediate past-presidents of our organization also serve three consecutive years running on the NC. Do you begin to understand the inherent structural flaws in our nominating process? This is an incestuous selection activity at best and fundamentally a non-representative governance model at worst. No other specialty organization allows the perpetuation year after year of the same group of people to vet, qualify and decide who comes on the EC, who stays and who gets thrown under the bus. Would anybody who reads this tome be shocked to learn of the jockeying for position, back door politicking and the political capital cashed to make sure their girl or boy get the keys to the executive bathroom? Need some verification of that statement. Let us look at the last decade of past-presidents. With the notable exception of Dr. Mahmoud Torebinejad, a member of the old District VI and Dr. Gerald N. Glickman, a member of District V, we have had 4 presidents from District I; 1 president from District II; and 3 presidents from District III. I could go further and break them down by states but I believe you get the point. The method we now employ to choose our leadership is flawed, susceptible to cronyism and the least representative way to vet our future leaders in a fair and democratic fashion. It is my contention that Dr. George Goodis didn’t lose his position on the EC because he was a poor leader but rather because he didn’t have the right friends in high places. How convenient it is for them to wrap themselves in a ‘cloak of confidentiality’. When the same people are continually placed in a position to select the officers of their organization and the individual who administers to the day to day activities of that association is also the liaison to that committee, then ‘Houston we have a problem’. The Old Boy/Girl network is just chaffing at the bit to influence the outcome of the election and thanks to the structural design of our nominating process they occasionally see some positive wish fulfillment toward that end.
I’m not running for any office, belong to no committees in the AAE and I have no vendetta against the leaders of our specialty organization. What I do have is a strong and abiding hope that the leadership of the AAE will consider what I have penned on these pages and proffer some new governance paradigms that will enfranchise all the members of our organization. Equally important is the wish that they can summon the leadership skills they have been chosen to exercise and cease to consider everyone who has a dichotomous viewpoint as ‘Them’.
If they can’t or won’t change their modus operandi then perhaps Dr. Martin Trope’s statement said in jest may yet come to pass. ‘I tell my friends that this may be one specialty where you could know the founders of the specialty (IB, Seltzer etc.) and also know the ones who closed the specialty all in one career.’
Editor, New Jersey Association of Endodontists
(Part III of this editorial blog will discuss the dental operating microscope and why the CODA teaching standard concerning it needs to be changed)