How Can IOA Be a Better Member Organization? A Conversation

By Cynthia Joyce, University Ombudsperson, University of Iowa, and Marcia Martínez-Helfman, Associate Ombuds, University of Pennsylvania and IOA President, 2018-2020

Marcia Martínez-Helfman: At the Annual Conference in New Orleans this year, I had the good fortune to meet Cynthia Joyce, a long time IOA member who has had a mixed experience with the organization. At my urging, Cynthia shared with me more about her concerns. The conversation was substantive, frank, and enlightening for both of us. Although each of us would be shortly going our separate ways from NOLA, we both wanted to keep talking and felt it would be instructive and constructive to share our exchange with a wider audience. So here we are. Our hope is that this is the beginning of an extended dialogue between the membership and volunteer leaders, through monthly blog posts, taking us to a better IOA! I want to start by asking Cynthia how long she’s been an IOA member, and to tell me about the early experiences with the organization, some of which left her with a bad taste in her mouth.

Cynthia Joyce: Marcia, I wanted to start on a lighter note and point out the connection between our two offices. The reason the University of Iowa has an ombuds office is Penn. A former UI president, James Freedman, came to Iowa from Penn, where he had served as a faculty ombuds. When he arrived on the UI campus, he asked where the ombuds office was, and, when told there wasn’t one, asked a faculty committee to explore the idea of starting an ombuds office. I think history matters, and I appreciate the fact that our office started in a positive way, providing a needed resource to campus, rather than evolving out of a crisis.

To answer your question, I joined IOA as a brand new ombuds when the organization started in 2005, and my first conference as an ombuds was the IOA conference in San Diego in 2006. That was a very challenging time to join the organization since it was just after the extremely divisive merger between TOA and UCOA. Many academic ombuds, in particular, were very upset, and the organization, in general, was in chaos. It took several years for member concerns to subside to a dull roar, but remnants of the impact of the merger still exist.

MMH: I love that Penn/Iowa connection!

I started my job as Ombuds at Penn in 2011 so missed the turmoil of the merger process, but can imagine that we are still today experiencing some of the residual tensions and upsets from that time.

A current member concern you mention is dissatisfaction with the quantity and quality of communication with the Board, in both directions, especially around decision-making. How does the Board make decisions, solicit member input, and keep members informed about those decisions

There really isn’t anything extraordinary about the way the IOA Board deliberates and votes on matters brought before it. It functions like most nonprofit professional association Boards: we adhere to Roberts Rules of Order in our meetings; we develop agendas; receive reports, recommendations and requests from committees and task forces; and meet regularly to discuss and vote on these issues. Our conversations are robust, and disagreement is not uncommon. My experience with the current Board is that our Directors are deeply committed to the organization and the profession, which is why they devote numerous volunteer hours to the cause. At the same time, we are all mindful that sometimes we could have made better decisions or didn’t anticipate how the membership might receive them.

We are working very hard to improve communication between IOA volunteer leadership and IOA members. Let me also say that we welcome suggestions and ideas for how we can do better, and how the Board can be more in sync with the interests and needs of our membership. Do you have any thoughts about what members might want to see to facilitate better communication with the Board?

CJ: Marcia, this is helpful. Sometimes decisions are made by the Board that are surprising or unclear to members. An example would be what happened with Kellen, which is a very visible event for IOA. Although the Board has been very transparent about how our new management company was selected and the process for looking for an Executive Director, there seemed to be the assumption that we all knew what happened with Kellen and why. Can you share more about that decision-making process?

MMH: You make a very valid point that sometimes things happen that aren’t fully explained to our membership. Not only does this leave people in the dark, but it also creates a void that can be quickly filled by speculation, hypotheses, suspicion, and even misinformation. We need to fix that, so let’s begin with Kellen.

The start of that relationship predates my time on the Board, so initially, I’ll relay what I’ve learned from prior leadership. In 2014, before Kellen became our association management company (AMC), the IOA had entered into an agreement with Sherwood Group. The Board at that time felt that it was a good fit for the IOA because their services and team aligned well with the organization’s needs. At the end of that year, unexpectedly, Sherwood Group was acquired by Kellen, a global company that was vastly larger than the AMC we had contracted with. Over the course of the next few years, we experienced many challenges in that relationship; and it seemed as though it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. Our Board leadership was in frequent conversation with Kellen as to how each side could adjust to make the relationship work, but ultimately Kellen made the business decision to terminate our agreement. The sentiment of the Board at that time, which has been borne out thus far, was that this break up gave us a unique opportunity to take a step back and reassess what we as an organization needed to thrive. It has led us to identify SBI as our new AMC, a relationship that has gotten off to a very strong start. Additionally, before summer’s end, we hope to introduce IOA’s inaugural Executive Director. Stay tuned for that!

To be continued…please look out for more frequent blog posts and updates from the IOA Board of Directors. If you are interested in participating, please contact IOA at [email protected].

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Comments on "How Can IOA Be a Better Member Organization? A Conversation"

Comments 0-15 of 4

Elisa Enriquez - Tuesday, July 02, 2019

This is a really wonderful way to foster transparency. I love the idea of a having a Q&A with Marcia (and the soon to be announced executive director) based on questions submitted by members.

Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Great beginning. I echo Ronnie's question. Perhaps we could ask members to send in questions. It's helpful to know where the gaps in communications are.

Kim Fulbright - Friday, June 21, 2019

Thank you for this topic and I appreciate the format as well!

Ronnie Thomson - Thursday, June 13, 2019

So pleased to read this conversation. Thank you Cynthia and Marcia. How do we encourage more members to log-on and stay informed?

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