A surprise letter from John F. Kutsko, Chief Executive of the Society of Biblical Literature arrived in my email in-box today, 9 December 2010. It announced that the SBL Council, which purports to represent me as a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, has – without prior notice – taken away the full benefits of membership that I was promised when I signed up.
If you decide to become a member of the SBL, as anybody in the world can (qualification or not), you might read on the SBL website that there are three forms of membership from which to choose: Full, Student, or Associate. Both Full and Student memberships permit members to propose papers for meetings. Both Full and Student memberships afford members the full rights of membership. Both Full and Student memberships may participate in governance of the SBL. These membership benefits are described as the “all the .. same” for both Full and Student members. The SBL website clearly states:
Student – If you are a current student, choose this membership. You will receive all of the same benefits as a full member.
Under “benefits of membership” the SBL notes this benefit in particular:
‘Full’ and ‘Student’ members may propose papers for the Annual Meeting or the International Meeting.
By contast, the letter from John Kutsko notes that the Council has adopted two policies which restrict the full benefits of membership of Student members, and differentiate between the benefits of Full members and the benefits of Student members. These policies are as follows:
- All students without a doctoral degree are required to submit to the Program Unit Chair the full text of the paper they will read. The paper will be submitted at the time of proposal. Student proposers will submit the paper they intend to read, not a full-length article intended for written distribution.
- The number of sessions students can participate in will be limited to one. This policy pertains to participation as panelist, presenter, and respondent.
Now, as a member of the SBL I am keen that the governance ensures that papers at meetings are of a high quality and standard. Yet if SBL has a problem with papers, or with the submission of too many paper proposals by individual members, then it should (obviously) target this particular problem. However, to discriminate between Full and Student members falls outside the terms of membership as advertised on their website. Yet this fundamental change was purportedly adopted on behalf of the 28% of the Society’s members who are Student members – whose subscriptions offered the same benefits of full membership. The Council has fundamentally altered the terms of membership advertised on their own website. No notice. No vote.
My question is this: did the Council break the terms of the SBL constitution (i.e. act ultra vires), or does its website which claims that membership benefits are the “same” misrepresent that constitution?