On the Proposed Reorganization of the AIA Board

Former AIA Board Representative Bill T. Wilson II, FAIA, has written an open letter to Texas architects regarding the proposed restructuring of the AIA board. Read the letter outlining his concerns about the new governance model, and share your thoughts.

Bill Wilson: Julie Pizzo Wood

Members may have seen John Nyfeler’s post on the Texas Architects blog about “Repositioning the Institute: What It Means to the Texas Society of Architects.” 

First, I fully support the concept of repositioning the AIA. However there is an issue that deserves more specific attention, and that is the restructuring of the AIA Board of Directors. I do not support the current proposed redesign of our governance model.

I urge all members to look closely and with a critical eye at the proposed governance model. As all architects know, good or bad is contained within the details of a given design. Many of the unintended consequences of this proposal are evident to even a casual observer. If we truly care about the future of the Institute, we should follow the old adage from the medical profession, “First, do no harm.”

One can make a compelling argument that the proposed governance model is a “solution in search of a problem." It is clear that a singular objective in the new model is reducing the size of the current board. However, those who designed the proposed new model used the proverbial “hatchet” when the task called for surgical precision.

The current National board size is 53 individuals, including our CEO. Of this number, eight members are officers that are elected by all voting delegates of the Institute. Thirty-seven members of the board are Regional Directors. These regional representatives are elected by their own regional membership. The locally elected regional director is the core of our current board. Each director reports directly to and is accountable to their regional components and membership. The proposed governance model removes all directly elected regional directors from the board and places them on a “Strategy Council”. This proposed council will have no policy-making authority no fiduciary responsibility, and no direct authority.

Under the proposed new governance model, only eight “at large” members of the Strategy Council would be elected to the board. It is likely that at least one student/associate and a CACE representative would fill at least two of the eight available positions. This will place a practical maximum of six regional directors on the National board — a huge reduction from our current thirty-seven representatives. Additionally, these “at large” representatives would be elected by the Strategy Council, not by their respective regions. How can this model possibly achieve more transparency and regional accountability? The answer is simple: It cannot and will not do so!

My regional component works very well with a board of 33. Having served as a regional director on the AIA board, it is my

personal opinion that the size of our national board is not the source of many of our problems. 

Agenda management is a far larger problem than board size. It is my belief that the Institute has made great progress in restoring member trust over the last several years. We should continue to work to become a more responsible, transparent, and member-driven organization. This proposed governance model will not accomplish these goals!

The proposed model will reduce transparency and accountability. It will reduce the opportunity to engage more associates and interns in a meaningful leadership experience. It will effectively eliminate our leadership incubator. It will remove the essential communications conduit that has long existed between the National Board of Directors and the regional components. By extension, this will reduce the opportunity for our members’ voices to be heard.

Voting authority on the financial matters of the Institute by regional directors is a core concept of accountable representation. It is the first basic responsibility of a regional director. This proposed governance model seems to be designed to appeal to those board members who prefer to avoid the “heavy lifting” that comes with this position of responsibility.

While it may be possible to design a more efficient, and possibly slightly smaller, board, a successful model must include the following:

  • Directly elected regional directors with fiduciary responsibility (voting authority) — no less than 12 to 24 regional directors;
  • Proportional regional representation of membership; and
  • Representation positions for associates, students and CACE.

By maintaining these core principles and by focusing on more effectively managing the work of the board, leadership can move the Institute forward.

We can ill afford to implement a small, elite, and effectively closed club to run the financial matters of the Institute. One of the difficulties facing leadership and staff in any member organization is this: It would be so much easier to operate and manage if you didn’t have to put up with all those pesky members!

I urge you to demand the responsible and wise redesign of our National Board. Be a “pesky” member of the AIA; demand representation and accountability.

Texas Architect Bill T. Wilson II, FAIA, has served as a regional director on the AIA Board (2010-2012), president of the Texas Society of Architects (2001) and president of AIA Corpus Christi (1988).

by: Bill T. Wilson II, FAIA

Article Resources

Talk About It

About 4 years ago: JimBeaux

Well said, Bill!

About 4 years ago: Heather McKinney

While Bill and I don't always see eye to eye on issues, I always pay close attention to his point of view. On this topic I do agree with all his well-made points.

Texas is fortunate that our regional leadership generally comes from the crucible of TxA leadership. Our representatives to national are experienced and well-connected back to their local and state components making for smooth and transparent communication.

Thanks, Bill!!

About 4 years ago: Kirk Teske

I will Amen brother Bill's comments. Having seen what has happened to the USGBC National board, I support Bill's recommendations. Once the USGBC got rid of regional representation, the southern states have had very little say in the matters of that organization.

About 4 years ago: R. Stanley Bair, FAIA, FCSI, Former President of CSI

Regional representation by ELECTED delegates is essential to the members of a professional organization. As a society of professionals, we do not need to be governed by a cabal of "public" members who have no professional knowledge of our profession. The diversity that the proposed changes seem to value will come from the regions with their elected members to the Board. A board with one delegate from each region and four to six officers, plus the non-voting Executive CEO of the Institute is smaller than the present Board, is manageable and will be representative of the membership. We don't need non-architect board members who believe their primary function is to "tell those architects how to handle their professional society."

About 3 years ago: Jim Boggs, AIA

Bill, has, in my opinion, pointed out the importance of the scalpel approach. Somewhere, someone read Mies's old adage that "Less is More." Mies died many years ago and so did his theory. We should be careful in what we take down, it may be the ladder that got us there.

I believe Bill is correct.