Clashing Sentiments Regarding ATA Issues

Not long ago, I wrote a blog about current issues in the ATA. The dual purpose was to encourage members to evaluate the stated goals of the candidates and vote. A great effort was made to present the issues and to lay out facts uncovered from the ATA website. It stayed away from being judgmental or critical of anyone, since the purpose was to promote positive change.

Open dialog on the issues raised was encouraged, and the results in my comment section and on LinkedIn accomplished that goal. Some of the conversation became critical and negative, which typically makes me uncomfortable. However, it is gratifying to know that many people expressed their honest opinion. The outcome was that many more members became aware of the issues in a comprehensive way. Also, the fact that the issues brought up were immediately addressed in the opening statement of the conference tells me that action was taken in response to member concerns.

When I arrived to the ATA conference, I was surprised to discover that many more people than I realized had read my blog. Some reactions were definitely not positive. Several people that I highly respect took issue with the statistics used to show a reduction in membership. One person I hold in high regard felt that it was inappropriate to be airing ATA’s dirty laundry for the world to see, thus giving a bad impression of our industry.

I stand by my figures, because that was the most current information available to the public that could be accessed. The issue of shedding our great industry in a bad light has been a real concern. The blog considered openly the following problems: budget, public relations, and member discontent. Some commenters reacted with strong words that made me feel uncomfortable.

In fact, due to my discomfort, I blamed the commenters for the negative talk. One fine colleague called me out on this in private. He pointed out to me that I invited the open dialog. It is my blog, and I allowed it to be said without blocking or editing it. Therefore, it was offensive to the people that accepted my invitation to comment that I should complain or cast blame afterward.

He was right, of course.  Soon thereafter, the blog was edited, and I apologized for what I wrote. That moment reminded me of what I already knew:  words are important! Therefore, they must be carefully chosen. People will read and evaluate every word used and gain understanding not only from what is said, but also how it is worded, and what is omitted.

At the conference, I began to feel depressed and defensive after the initial backlash. Then people approached me with encouragement. Many told me that the blog was good and helpful and that it should continue. Some told me that they learned a lot from the continuing discussion. It turns out that more members perceived it as a positive service, which was always my intent.

So this is my decision. I will work hard to promote the honorable language service industry in a positive light. This blog will continue to consider issues that are important to us all until better options exist. I hope to see in the near future a vibrant discussion forum hosted by ATA for its members where all issues are openly discussed and questions by the members are answered. At this time, forums and listservs are full of discussions.  ATA can collect that information.  However, rarely do we receive real answers or official responses. If this were done, there would be no need to blog about these things anymore.

Right now, I am still concerned about public relations, the budget, and unhappy members. It can be so easy to simply view some people as complainers instead of validating legitimate concerns. There are concerns about dwindling membership and an association comprised of both individuals and companies, which may have conflicting interest. For the time being, no comment will be made about the Chronicle because I am honored and privileged to be working with a great team to revamp it. More needs to be done for interpreters, such as a way to recognize those who are certified. It would be great to see more voting members and more members willing to give back by volunteering.

Please don’t get the wrong impression; ATA is a great association! Every conference I attended has inspired me to grow in my chosen profession, to form great business connections and friendships. Great new lessons are always gained from the sessions and discussions with my colleagues. ATA just has some issues that need to be considered. Instead of just complaining, it is better to uncover the needs and then work for a solution.

Those important issues will become part of the fabric of my blog. This blog will continue to produce information relevant to our valued clients. But it will now also converse regularly with colleagues as well. Open constructive dialog that can be beneficial to the membership is most welcomed!

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11 thoughts on “Clashing Sentiments Regarding ATA Issues”

  1. That’s an edifying assessment, Jeff. If some people prior or during the Chicago conference felt offended or embarrassed that you aired ATA’s dirty laundry, well, too bad; cry me a river, I’d tell them. Self-criticism goes hand in hand with self-awareness, both on the individual and collective levels.

    Unless we own up the issues at hand (not just the ones you mention and are championing to solve), we’ll continue to ignore the several elephants in the room. But even in the worst-case scenario of collective denial, I don’t see any armageddon-like outcome for the ATA or for its members, self-appointed prophets and naysaying gurus notwithstanding.

    I had a very positive experience with Lillian Clementi recently and learned a couple of things. In the work ahead of us to provide a more transparent landscape, there are some fine lines to walk between respecting the wishes of past and present volunteers who want to prevent the undoing of the good things achieved over the years and effecting open and constructive, but sometimes painful, discussions. I know I have learned to walk that line a bit better since yesterday.

  2. If you want something to change in an organization, you have to explain why. Some people will accuse you of airing the dirty laundry in public: these are the people who, for whatever reason, do not want change; the people whom, for whatever reason, are well-suited by the status quo and the people who find themselves incapable of constructing a coherent argument as to why the current situation in the organization is better than the proposed change. A professional body is not a family whose members need to be protected from embarrassment.

  3. I can’t but give you my support. There will always be people not willing to make an opportunity to grow from a failure, because their conformism and conservatism makes them afraid of any change. A pity those in power are not capable of making good use of thes eye-openers. A dialogue can only be a dialogue if all parties participate and are heard. And I assure you what happens in ATA and how it happens is not only important for its members, its also important for the rest of the world. Keeping things under the carpet instead of discussing them openly does not contribute to trust. A dialogue badly managed is more dangerous and damaging than disclosing the issues.
    Good luck and don’t let the conformists affect your free thinking.

    1. Richard, I appreciate that! I recognize that not everyone will agree on everything.

      If decisions are made openly with transparency and member are aware of the issues. Although an individual might not like the answer, that person can at least respect the process and the fact that the majority spoke.

  4. I think your idea for an internal forum for ATA members is a good one. Of course, it would be good if the organization is transparent and we have nothing to hide. On the other hand, for the purpose of public relations of course it is problematic to have this internal discussion muddy the image that translators and interpreters need to project.

  5. This is the 1st in 8 years that I decided not to join ATA. I’ve grown disillusioned with the internal politics that have come out to light and therefore affected my opinion of the organization. And don’t get me going on the nearly 20% increase of its annual, bi-annual rates which I fail to understand the why of such a high percentage. Reading your article and other comments on the ATA discussion online boards has made me reflect on my decision and I believe it was the right one. I want to work with an organization that is more concerned about its members and their growth as interpreters and translators than one who is worried about its bottom line.

    1. I really hope that I didn’t contribute to your decision to leave. I do see some good thing happening and I am hoping to also work to make change from the inside. I bring these issues up, but I think they are fixable.

      Online boards can often times take a critical tone. I have been trying to fact check the things I hear and sometimes it is impossible for me to get the answers to prove or disprove the statements. This is why I plan to attend the next board meeting and if nominated for the board, I will not refuse it. That might be the only way to get answers I seek.
      ATA Chronicle is looking at a major makeover that so far looks very exiting!
      Chris Durban is on the board ind is no nonsense. We need more like her.
      On the Chronicle Taskforce I have been working closely with Corinne McKay and have found her to be an extraordinarily hard worker who is also patient.She has also made a great effort to be open and engaged.
      There are bright spots and potential, as well as some serious issues.

      1. No worries Alfonso. I’ve been listening to ATA issues from various people and in no way has your comment affected my decision. It just echoed many of the concerns I’ve heard from members and former members. Saludos – Annie

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