I would like to recognize the hard-working board members of the American Translators Association (“ATA”). Theirs is a thankless job. As volunteers, they contribute valuable time and effort to serve in this position.
The position, however, is very important, as it affects the lives of every person in the language profession. ATA is the authority that the media and business should be looking to for credible information. When translation and interpreting services are respected and valued, we are in a better position to charge what we deserve.
Members of ATA running for board election come with their own unique experience and talent. They speak to the members about the issues passionate to them and lay out what they plan to accomplish. They make themselves open to criticism when things go wrong or if others don’t agree with their decisions. Furthermore, I don’t think any hard-working volunteer should be criticized for being focused on his or her own issues.
Recently, there has been a lively discussion about public relations. As time goes by, the needs of the organization will change. It is up to the members to vote for people whose talent and goals align with their own. If the needs of ATA are now finance and public relations, we must vote in individuals passionate and skilled in those areas. Nothing is accomplished by blaming those elected with different goals in mind.
My desire is that this blog address some issues. I would love to see a discussion on it so that the members know the right questions to ask on Thursday, November 6, 2014 at the Presentation of Candidates of those seeking to be on the board.
- I have seen gossip on social media. First we had money, then we lost a whole lot of money hosting the FIT XIX Congress in 2011. I would like to hear an official explanation from the ATA board, not to rehash or review possible past mistakes, but to move past the gossip and allow the membership to move forward. The ATA board has never furnished an explanation or apology on this matter, only silence. An explanation is required, even if this mess is not the work of the current board. Honest upfront conversation is the only way to respect our members’ dignity. Once we are all on the same page, it will be easier to move forward.
- ATA has four major “service” programs: (a) Chronicle, (b) Conference, (c) Training, and (d) Certification. My understanding is that they are all losing money. To deal with these, it appears that some difficult, unpopular decisions are in order. We should ask potential board members how they would address these issues.
- Discontinue print version of the ATA Chronicle. It is already available online and in PDF for those who want to download to their mobile device or print it. An e-mail notification can be sent to remind members of this option.
- Increase prices on other programs.
- Consider revenue-generating methods, such as sponsorship.
ATA needs to run like any profitable business. The conference, training, and certification programs benefit only those members that use them. Should the entire membership subsidize these programs for the minority? The conference should make enough to pay for itself. The same goes for training and certification. The Chronicle is the only service that is a benefit to all the members equally. Of course, this also is my opinion and I welcome open discussion.
The bottom line is that I don’t like making sacrifices. I like my paper copy of The Chronicle. Each year I have to carefully budget to attend our conference, I don’t want to spend a cent more. I don’t want to spend any more on webinars or anything else for that matter. I will say this, though: if paying more adds value that somehow translates into increased income, I’m all for it! I don’t have a problem sacrificing if there is a bigger payoff later. So the questions to ask are what’s the sacrifice? And what’s the payoff?
The ATA was once the go-to place for comments on translation and interpretation for the media. Journalists would obtain quick access to experts in our field. Every time they required some information, they knew who to approach. Over the past two years, there were news reports on the interpreter for the mayor of New York City, the mentally ill imposter “interpreting” by heads of state at Mandela’s funeral, the unqualified court interpreter, the unethical interpreter , and the Vatican’s rushed translation.
The media provided extensive coverage, up to and including providing fodder for Saturday Night Live skit on the imposter. To me, these were wasted opportunities for the ATA and for its members; we should have been involved.
Should we bring back public relations? I think so because it will elevate our industry benefiting us all. To be sure, it is expensive, and the money must come from somewhere. But seriously, I would rather have PR and a digital Chronicle, instead of a paper Chronicle and no positive representation in the media.
These are the questions we need to ask the candidates. Members ought to think about these issues as well and offer feedback.
Two years in a row, I have been in a position to stay after the annual conference and use my member benefit of observing the board meeting. On both occasions I took note of what was being said and made suggestions afterward. I was thanked for my interest and comments, but I honestly don’t think they gave it any further consideration.
Nevertheless, if you log into ATA’s website and search for board meeting minutes, my name does appear for the October 2012 and November 2013 meetings. I have questions about how the board accomplishes things. I know that they meet four times a year.
Do they set specific goals and dates to complete things or is it instead common to keep moving the conversation on to the next meeting? Do they have help from other volunteer members? Is there accountability for decisions made, and how does it work? I have reviewed all the minutes for every board meeting since the first one I attended. There appears to be some specific goal setting, nevertheless the implementation seems slow. Is there room for improvement, or is the ATA such a big vessel that it requires plenty of time and room to maneuver?
A couple of other issues I don’t understand. At the conference, on Thursday, each candidate who hopes to be elected to the board will deliver a speech and perhaps answer some questions. On Friday, the annual meeting occurs, allowing the membership to query the board. I would like to see this process in reverse. I prefer to ask many of the questions previously mentioned in this article. Based on the feedback from the board, I would know better what issues to address with the candidates.
Also, candidates for the board cannot campaign (I was mistaken about this. Please see the comment section below.) They present a pitch and hope for the best. I think that linguists tend to be detailed-oriented persons. We need more information in order to make informed decisions. What if the person is really qualified but doesn’t express himself well in a speech? Forming a serious discussion will allow us to figure out who is really qualified and in line with our goals.
I have read negative member comments on social media. Although it is impossible to make everyone happy, what should be done to address displeasure? I would like to see issues acknowledged. We won’t always agree on issues, but we can always treat one another with respect. I would like to know how the candidates plan to handle dissatisfaction. This may be a primary reason why seasoned professionals do not renew their the ATA membership. Over that past five years ATA has lost nearly two thousand members! (Correction: 1,598. ATA Minutes October 31, 2009: 11,009; ATA Minutes April 30, 2014: 9,411.)
I’m sure there are other issues to be discussed. Feel free to share them with me. My goal is not to criticize or throw blame but to objectively consider the current issues in the ATA. I want to promote positive discussion on how to address them and promptly move forward for the benefit of all our members.