by Gwen Moritz
Posted 12/17/2007 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
Assistant Editor Nate Hinkel's Dec. 3 article concerning internal e-mails by young men in leadership positions at the Arkansas Young Professionals Network has spawned a bumper crop of letters to the editor (well, three, but that's a lot for Arkansas Business) and a flood of not-for-publication e-mails. Without exception, my correspondents were outraged by the attitudes revealed in the e-mails - condescending toward women, dismissive of political liberals, disrespectful toward the governor of the state.
Several specifically thanked Arkansas Business for its reporting, which was actually six weeks behind the original release of the e-mails by the Arkansas Times' blog and that of Blake Rutherford, director of public communications at Stone Ward.
Nate and I originally expected that he would write a story about how AYPN had dealt with those embarrassing revelations, how it had grown and learned from such a hard experience.
Instead, Nate discovered that, other than allowing the only two women on the board of directors to resign in disgust, the organization had not dealt with the revelations at all.
"We decided that those who resigned were already enough fallout and that we would put it all behind us and move forward," AYPN Communications Director Randall Dixon told him.
Needless to say, the young men whose "private" e-mails were spread across the paper did not thank me. But one AYPN officer with whom I spoke by phone after the story appeared did ask me what I thought the organization should have done.
Well, since you asked ...
I think the directors who were guilty of trying to turn a tax-exempt nonprofit organization into an adjunct of the Republican Party or of marginalizing women members should have resigned for the good of the AYPN. They should have apologized for their actions and refused to accept the resignations of the blameless women directors they offended.
For good measure, the board might have adopted an official resolution condemning politicization of AYPN and specifically welcoming young members regardless of race, sex, creed or political persuasion.
How different would Nate's article have been if the board of AYPN had done any of those things?
Instead, the men left on the board (and all remaining voting members are male, despite the obfuscation they attempted in an e-mail sent to AYPN members) apparently decided that they simply need not respond to the revelations of flaming liberals like Rutherford and Arkansas Times Editor Max Brantley. Because they were so focused on the messengers, they failed to recognize the validity of the message: The leadership of AYPN - once a fast-growing organization with real purpose and mission - had devolved into a plotting, exclusive boys' club.
As I told the officer, AYPN might have responded to the original e-mail leaks far more productively had it had more diversity of thought on its board of directors to begin with. But if the board had been more diverse to begin with, perhaps internal discussions would never have deteriorated to the point that they did.
I am not personally acquainted with any of the current AYPN board members, and I surely don't fall into the "young professional" category, so my interest in this has been purely journalistic. (I don't even mind that one of the e-mails expressed little admiration for Arkansas Business. We learn more from our critics than from our fans.)
I do hope that AYPN survives this unfortunate episode and thrives in the future. I know some of the people who were involved in its early days, and they are first-rate young adults who had a worthy goal of developing professionalism and professional contacts.
I hope people like those founders will rise up at the February 2008 election and populate the board of directors with serious-minded candidates who are capable of learning from their predecessors' mistakes.
(Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. E-mail her at email@example.com.)