About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Center for Inquiry - a letter from the Board of Directors

Please have a look at this letter signed by CFI chairperson Richard Schroeder. It puts the situation at the Center in a different light from much of the material you've probably been reading, though it's consistent with my interpretation from the bits and pieces of information that had been coming out: see my previous post.

Sample from towards the end:

Will this latest round of criticism hurt the organization and our cause? Candidly, it will do some damage to our work, which is a shame. But our movement is resilient enough to withstand these attacks. The vast majority of our staff and supporters understand the reality of the situation and understand that we are committed to moving forward with our work of promoting science and secularism.

I expect that we'll see further attacks on the CFI board and management. If they weren't already on the way, this letter from Schroeder will doubtless provoke them. The organisation's problems are compounded by the fact that nothing it does will please everybody - while the old guard attack it for becoming too "New Atheist" in its orientation, people like me will, from time to time, think some of its decisions are too accommodationist. I don't need to back away from my criticisms of any individual decisions to say yet again that CFI is broadly based and cannot possibly please everybody all the time. Indeed, any flagship organisation has that problem. CFI remains a flagship for advocacy of reason and science. It would be tragic to see it fail.

Please think carefully about whatever you read from the CFI's critics. It can't necessarily be accepted at face value.

As for me, I actually have no dog in this fight - I'm not linked in any substantial way either to Paul Kurtz or to the current management. No one had put me up to writing the previous long post, or suggested to me the interpretation that it contains. It was simply what I'd gleaned from the public evidence. I do think I have some feel for how these sorts of disputes happen, but I'm not going to try to pull rank and claim epistemic superiority, dismissing your viewpoint if you don't have life experience similar to mine. That's a reprehensible tactic in this sort of discussion.

You'll have to decide for yourself, but just think about it. Given the contents of Schroeder's letter, what do you really think is the more plausible scenario? Has the entire board gone crazy ... or was my previous post probably about right? Hey, forget my previous post if you want: does Schroeder's letter have the ring of truth? It certainly does for me, but you'll have to be the judge for yourself.


Eamon Knight said...

Your post and Schroeder's letter are the, um, narrative that makes most sense at the moment.

Kirth Gersen said...

@ Mr. Knight -- I'm not sure it's necessarily a matter of "either-or" in this case, so much as "a bit of each." But in any event, I agree that Russell's comments regarding looking past the debate and focusing on the larger picture are spot-on.

Unlike any number of other blogs, this one is true to its tag line.

The Uncredible Hallq said...


What do you make about the bit about the consulting firm? I know people working in the business world often end up skeptical about the value of consultants, and it's hard to think of any reason why professional consultants would have a better idea of how to run an organization than the people with experience running it. My personal experience with PR consultants has been that the field tends to attract people who are better at selling their service than they are at providing it.

The description of what the consulting firm did mainly consists of problems that CFI should have been able to identify on their own (like noticing employee morale), and buzzwordy solutions of the sort I would write if I were desperate to produce something that sounded passable when I had no idea what I was talking about.

It's quite possible that the firm was hired to give some people within CFI an excuse to do things that they already saw needed to be done. The pragmatist in me thinks, "if you have really have to do that, oh well," but if such a manuever was needed, I think it speaks poorly of the health of CFI as an organization.

Ophelia Benson said...

I wondered about the consulting firm too - and especially about this clause:

the organization had expanded too rapidly into too many areas, and it needed to focus its work on areas essential to its mission

I'm sure that's true; I got a sense of that just from being there for a couple of weeks three years ago; but, I also know that one worry of critics is that CFI is dropping its international work, and that and the consultant's finding seem to explain the selection of Norm Allen as one of the people to cut: Norm did a lot of outreach to Africa. Given that Leo Igwe resigned from CFI after Norm was fired...this seems terribly unfortunate. Maybe financially unavoidable, but terrible all the same.

I'm worried about Ibn Warraq.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, and the little pipe dream that some of us here have from time to time of creating a CFI Australia is obviously going to have to go on hold indefinitely (I couldn't run it anyway; it'd have to be someone in either or Melbourne or Sydney, and I'm now living 100 miles north of the latter).

I tend to be a bit cynical about management/personnel consultants, too, but some of them do have useful specialist skills, and getting an outside second opinion on what should be done when you're confronted with financial exigency isn't necessarily a bad idea. I can think of a number of legitimate reasons for it, even if you think the management skills of the in-house people are superior.

It's certainly a good idea to talk separately to employment/labour relations lawyers, but about the nuts and bolts of how to do it, not about what needs to be done. I would say that, though, as I used to do that kind of work during my ill-spent youth. :)

As a total outsider, I have no idea whether the consultants used were any good, what modus operandi they adopted, who briefed them, just what advice they gave, and so on.

I'm not greatly concerned about it either way as I doubt that it exacerbated any of the problems. It might have led to a focus on North American activities, I suppose, and to some things getting classed as "non-core", but the board wouldn't have adopted such advice unless it was consonant with their own thinking.

Or so I imagine. I'm guessing, based on past experiences with positive and negative organisational change exercises. To kind of labour the point, I don't have any inside info about such things.

Charles Sullivan said...

I subscribe to Free Inquiry, and I recently received a rather lengthy "reader survey", which asks all manner of questions about my reading habits, my religious views, etc.

I wonder if this survey is related to the consulting firm since Free Inquiry has some relationship to CFI.

Sigmund said...

I find this issue of the 800,000 dollar donation illustrative of a systematic failure within their organization. They were so dependent on this cash that they were willing to offer the resignation of Ron Linsay. To me this indicates that they allowed the organization to be placed in a position where a single wealthy donor could have a huge influence in the direction of the entire organization. That cannot be good for an organization based on rationality and evidence.