Member Opinions: Discussion on Two Proposed Bylaws Amendments

We received a variety of opinions, both pro and con, regarding two proposed Bylaws amendments on this year’s ballot: 1) clarifying the rights and privileges of membership, and 2) having multiple candidates for each elective position of the Association.

Decoupling: It’s the Right Thing to Do

Ted R. Wozniak, CT
ATA President
ATA-certified (German>English)
New Orleans, Louisiana

The issue of removing membership as an eligibility requirement for taking the certification exam (aka “decoupling”) has been around for at least 20 years now. ATA’s Board of Directors is proposing a Bylaws amendment that, if approved, would clarify that taking the certification exam is not an exclusive right of membership. (The proposed amendment appears in this issue.) This would allow ATA to move forward with decoupling as approved by the Board in 2013.

Arguments and statements both in favor of and against decoupling have been published in The ATA Chronicle. If you have not read them, I encourage you to do so. I won’t repeat all the arguments in favor or against here. But I will present what I personally believe to be the most pertinent reasons why decoupling membership from the certification exam is the right thing to do.

First, however, I would like to comment on the arguments made by opponents of decoupling. Opinion pieces and letters to the editor arguing against opening the exam to nonmembers were published in the January/February 20201, March/April 20202, May/June 20203, and July/August 20204 editions of The ATA Chronicle. In every instance, these concerned members presented rebuttals to the pro-decoupling arguments and made arguments for why decoupling is not a good idea. Some asked valid and pertinent questions about ATA’s Certification Program. I can even acknowledge that some of their rebuttal arguments may have some validity. But not one of these members presented a single argument or statement on why membership is a valid eligibility criterion for taking the exam.

And that’s the crux of the matter. Membership is not a valid eligibility requirement. This is why the Hamm Report5 specifically recommended that “the current membership-based requirements for eligibility should be eliminated” and why the recently commissioned opinion by Lenora Knapp, another certification specialist, stated that “requiring ATA membership is contrary to, and inconsistent with, current, accepted practice and quality standards pertaining to professional certification programs.”6

Both statements were based on principles and standards for eligibility requirements for certification programs. When applied to the certification exam, these principles require that eligibility requirements should be directly linked to the ability to translate from the source to the target language. There is no direct link between membership and the ability to translate—as Hamm stated, “paying dues…has nothing to do with one’s knowledge, skills, or ability.” These standards also require that eligibility criteria should not be used to limit the number of applicants or exclude qualified candidates. A membership requirement does just that.

Most important to my mind, however, is the fact that limiting the exam to members only is inconsistent with, if not directly contrary to, our Bylaws. The first objective stated in our Bylaws is “to promote the recognition of the translation and interpreting professions.” They go on to say that ATA shall strive to meet its objectives by “supporting programs of accreditation and certification for translators and interpreters who meet specific standards of competence” (emphasis added). They do not say that ATA should support certification programs for ATA members only. Membership in ATA is not a “standard of competence” and therefore restricting certification to members only flies in the face of our Bylaws.

Restricting the Certified Translator designation to members only is something one would expect from a protectionist-based medieval guild composed of “masters” and “journeymen,” not a modern professional association such as ATA. Based on our own Bylaws and recognized standards and principles for valid certification programs, membership should be eliminated as an eligibility requirement for the certification exam. It’s the right thing to do. I therefore urge you to vote in favor of the proposed Bylaws amendment so that ATA can follow its stated objectives and adhere to current, accepted practice and quality standards of professional certification programs.

  1. “Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 12,
  2. “Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers,” The ATA Chronicle (March/April 2020), 10,
  3. Letters to the Editor, The ATA Chronicle (May/June 2020), 5,
  4. “Member Opinions: Discussion on Opening ATA’s Exam to Nonmembers,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 14,
  5. ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000),
  6. Knapp, Lorena. “Certification Consultant’s Statement on the Membership Requirement for ATA Certification,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 12,

Statement in Support of Proposed Decoupling Bylaws Amendment

We, the undersigned former officers and directors of the American Translators Association, do hereby voice our support for the Bylaws amendment proposed by the Board of Directors clarifying that taking ATA’s certification exam is not an exclusive membership right and that, therefore, nonmembers may be allowed to take the certification exam in accordance with policies and procedures approved by the Board of Directors.

We urge all Active and Corresponding Members of ATA to vote FOR the proposed Bylaws amendment.

Ann Macfarlane
President/President–Elect (1997–2001)

Corinne McKay
President/President–Elect (2015–2019); Director (2012–2015)

David Rumsey
President/President–Elect (2013–2017); Director (2008–2013)

Jiri Stejskal
President/President–Elect (2005–2009); Treasurer (2001–2005)

Caitilin Walsh
President/President–Elect (2011–2015); Director (2007–2010)

Thomas West III
President/President–Elect (1999–2003); Director (1996–1999)

Rudy Heller
Secretary (2015–2016); Director (2013–2014)

Jane Maier
Secretary (2016–2017); Director (2013–2016), (1988–1994)

Alan Melby
Secretary (2003–2007); Director (1997–2003), (2007–2013)

Boris Silversteyn
Secretary (2011–2015); Director (2005–2011)

Beatriz Bonnet
Director (2000–2005)

Robert Croese
Director (2001–2004)

Evelyn Yang Garland
Director (2013–2019)

Jean Leblon
Director (2003–2006)

Odile Legeay
Director (2009–2015)

Jacki Noh
Director (2005–2008)

Frieda Ruppaner–Lind
Director (2009–2012), (2015–2018)

Faiza Sultan
Director (2012–2018)

Izumi Suzuki
Director (1997–2000)

Liliana Valenzuela
Director (2005–2008)

Madeleine Velguth
Director (2001–2002)

A Membership Association or a Worldwide Credentialing Body?

Jessica Hartstein, CT, CI
ATA-certified (Spanish>English and French>English)
Credentialed Interpreter Legal (Spanish)
Houston, Texas

Burden of Proof:
The first sentence of our Bylaws describes ATA as a “membership corporation.” The onus is on ATA to make a convincing case that our membership corporation should open its exam to nonmembers. General, nice sounding statements that decoupling (i.e, opening the exam to nonmembers) will positively impact the profession and ATA have been provided without evidence, but some very real risks to the Association have also been presented.1

Are members missing out on concrete opportunities because only ATA members can take the certification exam? For most, probably not. ATA has not provided the names of any large freelance translation buyers who do not recognize ATA certification due to this. No indication has been made that coupling membership with certification has hurt our credibility among any large segment of translation buyers. We have a credible and valuable program thanks to the hard work of so many.

Members Decide on the Future of the Certification Program: Thanks to the Certification Program being established in the Bylaws as a member right, the future of the program is in your hands if you choose to vote in this year’s election.2

Bylaws Amendment Wording Is Indirect: I expected that when members were asked to vote on decoupling, the proposed Bylaws amendment would say what it means and mean what it says. I thought the Bylaws amendment would be presented as follows:

Article III, Section 3—Rights and Privileges
a. Active members have the right to attend any of the Association’s membership meetings, use all of its membership facilities, and receive all of its regular publications free or at special membership rates. They also have the right to take certification examinations, to vote, to hold Association office, and to serve on the Board of Directors and all committees of the Association.

With this wording, we would know exactly what we were voting for: opening the exam to everyone.

I was disappointed to see that the actual amendment that will be presented to members includes several other (arguably unnecessary) changes, making the intention and impact of the amendment less obvious.3 Members should not have to read between the lines of the amendment wording to know what they are voting for. Certainly, some members will only look at the wording of the amendment and carelessly miss the fact that a vote to give members the privilege to take the test “at a discounted price” will be considered by ATA as a vote in favor of opening the exam to nonmembers. This is a very indirect way of presenting this issue.

For your information, the Board takes an AGAINST vote to mean “I do not want to open the exam to nonmembers.”

Opening the Exam Does Not Directly Help Most Members: I have yet to see ATA provide a clear, logical, and specific example of how the average member who supports themselves with translation and interpreting work will directly benefit from opening the exam to nonmembers. I would like to share some things that otherwise happy members who have not been participating in these public discussions have told me: “What would be the point of ATA, then?” “I’ll be the first to leave if they do this!” “This will not help my business.” These members don’t see tangible benefits for the Association or their own businesses. If the fact that members expect ATA to prioritize the professional lives and Association benefits of paying members seems outlandish or in conflict with our purpose, perhaps we need to rethink our purpose. Are we fundamentally a credentialing entity or a membership association?

I recently saw longtime ATA Spanish Division members with decades of translation experience discuss leaving the industry because they are unable to support themselves. I wish we were having this passionate of a debate about what we, as an association, can do directly to change this. We have limited resources and opening an exam to nonmembers does not seem like the most direct route to positive change.

I want to recognize that ATA has presented the first concrete example of one subgroup of ATA members who would directly benefit from decoupling: active members of the armed services. Their employer, the Department of Defense, would pay for their exam if we decoupled.4 ATA’s Government Linguist Taskforce has been hard at work recruiting active members of the armed services and ATA has recently offered military personnel 50% off their first two years of membership.5

Experts Weigh In: ATA’s Certification Program Needs Eligibility Criteria for the Sake of Credibility: Lenora Knapp, a credentialing expert, wrote in the July/August issue of The ATA Chronicle that eligibility requirements should not “be such that unqualified individuals can earn the credential simply by passing the exam.”6 With no educational or experience requirement to take the exam, ATA is not currently able to prevent non-translators from taking it. Thus, it is not ensuring that its exam candidates are “translators and interpreters who meet specific standards of competence,” as stated in ATA’s Bylaws.

In my opinion piece in the January/February issue of The ATA Chronicle regarding opening the exam to nonmembers, I reported that Michael Hamm (a credentialing expert engaged by ATA 20 years ago) also made the case that educational/experience eligibility requirements were essential to credibility.7 If this exam is aimed at mid-career professional translators, candidates would be able to meet certain educational/experience requirements. Why don’t we bring these requirements back?

Law school graduates are expected to provide proof of eligibility for the Texas Bar exam. We clearly want to protect the credibility and integrity of our credential just as other organizations do. Eligibility criteria (and preventing people from fraudulently misrepresenting our credential) should not be considered administrative burdens because they have a bigger impact on our credibility than decoupling.

I love best practices, but the argument that coupling membership is not a best practice loses strength when there are other very significant credentialing best practices that we are ignoring. Please read my opinion piece in the January/February issue to learn more about this and the unknowns of opening the exam.

Antitrust Is Not Applicable: Doctors are required by law to have a medical license; ATA-certification is optional. There are 350 languages spoken across the U.S.8 We offer certification in about 20 languages. The vast majority of translators earn their income without ATA certification, so there is really no concern that ATA is preventing anyone from working.

Conclusion: I’m so thankful to ATA’s Certification Program for its hard work in creating a well-respected credential. ATA has not shown that this amendment will directly help most members, so I hope you’ll vote “AGAINST.”

  1. Hartstein, Jessica. “Opening theExam: Too Many Unknowns,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 14, Also see “Opening the ATA Certification Exam to Nonmembers,” ATA Webinar Series (October 1, 2019),
  2. ATA’s Bylaws can be found here:
  3. “Proposed Amendment to the Bylaws to be Presented to the Membership for Voting in October 2020,”
  4. Episode 45 of The ATA Podcast (July 15, 2020),
  5. Bacak, Walter. “Board Meeting Highlights,” The ATA Chronicle (May/June 2020), 7,
  6. Knapp, Lorena. “Certification Consultant’s Statement on the Membership Requirement for ATA Certification,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 12,
  7. Hartstein, Jessica. “Opening the Exam: Too Many Unknowns,” The ATA Chronicle (January/February 2020), 14,; Also see: ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000),
  8. Hickey, Sarah. “The Catch-22 with Certifications,” Nimdzi Insights,

Multiple Candidates Bylaws Amendment: Support Competitive ATA Elections

Patricia C. de Ribes, CT
ATA-certified (French>English)
San Marcos, Texas

In every ATA election, voting members have several important decisions to make. In addition to voting for three director positions in 2020, we will vote on two Bylaws amendments.

The first Bylaws amendment is a Board initiative to decouple ATA certification from membership and open the certification exam to nonmembers. An “Against” vote on this amendment will ensure that our certified translator credential remains tied to ATA membership and will preserve the member right to take certification exams.

The second proposed amendment, the Multiple Candidates Bylaws Amendment, is the result of a member-initiated petition. A “For” vote on this amendment will require the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee (NLDC) to propose at least two candidates for each ATA officer position: president-elect, secretary, and treasurer. This Bylaws amendment would ensure that elections are competitive.

The Nominating and Leadership Development Committee

The NLDC has proposed more than one candidate for an officer position on just three occasions since 2005. Although the Bylaws do provide for candidacy by petition, this should not be the sole means for providing a choice of candidates. While election by acclamation is the policy at the ATA division level, elections for officers should make it possible for members to vote in competitive elections to elect those who will best represent ATA and its members.

The NLDC chair and committee members are appointed by the Board. Since 2005, in the absence of competitive elections, the five members of the NLDC, rather than the majority of ATA voters, have been effectively selecting ATA’s officers and setting the course for the Association. When a secretary and treasurer are elected, they will serve for the next two years. Once elected, the president-elect serves two years in that position, followed by two years as president.

Elections Policy

ATA’s Board Elections Policy was revised in August 2019 to read: “It [the NLDC] shall propose at least two candidates for each officer position (president-elect, secretary, and treasurer) and at least two candidates for each director position.”
This short-lived version of the Elections Policy was superseded in October 2019 by one that characterized multiple candidates for each position as merely an option rather than a requirement: “It [the NLDC] shall propose preferably two candidates for each officer position (president-elect, secretary, and treasurer) and at least two candidates for each director position.”

In August 2020, the Board approved yet another revised Elections Policy. According to this version: “It [the NLDC] shall propose at least one candidate for each officer position (president-elect, secretary, and treasurer) and at least one candidate for each director position.”


ATA’s Board has modified the Elections Policy three times in the space of just one year. This clearly demonstrates the importance of setting out explicit election standards in the Bylaws to govern the development of a coherent Elections Policy. ATA’s Bylaws, which supersede any policies or guidelines, provide structure and direction for the conduct of Association business and guide the development of policies that must be harmonized with the Bylaws.

Having multiple candidates stand for elective office will keep ATA strong and relevant. It will incentivize future leaders to listen to the membership and pay attention to their opinions, concerns, and needs. When members know that the election process is democratic and competitive, we are more likely to be involved and participate in our Association.

ATA members deserve a democratic election process and competitive elections. The best way to ensure these will be in place for future ATA elections of officers and directors is to vote “For” on the Multiple Candidate Bylaws Amendment.

Voting “No” On the Proposed Bylaws Amendment

Linda Marianiello
Active Member
Santa Fe, New Mexico

I strongly agree with Mike Magee’s opinion in the July/August 2020 issue. My husband Franz Vote and I are Active members of ATA and will vote No on the proposed Bylaws amendment. Although we opted not to take the ATA certification exam, due to issues we have with the exam itself, we also oppose the Bylaws amendment for two reasons.

1.  We believe that ATA has operated since the late 1990s on the basis of fear and avoidance of lawsuits against the Association. In my view, fear is never a good reason for making decisions, whether in this case or any other. I regret that ATA has thus far not been able to move beyond fear to being a strong advocate for freelance translators and interpreters.

Certification Consultant Leonora Knapp’s concern that ATA might be in violation of antitrust laws bears consideration. Yet fear of being charged with a violation of antitrust laws cannot be the sole or primary basis for such an important decision, and I hope ATA members will keep this clearly in mind when they vote. Numerous other large corporations are also in violation of antitrust laws, particularly in the area of , for example, “publicly-owned” airwaves. Yet there is no enforcement. Indeed, these companies continue to lobby lawmakers to ensure that they remain exempt from enforcement. This calls into question whether antitrust laws are relevant or only apply to some, and not all.

I would like to quote Lenora Knapp’s comment, which is central to why we will vote against the Bylaws amendment: “Is there a direct and exclusive relationship between membership in ATA and acquisition of knowledge and skills required to competently perform the role of the translator or interpreter?” I would respond Yes to this question. Further, while membership may not be the “only avenue to professional competence,” it is certainly one of very few worldwide.

2.  There are other issues that are equally or more important to me as an ATA member. Among them is concern that the certification exam is limited to a few areas of specialization in which we do not work, such as financial translation. In our language pair, German-to-English, the vocabulary is so specific to certain areas of specialization that we could be fully qualified to translate in the areas that we translate, yet fail to pass the exam because of its limited scope. I also believe that those who grade ATA certification exams should not be ATA members. In my opinion, this would certainly enhance the credibility of ATA certification.

Second, I’m very concerned that ATA does not do enough to defend individual members from corporate takeovers of the profession and the resultant lowering of translation and interpreting rates. The mere fact that there are corporate members of ATA is a conflict of interest I believe needs far more scrutiny. The lack of such scrutiny is likely also related to fear of litigation.

In conclusion, I don’t believe the Bylaws amendment should be “decoupled” from the issues surrounding the exam itself and how ATA certification is currently structured. The focus should be more on whether ATA certification is fair and a clear indication of one’s greater qualification as a translator and/or interpreter. Along these same lines, I would like to know whether ATA certification results in better pay for translators and interpreters. So much of the legal and financial responsibility falls on the individual translator or interpreter. Much more must to done to protect freelance translators and interpreters from corporate exploitation. And I don’t see that happening with ATA since we have been members.

Opposing Resolution to Mandate Multiple Candidates

Dorothee Racette
President/President-Elect (2009–2013); Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2013–2017)

David Rumsey
President/President-Elect (2013–2017); Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2017–)

Jiri Stejskal
President/President-Elect (2005–2009); Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2011–2013)

Tuomas Kostiainen
Nominating and Leadership Development Committee Chair (2007–2011)

While we applaud the initiative of the members who have proposed a resolution to mandate multiple candidates for all positions on ATA’s Board of Directors, including officers (treasurer, secretary, and president-elect), we are concerned—as former chairs of the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee and some ATA past presidents—that the potential harm and practical challenges involved with such a permanent change may far outweigh any theoretical benefits. We are not opposed to multiple candidates competing for officer positions, but requiring the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee to put forward multiple candidates is not considered good practice for good reason.

The current Nominating and Leadership Development Committee includes members from the leadership of divisions, certification, chapters, interpreting, etc., representing a broad spectrum of the Association. The committee is also unique in that it is subject to a rigorous schedule from the time it is appointed each year until it must put forward a slate of candidates for the Board.

ATA nominates multiple candidates for directors every year, but while nominating multiple candidates for officer positions is also encouraged, it is not mandated. Mandating multiple candidates for all positions poses a number of particular challenges. The first challenge is a matter of numbers. In an ideal world, the treasurer, secretary, and president-elect will have had some Board experience, so that they are familiar with the current issues facing the Board. ATA’s Board of Directors consists of 12 members plus the president. If all three officer positions require at least two candidates, the committee would have to identify six appropriate candidates—half of the Board—who are willing and able to take on these additional responsibilities. In any given year, there may be Board members who are unable to run due to term limits or Board members who just started on the Board, which reduces the potential number of candidates for officers further.

Besides Board experience, the committee also employs a list of demanding qualifications for officers, who must demonstrate the right skills and be able to dedicate substantial time to their respective leadership role for a term of at least two years, or even four years in the case of the president-elect. While it is possible for the committee to seek candidates who do not have any Board experience, finding eligible outside candidates who have the necessary experience, abilities, and knowledge to step into high-profile officer positions involving significant amounts of volunteer time is very rare.

As a result, the proposed resolution mandating multiple candidates forces the committee to potentially nominate candidates without Board experience, persons who may not have the time or skills to take on additional responsibilities, or who may simply accept the nomination with the intention to lose, which does not serve the membership or the Board member in question.

Moreover, our experience as committee chairs has shown that losing candidates are less likely to run again or increase their involvement in the Association’s affairs. Putting yourself in the spotlight of an election can be a harrowing experience that is quite different than the experience of actually governing. As a result, talented candidates with excellent administrative skills may be scared off from repeating the experience. This does not serve the Association’s interest in developing stable and competent leadership.

Ironically, the proposed resolution puts more power in the hands of the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee vis-à-vis the membership. ATA’s Bylaws include a petition process that allows a member to be added to the slate by collecting the signatures of 60 voting members. In the case of the officer positions, if the committee is forced to put forward two or more candidates for each position, this significantly dilutes the chance of a petitioning candidate from achieving a clear majority of the votes cast. A three-way race can easily result in a so-called “false majority,” which can undermine confidence and trust in the system and the officers in question.

Although the committee tries to focus on the candidate’s skills rather than their stance on any particular issue, a more politically-minded committee in the future could also rig the slate with their preferred candidate and another candidate who has agreed to lose in order for the committee to achieve its aims. This is one of the reasons why the leading parliamentary authority, Robert’s Rules of Order, does not recommend mandating multiple candidates.1

Lastly, the resolution has no enforcement procedure. If the committee is unable to find a second candidate for a given position, what then? Is the ballot not valid? Is there no election until another candidate steps forward? Does it put legal liability on the committee members? These are additional challenges that need to be considered when applying such a permanent change through the Bylaws.

ATA operates as a nonprofit organization and not as a public utility, governmental office, or labor union. It is subject to different laws and customs. Within the world of association governance, using single officer candidates is considered best practice, although opinions and arrangements can vary widely among different associations.2

Nevertheless, ATA still maintains a flexible approach of encouraging the nomination of multiple directors and officers, as well as a petition option to ensure that any member has a path to the Board. This allows the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee to identify and put forward the best possible candidates with the right skills, experience, and energy to ensure that the Association runs smoothly and efficiently in the face of financial, technological, and legislative changes in the translation and interpreting world.

The committee is very aware of the membership’s desire for multiple candidates and will certainly make every effort to propose appropriate multiple candidates, even for officers. The committee is not opposed to having multiple candidates on the slate, and has done so in the past, but it is simply not always possible to achieve. Mandating a relatively permanent requirement through the Bylaws in the interest of having “multiple viewpoints”—which is not necessarily guaranteed or something that the committee considers—creates far more potential problems than it does solutions.

While the proposed resolution may be well intentioned in the present, it is not considered best practice and may prove to be detrimental to the good governance of the Association in the future. We strongly recommend voting against the resolution mandating multiple candidates for officer positions and staying with the existing elections policy, which has served ATA well over the years.

  1. Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (11th edition, page 433, lines 22–28): “Although it is not common for the nominating committee to nominate more than one candidate for any office, the nominating committee can do so unless the bylaws prohibit it. It is usually not sound to require the committee to nominate more than one candidate for each office, since the committee can easily circumvent such a provision by nominating only one person who has any chance of being elected.”
  2. “Building Better Association Boards Advancing Performance through Nomination, Recruitment, and Selection Processes.” (American Society of Association Executives, page 6): “Officer elections holding noncompetitive elections for officers is considered a leading practice. Having either the nominating committee or the board do the vetting reduces the likelihood that unselected members in competitive elections become disengaged, and also results in a competency-based system. In noncompetitive elections, the leadership slates officers based on alignment of competencies with desired strategic needs. Officer positions are filled by someone who has recently sat on the board, commonly current board members.” See:

8 Responses to "Member Opinions: Discussion on Two Proposed Bylaws Amendments"

  1. Jessica Hartstein says:

    This comment is in regards to the member opinion written above by Ted Wozniak.

    I read the same documents that Ted referenced, and I came to a different conclusion when I analyzed everything in its entirety. I put time into writing what I intended to be respectful articles in which I shared serious unanswered concerns (in my article above and in the January Chronicle). While I appreciate that Ted agreed that some of the questions and arguments against decoupling are valid, we would have all benefited from a response from him regarding which of those arguments he believes are and are not valid and why.

    I am very uncomfortable writing this, but this is the second time the President of the ATA has publicly stated that the concerns of members who disagree with him regarding decoupling are “something one would expect from a protectionist-based medieval guild.” The first time was in ATATalk, and I witnessed this name-calling immediately shut down the discussion. For what it is worth, I don’t identify with this label. Ted, I would have hoped that after a year of hearing points like mine and others that you would have provided a more considerate response to those of us who answered ATA’s request in the Chronicle to provide member feedback. You may look at your words differently, but as a regular member, I want to point out that it is difficult to speak up, and it is damaging to the association when people perceive the ideas of those who do to be dismissed by leaders elected to represent them.

    I hope that for the next month, while people are deciding what and who to vote for, as well as after when some people will be disappointed by the results, that we can all engage in respectful conversations and work together for the benefit of ATA.

    1. Jessica Hartstein says:

      Update: I did get a little clarification about the guild analogy from someone who agreed with it, and in my opinion, the analogy does not hold up. Suffice it to say that neither my experience working as a translator before joining the ATA nor my experience in the ATA has resembled the description made regarding guilds. The ATA does not strictly enforce prices or prohibit competition “within the guild or externally.” We all know ATA is not price-fixing, nor is it preventing anyone from making a living in translation.

      The ATA providing one path to career growth does not constitute controlling this path for all. There are over 600,000 translators worldwide proving they can work without ATA-Certification (or membership) so I don’t see the ATA as “controlling the pathway and standards” for anything other than ATA-Certification, which is one of several voluntary credentials within our industry. Within the ATA, nobody is indentured, and nobody’s career path is limited by others. I am not sure how getting a grade of PASS on a 3-hour exam (without even any specific feedback) could be compared to years of being controlled as an apprentice. Especially when for me that pass came after I was already supporting myself professionally as a translator. The only thing certified members can do in terms of certification that nonmembers can’t is claim ATA certification as a marketing tool. Others use ATA membership alone as their marketing tool. We have the credibility that goes along with certification thanks to those tirelessly working to support the Certification Program—thank you!! Graders, while considered experts, are volunteers and not “masters” benefiting from the work of any indentured servant test taker. So really, I don’t see how any of the description of a medieval guild applies to the ATA.

  2. An ATA member who doesn't wish to be labelled as 'medieval' by the ATA President says:

    I am appalled that The Chronicle allowed to publish a statement with such non-substantiated and derogatory adjectives toward members in disagreement with the author, Mr. Wozniak. A ‘protectionist-based medieval guild’, where he had no problem in sitting comfortably at the top as a President, though!
    I know of no professional association which certifies people out of the blue – this is something that does… just saying!

    The ATA certification was created to recognize the excellence among its members, not to ‘legitimize’ random people. It will be interesting to see how the ATA will try to highlight the benefit of being an ATA member instead of “just” ATA-certified, since membership dues will bring a steady cash flow every year, as opposed to a one-off exam fee. Personally, I don’t think my clients see any difference between being ATA certified vs. ATA member – as long as I associate my name with the ATA it is enough for them. I think Mrs. Hartstein’s question is pivotal: “Are we fundamentally a credentialing entity or a membership association?”

    In these months of discussion on the issue of decoupling I have never read any factual statement on why decoupling is a good thing, just references to the Hamm report (which is 20 years old – per se, this should make us reflect if its suggestions are still actual) and the Knapp’s evaluation which was not-so-surprisingly in favor of decoupling.

    A few reasons to vote AGAINST:
    – Someone will have a cousin who got ATA certified despite not being a translator. How is this beneficial for me?
    – Why would I pay a yearly membership when I could be simply certified and be done for life? Just to save $15 on ATA webinars?
    – The ATA doesn’t provide any training to pass the ATA-certification exam, so it is not an educational institution and hence cannot issue educational credentials.
    – The ATA doesn’t require any particular background to sit their Exam, hence what kind of ‘professionalism’ are they going to certify?
    – Never in my professional experience I have seen the requirement to be ATA-certified to be able to submit translations to Courts, the USCIS, Consulates etc. I don’t feel the ATA-certification is something ATA owes to the world.
    – Why experience and academic credentials are irrelevant to sit the ATA exam, if the ultimate goal of the ATA-certification it to helps recognize professionals?
    – In the UK, academic credentials are enough to join their two translator’s associations (ITI and CIOL) and to use their logo/stamp to certify translations. In absence of academic credentials, the ITI let candidates sit their ITI Exam, which is considered proof of competency in lieu of academic credentials. However, the ITI-certified status is valid as long as the translator is a member of ITI. Thsi sounds so obvious, but not for the ATA.
    – Those in favor of decoupling seems to be concerned of US antitrust laws and indicated that offering the ATA-exam only to ATA-members could be seen as trying to mingle with the certification market. Except there is no other translator’s certification in the US and there is no requirement to be certified to practice.
    – In addition to the above, they have also mentioned that the price for non-members can’t be too much or it could be construed as indirectly trying to limit access to the certification – hence, what’s the economic benefit they have been talking about? I have never read any number to support their statement of this supposed financial benefit for the ATA.
    – In addition to the above points, they don’t seem to be concerned that the ATA Exam is not accessible to all, since it is offered in bigger US cities, only but rarely abroad. People who need to pay for travel and accommodation expenses, are already limited and negatively affected by the current exam mode.

    If we want to see the ATA revenues grow, the sensible thing is to keep the ATA Exam exclusive to members, allow to take the exam online so that it is available to more people in the US and worldwide, offer optional training to prepare for the ATA-Exam in all of the language combinations in which the exam is offered, implement requirements that will make the ATA-certified status stand out as a guarantee of professionalism (CPD), award the ATA-certified status by peer certification (so that a translator certified in Canada or Australia or the UK, is automatically recognized the ATA-certified status) or by academic credential (for those holding a higher level credential in Translation).

    Just some concrete points from the middle-age!

    1. What's really "Right"... says:

      Why should the ATA President be our moral compass? “The RIGHT thing to do”? Not for my business, it is not. Absolutely not.

      Decoupling of certification is absolutely the WRONG thing to do. The opinions expressed previously in the Chronicle against the Board decoupling plan (Jan./Feb., July/Aug. 2020 issues) clearly show that.

  3. ATA Member says:

    In reply to “STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF PROPOSED DECOUPLING BYLAWS AMENDMENT” that is signed by a bunch of past ATA Presidents.
    Did you forgot to add the reason(s) why we should vote for decoupling or should be just take your word for it? It is rather odd that you support decoupling, urge us to vote for it, and not give a single reason why.
    I am still on the fence and your “because I said so” does not sit well with me
    – An ATA member sitting on a fence

  4. Geoff Koby says:

    I think it would be a good idea for me to weigh in on the bylaws amendment on nominations. At this point, though, I’m not sure which way to vote, so I invite you to accompany me as I think through this in writing. That way, you and I can both explore the considerations in this complex issue and see how my thinking turns out. I can’t wait to find out what I think!

    The proposed bylaws amendment would require the Nominating and Leadership Development Committee (NLDC)’s nominations to include “at least two (2) candidates for the position of President-elect when that position is up for election”. Like many of you, I have been frustrated by the NLDC’s long-time practice of nominating two candidates for Board positions, but only one for officer positions. Last year, that issue was brought to a head when both Madalena and I were under consideration by the NLDC. The NLDC’s practice seemed to me to imply that the committee members thought that they were the ones to get to decide who gets to be an officer.

    If that were the only consideration, I would be in favor of the amendment.


    In April 2019, following the NLDC’s single nominations for officers, the ATA Board changed the NLDC policy and charge to require multiple nominations for officers. The NLDC objected and in response, the Board reversed its decision at its October 2019 meeting, giving the NLDC the leeway to nominate “one or more” candidates but recommending multiple candidates where possible.

    Let’s consider some aspects:

    • The NLDC is charged not just with nominating, but with leadership development. This means that the NLDC keeps track of people as they rise in the ATA, and deliberates on recommending them for various positions, or inviting them to take leadership training.
    • The NLDC has stated that it not only nominates people (particularly for the Board), but also supports them and encourages them, in order to have enough candidates.
    • The NLDC states that the best practice for associations is for the Nominating Committee to only nominate one candidate for each position. In such a system, members who disagree with a nomination are invited to / free to nominate others by petition—an option that ATA Bylaws and policy also allow.
    • When I ran for President-Elect by petition, the chair of the NLDC said to me that “the system worked”. However, my petition drive was not based on the idea that the NLDC had nominated the wrong person (Madalena was a great candidate and is a great President-Elect and I fully support her), but rather on the idea that the NLDC was not giving members a fair opportunity to choose its leaders.
    • The NLDC has been in violation of this best practice for decades, pointing to the tradition of having multiple Board candidates as justification.
    • The NLDC has also stated that a. it is difficult to find qualified candidates, b. that if someone loses, they may drop out of the Association, and c. if they are forced to nominate two candidates, sometimes one will clearly be a “straw candidate” just to satisfy the mandate of having two. In the last election, this was refuted by a. there were two qualified candidates, b. I lost and am still fiercely in love with ATA, and c. there are other strong leaders who could be President-Elect.
    • Electing members to the Board is arguably more important than who the officers are, since officers are constrained by policies adopted by the Board.
    • Robert’s Rules recommends that the Nominating Committee should be elected, not appointed by the Board.

    Based on these ideas, here are some of my thoughts:

    • I have to emphasize that the NLDC consists of past presidents and other significant volunteers who are working for the good of the Association.
    • NLDC members work very hard to identify and recruit volunteers for various positions, most importantly for the Board.
    • If best practice is for nominating committees to only nominate one candidate for each position, it may be that the NLDC has been working too hard getting candidates for the Board. It would be easier to follow best practices.
    • The NLDC may have gone beyond its mandate and basically “planned futures” for various volunteers – including deciding when they would be nominated as Board members and officers. Not so good.
    • The ongoing irritation with the NLDC stems from its practice of inconsistency, with multiple candidates for the more important Board positions and only one (usually) for the more visible officer positions.
    • Since the NLDC is appointed, not elected, there is a possible perception of “insiders nominating insiders”.

    And some conclusions:

    • The Nominating Committee could be separated from the leadership development task – the two committees could coordinate.
    • The current Bylaws Amendment is flawed in that it only mandates two candidates for President-Elect and ignores the other officer positions. Thus it is just as inconsistent as the NLDC’s past practice.
    • Under current policy, the NLDC could announce that it will follow best practices in the future and only nominate one candidate for each position—that would justify the nomination-by-petition process and allow members to nominate when they perceive someone as a poor candidate—rather than having a petition drive to rectify perceived unfairness by the NLDC.
    • The “straw man” argument doesn’t really hold water, not with an association as large as ours. (Expanding voting membership by changing the membership requirements would make the pool even larger.)
    • The “disappointed candidate will quit” argument doesn’t hold water either, really; if someone is so little invested in the Association that they would quit the Association or resign from other volunteer activities if they lost an election, I’m not sure I’d want them leading us, either.
    • If ATA were to change the Bylaws so that the Nominating Committee would be elected by the members, this could increase transparency and trust in the process.

    Bottom line:

    1. Inconsistency in nominating practice has been the real problem.
    2. The current Bylaws amendment about nominations is flawed in that it perpetuates inconsistency. It might not be the best solution to the problem.
    3. A better solution might be to have an elected Nominations Committee.
    4. Another solution would be to mandate only ONE candidate from the NLDC for each office, and members could then exercise the petition option.
    5. In the long run, it doesn’t matter. The Association will be in fine shape with only one candidate for each office, or with two candidates for each office. Whether or not this Bylaws amendment passes, candidates will still be nominated, there will still be elections, there will be winners and losers, and committed volunteers will still work for the good of the Association.

    Thanks for listening.


  5. Geoff Koby says:

    The Association has between 9,000 and 10,000 members, and, if memory serves, about 2,000 voting members. This platform (ATATalk) was set up a few years ago because a few members of the Business Practices list were frequently posting off-topic questions about ATA matters that really didn’t belong over there. This list is open to all ATA members (not just voting members) and has been announced in numerous venues, so any member who is interested can come here to talk about ATA issues. It is thus clear that many members do not choose to participate in this discussion.

    That said, ATA leadership has never and will never try to prevent members from discussing ATA matters on any platform that they wish. You and any other member are free to post and discuss such matters in any venue and on any platform you may wish to do so. However, since it is impossible for any one person to be involved in every list everywhere, the advantage of ATAtalk to members is that the ATA Board reads it; some ideas from here have been implemented in policy (e.g., Helen Eby’s request for formalizing the resolutions procedure).

    But, and in this I echo Jessica Hartstein (“Here’s to some healthier conversations”), we do need to maintain a respectful tone and stick to factual statements. The toxic tone of some posts in ATAtalk comes partly from baseless accusations, twisting people’s words, and assuming some kind of “deep state” conspiracy. For a pointed example, Ted Wozniak said, in part, that the purpose of the Election Policy “was to hinder or prevent the rise of a ‘good old boy network’ or culture in which a small clique perpetuates itself as the association’s leadership.” Taking the ‘good old boy network’ out of this context and making it into a pretext for attacking an (unproven, undocumented, and, in my opinion, unlikely) conspiracy among ATA leaders is unfair and unworthy of a profession where we pride ourselves on being very careful about meaning.

    Now, some of you may perceive me as being an ATA insider, and I suppose I am, at this point. But as some of you know, I also challenged the status quo with my petitioned run for the presidency at the last election. So I can see both sides. Let me tell you how I became an ATA insider: I joined ATA in 1994 and attended the Austin conference. For several years, I attended ATA as a representative of Kent State University, working in the Exhibit Hall. In the early 2000s, I grew interested in ATA grading and tried to volunteer, but it was not until 2006 that there was an opening; this was my first volunteer position in the Association. In 2008, I volunteered to be Secretary of the Certification Committee (2008-2010) and then was appointed Chair (2010-2014). During those years, I was busy trying to improve the Certification Program and was almost entirely unaware of other ATA politics. Thus it came as a complete surprise to me when the Nominating Committee asked me to run for the Board in 2013–and I turned them down, because we were in the middle of a project on the Certification Committee. I did run the next year and have served six years on the Board. During this time, various Board members have been seated and rotated off, representing a wide variety of interests and points of view, and most of them also continuing to work on or chair various committees. So — I think I became an insider like most other people: by volunteering in an area of interest, working hard, and contributing to the association. I would say that virtually all volunteers in the Association, at all levels, do the same; they contribute what they can, in an area they like, for the good of all. And sometimes, people step up and take jobs that aren’t very popular or that nobody really wants to do. I’m thinking of the hard work that Division leaders do, for instance.

    FACTS ABOUT THE DECOUPLING ISSUE: As I said above, factual statements are the standard we should use to form opinions. We have three sets of factual statements upon which to base our decision about opening the exam to non-members (commonly referred to as decoupling): the ATA Bylaws, the Hamm Report of 2000, and the Knapp Report of 2020. The relevant facts are:

    * ATA Bylaws: Article II (Purposes), a. The Association shall be organized as a not-for-profit entity with the following objectives:
    1) to promote the recognition of the translation and interpreting professions;
    2) to promote the communication and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of translators and interpreters;
    3) to formulate and maintain standards of professional ethics, practices, and competence;

    * The Hamm Report of 2000 indicated that at that time, the trend was toward making certification available to any qualified applicant, and that paying dues to an association has no relationship to an individual’s competence in a profession or discipline. Very few national certification bodies have association membership eligibility requirements.

    * The Knapp Report of 2020 was commissioned to “verify whether the organization should continue to work on implementing the recommendations (i.e., are the recommendations still pertinent); and identify additional areas for improvement, as appropriate, including those which may relate to changes in certification standards and best practices which have taken place since 2000.” The Knapp organization reviewed the original Hamm recommendations and provided “commentary regarding the current relevance and importance of each recommendation; and a conclusion as to whether each recommendation has been implemented, along with suggestions for additional improvements or changes, when appropriate.” In the section on Eligibility, for the item “Remove membership as a criteria”, the report states that “This is required by standards and advisable for a variety of reasons as outlined in the separate statement provided by Knapp on this topic.”

    MY ANALYSIS: The Hamm Report and the up-do-date Knapp Report concur that certification should not be linked to membership. Given that the first three points of ATA’s Purpose as set forth in the Bylaws focus on “the translation and interpreting professions”, “for the benefit of translators and interpreters”, and the objective “to formulate and maintain standards of professional ethics, practices, and competence”, but do not say *one* *single* *word* about membership, I conclude that ATA’s purpose is to serve the entire profession, and therefore that certification should be available to the entire profession without the requirement of paying for membership. Indeed, ATA Certification is an important signal to the profession, to translators, interpreters, agencies, and the general public of a practitioner who meets “standards of professional ethics, practices, and competence”. And yet, any certified member, who is presumed to meet those “standards of professional ethics, practices, and competence”, currently somehow loses that imprimatur of quality if the individual decides to no longer be a member of the Association. That’s not fair, and neither is it right to leave certification coupled to membership. I will be voting FOR decoupling because it is the industry best practice, enhances the profession, and increases fairness for individuals and prestige for ATA.


  6. My opinion says:

    When presented with the idea of presenting a referendum to the membership, in response to a petition submitted to the Board, one ATA Director stated, “Why should we change our course now? We have no obligation to poll the membership. We have no idea how many people [oppose decoupling]. This issue likely will go nowhere”.

    It’s ironic that that same director now is quoting the Bylaws to us and trying to twist arms to get us to relinquish our rights.

    That same director also once said on ATAtalk that if decoupling were to be implemented, “we would have to ‘clean up’ the Bylaws afterwards” to reflect that change.

    I’ve never heard of a “Bylaws cleanup”, so it seems he was acknowledging that there is a requirement in the Bylaws that would need to be changed in order to actually take away our right to certification.

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