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Scout Law

Posted by Deborah Davidson on Jul 20, 2012 12:54:53 PM

By Deborah Davidson, vice president, governance education and research

“A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”

Thus reads the Scout Law, the code that defines the Boy Scouts of America. Note that the first adjective is “trustworthy.” Since this blog is about boards, let’s ask ourselves, what does it mean to be trustworthy, relative to boards?

I believe it means that deliberations won’t be done by secret committees who deliver pronouncements, which are then ratified by a board that had no part in them. It means that policy won’t be determined by pressure.

This week, the board of the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would not reverse its longstanding policy of excluding lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals from participating in scouting as Scouts or leaders. But the process leading up to the board decision may not have been the best way to deal with a policy that has been highly controversial, both outside, and by many accounts, inside the organization. According to the official statement, the decision was based on the recommendations of a “special committee of volunteers and professional leaders,” who deliberated the policy for two years. The executive committee of the national board followed the special committee’s advice, and affirmed the policy.

I propose we go back to that Scout Law and look at the third adjective, “helpful,” and help the national board see that this procedure is not a direct road to “trustworthy.” Ironically, two of the national board members, Ernst & Young Chairman and CEO Jim Turley and AT&T Chairman, President and CEO Randall Stephenson, are on record as wanting to change the policy. Both Turley, and Stephenson, the next BSA board chair, expressed a desire for change within the organization. What does “within” mean? Shouldn’t that change come from the board? For my money, outsourcing policy decisions feels a lot like passing the buck.

Many commentators have suggested that the policy will ultimately have to change, as acceptance of homosexuality has increased dramatically in recent years, and that the BSA will find itself increasingly anachronistic if it clings to the ban.

That may be true; it may not, and as a private organization, BSA has the right to keep the ban, affirmed by the Supreme Court. But given the opposition to the ban, through longstanding calls for boycotts, resignation of a high-profile advisory board member, and a petition signed by hundreds of thousands of individuals calling for the reinstatement of a den mother ousted because she was a lesbian, this is an issue for the board to debate, after doing what boards must do: look at the substance and circumstance of those protests; read demographic studies, opinion surveys, and membership statistics; discuss, debate; rinse and repeat.

But rubber stamping the recommendation of a secret committee? It kind of reminds me of how the board at the University of Virginia ousted their president—through back channels, with zero transparency—and we know how that turned out. Whatever happened to debate around the boardroom table?

What do you think? Was this the right way to make a decision?

Topics: Board Best Practices, New Trends & Resources


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