Sunday, December 13, 2009

Running BASS: First quarter

As I mentioned earlier, this year I am the president of BASS, UCLA's only skeptical and secularist group. Now that the first quarter is over, perhaps I can tell you a bit about how that's going.

Basically, as president, I have several roles:
  1. Pursue any opportunities that show up. Opportunities come in all kinds. Sometimes its something as simple as a BASS member who wants to make a presentation about their favorite skeptical topic. Other times, it's some evangelist with a zany scheme involving Origin of Species. Or it's an article in the Daily Bruin which needs a skeptical response. Or a new funding opportunity. Or a show or exhibit that BASS people might be interested in seeing.

    Sorry to say, I didn't get any real speakers to come over this quarter. This is, of course, my fault. Because as president, every failing of the group is ultimately my fault. Which brings me to the next role.

  2. Represent the group. Usually, this just means that whenever I tell people about our group, everyone recognizes that I am the authoritative source. But more concretely, it means that I do most of the correspondence with other groups, like the Independent Investigations Group, or with the media.

    Speaking of which, I was recently mentioned by name in the cover story of a major magazine! Let's just say that I am now on public record as opposing book burnings. You can thank Ray Comfort for, ehem, advancing the dialogue to the point where such things need to be said.

  3. Write meeting agendas. That means I choose discussion topics. This actually gets rather tiresome, and I wish I could somehow get someone else to do it. As much as I am a never-ending spring of topic ideas, it means that I am indirectly dominating the entire discussion. I want other people to have a say. People who are not upper-middle class hapa male physics students like I am. But other people are so reluctant to suggest topics. I think even last year, I was picking most of the topics.

    I have found, however, that people are generally more willing to make topic suggestions if it means they get to make a presentation on that topic. I'm not sure why this is. But it's great because presentations stimulate some of the best discussions, and they allow for topics which really require some research to discuss.

  4. Constantly, constantly bug other officers to do their jobs. BASS members, especially the most active ones, tend to be very fascinating, eccentric characters. It's really hard to describe them without describing them individually. But they can also be kinda flaky--in all sorts of individualistic ways. Some will say they'll do work, but never get around to it. Some will resign with little or no notice. Some will oscillate periodically between productivity and absence. Etc. Etc.

    The hardest part of my job is keeping them all in line, making sure that they do what they're supposed to do. I suppose it's easier than doing all the work myself, but sometimes I wonder. In the defense of the officers, they're really busy people. They're college students. They have classes, midterms, swine flus, and, uh, parties... But maybe this is my problem. If I were less sympathetic, maybe I'd be a better president. What do you think?
The other week, a journalist asked me how I came to be president of a secular student group. Was it because I had a great passion for fighting irrationality, for becoming an activist? Well, obviously, I have some passion for the topic, and I do believe that skeptical and secular activism are important. But plenty of BASS members are more passionate than I am. What it really takes is some organizational skill.