The Other Side of Policy

February 15th, 2007 by bebersghost

I’ve been following the “Not On My Watch” Facebook forum, and came to realize that in all the arguments, there’s one aspect of the policy discussion that has not come up at all – and as a result certain assumptions are being accepted that may not be true. This is a side of policy that is not “supposed” to be raised with the members at all (advisors I’ve spoken to have been told not to bring it up). And it’s true, in an ideal world this issue should not be of concern to members. However, since it does impact members and chapters, it’s only fair that members be aware of it. And who better than a ghost to do so?

Many of the comments on the Facebook forum have been, how shall I put it, a bit “rebellious”. Members and alumni have talked about how we shouldn’t stress over bad policies because they can just be ignored or broken as they have in the past. And they are right – a lot of regions and chapters have played pretty fast and loose with policy for a very long time. But that does not mean this will continue. A recent post by a chapter S’gan hinted at this, as he described the difficulty he’s had getting people to sign up for a local convention because of the enforcement of driving policy and the requirement to register on B-Linked.

So today let me bring you to other side of policy – how it’s seen by advisors (and in many cases regional staff) – and why rules that were “breakable” in the past, may not be so flexible in the future.

The Facts

Let us begin with some basic facts.

First, let us assume that the existence and presence of advisors is of benefit to chapters. I realize this may not be the case for every chapter. But I would argue that in any case an advisor is not of benefit to the chapter, most likely you’ve got the wrong person for the job. Even if the advisor does very little, just having an adult present at events benefits the chapter by making it easier for parents to trust the chapter with their teens (especially the younger ones). So let’s assume it’s good to have chaperones at events (advisors, staff or parents).

Next, we know for a fact that many policy changes are a result of a risk assessment done by BBYO. We know (because we have been told) that BBYO could be destroyed by a single lawsuit. In truth, the purpose of the insurance is to prevent that from happening, but even with insurance, a lawsuit could be devastating.

Next, we know that in our society liability is an important issue. If something goes wrong, who is responsible? Well, if it’s a cleared event, it’s BBYO. Or is it?

The Heart of the Matter

This brings us to the heart of the matter – and the reason that many advisors have been as concerned over these policy issues as you have (if not more so). Here’s the key point to remember (as made clear during the BBYO phone conference of 12/11/06):

BBYO is liable, and BBYO’s insurance in force at a cleared event as long as policy is followed.

Let me state this again:

BBYO is liable, and BBYO’s insurance in force at a cleared event as long as policy is followed.

Which brings up the question: Who is liable if BBYO policy is not followed?

The advisor. The chaperones.

So let me ask you this (as a chapter or regional leader):

How would you feel if, in addition to being a leader, you were told you were legally responsible for any problems that occur at an event if policy is not followed? And how would you feel if a group of members at the event decided to break those policies? What if the policy was so complex or difficult that you couldn’t enforce it? Would you accept the risk, or would you walk?

Consider: if a single lawsuit could take down BBYO, what would it do to an advisor?

This is why the assumption that rules can continue to be broken in the future is flawed.

If policies are so burdensome that they cannot be enforced, or that a chapter will not follow them, then it will become difficult to find staff for events – because unless those rules are followed, the chaperone becomes personally liable and is no longer protected by BBYO and its insurance.

If a chapter is unwilling to follow policy, your advisor or chaperone will be faced with a terrible choice: either accept personal liability for what happens, or leave.

Some of the policy proposals actually increase the liability of advisors over existing policy. For example: you may not like having staff collect your car keys at overnights, but do you actually think advisors want the responsibility of collecting them, and the liability that arises if they lose one, or it’s taken from them, or if they miss collecting one?

This is the side of the discussion that most members are not aware of. And, for those in chapters who don’t have or want chaperones, it may not be an issue at all. They can go on as they are until their regional office lowers the boom (which they will – BBYO can’t afford the risk of having chapters representing themselves as holding BBYO events without adult chaperones and having BBYO policy in effect).

For the rest of you, (especially the “rebellious” ones), I hope you’ll think about this. It is important that you have policies that you can live with, because your chaperones won’t be able to risk staffing events if your chapter can’t or won’t follow them.

Conclusion

In truth, the other issues that have been raised on the Facebook forum are much more important than this one. The nature of youth leadership and the way BBYO works is a critical issue for the long term future of BBYO and the one I hope members will continue discussing long after today’s policy issues are resolved. My goal here was to help you understand that policy does impact chapters both directly, and indirectly by impacting your staff and your ability to recruit advisors and chaperones.

As a final note, I encourage you not to panic. Though BBYO staff has maintained a near perfect silence on this issue, reliable rumors suggest that they are actually paying attention and that they are revisiting some of the policies to address concerns by members, advisors and regional staff. In other words, it seems they actually are listening, even though they aren’t admitting it. So there is hope, and I am cautiously optimistic that the final policies once released will be tolerable (in fact, I should stress that most of the proposed policies are very reasonable and many represent improvements over those that exist now – it’s the relatively few policies that are unreasonable, foolish or poorly written that we are concerned about).

Finally, for those of you who have been discussing this issue and are working for change, don’t give up – because you have and are continuing to make a difference. BBYO is a democratic institution, but a democracy only survives when the citizens are willing to stand up and demand to be heard, and when open (and reasonably civil) debate allows all viewpoints to be heard.

2 Responses to “The Other Side of Policy”

  1. Anna Katzman Says:

    This comment is not meant to be sassy in any way – I am simply playing devil’s advocate when I say just because a lawsuit is filed doesn’t mean it is won.

    I want to relate this to your most recent post and the comment made by Samantha. You’re absolutely right, parents these days really aren’t paying attention to their kids, and they’re especially not paying attention to BBYO (unless they’re alumni). So naturally, without observing their kids, they’ve never seen anything bad their kid has ever done, so of course BBYO is an easy scapegoat to any problem (*cough* grades *cough*).

    Though I do recognize and appreciate the great risk advisors place on themselves simply by, well, being advisors. I have 2 fabulous young women advising my chapter and I would hate for anything bad that happened in our chapter to be considered their fault(s).

    It’s just too bad that none of the adults or members are on the same page with each other. Then we would really know who screwed up when, and who is really to blame if such a situation were to arise.

  2. bebersghost Says:

    Anna:

    Your comments are not “sassy” and are definitely welcome. You’re absolutely right that just because a lawsuit is filed doesn’t mean it is won. The problem is, that our legal system is not quite as ideal as one might hope (or as it is portrayed on TV). In this case where things become problematic is that if someone sues you, even if their case has no merit, you still have to spend money to hire lawyers to defend the suit.

    This is why advisors have to follow policy – because by doing so they are covered by BBYO’s insurance which means that BBYO’s insurance company will (hopefully) pay for the lawyers to defend the advisors.

    You might conclude from this that it might actually be possible to in effect “blackmail” someone by just threatening to sue them – knowing that they have to give up just because they can’t afford the legal fees. You’d be right – it happens all the time.

    The Ghost

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated - allow 24-48 hours for your comment to appear.