ASPA’s New Normal

By Craig Donovan

Over the past few months, as the cold winter winds have blown about, I was privy to a breeze of another kind. A conversational whirlwind has swirled around the upper echelons of ASPA dealing with issues of the ‘problems’ which ASPA faces as well as probable ‘solutions.’ I will not bore you with the details but I could not help but be struck with a strong sense of déjà vu. Declining membership, chapter inactivity etc., etc. are the same issues we discussed in national council two decades ago.

Over these same 20 years, I have been a transplant to the Garden State of New Jersey. For those of you who have never been, the late night talk show hosts are right when they joke about the grittiness of the lands around the northern turnpike. But they are wrong in failing to mention all the beauty there is around the state. However, the butt of jokes or not, Joisey has a host of problems.

Twenty years ago as a new resident, I remember reading about how New Jersey had some of the highest property taxes in the nation. People were “mad as hell,” and they weren’t going to take it anymore. Our roads and bridges were also in bad shape. Did I mention we exported more college students than any other state? The talk of the time was that things had gotten so bad that major reforms were just around the corner.

Well, you can imagine what comes next. Each year the numbers get a little worse. Taxes keep creeping up. Our roads and bridges are worse than ever. We still export the most students of any state, great minds that more often than not never return. No matter how bad things get, we find a way to accept it as the new normal. Now this is not to say that there have been no changes and that nothing has gotten better. But, sad to say, things are more the same than different, more still sagging than soaring.

Looking back at ASPA since the late ‘70s, certainly since the ‘90s, we too are still sagging. We have not crashed and burned as some have feared, but neither have we soared to new heights. Overall, things are more the same than they are different. We tinker around the edges. We rename our committees and task forces. Each year’s new president brings some new priorities. But over time, we have soldiered on and have pretty much come—-full circle.

I wish I had all the answers. I had, and still have some. I ran for President and lost (and that is a blog or two in and of itself). But I do believe that in ASPA, like in New Jersey and the nation, the leadership structure is part of the problem. Our council structure, both in form and function, combined with our executive leadership keeps us keeping on but not getting better.

I am not convinced that we fundamentally want to be better. We do not want to be worse. We do not want to cease to exist. But we are not disposed to try those things that might succeed, but in doing so would change that with which we have become so comfortable.

If 90 percent of New Jersey residents got fed up enough with the status quo to move out of state, the state would soldier on secure in its constitutional sinecure. If 90, even 40 percent of our members moved on, I am not sure we would be so secure. Perhaps then there is hope that one day, things will get to a point where we dare to be inventive and innovative enough to see a 21st century ASPA arise, Phoenix-like, from the organization that has so steadfastly stayed the same.

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