[tei-council] TEI: questions for candidates and continuing committee members

Piotr Bański bansp at o2.pl
Mon Sep 26 12:37:30 EDT 2011

Dear John, dear John, and dear Council,

I enclose my take on John Unsworth's questions below, with apologies for
the delay in replying, and also for the verbosity of some of the replies.

Best regards,


On 20/09/11 20:53, John A. Walsh wrote:
> Dear Piotr,
> Please see the message below from TEI Board Chair John Unsworth. He is
> requesting that candidates for the Board and Council, and continuing
> members of the Board and Council, address some questions on strategic
> issues related to the TEI. These responses will be shared with the TEI
> community, along with candidate statements, in advance of the upcoming
> elections. We hope to have everything posted very soon, so we would
> appreciate if you could get your responses to me by the end of the
> week, or Monday at the latest. You may send your responses directly to
> me.
> Thank you again for your ongoing service to the TEI community.
> Sincerely,
> John Walsh, on behalf of the TEI Nominations Committee
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: John Unsworth <john.m.unsworth at gmail.com>
> Date: Sun, Sep 18, 2011 at 6:59 PM
> Subject: [tei-board] questions for candidates and continuing committee members
> To: TEI Board <tei-board at lists.village.virginia.edu>
> Cc: TEI Council <tei-council at lists.village.virginia.edu>
> Folks,
> After conversations with each of the TEI Board members, the chair of
> the Council, the previous Chair of the TEI Board, and comments
> collected from TEI-L and Twitter, I have developed a series of
> questions that I believe reflect some substantive strategic issues
> that should be addressed by candidates for election to the Board and
> the Council, and by continuing members of the Board and Council.  I
> will ask John Walsh to forward these to candidates, and to collect and
> post the responses from both candidates and continuing members on the
> TEI web site for the election, since he's already chairing the
> nominating committee.
> It is not necessary for every person to address every question: it's
> fine to say that you have no opinion on a question, or that you
> haven't made up your mind yet, but if you do have opinions, please
> express them, in order to give TEI members a sense of what their vote
> might mean, both in terms of adding new voices to these committees and
> in terms of the context into which those voices would be added.
> I take it as a given that these are all questions on which reasonable
> people might differ.  Also, I note that I have tried not to
> over-specify the questions in  away that would suggest paths forward
> on these issues.  For example, the first question asks whether the TEI
> should cease to collect membership fees and cease to pay for meetings:
> that formulation allows you to say yes or no, but it also allows you
> to suggest, for example, how our collection of fees might change, if
> it continues.  The exception to this strategy is the last question,
> which asks you to choose one among several priorities as the most
> important.  By choosing one, you are not saying the others are
> unimportant, but I think it would be useful to have a sense of top
> priorities.  Finally, let me suggest that, for those questions you
> choose to answer, you keep your answers as brief as possible--a
> paragraph at most.
> Thanks very much,
> John Unsworth
> ---------------------
> 1) Should the TEI cease to collect membership fees, and cease to pay
> for meetings, publications, services, etc.?

Yes. The TEI should keep/develop the program of institutional membership
and, very importantly, work hard on developing the program of individual
membership, the latter primarily with a view to creating a tightened
community whose members are given a feeling of belonging, rather that
assume the attitude of observers that may well be the case now. Nearly
two years ago, I heard talk of addressing this issue by the Board. It
was a real shock to learn how few of us subscribers there are now.
Something gave in those plans, and we never knew of that until Martin
Mueller's letter.

> 2) Assuming paid membership continues. should institutional members
> have a choice between paying in cash and paying by supporting the
> travel of their employees to meetings, or committing time on salary to
> work on TEI problems?

While this idea sounds interesting, I feel unable to commit myself to
one of these choices without looking at figures, projections and the
experiences of other, similar organizations. If by 'meetings' we
understand Council or Board meetings, the option of e.g. funding a
Council member by his institution in return for the membership status is
certainly attractive. I hasten to add, however, that not all
institutions would be able to support this model if it were the only
model possible -- this applies to many universities, and not only those
in Central/Eastern Europe or on the southern hemisphere. I don't think
that someone's chances for election should be diminished by these issues
because eventually, it may be the TEI that gets harmed by cutting such
people off. 'Time on salary' would, I believe, have to be explicitly
contracted by the TEI-C rather than merely declared by the supporting

Let me stress that I consider face-to-face Council meetings as
beneficial to the development of the Guidelines and I believe they
should continue, preferably twice a year before minor/major releases.

> 3) Should the TEI have individual members (paying or not) who can vote
> to elect people to the board and/or council?

Paid members/subscribers: yes. This is part of the privilege of
belonging, whereby the individual subscribers, unlike now, get to vote
for the steering bodies, chosen from among themselves. This model serves
well in other organizations/associations. Because Board and Council
members are expected to serve the community with their time and skills,
it might be worth to consider a symbolic move, e.g. reduction of
membership fees for them or suspending these fees altogether for the
length of their term. On the other hand, I believe that only paid
members/subscribers should stand for Board and Council elections -- that
being a member/subscriber should be a necessary condition for standing
for elections.

> 4) Should the email discussions of the TEI Board be publicly accessible?

This is an issue that has, with the recent events, become much more
difficult to answer than it should otherwise be. I recognize the need
for the Board's privacy in matters involving strategic planning of
various sorts. Some things should be kept not so much private to a
selected group of individuals as simply undisclosed to other
participants in e.g. the game for sponsorship -- you don't want to play
that game with your hand revealed while the potential sponsors keep
theirs to themselves, the more so that this may involve revealing one
sponsoring party's secrets to another, in effect requiring a hidden
hyper-communication channel for the Board, if it wants to be effective.
That channel might in theory be teleconferencing, but we all know how
difficult it is to get everyone to participate in a teleconference. And
that requires minutes, and then the above question concerning e-mail
discussions may be asked about the minutes, and the cycle begins anew,
and the Board's effectiveness is harmed. Note that I am assuming that
the Board does enter into this kind of negotiations.

I believe that the issue is not so much the privacy of a communication
channel for a trusted body, as the trustworthiness of the current Board.
While I trust some of its members personally, I consider the current
Board as a whole to be no longer representative of the interests of the
TEI-C and the TEI community in general, and I support the idea that all
its voting members should stand for re-election at the coming TEI
Members' Meeting. I don't see this as generating a danger to continuity
of service, because this danger has actually already been manifested.

Thus, in the context of the recent events, which prompted discussions at
the TEI-L and the Council lists and ultimately the question I am
replying to, my answer is: privacy of the Board e-mail channel -- yes
(see also my reply to question 5); withholding information on the
context and participants of the recent disgraceful vote of
non-confidence for the Chair -- definitely no. The phrase "witch hunt"
has been put to bad to describe the attempts at getting this information
revealed (by, e.g., disclosing Board e-mail correspondence). I believe
that a more appropriate phrase is "kangaroo court", to describe the
event that I believe has harmed the TEI more than anything else before
and as such should not be left without consequences for the Board's

> 5) Should the Board and the Council be combined into a single body,
> with subsets of that group having the responsibilities now assigned to
> each separate group?

My first reaction, as documented in my reply to Martin Mueller's e-mail,
was: not really, there are things that the Board should be good at and
these administrative-like things are not necessarily the things that the
Council should get into, because the Council has other work to do.

There are, however, some factors that should be taken into consideration:
* some Council members are well-equipped to assist in Board work, and
* some activities are currently questionably attached to one body while
they should at least partially belong to the other (I mean SIG
co-ordination, where there is no single solution for all SIGs taken
* a Boarcil meeting could begin with e.g. 2 days of technical work and
be followed by a day of administrative work involving those members of
the technical subset who feel they want to contribute -- this might be
beneficial logistically, possibly reducing transportation and hotel costs;
* finally if my stance regarding the issue of Board e-mail channel
(which I think should not be public) is shared by others, then there
should be a measure of control over that channel; a way out might be to
equip the Boarcil with two lists: the regular Council list, default, and
a remnant of the Board's private e-mail channel -- now a channel
strictly restricted to exchanging confidential information on the issues
concerning the negotiations with prospective sponsors and member
institutions. Any abuse of that channel would then be easy to detect.
Note also that most exchanges of this type probably need not a private list.

My point is that allowing a closed group a closed channel of
communication might negatively influence the quality of exchanges on
that channel. If it is half-seen by the other subset of the Boarcil, it
will still be, well, half-public and hence demanding some attention on
the part of the participants in the discussions.

> 6) Assuming we continue to collect funds, we will still have limited
> resources.  Given that, in the next two years, which of the following
> should be the TEI's highest priority? Pick only one:
>        a) providing services that make it easy for scholars to publish
> and use TEI texts online
>        b) providing workshops, training, and other on-ramp services
> that help people understand why they might want to use TEI and how to
> begin to do so
>        d1=c) encouraging the development of third-party tools for TEI users
>        d) ensuring that large amounts of lightly but consistently
> encoded texts (e.g., TEI Tite) are generated and made publicly
> available, perhaps in a central repository or at least through some
> centrally coordinated portal
>        e) developing a roadmap for P6 that positions the TEI in
> relation to other standards (HTML5, RDF, etc.)
>        f) tackling hard problems not addressed in other encoding
> schemes, in order to maximize the expressive and interpretive power of

These are interesting points, but I can't treat them as disjunctive or
unrelated, and some of them, I feel, should not be prioritised. For
example, focussing on (b) would mean that the TEI goes into
teaching/training mode -- but where is the army of instructors to
achieve that? And (a) should be a function of the TEI's success, rather
than a means to achieve it.

(f) is a research task that should best be based on varied
activities that would provide the input for it, hence on almost all
other points, a Council/SIG task. (e) feels related and to some extent
dependent on (f).

I am very much in favour of (d), both in the archival sense, and in the
corpus-linguistics sense. Regarding the former, the talks with Google
come to mind, animated by Martin Mueller, as well as the Gutenberg
Archive issue which I attempted to bring up and which, I believe, has
died. These are not matters for the TEI army to concentrate on for the
next two years -- these are matters for a group of 2 or 3 with both the
Board's prerogatives (concerning institutional membership/sponsorship)
and the Council's power of enactment (= one more argument for joining
the two bodies, possibly).

(e) looks like a primarily Council/SIG task to me, and to my knowledge,
some initial steps have been made -- I'd like that to continue.

Finally, I have been engaged in the corpus-linguistics side of
(d) and have commented and written on (c), so I believe I am biased
towards these two, but I recognize the importance of (e+f). This is as
close to a single answer that I was able to come :-)

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