Update on the Paul Kurtz Situation June 3, 2009

Update on the Paul Kurtz Situation

I mentioned the semi-drama occurring with Paul Kurtz and the Center for Inquiry yesterday, courtesy of R. Joseph Hoffmann. You can get the background information here.

Now, we get a different perspective from current CEO of CFI, Dr. Ron Lindsay.

Charles McAlpin, the Portland Skepticism Examiner, spoke to Lindsay today about the situation.

Here’s what he had to say:

Wednesday evening, the chief executive officer (CEO) and president of the organizations founded by Kurtz disagreed with Hoffmann’s characterizations. “I was at the meeting Monday; Joe was not,” said Dr. Ronald Lindsay.

The CEO said he would look forward to continuing work with Kurtz, and that he would regret it if Kurtz pulled away. “What it boils down to is a difference in approach to management…We’ve had disagreements about operational matters but not philosophy…I have always had a lot of respect for Paul.”

The full story is here.

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  • Paul Kurtz

    Dear Friends and Colleagues:

    May I set the historical record straight. I was unceremoniously ousted as Chairman of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational on June 1, 2009. It is totally untruthful to state that I was not. The effort by the CEO to cover up this deed offends any sense of fairness and I do not wish to be party to that deception. It was a palace coup clear and simple by those who wish to seize immediate power.

    I founded the various organizations of the Center for Inquiry (CFI), including CSICOP (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry or CSI) and the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) and I labored tirelessly for years. And I served without any compensation whatsoever for over 33 years, devoting my life blood to these organizations and the high ideals that they represent. The broad goals of CFI are to defend the scientific outlook and critical thinking in the public at large and to develop secular ethical humanist values as alternatives to religion. There are now 40 Centers and Communities world wide. We are the largest secular humanist and scientific rationalist organization of its kind in North America.

    The Board of Directors removed me as Chairman (I am “Chairman Emeritus”) and stripped me of any authority or responsibility to see that the Center for Inquiry continues to grow during the current economic crisis. I had agreed to a succession plan, but it was supposed to be a gradual process. I am concerned that the direction CFI will be changed.

    I should further state that at one point, the Board majority notified me that if I did not agree with my ouster that they would eject me from my office from our world headquarters in Amherst, New York, a building that I designed and raised the funds to build. It is across the street from the State University of New York at Buffalo campus, where I served for many years as Professor of Philosophy.

    I have agreed to remain on the Board for now–though I feel completely demoralized by the power grab–after a degrading Inquisition conducted by the Board a year ago and my final Expulsion from an organization, which I love dearly, and whose future survival I fear is now endangered.

    Paul Kurtz

  • Ronald A. Lindsay

    I do not believe in engaging in blog wars, but I do believe in setting the record straight. Paul Kurtz has accused me of deception. What deception? Both in the official press release that was issued by CFI — and which was reviewed and approved by Paul Kurtz prior to its release — and in my comments to the journalist Charles McAlpin, I made it clear that the board of directors DID vote to remove Paul Kurtz as chairman. From Paul’s own post, he agrees that he was removed as chairman, so there is no substance to his accusation of “deception.” With respect to Paul’s claim that he was “unceremoniously” ousted, Paul had ample opportunity to present his views and opinions to the board. In fact, he did so not only throughout the two days that the board met, but he did so in multiple communications with the board throughout this past year. I am not a voting member of the board, but having witnessed their deliberations, I can say with confidence that they gave careful consideration to everything Paul had to say. I am not going to go into details about what Paul said, in part because much of the board meeting was held in executive session, but what I stated in my comments to Mr. McAlpin is completely accurate. Paul repeatedly stated that he did not agree with the concept of the CEO position as the board of directors had structured it. He is entitled to his opinion, which he expressed quite freely, but the board of directors as a whole has both the right and the obligation to make a decision about what is in the best interests of the organization. The Center for Inquiry and its affiliated organizations owe very much to Paul Kurtz. They also owe very much to the thousands of individuals who have supported our organization financially and otherwise and to our highly qualified and dedicated staff who over the past few decades have contributed so much to the promotion of science and secularism. CFI is not the property or fiefdom of one individual. CFI represents the concerns and the contributions of many individuals, and as with other nonprofits, it is ultimately governed by a board of directors. It was the interests of these individuals, and the interests of the entire secular and skeptical movement, that the board of directors took into account in making their decision. Whether one agrees with the ultimate decision or not, no one can possibly question the good faith of the directors, nor of their respect for Paul Kurtz — whether he shows the same respect for them or for me. One brief personal note: the implication has been made that the decision to remove Paul as chair was the result of a desire by some to seize immediate “power” through a “palace coup.” I was unaware that CFI could be described as a “palace.” I can also state unequivocally that I did not seek the position of CEO last year (ironically, Paul was the one who recommended me for the position) nor do I have any desire to cling to whatever “power” comes with being President and CEO of CFI. To the contrary, I have been tempted many times to resign from my position (among other things, the working atmosphere has not always been entirely pleasant and I am living apart from my family), but every time I am tempted to make that decision I am reminded of the solemn fiduciary obligation I undertook when I accepted this position — imprudent as the decision may have been in retrospect. I have a responsibility to the organization, its staff, its supporters, and to the secular and skeptical movement as a whole to ensure that CFI and its affiliates are managed efficiently and fairly, and regardless of whatever brickbats are thrown at me, I intend to see this job through until such time as the board of directors decides that my services are no longer required.
    I hope this will be my last blog post on this subject, and I sincerely hope that Paul will eventualy see that a decision about management structure does not imply personal rejection or disrespect.

  • Pareidolius

    “Two men say they’re Jesus, one of ’em must be wrong . . .”

    Industrial Disease

    Dire Straits, 1983

  • Hugh Giblin

    Paul Kurtz has experienced a virtual Coup D’Etat by his Board led by Ron Lindsay. He has effectively been ousted from
    his position of Chairman (although he was given a token vote on the Board and relegated to Chairman Emeritus) of the three
    organizations (the Council for Secular Humanism, the Center of Inquiry and CISCOP) he founded and devoted 35 years of his life to making them the successful groups they are today.

    I’ve read the statements by Paul and Lindsay which are quite different. Paul feels he was the victim of a “palace coup”. Lindsay
    disputes this but gives no details. The Board is almost mute on the big change except for a carefully worded press release and
    Lindsay’s response to Kurtz’s charges.

    I’m not privy to the events which led to this dramatic change but I feel it is a great mistake for the organizations and a grave disservice, to say the least, to Paul. Paul has been the driving, creative force and personality in these organizations building an International presence and establishing himself as one of the leading, if not the leading, secular humanist in the world.

    This move seems clearly about power. Paul has, at times, been charged with being autocratic (although I never experienced this
    on the Board meetings I sat in on) or personally. I found Paul, while decisive, listened to disagreements (I disagreed with him myself at one meeting and he deferred to my view) and was open to other approaches to issues. It is conceivable, however, that his personality and the Board’s led to this poor decision.

    The point is this: Paul is 84, he has had a couple of serious health issues including a by-pass operation not too long ago.
    Although he is still intellectually and physically active he clearly has a limited time with the organizations. Why couldn’t the Board
    have respected this fact and practiced humanism in dealing with him?

    I believe that the Board should have handled this much more gracefully not only avoiding a tragic ending for Paul’s life’s work
    but in the best interests of the organizations. Paul was an icon in the humanist world, this divisive action will hurt humanism.
    It will also give great joy to the Religious Right who hated Paul.

    Ron Lindsay seems to be washing his hands of the whole affair leaving it on the Board but it is clear where his sympathy lies despite the fact that Paul trusted him in appointing him Executive Director and later as CEO. If Lindsay and the Board truly “respected” Paul’s contributions they would not at this late juncture humiliate him in this way. There is the odor of betrayal
    in this whole affair.

  • Hugh Giblin

    This is an important address that Paul Kurtz was not allowed to give at a recent Humanist Convocation.

    Dear Friends and Colleagues:

    I am most sorry that I will not be able to participate in the Convocation this year. I hoped to make it back from la belle France, but am unable to do so. La Cote d’Azur (the French Riviera) is the closest place to paradise that I know of; and it is very hospitable to reflection. In any case I wish you success in your deliberations.

    I believe that the Center for Inquiry is at a critical juncture and that we have great opportunities to continue to grow in influence. We are still the largest secular, humanist, and scientific-rationalist movement in the history of North America, and our readership and resources are larger than all of the organizations in this field combined.

    The reason why this Convocation is so important is that it provides an opportunity for the Center for Inquiry and its affiliated organizations to become more of a grass roots movement—and to begin to be more democratic. The current governance structure has served us well in the first decades of our growth. I hold the lion’s share of the responsibility for that; for we were an experimental movement and needed to try many strategies of growth. The gentlemen on the Board of Directors are dedicated to our ideals, but they are self-selected and all male. We need to begin to elect at least some of the people who sit on the Board; and we need to modify our principles of governance. I think that the Friends of the Center should elect one representative for now, and the student movement clearly needs to have a representative on the Board, and also the combined Centers and Communities worldwide. Please recognize that we are a transnational federation.

    I strongly recommend that the Convocation (as a Constitutional Convention) select a Committee of say seven persons in consultation with the Board and that it study alternative modes of governance and report back within six months its recommendations, circulate them to all present at this historic meeting and have revised recommendations within three months; and hopefully final ratification can be made by the Convocation next year. We need to proceed rapidly, so please act with dispatch on this urgent project. I have written a paper on the need for new principles for governance*, which I hope will be circulated at this Convocation. My recommendations should serve only as a stimulus to get this process under way.

    I have also suggested that a paper that I wrote some time ago on “Neo-Humanism” be distributed. It deals with a key question about the approach of CFI to religion. It is no secret that we are skeptical about the claims of traditional theistic religion and we are unique in providing critical scientific examinations. Many of our readers and supporters are agnostics, or skeptics or even atheists. They are predominately secular and nonreligious. Hence our appeal—in my judgment—should be wide enough to resonate with a wide spectrum of people within our democratic society; and it should be responsible and not mean-spirited.

    My last point is vital: I have always considered our movement to be affirmative and constructive in what it offers. Although we are skeptical of traditional religion, it is what we are for that is unique about the Center for Inquiry movement. In particular, we are committed to science and reason as the most effective method of inquiry; the cultivation of critical and creative thinking to solve human and social problems; and the naturalistic outlook. What is often overlooked is that this involves a dedication to humanistic values as an alternative to traditional religious morality. I have been disturbed recently because personal morality has often been ignored at many Centers, yet humanistic ethics has been defended by a great number of the leading humanist thinkers and authors ever since the Renaissance and it is an indelible part of who and what we are. We are dedicated to a number of humanistic principles: the defense of freedom of the individual from repressive social institutions (whether by Church or State), this includes our defense of human rights, the rights of women, racial minorities, the handicapped, aged, the rights of the child, of gay, lesbian and transgendered persons, the poor and disadvantaged. We consider each person equal in dignity and value and we consistently defend the democratic society and planetary ethics. We also wish to focus on the good life here and now: this means that it is possible to realize our potentialities and achieve a life full of meaning, creative joy and exuberance. Although we are self-interested in fulfilling our personal goals, we recognize that we are responsible to others and this means the cultivation of genuine empathetic feelings and some altruistic concerns for their good. We should seek to lead a life in which reason plays a role in our decisions, a life of excellence, but also a respect for the common moral virtues in dealing with others.

    What a noble and dignified scientific, ethical, and philosophical outlook we share. We should go forward in outreach proudly defending the ethic of humanism.

    I am sorry that I am not there—but may I ask everyone to embrace the person next to you as a sign of your affection for all those devoted to this beloved cause.

    —Paul Kurtz

    PS: I also wish to make available my article “Aphorisms of a Good Will.” It lists a number of moral principles that I recommend be referred to as possible guidelines, and that I attempted to use at the Center for Inquiry.