A Comment From Paul Kurtz June 4, 2009

A Comment From Paul Kurtz

***Update***: A response to the situation from current CEO of the Center for Inquiry, Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay, can be found here.

This comment from Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz was left on the thread about CFI’s recent changes in leadership.

I didn’t want it to get lost, so I’m reposting it here in full:

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

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  • llewelly

    When the going gets tough … the tough eat their founders?
    Does the board have any real explanation for their behavior?

  • This is exactly why there is an advantage to a change in leadership. This has happened in a number of different organizations which have become, “cults of personality.” Without Paul Kurtz, is CFI still CFI? Who knows? But from Kurtz’s response, it appears that there is a distrust of the board and the chair. This has probably gone on for a while, and a board can get frustrated if their ideas aren’t supported. At some point, the board may have felt as if they could not get anything done without removing Kurtz.

    Of course, this is all speculation, but it is how I imagine this situation could take place. It appears that Kurtz was not comfortable losing control, or sharing power.

    I have heard similar statements made about new leadership in freethought organizations made by older leadership. It is unfortunate that there can’t be a more frequent transition, so people don’t so strongly identify themselves with the roles they serve in an organization.

  • Peregrine

    Not very long ago, within the past year or so, someone recounted a similar story of a secular organization being taken over and turned into something of a dictatorship. And in the comments, one reader issued the statement “Atheists, welcome to the wonderful world of church politics.” I couldn’t help but sicker just a little bit. It’s a beautifully ironic statement.

    My uncle used to be a Catholic priest, and a few vague hints have been dropped about why he resigned (Not just so he could get married, although that may have been a deciding factor). The implication is that he was simply tired of all the political grandstanding going on within the diocese. Also, the priest at my late grandmother’s church has been on the defense from the diocese politics for the most pointless inane reasons ever since he was made pastor. The bishop actually asked for his resignation once, and he refused.

    Can’t say I’m surprised. Just because atheism isn’t technically a religion doesn’t mean we’re immune to that kind of political bullshit. Once we started trying to organize ourselves into affiliated groups, we end up being susceptible to the same political infighting that our religious friends have been navigating for generations. We’re just going to have to get used to it.

  • Tom

    Paul Kurtz is the good ol’ boy in this situation, and is having to face the reality that he started an organization with other people who he has to cooperate with. Being the big cheez for all those years can let you get away with being a dictator, but this is a new secular revolution. I have faith the board is doing the right thing in this situation

  • littlejohn

    Well, we’ve heard one side. There has to be another side to this conflict. I would like to hear it before assuming anything.

  • b

    I attended the CFI student conference at their headquarters last summer, and I can say that all of the people in my group walked away feeling like CFI was too much of a good ol boy system for us to sign on completely. Questions about the power structure and organization went unanswered or changes were promised in vague terms.

    So far as I can tell, Kurtz is complaining that the board acted within their power without consulting him first. That’s no way to run an organization and makes it clear that to at least Kurtz the recent grassroots approach taken by CFI (with regional/local centers) was nothing but appearance.

  • Infinitemonkey

    I would like to hear from a neutral 3rd party. If I’ve learned anything, when two people/groups are fighting, one side has half the story, and the other side has the other half. They fill in the gaps with thier own spin, so you’re left with 2 full stories, and then we have to wade through and figure out what is fact, and what is not.

    Additionally, it saddens me that while we are skeptical, we aren’t immune to stuff like this. I’d like to think that being apolitical and nontheistic, major problems like this could be avoided. I think this reflects poorly on us nontheists, and hurts our street cred.

  • Peregrine

    I’m not saddened. I think it’s healthy to be reminded from time to time that while we may have freed ourselves from what we see as pointless dogma and superstition, that we’re still bound by human nature. It’s good to be humbled every once in a while. We can sometimes fall into the habit of thinking pretty highly of ourselves because we’ve rationalized our way out of that trap. Well, it turns out we have more in common with believers than we’d care to admit.

    Think about it this way: we’ve eliminated a variable. Now we know that the tendency toward political manipulation isn’t necessarily associated with religious beliefs.

  • Vic

    There’s seems to be quite a bit of anger and distrust from all parties, here. Let’s hope the organization survives it.

  • George

    Good riddance. Kurtz is out of touch with the modern skeptical movement and his particularly nasty brand of church politics and cronyism would be toxic to any organization. It’s great to see that CFI is finally clearing that baggage out so they can move forward.

  • yeah… wtf. Not that I don’t trust the guy, but I’d like to hear the other side. I there isn’t another side then this is effing bullshit.

  • Stephen P

    Let’s not kid ourselves that this sort of occurrence is in any way specially associated with religious organisations (as a couple of the comments seem to imply). It happens in companies, it happens in sports clubs, it happens in governments, it happens all over the place.

    Sometimes it’s a palace coup by a group of ungrateful young hounds, sometimes it’s a necessary step to remove a cantankerous old fossil, usually it’s somewhere in between. (What it is here I’ve no idea.)

  • http://idoubtit.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/skeptic-movement-in-flux/

    Change is good. I see a positive result after the dust settles.

  • peregrine

    I didn’t intend to imply anything. I was just commenting on the similarities. Or rather, quoting someone who commented on the similarities a year or so ago.

    But you’re right. This sort of thing can happen in pretty much any group environment, as reality TV is more than willing to capitalize on.

  • Ron Lindsay responded to Kurtz comment in the original post. My opinion is that while the ouster seems rash and “unceremonious”, I think it will help the skeptical/freethought movement in the long run. Kurtz is a great leader but he is not with his problems, and a grassroots movement cannot work if, in the end, it is answerable to one man.

    As a card-carrying humanist, I know that sometimes org leaders can stymie change and progress. The CFI is not the Vatican and the chairmanship should not be “for life”.

  • ME

    Sounds like a lot of people going behind each others backs, backstabbing and grabbing for power. Even if the guy had to go, they could have done it in a “humanist” manner. Pitiful and disgusting.

  • bigjohn756

    I have long been of the opinion that CFI is a cult of Kurtz. However, it seems to me that this could have been done a little smoother. Unless, of course, Paul wouldn’t let go. I need to hear more from the other side as well as from some knowledgeable outside observers before making any comments.

  • Change is hard, but Paul is getting older (aren’t we all). The need to really connect with younger and perhaps less white and less male skeptics is very important. Let’s look a little less like the Republican Party and a little more like society. Paul has done one great job. He’s going down in history as one of the greats. He’s still going to be kicking woo ass. But, before he dies, let’s get the new leadership in there and up and running.

  • Anonymous Coward

    After attending the World Congress and seeing Kurtz treated like a religious figure, and even getting an award from his own organization, I think having him step down is in the best interests of the organization.

  • Anonymous

    Sounds like a lot of people going behind each others backs, backstabbing and grabbing for power. Even if the guy had to go, they could have done it in a “humanist” manner. Pitiful and disgusting.

    If a guy is fired and refuses to leave the building without causing a scene, what other choice do you have but to have security escort him out of the building as soon as possible?

    In a “humanist” world I wonder if anyone would ever get fired against his wishes…

  • Fredd

    Kurtz never understood that the board runs a corporation, from a policy standpoint, and that it isn’t an authoritarian fiefdom. Now he is just another voting board member, and has to take this demotion as being in the best interests of the organization. He was spending the place into the ground building secular churches, and not paying attention to the changing political climate. If CFI is to be saved, new leadership is vital. His cries of “ouster” and “coup” are sad, given he still has voting authority as a board member, and it seems like this was a necessary compromise agreed to by Kurtz.

  • @ fredd (above comment) well said i couldn’t agree more

  • Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay said: “I do not believe in engaging in blog wars, but I do believe in setting the record straight.”

    Wouldn’t setting the record straight via the blogosphere initiate a blog war?

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