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"Truly you have formed me in my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother's womb.
I give thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works." - Psalm 139:13-14
There is no hard and fast rule for the structuring of a campus right-to-life group. Different structures will work well in different situations at different schools. A big, state university may require one structure, and a small, private college an entirely different one. In fact, you may not even have too much control over the organizational structure of your group; the group may evolve on its own, dependent upon the talents and whims of the individual members. Structure is important, however, and the group without clear leadership and clear designation of responsibilities will not last long.
Every small campus organization is run by a core group of people. Usually, these people have some type of official position, an office, a chairmanship, whatever. Having some official positions in your college right-to-life group is essential; it is a rare person who takes responsibility and initiative in an organization where he or she has no authority.
The trick is, of course, to avoid the situation where the leading core does all the planning and all the work to the exclusion of others When this happens, you will notice that the group is often no larger than its supposed leaders. Everyone else has fallen away out of boredom. Preventing this requires firm leadership and a clear organizational structure. Developing good leadership skills in a college group is dealt with in Chapter Five. In this chapter we will discuss clear organizational structures for your group. There are also some comments on the setting of goals.
First, a word of warning: many think that groups are capable of operating without leaders. They are wrong. The group without leaders is merely a mob. This is not to say that you must a have a general or an emperor (such autocrats aren't needed to lead college students), but you must have some type of leadership. Those groups without established offices (there are a few) usually develop an informal, unauthorized leadership, or they soon pass out of existence. This informal type of leadership is never very efficient; it usually works only well enough for a pickup game of softball or ultimate Frisbee. But, if your group wants to do more than picnic, if it really wants to help save unborn babies from abortion and teach college students about the horror of infanticide, then it must have a firm organizational structure.
I mentioned above that most campus organizations are run by a core group of people. So it is with the college right-to-life group. The small core is surrounded by a larger, more general group of those with markedly less commitment to the organization. This is because time and dedication to extra-curricular organizations are usually scarce among college students. Ideally, the people from this core group will seek out and occupy official leadership positions in your group. The structure of offices your group establishes should reflect the nature of this core/general pattern. The organizational structure you develop will form the skeleton of your group and will give it shape for years to come.
The president/vice-president/secretary/treasurer model is the most commonly used. People have an instinctive feel for what these offices entail. The president is the head of the group, its chief spokesman to the outside world, and ultimately responsible for its progress. The vice-president is the assistant to the president and presides in his or her absence, the secretary handles paperwork and communications, and the treasurer keeps track of the finances. Sometimes there are variations on this theme: the treasurer is called the business manager, there are both recording and corresponding secretaries, or the group has no vice-president.
At Carnegie-Mellon University we chose this structure mainly because we were familiar with it and were not aware of any other possibilities. This was the first bit of planning accomplished at that first meeting of those interested in serving as leaders. We ironed out a leadership structure and got people to fill the offices.
This structure usually works well, though there is a tendency for all the responsibilities to fall upon the head of the president. Usually, the president brings this upon himself or herself by not delegating authority often enough - a sure mark that he or she should do some brushing up on the old leadership skills (see Chapter Five).
Four officers should be considered the bare minimum for adequate leadership in all but the very tiniest of groups. Typically, the more official leadership positions, the merrier, up to a point - the point where there are too many people to hold an officers' meeting. (I have yet to hear of a college right-to-life group suffer from this problem.)
Additional leadership positions can be established in the form of committee chairs. Committees or other types of sub-groups can be assigned to specific, on-going tasks. Publicity, fund-raising, communications, education: these are typical committees in college right-to-life groups. Your officers should refer every task they can to an active committee, but if a committee becomes inactive, get rid of it.
In order to get a committee operating well it may be necessary for one of your officers to lead it at first. Often it is hard to find someone who is capable of starting a committee and is not already busy enough with group activities. It is much easier to find someone who is willing to take over a well-established committee - often he or she will come from the committee itself.
Also, where a standing committee would be unwieldy, temporary or ad hoc committees can be established to handle special projects. Say for instance, that your group is going to sponsor a big Dance-A-Thon to raise money for the Michael Fund. You may want to set up a temporary committee under one or two enthusiastic members which works solely on the Dance-A-Thon. Rebecca Marshall of the University of Pittsburgh suggests that you might not even call them "committees" but rather "projects" with the idea that folks are more likely to sign up to work on a limited project than to make a commitment to a committee that looks like it may last all year.
It is a good idea to have some leadership positions in your group to be filled by appointment. Committee chairs are ideal for this. Usually, committee chairs, like Cabinet positions, are filled by appointment by the president. This enables the president to identify new, enthusiastic members and give them authority and responsibility, encouraging them to take a more active part in the group. It never hurts to spread the workload around, either.
The student government or the Office of the Dean of Student Activities of your school may require that your group have certain offices as a prerequisite for official recognition and funding, and your group will have to be structured in light of any such requirements. You should check into these requirements when you are starting your group.
Some college right-to-life groups are run as committees of their campus Newman Center or other campus ministry. One such group is the highly successful Newman Pro-Life Committee at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). This group has been part of and supported by that school's Newman Center; an arrangement that works well because of the ready availability of money, support, and facilities. The group at IUP has, for instance, twice been able to organize and host an annual Youth Pro-Life Convention: a big affair attended by nearly 200 students from across the state. These groups can still have officers, and they also have formal ties with one religious organization.
It has been of some concern, however, that groups affiliated with Newman Centers may have some trouble getting non-Catholics involved in the right-to-life movement. Charging that abortion is "merely" a religious issue has been a favorite tactic of pro-abortionists therefore some pro-lifers would have pro-life groups drop all connections to religious institutions. But the churches have long been at the heart of the right-to-life movement, and divorcing ourselves from them would only play into the hands of the pro-abortionists. Religion has long been an important and legitimate influence on American society, and religious folk do have a right to try to see their values reflected in the government and in society. I will say only that pro-life groups with specific religious affiliations must take special care to see that persons of all faiths are welcome in pro-life activities.
The structure of groups which are sub-committees of other organizations will depend on the requirements of their hosts, but these groups should, at the very least, have a committee chairperson and an assistant chairperson.
Another possible leadership structure would involve the election of a steering committee. Here a committee of five or six members leads the group. The difference between a committee and a slate of officers is that the members of the steering committee would not be assigned to permanent tasks. That, of course, is the weak point in this structure. If specific responsibilities are not assigned, they are never fulfilled. In a steering committee structure members would have to volunteer for the various tasks which are usually the responsibility of the secretary and treasurer, for instance. This structure is inherently weak when it comes to decision-making and getting things done, but it tends to be more responsive to individual group members than the officer model.
It has been said, mind you, that "God so loved the world that He didn't send a committee." At the very least, a group run under the steering committee model should directly elect a speaker or a president, someone who can provide a focal point for the steering committee.
The choice of an organizational structure for your group should be made with sensitivity towards the nature of your campus. Is yours a large state school? Maybe you need a large slate of officers. A small private college? Fewer officers may be needed. Do you attend a Catholic university? Maybe you should operate in conjunction with your campus ministry. Do most of the people commute to school or do they live on campus? This may affect the number of people you need to spread the word about upcoming activities. These are all questions to consider.
The important thing to keep in mind as you devise an organizational structure for your group that your primary purpose involves pro-life activities, and the best organizational structure is one that helps your pro-life activities run smoothly.
Continuity of leadership is a problem in all campus organizations. The complete turn over of members every four years means that the group is constantly looking for new leaders. An interesting way to assure some continuity of leadership in a small group is to assume a structure wherein the vice-president automatically succeeds the president. This means that there is never a direct election of a president, but rather it is the election of the vice-president each year which determines who the president will be. Problems with this system, such as the fact that a senior can never be elected vice-president, and that a president can never serve two consecutive terms, are apparent. I am not aware of any college right-to-life group that has ever tried this scheme. It does offer some help for continuity problems, however.
As mentioned earlier, a faculty advisor can also give a sense of continuity to your group. Faculty tend to remain at the college longer than students. An advisor who is active and interested in the group can give advice based on years of experience. Your advisor can even be something of a living scrapbook for your group - remembering what has happened in the past and encouraging the efforts of new members. Many schools require campus organizations to have faculty advisors; having an advisor is recommended even if it is not required of your group.
Group continuity is a major concern of your officers. Each leader in a college group must give some thought to who will take his place when he leaves. Leaders must cultivate new leaders for a group to thrive. They can do this by identifying potential leaders and then encouraging their participation in group leadership by giving them responsibilities. Start them on a small task, like building a float for your Homecoming parade, then move them up to the planning of your trip to Washington, D.C. A committee chairmanship might be next. Eventually you will want them to run for a group office. Potential leaders who rise to the smaller tasks are those who you will be able to encourage to move up in the structure of your group. Remember: there is nothing wrong with directly, personally asking a member to assume a leadership role in your group. (In fact, folks like to be asked.)
Of course, the more members your group has the more likely it is to continue to exist, so your group should always keep in mind the necessity to try to attract new members. In general, the most active groups on a college campus are the ones that gain the most new members. Chapter Six has a listing of ideas of how college groups can go about getting new members and keeping old ones active and interested.
Whichever structure you select should be detailed in your group's constitution. The next step our leaders took after setting up offices was to write a constitution; a process which took several weeks to complete. But we began operating even while it was being written. It is important not to consume too much time with this sort of thing. Waiting too long to begin activities while haggling over your constitution's wording can dampen your members initial enthusiasm - something you want to avoid at all costs. After all, your real purpose is to be a college right-to-life group. Your thoughts should be directed toward how you can best begin to help save unborn lives and fight infanticide.
A simple constitution is important and not difficult to write. It should contain:
Often your student government will have a model constitution for new groups seeking recognition to use.
A word or two about the scheduling of elections. First, I recommend that elections for new officers be held in the middle of the spring term rather than at the beginning of the fall semester. This gives the newly elected officers a period in which they can start working, yet the old officers are still around to lend a hand and give encouragement. It also enables you to choose from among the freshmen, who, in the fall, were too new to assume an office, and new members will likewise be more familiar with the candidates for office.
Second, elections should be planned in advance, using rules written down - preferably in your group's constitution. And they should be run by your advisor, if possible, or some other unbiased person. These simple steps can save a lot of headaches and hard feelings when an election is hotly contested. Secret balloting is important, but so is public reporting of the results. Elections should be run consecutively beginning with the presidency and working on down, with nominations reopened between each race, so that someone who loses a race for, say, the presidency, can still run for the vice-presidency.
When deciding upon a name for your college right-to-life group, there are several points to keep in mind. Recognize that the name you choose will have a big influence on your group's public image. Therefore, you should accentuate the positive, especially since pro-lifers have an image of being "negative" people. Say "pro-life," or even better "for Life," rather than "anti-abortion." Be forewarned that groups often go by their initials, so avoid names that produce embarrassing acronyms.
Don Adams, of Penn State Students for Life, suggests that college groups dream up more original names for themselves than "Mythical State Students for Life." He was really tickled by the name of Chestnut Hill College's group, the "Mustard Seeds." The name keeps folks interested in the group. "Why are you called that?" and "What do you do?" are questions that naturally follow upon hearing of the group. And it helps repel stereotypes brought to mind by the words "pro-life."
The next step for your fledgling group to take is to decide where it "wants to go." What are your group's goals and how will you go about accomplishing them? These are important questions to be asked; how you answer them will dictate what your group does. Attempting to focus the energies of your group is desirable in that it increases your efficiency - something any small college organization should seek.
Most of what college right-to-life groups do falls into these four categories: educational activities, social work, political education, or political action. Rita Marker, of the Human Life Center, notes that by choosing an area of specialization a pro-life group can accomplish more than if it tries to do everything. College groups, however, should remember that one of their purposes is to expose their members and their peers to a positive view of the entire movement. Thus, the smorgasbord approach - where you try a little of everything - may be more appropriate for college groups. Activities in each of these four categories are important to the pro-life movement as a whole, and none should be neglected, especially not direct actions such as demonstrating at abortion clinics.
Most college right-to-life groups assume an operating strategy which focuses on educational activities with a mixture of other activities thrown in. These groups take part in political activities only in a small way - going to Washington, D.C. for the National March for Life, and writing a few letters to their Congressmen now and then. Most of their activities are aimed at bringing the pro-life viewpoint directly to the college campuses. The groups sponsor movies and bring in speakers. They host debates, hand out literature, and write letters to their college newspapers. These efforts produce varied levels of awareness of pro-life issues across their campuses.
Some groups, like the Newman Pro-Life Committee at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), concentrate heavily on educating their own members. In the past, the IUP group has had weekly meetings in which various aspects of pro-life topics were examined. While these meetings were open to all, they actually reached only a small portion of the students on campus. This educational strategy is acceptable - it produces an (admittedly) small but well-educated cadre of pro-lifers - but care must be taken not neglect the education of the rest of the campus.
Education is probably the most important area in which a college right-to-life group can work. All college groups should try to educate their members, their peers, and their professors on the issues surrounding the right to life. A list of ideas for educational activities can be found in Chapter Eight.
Does your group plan to take part in political activities? You can keep your members informed of the voting records of their representatives and the views of candidates. Doing other things such as endorsing political candidates and campaigning for them can affect your group's financial standing. It may make you susceptible to taxation, ineligible for postal permits, or ineligible for certain types of support, such as funding from your student government. These are legitimate activities for right-to-life groups, however, though it is important to approach political activities from a bipartisan stand-point. We must have a bipartisan approach if we are to ever have a constitutional amendment approved by two-thirds of the State Legislatures. Support pro-life candidates whether they are Republican or Democrat or other. In many areas there are pro-life political action committees (PACs) which can provide information on the positions of candidates for public office. Contact your community right-to-life group to find out how get in touch with a pro-life PAC.
A protest-oriented group, one that was mainly geared towards direct action, would be one that was mainly involved in activities like picketing abortion clinics and leafleting around campus. I have not yet heard of any college groups which concentrate on this very important work, though most college groups have taken part in picketing on occasion. I think this is due in part to the fact that protests have gone out of vogue these days, and students have become more withdrawn as a whole.
A college group that gets involved in protests should be certain to make it readily apparent that they are college students. Carry a sign that gives your school's name and features your school's mascot. (If your school has restrictions on the use of its name try signs that say "I am a pro-lifer from such-and-such a college.") Sing your college fight song on the picket lines. Why? To identify yourselves as college students: for some odd reason, the press (and the general public) pays attention to what college students do and say.
Direct action will become more and more important in the future, especially the quieter forms of sidewalk counseling. Many older folks in the pro-life movement have begun to despair because little progress has been made in spite of their years of efforts. Direct action allows one to see that we are having some success, and it may well be where college groups can make their biggest impact. The sight of college students out in front of abortion clinics, attempting to dissuade their classmates from having abortions cannot help but to encourage others to support the right-to-life movement and have an impact on the public's impression of abortion.
Even college pro-lifers can use a bit of encouragement from time to time. Direct action has the added bonus that you might just save a child from death by abortion. If you should succeed, in sidewalk counseling for instance, you have as concrete an answer (a child, complete with wet diapers) as you could hope for to the question, "What good are we doing, anyway?"
Some groups involve themselves in a variety of social action programs. They work at local soup kitchens or raise money for the hungry in foreign lands. It is their concern to associate the right-to-life movement with other types of charitable works. This is a worthy idea, but it must be kept in mind that there are many people who concern themselves with the plight of the poor and the hungry and many ways to go about helping them. Few students, however, are actively concerned about their unborn brothers and sisters, and yours is probably the only group on your college campus that will speak out for the unborn. So keep pro-life work as your primary activity.
This is probably the appropriate place to discuss the scope of issues which would be most advisable for college right-to-life groups to address. Some folks feel that, in order to be truly "pro-life" one must embrace certain positions on a gamut of issues running from poverty, world hunger, and socialized medicine, to nuclear war, welfare programs, world peace, and on, and on.... Beware. Many of these same people, who are so concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, contend that women should have the right to kill their unborn children. True, this is not universally so; there are folks like Pro-lifers for Survival who combine an anti-abortion stance with their anti-war position, though they succumb to the temptation to equate all of these "life" issues and often disparage others who do not do likewise, saying that they are not truly "pro-life."
But it is important to realize that there is a vital distinction between the pro-life issues of abortion and infanticide and the issues, for instance, of possible nuclear war. Everyone agrees that nuclear war would be a horrible thing, and most agree on the principle that war is something to be avoided except as a final recourse - but men of good will may still honestly disagree over the ways to prevent war. No one has yet developed a foolproof method of doing so, though many opinions have been offered. Thus, the debate on preventing nuclear war is one of policy.
In the abortion debate, however, we have one side which says that abortion is the murder of an unborn child, something which no one should be permitted to do. The other contends that a women has a right to destroy her child. Thus, the primary debate here is one of principle. One must be able to make the distinction between questions of principle and questions of policy.
Society can tolerate debate on policy, indeed, our society thrives upon it, but it cannot long continue to exist if the principles which pro-abortionists espouse prevail. So it is a mistake to equate the two issues; they are of different natures. Folks may honestly disagree on the best way to prevent nuclear war, but men of good will and clear thought cannot help but to conclude that abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide are intrinsically wrong.
Contraception and sex education are other areas of concern in pro-life circles. Often pro-lifers are confronted with the charge that they are against contraception, against sex education, and indeed against sex itself. (A curious charge - if we really are against sex, why are there so many of us?) The Roman Catholic Church teaches against artificial contraception. Many folks feel that sex education is the responsibility of parents and should not be taught in public schools. These issues are not totally unrelated to the pro-life issues on one hand, yet on the other hand, true contraception is not abortion. Once again distinctions must be made as there are big differences between the issues, and there is not much of a consensus among pro-lifers on how they should be handled.
In general, I would recommend that college right-to-life groups concentrate on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia and remain neutral on issues such as contraception unless most of their members deem otherwise. There are times when we must be practical and there are limits to what our groups can do. It would seem prudent to concentrate on those areas of greatest agreement - setting aside for now our differences in other areas.
I would advise that pro-life groups be founded on the fundamental principle that human life is sacred, and not to be taken except in defense of life. From this principle should be drawn the corollary that abortion and infanticide are the wrongful taking of human life. If a right-to-life group wishes to promote certain policies and other issues, fine. But know that the pro-life issues are your greatest common denominator and meddling in other issues may bring about internal policy disputes which are both unrelated to the struggle for the right to life and harmful to your efforts for the pro-life cause.
Thus, it seems wise, especially given the limited resources available to them, that college right-to-life groups focus upon the fundamental pro-life issues: abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide. After all, if you don't, who will?
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© Copyright Andrew A. Siicree, 1985, 1997.
Permission is granted to any pro-life group or pro-life individual to copy this handbook provided that proper attribution is given.