Scrapping Honorary Membership !

Forums General Discussion Scrapping Honorary Membership !

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    David Arditti

    To slightly clarify what Andy wrote, the SGM is formally convened to vote on the proposed alterations to the By-laws, as detailed on on the leaflet delivered with the Journal (and also on this website front page under ‘Association News’). The 50-year rule has never been in the by-laws; it is a therefore only a convention, that is within the powers of the Council to change. I (and the Council) are not proposing to hold a vote on this, though if there were a demand from at least two members at the meeting to hold such a vote, I would allow it.

    David Arditti

    Grant Privett

    While a Committee member of a local society I well recall a keen amateur I knew who fell on hard times and had to sell his telescope and give up luxuries, including membership of our society, to help make ends meet. Its a common thing – jobs are insecure these days.

    I always thought it odd that we insisted on 50 continuous years rather than 50years in total – but there I must declare an interest, as astronomy did drop out of my priorities when prog rock, girls and beer entered my life in the mid 70s. I cannot say I regret it though…

    As an aside, given the resources consumed and the mailing costs, should we not be encouraging members to move to a Digital model?

    Tony Hersh

    Dear David Arditti. I’m happy to propose at the meeting in January that we don’t scrap honorary memberships. Please forgive me because I’m a fairly new member to the BAA so can I ask you whether to make this proposal can I do so via email to you with an explanation or do I have to attend the meeting in London in person to make the proposal ? And is the vote regarding this proposal decided just by the people who attend the January meeting in person or is the decision made by asking the opinion of all members by email ? Many thanks for your clarification. Tony

    David Arditti

    Tony, if it were to be proposed at the meeting it would need to be debated, therefore you would need to be there to speak in favour of not removing honorary memberships. You would also need a seconder. Decisions at the EGM are taken only by the members present. We have never had a poll by e-mail (apart from the annual ballot). To organise an electronic ballot of all the members is very expensive.


    James Lancashire

    With increasing life expectancy (a good thing) it’s likely that the numbers of ‘honoraries’ have increased significantly compared with earlier generations, though the continuity hurdle will catch many retired (as in pensionable age) members out. It would be useful to know how many current honorary members there are and what percentage of the total membership. Thanks to David for engaging on this and other matters on the forum.

    • This reply was modified 7 months ago by James Lancashire. Reason: clarification of 'retired' as in age rather than in membership duration
    Nick James

    This is an interesting discussion and I need to declare an interest since I’m coming up to my 50th year of membership.

    I’m strongly in favour of scrapping this tier of membership for the following reasons:

    1) I don’t think it is fair that older (and usually more wealthy) members are subsidised by the rest of the membership.

    2) I don’t think you need to be “honoured” for being a member for 50 years. Surely you’re a member because you want to be and you get something out of membership. It is not an ordeal that needs some kind of prize after 50 years.

    3) When no money is taken each year we have no idea whether the honorary member is alive or dead. We’ve had cases where we have sent Journals and Handbooks to members many years after their membership of life has ended.

    As David and Andy have pointed out this isn’t a final decision. It came from the trustees and has been agreed at Council but it could be overturned at the SGM if members wish. I think that would be a mistake since our complex membership tiers definitely need simplification but it is a decision for you.

    Peter Anderson

    I am following the debate with interest and I can see both sides. (I joined in 1969 and so am now four years into my honorary membership.) As an honorary member and being overseas I gladly contribute 21 pounds per annum to continue to have a paper copies of publications mailed to me – but these mailings are out of pocket expenses for the BAA and do not contribute to the general running expenses.
    Many years ago members could purchase a life membership by an upfront payment but this was discontinued because it became simply a wager as to how long you would last.
    My feelings on attaining my 50 years standing was one of achievement, rather like my 65 years involvement with local clubs, my near 50 years observing and timing lunar occultations, and when I finally built it, my 44 year old observatory. I am still active and contribute to two sections of the BAA, one of them intermittently since the late 60’s/early 70’s. Now age 81, I certainly agree that with some luck and good management, retired people have the money to easily afford the membership fee and much more, but that is not the point. It is simply the recognition. Even your motoring clubs like RAC (here anyway) give out gold memberships after 50 years. (You just have to live long enough!)
    To sum up, I feel it would be reasonable to honour this class of 50 year plus members, and even reward their loyalty by a reduction in membership fee – I think half fee was suggested, and this should cover the obvious administration expenses – and I am happy to also pay any extra postage as I presently do. Clearly we must cut our cloth to fit the current circumstances and I believe that with the internet, the residual effects of the Covid pandemic, and the the ready availability of you tube and zoom meetings, we have largely lost the comradarie that we once had when we could only reasonably pursue our interests by joining a club, attending meetings to listen and make friends, and borrow books from their library.
    Our local club, much like the BAA is shrinking and only half the size it was in the early space age, composed of an ageing membership (very few under 50 years old), with key individuals engaged in their own narrow fields of interest as I am. Having some mobility problems myself I have attended meetings by zoom only in recent years.
    I can’t see that it will be getting any better. Same goes for the club instruments available for loan – no-one seems interested any more. Instant gratification by the internet is so quick and easy.
    Even my wife of 56 years is not helping. When in a moment of candour (maybe being a bit pompous), I said to her that I would like to leave something behind in the field – she said ‘You mean like a cow?’ I was puzzled until she added “Well it leaves something behind in the field too.’
    So I think we should rely on BAA council to come up with a solution to honour our long standing members but not have the shifting demographics place an unfair burden on the rest of the association. As for obtaining new and younger members might I suggest an earlier British tradition called ‘Press Ganging’?

    Grant Privett

    I agree with Nick here.

    Surely, we should honour achievement and contribution to the field/society, rather than merely being interested in astronomy and remembering (and being able to afford) to pay your subs every year. The existing Awards cover a lot of the individual achievement and contribution – could the frequency of some of those be increased?

    Perhaps, those who have made and submitted observations over many years, or laboured long in support of a section or society business could be conferred with some sort of new Award. I would suggest Fellowship status, but that might be seen as divisive in today’s society and opening a can of worms.

    Personally, I don’t feel I need recognition for remaining interested in astronomy for 50 years, the experience itself: the views of eclipses, comets, meteors, aurora, planets, the SL9 impacts and simple joy of being out at night under a star strewn sky, has been reward enough. Doing astronomy is fun.

    Gary Poyner

    I too am approaching the 50 years membership, and if/when I reach it, I will feel very proud that I’ve achieved this milestone. And that’s it! I don’t really need the BAA to give me a free membership.

    What would be nice though, is a small gold lapel BAA badge, given only to 50 year members, which will make us immediately recognisable at BAA meetings, allowing for cups of hot cocoa to be brought to us during the interval.


    Jeremy Shears

    I, too, am not far off my 50th anniversary. Whilst it might have been nice to have a free membership, it does seem odd in this day and age that I should pay nothing, yet people just joining would pay the full rate. It seems neither fair nor necessary. This is especially the case considering the financial deficit that the Association has been running for many years (fortunately counteracted by the benevolence of former members who have left legacies).

    The BAA has been a central and constant theme of my life. I’d like to think that if you cut me in half you would read the Association’s name running though me like a stick of rock. That for me is the honour.

    I actually applied for membership at Christmas 1973 (where did those 50 years go?) and was elected in early 1974. However, I was an impecunious schoolboy so had to drop out for a couple of years, rejoining in 1978. So that is when my continuous membership starts. We should indeed be making it more affordable for young people to join. In fact I wrote to the President at the time to suggestion a lower rate for young people, but it was many years before it came to pass. Which is why I proposed a motion at the 2023 SGM, seconded by Nick James, not to increase the young person’s membership rate (as reported in the current Journal).

    By all means bring the motion to continue Honorary Memberships – and thanks for starting such an engaging debate – but I won’t be supporting it. But I would support Gary’s proposal for free Horlicks at meetings!

    Martin Mobberley

    I’ve been a member since 1969, so have been an Honorary member for four years now and have enjoyed all of those 54 years of membership. Becoming an Honorary member was very nice, simply because this has been a BAA tradition, and so many notable observers of the past were members for 50 years or more. I don’t like long-standing pleasant traditions to simply be cancelled. I would have felt a bit cheated if I’d been close to 50 years, only for that nice tradition to be scrapped. However, I do feel VERY guilty about not having to pay a sub anymore, especially given the age of the typical BAA member and the Association’s failure to attract younger members. At this rate we will have hardly any members in 30 years time! Although maybe the departed will all give their estates to the BAA, so we will end up as a VERY RICH association with less than 100 members?! So, I think this nice and harmless Honorary membership tradition should continue to be awarded, but the member should still pay the standard subscription. The big negative aspect of the Honorary system is the loss of BAA income. I have NEVER understood why Honorary members don’t have to pay anything. Most members who have been part of a society for 50 years continuously would surely be happy to continue paying the sub, unless they had fallen on hard times? So, basically, I agree with Denis B and Gary P on this. Keep the Honorary membership, but without the free subscription, which is harming BAA income.


    Paul G. Abel

    Hi all,

    Interesting discussion. I am a bit of a way from honorary membership, however I can see that it is a nice tradition we should keep to mark the 50 years of someone’s membership. I do think Nick, Jeremy and Gary make a good point about the membership fee and it does seem that younger members effectively pick up the tab.

    I suggest we adopt Martin’s suggestion and keep the honorary membership to mark 50 years but membership fees have to continue to be paid.


    Gary Poyner

    I would go one step further, and award an Honorary (but not free) membership to anyone who reaches 50 years, regardless whether it’s been continuous or not. It’s still a lot of years! Alex P raises this point earlier in the thread.


    James Lancashire

    Looking at the latest Report of the Council 2023 Oct 25 (J. Br. Astron. Assoc. 133, 5, 2023 p. 307) the Hon Mems have increased nearly 30% in 2 years to 250 and as a percentage of the total membership from 7% to 10%.

    Noting these would be in the Senior (65+) category, the free Hon memberships would result in ‘lost’ subscriptions at this rate of between £6k (digital) and £11k (printed) on a total subscription income of £89k (ibid p. 327).

    Perhaps the Trustees and Council are missing the additional revenue of between 7% and 13%? (Likely to be more in future when the Senior & Ordinary subs align.) And looking to the future are anticipating larger increases in numbers and percentages of ‘lost’ subscriptions.

    I think this would be a fuller background to the proposed change. There seems to be some feeling of very long-term membership being valued on this small subset of members.

    My only comparison is the RAS which eliminated its free subs for age 65+ Fellows (if they had at paid least 15 years) and now charge a student rate, though their full rate is more comparable to the proposed BAA Benefactor amount.

    [On a separate point, in terms of the investments at £1.5m (ibid p. 326) I’m surprised the yield is an income of just £230. Whereas cash of a much smaller holding of £47k gives an interest of £189.]

    Andy Wilson

    I would like to make the observation that the BAA has a habit of gradually making the administration more complex with time. The Honorary and Digital Honorary paid would be another two categories, as there was no plan to ask existing Honorary and Digital Honorary to start paying. The Paper Honorary paid would have 3 membership categories behind the scenes for UK, Europe and Rest of the World postal charges. The membership types have to be coded into some of the IT systems, as well as manually maintained in several places.

    I absolutely agree the achievement of 50 years membership should be recognised. This was the thinking behind the certificate. Gary makes the interesting suggestion of a gold lapel badge.

    I am not suggesting this should be the deciding factor, but a factor worth considering in whatever is decided.

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 4 weeks ago by Andy Wilson.
    • This reply was modified 6 months, 4 weeks ago by Andy Wilson.
    • This reply was modified 6 months, 4 weeks ago by Andy Wilson.
    David Arditti

    The complexity of administration that Andy alludes to is very much the point here, and very much in the thinking of the Working Group that recommended this package of changes, and also in the considerations of the Trustees and Council, who have discussed this several times in the last year. The income aspect is quite significant, as this is around 10% of the membership that is paying no subs, but also what needs to be considered is paying for the staff time to administer a complex system. That’s primarily what we are trying to grapple with. Also very apparent, as Andy mentioned, is the lack of volunteers, that means paid staff must do ever more tasks to run the Association.

    Some have asked that we honour 50 discontinuous years of membership rather than only 50 continuous years. I cannot imagine how that could possibly work. Membership data over the years has been held on several different systems, manual and computerised. The current on-line database only goes back a few years. People who have lapsed then rejoined probably have multiple membership numbers. Marrying this information up, where people change numbers, addresses and even names, to prove whether someone has or has not subscribed to the BAA discontinuously for 50 years, would be an administrative nightmare. Maintaining the system we have is bad enough!

    Though I can see how people who expected to reach honorary status soon might feel a bit disappointed, I must say I struggle to understand some of the solutions that have been proposed here. ‘Honorary’ means unpaid, free. That’s what the word means, and what we are considering here: whether or not to continue to give free membership to those who achieve 50 years continuous membership. Abolishing the honorary membership does not mean not honouring those members who reach this milestone, whether it be by publishing their names in the Journal, congratulating them in a meeting, or giving them a certificate or a badge (though I’m not sure if the cocoa thing was a joke or not).

    I hope plenty of people come to the SGM in January. Last January only between 30 and 40 people attended the meeting, as I recall, about half of those, Council members. Not all Council members attend the London meetings, as some are in remote corners of the UK, but they can still participate and vote in Council meetings by Zoom. However, ordinary members cannot vote in a meeting remotely, they have to be present. This raises the possibility in my mind that a vote in Council could be overturned in the SGM by a smaller and less representative selection of the membership than voted in Council. This would be very unsatisfactory. But if plenty of people turn up to the SGM, there is no such issue.

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 4 weeks ago by David Arditti.
    Nick James

    I suspect that Gary’s cocoa comment (and Jeremy’s Horlicks follow-up) were tongue in cheek.

    I really don’t see why we need to “honour” the fact that somebody, mainly through luck and age, has reached the milestone of 50 continuous years membership. As Grant says, we have awards for achievement and it would be good if we got more nominations for those.

    Dr Paul Leyland

    My personal view: I’m divided. I became an old age perisher this year but I am virtually certain never to be eligible for honorary membership unless the medics make astounding advances in longevity research. I can see, though, that those members with over 40 years continuous membership might be justifiably aggrieved if recognition of their long service was arbitrarily removed.

    On balance, I believe that the best way forward would be to recognize longevity with a physical badge (gold tie pin has been suggested) rather than a financial reward. Honorary membership would continue in name but the subscription model simplified and the Association’s finances improved.

    David Basey

    I have just commenced my first year of Honorary Membership so I guess I’ve managed to slide under the wire on this one. I have to say that if Honorary Membership had been whipped away just before I achieved fifty years I would have been more than a little miffed. Without doubt I would have roundly cursed the President, Trustees and Council and called down dire imprecations upon their heads, then continued with my membership regardless.

    I do feel that fifty years of membership is worthy of recognition if not reward. To my mind an acknowledgment in the Journal would be sufficient, it happens now and presumably does not cost anything. Regarding badges and tie pins, would I wear one? Probably not, very few people wear badges nowadays and being retired the only time I now wear a tie is at funerals.

    As to cocoa and Horlicks, no thanks but a glass of a good single malt would be an acceptable substitute…

    Of course, the real issue that needs to be addressed is that the Association is not attracting sufficient members to cover costs so what ever initiatives are looming, lets hope they are successful!

    James Lancashire

    Linking a couple of replies from Nick and David:
    I don’t know when/how the Hon Mem came about but it was clearly thought a noteworthy achievement to have started it.
    Many older members haven’t managed 50 continuous years and I there is clearly a ‘churn’ as members drop out.
    Whether the Hon Mem is free or not, I think it reflects gratitude from the BAA for those who have renewed continuously for most of a lifetime.

    The issue of administration is up to the BAA and I’m not sure that the ‘expense’ of tracking names, addresses etc is relevant?
    That admin goes with any membership system for which 90% are paying something anyway? (And the previous 50 years of subs from the Hon Mems.)

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