I proclaimed in a recent post, “Ich bin ein Rotaractor.” Far from a mere historical reference, I do declare that I AM a Rotaractor. I am fifty-eight years old but feel that Rotaract—more than most Rotary Clubs I have experienced—offers more of what I want out of Rotary.
Some Rotarians will be up in arms when they read this. I have reviewed the Manual of Procedure, containing Rotary’s governing documents, and also examined the Rotaract Standard Club Constitution. As an attorney, I offer the following points of legal analysis:
There is nothing in any of the governing documents defining a Rotaractor as anything less than a Rotarian. We are co-equals.
Rotary Clubs can determine who are members of their clubs, but they do not control the membership of a sponsored Rotaract Club. The Standard Rotaract Club Constitution states, “The method of electing members of this club shall be determined by this club in consultation with the sponsoring Rotary club” (Art. IV, 2). That does not mean the Rotary Club gets to determine the method of membership; they merely get to offer their advice and consent. Once that method has been accepted, the Rotary Club cannot change it. All they can do is withdraw their sponsorship of the club.
There is nothing in the governing documents giving a Rotary Club any control over the operation of a Rotaract Club.
It is provided in the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution that “in the event that the sponsoring Rotary Club is terminated, the governor of the Rotary district will seek to install another sponsoring Rotary club” (Art. III, 4). In other words, the Rotaract Club is destined to survive, even if the sponsoring Rotary Club does not. Of course, a university-based Rotaract Club must comply with the rules and regulations of the host university (Art. IV, 2). That is only logical and expected when the club meets on campus as a quasi-university organization.
Rotary Clubs have a constitutional duty to support their sponsored Rotaract Club (Art III, 1).
This demonstrates the lack of subservience of the Rotaract Club. It places a duty upon the Rotary Club to support the Rotaract Club as best possible.
Nothing strictly prohibits a 58 year old from becoming a Rotaractor.
The Standard Rotaract Club Constitution states, “The membership of this club shall consist of young men and women of good character and leadership potential between the ages of 18 and 30 (Art. IV, 1). However, the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution is just that—a standard form document that each club can modify to suit its purposes. There are many Rotaract Clubs around the world with members over 30—some with members over 40. If the club wants to allow members of, oh, let’s say, 58 years of age, then I believe I would qualify as a Rotaractor. However, even if I don’t formally qualify, I still feel more comradry with the Rotaractors I met than with some Rotarians.
Here is another poignant provision of the Standard Rotaract Club Constitution, which a Rotary Club also signs when sponsoring a club:
“The basis of organization shall be young men and women who are committed to the goals of the Rotaract program and to building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary club.” (Art. III, 2)
I highlight this language to show the quid pro quo of this relationship. In paragraph 1 of Article III, the sponsoring Rotary Club commits to “provide guidance and have supportive responsibility” for the Rotaract Club and, in paragraph 2 of Article III, the Rotaract Club commits to “building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary Club.”
This is where a logical argument can be made for both sides. If the goal of Rotaract is “building a relationship with the sponsoring Rotary Club”, then Rotaractors must join in the activities of their sponsoring Rotary Club. That means, in essence, joining in to the rubrics and customs of that club, even if they are considered lame, embarrassing and not fun. That is typically the deductive reasoning of many staunch, older Rotarians who feel they should not have to change THEIR clubs to bring in younger members. Conversely, if the goal of the Rotary Club is to “provide guidance and supportive responsibility,” then what is the inductive argument a Rotary club must consider that will bring in these younger members?
I received a comment from a Rotarian in Irvine, California USA. He boasted his Rotary Club is, “a club that is informal, dynamic, rapidly growing (20+% increase this year), and fun (we don’t sing either). We’ve just won “Best Club” for the second year in a row. What you will also witness is a number of Rotaractors from the UCI Rotaract club who visit us each week; simply because they like hanging out with us.” This club appears to be the prototype all Rotary Clubs need to become.
There are three parts to this prototype club that apparently attract Rotaractors and other younger members. First, it is informal. I prefer a club where I can loosen my tie, have a beer, and relax. Second, it is fun. “Fun,” as we have learned, is a very subjective term. However, to attract those Rotaractors and younger members, your club must determine what the young people in your area consider to be fun and integrate that into your club’s program. That sort of fun does not need to overtake your club. However, if you want these younger members around, you must allow them to have their sort of fun with you. Clearly, the Irvine Club found that “magic formula.” The third part is actually what can be gleaned from the commentor’s statement that the club is “rapidly growing” and has been “Best Club” in their district for two years in a row. It is dynamic.
“Dynamic” is nearly as subjective as “fun.” However, there is a distinct difference. A dynamic club is impressive! If it is impressive, it gains attention. If it gains attention, then individuals want to be part of it and the membership grows. A dynamic club could be comprised of older members having fun in their own way and attracting their own age group to membership, yet not be attractive to younger members and Rotaractors. The mixture we must seek for long term growth is one that is attractive to younger members, particularly in those Rotary Clubs that sponsor a Rotaract Club or an Interact Club. The reason I separate those clubs from the rest is because they have committed in writing to create an environment of a sharing of ideas among generations.
In summary, I want to point out that we, as Rotarians, need to consider Rotaractors as our equals. They are not something less. They are not “kids.” They are not servants or “worker bees” of our Rotary Clubs. They deserve respect and the sooner we give them that, the sooner they will feel comfortable joining in our meetings. However, we, as Rotaractors, need to accept our local Rotary clubs for what they are. There is a quote attributed to many famous people. I first read it from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, “Problems are often opportunities in disguise.” We Rotaractors can often look at our local Rotary Clubs in that way. If we do, then the “problems” inherent in the organization of those clubs become “opportunities” we must meet to assist them in adapting to the changing world and make them a better place for us to be. However, all is not lost if they won’t change. We can always form new Rotary clubs!
I hope you can see that my schizophrenia has some logic. I have been a Rotarian for nearly thirty-two years but have only been a Rotaractor for the past ten minutes! Although I have often been frustrated by the organization of Rotary and many of its clubs, I would not trade the experiences and friendships I have had for anything. There is a quote I have read often that goes, “The American justice system is the worst system in the entire world. However, it is better than all of the rest.” I submit you can substitute “Rotary” for “The American Justice System.”