The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Rugby, U.K., has hailed the results of an emergency general meeting (EGM) held in London on January 11 as a powerful vote of confidence in its leadership. Seven out of every ten members who voted supported the current president and council of the organization.
The meeting was called on October 4, 2017 after member Keith Plumb garnered the 50 signatures necessary to pose a motion of no confidence in the IChemE. That motion stated: “We the undersigned members no longer believe that the Institution of Chemical Engineers represents the wishes or interests of the majority of its members. We therefore call for a vote of no confidence in the president and council of the Institution of Chemical Engineers.”
The no-confidence call was the culmination of years of exchanges and comments from and between disgruntled members, many on social media. Their concerns are many and include the erosion of voting rights for many of the more than 44,000 members of the IChemE, a ruling council top-heavy with academics, the treatment of a former council member by both council and IChemE management, the organization’s inflated salaries and pensions, rising membership subscriptions, and the lack of practical engineering and safety skills in graduates produced by chemical engineering departments.
In response, IChemE’s council issued a statement describing these comments as “ranging from the sensible to the outrageous.”
It also added a counter-motion to the ballot. This stated: “The members of the Institution have confidence that the president and council will ensure IChemE complies with its Royal Charter and charitable obligations and will work to continually improve the management and governance of the Institution to the benefit of its members.”
The IChemE then organized a series of webinars and meetings to present its point of view to the membership before the EGM took place. It also published a set of “Fact Checker” documents on its website. Both became points of contention on social media, with supporters of the no-confidence motion wondering why the machinery of the IChemE wasn’t being made available for them to present their point of view, and querying the veracity of some of the information in the Fact Checker.
The December 2017 issue of the satirical magazine Private Eye, covered the ongoing spat under the headline “Chemical engineers: storm in a beaker.”
The EGM itself began on January 11 under the chairmanship of IChemE president John McGagh with the organization’s CEO Jon Prichard acting as meeting secretary.
Speakers from the floor were given three-minute slots to address the meeting with their views on the two motions and to question McGagh and Prichard.
One of the concerns raised involved the content of the Fact Checker documents. McGagh assured the meeting that more information concerning IChemE’s pension scheme, staff salaries and investments would be made available in due course.
Then the EGM moved to the count. Council’s motion received 2,924 votes in favor (72.1%) with 1,132 votes against (27.9%). The no-confidence motion received 1,158 votes in support (28.5%) and 2,900 votes against (71.5%). Together, that made a total turnout of 31.1% of members who were eligible to vote.
Welcoming the result, IChemE deputy president Ken Rivers said Council now must reach out to those who are not content and voted for the no-confidence motion. “To you I want to say that we are listening, we have heard many of your concerns, and we want to understand your views better,” he said.
“The EGM process has brought into sharp contrast some areas of difference between some of us. It highlighted some divisions, but it is also the opportunity to deliver a renewed sense of unity around a common agenda,” he added, pointing to the IChemE’s meeting in May at which proposed changes to how the organization will be run in the future are up for discussion.
One of the no-confidence-motion signatories, an IChemE fellow with over 30 years of experience, noted: “We never expected to win, but are sorely disappointed with the way that the IChemE has handled the whole thing — particularly the project fear idea that passing our motion would affect either IChemE’s charitable status, or its ability to confer chartered status. This is nonsense. At the same time we certainly didn’t expect to get 28% of the vote: if you get that sort of result at an EGM in the corporate world, people would be standing down.”
Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.