Our club's Tenth Anniversary has come and passed, as has my fifth and final year at Cornell. As I prepare myself for the "Real World (TM)", I remember my freshman year when my friend, Lawrence Eng, told me that there was an anime club here and we decided to go. When he graduated last year, he wrote an article comparing CJAS to other anime organizations in the U.S. to give a kind of anchor point indicating where we stand in the world. I, in turn, have some things to say about the inner workings of CJAS, so that we never forget our roots.
First, a little rehash on our history (I'll be brief since it's all been written about before). In Fall 1988, Masaki Takai and Kay Lillibridge founded CJS, the Cornell Japanimation Society, and held showings in Masaki's North Campus townhouse from his personal anime collection. They later registered as a club and moved showings to Uris Library because of the large audience. At this time, presidents chose their own successors and appointed their own officers, so Masaki chose Sheng-Te Tsao as his successor. Sheng-Te was succeeded by Bruce Hahne, who was followed by Ping Lin. During Ping's year (93-94), the club moved into GSD and a new constitution was drafted.
I'll pause here for a moment to discuss the constitutional "revolution" in more detail. Since I didn't come to Cornell until the 94-95 school year, some of my descriptions may be vague. Anyway, the 93-94 school year was certainly an "exciting" year for CJAS. The club had grown to a point where the executive board was large enough to suffer from factionalism and where negligence to CJAS duties could create much larger problems than ever before. Factionalism led to in-fighting, arguments, and the standard battery of hurt feelings and hatred. With no formal procedural framework in place to guide the decision-making process through this mess, tempers escalated and the club began to fall apart. Late in Fall 1993, with the impending demise of the club approaching, a plan was formed to construct a new constitution and reform the administration. In Spring 1994, Doris Chan, Charles Chen, Simon Chung, and Chris DeVries formed the constitutional committee and began crafting a new mode of operation for the club.
Over the next eight months, working through the summer, the committee carefully researched, pondered, and drafted the new procedures that would form the new constitution and usher in a new era of stability and democracy for CJAS. In Fall 1994, the new constitution was ratified. Gone was the old system with presidents who had total power and appointed their successors. In its place are four elected officer positions, a proper election and voting system, a framework for e-board decision making, and a clear definition of responsibilities. But just as the important charters have a spirit as well as a letter, so does the CJAS constitution. By assigning only responsibilities to the officers without granting any powers, the Executive Board retains all powers and is presented as the first and last word in all decisions, with the implementation details and execution of duties left to the officers and volunteer officers. There is also a strong sentiment against dictatorship and politicization, stemming from the recent narrow escape that the drafters were coming from. If one reads the eligibility requirements for voting in the officer elections, the stringent requirements beyond normal voting eligibility stem from an anti-politicization feeling that officers should be elected purely for their CJAS-related merits. A clause to forbid speeches and campaigning was even written, but it didn't make the final cut because the drafters didn't want to impose too many restrictions on future e-boards.
Chris DeVries was the first president to be elected under the new constitution for the 94-95 school year. He was followed by Doris Chan, Kevin Sung, myself, Ayesha Ahmed, and now Linda Lau for the upcoming school year. (Note that in the first ten years, there have been only eight presidents, starting with Masaki and ending with myself. In CJAS history, only Masaki has held more than one term as president, serving for three years. All succeeding presidents have held their office for only one year. Ayesha was the president of the 11th year, and Linda will be the 10th president and serve the 12th year of CJAS.) So here we are, five years after the new constitution, nearing the amount of time the club spent under the old regime (six years). How are we stacking up to the way our club was envisioned by our past leaders?
Well, we've survived the projector crisis. Our membership has swelled to over 130 members, with an e-board of over 30 voting-eligible members. The club administration is strong and is not dependent on any one person or small group of people. E-board is run by democratic ideals, and CJAS duties are carried out diligently. The problems that prompted the constitutional revolution are nowhere to be found, and the club is stable. And how do we stack up? Here's what Doris Chan (constitutional drafter and the sixth CJAS president) had to say when I interviewed her:
"During my senior year with a solid foundation laid for the club, I had two hopes -- the first to see CJAS become independent from the SAFC and the second to see it continue to branch out into other areas, above and beyond what we had set in the constitution as the original purpose."
Doris also expressed her strong beliefs that CJAS presidents should have grand visions and goals, even knowing that such grand dreams might not be achievable within their term of office. If presidents only have small goals or only seek to get by, their attitude will reflect onto e-board and the club will stagnate. The lack of a long-term grand vision and the subsequent stagnation is the greatest enemy of the club. Doris said that one of her goals as president was to build strong relations with the Asian Studies and Japanese language programs so that CJAS would be a resource that professors would come to rely on, and where CJAS could provide real value to the related academic programs on campus. She also expressed that although there was some concern that the club has lost focus in recent years, CJAS has matured wonderfully over the past few years and has grown into a permanent presence at Cornell.