(WSFS was briefly the name of WSFA, which see.)
The World Science Fiction Society
The World Science Fiction Society, or WSFS (usually pronounced somewhere between "WIS-fəs" and "WIS-fis" -- it's never spelled out in speech), is the unincorporated literary society that sponsors Worldcon and administers the Hugo Awards. WSFS does not have officers or directors and functions through the Worldcons which hold WSFS in trust.
Each Worldcon committee is independent and incorporates as a separate organization, all agree as part of the process of being awards a Worldcon to be governed by the WSFS constitution (see below.)
Every current Worldcon member is automatically a member of WSFS and entitled to nominate and vote for the recipients of the Hugo Awards, to participate insite selection to choose the site of the Worldcon to be held two years hence and, if attending, to participate in the WSFS Business Meeting (see below), which governs the rules of WSFS and of the awards.
Years ago, Worldcons used to issue WSFS membership cards, but, sadly, that practice has died out. (They didn't actually mean anything or have any function, mind you...)
WSFS also maintains a number of longstanding committees: the Mark Protection Committee (to which each Worldcon appoints members in addition to elected members), the Nitpicking and Flyspecking Committee, the Worldcon Runners Guide Editorial Committee, as well as the Hugo Eligibility Rest of the World Committee (HEROW). It also endorses the work of the Long List Committee. These committees provide continuing management of certain very specific matters that WSFS has designated.
WSFS is not to be confused with the historic, disastrous WSFS Inc.
Governance of WSFS
The World Science Fiction Society has three sets of rules: The WSFS Constitution, the WSFS Standing Rules and the Resolutions of Continuing Effect. The Constitution is the basic body of rules which govern Worldcon, the Standing Rules are lesser rules established mostly for the operation of the WSFS Business Meeting and the Resolutions of Continuing Effect are a catch-all of motions passed by the Business Meeting which happen to still have force today.
These rules provide the framework in which the Worldcons exist. With the exception of management of the Hugo Awards and of voting for Worldcon Site Selection, WSFS generally refrains from attempting to direct individual Worldcons in detail. Individual Worldcons have no formal power whatsoever over the WSFS rules -- that is in the hands of the WSFS Business Meeting.
The WSFS Constitution is the basic governing document of WSFS and the Worldcons. The modern constitution was approved in the early 1960s and has been amended e/n/d/l/e/s/s/l/y/ often, but has continued since then in basically the same form. (See WSFS, Inc. for a discussion of some early aspects of this process.)
All Worldcons and NASFiCs are bound by the WSFS Constitution which is under the control of the WSFS business meeting, an assembly of all WSFS members who wish to take part, which is held at each Worldcon, typically for three days between 10AM and noon, though the meeting has shown a distressing tendency to grow longer since 2000 or so.
The WSFS Constitution is focused on four things:
- The Hugo Awards
- Selection of future Worldcons (and Nasfics)
- The rights of members of the Worldcon
- Amendment of the WSFS Constitution
Because lessons learned in the Early Days, the WSFS Constitution can not be amended by a single WSFS Business Meeting. To become a part of the constitution, all amendments must be approved one year and then ratified the following year.
The Standing Rules are lesser rules established mostly for the operation of the WSFS Business Meeting (see below) which are easier to change than the Constitution and, naturally, must be consistant with it. An amendment to the Constitution must be passed by two successive WSFS Business Meetings. Standing Rules, OTOH, may be introduced and passed or repealed by a simple majority vote.
The only real difference between the Standing Rules and the Resolutions of Continuing Effect is that the former were intended to be permanent parts of the governance of the WSFS and are documented as such from the start, while the latter are motions and ruling of the Chair which just happen to have long-term effects.
The Standing Rules are almost exclusively focused on governing the operation of the WSFS Business Meeting by providing added rules of order, modifications of Roberts' Rules and the accumulated debris of fifty or sixty years. While the WSFS Constitution governs WSFS, knowledge of the Standing Rules is essential to understanding how the WSFS Business Meeting works.
The Nitpicking and Flyspecking Committee is charged with proposing motions to the WSFS BM which clarify the various WSFS Rules, but do not actually change their effect.
Resolutions of Continuing Effect
If the Standing Rules are the Business Meeting's "accumulated debris", the Resolutions of Continuing Effect are the shavings and crumbs that fell off the table. These resolutions are documented but, unlike the Standing Rules, are not actual rules. Many of them are rulings from the Chair which necessarily have effect only for that meeting, but are documented as potential precedent for the use of later presiding officers. Others are motions passed by the WSFS Business Meeting which have continuing effect, but not that much... Many of them are hortatory, e.g., the 2000 WSFS BM voted that "Moved, to encourage Worldcons who tape their sessions to make copies available to the Worldcon history exhibit." Clearly this is still in effect; not so clear what effect it has...
WSFS Business Meeting
The Business Meeting consists of three meetings, usually held from 10 a.m. to noon on the three middle days of the convention (Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a "normal" Worldcon which ends on Monday).
On the first day, the Preliminary Business Meeting hears reports by standing WSFS committees and ad hoc committees set up by the previous year's business meeting, and prepares the agenda for the second meeting. Nominations to the open seats on the Mark Protection Committee) are sought. (In addition, each Worldcon appoints a member to the Mark Protection Committee.) And volunteers are allowed for the Nitpicking and Flyspecking Committee, the Worldcon Runners Guide Editorial Committee, and the the Hugo Eligibility Rest of the World Committee (HEROW).
Preparing the agenda includes taking business which has been submitted, possibly rejecting some of it as not worth considering, possibly merging motions, considering and perhaps passing changes to the WSFS Standing Rules (see above), making other procedural motions, and setting time limits for debate.
On the second day, the formal business session, submitted motions are debated, amended and passed or defeated. Since debate time is strictly limited, it's difficult to hold a substantive debate at this meeting, so usually the issues involved have already been widely smoffed in fandom — in fanzines, on email lists like the Smofs list, on social media and blogs and at smaller cons.
On the third day, the site selection meeting. The site selection administrator presents the results of the vote, the Business Meeting ratifies it and orders the ballots destroyed, the winning bid makes a presentation, and the meeting then moves to Question Time wherein the upcoming Worldcon and Worldcon bidders make brief presentations and take questions form the people present. In theory, this meeting could consider business, but this practically never happens. (In fact, there is provision for a fourth session of the BM, just in case; the first time it was needed was at Sasquan in 2015, to consider proposals to prevent Puppification.)
Participation in the WSFS BM is limited to --smofs-- attending members on site at the current Worldcon, though any WSFS member may submit business. Attendance varies, but is usually between 100 and 200 people, most of whom attend every year. Proxies are not allowed.
The Business Meeting is governed by Roberts' Rules of Order as modified by a few special practices adopted by WSFS. Proceedings are fairly formal with strict time limits on debate.
Originally, when Worldcon had a single track of programming, the BM was a one-hour item in the program presided over by the chairman of that Worldcon. It voted on the rules and selected the location of the next Worldcon in an informal process with its rules varying considerably from year to year. During the 1960s, the WSFS Constitution became formalized and by the beginning of the '70s, the WSFS Business Meeting had developed into a formal process for making the governing rules.
Worldcon site selection moved to a combination of a mail and an at-con ballot under the management of a site selection administrator, and the role of the WSFS BM changed to one of formally accepting the results of that vote rather than of conducting the vote in the meeting.
Additionally, with the development of multi-track programming, the WSFS BM ceased to be a plenary meeting of nominally the entire Worldcon membership and became a meeting of just those members who show up. Most fans never attend the BM, some attend only when a proposal of special interest is on the agenda, while a few would never miss it.
Hear Ben Yalow's recollection of the constitutional shenanigans of the 1970s.
Things for Mark to do
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