(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.
WSFS is not to be confused with the historic, disastrous WSFS, Inc., which see for the long, somewhat sordid and slightly sad story of attempts to formalize WSFS.
Every member of the current Worldcon is automatically a member of WSFS and entitled to nominate and vote for the recipients of the Hugo Awards, to participate in site 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, yet they were cool to have.)
WSFS 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.
Governance of WSFS
The World Science Fiction Society has three sets of official rules (online here): 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 cannot 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.
Robert's Rules of Order
The WSFS Business Meeting is run by Robert's Rules of Order, a series of rules on how to run formal meetings. WSFS has adopted a few variation from standard Robert's.
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 WSFS Business Meeting, usually called the WSFS BM (and that does not mean what you were thinking!), is held each year at Worldcon and makes the rules which govern Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. (Though by strict tradition, this is limited to Site Selection, the Hugos and the administration of the WSFS BM. The BM does not ever involved itself in the management of individual Worldcons.)
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. wiki containing an annotated copy
WSFS Mark Protection Committee
The Mark Protection Committee (MPC) is the only permanent committee of WSFS. It is mandated by the WSFS Constitution and hence exists permanently, but is under the jurisdiction of the WSFS Business Meeting. Its mandate is to preserve the WSFS servicemarks including "Worldcon" and "Hugo Award." Its membership is selected by the WSFS Business Meeting and the active Worldcons.
Originally, following the old Standing Committee's procedures, the MPC's membership was three members each from the three Zones formerly used in site selection plus a member appointed by each seated Worldcon or Nasfic. Elected members served for three years with three of the nine elected members terms expiring each year. Around 2010, the geographical requirements were eliminated and all members ran at large, though the staggered three year terms were retained.)
WSFS Committees refers to various permanent or temporary committees appointed by the WSFS Business Meeting to transact World Science Fiction Society business or research while Worldcon is not in session. The phrase does not describe Worldcon committees.
While WSFS has no continuing existence, the Business Meeting creates a number of committees which carry on work during the interim between Worldcons. These are sometimes referred to as "standing committees," but in fact replaced the Standing Committee.
A number of committees are annually re-created by the WSFS Business Meeting. (The Business Meeting has no authority to create permanent committees except by amending the WSFS Constitution, so technically each year's committee is entirely new. In practice there is considerable continuity of membership and purpose.
WSFS committees of long standing:
- The Long List Committee (aka "Formalization of Long List Entries Committee (FOLLE)" was created by Noreascon 4 to standardize the Long List of Worldcons. Its work has been annually endorsed by the WSFS Business meeting.
- Nitpicking and Flyspecking Committee -- a committee to codify rulings from the chair of continuing effect and to propose wording improvements (but not substantive changes) to the WSFS Constitution and WSFS Standing Rules.
The name was given by Bruce Pelz and adopted by the Business Meeting as a perpetual reminder that the committee should not stray beyond its remit.
- Worldcon Runners Guide Editorial Committee -- a committee to create a guide for running Worldcons.
While it is not an independent committee like the WSFS Mark Protection Committee, it does not have to be renewed annually. Its chair and members are appointed by each year's WSFS Business Meeting. The purpose of the WRGEC is to compile best practices of Worldcon and make them available to interested persons.
- Hugo Eligibility Rest of the World Committee (HEROW) -- a committee to recommend works or categories first published overseas for extra-long Hugo eligibility. It is usually fairly inactive.
Additionally, the Business Meeting will appoint temporary committees to consider specific questions with instructions to report back at the following year's meeting. Such committees are usually not continued and exist for s single year.
Membership in all of the annually appointed committees is at the discretion of the presiding officer of the Business Meeting, though it is generally open to anyone who volunteers.
The Worldcon banner was created by Dave Kyle and Jean Carrol to fly outside the Biltmore, the hotel hosting Nycon II in 1956, which Dave was chairing. It was also hung behind the head table at the Banquet.
It appeared at a number of subsequent Worldcons until it finally disappeared. It turned out that Howard DeVore had squirreled it away. Sometime in the late 1980s or early ’90s he turned it over to the History of Worldcons Exhibit and it has since been displayed as part of the exhibit.
In 2012, Mary Morman and Kent Bloom as a project of the Worldcon Heritage Organization oversaw a conservation effort which led to it being cleaned and reinforced which should allow it to be displayed for years to come. Jill Eastlake arranged for the conservation work and Renovation helped cover the cost.
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