OK, I am being a bit strident, but I am feeling so ironic that it is causing narcissism in that all compasses point to me.
My point: organizations are complex environments and an interdependent web in which each part and parcel may have many roles and results. Precipitious change in the environment can throw the whole balance of nature out of whack.
So what role do the IA's play in the overall environment of the UUA?
1. They are intellectual centers. Congregations are not intellectual centers in which new ideas are developed, and old traditions reclaimed and revived. Congregations are united around their worship and tend to gravitate toward their own center. A GA in which there were unlimited congregationally developed workshops would have 500 sessions on how to grow and 500 sessions on how to avoid unnecessary theological controversy. IA's are portals in which new ideas, new perspectives and new associations come into our association. The former would document hopes and failures; the latter successes.
2. IA's play a role in developing the next generation of ministerial leaders. It's an entry point for seminarians who follow their interest into an IA, and then meet ministers already in fellowship. IA's give new ministers an opportunity to be involved in developing programs and presentations at GA.
3. IA's are content providers to the association -- turning out papers, position papers, pamphlets, programs, curriculums etc. Some of them are useful to congregations and some are not.
Who was it who first drew the distinction between foxes and hedgehogs. Maybe Isaiah Berlin? Anyway: hedgehogs know one thing -- the hedge that they live under -- and they know it very well. Foxes, on the other hand, know lots of things because they travel far and wide.
The whole "everything for the congregations" raises the banner of "All Power to the Hedgehogs." But we need foxes too. Bloggers, Independent Affiliates, the seminaries are all foxy people and organizations that bring in the new, cross-pollinate, spread ideas around, and keep things fresh.
I am afraid that the board is damaging our ecosystem by this large scale purge of our IA's.
BTW, I think that the focus on "congregations" and "congregational polity" -- which I have always been a fan of -- mis-states the central problem in Unitarian Universalism -- so almost anything can be done in its name. But that is for another post.