Mensa politics is the inevitable result of there being an organization full of people with strong and sometimes conflicting opinions about how to run it. It has been likened to academic politics, for which allegedly "the conflicts are so fierce because the stakes are so low". It has also been said that if you get 10 Mensans together, you'll have at least 12 different opinions, and that leading Mensans is like herding cats. Several online forums exist to discuss Mensa politics, including M-Grapevine and M-Pol and the M-Leaders Facebook group (all unofficial), as well as more official forums within international, national, regional and local Mensa Web sites.
From time to time, a particular conflict will attract widespread interest among Mensans, including a flurry of discussion in the online forums, or, in earlier days before most people were online, a heap of paper mailings by various parties to and observers of the conflict. At times, people involved in conflicts would sometimes prepare and mail thick packets of documentation at their own expense to others they thought might be taking interest. Nowadays, e-mail lists, Web sites, and social media platforms make the dissemination of such things much easier. While most conflicts eventually burn themselves out after a while due to everybody being tired of talking and hearing about them, there are some that flare up time and time again as topics of discussion, even years later.
Here are some of the more notable Mensa political conflicts which have occurred:
- In the 1960s, Sander Rubin led a fight against American Mensa chairman John Codella, whom he accused of favoring "secrecy and insularity" with the American Mensa Committee meeting in closed-door meetings in the New York area. Rubin eventually became treasurer and then chairman, and the AMC process was opened up considerably.
- In 1982, a new Constitution of Mensa was adopted, amid lots of fighting at the international level whereby several national Mensa groups produced differing drafts of proposed constitutions to replace the old one. Nearly everybody agreed that the previous constitution, under which national groups each had exactly one vote in international Mensa regardless of how large or small they were, was in need of reform, but there was strong division about exactly how this was to be changed, with many countries concerned about the likely dominance of American Mensa, which then had over 80% of the membership, in any population-based scheme. Critics to this day, most notably Sander Rubin, continue to regard the 1982 constitution, with its complex structure of multiple Mensa organizations, to be a mistake.
- San Diego Mensa had infighting in the late 1980s centering on Lendon Best, who was seen by opponents (including RVC Robert Tutelman) as overly controlling of the group. This led to a regional hearing at which Best was sanctioned by being barred from further participation in the group, and this precipitated a schism whereby some members who supported Best founded the independent Camelopard Society (also known as the "Giraffes"), which for a time was in competition with the Mensa local group.
- In April, 1986, Lynne Parcells, then the editor of Western Michigan Mensa's newsletter, Nova, reprinted a piece of propaganda from a white-supremacist group. This was done for the purpose of making people aware of the existence of such groups in order to oppose them, but some members misinterpreted it as promoting, advocating, or advertising the group and its beliefs and were offended that anybody in Mensa would do such a thing. This led to what was sometimes referred to as the "NOVA affair", with some Mensans prominent at the national level taking sides: Rose Lee Crutcher and Harper Fowley in favor of taking action against Parcells, and Ralph Rudolph defending her. Ultimately, Parcells departed the editorship, and later published independent newsletters The Insomniac, Devachan, and Ambiance.
- Judy Dosse was on the American Mensa Committee as a Regional Vice Chairman in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and got into some political scuffles there which attracted very strong pro and con views. Subsequently, she was brought up on a long list of charges at a national hearing, and chose to "plead out" after the first day of hearings rather than defend herself, and accepted an agreement whereby she was permanently barred from seeking national office. This has been said to make her the only Mensan permanently not a "member in good standing". The agreement also barred the involved parties from ever re-opening the dispute again, which has not stopped it from flaring up on Mensa forums from time to time over the subsequent years.
- The ExComm of Orange County Mensa ordered an issue of their newsletter, Oracle, not to be published due to allegedly offensive content. This was an April Fool edition entitled "Fool Frontal Nudity", and much infighting within the group followed. The copies of the issue were ultimately destroyed. Then-RVC Russ Bakke (who was a member of the Orange County group) was asked by the ExComm to intervene, but told them that it was entirely their responsibility and their decision whether or not to publish the issue.
- Greater Los Angeles Area Mensa's newsletter, then called Lament, published some articles under editor Nikki Frey in the November, 1994 issue which seemed to advocate the killing off of people who are less intellectually gifted. (The author of one of these articles later complained that Frey had put together the more controversial parts of several different things he wrote and presented them out of context in a misleading way.) Leaked to the outside press, they led to a scandal where some were accusing Mensa of supporting such views, despite the disclaimer on all newsletters that opinions are those of the writer and not Mensa, which has no opinions. A caller to the Rush Limbaugh radio show ripped up his Mensa membership card on the air in protest, and the national office (then in Brooklyn) was at one point evacuated due to a bomb threat. Within Mensa, Frey and others came under criticism for their actions during the controversy, including dealings with the press that allegedly fanned the flames. She was ultimately removed as editor, but no further sanctions were taken against her.
- The administration of Dick Amyx as chairman of American Mensa, along with Dave Berg and Tim Hardy who were together elected as a slate of reformers, was plagued with conflict as they did battle with an opposing faction of AMC old-timers led by Dave Remine. The move of the national office from Brooklyn, New York to Texas was one of the things that happened during this term and was surrounded by conflict and controversy. When Amyx was re-elected but faced an AMC that didn't have any of his friends on it, he resigned during the Annual Business Meeting, making Darlene Criss chairman for a few minutes at the end of his original term, followed by Remine taking over his re-elected term.
- The mid 1990s were a time of turmoil for the British Mensa Committee, including controversies over Harold Gale, the Chief Executive, who was receiving a commission for each new member he recruited, but was ultimately dismissed; disquiet from some members who felt the BMC to be a posh self-perpetuating oligarchy; and a power vacuum caused by Sir Clive Sinclair choosing not to stand for another term as chairman in 1997.
- Carole Bell was elected to Mensa International office as Director of Development in 2001. After a contentious first meeting in this position, held in Zurich, Switzerland, she stayed on for a few more days in the hotel, beyond the time that was paid for by Mensa, and ultimately departed the hotel without paying her bill. International chairman Dave Remine regarded this as bringing disrepute to Mensa, and the International Board of Directors voted to suspend Bell from office pending a full hearing at the next International Board of Directors meeting. Bell claimed that this action was unlawful under English corporate law and filed a legal action about it in England. She was removed from office at the IBD meeting, and then removed from American Mensa membership by a national hearing (for filing a legal action against Mensa without first exhausting all internal means of redress), but subsequently joined British Mensa due to that group not having a provision permitting it to enforce the international rule against expelled members joining in another country (a situation that has since been changed).
- American Mensa discovered around 2003 that its last 30 years of internal elections and annual business meetings were technically invalid, since its governing documents failed to authorize mail balloting or allow for any actions to take place without a quorum of a majority of the total membership. This led to the massive ProxyQuest effort to correct this flaw by amending the certificate of incorporation through proxies of over half of the members, an effort which succeeded at the 2004 Annual Business Meeting in Las Vegas.
- Minnesota Mensa webmaster Al Heigl was removed from this position by the local group's committee after some conflict over the direction of the Web site. He claims that an agreement was subsequently reached for him to retain the position, but there is conflict over exactly what it entailed, and the group ended up appointing a different webmaster. Subsequently, for several years there were two competing Minnesota Mensa sites, one run by Heigl and the other, endorsed by the group as its true official site, by a different webmaster. This led to American Mensa bringing an action before an outside authority (WIPO) in 2005 to get the domain name held by Heigl (minnesotamensa.org) transferred to Mensa, and later a hearing against Heigl that resulted in his expulsion from American Mensa.
- A squabble involving American Mensa, British Mensa, and a publishing company British Mensa had licensed to publish Mensa-related books, led to multiple lawsuits and some acrimony between different Mensa groups in the 2000s. British Mensa had carelessly granted the publisher rights it didn't actually have, namely the worldwide rights to use the Mensa name (British Mensa has such rights only in the British Isles), and American Mensa objected when those books started being sold in the USA.
- The 2007 Annual Gathering of American Mensa had its local management (led by Steve and LeAnne Porter) abruptly replaced shortly before the gathering began, due to a dispute which centered on dealings with the hotel and the local health authorities over hospitality food. National chairman Russ Bakke and his wife Cookie Bakke were heavily involved in this. (A timeline is in this site.)
- A 2007 amendment to the Constitution of Mensa, repealing a 2005 amendment which limited candidates for international officer positions to those with past experience on the international board, passed a referendum of the membership but was subsequently "ruled" by the International Ombudsman to be invalid because insufficient chance was given for supporters and opponents to prepare statements to be distributed with the ballots. The Ombudsman subsequently acknowledged that he does not have overall jurisdiction and the matter needed to be ruled upon by IBD at its September 2007 meeting in Hong Kong. At that meeting, the balloting was officially invalidated. In a re-run of the ballot in 2009, it was passed by a heavy majority.
- The series of hearings involving Atlanta member Barry Levine, which first sanctioned him by suspending his local membership, and later expelled him from Mensa altogether, were a source of political squabbling throughout the 2000s decade. Levine's activism following the first set of hearings between him and other members with which he had a conflict led to the subsequent hearing where he was charged with "calumny" for circulating statements alleging "corruption" in Mensa. He subsequently applied to the International Board of Directors for international direct member status as permitted (discretionarily by the IBD) in the Constitution of Mensa, but the IBD decided in a close vote at its 2010 meeting to deny this request. Following this, he sued American Mensa and Mensa In Georgia in state courts, but the case was dismissed on several technical grounds including failing to comply with a one-year statute of limitations on challenging organizational expulsions. The case was unsuccessfully appealed, but Levine is still agitating about it on the M-Pol list (about the only Mensa-related forum he's still allowed on).
- The 2009 trial of a trademark case between American Mensa and pharmaceutical company Inpharmatica over their use of the name "AdMensa" (or "ADMEnsa") for a software system used within the drug industry, where that company was found not to be infringing Mensa's trademark, led to much political debate within Mensa, particularly when it was revealed that this case had cost American Mensa close to two million dollars in legal fees and other expenses.
- The results of the 2011 election of American Mensa had barely been announced when the election committee had to announce that some of the results were wrong; the tally in two of the races (the ones that were three-way races using preferential voting) had been incorrectly tabulated and needed to be recounted. When the new results were announced, two candidates originally announced as winners (Robin Crawford for 1st Vice Chairman and Cary Chilson for treasurer) had actually lost. This led to hard feelings on the part of the jilted candidates, and some talk of conspiracy theories about the election being fixed (particularly in the case of "anti-establishment" Cary Chilson), but the general consensus is that it was just incompetence (on the part of non-Mensan outside vote counters), not corruption.
- 2014 has seen an increasing wave of member unrest in American Mensa, including disgruntlement from some of the volunteers involved in the Annual Gathering over what is seen as heavyhanded rules imposed by the national office, which has taken an increasing role in running it (along with outside consultants and contractors). With a lot of sudden staff turnover and other office issues occurring, a lot of concerns have been raised about how the organization is being run, which end up dragging in a multiplicity of not-necessarily-related issues including ombudsman powers. One consequence was that the 2015 election of American Mensa had a particularly heavy ballot with many candidates and bylaws referenda, and ultimately a "reform-minded" candidate, Deb Stone, won the chair position, and various bylaw amendments initiated by non-AMC members passed (and the ones proposed by the AMC itself failed, though gaining majority votes short of the required two-thirds).