To all AJET members:
On March 17th, 2021, the National AJET council met and unanimously voted to remove Vice Chair Robbie Lepp from office. Although he was invited to attend and speak on his behalf, the Vice Chair regrettably chose not to attend. The Vice Chair position is now vacant, pending the appointment of a new Vice Chair in the near future.
The first warning to the Vice Chair was issued in June of 2020 by the former Treasurer, following a dispute between the Chair and Vice Chair. The dispute began on a procedural topic relating to how the Constitution implied that vacant positions should be filled and escalated to assertions that the Chair was, among other things, “unteachable” and from a less accomplished region than the Vice Chair.
A third party group of former Executive Council members offered to mediate this conflict, and both the Chair and Vice Chair agreed. However, after agreeing to mediation, the Vice Chair composed and sent the aforementioned inappropriate and unprofessional email making comments in regards to the Chair’s personality, comprehension of facts, and the relative accomplishments of Hyogo and Tokushima AJET. The Vice Chair and Chair were both issued warnings as a result of this conflict. Mediation was offered again in hopes of bridging personality differences as well as addressing what appeared to be misconceptions about several aspects of the National Council’s work. The Vice Chair declined this opportunity, stating he would resign and the meeting was therefore not necessary.
However, the Vice Chair did not resign, and instead reduced communication with the Chair. The rest of the National Council was not informed about any of this at the time. Both the Chair and the Vice Chair formally acknowledged their receipt of a warning.
The National Council examined these facts and concluded that the conduct exhibited in that email was not the standard of professionalism that the National Council wishes to maintain, and therefore that the warning was merited and valid.
The second warning to the Vice Chair was issued in March of 2021, following a discussion with the Chair regarding the upcoming survey. Upon learning that it might be difficult to gather a sufficient number of survey responses on his proposed timeline, the Vice Chair wrote in an email to the Chair and Treasurer, “If CLAIR requires it to be a certain number then we tell them it surpassed that number. This might seem unethical and to some degree it is, but at the same time we were elected to represent the JET community which means what we say represents everyone.”
Given the nature of this comment and its implications of continued deception, the Vice Chair was issued a second official warning by the Chair. The Chair then presented him with the option to resign and avoid a referral to the National Council for assessment of whether he was suitable to represent JET Programme participants. He formally acknowledged receipt of the warning, though indicated disagreement that it was merited and declined to resign. The Chair brought the issue to the voting members of the National Council, who began an investigation of the circumstances of both warnings.
The National Council examined this suggestion to lie about the data and agreed with the Vice Chair that his proposal was unethical. We concluded that the warning was merited.
Review process and the events that raised public awareness
Under Article VIII of the Constitution of the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching, at least two weeks must pass from the time a second warning is issued to the time that a meeting to vote on removal can take place, and removal can only take place through a unanimous vote. The National Council used this time to gather information about the events leading up to each warning, including confirming that the emails in question were written by the Vice Chair. We expected that the voting body would be all current Block and CIR Representatives, as well as the only remaining Executive member who was not the subject of the inquiry. However, in a group LINE chat on the day of the second warning being issued, the Vice Chair asked the voting members of the council to “follow the constitution,” and argued for the inclusion of the former Treasurer as a voting member in the proceedings. This was perplexing to many, as the Treasurer had informed the council in October that he would be leaving JET and Japan by the end of that month.
After the referral prompted concern on this topic, the National Council learned that the Treasurer and Vice Chair had discussed the situation privately, and the Vice Chair stated in an email to the treasurer that “[t]he only rule is that you must be a current JET when you run for a position, but not that you must maintain the status. If you would like to remain treasurer while not a JET, you can.” The National Council disagrees with this interpretation.
The specific intention of the Vice Chair’s repeated insistence that the Council “follow the Constitution” is not wholly clear, but upon examining the Constitution, we did note that it specifies the membership of AJET is limited to current participants on the JET Programme. We took this into account in our deliberations over the status of the Treasurer position.
The National Council recognizes that we are at fault for overlooking the status of the Treasurer, by assuming that Mr. Baker intended to assist in the transition after leaving the JET Programme, rather than continue on in the role against National AJET bylaws. We could have done more, did not, and are in the process of making changes to ensure that such a situation is not repeated.
Our first step towards correcting our mistake was a unanimous decision to recognize that the position of Treasurer has been vacant since the time of Mr. Baker’s departure in October. The constitution states that only active JET Programme participants can be members of AJET, therefore it logically follows that one must be a member of AJET in order to serve on the National AJET council. Thus, once the former Treasurer’s JET contract ended, so too did his time as a member of the council. The Vice Chair declined to attend the meeting where this was discussed.
The issue becomes public
In reaction to the determination that the Treasurer position was vacant, the Vice Chair released a public letter of resignation in which he mischaracterized discussions that he was not included in, falsely asserted that he had been given no platform to speak, and shared private conversations on social media despite repeated protests. He shared materials which included conversations that did not happen in the context of the National AJET Council and also contained personal information of individuals who did not consent to its release. Additionally, he misled another volunteer into posting his letter on the National AJET website by indicating it had been approved for release by the Chair. This was both an unconventional and regrettable method of departure from an organization.
We deeply regret the disruption and confusion caused by these public posts, and acknowledge there has been a breach of trust between the National AJET Council and the JET community. Repairing this trust is our utmost priority, so that we may continue to serve JET participants. We are also closely monitoring the upcoming survey and elections process to ensure it is conducted with the highest level of integrity.
We thank the JET community for their patience with us during this situation, and we pledge ourselves to do better. In the coming days and weeks, we will work to make necessary changes to ensure the National Council works more cohesively, to expand oversight, and to increase transparency. These changes would require community approval to amend National AJET’s governing documents. We hope that you will approve of this work and ratify it.
Anna Ayvazyan – AJET Chair
Brendan Murphy – AJET CIR Representative
Storm Manson – AJET Block 2 Representative
Edward Portillo – AJET Block 3 Representative
Emma Harding – AJET Block 4 Representative
Angus Langmuir – AJET Block 5 Representative
Rebecca Ruth – AJET Block 6 Representative
Steven Coyne – AJET Block 8 Representative
Rachel Boellstorff Boellstorff – AJET Block 9 Representative
Jonathan Amanatidis – AJET Block 10 Representative
Lydia Emory – AJET Block 11 Representative
AJET Appointed Officers
Jessica Craven, Project Manager
Taryn Matthews, Director of Public Relations