Sir Clive Sinclair, the inventor who is chairman of British Mensa Limited, will propose to a special general meeting next month that the society's status should be changed from a company limited by guarantee to that of an association governed by its members. Though difficult for mere mortals to understand, the dispute reflects some members' distrust of the British Mensa committee and its support for ventures such as the separate Mensa Foundation for Gifted Children, which accredits selective private schools. Primarily a promoter of social and debating events - Victor Serebriakoff, the society's international president, described a typical gathering as 'the place where the eggheads get laid' - Mensa is known for vitriolic internal politics and litigation.
The special meeting is due to be held 15 minutes before the society's annual general meeting in Portsmouth. Sir Clive, backed by the committee, has circulated his 39,000 fellow Mensans, who have all scored the requisite 148 in an intelligence test to join, urging them to support the change. Mensa was bound by 'cumbersome and inappropriate' practices dictated by company law and can find itself forced into expensive and time-consuming procedures, he said.
John Kinory, recently-elected editor of the society's magazine, is one of several Mensans trying to mobilise opposition to the change. The committee is not being open with members, he says. He points out that a special meeting does not require a motion to be circulated twice to the membership as in the case of an AGM motion. Mr Kinory argues that the change would remove members' financial protection and legal rights.
'I very much hope that the committee will be told in no uncertain terms not to treat the membership with contempt,' Mr Kinory said. The committee had ignored a previous conference decision to publish its minutes, something he intends to rectify as editor. Mr Kinory added: 'There are a lot of very silly people in Mensa, with no common sense whatsoever. It is a lively social club and a place where you can pursue intellectual interests, but I think it takes itself a little too seriously.'
Howard Gale, executive director of Mensa, said that the proposals would not mean financial liabilities for members. A board elected by the membership would be responsible for the pounds 1.8m turnover instead of the present 'rather weird' limited company. Mensa was better placed financially than it had ever been.
Mensa gives support of about pounds 20,000 a year to the Mensa Foundation but benefited because it brought in additional members, Mr Gale said. As to publishing the minutes, that was a matter for the editor and in any case the committee was not obliged to take notice of conference decisions.