FOOTNOTES January 2000
homeprev issuesexecpublic affairspub forumSTAFF
 
 
Public Forum

More Commentary on the ASR Editor Decision and the Statement by the Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities

As I read the November Footnotes, I was struck by the continued controversy over the ASR editorship. I have concerns with the way the deliberations were conducted. However, in all arguing over fact, I am struck by how the leadership responses seem to be ignoring a strong subtext of disenfranchisement.

The leadership response to the protest over the ASR decision is focused on procedural issues and ignores the social issue that I see as the underlying base for the protest. I am willing to concede that the structure of the ASA council and publication committee, at the time of the appointment, allowed for the council to choose other than the committee's choice. We can consider changing that in the future. I find objectionable any discussion of merit not based on current academic qualifications and so don't approve of Massey's reading an evaluation he wrote years ago. We can debate the ethics of such a reading into the infinity without agreeing.

I find sociologists protesting social action by their fellow sociologists ironic and disheartening. But none of these get at the intrinsic problem.

The problem is that the ASA membership, in part, feels that ASA is structurally unequal. As sociologists we are all trained in the basics of race, class, gender, etc. Many of us study inequalities in areas outside our professional association. When some of us turn our training on the ASA, we find the same processes functioning to limit our access. That should not be ignored. Yet the response so far is just what I would expect from a structurally discriminating organization composed of people with good intentions: protestations of "No! not me! See, we followed the rules" while the underlying issue is ignored.

What we need, from my perspective, is to move the discussion to what we can do to reverse the disenfranchisement. I believe that most of us would agree that the current ASR editors could do a good job, even if they might not take ASR where some of us want it to go. I don't think that there is any conscious discrimination on the part of any of the participants. And I believe that even if we can't all agree that there is a structural inequality operating in ASA, we should be able to agree that there is a perception of such an inequality. As long as either structural inequality or the perception of structural inequality exists, ASA's continuing strength and value to its members is in jeopardy. Arguing over the past won't accomplish much more than entrenchment. Focusing on enfranchisement will.

Naomi L. Lacy, Department of Family Medicine , University of Nebraska Medical Center


As scholars with a long held interest in the study of race and ethnicity, we are writing to state our strong disagreement with the content of the letter from the Section on Racial and Ethnic Minorities that appeared in the latest issue of Footnotes.

We are particularly troubled by the personal attacks launched against Douglas Massey, president elect of the American Sociological Association, and an individual of impeccable professional credentials. Through his work and public service, Massey has demonstrated an unflagging commitment to academic excellence and racial justice. To accuse him of racism is not only unfair but absurd-the sort of thing that can serve only to make the word racism an empty expletive wielded recklessly in case of disagreement. If Massey can be called a racist, who, despite evidence to the contrary, can escape such an imputation?

We are also disturbed by the attempt to reverse the selection of Charles Camic and Franklin Wilson as editors of the American Sociological Review. Through no fault of their own, and despite their dedication to promote intellectual diversity and a plurality of perspectives and methods, these two scholars have had to withstand characterizations of their appointment as part of a racist plot. This is unacceptable. The controversy that surrounded their designation was not about race but about varying outlooks regarding standards and procedures. It is desirable, even necessary to foster a vigorous debate over the viability of those standards and procedures but it is not proper to arbitrarily reverse decisions made in accordance to established bylaws simply because there is dissension. We support Camic and Wilson in their editorial efforts and welcome a continued exchange about ways to improve the content of, and access to, our flagship journal.

The assault on Douglas Massey and the challenge to the newly appointed editors of the ASR were largely the result of misunderstandings that succeeded the revelation of aspects in the selection process meant to be confidential. In the absence of comprehensive factual information, distortions were sure to follow. Confidentiality is not, as argued in the SREM letter, a means to maintain the "status quo." Instead it has been a long held professional standard whose purpose is to protect colleagues from unnecessary embarrassment as a result of differences of opinion regarding their performance or qualifications. It is legitimate to question the limits of confidentiality as some of our colleagues have done. It is not proper, however, to violate established guidelines of professional behavior simply to advance a particular position. Instead of acrimonious and misguided argumentation, we welcome an ongoing dialogue to improve the system of government at ASA and to develop norms and procedures as sensitive as possible to the interests of its diverse membership.

We deeply regret the choice made by those who crafted the SREM letter to turn a debate about legitimate differences of opinion and outlook into a racialized and personal assault. In doing so they have dealt a serious blow upon the integrity of our collective professional efforts and severely compromised their own credibility.

Miguel Angel Centeno, Princeton University
Sara Curran, Princeton University
Reynolds Farley, University of Michigan
Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, Princeton University
Sharon Lee, Portland State University
Marta Tienda, Princeton University
Min Zhou, University of California-Los Angeles


We are writing to express our strong disagreement with the statement by members and officers of the section on Race and Ethnic Minorities in the November issue of Footnotes. We are scholars who study race and ethnic relations and inequality, and we represent a variety of opinions about the editorship and future direction of the ASR. Some of us disagree with the actions taken by the council, some support them. However we all feel deeply that the personal accusations against President-elect Massey are unfair, unfounded and completely unhelpful to the discussion of the nature and future of the ASR. We admire Doug Massey's record of scholarship and public service and his commitment to racial justice, and we are grateful that he is still willing to serve as President of the ASA, despite the hurtful and misplaced personal attacks on him. We are dismayed that some members of the ASA have chosen to personalize and racialize a debate that should be about intellectual diversity in a sociology journal. A racialized politics of personal destruction has no place in such debates, and deserves none.

Mary C. Waters, Harvard University
Richard D. Alba, SUNY-Albany
Richard Arum, University of Arizona
Frank D. Bean, University of California- Irvine
Lawrence D. Bobo, Harvard University
Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins University
Thomas Cook, Northwestern University
Nancy Denton, SUNY-Albany
Paula England, University of Pennsylvania
Reynolds Farley, University of Michigan
Frank Furstenberg, University of Pennsylvania
Andrew Greeley, University of Arizona
Michael Hannan, Stanford University
Charles Hirschman, University of Washington
Michael Hout, University of California-Berkeley
Philip Kasinitz, CUNY Graduate Center
Michele Lamont, Princeton University
Sharon Lee, Portland State University
John R. Logan, SUNY-Albany
Glenn Loury, Boston University
Victor Nee, Cornell University
Katherine Newman, Harvard University
Susan Olzak, Stanford University
Gary Orfield, Harvard University
Orlando Patterson, Harvard University
Lisandro Pérez, Florida International University
Rubén G. Rumbaut, Michigan State University
Gary Sandefur, University of Wisconsin
C. Matthew Snipp, Stanford University
Marta Tienda, Princeton University
Stewart Tolnay, SUNY-Albany
Nancy Tuma, Stanford University
Loic Wacquant, University of California, Berkeley
William Julius Wilson, Harvard University
Christopher Winship, Harvard University
Morris Zelditch, Stanford University
Min Zhou, University of California-Los Angeles


Portes accused the SREM statement, and the rest of us usually silent folk for whom it speaks, of revealing "a clear misunderstanding about the rules of democratic practice." One of the most democratic deliberations in ASA gathered to forge a decent compromise that was then ignored by Council. That Portes bestows upon this arrogant act the accolades of "rules of democratic practice" and "principles of democratic governance" reveals that his view of democracy is a technocratic and legalistic substitute for a deeply felt respect for democratic processes. I worry that the pathetic "professionalism" Portes piously displays is evidence that contemporary sociology has lost touch with human beings and can no longer distinguish a virtual world from the real one, just as form is celebrated over ethical substance in our nation's politics and public life, where power generates its own legitimations and labels itself however it wishes.

Kenneth Liberman, University of Oregon