June 15, 1999
Dear President Portes:
Since late February, I and my colleagues on the Publications Committee have
been wrestling with a response to Council's peremptory reversal of our
recommendations for the editor of the American
Sociological Review. As you know, we sent
forward two candidates; Council rejected both and installed its own. This complete reversal
of the appointment decision of the Publications Committee, an elected body
representative of the membership, is unprecedented in
the history of the association. I have listened to you and my colleagues on the
Publications Committee but I still find resignation
the only appropriate response.
While Council was formally within its rights to over-rule the Publications
Committee, this was nonetheless an egregious violation of substantive
accountability, rendering our extensive work null and
void. Council did not explain its action, nor did
it request a consultation with us regarding our choice, nor did it return the appointment
to our committee for reconsideration and/or further recommendations. It simply chose
a different editor, based on a short discussion in the midst of a whole host of
other business. What is the point of our ongoing explorations of the trajectory of each
journal, our decisions about how to insure their continued high quality, our careful
examination of each candidate, and then our
lengthy deliberations, if Council summarily overturns them?
Only two years ago the membership was asked whether the Publications
Committee should be appointed by Council. The membership voted to continue the
practice of electing the Publications Committee. I take this to be a mandate to maintain
our independence of Council. The membership should know that their injunction has
been ignored. To keep silent would be to compound the already flagrant
transgression of substantive democracy.
I have listened to those who have argued that making the membership
aware that Council had over-ridden the recommendations of the Publications
Committee would violate the confidentiality of the process and the rights of candidates
to anonymity. It will be known that new editors of the
ASR were not chosen by the Publications Committee and that
therefore their appointment is tainted. I agree
that confidentiality should be protected but not at the cost of keeping members ignorant
of Council's thwarting their determination to be represented by an independent
Publications Committee. I break the
confidentiality rule because Council unilaterally suspended the normal rules of democratic
I was elected to the Publications Committee to reflect a variety of
perspectives current in our discipline, and to
speak for the diverse interests of its membership. In our deliberations we were following
the directives of Council itself which several years ago urged the Publications
Committee to insure the openness of the
American Sociological Review as our flagship
journal. Yet as soon as we recommend
distinguished editors with new visions that we
believe would enrich our discipline, we are arbitrarily over-ruled without
consultation, discussion or dialogue.
I have every confidence that Professors Wilson and Camic will do an excellent job
as editors of the American Sociological Review
but, through no fault of their own, it will
not be one that reflects the Publications Committee's efforts to carry out its
mandate. I can find no other response but to
publicly resign forthwith from the Publications Committee.
University of California-Berkeley
cc: Members of Council
Members of the Publications Committee
Professor Franklin Wilson
Professor Charles Camic
# # #
June 30, 1999
To: Members of the American Sociological Association
From: Alejandro Portes, ASA President
Subject: Consequences of Letter of Resignation by Professor Michael Burawoy
Professor Michael Burawoy has recently circulated a letter impugning the selection
of the new editors of the American Sociological Review.
In violation of the existing bylaws of the American Sociological Association,
the letter divulges details of the selection process that were meant to be
confidential for the protection of colleagues who
have advanced their candidacies for editorial positions. The letter makes allegations
that represent the author's personal views, but are not substantiated by existing ASA
rules of governance. These rules specify that the Publications Committee makes
recommendations for the selection of new editors,
but that the final decision rests with the elected members of Council.
The recent election of all new editors was conducted in full compliance with existing rules. Recommendations by the
Publications Committee and final decisions by
Council were arrived at by open majority votes. Impartial procedure does not
require unanimity in such votes and the existence
of other deserving candidates in no way invalidates the legitimacy of the
selection. Most Council members deemed the joint proposal submitted by Professors
Charles Camic and Franklin Wilson as the best on the basis of its merit and promise for
the future of ASR.
Professor Burawoy has resigned from the Publications Committee because
he disagrees with this decision. He has the right to do so. He is equally entitled
to propose changes in the selection procedures and lead a drive to that effect. He does
not have the prerogative, however, of unilaterally breaking existing rules and, in
the process, calling into question the legitimacy of duly selected editors. When
becoming part of the Publications Committee, he,
like all officials, agreed to abide by a set of
rules and regulations sent to him upon election.
This breach of confidentiality has jeopardized the integrity of the
selection process and has placed the new editors
of ASR in a difficult position through no
fault of their own. Existing rules of governance are not an idle bureaucratic constraint.
They embody the very spirit of an equitable and democratic process. Without them, the
very existence of this or any other professional association would be compromised. This
is the crux of the problem in this case.
In light of these events, I have taken the following steps:
I have accepted Burawoy's resignation from the Publications Committee.
I have concurred with the Editor of Footnotes
to publish the Burawoy letter. The letter has been circulated so
widely as to make the issue of confidentiality moot at this point.
I have communicated with Professors Camic and Wilson to reaffirm
the legitimacy of their selection and ASA's support for them in their new
I have asked Council to review
Burawoy's letter both for the situation it created
and its substantive content. As a senior scholar in the field, Professor Burawoy
is optimally situated to propose changes meant to improve our rules of
governance. This could have been done without the harm produced by
violation of the bylaws.
Editor's note: See the Council minutes on
pages 13-15 of this issue.