March 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 3

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ASA Council Proposes Revised
Dues Structure For Member Approval

Randall Collins, ASA President,
Erik Olin Wright, ASA President-elect,
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, ASA Immediate Past President,
Catherine White Berheide, ASA Secretary, and
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, Immediate Past ASA Secretary

ASA Council voted unanimously at its February 2011 meeting in Washington, DC, to bring a revised dues structure to the membership for its approval in the May 2011 ASA annual election (see information on candidates). After two years of discussion with the ASA Committee on the Executive Office and Budget (EOB), Council decided that it was necessary to revise the dues structure to make it fairer and more progressive and to provide a new membership category for unemployed sociologists.

Rationale

The income brackets used in the ASA dues structure for regular members have not changed since 1997. Dues amounts have also not increased over this 14-year period, except to reflect inflation. However, the income structure of academic sociologists has changed significantly. Since 1999, for example, the number of ASA members reporting they are in the highest income bracket ($70,000+) has doubled. Their dues amount, however, has increased only by inflation. In constant dollars, the dues paid by members in all income levels have remained about the same for more than a decade.¹

The proposed dues structure does not increase the cost of membership to students or change section dues, and it expands eligibility for becoming a retired (formerly "emeritus") member. If approved by the membership, the new unemployed member dues category would go into effect next year (2012); the rest of the new structure would be implemented a year later in 2013 (see Table 1).

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The Principle of Progressivity

As President-elect Erik Olin Wright describes it as Council’s motivation for revising income brackets is primarily of a concern for fairness. There are two key issues. First, adopted by the membership in the mid-1990s, the top bracket of the dues structure was set at annual earnings of $70,000 and above. Because of inflation and changes in pay structures, 36 percent of ASA regular members reported being in the top income bracket in 2010 while only 17 percent did so at the end of the 1990s. To reflect this change in self-reported incomes by sociologists, Council felt it was important to raise the top income bracket to $150,000 and above and to provide four more finely graded income categories between $70,000 and the new top bracket to reflect the realities of income differentials among members regardless of academic rank or type of professional position.

Second, ASA Council also felt that the dues gradients across all income brackets needed to be more progressive. For many years, ASA members have voted for a progressive, income-based dues structure for regular members while subsidizing the dues of students and emeritus members. It is, of course, as difficult to agree on how to define "fairness" in a membership organization’s dues structure as it is to agree on the more familiar problem of fairness in public taxation.

One broadly accepted principle of fairness in taxation, however, is that everyone should experience the same burden of paying for the state because most taxes are used to pay for public goods which broadly benefit everyone in the society. Because a given amount of money is more valuable to people with lower incomes, the equal burden principle underwrites the idea that the percentage of their income people pay in taxes should increase with income – that is, those with more income should pay more taxes than those with less. To be fully progressive, of course, the taxes people pay should also be a progressively higher proportion of their income as their income rises. While this second aspect of a progressive structure may not be achievable in a membership association that has a narrower range of member income than the overall population, the ASA membership has long endorsed the principle of higher dues for higher income members.

As a scholarly membership association, ASA Council and EOB see much of what dues (and other revenue sources) pay for as a general good of having a professional association that supports the profession of sociology as a whole as well as providing specific services to individual members. In a wide variety of ways, ASA provides professional public goods: It organizes key journals in the discipline; gathers and disseminates data on sociologists and academic departments; provides timely information on the job market for sociologists and brings potential employers and employees together; promotes public dissemination of sociological research through the media; facilitates the building of strong networks among sociologists in the different settings in which sociologists work; organizes the annual national meeting of the profession at which new scholarship is shared; represents the discipline of sociology in the activities of many inter-disciplinary scientific and professional organizations; advocates along with those organizations for increased federal funding for social scientific research and graduate training; and has an experienced staff that responds quickly to public issues affecting the discipline, sociology departments, and individual sociologists.

These are real public goods for the community of sociologists, and thus the equal burden principle has been relevant to the ASA for decades. This is why the membership has voted in the past for a progressive dues structure in which higher-income members pay more in dues than lower-income members, albeit not necessarily a great deal more.

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The Proposed Revision of the Dues Structure

The proposed structure expands the number of income brackets from 6 to 10.

Revision of Benefits under the Proposed Dues Structure

In this new proposed structure, dues and journals are recombined, which is the only proposed change in current member benefits. The new dues amounts will include one journal to be selected as part of the dues. Members will still be able to purchase additional journals and receive the benefit of online access to all ASA journals if they select and pay for a second journal.

Proposed Dues Amounts, beginning 2013

To compare current 2011 dues and the proposed 2013 dues amounts, it is necessary to calculate a single dues amount for 2011 for each income bracket combining the 2011 dues amount with the cost of one journal (in this example, American Sociological Review) with the proposed single amount for 2013 that includes any one journal of choice (see Table 3).

The change in the dues structure proposed by Council for the membership’s approval improves the progressivity of the ASA dues structure in several ways.

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This dues structure regains progressivity lost over the last decade and a half, and leaves some room for upward changes in the salary structure of sociologists. While it spreads the dues burden more fairly, members in the higher income brackets continue to pay a lower percentage of their income in association dues than do those in the lower income brackets.

Next Steps

As noted, this proposal will be presented to the ASA voting membership during the 2011 annual election of ASA national and section leaders (approximately May 15-June 1, 2011).

Meanwhile, please address comments or issues to the ASA officers so they may address them in Footnotes and/or on the ASA website at executive.office@asanet.org with the subject "New Dues Proposal."

Endnotes

  1. 2002, the first year dues were separated from journal purchases, dues for the top income category were $185 in 2011 dollars; dues in 2011 were $189.
    The ASA Bylaws require any change in dues to be voted on by the membership with the exception of cost of living increases. This has kept the dues levels relatively flat in constant dollars since 1997. The membership voted in 2001 to separate the payment for journals from the payment of dues; prior to that, "dues" had included two journals. Dues amounts were adjusted downward in 2002 and the purchase of only one journal was required of all members. The total of these two amounts required for ASA membership was less than the single dues amount including two journals prior to 2002.
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