FOOTNOTES MAY/JUNE 2000
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The Executive Officer’s Column

ASA’s Member Forum: Join the Talk

The Executive Office staff is in high gear preparations for the 2000 Annual Meeting. The exciting program, summarized in this issue of Footnotes, captures the intellectual vitality of the field and the vision of President Feagin and his Program Committee. While this is the third year that the Preliminary Program is on the ASA homepage (http://www.asanet.org) reaching members and other interested persons, we now have a more powerful full-text search engine that provides much more capacity to “ask” questions and “get” answers about the meeting. This approach is just one of the many ways in which the Executive Office has tried to enhance member communications electronically.

Key to our effort is working with sections. With Association support, all sections have listservs to enhance the exchange of ideas among their members and to broadcast timely and relevant information from section officers to their members. About 30 percent of the sections have quite active listservs that stregthen communication and ties among members. I hope by now members have also had the opportunity to visit the ASA member-only area on the ASA homepage. The member-only space includes a searchable e-mail directory of ASA members, the Directory of Sociology Departments, and the Directory of Aligned Associations. Also, members can verify and change their contact information electronically! By the end of June, Chairs whose departments are Department Affiliates will have access to the member-only area to help connect them to information that they as department chairs should have.

During the July 1999 meeting of the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget (EOB), then President-elect Feagin asked that an open discussion of member communication be on the agenda. Part of that discussion included consideration of the possibility and merits of using internet-based forums, such as discussion groups or chat-rooms and the advantages, disadvantages, and complexities of utilizing the internet to generate discussion, build communication among sociologists, and facilitate communication between the ASA leadership, the ASA Executive Office, and ASA members. EOB’s initial conversation was exploratory, with lots of different issues providing “food for thought.”

The 1999 Annual Meeting, with its packed business meeting and subsequent letters to Footnotes, only furthered the desire of President Feagin and the Council to offer additional ways for members to communicate their views and to talk among each other about important issues facing the Association and the profession. At its 2000 January meeting, Council concluded that an open forum for member discussion could be useful and that the Association should give members (who chose to do so) the capacity to talk with one another. Council passed the following motion:

Motion: That ASA introduce, under the aegis of the Executive Office, a Members’ Forum on the ASA homepage in the member-only area, and that ASA reaffirm that the section listservs should stimulate specialized communication within subfields of sociology. Carried.

How will it work? By July, it will be time to take a look. With Council’s support, we have decided to launch this effort with threaded discussions around topics to be considered at the Annual Meeting. Ultimately we see the Forum as a virtual meeting place for members (members-only) throughout the year. Our hope, at least initially, is to identify and select topics for continuing “threaded discussion.” While the structure of these discussions as well as the discussions themselves will be member-driven, topics will be posted to ensure that there is quality discussion around wide ranging subjects. For each identified area, a member with interests in the topic will be designated as a moderator to lead and take part.

The Member Forum aspires to use technology to promote substantive exchange among members, to generate discussion on key issues or even nascent ideas, and to provide a vehicle where the leadership of the Association can hear directly from members about what they like, seek, and need. It makes sense to start this effort leading up to the Annual Meeting. For learned societies like ASA, the Annual Meeting is the most visible, collective ritual to communicate substantive ideas and develop or reaffirm collegial exchange. Through the Forum, we are now well positioned to view this event as a “peak” moment in a more continuous cycle of interactions.

As we think about the best of what happens at our Annual Meeting, I am pleased that the interactions there can now extend far into the year. Through the Forum, our members can and are encouraged to remain engaged in the Association. Some threaded discussions will reach their natural endings, and others will be launched. But all of these discussions should contribute to our being better connected with current sociological issues and ideas. For members, this is a valuable opportunity to learn and to add your perspectives. For the Association, both those elected and selected to serve can now do so more effectively for having logged on and listened. I too look forward not only to seeing you in August but to being with you in cyber space.—Felice J. Levine