FOOTNOTES SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2000
homeprev issuesexecpublic affairsSTAFFASA home
 
 

Two Task Forces Meet at Annual Meeting, Seek Member Comments

Task Force on the Committee on Committees and the Committee on Nominations

by Myra Marx Ferree, Task Force Chair

In By-law changes approved by the membership, the Committee on Committees was abolished entirely, and the Committee on Nominations was changed from being a 16-member group elected in eight one-on-one regional contests to being 11 members elected at large from the entire association. Although there were real and pressing problems in the functioning of these committees that were reflected in the Council deliberations and its decision to recommend these changes, a considerable number of members felt that there had not been time enough to really involve the whole body of the members in deliberations over the potential costs and benefits of this restructuring. Some feared that the changes would inadvertently de-democratize the Association by narrowing the networks from which appointments came or making elections reflect only national-level name recognition rather than diverse contributions to the profession in regional associations.

As a result, a special Task Force was appointed by President Feagin to re-visit the changes, to solicit broader participation in considering the intended and unintended consequences of changing these committees, to assess the implications of remaining with the new structure or revising it further, and to make recommendations to Council about what to do next. The members of the Task Force Re-examining the Committee on Committees and Committee on Nominations are Myra Marx Ferree (chair), Bette Dickerson, Diana Kendall, Hernan Vera, Richard Alba, Paula England, Catherine White Berheide and Felice Levine (ex officio). The Task Force considers its goal to be increasing the efficiency, transparency and inclusivity of the work of the association as a whole through the structures by which members come to serve the ASA.

The Committee on Committees (CoC) in its original form was responsible for preparing a ranked list of potential appointees to a long list of committees and responsibilities. Council, meeting in subcommittees, then ratified the ensuing appointment list, sometimes with modifications. There was a widespread perception that the list of positions was over-long and the CoC too large a group to function effectively in matching members to positions. The restructuring of the overall governance process eliminated some committees that had lacked mandates and re-organized the remainder into specific groups: Task Forces (typically appointed by Council, with a call for self-nominations, aimed at accomplishing specific tasks such as ours); Award Selection Committees (one for each of the eight major awards of the entire association, appointed by the overall Awards Committee); Status Committees (currently four, appointed by the President and ratified by Council, but currently consisting of members frozen in place the last time that CoC did appointments); and Constitutional Committees (the Awards Committee, the Committee on Professional Ethics, and the at-large portion of the Committee on Sections, now appointed by the President and ratified by Council). The Program Committee and Executive Office and Budget Committee have always been in the prerogative of the President and Council to appoint. In addition, there are advisory panels and association representatives appointed by the Executive Office in consultation with the President and Council to help provide specific liaison work for ongoing ASA programs and for relations with other scholarly organizations.

The Re-examination Task Force sees the potential work of a CoC, should one be re-constituted, as appropriately limited to the Award Selection, Status and Constitutional Committees. This smaller list of positions still requires a pool of potential appointees that we judge to be too large for any president’s network to fill with sufficient diversity. Qualified members exist in many regions and types of institutions that are outside the range of personal contacts of any one individual. Assembling such a pool appears to us as a job best put in the hands of a reconstituted CoC, but the actual structure to be proposed for this committee is still very much open.

One idea that appeals to the Task Force (and to many members with whom we have discussed it via email or in person) is to propose a new CoC of eight members, four elected at-large and four in seats reserved for specific institutional constituencies (one seat each for members employed by PhD granting institutions, by MA and 4-year institutions, by 2 year schools and by non-teaching institutions), with two at-large and two reserved seats up for election each year. This is an idea on which we would greatly welcome further comment, whether pro or con. The Task Force is also looking at the possibility of institutionalizing mechanisms for producing a pool that would give the new CoC an explicit mandate to consult with sections, existing committee members, affiliated organizations and regional associations in early stages of their work. Ideas for how we might proceed, in this or other directions, are most welcome.

Our discussion regarding the Committee on Nominations (CoN) is less developed at this point. The CoN is responsible for providing ranked lists of candidates to be asked by the Secretary to run for elective office (President, Vice-president, Secretary, Council, Committee on Publications). The Committee on Nominations is itself nominated by the at-large members of Council and elected by the membership. We tend to see the reduction of size of this committee as a good thing, and much-needed move in the direction of making members more conscientious about their responsibilities. Still, there has been concern that the loss of districted elections (sets of paired races in geographic regions) and election from a single, at-large slate has reduced the diversity of members elected to CoN.

This appears to our Task Force to be a complicated problem to address structurally. Regions and geography could play a more prominent role in this process, since members who have held elective office in regional associations or edited regional journals would be good candidates for major ASA offices. Regional association leaders are probably better known in some parts of the country than others and more likely to be nominated and elected if all CoN members are not elected at-large. However, region is only one factor that members would like to take into account when voting for CoN members. Districted races presuppose it is the predominant concern, which it may not be. Districting also may or may not be an effective tool to bring into the nominations process the views and concerns of other under-represented groups, such as practitioners.

The Task Force is thus further from being able to formulate any suggestions for what changes in the electoral system it might recommend, if any. We strongly encourage members to offer us their observations on both the old and new structures of the CoN, comments on how the nominations process has been working, and ideas for potential new electoral systems that we can mull over in the coming year as we work on this thorny structural issue.

Comments on any of these issues can easily be sent to the Task Force via email to any of the members. We have received a number of very constructive emails already, but are eager to hear from more members. We know that there are strong opinions on many of these issues and we appreciate having a diversity of views on the table. We foresee making a report to Council with recommendations regarding the CoC at this January’s Council meeting and extending our work on the CoN into the following year.

Richard Alba (rda73@castle.albany.edu)
Catherine White Berheide (cberheid@skidmore.edu)
Bette Dickerson (bdicker@american.edu)
Paula England (pengland@pop.upenn.edu)
Myra Marx Ferree (mferree@ssc.wisc.edu), chair
Diana Kendall (diana_kendall@baylor.edu)
Hernan Vera (hvera@nersp.nerdc.ufl.edu)
Felice Levine (levine@asanet.org) ex officio

Task Force on Journal Diversity

by Bernice A. Pescosolido, Task Force Chair

On Monday afternoon, August 14, the Task Force on Journal Diversity held an Open Forum at the Marriott Hotel to report on progress to date and receive input from the membership to assist the Task Force in its work. The Meeting was co-chaired by Bernice A. Pescosolido (Indiana University, Task Force Chair) and Carole Marks (University Delaware, Task Force Vice Chair). The meeting began by reviewing the establishment of the Task Force and introducing the appointed members who were able to attend the session. The Task Force was created as a Task Force of the Committee on Publications with the full support of the Council of the American Sociological Association (ASA).

The mandate to the Task Force was to examine issues of diversity, broadly defined, in all ASA journals. The charge in the Open Forum was to listen to critiques of the current situation, listen to suggestion of what the Task Force might consider to do its work (e.g., what data might be useful and how to get it), and finally, to begin the discussion of suggestions and recommendations for improving ASA journals. The Task Force is expected to prepare a report on findings and recommendations for consideration by the Committee on Publications. Upon approval, the report will be sent to Council. The timeline goal for the Task Force’s report to the membership is July 20001 with a follow-up session at the 2001 annual meetings.

Members of the Task Force who were present were introduced and others announced to the audience by Vice Chair Marks. They are Aldon Morris (Northwestern University), Michael Hout (University of California, Berkeley), Linda Burton (Pennsylvania State University), Terry Sullivan (University of Texas, Austin), Rogelio Saenz (Texas A&M University), Dan Chambliss (Hamilton College), Dana Takagi (University of California-Santa Cruz), Ken Land (Duke University), Miguel Carranza (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Susan Ferguson (Grinnell College), Gary Sandefur (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Felice Levine (ASA) who serves ex-officio.

Michael Hout then detailed the historical context surrounding the naming of the Task Force, particularly Council’s deliberations. Dan Chambliss addressed the charge as the members of the Task Force discussed it in a preliminary meeting the evening before. Aldon Morris then followed with his personal views of some of the controversy that led to discussion among the membership, in Council, and on the Publications Committee and outlined his reasons for making the decision to serve on the Task Force.

About 75 members attended the Open Forum and raised important issues. Some of these included concerns about relevance and inclusion (e.g., subfields, editorial boards, editors and reviewers) as well as suggestions for data for the Task Force’s work and for the journal (e.g., increasing page numbers, special sections, expanding opportunities for potential authors and reviewers).

The Task Force welcomes input from individual ASA members, ASA sections, or other interested groups. Written suggestion (outlining problems, offering possible solutions) should be sent to both Bernice A. Pescosolido, Department of Sociology, 744 Ballantine Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405 (pescosol@indiana.edu) and Carole Marks, Department of Black American Studies, University of Delaware, Ewing Hall, Newark, Delaware 19716 (27398@UDel.Edu).