Against the background of events that have unfolded over the last week, we are writing today to let you know that ASA is monitoring events carefully, has responded to some developments already, and will continue to respond in the future. And we welcome and need your help with this effort.
Which issues fall within the association’s purview?
As human beings and citizens, many sociologists are alarmed by recent developments. However, we acknowledge that there may be a range of opinions on such matters among our members and we respect this plurality of positions as a basic condition for democracy.
As an association, topics on which we can and should take positions concern developments that affect the professional lives of sociologists as well as the conduct of social science research. These include threats to data sharing, data collection, funding for scientific scholarship, academic freedom, and peer review, as well as policies that inhibit the exchange of ideas domestically or internationally. We can also defend the conditions for the exercise of our professional responsibilities, which include free speech, democracy, the rule of law, and the values of diversity and meritocracy. All of these have direct effects on scholarly research and teaching. We can also take positions on public policy issues for which there is clear sociological evidence.
What are we doing right now?
Most immediately, the ASA is taking a firm stance against last week’s Executive Order regarding entry into the United States for people from seven majority Muslim countries. We have co-signed, with many of our sister scholarly societies, a statement written by the American Association for the Advancement of Science which will be released soon. It argues that scientific progress depends fundamentally on an open exchange of ideas and recognizes that the Executive Order will have the effect of limiting interaction among scholars. We will post the statement on our website after it is released.
As sociologists, we oppose this Executive Order because it affects our colleagues and students as well as the conditions for knowledge production. In addition, sociologists have documented and analyzed the ways in which symbolic boundaries are made more rigid and result in the social exclusion of specific groups. This Executive Order targeting specific groups of individuals has effects not only on its immediate victims, but also on how our society understands itself and its orientation toward diversity and human rights.
Also of concern is the potential effect of the Executive Order on participation in the upcoming ASA Annual Meeting in Montreal. We are actively monitoring that issue and will explore every possible avenue to address it. More information will be provided as the situation evolves.
We are also working with several coalitions of scientific and humanistic disciplinary societies to defend the fundamental principles of academic scholarship and the use of empirical evidence in support of public policy. This is especially important at a time when “alternative facts” are offered as “evidence” in regard to challenges to scientific consensus on climate change and other policy issues. We are working with these coalitions to develop immediate and long-term strategies to address issues such as access to data essential to the study of racial discrimination and other forms of inequality and exclusion.
What can you do?
The success of ASA’s efforts relies on the collective work of all sociologists:
First, we ask you to let us know if you learn of threats to academic freedom and expertise and to the professional lives of sociologists (contact ASA Executive Director Nancy Kidd, firstname.lastname@example.org). If you know of a particular scholar or scholarly work that is affected by such threats, please let us know. We can not only make our own case against such threats but also, perhaps even more importantly, reach out to the media regarding people to interview and cases to document. Our actions are embedded in a large network of organizations that are sharing our objectives, and which can be more effective with your collaboration.
Second, if you have expertise in particular areas that are threatened by current and future public policy decisions, please let us know. Such expertise can be crucial in bringing to light the evidence that is needed to sway policymakers. More direct communication between ASA and leading experts will make our work more effective. Please be proactive in this regard.
Third, please be prepared to respond to calls for action. We will be judicious in issuing action alerts calling for members to send letters to their representatives in Congress, but we hope to be able to count on your mobilization when called to action.
For example, today you might want to sign the petition “Academics Against Immigration Executive Order” at https://notoimmigrationban.com, mentioned on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times. Also, you may want to participate in the March for Science which is currently being organized and which the ASA endorses. We will make plans for sociologists to march together as soon as a date is confirmed.
We fully recognized the gravity of the current context and aim to be a leading force in the defense of the values and interests of sociology and sociologists.
Thank you for reading this and for working together as a scholarly community as we confront these emerging challenges.
Michèle Lamont, President
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, President-Elect
Ruth Milkman, Past President
Nancy Kidd, Executive Officer
P.S. Click here for information about some of the related activities in which ASA engaged during the post-election/pre-inauguration period.