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Message from ASA Council regarding the dues proposal

Members of ASA Council have asked members to vote on a proposal to change the dues structure in the election beginning May 12, 2011. We are aware that the rationale for the dues proposal that was published in the March Footnotes only partially reflects our discussion of this issue, and the purpose of this statement is to provide more information and clarity.

Other background material is being provided by ASA Secretary Catherine Berheide in three articles in the April issue of Footnotes, which have already been made available to all ASA members. In addition, the ASA webpage includes a section called ASA Forums in which members can share messages on any topic. A new “General” topic has been created (ASA Finances and Member Dues Proposal: Introduction), and we encourage members to use this mechanism to reach all members regarding your opinions or questions about finances in general and the dues proposal in particular. The Forum can be reached directly at http://members.asanet.org/Forums, or indirectly from the “Members” link at the top of the main webpage. We encourage wider discussion of this question, and we hope that the publication of additional information in Footnotes and use of the ASA on-line Forum will facilitate this.

The rationale for the dues increase in the March issue of Footnotes only discussed the question of progressivity. Progressivity was the major theme of discussions about dues in Council in the last three years. Council reviewed several draft proposals during this period. There is consensus that dues are an essential source of association revenue, and that higher dues levels for more affluent members should be used to reduce dues for students, unemployed sociologists, and those with lower incomes. In recent years, most increases in dues revenue other than membership growth came from people who previously qualified for reduced dues but who reached the highest dues level when their incomes rose above $70,000. Increasing incomes for people who already earned above $70,000 did not affect their dues. By establishing additional income categories above $70,000 the proposed dues structure would be more progressive than this.

By the time of the Council meeting in February 2011 a concern about revenues was explicitly added to the discussion. At this point a small budget surplus was expected for 2010 and 2011. Losses in ASA’s investment portfolio (reserve funds) had been largely compensated by the rising stock market. Council approved cost of living increases for staff in the 2011 budget. However, membership declined by about 1000 persons between 2009 and 2010, and dues revenue was projected to be about $100,000 below the 2009 amount. Dues could be made more progressive without much increase in revenue but the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget (EOB, whose voting members are the retiring, current, and newly elected ASA Presidents and Secretaries) argued that the revenue side was essential.

A memorandum from the Executive Officer to Council summarized the dues recommendation of EOB partly in terms of need for additional income: “Although we have proposed a balanced budget for 2011 and have a balanced budget for 2010 despite revenue declines, balance has been achieved exclusively by cutting expenses in all programs and providing no merit raises and only very small cost of living adjustments to staff salaries. At least some of these cuts need to be restored, and support will be needed for additional member services in the future, without relying on uncertain expectations that previous revenue levels will be restored. … [R]evenue needs to be enhanced.”

There is consensus in the Council that the current budget is very tight and there is uncertainty about the future. Rather than consider programmatic cuts that would reduce ASA activities and services, we believe it is preferable to increase revenues from members. The projection is that the proposed dues structure would result in about $200,000 additional revenue in 2011 (a net increase of just under 11%, equal to 3.3% of a total budget of $6 million). This projection assumes that there is no impact on membership renewals. It uses conservative estimates of the distribution of members by income.

There was debate among Council members about the timing of this proposal. Some argued that it would be advisable to wait until improvement in the economy might make a dues increase more palatable to members. Some suggested that more time and opportunity for public discussion were needed to make members better aware of the ASA’s financial situation and of the services and activities that ASA provides. However the motion to accept the EOB recommendation on the new dues structure was passed unanimously.