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The Executive Officer’s Column

Keeping the Window Open

As I approached my last column as Executive Officer, I reflected on how best to say an official farewell. For me, it remains the metaphor of the “Open Window.” The test of an Executive Officer is how good he or she sees, hears, learns, listens, and leads. To that end, the “Open Window,” I hope, has served us well.

This “Window” has permitted the entry of much knowledge, many creative voices, and important connections to the rich discipline of which we are all a part. Some of the sites and sounds are direct, some clear, some truly profound, and some even shrill. From whatever the source, I have learned to value the “fresh air” of all input. Crafting goals, shaping directions, and seizing upon the “windows of opportunity” are challenging tasks. I have no doubt that what we have done together in the Association and on behalf of the discipline has been the product of this interaction and this mix.

My impulse, then, in this, my last column is to “Open [the] Window” and shout, “Thanks, and thanks, and ever more thanks.” Thanks for the opportunity to work with you and for you. Every member plays a vital role in the Association and in the discipline, and those who have added their talents through service have only doubly contributed to what ASA has been able to do. To staff, thanks seems hardly sufficient—even if I shout! The Executive Office has the benefit of able and committed professionals at all levels who make ASA go. As I have become a student of learned societies and what we aim to do, I am so proud to be a part of this Association and want to say that “loud and clear!”

I came to the Association in 1991 when Beth Hess was ASA Secretary and chaired the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget (EOB) that conducted the search. What a privilege it has been to work with Secretaries Beth Hess, Arlene Daniels, Terry Sullivan, Florence Bonner, and now Arne Kalleberg. If that in itself is not enough, as Executive Officer and as sociologist, I reaped the benefit of working hand-in-hand with ASA Presidents Stan Lieberson, Jim Coleman, Marty Lipset, Bill Gamson, Amitai Etzioni, Maureen Hallinan, Neil Smelser, Jill Quadagno, Alex Portes, Joe Feagin, Doug Massey, Barbara Reskin, and Bill Bielby. Having long subscribed to the policy that one should never let go of good advisors, you can only imagine why I might have looked better with every passing year! Thanks to all of our leadership for giving unlimited access to their “windows”—both virtual and real.

Over the years, we have sought to be clear about the “unique window” of a national learned society for the discipline and the members it serves. The ASA has defined its goals as serving all sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions and use of sociology to society. In reflecting on this sense of mission and purpose, I returned to my first “Open Window” column (October 1991) to see how I depicted what we are as well as our hopes and dreams:

  • The Annual Meeting loomed large in that column as a forum for rich engagement with substantive issues, across sectors and approaches of our science. The aspiration of growing to have a meeting that is more inclusive became more of a reality each year. The explicit emphasis in 2002 on educational programming at the meeting (courses, seminars, workshops) is an important new phase in interpreting this mission.
  • In that column too, having navigated a controversial ASA Annual Meeting exhibit, I wrote that “how we handle difficult and controversial issues provides perhaps the best measure of ASA’s character.” We are happily not just a discipline that asks challenging questions, we are also one willing to challenge itself to change and to grow. Over my 11 years, I have seen our members and leadership confront difficult issues with immeasurable character and integrity.
  • I also addressed back in 1991 the Association’s important commitment to developing a forum of substantive communication that would engage the full discipline—whether in teaching, research, or practice—and beyond. Over the decade, the goal was kept alive even when an early attempt did not succeed. It is a moment of special pleasure that all of our members have just received the inaugural issue of Contexts, in every respect an exemplar of this goal.
  • My column also addressed the importance of advancing sound research, science, and education policy vital to both sociology and society. I wrote this at a time when politics had just led to the cancellation and deferment of federally-funded studies in violation of scientific review and merit. Over the years, whether on issues of data access and data sharing, human rights protections for scholars, or ethical considerations in the conduct of research, the Association has been staunch in its engagement and supportive of our advocacy.
  • In that first “Open Window,” I wrote about the future depending upon our capacity to attract and train the next generation and to engage in educating a public to be more sociologically literate. The Minority Fellowship Program was already a “jewel in ASA’s crown” for how it contributes to excellence and inclusiveness in the discipline. It has been a privilege almost beyond expression to have served that Program over the years. As importantly, in that column, I spoke of the ambition of expanding the presence of sociology to secondary and even primary education. ASA backed this ambition over the years and now has an very talented Task Force in place developing an AP-type course to enrich the high school curriculum.

It was not just a “window,” but the “Open Window” that helped make it happen. It is a metaphor quite in keeping with the openness, critical eye, and question asking that is so centrally a part of the sociological lens. It is what contributed and sustained my years in office. For that I am grateful to sociology and to ASA, with forever a special place in my heart.

-Felice J. Levine