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The Executive Officer’s Column

2006 Chair Conference to Focus on Graduate Education

First There Were Chair Conferences . . .

For 13 years the ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program has sponsored a day-and-a-half-long conference for chairs of sociology departments at each Annual Meeting. This dedication of time and space reflects the importance ASA places on chairs as key leaders in the profession, operating at the critical intersection of the discipline and the university. The ASA Chair Conference is designed to support the important work of chairs by providing them with data, briefings on key trends in the field, relevant ASA projects, and most of all, a time to talk with one another.

. . . Then There Were DGS meetings . . .

Eight years ago, operating on the same logic, ASA began a shorter conference at the Annual Meeting for Directors of Graduate Study (DGS). The position of graduate director varies considerably from university to university. Often, the position has little definition, and sometimes the activities of the DGS receive only limited support within the university community. The DGS conferences have typically assembled 20-30 sociologists who fill these important but often difficult roles, and they have enthusiastically shared their disparate experiences and their growing wisdom about admissions, funding, mentoring, and student placement, among other issues, in an always-changing university and disciplinary environment.

At every ASA Chair Conference there are sessions of the whole, but the chairs also break into groups for schools offering the same terminal degree. This strategy has reflected the importance of "context" that is always evident as chairs talk about similar specific issues such as hiring, adjuncts, working with staff, working with administration, new expectations on chairs, ethics, and other topics. Chairs in very small or very large departments, those offering a BA only, or those with PhD programs find the discussion of specific issues more fruitful with similarly situated colleagues.

. . . Now There Is a Combined Synergy

The 2006 ASA Annual Meeting will be special in many ways, not the least of which is that we will be in the very special city of Montréal, Québec, Canada, with the synergy of U.S., Canadian, and Québecois sociology! The sociology chairs and DGS will find additional synergy with an experiment to bring the most successful elements of past chair and DGS conferences together. The Chair Conference will be extended to a full day on the day before the ASA meeting (August 10) and a half day on August 11. In the afternoon of August 10, the chairs will be grouped by type of institution/highest degree offered. The graduate program chairs will meet all afternoon with the Directors of Graduate Study. The objective is to invigorate a strong focus on the "state of graduate education" including ways to share information regularly and focus on areas for improvement. Chairs at undergraduate institutions and departments will meet together to talk about pertinent undergraduate education trends, promising practices, and where they want to lead their programs. All chairs will convene again on August 11 for the final half day of discussion around common themes.

Given graduate programs' close linkage to undergraduate programs, ASA will reach out to encourage the participation of a departmental representative (such as the chair of the undergraduate committee) to attend the "undergraduate chair breakout" session with DGS as those programs meet with the graduate chairs.

Expanding Resources for Chairs and DGS

At previous ASA Chair Conferences, we have included segments on research completed, underway, or being planned by the ASA Research and Development Department to provide new and relevant data to chairs (e.g., trends in faculty salaries, enrollments, department organization, women and minorities in the pipeline). The ASA research program is able to provide these data because of the collaboration with DGS and chairs. The Chair Conference has been an important opportunity for synergy between the ASA program of research and chairs, fostering better designed research that meets chairs' needs. For example, department chairs have vetted questions included in our recent "BA and Beyond" survey (i.e., What Can I Do with a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology?), engaged their departments in the study, and participated on an advisory panel to the survey. This summer we expect to discuss issues of importance to chairs such as faculty retirements and replacements for the upcoming department survey.

Resources from the Chairs/DGS meetings will be added to the increasingly rich resource of information available on the ASA website for sociologists having administrative responsibility. Indeed, at their urging, ASA's new website has a top navigation bar menu button (labeled "Sociology Depts") especially for chairs. The upcoming Montréal meeting of sociology DGS and chairs will provide an opportunity for us to explore how the department survey can be improved when it is administered in fall 2006.

An Invitation

Join us in Montréal and join us at the Chair/DGS Conference on August 10, the day preceding the start of the Annual Meeting. An extra day in beautiful, exciting Montréal in August is anything but a hardship and neither is time spent with colleagues who share similar responsibilities for leadership in the discipline.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer