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The Executive Officer’s Column

Membership as a Public Good

While many of you renew your ASA membership as a matter of conviction (or habit), I am also sure that, with ever-increasing professional and personal challenges, many colleagues also calculate the broader benefits to the profession that their ASA membership permits. With nearly four decades of personal membership in the Association, I am unbridled in my enthusiasm for these broader advantages we reap by being a part of the ASA community. But some of these benefits that you, your colleagues, and students receive throughout the year, are not always visible.

This is budget-planning season at ASA, a source of feedback about an organization’s priorities. As I scrutinize the budget and plan ASA’s calendar, I am struck by the breadth of activities ASA undertakes for the good of the field. Your membership sustains this commitment of work, not only by ASA staff but also by your elected leaders, and the many members who volunteer scarce professional time to benefit us all.

A steady stream of news items about some of these efforts appears on ASA’s main homepage. Unlike the New York Times, we cannot post “All the news that’s fit to print.” While we hope you check the website regularly, and read the new monthly ASA News and Notes email and Footnotes, we know you are not glued to your computer. So I share here and in the January Vantage Point, some of ASA’s recent activities that have added value to our field through your ASA membership.

Plugged in at the National Level

Professional ethics, Institutional Review Boards, and human subjects protection continue to present challenges. ASA is helping fill the training needs. In October, for example, Deputy Executive Officer Carla Howery and I participated in the Society for Applied Sociology (SAS) annual meeting at which I and members of ASA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) conducted a well-attended workshop. The challenges we addressed on human research were engaging. We also gained immensely from interchange with SAS members on professional development issues and curricular innovations that will help guide future ASA work. I also conducted a human subjects session at the American Society of Criminology in November and explored new ways in which criminologists and sociologists can work together.

Connected with State, Regional, and Departmental Roots

It is essential for ASA staff sociologists to keep abreast of issues important to colleagues active at the state and regional levels. Thus, ASA Minority Affairs Program Director Mercedes Rubio participated in the Mid-south Sociological Association meeting, exploring their needs and activities and recruiting applicants for ASA’s Minority Fellowship Program. She will also be participating in the Population Association of American meetings to keep in touch with colleagues in demography. Carla participated in the Sociologists of Minnesota and the Wisconsin Sociological Association this fall and she, Mercedes, Roberta Spalter-Roth, and I will participate in other state and regional meetings. Some members of these associations are not able to attend the ASA Annual Meeting, and our visits are one vehicle through which the Executive Office can keep a finger on the pulse of sociologists and departments across the country.

State and regional colleagues were especially delighted that ASA President Michael Burawoy was able to speak at five state sociological society meetings this fall. At each, he and ASA staff met enthusiastic and talented sociologists wishing to contribute to the efforts of that association as well as ASA. Their work demonstrates the important ways in which sociology contributes every day to scientific knowledge and the public good. Watch forthcoming Footnotes for more about this.

ASA staff work continuously to support individual departments as they develop and advocate for new curricula, degree programs, and teaching strategies at their institutions. ASA occasionally also provides emergency assistance to departments facing cutbacks or even elimination. You won’t always hear about these, but ASA is there when needed. Similarly, for the individual sociologist, ASA works behind the scenes for the public good, collegiality, and integrity of our profession and departments through COPE, which helps individuals resolve specific problems.

On the International Scene

Executive Office staff is working with the American Association for the Advancement of Science on a new strategy for providing services to scientists, university departments, and professional societies dealing with the increasing number of international human rights cases and problems with international scientific and educational travel. And, ASA is facilitating President Burawoy’s work to include a substantial number of international scholars in the 2004 Annual Meeting and a Council sub-committee on international issues promoting collaboration with the International Sociological Association and international scholars for ASA’s centennial. Burawoy and I also have worked with other American sociologists to support European sociology departments that are facing elimination.

Guiding Education

In early 2004 the ASA Task Force on the Advanced Placement (AP) Course in Sociology, chaired by ASA Vice President Caroline Persell, culminates its work, with new curricula and demonstration projects around the country, especially in inner-city schools that traditionally lack AP courses. The ASA Research Program’s next survey will track a cohort of sociology PhDs to learn about their job experiences, and will continue to make data available from the departmental survey to help sociology departments with peer comparisons and planning. ASA members will join Council, staff, and the Program Committee of President-elect Troy Duster to craft the events for ASA’s centennial year.

Any one of these activities may not directly affect you and your work today, but I hope that we are targeting important topics that strengthen the field of sociology and your pride in it. That’s an equation that I hope shapes your decision to enhance your participation in the Association’s activities during 2004.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer