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Public Forum

June 15, 1999

Dear President Portes:

Since late February, I and my colleagues on the Publications Committee have been wrestling with a response to Council's peremptory reversal of our recommendations for the editor of the American Sociological Review. As you know, we sent forward two candidates; Council rejected both and installed its own. This complete reversal of the appointment decision of the Publications Committee, an elected body representative of the membership, is unprecedented in the history of the association. I have listened to you and my colleagues on the Publications Committee but I still find resignation the only appropriate response.

While Council was formally within its rights to over-rule the Publications Committee, this was nonetheless an egregious violation of substantive accountability, rendering our extensive work null and void. Council did not explain its action, nor did it request a consultation with us regarding our choice, nor did it return the appointment to our committee for reconsideration and/or further recommendations. It simply chose a different editor, based on a short discussion in the midst of a whole host of other business. What is the point of our ongoing explorations of the trajectory of each journal, our decisions about how to insure their continued high quality, our careful examination of each candidate, and then our lengthy deliberations, if Council summarily overturns them?

Only two years ago the membership was asked whether the Publications Committee should be appointed by Council. The membership voted to continue the practice of electing the Publications Committee. I take this to be a mandate to maintain our independence of Council. The membership should know that their injunction has been ignored. To keep silent would be to compound the already flagrant transgression of substantive democracy.

I have listened to those who have argued that making the membership aware that Council had over-ridden the recommendations of the Publications Committee would violate the confidentiality of the process and the rights of candidates to anonymity. It will be known that new editors of the ASR were not chosen by the Publications Committee and that therefore their appointment is tainted. I agree that confidentiality should be protected but not at the cost of keeping members ignorant of Council's thwarting their determination to be represented by an independent Publications Committee. I break the confidentiality rule because Council unilaterally suspended the normal rules of democratic decision making.

I was elected to the Publications Committee to reflect a variety of perspectives current in our discipline, and to speak for the diverse interests of its membership. In our deliberations we were following the directives of Council itself which several years ago urged the Publications Committee to insure the openness of the American Sociological Review as our flagship journal. Yet as soon as we recommend distinguished editors with new visions that we believe would enrich our discipline, we are arbitrarily over-ruled without consultation, discussion or dialogue.

I have every confidence that Professors Wilson and Camic will do an excellent job as editors of the American Sociological Review but, through no fault of their own, it will not be one that reflects the Publications Committee's efforts to carry out its mandate. I can find no other response but to publicly resign forthwith from the Publications Committee.

Yours Sincerely,

Michael Burawoy
University of California-Berkeley

cc: Members of Council
Members of the Publications Committee
Professor Franklin Wilson
Professor Charles Camic

# # #

June 30, 1999

To: Members of the American Sociological Association

From: Alejandro Portes, ASA President

Subject: Consequences of Letter of Resignation by Professor Michael Burawoy

Professor Michael Burawoy has recently circulated a letter impugning the selection of the new editors of the American Sociological Review. In violation of the existing bylaws of the American Sociological Association, the letter divulges details of the selection process that were meant to be confidential for the protection of colleagues who have advanced their candidacies for editorial positions. The letter makes allegations that represent the author's personal views, but are not substantiated by existing ASA rules of governance. These rules specify that the Publications Committee makes recommendations for the selection of new editors, but that the final decision rests with the elected members of Council.

The recent election of all new editors was conducted in full compliance with existing rules. Recommendations by the Publications Committee and final decisions by Council were arrived at by open majority votes. Impartial procedure does not require unanimity in such votes and the existence of other deserving candidates in no way invalidates the legitimacy of the selection. Most Council members deemed the joint proposal submitted by Professors Charles Camic and Franklin Wilson as the best on the basis of its merit and promise for the future of ASR.

Professor Burawoy has resigned from the Publications Committee because he disagrees with this decision. He has the right to do so. He is equally entitled to propose changes in the selection procedures and lead a drive to that effect. He does not have the prerogative, however, of unilaterally breaking existing rules and, in the process, calling into question the legitimacy of duly selected editors. When becoming part of the Publications Committee, he, like all officials, agreed to abide by a set of rules and regulations sent to him upon election.

This breach of confidentiality has jeopardized the integrity of the selection process and has placed the new editors of ASR in a difficult position through no fault of their own. Existing rules of governance are not an idle bureaucratic constraint. They embody the very spirit of an equitable and democratic process. Without them, the very existence of this or any other professional association would be compromised. This is the crux of the problem in this case.

In light of these events, I have taken the following steps:

  • I have accepted Burawoy's resignation from the Publications Committee.

  • I have concurred with the Editor of Footnotes to publish the Burawoy letter. The letter has been circulated so widely as to make the issue of confidentiality moot at this point.

  • I have communicated with Professors Camic and Wilson to reaffirm the legitimacy of their selection and ASA's support for them in their new editorial role.

  • I have asked Council to review Burawoy's letter both for the situation it created and its substantive content. As a senior scholar in the field, Professor Burawoy is optimally situated to propose changes meant to improve our rules of governance. This could have been done without the harm produced by violation of the bylaws.

    Editor's note: See the Council minutes on pages 13-15 of this issue.