The Executive Officer’s Column
Putting Sociological Principles to Work in Our Departments
Despite working in Washington, DC, for some years, coming to the ASA meant adding to my already vast repertoire of acronyms. I was delighted to find, however, that the very first acronyms to draw my attention as Executive Officer were MOST and IDA because they represent joint, innovative efforts between the Executive Office and sociology departments across the country to enrich sociological education.
MOST—or Minority Opportunities through School Transformation—occupied most of the ASA’s sociology staff’s time in late May, as they prepared for the major conference described on pages 1 and 10 of this issue of Footnotes. Billed as a capstone conference, the June 6-7 event brought the educators and sociologists who have shaped the MOST project and ensured its success together with other social scientists and national leaders. The sessions were excellent in and of themselves, but it was the enthusiasm conveyed by all the participants about the future of higher education in our country that was most energizing. Terry Sullivan, Troy Duster, Nancy Cantor, Joyce Ladner, and Chris Edley all spoke about the need to build upon the demonstrated success of the MOST program, with its core emphasis on inclusivity and excellence, in building our academic departments. The representatives of the 11 MOST schools described their innovations to an engaged audience, while also talking frankly about the stumbling blocks they had overcome in making deep and lasting changes in their institutions. They stayed an extra day to celebrate together eight years of focused work to intentionally change “business as usual” in their departments. With this kind of commitment, it is no wonder that the MOST representatives are eager to meet their colleagues at the Annual Meeting during a special thematic session about the lessons from MOST and to share their accomplishments through the final MOST report that will be released in Chicago.
There was, however, little time for us to bask in the success shared at the MOST capstone event. The next week ASA launched another project centered on departmental change. IDA—Integrated Data Analysis—is a collaborative program between ASA and the Social Science Data Analysis Network (SSDAN) at the University of Michigan. Its goal is to infuse data analysis throughout the sociology curriculum, especially in lower division courses and those not focused on methods. (See page 10.) Drawing on the success of department-centered change strategies, ASA competitively sought sociology departments that were eager to tackle this curricular challenge. Each of the six selected brought half its faculty to the IDA workshops in Ann Arbor to develop course modules using Census data and StudentCHIP. The ASA staff leading the project (Carla Howery, Kerry Strand, and Havidan Rodriguez) reflected on the importance of having a critical mass of faculty working together in order to fundamentally change key elements of the curriculum. Indeed, they observed that the IDA workshops served as a department retreat to enable reflection, planning, arguing, and finally making significant collective decisions about the curriculum. Another six departments will be selected for next summer’s IDA workshops to expand the opportunity for faculty to work together to integrate data analysis into the entire sociology curriculum. During the academic year, IDA staff will make site visits to the participating departments in order to better understand the key principles of change at work and their results. They know the importance of seeing, first hand, the university culture, the faculty who may need convincing about the value of the proposed changes, and most of all, the students. Sociologists understand the importance of institutional context and the IDA project, like MOST, works with those local factors to achieve organizational change and successful outcomes.
I am excited to be at ASA where this type of catalytic activity is occurring between the national association and sociology departments. This column, called “Vantage Point” may give you a glimpse into the view of the profession the ASA Executive Officer is privileged to have as I work closely with and hear from all of you. In my first weeks, however, I am already struck by the number and variety of exciting innovations taking place in our academic departments and how they are based in fundamental sociological principles of organizational change.
Sally T. Hillsman