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The Executive Officer’s Column

Annual Meeting Dialogue: Forums for All

Stimulating papers but too few Q&As; quick exchanges in the lobby but too little time to catch up; important discussions started at parties but too many wonderful friends who distract; and finally, an aspirin at bedtime but too little sleep; such experiences are typical of the excitement and frustration of the ASA Annual Meeting. But prominent in the agenda of this year’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco are four major Open Forums for participants to discuss and debate at length several important areas of concern to sociologists and the Association. (See announcement on page 7 of this issue of Footnotes for specific details on speakers, format, time, and place of the Open Forums.) Two of the four topics that are the focus of these Open Forums (the Iraq war and same-sex marriage) have bearing on national policy.

National Dialogue

The war and the President’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage have strong, near-term consequences for our country that will continue to pose ongoing challenges for our governmental democratic processes. Both issues also have been at the center of discourse within the ASA over the past year-and-a-half, and both have generated lively debate within our own social microcosm. These issues have served as the impetus for formal policy statements within other scientific societies as well as our own. The 2003 ASA member-initiated resolution on the war in Iraq and the 2004 member resolution against the proposed constitutional marriage amendment are testament to the importance of these topics to ASA members and to the value of continued discourse on these matters within the Association. Discussion continues in these very pages (see Public Forum on pages 9-10 of this issue of Footnotes) and opportunity for debate will continue further at the separate forums in San Francisco. To facilitate participation of attendees, the format of the forums deliberately confines presenters to brief comments, followed by open discussion.

Academic Dialogue

The concept of accountability has spread like wild fire over the decade since David Osborne and Ted Gaebler published Reinventing Government. The academy has not been spared, nor should it be, but there has certainly been debate and controversy over how to assess academic programs. An ASA Task Force has taken up the challenge and in a third Open Forum at the San Francisco Annual Meeting will seek the wisdom and “war stories” of colleagues who have wrestled with the challenge of knowing what we hope to do and whether we have done it. How can assessment (sometimes a more mandated than voluntary enterprise) be a useful tool to understand our sociology programs and improve them? How can we share tools, successes, instruments, and advice to make assessment useful to the whole discipline? We hope you will join this dialogue.

Association Dialogue

One thing is for sure about controversy within the ASA: there is none over the importance of having a party. Sociologists agree that celebrations are an integral component of life; they only debate what makes the best party! The centenary celebration of the ASA will be, of course, coming next year, and while “100” merely embodies symbolic significance, it is a sufficient excuse for sociologists to party . . . so all of 2005 will be one of celebration and reflection as well as looking forward to our next 100 years as an Association. A fourth Open Forum at the San Francisco Annual Meeting is devoted to a dialogue on how best to celebrate. The Annual Meeting in Philadelphia will include a not-to-be-missed party worthy of the commemoration of ASA’s first 100 years of existence. Join the forum and help plan for that, too!

Finally, the whole Executive Office staff and I look forward to seeing you in San Francisco. The Open Forums are only a small, but engaging, part of the program developed by the 2005 Program Committee under the leadership of President Michael Burawoy, and they reflect the Committee’s commitment to the meeting’s theme of “Public Sociologies.”

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer