FOOTNOTES February 2001
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The Executive Officer’s Column

ASA Council Working for You

Many people came to Washington, DC on the weekend of February 9-11, 2001 to attend the National Basketball Association All Star Game. Not so for the ASA Council that held its winter meeting that weekend in a hotel full of NBA devotees. I am pleased to report that Council remained dedicated to its task and to a thick agenda book of key Association business.

The agenda covered so many different topics with significant implications that I was struck—even more than usual—with the care, thoroughness, and dedication of our elected deliberative body. While coverage of many of Council’s actions will appear in future issues of Footnotes, I highlight five issues here that illustrate the tenor of this meeting and the seriousness of purpose.

Council carefully considered materials on the implementation of the new ASA journal, Contexts. Council sees tremendous opportunities in publishing a magazine of sociological substance that aims to reach broadly across sociology and the social sciences and to interested publics and policymakers. To help ensure that this is done well, Council examined a revised business plan, analyses of resource needs, and a prospectus on the intellectual market niche and the operational activities integral to publishing Contexts (starting in winter 2002). Claude Fischer, University of California-Berkeley, serves as inaugural editor for this journal magazine. With due consideration of the necessary fiscal oversight, Council approved up to $620,000 from the Rose Fund to invest in Contexts’ launch.

ASA will celebrate its centennial year in 2005, and Council recognized that any meaningful commemoration of this event requires advanced planning. In February, Council took a first cut at serious discussion. Members brainstormed ways to make ASA’s 100th year a time not just of celebration, but of stock-taking and looking ahead. Council discussed special publications and products as well as projects that might lead to special events and sessions at the 2005 Annual Meeting. Ideas ranged widely as they need to at this early stage: What about a traveling museum exhibit, a video on sociology, a speaker series directed to the public similar to the Jefferson lecture? President Massey will appoint a Centennial Planning Committee to develop more fully a proposed plan.

Council and the membership have wrestled with the appropriate role and process for the Association to make public policy statements. Typically such requests come in the form of member resolutions. Over the last ten years, three Council subcommittees have worked on this issue. In February, a subcommittee chaired by Richard Alba recommended to Council that the policy adopted provisionally in 1993 and officially in 1996 remain in place. That policy keeps open the range of issues on which ASA take positions, yet ensures that actions are based on sound and sufficient sociological knowledge. In the past, there was no guidance on how Council might assess the sociological material that accompanies a policy recommendation. Taking into consideration the discussion at the Business Meeting last August, the subcommittee recommended that Council retain the capacity to speak broadly, but have the option of appointing a small review panel of persons with appropriate expertise to consider the sociological knowledge. Council affirmed this approach. A fuller report on this issue is scheduled for a future Footnotes.

Key to the Association’s modifying the governance structure in 1998 was the commitment of Council to work more closely with committees and task forces. The introduction of a task force model aimed to put in place a more dynamic process for members undertaking important work and for Council being more attentive to what was being done. The fruits of this ambition were palpable in February when Council engaged in full discussion of reports from seven task forces and four status committees. Council feels keenly that the work of these groups is integral to its own work. In that same spirit, Council reviewed four more proposals for new task forces. While, in considering these proposals, Council (as the elected policymaking body of the Association) needs to exert judgment, it seeks to be receptive to member input. That dynamic unfolded effectively in February. Council deliberated about the “charge” of each of the proposals. In the end, Council approved three of four new task forces; two were very similar to those proposed and one—on the role of postdoctoral training and opportunities—evolved from discussion of one of the proposals itself. These Task Forces and a call for nominations will be in the April issue of Footnotes.

For an association of its size, ASA has more journals than most, and has a “cafeteria plan” where members select the journals they wish to receive and where the majority of members are required to take two. Such a structure is costly to the members and to the Association in comparison to associations that have one or two journals or require all members “take” one journal and elect others. Over time, ASA has added journal choices, and has had cost-of-living dues increases without any separation of the two. With a progressive dues structure, ASA now has among the highest dues (for upper income members) in the social sciences. The Publications Committee, the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget, and Council felt compelled to examine our dues structure and consider changes that could benefit our members and also ensure a dynamic publications program. Council reviewed models for “decoupling” journals from the dues, while keeping changes “revenue neutral” for members who elected to take the same package. Council sees decoupling to have advantages to members. A proposal will be part of a special ballot in September.

While dues changes require a vote of the membership, there is another message behind this special ballot. Council did not want these proposals to appear on the spring ballot because that timeframe precludes face-to-face discussion among members. This topic will be on the agenda of the Business Meeting at the Annual Meeting and also will be a “threaded” discussion in the Member Forum on the ASA homepage. Council showed a similar orientation in considering the recommendation of its Task Force to Reexamine the Committee on Committees (COC) and the Committee on Nominations (CON). Thus far, that Task Force recommended that a modified version of COC be reinstated. While supportive of this change, Council believed this topic, too, should be discussed at the Annual Meeting. It will also be on the September ballot.

Council has shifted in the last years to be a body engaged in a wider band of Association work and yet that puts member input at the core. As we shared this weekend of hard work with basketball aficionados, it was clear the ASA Council was also “standing tall.”—Felice J. Levine