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The Executive Officer’s Column

On the Importance of Being Engaged in ASA

I am pleased to report that the state of the discipline of sociology is excellent and that the vitality of the Association as a membership organization and as the national voice of the discipline can be seen in all aspects of our activities. You, the members of ASA, are the vital force behind these achievements, as made evident by your roles in departments and universities, research and practice, the public sphere, and your engagement in the Association.

The excellent state of the discipline and Association

Bachelor’s degrees in sociology have steadily increased over the last 20 years and the awarding of doctoral degrees has recovered well from the declines of the 1980s and early 1990s. Grant awards to sociology for scientific research have increased steadily and scholarly productivity is high. In the Association’s centennial year, the National Science Board recognized for the first time a sociologist, Dalton Conley, as winner of the coveted Alan T. Waterman Award. ASA membership has continued to grow and will soon reach historically high levels. Section memberships have mushroomed as members have increased their activity in the Association. Submissions to ASA journals are up and their quality is high, and the website logged almost two million page hits in April alone.

The sociological energy at Annual Meetings

Annual Meetings in the last several years have had record attendance. Most important, session organizers for the 2006 Program Committee of President Cynthia Fuchs Epstein received a record number of paper submissions for the Montréal meeting. It will undoubtedly be another outstanding meeting of ASA members and sociologists from North America and across the globe.

You are needed

As always, however, there are clouds which we have reported often in Footnotes and in this column. As I write, the Chair of the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (which has jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation [NSF] authorization), Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), suggested it might be time to remove the social, behavioral, and economic sciences from NSF. The hearing was, in the eyes of social science observers, “not a pretty sight.” The sociology discipline thrives, however, and in the professional and public spheres, members of the Association and staff will confront this challenge together as we have confronted others.

The centrality of the Association

The Association represents a primary source of engagement in and support of the sociological profession. Its community provides each of us intellectual stimulation and validation, a source of professional identity, and a structure and system for achieving individual career and communal goals. ASA’s functions are thus complementary to or an extension of our sociological workplaces. Within each of these domains leaders emerge who help us all achieve agreed-upon goals, both personal and organizational.

The importance of your participation

Nearly 1,000 ASA members hold volunteer leader positions within the governance and journal publication infrastructure of the Association. These include, among others, Council, editorial boards, award selection committees, annual meeting program committees, as well as ASA section councils and committees. This is a high number of volunteers and they are the ones who make the Association work. Some positions require only a few hours of work each year, while others require many. But none of this work is just “free labor” for the Association; rather it is engagement in the mission of the sociological community, and it makes a great deal of difference to the profession, the discipline, and the members.

It makes a real-world impact

Members volunteer to make decisions about who will become an ASA Minority Fellow from the many applications the program receives. Members decide who will receive Student Travel Grants to the annual meetings, and to the International Sociological Association. Volunteers review and read dozens of dissertations nominated for the Association’s dissertation award, read the many books nominated for the annual book award, and decide all the major professional honors awarded by the ASA. Members volunteer huge amounts of time to review submissions to the ASA journals, determining the journals’ scholarly content. Members volunteer to develop the Association’s teaching materials and work on committees that produce important reports for the discipline. These professional rewards and intellectual materials matter to a great many sociologists, to the strength of the discipline, and to the standing of your Association.

ASA sections are at the heart of the on-going intellectual exchange within the Association. Members provide contact with the sections’ many peer networks. Motivated volunteers keep these communities active and productive year round and more are needed to fulfill the many opportunities for engagement in ASA’s 44 sections. The sections are a major venue for developing our association’s student leaders.

Putting your name forward

The ASA is an association of, by, and for its members, so it is imperative that members be involved. Everyone suffers from a severe shortage of time, but your peers appreciate, recognize, and applaud those who give of their time to lead within the ASA. Members who serve on nominations bodies encourage other members to put themselves forward as someone willing to serve by running for office, and they encourage sections to bring new names forward. This outreach helps nominating committees get new membership. This is essential to successfully overcoming any organization’s tendency to rely on those who have already had the opportunity to show their commitment.

The Association is you, not they

“Why did they do that?” It is important that members from diverse professional settings and backgrounds and diverse social backgrounds step forward to express their interest in running for office, serving on committees, and being active in sections. They needs to be you. The 2006 Annual Meeting in Montréal provides this opportunity. Let the Executive Office know now that you are available and willing, because the nominating committees will meet in Montréal. Please also go to section business meetings in Montréal and volunteer. Your Association will be richer and more effective for your participation. “Thank you” to all who are serving or have served, and to those who have yet to serve, the time is right and your talents are needed.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer