The Executive Officer’s Column
The 2001 ASA Annual Meeting:
A Four-Day Event
Now that another very successful Annual Meeting is behind us, we are turning our energy full force to 2001 and to the first steps of planning 2002. Key to creating a meeting that addresses the needs of our members and the discipline is to be reflective about our past and anticipate creatively our future. Program committees and ASA Council have had a history of offering new opportunities to attendees and to making changes that respond to how ASA members work, communicate, and prefer to meet.
Just in the 1990s alone, as Annual Meetings have grown (from 3,000 to almost 5,000 participants), change was desirable both to retain a sense of community and keep pace with new ideas. For example, there are now major poster sessions on funding opportunities, data resources, and graduate training programs. Town meetings on high profile or cross-cutting issues are also prominent features of the Program (e.g., on the African American boycott in Miami in 1993 or on Census 2000 in 2000). Session organizers are also designing sessions using strategies that reduce or eliminate the time devoted to simply reading papers and that expand the time available for questions and comments. Community, of course, is also built on informal communication and just plain schmoozing. . . .so Café ASA was inaugurated in 1994 and lives on!
The Program Committee for the 2001 Annual Meeting has been working now for over a year to plan a meeting that will attract and meet the needs of the sociological community coming to Anaheim, California in August. (The Call for Papers outlining the rich opportunities for participation is about to go to press and should be in your hands soon!) Over the last few years, based on informal discussion with ASA members, meeting attendees, and those who attend and plan the annual meetings of other learned societies, we have thought it might be time to reassess the five-day meeting and compress into a four-day mode. ASA is unusual in having a five-day meeting, and members and exhibitors have often expressed concerns about the meeting length and no longer being able to attend the entire meeting.
While the idea of holding the Annual Meeting over four days has been percolating up as a possibility now and again, it was specifically discussed as an option this year by the 2001 Program Committee, the Committee on the Executive Office and Budget, and the 2000-2001 ASA Council. In each of these discussions, there was attraction to planning a somewhat shortened meeting and to potentially increasing the proportion of ASA members who routinely come. Although the idea for this change did not originate with the 2001 Program Committee, Committee members thought that a four-day model could work for Anaheim. After considerable discussion, the ASA Council in August approved this change for 2001. Council thought that a shorter meeting would maximize the presence of participants over more days of the meeting, increase the number of participants over the same days, and reduce member costs. Council thought that having more participants together at the same time and space is at the heart of what this annual ritual is all about because it both enhances professional opportunities for individual members and adds to the vitality of sociology and its specialty areas (organized at ASA into sections).
Since returning after the Annual Meeting, Janet Astner, Director of Meeting Services, and I have been examining the best ways of putting this change in place, including how to alter the section rotation schedule to maximize the benefit of this change to sections. Janet has most ably investigated space options with the Anaheim facilities and how best to restructure the program to serve participants and the goals of the program committee and sections. Our goal was to introduce this change consonant with the best interests of sections and provide an opportunity for input from section officers before a new rotation schedule is finalized. This process of thinking and rethinking, with opportunity for input from sections, is now almost final as Footnotes goes to press.
A number of factors were closely examined during the process of grouping 40+ sections onto four days. These included requests and suggestions received from section chairs; the number of overlapping memberships between the various sections; the need to have a balanced distribution of large to small section programs each day; concern about the intersection of topic and interest areas; and, when possible, minimizing the assignment shifts across the convention week. There were no perfect solutions, but we believe that the new rotation schedule established in consultation with section chairs and chair-elects can work effectively for meeting participants, for sections, and for promoting continued synergism across the discipline.
The fruit of this effort to transform the 2001 Annual Meeting from a five- to four-day event will be evident in the Call for Papers and through information on the meeting available on the ASA homepage (http://www.asanet.org). A key reason for making this change is to serve those who year-after-year participate in the Annual Meeting and also to bring newcomers (at every career stage) to participate this coming year. In unfolding this new model for the Annual Meeting, many deserve our thanks and appreciation. Most importantly, this change could not have been achieved were it not for the care and conceptual understanding of ASA that Janet Astner brings to her role. Also, I want to thank our section leadership for both their openness to change and their willingness to provide feedback and support to make this happen.
Under the able leadership of President Doug Massey, the 2001 Program has developed a meeting of breadth, substance, and opportunity. Now the rest largely rests with all of us to propose good ideas in response to the Call, participate fully, and urge others to do so. To that end, we look forward to your input, help, and presence.—Felice J. Levine