American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
November/December 2019
Volume 
47
Issue 
5

ASA on the Issues: Recent Advocacy Efforts

U.S. Capitol

In recent months, ASA has spoken out on several issues of public interest that affect the well-being of sociology and the ability of sociologists to do their work. Our advocacy efforts are guided by our mission to serve sociologists in their work, advance sociology as a science and profession, and promote the contributions and use of sociology to society. 


Ensuring Evidence-Based Policymaking

In early November, ASA signed a joint letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, along with over 60 scientific societies, universities, and other concerned organizations, expressing strong concern about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” proposed rule. If enacted, this rule would preclude the possibility of using studies for which raw data are not publicly available for policymaking consideration. The letter states: “We support the goal of improving the transparency of science and access to data…However, there are many credible scientific studies where the exposure of raw data to the public is infeasible or would reveal confidential…research participant information…If EPA excludes studies because the data cannot be made public, people may be exposed to real harm. The result would be decisions affecting millions based on inadequate information that fails to include well-supported studies by expert scientists. These efforts will not improve the quality of science used by EPA or allow the agency to fulfill its mandate of protecting human health and the environment.”

Defending Scholarly Expertise

This fall the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) threatened to withhold federal grant money from the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies, arguing that the Consortium had engaged in “unauthorized” activities under Title VI funding requirements. ASA joined about twenty scholarly societies in writing a letter to DOE leadership expressing serious concern about this threat. The letter indicated that the allegation “…appears to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how expertise in foreign languages, cultural competencies, and area and international knowledge in general is obtained. The [DOE] letter also constitutes an unprecedented and counterproductive intervention into academic curricula and programming that threatens the integrity and autonomy of our country’s institutions of higher education.”

Promoting Sociological Insight 

Attempts to counter the spread of white supremacist ideology have mostly relied on legislation and the regulation of social media, and ASA is encouraging policymakers to bring sociological science to the table as well. In a recent media advisory, we articulate some of the ways in which “[s]ociological research helps us to understand white supremacy at many levels—from how people are recruited to how the movement operates and spreads ideas nationally and internationally, and from how violence is cultivated to the structural contexts in which white supremacy emerges.”  In the advisory, “ASA condemns white supremacy in all of its manifestations [and] urge[s] policymakers concerned with this issue to avail themselves of sociological research that will assist in responding to the problem.”

Supporting the Right to Organize

ASA sent a comment to the Federal Register in response to a National Labor Relations (NLR) Board proposed rule “…that students who perform any services for compensation, including, but not limited to, teaching or research, at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not ‘employees’ within the meaning of…the [NLR] Act.” We objected to this rule, noting that “[the NLR] Act’s purpose is to guarantee the right to union representation and to collective bargaining for American workers. In 1935, when the Act was passed by Congress, universities were a much smaller part of the U.S. economy. Today they are massive institutions which carry out a wide variety of activities and regularly employ individuals in a variety of capacities who are also students. Those individuals are not different in any relevant way from other employees covered by the NLRA.”

Protecting Our Colleagues

When our sociologist colleagues at Wake Forest University were sent threatening emails because of their research and their commitment to diversity and inclusion, ASA released a statement of support saying “[t]hese attacks are targeting sociologists for their leadership in anti-racist demonstrations and for their research into the sale of enslaved people that funded the school’s endowment. Members of the sociology community from historically marginalized populations, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ community, are being singled out for attack. These attacks fundamentally jeopardize the intellectual heart of sociology and the wellbeing of sociologists and our students. ASA condemns, in the strongest possible terms, efforts intended to threaten, harass, and silence sociologists and other scholars conducting research on racism in society. The ASA is committed to actively promoting and supporting diversity and inclusion among our faculty and student populations.”

Fighting for Robust Federal Investment in Research

We routinely advocate for federal research funding, often in partnership with sister disciplinary societies and other relevant organizations. In recent months, for example, we have sent joint letters to the leadership of appropriate congressional committees urging them to ensure robust enacted levels of funding for the 2020 budget for the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fall we also urged Congress to complete the FY20 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill before the Continuing Resolution now funding those agencies expired. And we worked with partner organizations on an effort to encourage the National Science Foundation to fund its graduate research fellowship programs at a steady level in the coming year. 

ASA’s advocacy, whether spearheaded by our own association or in coalition with others, is guided by a mandate to advance our discipline. In the current polarized environment, which is often hostile to academia and science, we strive to make our discipline’s voice heard on a range of issues critical to the ongoing strength of sociology. For more on some of these issues, visit www.asanet.org/news-events/asa-issues