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The Executive Officer’s Column

Thank You, Felice

This “Open Window” column is not written by Felice J. Levine, but about her. The Association is in her debt for her leadership of the ASA Executive Office for 11 years, and for the significant changes she has brought for our collective benefit.

“The staff sociologists should be the full time eyes and ears of the discipline and profession,” Felice would say to new staff. “We need to dedicate ourselves to the development of the field.” This mantra guided her own work, of course, as she tirelessly took on many challenges, all for the good of sociology. “Tirelessly” is a key adjective that describes Felice. Many of us who worked closely with her were struck by e-mails sent in the middle of the night, and follow up work that she did over many a weekend.

Felice moved the ASA to a new level as a professional association. Soon after her arrival she engaged in a strategic planning process in consultation with the Committee on Executive Office and Budget and with the Council. The result was the articulation of three goals for the Association that would guide our work for the next decade: “Serving sociologists in their work;” “Advancing sociology as a science and a profession;” and “Promoting the contributions and use of sociology to society.” As a membership organization, ASA had centered its work on the first goal. Felice, with her background at the American Bar Foundation and the National Science Foundation, charted new territory in outreach to policymakers, fellow scientists, and the public. The work of the staff sociologists became more focused and effective, organized around six core programs: Academic and Professional Affairs, Minority Affairs, Research on the Discipline and Profession, Public Information, Public Affairs, and the Spivack Program on Applied Social Research and Social Policy.

As ASA has grown over the years, its organizational structure resembles a remodeling job—many new pieces added on, for good reason, but not always resulting in a streamlined “whole.” One of Felice’s favorite phrases is “let’s step back” which is always a preface to taking on a challenge in a comprehensive fashion. She frequently “stepped back” and “moved forward” to improve the governance structure of the Association. Drawing on her own background in sociology of law and her commitment to ethics in science, she led a major revision of the ASA Code of Ethics. The new version, crafted by the Committee on Professional Ethics and approved by a vote of the ASA membership, was a much more explicit, user-friendly, and up-to-date document.

ASA’s committee structure had grown like topsy for many years, and was cumbersome and costly. She led a review of which committees should be retained, and which should be phased out and replaced by a Task Force structure. The Task Force model, now in place, presents a compelling “charge” for a motivated and skilled group to address and complete quickly for Council’s consideration. ASA now depends on member volunteers whose talents it taps with more significant and timely results.

Selling the Executive Office building at 1722 N Street was another major “move” for the Association. Felice found new office space that would be “built to suit” and then carefully thought through the link of form and function. She created a new office environment that is functional, affordable, and attractive.

In response to members’ concerns about the cost of dues and subscriptions, Felice led the way in an initiative to decouple ASA dues from the cost of subscribing to the Association’s journals. With strong support of members, this decoupled structure now exists.

Within the beltway, Felice has been a major mover in helping other sciences and disciplines, as well as policymakers and agencies, know of the significance of sociological work. Under the Spivack Program, she shepherded a half dozen congressional briefings that presented sociological research on timely topics. These briefing events were captured in the Issue Series briefs, publications that summarized the briefing and the resources prepared for them. These briefs are used in classrooms as well as in Congress. They have helped to put ASA and sociology “on the map” and in the Rolodex of many important groups whose work will be enriched by our discipline. The ASA has a representative on the Census Advisory Board, for example. Felice herself was tapped to lead the Consortium of Social Science Associations’ Executive Board and a key committee on protection of human subjects. The ASA now has a significant investment in public information, with a strong media presence at the Annual Meeting, and a year-round strategy to issue press releases on important sociological articles and findings.

As a writer and editor, Felice is prolific. She edits anything and everything, including her own work. The Executive Office staff has learned to read inserts and cross-outs, and handwriting at all angles. She is committed to quality publishing and worked hard to develop the ASA Publications Portfolio Guidelines, to form a partnership with the Russell Sage Foundation on the Rose Series, and to aid the birth of the new journal Contexts.

Another favorite Felice word is “collaboration.” She seeks partnerships across organizations in many ways, shapes, and forms. One of her final projects at ASA was a project to prepare undergraduate students in research training, a collaboration with the Social Science Data Analysis Network. She has forged international collaborations through the International Sociological Association; and she is now on the program committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which gives her an opportunity to address the science community.

Finally, Felice has put her personal energies into making the profession more diverse. Her commitment to the Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) is monumental, including writing several renewal grants, mentoring individual students, hosting dinners at her home for the Fellows, and more. She says, with verve, that ASA is “not a pass through for funding; we are value added and must offer leadership, programs, and support for MFP.” She has been a leader for her entire ASA tenure of the Minority Opportunities through School Transformation (MOST) Program, which celebrated its capstone conference this month. Hands-on, engaged, collaborative, and tenacious, Felice has brought ASA to a new and better place. Although we will all miss her greatly, her legacy will endure as she moves on to take on the challenge of leading the American Educational Research Association.

Carla B. Howery, Deputy Executive Officer
Arne Kalleberg, ASA Secretary
Barbara F. Reskin, ASA President