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The Executive Officer’s Column

ASA’s Centennial Year: Members Speak, Council Responds

Much has happened since the ASA 2005 centennial year began. While many special activities were undertaken to commemorate our 100th anniversary, others were born of significant national or world events that engaged members and ASA in actions that have added dimensions to ASA as a professional association during its centenary. Historians at our bicentennial may infer trends from ASA’s many institutional roles during this year and, likely, from the ones that follow.

Sociology and Human Rights

Developments in international terrorism, the war in Iraq, and international plenary speakers at the 2004 Annual Meeting (e.g., past presidents of Brazil and Ireland), as well as insights on domestic developments from U.S. plenary speakers at the 2005 Annual Meeting (e.g., historians, legal scholars, political analysts) spurred renewed sensitivity to issues of human rights among sociologists. Members urged Council to commemorate our centenary with an official statement on human rights. Council responded in August, recognizing that although the Association has spoken often and taken formal actions to defend “sociologists and other scholars persecuted for their beliefs or scholarly activities,” ASA lacked a comprehensive position statement to affirm its support for basic civil and political freedoms here and abroad. Drawing upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the statements of allied scientific and academic bodies, ASA has codified its commitment to basic human rights, particularly as they nurture free scientific inquiry and human development (see p. 7 of this Footnotes).

Sociology and Disasters

ASA entered its celebratory year with scenes of devastation from a major international disaster, the December 2004 tsunami. Our members, however, reacted to that news, and the hurricane devastation of the U.S. Gulf Coast, by recognizing that sociological scholars and researchers are not impotent in facing tragic events. Sociologists have been studying disasters for more than a hundred years and actively engaging policymakers and the public with useful knowledge. ASA President Troy Duster responded with a special opening plenary of our 100th Annual Meeting chaired by Kai Erikson and featuring University of Indonesia sociologist Imam Prasodjo, who is leading recovery activities in Aceh. Shortly after, President Cynthia Fuchs Epstein responded by supporting an intense effort by the ASA Executive Office to pull together resources of use to the sociological community, press, and public on the hurricane disasters, and by working with other leading sociologists to initiate new national research efforts.

Sociology for the Nation

The relevance of sociology to national policymaking is not disputed within our discipline, but members want ASA to develop effective methods of making this relevance visible. Council supported an ASA Centennial Congressional Reception and Research Exhibit as the capstone of this year, and both centennial-year presidents Epstein and Duster represented the Association at the event. Four Members of Congress helped ASA put policy-relevant sociology (as well as educational and federal research support) prominently on display at this Capitol Hill event last month (see article on p. 1). This was truly a proud moment for our discipline and our members in the nation’s capital.

Sociology for the Health of Science

Council responded immediately and proudly to the news that the National Science Board had recognized New York University sociologist Dalton Conley with the immensely prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award (see May/June 2005 Footnotes, p. 1). The award catapulted sociology’s visibility among important scientific and policy audiences that affect the welfare of science overall, and sociology in particular. Council’s support of ASA’s public affairs efforts and our membership in the Consortium of Social Science Associations continues to reflect the members’ needs for efforts in support of federal funding for the social sciences and advocacy to defend research peer review and to preserve and improve federal data systems, as well as promote the relevance of sociological research to national policy development. Tangible results include restoration of funding for the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey and a Senate amendment to overturn the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ planned elimination of the collection and publication of worker data on women.

Council developed a pragmatic position statement to counter the scientifically uninformed comments of Harvard University’s Lawrence Summers about women’s achievement in science and math and worked with the Executive Office to infor`m the public and policymakers of this research, which counters stereotypes and can improve the diversity of the U.S. scientific, engineering, math, and technology workforce.

In response to many members’ interest in the thematic sessions of the 2004 Annual Meeting, Council created a Task Force on Institutionalizing Public Sociology. Its forthcoming recommendations will have an impact on sociology as a discipline and profession as well as affect other sciences as they struggle with effective ways to promote “public science,” to enhance the nation’s well-being through science.

ASA Members Break Records

These achievements spring from the engagement of ASA members and from their volunteer efforts within the Association. ASA members established the Association’s 100th year as the year with the highest number and proportion of eligible voters participating in the ASA election. We marked another year of growth in the Association’s membership, moving us to a 30-year high. The 2005 Centennial Annual Meeting was the second meeting ever to top 5,000 registrants and was the second largest meeting in ASA history (after 2004). And, the 2005 meeting was the first to top 600 sessions!

But, at the “end of the day,” Council was wise enough not to take all these achievements too seriously, when it authorized an official centennial activity for members to poke a little fun at ourselves with The Sociologist’s Book of Cartoons.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer