For the last several weeks I’ve been working with a small group of sociologists on a petition asking for more information from our disciplinary organization (the ASA) before we vote on a proposed dues increase. This is because we are being asked to approve a dues increase without being told what the revenue will be spent on (or if it will be saved).
When the idea of writing a petition was raised, I must admit I was a little surprised. Do we really need a petition to answer a simple question? Surely, the staff or council would simply post a note on the ASA website, disclosing the omitted information. I was wrong to think a solution would be simple, or quick in coming.
(I am reasonably confident that our sitting Secretary, Kate Berheide, will endeavor to make this information available, although I wonder if it will be released to members before our vote takes place. Moreover, since–in the best case–it will arrive with too little time for members to debate the proposal’s merits, we will still end up in the very weak democratic state we’re living in today.)
Anonymous and named commenters on OrgTheory, The Disgruntled Sociologist, Code and Culture and other blogs (see the digest listing of discussions here) have intimated that the signatories of the petition (574 of us, and growing) are elitists, cheap, politically motivated, and as you will now be able to read, our president (Randall Collins) has compared us to Tea Party activists because we are (or so he thinks) “tak[ing] our complaints out on those who serve us.” One commenter at OrgTheory seems to dispute our need for more information, and instead suggests we should simply decide if the cost is higher than we feel we can pay, and if so, leave the organization (and start our own?).
The tenor and content of these comments on our request for information we have every right to request reminds me of nothing as much as the “debate” held in light of the anti-war mobilization in 2003. As I remember it, millions of Americans took to the street to protest Bush’s decision to send troops to Iraq. The push-back included some pro-war activists making allegations that protesters were anti-American, that they were Al Qaeda sympathizers, and that if they didn’t like the President’s decision…well, they could just look for another country to live in.
The comparison is overdrawn. Of course, a dispute among sociologists (and again–one I totally didn’t expect would play out this way) is not the same as a nation’s debate over the morality and necessity of war. But to allow ourselves to fall into such hollow, ad hominem critique, to exaggerate our differences instead of finding ways to take better care of one another’s needs and to hear each other speak, respectfully and patiently–these things are similar among the two cases.
Australian statesman John Howard is quoted as saying, “It’s too much to expect in an academic setting that we should all agree, but it is not too much to expect discipline and unvarying civility.” I respectfully request that we take heed of Howard’s prescription. Be disciplined when you read one another’s views. Please–stop reading our petition as an objection to increasing the number of income categories. Please–stop misinterpreting us as having an objection to a progressive dues structure. You will not find either opinion in our petition. And please, be civil as you debate these issues. Be good to one another. Be patient and kind.
I have seen remarkable evidence of these qualities in the past two weeks as the thirteen of us have passed hundreds of emails, gone to great lengths to encourage different opinions, and engaged in (somewhat tortured) deliberation and voting, in order to produce the petition. We continue to collaborate, volunteering for various responsibilities (e.g., sending email notices of the petition to various constituencies), and problem-solving. We’ve accomplished this, although we have (I expect) very different backgrounds, aspirations, and statuses within our respective universities. This group has given me hope, while other sociologists have been a great disappointment.
I want to close by sharing a list of those sociologists running for office in 2011 who have signed the petition. If you wish to “vote for transparency”, these candidates may be your best choice.
Cecilia Ridgeway, Professor, Stanford University: President-Elect
Emilio J. Castilla, Associate Professor, MIT: Council Member-At-Large
Monica Prasad, Associate Professor, Northwestern University: Council Member-At-Large
Susan S. Silbey, Professor, M.I.T.: Council Member-At-Large
Bandana Purkayastha, Professor, University of Connecticut: Committee on Publications
Steven Vallas, Professor and Chair, Northeastern University: Committee on Publications
Theodore Gerber, Professor, University of Wisconsin: Committee on Nominations
John Iceland, Professor, Penn State University: Committee on Nominations
Mignon R. Moore, Associate Professor, UCLA: Committee on Nominations
David Shulman, Associate Professor, Lafayette College: Committee on Committees, Member-at-Large
Cenate Pruitt, Instructor, Gainesville State College: Committee on Committees, Member-at-Large
Amanda K. Damarin, Assistant Professor, Georgia Perimeter College: Committee on Committees, 2 Year degree granting institutions
Jyoti Puri, Professor, Simmons College: Committee on Committees, MA Granting Institutions
I hope you will give them your support, in the upcoming elections.