The ASA: Where Do Your Dues Go? (Part II: Comparative Data)

February 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

In an earlier post, The Disgruntled Sociologist explored the changes in the ASA’s finances between 2003 and 2008. In this post, we consider the ASA as compared to other professional associations in the social sciences.

We compare the ASA (~14,000 members) to four other professional associations: the American Political Science Association (~15,000); the American Economic Association (~17,000); the American Anthropological Association (~10,000); and the American Historical Association (~15,000). The Disgruntled Sociologist wanted to include comparisons to the Academy of Management, but their tax returns lacked many of the details included below. Similarly, the American Psychological Association is a rather different organization, as a large share of its members are clinical psychologists.

The data are simple:

One caveat is in order when interpreting the AEA data: the AEA appears to include the editorial staff for its journals under the number of employees. The AEA also pays the editors of its journals, which accounts for some share of the compensation listed.

Total expenses for the organizations are ASA ($7.6M), APSA ($6.2M), AEA ($7.1M), AAA ($4.7M), and AHA ($3.5M).

Finally, as noted in an earlier post, it seems likely that the number of employees for the ASA should really be 29, which is the number of employees in 2007.

Several things strike The Disgruntled Sociologist as noteworthy:

  • Total compensation of headquarters staff for the ASA is substantially higher than for the other organizations (with the exception of the AEA, which lists more than twice the number of employees). Including salaries, taxes, and benefits, the ASA spent close to $3M on its headquarters staff. The APSA spent close to $2.5M, the AAA $2M, and the AHA $1.5M. Yet the ASA is the second-smallest of the associations in membership.
  • The ASA stands out in the category “Office expenses,” spending close to $1.2M. That is $500,000 more than any of the other organizations.
  • The ASA also stands out in the category “Occupancy,” here again outstripping its nearest competitor by half a million dollars.
  • Finally, the ASA has substantially higher interest expenses than the other organizations. This is presumably due to the bonds issued for the purchase of the ASA’s swanky “headquarters condominium.”

Higher costs would be fine if they were associated with greater benefits for ASA members. But it is hard for The Disgruntled Sociologist to believe that the ASA’s members are so much better off than the members of the other professional associations. In fact, in terms of tangible benefits, it appears that the other associations are more attractive. For example, membership in all of the other associations includes access or subscriptions to the association journals. To name two examples, for the APSA, that’s 3 journals, and for the AEA, 6 journals. ASA members must subscribe to journals separately.

Perhaps, then, it is the intangible benefits of ASA membership that make it all worthwhile? Color The Disgruntled Sociologist skeptical.

Which, of course, highlights the fundamental question: How does the ASA membership feel about this? Do they even know? If they knew, would they approve?

Or is this the Iron Law of Oligarchy in action?

[All Form 990s are available here.]

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§ 5 Responses to The ASA: Where Do Your Dues Go? (Part II: Comparative Data)

  • […] and financial activities that should concern most of the organization’s members ( Part 1, Part 2, and ASA, Wizards of High Finance).  Here are some of the highlights, which in some cases […]

  • A bit more gruntled than dissed says:

    The comparison on compensation for HQ staff is probably incorrect. The main difference is on the “other compensation and wages” line. Compare, say, ASA & APSA for payroll taxes. Since payroll taxes are required for all employees up to just over $100,000 / year, it seems that ASA & APSA have similarly sized payrolls subject to payroll tax.

    The difference between these two orgs, therefore, would either be:
    (a) ASA has a few really highly compensated individuals relative to what similar individuals earn at APSA (doubtful) or
    (b) ASA is paying compensation to people for more independent contractor-like work. The difference with APSA might be due to how the two organizations structure their activities.

    Also, the decision on the HQ was one that had to go through ASA Council. If memory serves, it was also discussed at one of those Business Meetings that are not so well attended and probably also discussed in the newsletter.

    • If one computes all costs that would fall under the heading of “HR” (i.e., “Compensation of officers, directors and key employees,” “Compensation not incl above to disqualified persons,” “Other salaries and wages,” “Pension plan contributions,” “Other employee benefits,” and “Payroll taxes”) then the total for the ASA in 2008 is $2,942,824 while for the APSA is is $2,424,458. For those scoring at home, that is still $500,000 more for an organization with approximately the same number of members.

      Whether these costs are paid to employees or contract workers seems rather immaterial. (Except that it would be somewhat ironic, at least in the eyes of TDS, if the ASA were engaged in a lot of outsourcing = avoidance of benefits expenses.) So perhaps the APSA does “structure their activities” differently, but it would seem to involve getting people to do things for free.

      To this it must be added that it is far from clear to TDS that the APSA is any way a role model. The point of the comparisons was not to imply that the other organizations were paragons of virtue.

      TDS is not claiming that the HQ decision was improperly decided by the Council etc. No wrongdoing is implied. But that does not mean it was a smart or good decision. And with that kind of investment, perhaps more communication with members before the decision would have been appropriate (i.e., actually making a real attempt, not just raising it a meeting that everyone knows is poorly attended). TDS is quite certain that the vast majority of the membership did not learn of this until after the purchase.

  • […] Disgruntled Sociologist is heartened by the response to the earlier posts about ASA finances.  The discussion at orgtheory.net is particularly illuminating and […]

  • […] As you probably know if you’re a regular reader, the American Sociological Association proposes to hike its already high dues by quite a bit, and the organization is not bothering to explain to its members what it needs the money for. If you’re an ASA member and would would like to have your name added to an upcoming petition about this (draft version here then email Ezra Zuckerman (ewzucker at m i t dot e d u) by 8am this Thursday (March 31st). For more on this see posts from Jeremy Freese, me, and the disgruntled sociologist. […]

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