The ASA: A Good Place to Make a Living (for Some)

March 24, 2011 § 7 Comments

As noted by others, the ASA has just announced a hefty dues increase. The Disgruntled Sociologist finds this crazy making, as do others. Kieran and Jeremy have good analyses of how outrageous this is.

It’s very puzzling that dues are jumping so suddenly. Over many years, the increases have kept pace with inflation. Now suddenly, there is a need for a big increase. Why?

One answer is that it is expensive to maintain a nice condo close to the White House.  Another is that it is expensive to increase the size of the headquarters staff.  And a third – the subject of this post – is that while sociologists have been keeping pace with inflation, the leaders of the ASA have been doing quite a bit better.  In short, let’s turn The Disgruntled Sociologist’s eye to executive compensation.

The members of the American Sociological Association delegate a lot of the responsibilities for day-to-day operations, as well as strategic initiatives, to the association’s Executive Director.  As in all such situations, this delegation creates potential monitoring problems: the members are numerous and busy with other things, and do not have the time, energy or information to effectively keep tabs on whether the Executive Director is doing a good job.  As the recent coverage of executive compensation in major corporations suggests, this can make it difficult to ensure that compensation is in line with performance.

Does the ASA have an executive compensation problem?

The current Executive Director of the American Sociological Association, Sally Hillsman, was hired on May 15, 2002, so we look at the ED’s compensation from 2003-2008. Over that period, the ED has been paid substantially better than the average sociologist, and has seen substantially higher income growth.

  • In 2008, the Executive Director earned almost 3 times the salary of the average faculty member, and 2.25x the salary of the average Full Professor.
    • In 2008, the salary of the Executive Director of the ASA was $206,364, plus benefits.
    • In the same year, according to the ASA, the average salary of a sociology faculty member was $70,699.  The average Full Professor earned $89,808.

  • In the period from 2003 to 2008, the salary of the Executive Director of the ASA has increased substantially while sociologists’ salaries have remained essentially flat.
    • The ED’s salary increased from $165,000 to $206,304. This is an increase of 25%. In inflation-adjusted terms, this is an increase in real income of 6.8%.
    • Over the same period, the average sociology faculty member has barely outpaced inflation, increasing 1.3% in real terms over the same period.

Boy, the ASA must have been doing some great stuff under the current leadership! Although apparently, increasing the average income of sociology professors was not one of those things.

The Disgruntled Sociologist thinks these facts raise some pretty interesting questions:

  • How many members of the ASA are aware of these numbers? How many would be surprised to learn that their dues go, in part, toward putting the Executive Director in the top 2-3% of the income distribution?
  • Is this money well spent? Are the salary increases justified? One might be skeptical.

The Disgruntled Sociologist does not begrudge Sally Hillsman her income; more power to her.  The members of the ASA, however, might ask whether they want or need to pay their Executive Director so well. Or whether the Executive Director needs essentially automatic 5% raises every year (nominal). The Disgruntled Sociologist wants to emphasize where all of this money is coming from:

  • If you are an ASA member, it is coming from your dues.  Many members feel dues are too high. If you are lucky, you can pay these dues out of your research account – but you worked hard for that privilege. If not, money is going out of your pocket. A lot of ASA members pay the dues out of their pockets. Those dues just went up.
  • Even if you’re a sociologist who is not a member of the ASA, you are helping to put the ED’s income north of $200K.  How?  To put it simply: the ASA journals are cash cows that provide a steady stream of income to the ASA. And of course, the journals are cash cows because you (and generations of sociologists before you):  a) are willing to pay to have them think about publishing your papers, which you provide at no cost to them; b) gladly sign over the copyright to your work; and c) provide the labor, free of charge and without recognition, to help them decide which papers should be published.

To put it bluntly, the Executive Director makes a living thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of sociologists who earn 1/3 as much. Some sociologists might consider that evidence of exploitation.

[All figures comes from the ASA’s Form 990 tax returns for the relevant years. The Disgruntled Sociologist found the forms at foundationfinder.org]
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§ 7 Responses to The ASA: A Good Place to Make a Living (for Some)

  • ezrazuckerman says:

    Thanks, TDS, for the great service you are doing for the discipline.

    One note is that you could argue that the compensation should be higher because of the cost of living in D.C. Of course, that raises the question of why the ASA is in D.C. and whether it is worth it.

    Another question is how the compensation of the ASA’s ED compares with her peers at the APSA, AEA, etc. If it is comparable, ASA members might still balk, but it would be more reasonable.

    • The Disgruntled Sociologist agrees that the salary level may not be a cause for upset. The ASA ED’s salary in 2008 was in line with the salary of the ED of the APSA. But one might ask whether two wrongs make a right.

      In any case, the more disturbing issue is the rate of increase. When real wages for everyone else are flat, why does the ED’s salary increase like clockwork? Has the ASA gotten 5% better every year?

      • ezrazuckerman says:

        Agreed on the limits of benchmarking– as shown by the excellent AJS article by DiPrete, Eirich, and Pittinsky.

  • David Hoopes says:

    Great blog. Post more.

  • numan says:

    1. This was a proposal, not an announcement.
    2. Members can vote “No”
    3. Instead of misinforming people, you might want to encourage them to vote against this proposal

  • jt says:

    Close to the capital is great for advocacy and everything, blah, blah. But isn’t there about a 1-year lag from acceptance to publication in ASA journals? Isn’t that basically an admission that our discipline’s best findings are irrelevant? If they were really important, *someone* would see to it that our best findings were disseminated quickly. Quickly means w/in weeks. Actually, days.

  • jp says:

    Here is something lots of people are hazily imagining: doesn’t the ED get paid more to “know their way around the system” and manage the ASA finances on par with how the pros are doing it? You know, the pros. Those guys on Wall Street. Isn’t that why the executives are paid so handsomely? Because everyone wins and makes more money? Or lobby power?

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