A member’s response

March 30, 2011 § 19 Comments

In response to the last post relating the ASA Executive Director’s response to member inquiries, TDS received the following comment.  With permission of its author, it is reproduced in full here.  Worth reading in full.

It appears you may have been influenced by some highly inaccurate recent blog postings on the web. The elected leadership of the association is preparing accurate information so that members will not be mislead by some bloggers who have misread the ASA tax forms [snip – cc]. NONE of these are true.).

So it would appear that membership dues are supporting a Ministry of Truth? Sigh…

Dear ASA executive personnel (who I am sure are now monitoring this blog), as an annual dues paying member, who pays dues out of his personal finances rather than a departmental budget, even in years when he does not plan to attend the annual meeting, I have to tell you I’m rather disappointed. I teach my students that it is always better to show someone why a particular argument works rather than simply telling them.

I became interested in Jimmy’s blog after reading the original Footnotes article “explaining” the proposed dues structure. As has been established by people more thoughtful than me, that article did not show what the new dues structure would accomplish. Rather it told us this structure would be more progressive and therefore would make the world a better place.

The response printed above by Jimmy further undermines my faith in the ASA’s leadership. I have yet to find a clear, unambiguous, statement that shows me, the dues paying member, what my dues are providing. The points raised in the various “misleading blog posts sprinkled across the web at least make an effort to show readers why we should be concerned.

I am pleased to see that this agitation has at least generated some activity from our association’s K-street headquarters. I’ve seen more activity in the ASAnews twitter feed in the last few days than I’ve seen in the last few months. But, y’all have a ways to go. For instance, yesterday’s tweet: “ASA Public Affairs Dept works to ensure members are prepared to communicate with the press and legislators..” with a link to a page heavy no telling, light on showing doesn’t really help the cause.

I’ll close with an observation. In my Department at second (or third… or fourth?) tier R1 institution nearly half of Sociology faculty are no longer active dues paying members of the ASA. When asked why they don’t join, they tell me that there is no reason to be members; if they are not planning on getting to the annual meeting, they see no benefit to our professional association. I interpret them to say “the ASA is not relevant to their careers.” If you wish to persuade them otherwise (as I would), I strongly encourage you to show your relevance.

Signed… an insignificant dues paying ASA member.

The Disgruntled Sociologist does not have much to add, other than to say that if it is accurate that upwards of half of faculty in “second-tier” departments see no benefit to joining the ASA, there is a problem. Professional sociologists deserve better.

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§ 19 Responses to A member’s response

  • dontd says:

    This is a cross posting from scatterplot:

    Dear Jeremy and other friends (this is long so, in case you don’t know who dontd is, its me don tomaskovic-devey)

    I was not surprised to see that the dues proposal stirred up a hornets’ nest of discussion. Luckily I have lots of Benadryl at home. I miss all those meetings at ASA, including Pub Comm, where I recall you also could have a bit of a sting. Since I was the Secretary of the Association for the last four years, I am probably to blame for any messes we are in and reasonably situated to pull the information together to clarify what is happening. All of this information has been available to Council and much, albeit in disbursed form, available to the membership on the irritatingly complex ASA website. Jerry Jacobs is voluntarily trying to work through that problem, so please direct web-site complaints to him.

    First, the infamous dues proposal. ASA’s elected leadership has been aware for about a decade that the dues structure no longer matches the actual income structure of the membership. Arne Kalleberg and Franklin Wilson, the past Secretary and President when I took on this role, urged me to fix the dues structure before I left the job. I was more strategic than that and left it to my successors to enact. But here I am anyway, go figure.

    The current proposed dues revision was crafted around the goal of reintroducing a progressive dues structure that matched the members’ 2010 income distribution. Thirty-six percent of members now report incomes above $70,000. Many Research 1 universities now start Assistant Professors near or above $70,000. Our goal in the new income categories, the top ones we think have few incumbents, was to create something that might be serviceable for twenty years, protecting the next five secretaries from writing a blog-entry like this one.

    This new dues structure will we hope also raise somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in income for the association. It will reach the upper estimate if membership stays the same, our estimates of the distribution of faculty in the new upper income brackets are correct, and most members report their income accurately. This increase makes up less than half the yearly budget cuts taken by the association over the last three years and is intended to partially restore association activities slashed during the recession, including modest pay raises for ASA staff.

    But what about the general ASA financial situation? As with most professional organizations and most of our departments, ASA experienced recession related declines in income during 2008-2010. Almost all sources of revenue dropped as University hiring and spending contracted. In 2009 alone revenue was $326,000 less than budgeted. Council responded by freezing salaries and making cuts in operating budgets of $250,000, but ASA staff extended cost cutting to a total of $507,000 to relieve the pressure. These substantial cuts averted a potentially large structural budget deficit. Council also audited current programmatic activities to assess whether programmatic cuts were necessary, but decided that the Association’s financial position was sufficiently solid to not yet require retrenchment in the minority fellowship program, the teaching and learning function, research on the profession, and ASA’s federal research funding and disciplinary advocacy projects.

    Dues comprise about 35% of ASA income. Income also comes from journals (30%), teaching publications and the Job Bank (10%), the Annual Meeting (17%) and a variety of other smaller sources. All except journal income declined during the recession. We expect flat (or declining) revenue from all sources of revenue except journals until university hiring and budgets stabilize. Dues income is particular sensitive to the sociology job market, which has been hit hard by the recession.

    Over the past decade the ASA has mostly had modest budget surpluses. These created reserves to fund the 2007 purchase of the executive office and for anticipated budget deficits during the first two years after the purchase. We did not anticipate the Wall Street recession (but please look for my forthcoming paper in ASR on financialization and the crisis). Luckily, the ASA maintains investments as organizational reserves to cover unanticipated costs or revenue declines, and these were available to cover the very large deficit of 2008 and the small deficit of 2009. ASA is now operating with a much leaner and balanced budget.

    The new executive office space condominium was considered by Council an investment in the future of the Association. It was financed at 3.58% and, under our purchase model, is predicted to provide major cost savings relative to renting beginning in 2016. It also looks nice. We have recently moved from self-publishing our journals to partnering with Sage. This contract provides income minimums to ASA, which protected us from declining revenue during the recession; it also has built-in revenue sharing for the future. The revision of the dues structure, with the associated increase in member contributions, primarily from our high earning members, is one aspect of a much more complex and general strategy to support the professional project of Sociology.

    Kate Berheid, the current ASA Secretary, has an article with more information on the current state of ASA finances on Footnotes that is worth looking at for more information.

    What does ASA do, anyway? The Association exists to serve its members. For most members the functions we focus on immediately are those that serve our personal careers, especially the annual meeting, the section structure of subspecialties, the journals, the Job Bank and Employment Service. The ASA also provides leadership in the more general professional project of Sociology, a role that only occasionally comes into focus for the membership at large. Council, which is elected by the membership, has consistently insisted that the executive office expand the professional project functions in the executive office. Externally, this includes increasing the access of sociology to the media and the media to sociology, providing sociological expertise to the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of government, and even fighting the US State Department when necessary to insure global academic freedom. Internally, the most important aspects of the professional project have been the ASA’s research on the discipline and its teaching and learning center. Research on the discipline has become a central tool of Sociology Department chairs in arguing for resources and the importance of sociology in their colleges and universities. Our teaching and learning activities have become a major resource in the dissemination of teaching materials across the discipline and have been recognized by the National Science Foundation for our leadership role in science education. Admittedly, this portfolio is a bit larger than that of the AEA, but they have advanced their professional project on other fronts.

    So if you want to vote against the revision in the dues structure, don’t do it because you suspect it is simply a soak the rich ploy. Rather it is part of a thoughtful, and reasonably democratic, response to the short and long term dynamics of the profession. Is the organization a work in progress? Sure. It is not, however, particularly predatory. And it is run by its members. You are on pub comm right?
    Don Tomaskovic-Devey, UMass-Amherst

    • Thanks to Don for the very thoughtful response. Hopefully Jeremy will respond.

      The Disgruntled Sociologist is puzzled, however, by the continued focus on the progressivity of the dues structure. And in particular, the claim that those who oppose the proposal “suspect it is simply a soak the rich ploy.” The Disgruntled Sociologist has never made this claim. Neither, to TDS’s knowledge, has anyone on orgtheory or scatterplot. So why raise that point, other than as a red herring?

      • Donald Tomaskovic-Devey says:

        Sorry for the red herring. It was part irritation, a nasty, perhaps ill-aimed? shot, but also part discourse. Here is the other part:

        If you take out your trust excel spreadsheet and try to increase progressivity without increasing dues income this is what happens. The only way to do this mathematically, without giant reductions in income, is to add categories but increase dues more at the bottom then the top. My first forays into dues restructuring where exactly along these lines, but if you add high income dues categories and constrain to no dues increase it can only be done by having small differences across categories and raising the rents on the lowest paid members. This is particularly true because our membership distribution is bi-modal. So the herring is red, but in the old fashioned political sense.

      • Don,

        First of all, like everyone I want to thank you for engaging seriously with the initiative’s critics.

        That said, I don’t understand how it’s a mathematical necessity that the only way to make the dues more progressive with a non-negative change in aggregate income would be to “add categories but increase dues more at the bottom than the top.” This makes no sense. If the initiative is expected to bring in an extra $100K-200K, it seems like we could make it revenue-neutral and more progressive by cutting the dues for the bottom few categories by 100K/n, where “n” is the number of members in these categories. The only reason to increase the fees massively in the >85K range and increase the fees modestly for everybody else while decreasing them for nobody is to increase aggregate revenues.

        Alternately, we could have a monotonic fee increase that increases membership fee revenues by at least $100K but we would offset this by making progressive changes to ASA’s other fees and provision of member services more progressive. The most obvious candidate along these lines is reducing the departmental listing fees for the job bank as the current job bank policy disproportionately impacts our poorest members.

  • Wish I knew who TDS (Jimmy) is says:

    Okay, now it is clear:

    The ASA wants to raise $200,000, even though Don says that the budget is now lean and balanced. Why? To restore services that were cut and pay raises that were foregone. I’d like a bit more detail on each of these.

    • Rent-seeking!

      ‘Tis odd indeed to say a budget is lean and balanced, and simultaneously proclaim a need for an extra $200k.

      • Donald Tomaskovic-Devey says:

        it is only odd if you assume that the $500,000 in budget cuts were all fat and had no programmatic consequences. It might also seem odd if you assume high income sociology employment in universities will be stable, there are good reasons to expect continued recession related declines over the short-run and adjunct substitution effects over the long term.
        Don T-D

      • Don,

        >it is only odd if you assume that the $500,000 in budget cuts
        >were all fat and had no programmatic consequences.

        Fair enough and that’s what the petition is really about. In the long-run, we need to decide if we want an ambitious (and expensive) ASA or a narrowly-focused organization along the AEA model. The membership can only make an informed decision about this if we know exactly what we’re getting for the money and this is exactly what the petition is demanding. On being presented with this breakdown it’s entirely possible that the membership would say, “yes, I see that ASA is expensive but it’s worth it” or it might say “no, I don’t think x, y, and z are worth it, let’s pare back these ambitions.” However the only way for us to know is to be provided with the information we’re demanding in the petition.

  • In addition, this is highly recommended:

    “And still the same original frustration: I’m still being treated as if I cannot act as a full partner in a deliberative process. This is a wrong assumption, and adds to my sense that the association isn’t serving me, but is serving its own Gods.”

    http://whatisthewhat.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/2585/

  • Show me the math says:

    Don claims that it is a mathematical necessity that an aggregate dues increase must be pursued alongside progressivity. He writes: “If you take out your trust[ed] excel spreadsheet and try to increase progressivity without increasing dues income this is what happens. The only way to do this mathematically, without giant reductions in income, is to add categories but increase dues more at the bottom then the top. My first forays into dues restructuring where exactly along these lines, but if you add high income dues categories and constrain to no dues increase it can only be done by having small differences across categories and raising the rents on the lowest paid members. This is particularly true because our membership distribution is bi-modal. So the herring is red, but in the old fashioned political sense.”

    This makes no sense at all.

    The ASA could have taken the >=70,000 category, carved it up into intervals, and introduced progressivity within it. And they could have done it adaptively over five years to make sure that dues income doesn’t fall because members defect in response to it. (For example, in year one, the ASA could put in its usual CPI increase for categories below 70,000. They could have given the $70,000 to 99,9999 category no CPI adjustment leaving them at $234. They could have then raised the dues on those over $100,000 to compensate only for the lost no-CPI adjustment for the 70,000 to 99,9999 category. Perhaps they could shoot a little high, asking for $255 from this group. If this, then, isn’t enough progressivity, in year two, the ASA could pursue a little more, trying to subdivide and push things around again. In five years, or perhaps sooner, they could then declare the progressivity campaign completed.)

    Can Don please explain why this is not possible? Maybe get out that trusted excel spreadsheet and show it rather just assert it?

  • […] more recent comment from Don is worth surfacing.  To wit: If you take out your trust excel spreadsheet and try to […]

  • ezrazuckerman says:

    Ditto everything that “show me the math wrote.” Don’s explanation makes absolutely no sense to me. And of course, does not begin to answer the other questions that were posed to Don, over on scatterplot, whatisthewhat, and codeandculture. It’s hard to pick which of these should be at the top of the list, but I guess my first one would be why the ASA is not being straight with us. Putting aside all the inconsistencies and logic that is hard to follow, why was none of this in the rationale that was presented to members?

    Otherwise, I’d say to Don that it is great that you are trying to engage in this way, but I think you and the ASA leadership really need to rethink your communications strategy on this one. For one thing, I’m not sure why you have to take all the heat yourself. (Your use of the first-person singular is troubling) For another, these one-off comments, with flip asides, to the small minority of sociologists who participate in blogs, just does not seem to be productive. It is just adding fuel to the fire.

  • ezrazuckerman says:

    P.S. Don: Another example of a very unproductive flip aside (besides your now-infamous “soak the rich” canard) that just makes things worse is your explanation that “the herring is red, but in the old fashioned political sense.” I don’t know about you, but I want no part of an organization that thinks it’s cool to be Red in that sense. You might read Andy Walder’s recent book about the Cultural Revolution (not to mention the voluminous literature about how ‘Reds’ operated in other times and places) to stay as far as possible away from that term. And that it plays into people’s stereotypes of sociology certainly doesn’t help either.

  • NoFormerMember says:

    Well…I guess that’s it. I have delayed my membership renewal for a few months to handle the economic demands of other renewals and spring meetings with other professional organizations. Now I think it is time for that delay to become a permanent (at least until changes are made) absence form ASA. As part of the under $70,000/year group (and a tenured one), the new dues structure makes absolutely no sense to me. At a time when many sociologists have experienced no raises for 2-3 years, a dues increase for all groups but those who are unemployed is more than hard to swallow.

    As for DTD’s math, well I will refrain from the more colorful comments that I am truly feeling. I will say, however, that the notion of a bimodal distribution being relevant only makes sense if the modes are unemployed vs. employed since all of the latter would experience a dues increase. The lack of transparency by ASA leadership on this matter (DTD’s willing engagement notwithstanding) is extremely disturbing. Enough to make me think very seriously about leaving ASA (and I was a candidate for section-level office in the recent past and a continuous member for 15+ years).

    Many faculty have had no raises in 2-3 years, many faculty have had departmental/university travel budgets cut or even eliminated altogether, and many sociologists have had to realign their personal budgets to compensate for these issues by cutting what were once essential areas of their personal and professional lives. If ASA staff have to endure the same economic hardships, then so be it. If ASA has budgetary problems, then it should more seriously consider cutting some services…I will not be voting on the proposed dues increases via ballot, I will be “voting with my feet.”

  • I stopped paying attention to this after my post on the math last month. You are all correct, it is by increasing dues AT THE TOP that you get progressivity and this also produces almost all of the income gains in the proposal. It was a typo when I said increase “more at the bottom then the top”, as you all could already see from the dues proposal anyway. The student dues category went up $1, the lower dues categories up through $70K went up small increments beyond that to create income distinctions between categories. The big increases happen after $100k not at lower incomes. Sorry, and you were all right for calling me math impaired, although it was really just english impaired.

    Everything I hear from the ASA office is that they hear loud and clear the need to make more information regularly and most importantly easily available.
    Don Tomaskovic-Devey

  • don,

    thanks for the update and the clarification. i thought maybe you were initially making some kind of VAT-like argument but it makes sense that most of the revenue gains would be coming from the top if we assume that even a relatively small proportion (more than a fifth) of the employed members earn over $70K.

  • ezrazuckerman says:

    Don: I’m still not sure I follow. Do you still maintain that it would have been impossible to make the dues schedule more progressive without increasing the aggregate dues burden? (Note that John Logan seems to think that this would have been possible, but that the ASA leadership wanted to increase the aggregate dues burden, owing to its need for more revenue. See here: http://codeandculture.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/reply-to-yesterdays-comment/#comment-1186.).

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