Progressivity and the Mathematical Inevitability of Increased Dues

March 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

There is a bit of a discussion in the comments in response to Don Tomaskovic-Davey’s dicussion of ASA finances here and on scatterplot.  Don’s response is worth taking seriously since – as former Secretary of the ASA – his is the closest we have yet gotten to an official response to some of our concerns. So The Disgruntled Sociologist is surfacing it from the depths of the comments.

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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…

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Moves towards greater transparency?

March 30, 2011 § 5 Comments

In response to recent posts, The Disgruntled Sociologist received the email below from another lapsed member who has been receiving emails from the ASA asking him/her to re-up.  In response to the standard mass email, TDS’s correspondent wrote to the ASA to learn more about issues of transparency. Below is the response from the ED:
It appears you may have been influenced by some highly inaccurate recent blog postings on the web. The « Read the rest of this entry »

Please, please do not go

March 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

An acquaintance of The Disgruntled Sociologist, who has taken the step of resigning his or her membership, reports that this has resulted in a series of emails touting the virtues of the ASA. He/she sends along the following, most recent example:

I am writing to encourage you to renew your ASA membership. I write not only as the ASA Executive Officer and a fellow sociologist, but also as a long-term member myself, having « Read the rest of this entry »

Dues in Context

March 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

A kindly contributor who prefers to remain anonymous has sent The Disgruntled Sociologist the following informative graphic:

Even without the proposed dues increase, that looks like a bad deal.  Perhaps sociologists should join the AEA and see about creating a “Sociology” section.

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]

Swaps and Fixed Rates for Fancy Digs

March 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Disgruntled Sociologist is pleased to learn, from the learned commentators at Crooked Timber, that the seemingly dramatic changes in ASA’s net worth during 2008 — due to changes in the market value of interest rate swaps — is apparently due to the accounting treatment of presumably benign actions. Apparently what the ASA was doing, per their newly released financial statements, was switching their variable rate mortgage to a fixed rate mortgage (so to speak).

This should not detract from a broader point being made: the ASA’s expenses are high, and have grown substantially over the past five years. $10M is a lot to spend on an office suite when it seems to The Disgruntled Sociologist that almost all the work of the ASA could be done in a suburban Scranton office park. (And let us not forget the downside risk of purchasing commercial real estate.)

Since the annual meetings are held in swanky locations, the only sociologists who regularly enjoy the K-Street location are … who exactly?  (From what TDS understands, the Council holds its meetings offsite and not in the offices.)

Surely the oh-so-important lobbying activities of the ASA could be accomplished at substantially lower cost by flying people in for a few days if need be.