More inclusive scheduling of annual meetings
This petition had 1,066 supporters
The American Sociological Association (ASA) benefits immeasurably from its increasingly diverse membership, with members from different backgrounds, regions, and kinds of institutions. The current timing and location of the annual meetings poses a series of particular difficulties for members who have fewer resources, who have children or familial responsibilities, or who work at teaching-intensive institutions that begin in August.
To better accommodate the needs of the entire membership, we urge ASA to rethink both the timing and location of the annual meeting. We have two major concerns that make ASA less inclusive than it should be: scheduling and costs.
Meeting in mid-to-late August is difficult (often impossible) for many sociologists with school-aged children. In many states, children return to school in August. ASA coincides with the start of school for many parents; on-site childcare, while an important resource for parents with younger children, doesn’t facilitate attendance for parents with school-age children who most particularly may need to be present for the start of the year. The current scheduling undermines ASA’s goal of being supportive of work-family balance.
Holding the annual meeting during the second half of August makes attending meetings difficult or impossible for members who teach on a semester academic calendar. The ASA meetings as scheduled interfere with the start of the academic term as well as meetings, orientations, and preparations required with the start of classes. Next year, in 2015, the meetings will be from August 22-25, when classes at many universities will already be under way. The practice of scheduling meetings late in August undermines the organization’s goals of supporting faculty development and high quality instruction.
These scheduling conflicts and the inability to participate in the annual meetings carry long-term consequences. Many scholars, after missing meetings because of conflicts with the dates, find it difficult to re-engage ASA. The concomitant professional costs include, but are not limited to, challenges identifying referees in their field for promotion and tenure; lost professional development opportunities around publishing, grant-writing, and program development; and limited ability to benefit from professional mentoring. The fundamental mission of the organization –supporting the success of all sociologists – requires ASA to remove barriers to disciplinary networks and opportunities for intellectual growth.
Faculty members at most universities face shrinking travel budgets and resources. The costs of attending the annual meeting, with conference hotel rates of over $260/night (as it is in 2014), have become prohibitive for many members. We acknowledge the importance of geographic diversity to the membership, but encourage ASA to prioritize including host cities in less expensive regions or to find less expensive venues in the current list of host cities. Striving for affordability will help ASA to reduce inequality between scholars and institutions and allow for full participation of its diverse membership.
The number of scholars who are underemployed or work on non-tenure track positions is increasing. The expense of attending the meetings makes participation difficult. More affordable meeting sites, tiered registration rates that extend not just to graduate students but to those who lack positions with travel resources, and alternative housing arrangements will allow for greater participation in meetings. Full participation of members from myriad institutions strengthens the intellectual culture of the organization.
We respect and acknowledge scheduling meetings is a complex multi-year process that must meet a wide array of organizational goals. We also understand the importance of working with hotels and conference centers with good labor practices, which may also increase costs. Our aim is not to undermine those priorities but to ensure that inclusiveness remains a key value for making organizational decisions.
We ask ASA to convene a task force charged with creating a long-term strategic plan recommending changes in the next contract negotiation. We call for the ASA Executive Office to examine and measure the concerns of its increasingly diverse membership, and attend more carefully to issues of race, class, gender inequality, and employment differences among its members. The task force should identify and make central to future conference scheduling the ways in which ASA could partially ameliorate those inequalities through structural changes to the timing and location of the meetings.
Specifically, ASA should immediately
1. Form a workgroup to study the issue more fully. Specifically, what concerns exist for members and what barriers do the scheduling and costs of the meetings present to members?
2. Collect data from members about their concerns about the accessibility and inclusivity of meetings. How are members who have more carework responsibilities, including school-aged children, disproportionately disadvantaged?
3. Are there other times of the year when the meetings could be held that would be both more affordable (as August is often the height of the tourist season) or more amenable to members’ teaching schedules?
4. Make more transparent the process by which cities are selected and the ways those charged with contracting aim to control costs to include the ways more inclusive options for dates and affordability were central to the process.
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