Regressive Aspects of the ASA Leadership’s T&T Policy

March 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm 12 comments

| Gabriel |

There are two big ironies about the ASA leadership’s preferred framing of the monotonic dues hike as being about a progressive fee structure rather than an increase in aggregate revenues. The obvious irony is that nobody has challenged the basic idea of a progressive fee structure or even a revenue-neutral bracket adjustment. What we have challenged is the aggregate increase in revenues and the lack of transparency in explaining why the ASA needs more money despite already being much more expensive than AEA.

The less obvious irony is that us aggrieved blogger types have proposed other reforms to make ASA more progressive and didn’t hear anything back from the leadership. The last time us bloggers got angry at ASA it was about treating the job bank as a profit center. ASA charges departments $200/month to be listed in the job bank, even if it’s a cross-disciplinary search. Not only that, but it discouraged the use of section listservs to circulate job announcements. That is, the ASA seems to view the job bank less as a service to the membership than as a fief bringing in rents and in this understanding alternative flows of job market information constitute something like tax evasion.

One obvious consequence of this set of policies is that while soc departments will just suck it up and pay hundreds of dollars for the ASA’s version of Craigslist, cross-disciplinary searches (area studies, various ethnic studies programs, comm studies, b-schools, etc.) that might be open to hiring sociologists can hardly be expected to pony up $200-$800 over the course of a search to attract PhDs from just one of the several disciplines they are interested in. This means sociologists don’t get these jobs. We can be even more specific and say that it is the younger and/or poorer sociologists who would be most interested in these openings and are most hurt by ASA’s high job bank fees. That is, current ASA policy of nickel-and-diming departments has a regressive incidence on the membership. The bloggers’ interest in revoking or relaxing this policy would mean relatively greater reliance on dues (which have always been progressive) and relatively less reliance on job bank fees that have an indirect regressive incidence on our weakest members. Net result, the total “tax and transfer” system of ASA is less progressive than it appears and that we proposed to make it through reforming the job bank.

When ASA eliminates its regressive job bank policy, then I’ll take the leadership seriously about how it would be progressive to adjust the dues structure upwards for the top-earning members but downwards for nobody. Until then I’ll assume that it’s just an organization that doesn’t know that there’s no shame in being a humbly efficient membership service organization and so it seeks all possible sources of revenue — whether they be progressive dues or (indirectly) regressive job bank fees — to finance its K-Street fantasies.


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asa dues petition: call for participation Reply to Yesterday’s Comment


  • 1. Noah  |  March 30, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    When grad students see the ASA claiming to be more progressive on the fee structure and then creating barriers that makes it harder for us to find jobs, it just doesn’t add up.

    I understand it makes sense for the petition to keep its goals relatively narrow. However, it is probably worthwhile to mention the disparity between progressive claims and regressive actions when explaining our grievances to grad students and younger faculty.

  • 2. ezrazuckerman  |  March 31, 2011 at 3:45 am

    Thanks for raising this important issue, Gabriel, and making the case so persuasively. This issue has come up in the past at the MIT Sloan School, an interdisciplinary place. Since we are committed to recruiting and retaining sociologists (I think we have more PhDs in sociology than any business school on the planet, and certainly the most bschool faculty who think of themselves as sociologists and/or publish in soc journals), we pay the fees to the ASA. But I’m sure you’re right that for an insitution that is potentially intersted in hiring sociologists and is more resource-constrained, the fee is a significant barrier. And you make a persuasive case that it functions as a regressive tax.

  • 3. Kim  |  March 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Good point, but the regressive taxation on younger and poorer sociologists under the current pricing model (charging departments to post) is less extreme than the old funding method of charging members extra to access the job bank. (Yes, I’m showing my age here.) Reducing the fees for non-soc department listings and raising them for soc departments wouldn’t make any friends, either, and would create some interesting incentive structures.

    All of this assumes, of course, that the goal is to restructure the job bank fees in a revenue-neutral way, i.e., so that the job bank continues to subsidize other activities at roughly the same rate it does now. I don’t accept the premise, but that’s because I don’t accept the premise that the ASA needs to be doing everything it currently does in order to serve the members.

  • 4. dontd  |  March 31, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I think this issue of the cost of the job bank in general and for interdisciplinary searches in particular is a great one. In my five years as Secretary and Secretary-elect, ending last summer, no one came to me with this issue. Perhaps someone raised it with one of the Presidents or members of Council? or on a blog? Of course, if it was raised after the 2007 financial meltdown, such an appeal would have been drowned by the revenue crisis anyway.

    This is how fees get raised at ASA. The ASA staff tends to propose fee increased that reflect expected shifts in cost, often this is CPI thinking, but sometimes it was about have the annual meeting in an expensive or low attendance city. Every time there is a proposal to raise some fee there is then a long discussion first in EOB and then in Council. In those discussion increasing annual meeting attendance and the needs of low income and especially student tended to take priority over costs to institutions. Child care costs at the annual meeting were stable for years, maybe a decade? The point I am trying to make is that which fees get raised or not in which years is the result of this kind of conversation. I actually did not get any particularly lobbying from members for or against particular fees during my tenure, so the policy making conversation mostly reflected the sense of the elected members of council of what felt fair or reasonable. Not sure how to fix this, beyond smarter lobbying, although this might work against the current bias toward students and low income sociologists.

    The tendency during my tenure was to try to find long-term alternatives to income from members. Buying rather than renting the building was such a strategy on the cost side (and we did discuss and reject moving to a strip mall in suburban Maryland). This happened pre-financial crisis. Getting out of the self-publishing business was another strategy to raise income for the association, hopefully over the next few years it will work out that way.
    Don T-D

    • 5. gabrielrossman  |  March 31, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks for explaining the process behind this. Even if we disagree about these issues I do recognize and appreciate that working as Secretary and responding to our issues in these blogs is a very demanding form of service.

      When the job bank issue came up in July most of us just complained about it on blogs but “Older Woman” complained directly to ASA headquarters and I don’t believe she ever got a response. Here is her original description of writing to ASA leadership. As far as I know she never got any reply at all about this and I know for a fact that she’s still unsatisfied.

      Admittedly we probably could have shown more follow-through, but there was some attempt to raise this with ASA leadership and as far as I know they never responded.

  • 6. olderwoman  |  March 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Confirming, I never did get any reply. To clarify, that specific message was about the emails lists, I did not ask for a cost accounting of the job service.

    To be honest, all the replies from ASA-supporters sound a lot like the replies my university gives when attempts are made to answer questions like “does teaching subsidize research or does research subsidize teaching?” No cost-accounting structures are in place to answer the question, because there are a lot of reasons why transparent answers to the questions are threatening and, most of the time, people just do their work and don’t think about money issues much one way or the other.

    When you have ASA leadership generally thinking that a profit center (publications) runs at a loss and having no idea at all whether any particular program (like the employment service) runs at a profit or a loss, you are in a situation in which nobody is accountable for where the money is going.

    • 7. Donald Tomaskovic-Devey  |  March 31, 2011 at 10:22 pm

      This blogging thing is tiring. So this is less polite and more to the point.

      ASA leadership is elected. It is not the ASA staff, although they are smart, creative and dedicate to both sociology and the membership. You probably can’t imagine how cruel these posts are to them. They work for you, many for decades, and some of these blogs treat the ASA staff like predators. Do you talk about your department staff this way? Do you do it to their face?

      Our elected President is Randall Collins, President elect is Erik Olin Wright. If you want to change stuff at ASA, if you want to complain, if you have good ideas you should talk to ASA leadership, the people you elected, Here they are::

      For four years I was ASA Secretary, for which i was paid zero dollars. It was a task I would do over again, not because it brought me fame or fortune, it did neither. I also did not do it because I got to waste money or alienate anonymous bloggers, although the latter is more attractive this evening. I think I must have done it so I could do less research, spend less time with my wife, and read long financial reports rather than Nora Robert’s novels. No, that is wrong. I did it because it is a voluntary organization and I have been a sociologist and a member of the ASA for more than thirty years.

      Don Tomaskovic-Devey, ex ASA leadership, plain olderman professor, UMass-Amherst

      • 8. olderwoman  |  April 1, 2011 at 9:40 am

        Dear Don, most people regularly on the scatterplot blog know who I am and I will email you personally to tell you who I am. It is very easy to figure it out if you read scatterplot. I keep my name out of blogs because I get news coverage in my own corner of the world and don’t want the blog to come up in a google search of my name.

        I apologize if I sounded like I was attacking your integrity or that of the staff. The phrase “nobody is accountable” certainly could sound that way. To clarify, I do not mean to imply theft or dishonesty. I meant to imply what I said: ignorance, not knowing. “What does ASA spend its money on?” is a perfectly reasonable question for ASA members to ask. So is “which ASA activities subsidize which other ASA activities?” They are threatening questions because people don’t all agree on which activities are valuable. They are not easy questions to answer without cost accounting reports that are specifically designed to answer them. The standard accounting reports are designed to detect excessive spending on overhead versus “program.” They are not designed to help readers understand how expensive various programs are.

  • 9. olderwoman  |  March 31, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    By the way, I asked another question that also got no answer. I prepared a presentation on acceptance patterns of ASA submissions by area and asked whether I could post the information on Scatterplot. No reply.

  • 10. thedisgruntledsociologist  |  March 31, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    olderwoman’s responses suggest that the frequently invoked line of defense “if it is a problem, why didn’t anyone complain about it” does not carry much weight.

    @Don, your last paragraph raises several questions:

    1) How is buying rather than renting the HQ space a way of lowering the dependence on member dues? What about the opportunity cost of the capital sunk into the real estate? Are these cost calculations available?
    2) How does getting out of self-publishing (=having Sage take over) reduce the dependence on member dues? Is the Sage deal more profitable for the ASA than self-publishing? (TDS can tell a story consistent with this, but also a story consistent with the alternative.) The “hopefully” in your last sentence is worrisome. Are these calculations available to the membership?

  • 11. Disintermediate! « The Disgruntled Sociologist  |  March 31, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    […] Rossman’s post about the ASA job bank is an important one. Particularly important is the question of why the job […]

  • 12. Reply to Yesterday’s Comment « Code and Culture  |  April 1, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    […] the comments to a previous post, Don raised a series of points about the reform process and the nature of ASA governance. This seemed to be most directly in response to OW, who had her […]

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