open letter to the AAR, titled "For the Good or the 'Guild,'" urging greater consideration of the concerns of contingent faculty. One line of this piece's abstract reads, "I recommend the American Academy of Religion reassess its values and priorities and ask that the organization decide if it is a nonprofit organization or a guild." A nonprofit, in Daley-Bailey's analysis, would uphold the needs of the downtrodden--a category to which too many contingent faculty and unemployed academics belong--while a guild protects the interests of those privileged enough to pay for access. A number of other scholars have responded to the piece here.
elsewhere. Basically, I don't think ASCH has enough leverage on the profession to function that way. Like AAR, though, ASCH controls its conferences, which are key sites for c.v.-building, networking, and job-seeking. (ASCH does not facilitate interviews directly, but it has long held its winter meeting in conjunction with the American Historical Association, which does.) With both the ASCH winter and spring meetings under re-evaluation by the council--Can ASCH afford to maintain ties with the AHA? Would it be possible to meet separately from AHA but in the same city at the same time? How often should we have spring meetings? What about other sorts of meetings?--I wanted to do a bit of thinking in public, as well as seek input from readers of this blog.
One of the key issues for Daley-Bailey is the cost of conferences. Because last year's surveys showed an overwhelming percentage of ASCH members desiring to continue meeting with the AHA every January, ASCH leaders are negotiating with AHA leaders to get ASCH members as many of the benefits of joint meetings as possible without significantly raising conference fees. The fact is, though, that conferences are expensive, and many of the people who might like to attend ASCH conferences do not have institutional funding to do so. What might ASCH leaders be able to do about this--and what might the society's "wealthier" members be willing to subsidize?
Daley-Bailey advocates a more detailed sliding scale of fees, with a category for the unemployed, and easier access to travel grants. Are these good steps for ASCH to consider? Do they go far enough? Another concern, if ASCH were to pursue the parallel conference strategy, this would likely mean a cheaper hotel at some distance from the AHA hotels, as well as separate meeting spaces. This cost-cutting measure might appeal to graduate students and contingent faculty while driving fully funded professors to switch affiliation to the AHA. Returning to Daley-Bailey's initial question, whose interests should ASCH seek to serve, if those interests seem to be in conflict?
Cost is a factor for ASCH spring meetings as well. AHA is not involved in these conferences, so it's entirely up to ASCH to choose sites, reserve rooms, and so forth. Next month's meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, has a $150 registration fee for all attendees, but the site is not near any concentration of ASCH members, so it will involve major travel time and costs for nearly everyone. Should spring meetings--or, potentially, meetings held at other times of the year--be cheaper than winter meetings? More convenient? Smaller and more collegial? Topically focused? Hosted by another institution, as are the meetings of the Conference on Faith and History? What constituency's interests should they serve? I'm on a sub-committee to discuss the future of spring meetings, so I'd really love to hear what anyone thinks about these questions.
Daley-Bailey also tackles the question of membership dues. Here, too, she recommends more gradations on the sliding scale, both to make membership more affordable and to acknowledge the existence of scholars who earn very little. (The MLA membership dues schedule she posts for reference starts at "under $15,000.") I don't know how well AAR or MLA do at actually collecting their dues, but this is a huge problem for ASCH. Of the folks on the ASCH membership rolls, only about 10% are paid up at any given time.
ASCH is making moves to address this situation. It's now easier to pay online, to automatically renew payments, and to check your membership status. Members will have to pay more attention to their status, because, starting this year, you will not be able to present at an ASCH conference if your membership is not current. (This has always been the policy, but it was difficult to enforce under the old membership system.) Membership status will also matter for consideration of awards.
ASCH leaders are actively considering other "carrots" and "sticks" to boost the ranks of dues-paying members, and this question circles back to Daley-Bailey's contention that a scholarly society needs to figure out what it is and whom it serves. Putting content and/or services behind a paywall, as AAR does with job ads, might raise the rate of dues-paying while constricting the sphere of people ASCH reaches. (What would ASCH put behind a paywall, anyway?) Conversely, making ASCH content and/or services more available to the public could encourage even more freeloading--which might still be a way of advancing the society's mission, only somebody has to pay for it.
This is the sort of thing that happens when non-ASCH members attend ASCH sessions at the winter meeting, which is great for the exchange of ideas, but is a problem in that ASCH members pay extra fees for the "privilege" of putting on those sessions that no other conference attendees pay. Should we check badges at our sessions, the way AHA used to do at the book display? Pass a collection plate? Subsidize annual meetings with money from foundations? Ask our wealthiest members to cover the costs through higher dues? Is it possible to be both a nonprofit, fostering the common good, and a guild, supporting a unique membership?
I've rambled too long. Please do let me know what you think about any of this, in comments below or via email (ecoffman at dbq.edu).