Thursday, October 28, 2004

CAE President Emihovich Message to Section Heads

Colleagues,

I am writing to let you know where CAE stands on the question of moving the annual meeting to Atlanta in December, and what further actions we plan to take. This chain of events has been very stressful and intense for everyone, and speaking for myself, I want to express my sympathies to the AAA Executive Board for having to make very difficult and complicated decisions in a condensed time period. Once we all have time to sit back and reflect on how this whole affair unfolded, it will be easier to see where key decisions or communication strategies could have been handled differently. However, the one point that is highly commendable, and one that we should not lose sight of, is that a major professional organization has taken action on a labor issue in a manner that is unprecedented in my experience. While we may express disagreement over how the decision was made and the nature of the decision itself, I cannot think of any other organization that would have been willing to confront the issue of crossing picket lines head–on. Most would have continued business as usual, and hoped for the best in terms of member compliance. Reading the emails from other sections as well as my own about the need to maintain solidarity with struggling workers whose lives are so much more impoverished than ours has made me proud to be a member of AAA/CAE, and I hope we will keep that commitment alive as we sort through all the ensuing complications that will now follow from this year’s meeting.

Based on extensive polling of our membership, and the CAE Board of Directors, there is overwhelming support for the position that we will not hold our program in Atlanta. For many members, some of whom wrote long and passionate emails, their opposition was based on the principles of supporting equity and social justice, and also concerns over the way the decision process was handled. Many people felt they simply did not have enough information to evaluate fairly all the potential alternatives, and the speed at which information could be sent, without having any way to assess its accuracy, made the situation even more problematic. For others, the sheer logistics of having to change tickets, exam schedules, appointment deadlines, etc. were simply overwhelming, especially when the location seemed to change daily. Finally, the Board felt that given the strong feelings expressed by many members, and faced with the fact of our membership already declining, we realized that holding our program in Atlanta would only accelerate these losses. I should note that while we will not have a formal program there, we understand that individuals may still choose to attend to meet other section commitments, or go the job interviews. Our action should not be interpreted as a formal boycott, but as one that builds upon member consensus, while honoring individuals’ right to make their own choices relevant to their needs.

We have also decided to hold a sectional conference in SF at the November meeting time. We are doing this because many of our doctoral students and junior scholars need the opportunity to have senior scholars available to hear their work, and this would not happen in Atlanta. We are calling it a sectional conference and not a counter conference because we do not want to give the impression we are disconnecting from AAA. In fact, we see this sectional conference as very much in the spirit of AAA from its earlier beginnings that may auger a transformed model for doing conferences along the lines of an email that was sent earlier (I have received so many I can longer find it). We have already arranged hotel and meeting space, and we invite other sections who may be interested in partnering with us to share the space (and the costs). If you are interested in doing so, please contact Yuri Wellington at this address: ywelling@hawaii.edu. Please do so immediately since our plans are being finalized now. Even if you do not want to share space, we would like to know about other sections’ plan in SF so we can communicate across disciplines. Finally, we invite the AAA Executive Board to meet with us there so we can discuss how to move forward in the future. If you cannot attend in person, we will look into ways of setting up a conference call.

Our last decision is that we will send some representatives to the Atlanta meeting to attend the Section Assembly to give voice to our concerns and to participate in the broader decision-making process. Regardless of the choices other sections make, we will hope they will send their representatives to Atlanta so AAA can meet as a deliberative body. We need to process all the implications that will now follow from this chain of events, and even in a technologically advanced society, face-to face contact is still important. One lesson we can all take from what has happened is that the speed of communication has a power to shape the dynamics and outcomes of a situation far beyond what many of us could even have anticipated or imagined. Figuring out how to harness this power to accomplish the organization’s goals will be a central task in deciding how this organization will continue.

This has truly been an extraordinary set of circumstances, and I imagine we will be unpacking it, deconstructing it, or analyzing it for many years to come. An organizational ethnography of this process is likely to serve as a topic for dissertations to come. Strong feelings have been expressed in many emails, but based on what I am seeing in my section emails, there is an enormous energy level and sense of commitment that if channeled appropriately, can help transform AAA into the kind of organization that many of us believed it to be when we first joined. CAE looks forward to working with all our colleagues to help make this happen.

Catherine Emihovich

CAE President

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