Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Letter from Walter Goldschmidt to Liz Brumfiel

Dear Colleagues:

I have been asked by Walter Goldschmidt, former AAA President, to circulate the letter below (sent to current AAA President Liz Brumfiel two weeks ago). Dr. Goldschmidt spoke passionately about the issues of labor relations and AAA governance at the meetings in Atlanta. He has expanded on his thoughts here. I think they warrant a close read.


Rob O'Brien

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2005 10:15:01 -0800 To:
ebrumfiel@northwestern.edu From: Walter Goldschmidt
Subject: crises Cc: Robert O'Brien, Paul
Durrenberger, bdavis@aaanet.org
Dear Liz,

I am concerned that I have not had a response to my letter of two weeks ago. Because the matter goes far beyond you and me, I am having Bob O"Brien circulate it more widely. Wally

To: ebrumfiel@northwestern.edu From: Walter Goldschmidt walterg@ucla.edu Cc: agoodman@hampshire.edu Bcc: bdavis@aaanet.org lhorne@aaanet.org

Dr. Elizabeth Brumfiel, President American Anthropological Association 2200 Wilson Blvd. Arlington VA 22201

Dear Liz,

This letter is being addressed to you, Liz, as the responsible head of the Association, who has found herself suddenly faced with a crisis of major proportions in what is generally seen as a largely ceremonial and honorific role. You have my sympathy, for I am sure that you wanted to follow some agenda of your own, but now you have no choice. I am giving you friendly advice with sympathy and concern, because conscientious and forceful action is essential for the very preservation of the Association. This is not a melodramatic statement, but a sober assessment. Though I know from experience that it seems the other way around, you are the boss and Bill and the staff are your employees; this means that you are the fall-guy; you are where the buck stops. When I was inducted as an officer of the Association, I and my cohort were advised that as officers we had fiscal responsibility and legal liability, if I remember the terminology correctly, and whether this advisory is still practiced, I am sure it is still the law.

The crisis has two aspects, each of which must be addressed. The first is damage control, for there is great anger at both the manner in which the situation was handled from the outset and the decision that was made and the way it was arrived at. The second is planning for the almost inevitable revisit to the same crisis in 2006. While this will not occur on your watch, the planning for this must be done by you and your successor right away.

1. Damage Control. Given the existence of a contract and the likelihood of a strike, the Association had to face the issue of its memberswillingness to cross the picket lines. Though we are not a union, we are made up largely of liberals who are reluctant to act in support of management. Thus the question was: Can the AAA meet successfully in a hotel that is not merely on strike, but where the workers were locked out? If not, what are the alternatives? The inevitability of having to face this issue raises further questions: Why was there no planning for this likely event? I called my long-term friend, Lucille Horne, on Oct. 12, to find out what was being planned, more to protect my hotel deposit than as a call to action, and was surprised when she blithely said she expected the strike to be over by then. I should have been alerted by this response that sounded more like Rumsfelds planning for Iraq than I like with the same inevitability of disaster. It is of course not Lucilles job to anticipate political disasters -- but what was going on in the administration of Association affairs? Was there no realization of the potential gravity of the situation? Why had there been no canvass of the membership to measure its commitment to support the strikers and its attitude toward crossing picket lines? The opacity of the action that was taken, the sudden and very limited referendum and the decision to take action quite unlike any proposed in the referendum all combine to alienate the membership and exacerbated the latent antagonism that always lies between authority and rank-and-file. It is this alienation that the leadership, both elected and employed, must do all in its power to dispel. It can do this only by a full disclosure of what was said and done leading up to the decision to move to Atlanta and to keep us posted on actions currently being taken with respect to the future. The members need to know in detail just how matters were handled, when was the gravity of the situation realized, what the initial reactions were, what the staff was doing about it, what voices came from the members and whose voices and what knowledge came to dominate the decisions. In short, full disclosure!

The meetings have been held; they were a travesty for the participants, a tragedy for those who most needed them, particularly the young and hungry, and an on-going threat to the integrity of the Association. I feel that neither you nor Bill appreciates the gravity of this situation, and your round-robin letter describing the meetings does nothing to dispel this fear. I had been astonished to find no call for a plenary session to explain and discuss the matter at the meeting, if only to release a little steam. Sitting in the so-called business meeting was like discussing the relative merits of Evian Water over Vichy while the house was burning. It was surreal. There is already an outside threat to use this situation to break up the Association, but nobody seems to have taken the trouble to recognize the presence of that elephant in the parlor.

The only overt expression of awareness and of negotiations was the session called by Paul Durrenberger and Suzan Erem. It gave us a peek at what went on, but did not explain your and Bills role and the decision-making process. Apparently outside consultants were used but no consultation with the membership. There should have been a session called specifically to discuss the issue, with yourself presiding, Bill, Lucille and the President-elect there, in which you outlined for us the history of the action and took questions from the floor.

I urge you now to make up for this failure by establishing a forum in the Newsletter, in which you set forth in painful detail all the discussions and action, starting with the first recognition of the existence of a crisis and continuing on over the years, taking letters of condemnation and advice as well as describing on-going actions until the crisis of 2006 has been resolved. Perhaps this letter could be published as an open letter as a kick-off for such a forum. I urge that you and the staff be open and frank. The crisis was not of your making and the solution was not self-evident, yet the one reached was far from ideal and the membership deserves to know just how it was arrived at and what other solutions were considered. This forum should, if necessary, replace less urgent materials. You dont want a call for a commission of enquiry on the matter, which is the last thing we need.

2. The Coming Crisis. The Faustian bargain reached for the 2004 meeting means that we must meet the devil face to face very soon. You must realize that this strike/lock-out is no mere local conflict, but a major confrontation between labor and management. The union is the largest one in the public sector and represents not only the poorest of the working poor but those very people who are trying to lift themselves out of the poverty level, into which their un-unionized counterparts fall. It is, furthermore, a battle for unionization itself, a battle that had its first skirmish with Reagans defeat of the flight monitors union when he took office. I was dismayed to hear one of the Association officers, whose name I do not know, dismiss the matter as being just a house-keeping girlsissuewhen we had important issues like what should be done about Iraq (about which we can have zero influence) to discuss. I suggest you ask Paul Durrenberger and/or Suzan Erem do explain what is involved, for they are far better qualified than I am to do so. Any assumption that the problem will go away is just more Rumsfeld thinking.Indeed, management will very likely want to chastise us for having walked out of San Francisco.

I cannot advise you on how to solve the problem, but I can suggest some courses of action you should take now. The first is to get the best measure you can of the temper of the Association membership. How many would boycott a meeting that was on strike; how many would refuse to cross a picket line, etc. The second is to create an ad hoc committee made up of knowledgeable people, I would presume chaired by the President-elect, who is saddled with the issue, to explore alternatives, assay their costs and, for those that seem viable, get membership reaction. Third, I would be open about all actions taken, keeping the membership informed through the Forum in the Newsletter and by email.

You have my sympathy, Liz. I have no doubt of your good intentions but I am not impressed with your performance to date. It is not an easy task and I am sure you will have to give up doing a lot of things with your term of office that are more dear to your heart. But it has fallen on your shoulders and you and your President-elect will have to spend long, agonizing hours working on it, learning as you go. But nothing is more important than the resolution of this internal issue to keep our Association intact. If you succeed, you will have accomplished something more important than anything on your (or my) resume.

Happy Holidays!

Walter Goldschmidt, UCLA


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