more re: asa dues increase

Given that we have a couple of other posts today, I don’t want to push them down the page too much, so I’ll put this after a jump. But, I looked up the ASA Council minutes regarding the dues increase:

The February minutes, where the decision of Council to go forward with the increase, are not online. But the August meeting minutes are, and are here, starting on the middle of page 4.

Notes:

1. As you can see, it’s really the EOB committee and secretary/treasurer that drafts these things, and council provides input and a final vote. People overestimate the role of Council / the ASA president and underestimate the role of EOB / the secretary-treasurer. At least judging from the minutes, Council discussions do not engage seem to financial particulars that closely.

2. ASA Council members appear to have been given the impression that ASA dues presently are “often lower” than other associations in nearby fields. I welcome anyone to actually look at other disciplines and what they charge for dues and what they provide in return journal-wise. AEA is already very low, and is actually reducing its dues, so that Paul Krugman will be paying less and getting more than even the new category of Unemployed Sociologists under the new proposal. APSA’s dues are here, and, APSA members between $30K and $134K are already paying less than current ASA dues, a gap that will widen under the new proposal. [Also, even under the new proposal, unemployed political scientists pay less than unemployed sociologists, and unemployed economists–if they exist–pay the least of all.]

3. Although most of the discussion indeed does seem to have been about “progressivity,” the parts that seem to be about increasing dues outright are about preventing unspecified future reductions in services rather than expanding services.

4. There’s a part at the end about how when a proposal for a dues change is advanced to members, it will be important to provide a history and rationale. Well, they messed that up, except it seems like Council might have been much more occupied with the progressivity part than the dues increase part.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

23 thoughts on “more re: asa dues increase”

    1. I think the petition is fine with the point that Gabriel made. There is a basic principle that dues increases above COLA need to be approved by members, and so members deserve to have an explanation of why that dues increase is necessary. The Footnotes article does not do this.

      I think problems with non-dues revenue are fairly plausible. I went spelunking into ASA’s tax returns to refute the idea that ASA journals operate as a break-even (or worse) proposition when actually they are a cash cow that ASA uses to fund other things. It might be a shrinking cow, though. The rate of ASA members who subscribe to multiple journals is indeed in a population-of-Detroit-style freefall, although I don’t remember off the top of my head how much that figures into overall journal revenue.

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      1. The Disgruntled Sociologist has information that the gross profit margin on ASR is on the order of 60%. (This is not obvious from the tax returns, and the ASA – unlike some other associations – does not break it out in their financial audits.) That is probably an over-estimate since it is not clear how to allocate general overhead costs related to subscriber acquisition etc.

        Nonetheless, the conclusion holds that the journals are a net positive for the association. The economics of leading journals are fantastic (inputs and most of the labor are provided for free; demand is inelastic; publication costs are going down but subscription fees are not). Sage bought the ASA journals for a reason.

        TDS thinks the petition should add something about governance, and a need for a revisiting of how the association is governed, budgets are set, etc. It appears that all of these things are really decided and debated by a very small group of people, and the Council (which is structured such that institutional memory is poor) has little actual input and control.

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      2. Oh, TDS, you dangler of tantalizing inside information you!

        A few reactions:

        1. I completely sympathize with the need for broader and deeper governance reform. However, I tend to think that this particular petition should be narrowly targeted. The reason is that the broader it is, the harder it may be to get people to sign up for it. In addition, I think that insofar as the petition is successful, it will create some serious momentum for reform. So I think that this is a targeted petition drive is a stimulus for broader and deeper reform rather than a substitute for it. Does that make sense? I’ll post a new draft soon.

        2. The strategic management professor in me understands why flagship journals are a cash-cow for their owners, but is wondering how Sage makes off so well.

        (Writing in the third person is catching! Hmmm… maybe we should refer to TDS as ‘Jimmy’!; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jimmy)

        Presumbably, Sage’s services are undifferentiated: ASA could easily have gone with Elsevier or someone else like that. So shouldn’t ASA have been able to bargain them down to the point where they are making relatively little?

        3. [I wrote a long note here with opinion about why sociological research provides so little guidance on how the ASA and other organizations should be governed, such that we end up with a governance model that is far behind the large corporations that most sociologists love to hate (see e.g., http://currents.westlawbusiness.com/Article.aspx?id=56330e75-82ce-4d79-8eee-c82efb48d702&src=WBSignon). If TDS is interested, I’ll post in your site instead]

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      3. Agreed re the advantages of a focused petition.

        With respect to the deal with Sage, TDS would hope that Ezra’s analysis is correct and that the ASA drove a hard bargain. Publishers want a broad scope of journals so as to increase their bargaining power with respect to the libraries etc. through bundling. Marginal costs of an additional journal are very low, so there is room for a win-win here, albeit at the expense of universities and other institutional subscribers. (I am not entirely confident that the ASA drove a hard bargain, however.)

        That of course would only reinforce the point that the ASA generates substantial net revenue through its journals. And that the value created is largely due to a long history of public good contributions by sociologists in the form of reviewing, editing, etc.

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      4. re journals, although I don’t know details, I did learn at a SWS panel that Sage’s Gender and Society contract with SWS provides a heavy subsidy of SWS that permits it (among other things) to have subsidized conventions and low subscription prices for members of SWS and that SWS leadership claimed some success in driving a hard bargain.

        Nothing in any communications we have had with ASA suggests that the Sage contract is advertised in such a way at ASA. To the contrary, we are told that are dues are subsidizing the journals rather than the other way around.

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      5. OK, Jimmy. We’ll stay with the focused petition.

        OW: Any comment on the petition?

        And boy do Jimmy’s and OW’s comments make (Ezra… er..) me nervous. The fact that the ASA has not been straight with us about how much the journals (and ASR in particular) earn is worrisome. I agree with Jimmy that the marginal cost for additional journals for Sage should be very low, but this should also be true for any of its competitors. So the ASA should have been able to license the ASA for a very high price. I hope it understood what it was doing. (My guess is that given the multi-point aspect to the publishers’ competition for journals, there is a strong likelihood of ‘softened’ competition [i.e., tacit collusion] among the publishers. So the journals may have to real work to push the prices up).

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      6. about journals: One more thought. Although ASR is a cash cow, it IS possible that it is subsidizing other ASA journals. But as publishers are eager to found new journals in even small specialty niches, I’m guessing that all the ASA journals are profit centers, not just ASR.

        ezra re petition: I don’t have good opinions about wordsmithing, e.g. the debate about comparison vs benchmarking etc. I’d sign and circulate a petition calling for more transparency and disclosure.

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      7. Folks:
        The text of a new draft of a petition is below.
        However, we need some more organization on this, in part because some decisions need to be taken about the extent to which we will ask people to identify themselves on the petition. If the petition allows people to opt out of publicizing their names and/or email addresses, then someone will have to manage the list. And especially or a movement that is about good governance practices, it is obviously not a good idea for one person to be in charge of this list. The alternative is to require all petition signers to identify themselves. That may pack a bigger wallop, on a name-per-name basis, but will likely limit the number of signers. Meanwhile, I don’t want to decide this on my own, and certainly not in sporadic comments on scatterplot, Jimmy, and orgtheory. (I also have no plans to start my own blog [“the often disgruntled, but sometimes hopeful, and once-in-a-blue-moon proud sociologist”?])
        So…
        1. I will be emailing those who have already publicly said they (using their real names!) would sign the petition and asking them for help in jointly deciding (and taking responsibility– you need to pay to play) for the petition.
        2. If you have not (used your real name and) said you want to sign the petition but you would like to participate in the decisions about– and take responsibility for– the petition, please email me at ewzucker@mit.edu. The only criterion, in my mind, is membership in the ASA. And if you haven’t joined/renewed your membership recently, you might want to do it today anyway, since I hear prices may be rising!

        Here is the revised petition:

        We the undersigned members of the American Sociological Association hereby register our concern with the ASA leadership’s recommendation that its members vote for a dues increase. (See the February issue of Footnotes [ http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/mar11/dues_0311.html%5D for the recommendation and rationale). We believe that the stated rationale is inconsistent with a commitment to democratic and transparent governance processes, and we urge the ASA leadership to present its members with a rationale that is more cogent and is more consistent with such a commitment.

        The stated rationale for the dues increase is that the ASA dues schedule should be more progressive. However, the issue of progressivity pertains to the *distribution* of the dues burden across the ASA membership and is irrelevant to the *aggregate* size of that burden (see https://scatter.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/dues-increase/).

        We believe that any *aggregate* increase in the dues required of ASA members can be justified only by: (a) an expected increase in the expenses necessary to provide the ASA’s service to its members; and (b) an expected decline in revenues (either due to a decline in the number of members or from such other sources of revenue as subscriptions to ASA journals).

        We also believe that for such a rationale to be cogent, the ASA’s expenses and revenues cannot be viewed in isolation. Rather, the ASA’s past and future expenses and revenues (especially the dues portion) must be systematically compared with those of such peer disciplinary associations as the APSA, AEA, and AAA. We believe that such a comparative analysis is necessary despite the lack of complete data on ASA’s peers and the fact that the ASA may differ from its peers in various respects that impact on its expenses and revenues. While full data on peer institutions may not be available, useful data can be readily obtained (see http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/the-asa-loophole-and-the-unfairness-of-aea-dues/), and we call on the ASA leadership to use all available data to build a more cogent justification for their recommendation. And while the ASA may be somewhat different from its peers, we do not believe that these differences are sufficiently great to excuse the ASA from engaging in a comparative analysis. Rather, such an analysis should be explicit about what it believes those differences are, and explain how they explain any differences in expense and revenue.

        Unless and until the ASA leadership provides a compelling justification that meets these criteria before the May elections, we urge our fellow ASA members to vote against the new dues schedule.

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      8. Here is a slightly draft of the petition, updated which includes a recommended ‘no vote’ in the first paragraph, and also a link to Jimmy’s comparative analysis of ASA’s expenses as a model of what we expect.

        We the undersigned members of the American Sociological Association hereby register our concern with the ASA leadership’s recommendation that its members vote for a dues increase. (See the February issue of Footnotes [ http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/mar11/dues_0311.html%5D for the recommendation and rationale). We believe that the stated rationale is inconsistent with a commitment to democratic and transparent governance processes, and we urge the ASA membership to vote against the proposed dues increase unless and until the ASA leadership presents its members with a rationale that is more cogent and is more consistent with a commitment to democratic and transparent governance.

        The stated rationale for the dues increase is that the ASA dues schedule should be more progressive. However, the issue of progressivity pertains to the *distribution* of the dues burden across the ASA membership and is irrelevant to the *aggregate* size of that burden (see https://scatter.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/dues-increase/).

        We believe that any *aggregate* increase in the dues required of ASA members can be justified only by: (a) an expected increase in the expenses necessary to provide the ASA’s service to its members; and (b) an expected decline in revenues (either due to a decline in the number of members or from such other sources of revenue as subscriptions to ASA journals).

        We also believe that for such a rationale to be cogent, the ASA’s expenses and revenues cannot be viewed in isolation. Rather, the ASA’s past and future expenses and revenues (especially the dues portion) must be systematically compared with those of such peer disciplinary associations as the APSA, AEA, and AAA. We believe that such a comparative analysis is necessary despite the lack of complete data on ASA’s peers and the fact that the ASA may differ from its peers in various respects that impact on its expenses and revenues. While full data on peer institutions may not be available, useful data can be readily obtained (see http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/the-asa-loophole-and-the-unfairness-of-aea-dues/ and http://thedisgruntledsociologist.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/the-asa-where-do-your-dues-go-part-ii-comparative-data/), and we call on the ASA leadership to use all available data to build a more cogent justification for their recommendation. And while the ASA may be somewhat different from its peers, we do not believe that these differences are sufficiently great to excuse the ASA from engaging in a comparative analysis. Rather, such an analysis should be explicit about what it believes those differences are, and explain how they explain any differences in expense and revenue.

        Unless and until the ASA leadership provides a compelling justification that meets these criteria before the May elections, we urge our fellow ASA members to vote against the new dues schedule.

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  1. Indeed very interesting. And, in view of what appears to be an uninformed discussion about the dues of peer professional associations, I now reverse my position on whether Ezra should keep benchmarking in his petition. I think it should stay. And, if he is then going to go with this sort of longish petition, then he might as well keep the progressivity material as protection against a rhetorical flanking maneuver.

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    1. I think that “benchmarking” can have two connotations: “to compare” (e.g., what do ASA dues look like compared to AEA, APSA, AAA, APA, etc.) or “to set one thing based on another” (e.g., benchmarked to inflation). I agree strongly with the first, but disagree strongly with the second connotation (I don’t think that we should blindly set our dues based on another organization’s dues).

      I could be incorrectly interpreting the word and it is actually very clear, but my first take reading the petition was the later (to set) and then I had to go back and realize that it was the former (to compare).

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  2. I’m a faculty member at a top-30 department, and seriously considering quitting the ASA altogether. What am I going to lose? Can nonmembers submit papers to the annual meetings?

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    1. This is why the rationale for a restructuring and dues increase is wrong. The fact is, for those of us outside of the Top 30, membership in most associations becomes fleeting–you join the year you plan to hit a meeting (you do have to be a member to present in the ASA–or at least have one co-author member). Irregulars’ demand is highly elastic–moving up the cost reduces participation. Do you really think ASA has a lot of members in the “unemployed” or low income categories? I seriously doubt it. I’ve always been a member because I can afford it…but we’re getting really close to the limit here. As more people become irregular, revenue dries up….necessitating more dues increases to pay for the DC office and the large staff. This is already happening.

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  3. The extreme lack of enthusiasm for Las Vegas as a convention site (plus the date shift which led others to drop out) means this is going to be a very bad financial year for ASA. But I agree with sherkat, raising dues will not help the problem.

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  4. The first paragraph of page 5 (August 17th council minutes) states: “ASA dues are often
    lower but associations have different structures, provide different and often fewer services,
    and make different decisions on subsidizing journal subscription costs for their members.” (emphasis mine).

    Can someone tell me what these services are? (I’m not trolling for snark on this, I honestly want to know what services the ASA leadership believes it provides…) Outside of the employment service (which arguably ought to be an outreach mission rather than a membership perk) and the journals, what services do we actually get for our ASA dues? (I just looked at my membership benefits package for this year; there are group insurance packages which are not any more attractive than what I can buy in my local insurance market; a discount for jstor…which I don’t need because of my institutional affiliation… Does the home office consider these superior services?)

    It seems to me that the ASA as an institution is facing a legitimation crisis and those within the inner circle are oblivious to this. Perhaps the ASA is on path to extinction?

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      1. It wasn’t when I was on the market six years ago. Access to the job bank was included in my student membership; but access to the “meat market” at the annual meeting cost an additional $50 bucks. I know that it costs departments more to participate though I don’t know what that cost is now.

        By the way, I definitely benefited from the employment service as a student on the market. I got interviews with places where I may not have had I not had that experience. So I would say that this is a service… Though, I would also presume this service is wholly paid for by the extra fees charged for it.

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  5. The extreme lack of enthusiasm for Las Vegas as a convention site (plus the date shift which led others to drop out) means this is going to be a very bad financial year for ASA.

    Actually, as an organizer for a large roundtable session, I’ve found (and hear also from the ASA office) that submissions are way up this year, not down. So I wouldn’t worry about any financial issues regarding meeting attendance this year.

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  6. I agree completely with Mike3550’s note on two meanings of benchmarking. I hadn’t considered the second meaning. And the Disgruntled Sociologist raises a related issue (see here: http://thedisgruntledsociologist.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/the-asa-a-good-place-to-make-a-living-for-some/#comment-30) which is demonstrated in the recent [and terrific] AJS article by DiPrete, So this issue seems avoided if the petition just uses the word comparison in some way.

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