response from tomaskovic-devey

I’m at PAA, where the dues are cheaper and conference registration comes with a free drink ticket.

Don Tomaskovic-Devey, former secretary/treasurer of ASA, wrote a response to my post complaining about the Footnotes article on the dues increase. It was a long, thoughtful response and so deserves to be linked from a post. I thought it also deserved a serious response, even though I want to get back to the conference and will do so now. (I ignored his “ploy to soak the rich” comment at the end since I presume he actually understands that was never my contention.) My response below:

Don:

Thanks for taking the time to present all this. Really. Given that we’ve had ASA meetings on “Is another world possible?” and “Real Utopias” is coming up, I invite you to imagine: what if your post had been how the dues increase had been presented to members in the first place? Seriously, I want to underscore that I appreciate your responding in a way that made me feel like a member and a volunteer, whereas the article in Footnotes made me feel like a customer and would-be sucker.

You made a couple of references to my being on Pub Comm; I’ll speak to that after responding about the finances.

With the numbers you provide, I appreciate them and trust you know what you are talking about. That said, the math at some key points doesn’t work out for me, and I’d like to understand why. [see update]

You say the projected increase in revenue from the dues increase is $100-200K. You also say 36% of members are in the $70K category. I found one page listing the number of ASA members as 14.7K. 36% of 14.7K is 5292. The *minimum* dues increase for somebody over $70K is $26. 5252 x $26 is $137,592 right there. And that’s not even dealing with the increases in the $20K-$70K range, which I will assume will be much larger than the deduction for unemployed sociologists.

So I don’t get the scenario where this only brings in $100K more dollars, unless ASA is expecting that this will drive a significant number of members away, which would be another reason to vote against it.

On the other side, obviously the average income of people making $70K is more than $70K. Say it ends up being a 20% average increase for people over $70K, which looks reasonable to me given the structure. That’s $47 per member, or about $249K total. Again, not counting the increase for people in the $20K to $70K range.

In short, my back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the dues increase is maybe 50+% more lucrative to ASA than the numbers you give. Not saying you’re wrong; I’d be happy for you to explain what’s my error.

Similarly, it’s great that you provide these percentages about ASA income, but they don’t square at all with what one would infer from the audit report. Since the audit reports apparently stand as an example of how those-darned-troublemaking-bloggers do not appreciate how transparent ASA currently is–even though these reports were out of date until one such blogger complained–I feel like somebody reading the audit report should get an understanding of revenues and expenses that bears at least a rough resemblance to the presumably correct understanding of the secretary-treasurer.

You say dues are more than a third of income. The audit report says the percentage of total revenue that’s dues is much less, even when the net assets part is taken out. You say dues generate more revenue than journals. The publications line in the audit report is so much larger than the dues line that I don’t understand what kind of non-journal publications would make this so. Even taking out publications expenses, I’m not sure how this lines up. You say dues bring in more than twice as much as the revenue from the annual meeting. The audit report gives the impression that the annual meeting revenue is 2/3 as much as dues revenue (and that’s counting section dues with regular dues).

Again, my point here is not that you are wrong, but I feel like I’ve made a pretty good faith effort and the conclusions I would take away from it do not square with the information you’ve provided in response to my blog post. Perhaps this highlights why greater transparency would be good and would increase people’s confidence in ASA.

As for Pub Comm, frankly my experience there is what started me out on this crazy timesuck errand of being curious about ASA finances. One seminal moment was a breakfast conversation in which the ASA President, in all apparent sincerity, asserted that ASA journals operate at “a bit of a loss.” To be fair, because I was busy almost choking on my bagel after he said this, I did not follow up to find out whether he meant something not-quite-what-he-said that I could reconcile with the Earth I inhabit.

(Just so we’re clear: The ASA 990 returns, the audit reports and various other lines of evidence indicates that ASA journals generate a significant surplus that ASA uses to fund non-journal activities, even if I’m not sure how often ASA comes straight out and tells its members that.)

Apart from access to the Contexts review, being on Pub Comm in my own experience has resulted in little information about the finances of journals. Pub Comm is asked to evaluate requests for extra pages and color covers, etc., with no information about revenues or anything else that would give the decisions any real financial context. I would love to know the details of the agreement with Sage, including the levels of the “income minimums” you mention above; it’d be great if you wanted to fill us in on that [see update]. I’ve learned nothing about the finances of the Sage agreement during the time that I have been on Pub Comm.

–Jeremy

UPDATE: I want to emphasize that by asking Don why I didn’t really follow how the statements he was making followed from the numbers I was looking at, I am absolutely not saying (or secretly implying) that what Don is saying is incorrect, and I understand how operating budgets and accounting figures and such might differ. With my experience on Pub Comm, I’ve been on it for a year and a half, and am not claiming anything more broadly about its history. There are people who think Pub Comm should not be concerned at all with the finances of journals and that this should be left to other committees; I don’t agree with that view but am not going to get into it.

Also, I am not saying that elected officers did not vet the Sage contract, and it’s pretty obvious how there might be business reasons why details of a publishing contract with a for-profit company might not be the kind of thing you can share broadly. Of course that creates thorny issues. Additionally, re-reading my post, I said something that made ASA sound reluctant to give Pub Comm information in a way that, looking back, I think was probably a misrecollection and also not especially fair, so I’ve edited that.

Overall, I’ll also say that I think it’s worth dialing down the emotional components of this, and making clear that, while I really am upset about the way the dues increase was presented in Footnotes and feel it’s emblematic about how ASA needs to be better about transparency, I do not want anybody to confuse that with any kind of claim whatsoever of misconduct.

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.

9 thoughts on “response from tomaskovic-devey”

  1. Good show, Jeremy. I echo all your questions. I would also like to add a question: why does ASA extract money from grad students on the job market and potential employers in a down economy where jobs are scarce? What are the costs associated with running the employment service at ASA and the Job Bank on line? How much revenue is coming in from these sources? Is this a profit-making or loss-creating enterprise? And shouldn’t ASA members be asked whether this is something we’d like to subsidize?

    I’d also like more explanation of what “program” is. What gets done under “program”? Who does it? It’s clearly not meeting services, not governance and administration, etc. But what DOES get done under “program”?

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  2. Thanks, Jeremy, for roughing out an estimate of the revenue this would bring in, as well as pointing out the inconsistencies between the available financial statements and what has been presented by the ASA leadership. Extremely helpful– and extremely worrisome. I think that OW’s comment over on Gabriel’s blog (see comment 6 on http://codeandculture.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/regressive-aspects-of-the-asa-leaderships-tt-policy/) is the best summary so far of the core of the problem (and the most serious symptom is the tortured logic behind the idea that the dues-increase was an inevitable byproduct of increasing progressivity; see http://thedisgruntledsociologist.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/progressivity-and-the-mathematical-inevitability-of-increased-dues/) And as I wrote over on Jimmy’s blog (http://thedisgruntledsociologist.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/194/#comment-56), the ASA really has to rethink their communications strategy. The innuendo about Jeremy on PubComm is another example of flip asides adding fuel to the fire (Jeremy deserves kudos for not taking the bait). Finally: it is simply scandalous that Pub Comm does not know anything about the deal with Sage.

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  3. BTW Kieran’s chart over at orgtheory http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/a-comparative-look-at-asa-membership-costs-and-benefits/ is very instructive. Our “peers” in the dues game are anthropology and political science, not economics.

    As I note there, I can easily break even in the new dues structure by dropping the extra journal subscriptions I’ve been taking. As I rather imagine it is higher-income sociologists who are more likely to pay for extra journals, it could be that this obvious response to the dues increase is part of why ASA is not necessarily expecting a net gain in revenue from it. Anyway, if you are interested in gross comparatives, take a look at what Kieran has pulled together.

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  4. (I posted an update with some end-of-day thoughts at the conclusion of this post and also edited the post in a few places. A particular thing that I could have been clearer about is that I have been on Pub Comm for a year and a half and that I believe the Sage Contract was done at that point; in any case, one can imagine business reasons why stipulations may exist in dealings with a for-profit company that makes deals with many other entities regarding what information can be released about contract terms and to whom.)

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    1. “I really am upset about the way the dues increase was presented in Footnotes and feel it’s emblematic about how ASA needs to be better about transparency, I do not want anybody to confuse that with any kind of claim whatsoever of misconduct.”

      Amen.

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  5. On the issue of disclosing the terms of the Sage contract, I recognize that libraries and associations are in different positions, but for what it’s worth there is a growing movement among libraries against nondisclosure clauses with publishers. See, e.g., the statement from the association of research libraries: http://www.arl.org/news/pr/nondisclosure-5june09~print.shtml

    The biggest domino in that has been Cornell, which has said it will no longer sign nondisclosure clauses: http://www.library.cornell.edu/node/2218:

    “Libraries should be able to talk to each other about the details of these contracts. It’s as simple as that,” said Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. “When contracts are kept secret, institutions cannot negotiate effectively.”

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