Governance & Organization

Spring Governance Update: The Exceptional and Mundane

Setha Low

AAA President

While I agree that a column on governance is not as exciting as breaking news, informing the membership of changes in how the association operates is an essential part of maintaining a transparent, democratic organization. To create a better association, everyone needs to be involved. Here I highlight both the exceptional and mundane aspects of my recent work with the AAA Executive Board (EB), completed with the help of Sally Merry, Committee on Scientific Communication (CSC) Chair; Alisse Waterston, Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing (CFPEP) Chair; and President-Elect Virginia Dominguez, acting president while I was away in Korea and Indonesia.

Taking a Stand

One ordinary, but satisfying, feature of EB work is passing motions in response to member requests for AAA engagement in an issue. In response to a business meeting motion from Laura Graham that takes issue with the census categorizing individuals and families as “linguistically isolated,” the EB composed a letter to be sent to appropriate contacts at the US Census Bureau. This letter urges the Census to “include a question about proficiency in languages other than English, and to stop classifying those who speak English less than ‘very well’—and all members of their households—as linguistically isolated” because the term is inaccurate and discriminatory. In response to another request, AAA Human Rights Committee Chair Sara Davis and I sent a letter to Thailand’s Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to express our concern about human rights in the context of Thailand’s recently-reinstated war on drugs.

The EB also responded to Sol Katz’s business meeting motion to set up a task force related to an unprecedented rise in food prices. We have requested that Culture and Agriculture and the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition form such a task force to develop recommendations for the EB. Also in response to member concerns, I wrote a letter to National Park Service officials thanking them for attempting to fill the vacant Chief Ethnographer position, but expressing disappointment that no successful candidates have been found. I offered the services of the AAA to assist in finding viable candidates for the position when a new job description is released in late July. Additionally, Roberto González notified the EB that an ad for HTS still appeared on the AAA “online bulletin board.” We learned that this bulletin board is relatively unmonitored, removed the ad and created a subcommittee of the EB made up of Charles Briggs and TJ Ferguson to monitor questionable ads in the future. Finally, after a vetting process by the Labor Relations Commission, the EB voted to support their recommendation to hold our 2013 meeting in Chicago.


The mundane parts of being president are also some of the most pleasant. The EB directed me to add four guests to the Committee on Ethics to increase the number of members with different expertise during their work on revising the Code of Ethics. These appointments include Jeff Altschul, Agustin Fuentes, David Price and Merrill Singer. I also appointed Robert Albro as the incoming chair of the security-intelligence commission (CEAUSSIC) and added Monica Schoch-Spana, Jean Jackson and Laurie Rush to that commission for the next two years.

AnthroSource Allocation Model Passed

A large component of EB deliberations this spring was the allocation model. The process began with section leaders and publication editors working with the CSC and CFPEP to develop a recommendation for EB consideration. To remind readers, the EB is the legal entity that must approve all motions because it represents the entire membership. This is true even if the Section Assembly (SA) or a standing committee (such as CSC or CFPEP) engage in a lengthy process of discussion. The EB takes this responsibility seriously. On March 4, 2008 we voted on a plan for distributing the guaranteed minimum royalties from the Wiley-Blackwell profit share agreement for fiscal years 2009 through 2012.

Under the new allocation model, 50% of royalties are shared with publishing sections and 50% of royalties are retained by the association to partially offset the costs of Anthropology News, publishing department operations and American Anthropologist. Royalties shared with the sections that publish are allocated based on the following formulae: The number of full-text downloads of their publication divided by the total number of full-text downloads from all section-sponsored publications multiplied by one-quarter of the total Wiley-Blackwell profit-share guarantee to AAA; and the amount of revenue from a section’s publication divided by the total amount of revenue from all section-sponsored publications multiplied by one-quarter of the total Wiley-Blackwell profit-share guarantee to AAA.

AAA is committed to a sustainable and diverse portfolio of publications, a program that aspires to fairness and a department that supports transparent and inclusive decision-making processes. The Wiley-Blackwell agreement covers the majority of costs to sections that publish under it, a situation that should nicely support all publishing sections by lightening the burden of many costs associated with production and distribution. In addition, since the agreement with Wiley-Blackwell is based on pooled income and costs, rather than profits directly attributable to individual publications, a publication with little demand from the institutional market may be provided support by the other titles. At the same time, all sections’ interests—regardless of their individual publishing goals—benefit from supporting the titles with numerous institutional subscriptions, because it is these revenue-generating publications that underpin the publishing program’s overall, long-term sustainability. CFPEP will continue to monitor the effects of the allocation model and plans a reassessment in fall 2010.

Stay in Touch

Much of my job involves getting feedback from members on EB actions, so feel free to call. I have enjoyed a number of conversations with Section Assembly Convenor Florence Babb about the SA working group’s progress in developing a series of recommendations to improve and consolidate SA governance. I have also talked at length with the chairs of a number of committees and sat in on the meetings of the Finance Committee and the Committee on Applied, Practicing and Public Anthropology. Of course, Executive Program Chair Noel Chrisman is in constant contact, as is Commission on World Anthropologies Cochair Fran Rothstein, who is planning an exciting special event for our San Francisco meeting. We are now preparing for the EB spring meeting, May 2–3 in Washington DC. Please send me your concerns so that they get on the agenda, and let me know how AAA can better serve you.

* As printed in the May 2008 issue of Anthropology News